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Sigma Xi Members Can Fight Climate Change

February 14, 2019

Joel PrimackSigma Xi members have a special role to play in staving off the worst effects of climate change. The Society has adopted a statement on climate change, which opens with a description of its effects:

Scientific evidence continues to confirm that human activities are contributing to the warming of our planet. . . . Left unresolved, the impact on ecosystems and human quality of life may be devastating.

The statement concludes with a call for action:

Sigma Xi’s commitment to improving the human condition through science and engineering necessitates that we call on national and international leaders to pursue aggressive actions to reduce carbon emissions and to develop adaptive measures. . . .

Making decisions based on evidence is increasingly important as humanity faces urgent interconnected global problems, including accelerating species extinction. But we are seeing more and more the difference between scientific and political approaches to veracity. As the physicist Leo Szilard wrote in his 1961 story, “The Voice of the Dolphins,”

When a scientist says something, his colleagues must ask themselves only whether it is true. When a politician says something, his colleagues must first of all ask, “Why does he say it?”; later on they may or may not get around to asking whether it happens to be true.

Unlike most politicians, many scientists and engineers are themselves technical experts on important public issues. And all scientists learn how to read and evaluate the scientific literature, in order to judge which claims should be taken seriously. As a consequence, we scientists have a special responsibility to improve the use of reliable information in making crucial public decisions.

With newly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, scientists will have new opportunities to educate Congress and the general public about public issues that have significant scientific components. This is a challenge that Sigma Xi is well positioned to meet, with our many thousands of members and hundreds of chapters in colleges, universities, and laboratories across the nation. Now is a good time to get to know your local members of Congress and discuss issues with them. Invite them to visit your campus or laboratory. It is also a good time to educate your neighbors—by giving talks, writing letters to the editor and op-ed essays, and posting information on social media. It is crucial that citizens understand the urgent need to take action to address humanity’s global challenges.

Joel R. Primack
Sigma Xi President 

Read Sigma Xi's full climate change statement at Sigma Xi will discuss climate change at its 2019 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference