Remembering Rick Piltz
Rick Piltz, a former USGCRP staff member known for his commitment to scientific integrity, passed away on Saturday, October 18. He was 71.
Piltz had a long and distinguished career working at the interface of climate science and communication with policy and decision makers, particularly at the Federal level. As a staff member on the House Science Committee in the late 1980s, he was directly involved in the writing and passage of the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990, the founding legislation for USGCRP.
In 1995, Piltz joined the Office of the USGCRP (now known as the USGCRP National Coordination Office, or NCO). Among his many contributions to the Program, Piltz produced numerous editions of Our Changing Planet, USGCRP’s annual report, striving throughout to better communicate Federal climate science to Congress. He also played a key role in pushing for the undertaking of the National Climate Assessment, both when on the staff of the House Science Committee and at USGCRP.
“Rick was always a voice of insight and encouragement, thinking about how best to present the science in a responsible and understandable way for decision makers,” said Mike MacCracken, who was the first executive director of the USGCRP office and brought Piltz on board. Piltz resigned in 2005, citing—publicly and with supporting documentation—a pattern of interference with climate science communication by the White House under then-President George W. Bush. He went on to found Climate Science Watch, a non-profit public interest group that promotes integrity in the use of climate science in politics and policymaking.
Those who worked with Piltz remember him as forthright, dogged, and principled. “He fought hard for conveying the science accurately, without biasing it based on a preferred outcome,” said David Dokken, director of the IPCC Working Group II Technical Support Unit. “He was a skilled communicator, and tapped into relevant decision makers inside and outside government. He was very well positioned to craft the annual report to Congress, because he carefully familiarized himself with the most up-to-date science, knew what was important to convey, and did not try to unduly load content.”
David Allen, the USGCRP NCO’s lead for international research and cooperation, added that Piltz was “an extremely loyal friend and colleague, and not someone who would duck you at cocktail receptions if someone more important or well positioned was around.” Allen described Piltz as a trailblazer of climate communication, placing scientific findings in the context of “scales that matter to people.”
“[Many sources] tell the story of Rick as a champion of scientific integrity,” said Emily Cloyd, engagement coordinator for the National Climate Assessment, who joined USGCRP after Piltz left but knew him through climate-related conferences and workshops. “The way that I will remember Rick is as a mentor and champion for early-career science and policy folks, willing to work his network so that they could meet others interested in a better world.”