Wetenschap - 7 juli 2011

Climate feelers

Member of Parliament René Leegte for the VVD (a liberal party) thinks the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) should be abolished as the institute subscribes to the view that humans influence climate change. Apparently, this means the KNMI is 'not independent'. The Wageningen professor of Meteorology Bert Holtslag responded last Saturday with a letter to the Volkskrant newspaper. He calls Leegte's plan 'rubbish'.

'If the KNMI is biased, something Leegte has no evidence for, then so are nearly all scientific institutes and universities. That is because the evidence for human impact on the climate is very strong and there is a broad scientific consensus about this.
We have never seen the KNMI or its staff demonstrating political preferences that might influence their work. That is not so strange: the impact of the earth's atmosphere is unaffected by political preferences, CO2 absorbs infrared radiation regardless of the politics of the researchers and the melting point of ice is not subject to the wishes of a member of the Dutch Lower House.
Leegte has shown how limited his understanding of climate change and climate science is. That is not a problem as politicians cannot be expected to be experts in every field. What is dubious is to claim on the basis of limited knowledge that an institute is not doing its job properly and should be disbanded or privatized. If we are to fathom this complex system, it is extremely important that we enable constant work over many years on understanding how the climate system functions. The Netherlands cannot afford to have climate knowledge that is superficial and goes with the political flow.'
'I now think something else underlies this: the VVD wants to reduce the size of the public sector. It already got an agreement last year during the cabinet formation for a review of the KNMI's tasks. For instance, the KNMI advices the Dutch air force. This is something you can privatize. Other market players, such as MeteoConsult in Wageningen, would then be in the picture to carry out those tasks. All this means there is also an ideological background to Leegte's attack on the KNMI.'