Climate science advice to next administration is good start, broader focus needed for preparedness

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Climate change and energy policy have finally risen to the ranks of top national policy issues.  Concerned that our federal climate science and technology capabilities have suffered under the Bush administration, leaving the nation more vulnerable and less equipped to deal with the challenges posed by global climatic disruption, several groups are forming recommendations for the next President and Congress to renovate and revitalize our federal climate programs.  One such proposal was released August 20 by a group of science-based organizations specializing in climate and weather, including the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and others.  The proposal makes some excellent points but is not broad enough to serve as a stand-alone work product; rather it should serve as an important component to a larger blueprint, still being articulated by Climate Science Watch and other groups.

    by Anne Polansky, Sr. Associate

The groups’ recommendations are heavily weighted towards the physical sciences.  While it is important that we repair and restore the physical climate science programs such as those at NASA and NOAA, it is imperative that the next administration install reforms across the board, across a dozen federal entities, in the White House, and in Congress.  We need a comprehensive, integrated “national climate change preparedness” plan and program that meets the needs of state and local decision-makers and is accountable, transparent, and reconnected to society. 

Already climate change is disrupting our lives.  We are experiencing prolonged droughts, more intense and deadly hurricanes and wildfires, elevated human health threats, ecosystems in crisis, a melting arctic ice mass, and in the longer term, sea level rise poses serious threats to our densely populated coastal areas.  Our atmosphere is over-saturated with greenhouse gases; emissions must be curtailed rapidly to avoid potentially calamitous outcomes.  The Bush administration failed to address this growing threat honestly and directly, and we lost precious time.  If indeed we are to “manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable” impacts of climate change, the 44th President and the 111th Congress must address head-on an almost daunting set of policy changes and programmatic reforms.  This is not just about whether or not a cap-and-trade bill is passed, or whether we pass a carbon tax.  Our nation is dangerously unprepared for the set of climate-related difficulties we face, both in terms of coping with and adapting to climate change impacts, and finding tangible, cost-effective ways of cutting carbon emissions across every economic and social sector.  We need to re-establish a comprehensive, stakeholder-driven national assessment of climate impacts and response strategies. 

The proposal was covered by ClimateWire (subscription required) and elsewhere.  CSW Director Rick Piltz was quoted: 

And it may be too much for a single federal effort to handle, said Rick Piltz of ClimateScienceWatch. “Whether this can all be done in a single program becomes a question,” Piltz said. “A budget increase for physical climate science research … must not crowd out other priorities that are probably even more relevant for policymaking than some of the physical science issues at this point.”

 

Climate Science Watch is communicating and collaborating with several other organizations and interviewing many experts in climate science and policy to develop a strong, coherent, compelling set of recommendations for the next set of decision-makers to come to Washington.  Two other important efforts are being conducted by Clean Air-Cool Planet led by climate policy veterans Rafe Pomerance and Brooks Yeager, and the Presidential Climate Action Project led by Bill Becker.  Other major environmental groups are providing advice as well.  The more that these groups can collaborate and coordinate with one another to help ensure that our messages are harmonious and mutually reinforcing, if not identical, the stronger, more powerful voice we will have, and the greater the likelihood will be that important measures will be embraced and adopted. 

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