Dear Dr. Schmitt,
Like many of my colleagues, the space program inspired me to pursue a career in science. The final lunar landing took place during my senior year in high school. It seemed like I was the only kid left who was not jaded by moon walks and paid attention as you explored Taurus-Littrow with Gene Cernan. The next year I went off to college and majored in physics, looking forward to working in a field related to space exploration. That led to graduate school at Caltech, where I ended up in the division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, where you got your degree 20 years earlier. Every day I walked past a giant mural of you collecting rocks at Taurus-Littrow. Your heroic image motivated me to work hard and play by the rules. Maybe someday I would have the opportunity to do something a fraction as cool!
Fast forward 20 years. I’m now in Albuquerque, working at Sandia Labs, getting to spend part of my time running computer models of planetary impacts. I came to see you at Page One bookstore, where you were autographing copies of “Full Moon,” a new book of beautiful images from the Apollo program. Some of the best were taken by you. In others, you are the subject (including the one that was turned into the inspiring mural at Caltech). I asked you if I could take a picture of my then two-year-old daughter with you, and you graciously agreed. She sat on the table in front of you and I snapped the picture with a crummy camera. It’s blurry and in a box somewhere for Kobie to find and cherish long after you, everyone else who has ever walked on the moon, and I are all gone Everybody I know who knows you says you are a very nice guy. Based on my one meeting with you, I would have agreed, but for your subsequent behavior.
Fast forward another 10 years. You are now involved with the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank. Not only does the Heartland Institute actively attack scientific findings that might be used to support government regulations of industry, it censures, criticizes, and demonizes scientists whose research supports those findings. Many of its supporters engage in smear tactics and defamation campaigns against scientists, and authors of Heartland Institute publications refuse to play by the rules of science which include integrity, honesty, and peer review.
In 2009, you gave a presentation at a Heartland Institute conference, where you described yourself as a “denier” of human-caused global warming. This rejection of fundamental physics is troubling enough, but you went further, stating that “No definitive evidence… exists in support of the hypothesis that the industrial revolution has driven carbon dioxide levels up more rapidly than otherwise expected for a response to long-term temperature increases.” This is a rejection of basic observational facts and simple logic.
Your presentation descended into an attack on scientists like me and my colleagues who develop and run climate simulations, saying that “claims that these models represent the use of physics to produce predictions are intentionally misleading.” In fact, these models do make use of fundamental physics. The conservation of mass, momentum, and energy are laws of physics, and define the governing equations that are implemented by the models. The same laws of physics, in fact, that govern our simulations of planetary impact physics. Contrary to your beliefs, we know from theory, laboratory measurements, and observations that carbon dioxide changes the radiative balance of the atmosphere. More energy is coming in than is going out. The laws of physics dictate that the atmosphere must be getting hotter. But you have accused us “intentionally misleading,” a euphemism for “lying”.
In 2009, you also submitted a white paper to NASA, entitled “Observations Necessary for Useful Global Climate Models” in which you stated “Artic (sic) sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage.” I wrote to you, politely pointing out that this was not true, and directing you to the data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. You responded, but never made the necessary correction.
You have chosen not to abide by the rules of science by allowing this critically important statement to stand uncorrected. I do not know if your false claim about Arctic Sea Ice was intentionally misleading or not, but this gives the appearance that you put your political ideology above scientific integrity. Please say it ain’t so.
You made it clear in your Heartland Institute presentation that you have a strong ideological objection to policies that might be implemented if scientists are correct about global warming. You also talked about your own policy preferences, asserting your belief that “fossil and nuclear fission and fusion fuels” are the “driving forces of freedom” and dismissing efforts to develop clean energy as “siren songs of solar energy.”
Just because you disagree with policies that might be pursued because Arctic sea ice is disappearing does not mean it’s not disappearing. The rules of science require that you correct your mistakes, and your political appointment by Gov. Martinez to a state office requires that you have scientific integrity. Please demonstrate your integrity by withdrawing your accusation that I and my colleagues are lying about how climate models work, and by correcting your false statement about Arctic sea ice in your NASA paper.
Our policies must be based on careful assessment of the scientific facts. The facts must come first.
We cannot afford to have an energy secretary who is willing to create his own facts to justify a predetermined policy preference that favors fossil fuel industries and rejects clean energy.