By Lindsay Davis, GSA Science Policy Fellow
On 30-31 January, scientists from around the country gathered for the eighth annual Climate Science Day, an event that facilitates visits for scientists to Congressional offices in Washington D.C. to discuss the importance of their work. The event consists of a half-day workshop and full day of Capitol Hill visits sponsored by twelve different scientific organizations, including the Geological Society of America. This year, participants visited the offices of Senators and Representatives from 17 different states and conducted a total of nearly 60 individual meetings with the end goals of helping policymakers understand current climate research, learning the priorities of the elected officials, and forming relationships with Congressional offices.
The workshop, held on 30 January, offered resources and strategies for how to engage effectively with Congressional Members and their staff. First, participants heard from keynote speaker Laura Helmuth, an editor at the Washington Post and the president of the National Association of Science Writers. Laura gave an empowering talk about different resources available for scientists to relay their work to non-scientists and to advocate for their priorities through effective science communication. Staff members from the sponsoring organizations discussed the mechanics of conducting successful Congressional visits, such as how to highlight aspects of climate change research that reflect the priorities of different districts or states and how to choose an appropriate “ask,” a request for action which is generally expected by congressional offices. Participants also heard from a panel of three different Majority and Minority staff members on the Hill who informed them about what information they are most interested in and how participants can communicate their message and ask in an effective, efficient, and non-partisan way.
During the final phase of the workshop, participants and staff leaders split into ten individual teams based on geographical location to plan a strategy for each of the offices they would be visiting the following day. Most of the teams consisted of two scientists and a staff member from one of the sponsoring organizations. Due to the varying priorities of each Member and their constituency, scientists who participate in Congressional visits are encouraged to investigate the priorities and values of each Member whose office they plan to visit. By strategizing as a team before meetings, scientists can identify how their work complements their team members’ research or expertise and discuss how to align their message and asks with the interests and goals of each Member.
Participants sought to discuss the relevance of their research, potentially leading some Members to acknowledge climate change, if they have yet to do so, or to become more involved if they are already supportive. Although there are many topics receiving attention on Hill right now, climate science continues to make progress and certain Members are highlighting the need for action on climate change in a variety of ways. For example, the House Climate Solutions Caucus that now boasts 70 members was created by Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Ted Deutsch (R-FL) as a bipartisan forum to discuss climate change issues. Another is H.Res. 195, a resolution by Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) that currently has 22 Republican cosponsors and aims protect the environment and to work towards what she describes as “economically viable solutions that address the effects of climate change.” Initiatives like these provide a forum for discussion as well as opportunities for scientists to engage on the topic.