Alumni Lead Discussion on National Climate Assessment

Students and faculty came together on Friday, February 1 at a Brown Bag lunch to discuss the release of the Fourth National Climate Change Assessment. The report, a review of the environmental conditions in all regions of the country, was released to the public in late November 2018 after a four-year process. The conversation included three visiting speakers, all of whom are Colgate alumni who played major roles in the creation of the assessment.

Natalie Bennett ’16 worked as Adaptation and Assessment Analyst for the National Climate Assessment and US- GCRP’s Inform Decisions work. Her work revolved around managing the authors for six out of the 30 chapters nationwide. Dr. David Reidmiller ’01 is the Director of the National Climate

Assessment and works in the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Reidmiller facilitates conversation—or what he denotes as “damage control”—with the White House, agencies and the general public. Ellen Mecray ’90 is the NOAA Regional Climate Services Director for the Eastern Region and served as an author in the recent Climate Change publication.

The conversation commenced with a question many students in the audience said they were hoping to hear: how did your time at Colgate contribute to your success? Although all three alumni spoke of initial uncertainty regarding majors and internships, their stories all addressed risk-taking, both in their academic and professional lives. Bennett said she is glad she made the decision to take an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C. following graduation instead of a job waiting for her at an energy consulting firm. In a similar manner, Mecray said she was grateful for the Colgate professors who entreated out of her narrow focus on Economics and French and convinced her to enroll in an Oceanography course.

Students and faculty asked questions that displayed an interest in the environmental technicalities of the survey. Reidmiller explained what differentiates this assessment from other Climate Change Reports; the assessment is a conglomerate survey of other research already conducted, including more than 350 authors, Mecray being one of them. Moreover, Reidmiller also offered important insight into the differences between the Third and Fourth National Climate Change Assessments. His answer focused on three overarching topics: a shift in focus to regional chapters, the incorporation of international impact and the introduction of impacts on the economy.

In an era of “fake news,” the speakers said, it could be expected that a question surrounding the legitimacy of this government-mandated report would be presented. Reidmiller said that the public could trust the information process due to the user and contributor engagement format. He said he takes particular pride in the transparency of the research process and welcomes public commentary.

The topic of climate change allowed for political conversation, particularly about the recent government shutdown. The speakers said they were grateful that the recent government shutdown did not commence until the conclusion of their research, as a shutdown prior to publication would have been disastrous for deadlines.

The final question of the panel asked how President Donald Trump reacted to and allowed for the publication of a survey that would oppose many of his past claims. The three contributors said that due to the nature of a Congressional Mandate, the publication of the Fourth National Climate Change Assessment was protected from White House interference. Reidmiller went on to say that the risks involved with hiding or blocking the release of the information greatly outweighed the benefit for the president.

Contact Hanna Murphy at [email protected]