January 6, 2011
According to the conventional wisdom that liberals accept climate change and conservatives don't, Kerry Emanuel is an oxymoron.
Emanuel sees himself as a conservative. He believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He backs a strong military. He almost always votes Republican and admires Ronald Reagan.
Emanuel is also a highly regarded professor of atmospheric science at MIT. And based on his work on hurricanes and the research of his peers, Emanuel has concluded that the scientific data show a powerful link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
"There was never a light-bulb moment but a gradual realization based on the evidence," Emanuel said. "I became convinced by the basic physics and by the better and better observation of the climate that it was changing and it was a risk that had to be considered."
As a politically conservative climatologist who accepts the broad scientific consensus on global warming, Emanuel occupies a position shared by only a few scientists.
In much the same role that marriage and abortion played in previous election cycles, denial of climate change has now become a litmus test for the right.
The vast majority of Republicans elected to Congress during the midterm election doubt climate science, and senior congressional conservatives — Republican and Democrat — have vowed to fight Obama administration efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
That's why scientists such as Emanuel rattle the political pigeonholes. Some are speaking out, using their expertise and conservative credentials to challenge what many researchers consider widespread distortions about climate change.
Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who travels widely talking to conservative audiences and wrote a book with her husband, a pastor and former climate change denier, explaining climate change to skeptics.