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Should Max Mayfield Resign?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJune 2, 2006 12:40 AM


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That's the contention of a group called the U.S. Climate Emergency Council, whose protest--outside of the offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--I attended yesterday. It's headed by Mike Tidwell, a writer and global warming activist who has a book coming out on all of this. I must say, the contention that Mayfield (director of the National Hurricane Center) ought to resign because NOAA is not taking the stance that hurricanes are already stronger due to global warming struck me as rather over-the-top. I guess I largely (although not entirely) agree with Kevin Vranes on this. First, Mayfield doesn't set NOAA policy; he simply runs the agency's hurricane branch. Even if you take issue with NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher--as Tidwell's group does--that doesn't mean Mayfield also should be the fall guy. Second, I have seen Mayfield at multiple hurricane conferences during the past few months; I have been in the room as he has listened to the debate rage over hurricanes and global warming. He's fully aware of what's going on in the scientific community, but he says he's not convinced yet by the evidence. Is that an offense requiring resignation? But finally and most importantly, it's hard to dispute that Mayfield has done a great job when it comes to the most immediate tasks of the hurricane center: Tracking storms and providing warnings to coastlines and vulnerable communities. Mayfield was a well-informed and reassuring voice last summer during Katrina, Rita, and the rest of it. As we all now know, he briefed Bush--accurately--on the dangers of Katrina well before the storm landed; the real tragedy is that Mayfield wasn't adequately heeded by the president, FEMA, and the rest of them. I can think of a lot of people who ought to resign before Max Mayfield does. That's not to say that NOAA's behavior has been unimpeachable on the global warming/hurricane issue (something that even some of its scientists have apologized for). NOAA claimed an agency consensus that didn't exist on the question and had to backtrack. And there's evidence that scientists have not always been able to speak freely at the agency. But that said, calling for Mayfield's resignation really staggers me....

P.S.: Here's where I disagree with Vranes: NOAA can't merely claim a "debate" on this subject and leave it at that. That's not a "balanced" perspective. At the very least, it seems to me the agency ought to be telling the public that while there's real debate at the moment about how big the current impact is, it would be surprising if hurricanes weren't affected by ongoing global warming, given their reliance upon warm ocean waters as a central energy source....

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