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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

She had a choice: Defend climate science or keep a Customs officer happy

Abigail Swann is a professor and climate scientist at the University of Washington
University of Washington / Quinn Russell Brown

Abigail Swann is a professor and climate scientist at the University of Washington

University of Washington professor and climate researcher Abigail Swann tells politics reporter David Hyde about why she signed a protest letter directed at EPA chief Scott Pruitt. She also shares a story about the time a border official told her climate science is a hoax:  
I often encounter people who find out I’m a climate scientist. And they ask me “what’s the deal with global warming” or “is global warming really happening?” Because they probably never met a climate scientist.

Occasionally, I get into one of these conversations with someone who has a really strong opinion that global warming isn’t happening.

I was flying back into the United States and I was going through customs. And the U.S. Customs officer asked what I did, I said I was a scientist, and he wanted to know what kind of science.

And he kept asking more and more specific questions until we got to the fact that I was a climate scientist. And then he really wanted to tell me that global warming was a hoax and it wasn’t happening.

That’s a pretty tricky situation. I didn’t want to lie to a Customs officer. I didn’t feel in the position to say something untrue, yet he was asserting that these scientific facts that I know about the earth’s system aren’t correct.

So I tried to politely say that I’m sorry but that’s incorrect. Eventually, he dropped the conversation and he did let me into the country.

But as I was standing there I was thinking this person is in a position of power and he has the ability to prevent me from going home, so it’s a tricky situation.

Year started with KUOW: 2004