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Science Groups Push Obama for Climate Change Summit

By Lauren Morello

Six scientific societies are asking the White House to hold a national summit on climate change.

In a letter delivered to President Barack Obama on Friday, days before his annual State of the Union address, the groups lay out a plan for a summit "to identify policies and actions that can be taken by each Federal agency and by state and local governments to address the causes and effects of climate change.”

“We would like to offer the support and assistance of the thousands of scientists and other professionals who are members of our organizations,” said the groups, including the American Fisheries Society, the American Meteorological Society, the Ecological Society of America, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Society for Ecological Restoration and the Wildlife Society. “We respectfully request that you convene a national summit on this urgent and important challenge.”

The idea of a national summit has gained traction among science, environmental and social groups in recent months. One effort, backed by a number of politicians, scientists, business leaders, climate activists, the NAACP, and a Quaker social justice organization, has launched a petition and its own letter. (Editor's note: Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist for Climate Central, is among those who have signed that letter.)

“The remarks that President Obama made in his inaugural address factored into why this is happening now,” said Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society.

When it comes to the prospect for new national policies to address climate change, “I’m more optimist than I’ve been the last year or two,” Seitter said.

In his Jan. 21 inaugural address, Obama pledged to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared," he said.

In their letter, the six scientific groups argue that climate change is already harming the nation’s economy and natural resources — and there is public support for government action to reduce those threats.

“With the significant increases in damage due to climate-driven weather extremes, ranging from more intense storms like Superstorm Sandy, more intense and frequent wildfires, severe flooding, and prolonged droughts, people are becoming increasingly aware that something is wrong and that the Federal government needs to take action,” the groups wrote. “For example, the costs of the Midwest drought and Superstorm Sandy may exceed $100 billion.”

They recommend improving the nation’s ability to respond to natural disasters; reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and black carbon; better coordinating climate adaptation plans between federal, state and local governments; protecting public lands; and increasing the use of renewable energy in a way that will not harm biodiversity.

"We're ready to help," said Scott Collins, president of the Ecological Society of America and a professor at the University of New Mexico. "Just let us know what can do."

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