The Heat Is Online

Industry Applauds Bush's Demand for Years of More Climate Research

Government Outlines Plan for Research on Warming

By Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2002

The Bush administration, saying there are still many uncertainties about threats posed by human-caused climate change, has outlined a broad, years-long research agenda on global warming.

Among many other goals, the draft plan calls for new work to be completed in the next four years to clarify how much of the warming since 1950 has been caused by human actions like emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide or soot; to explain differing temperature trends in the upper and lower atmosphere; and to improve computer models that simulate climate and monitoring systems for tracking the real thing.

The proposal was lauded yesterday by industry officials and some scientists who have long questioned the mainstream view that global warming is mainly caused by people and poses big risks.

But many climate experts said the proposal mainly rehashed issues most scientists consider settled. For example, they pointed out, big international and national panels of climate experts concluded in the past two years that at least half of the warming measured since 1950 was indeed caused by human actions, namely smokestack and tailpipe emissions.

The plan, which was posted Monday night on a Commerce Department Web site, climatescience.org, will go through months of public and scientific review before it is finished in the spring.

It is already the focus of intense interest by scientists and lobbyists from environmental groups and industry, dozens of whom are among the 700 people already signed up to debate the plan at a Washington workshop in early December.

"I see this helping in the development of a more robust observational foundation for understanding the climate system," said Dr. John R. Christy, who has questioned the accuracy of models and surface temperature readings and runs the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

But Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton who has long advocated acting promptly to reduce emissions, said: "The plan veers off into emphasizing what we don't know at the expense of a thorough description of what we do know. If you strip away the rhetoric, there's a valuable agenda of research here to pursue. The danger is that while they're continuing to do the research, the window of opportunity to avoid dangerous global warming is closing."

Bush administration officials who wrote the plan said it pointed out important gaps in climate science and a clear path toward filling them. Among other things, it attempts to organize research efforts on climate in more than a dozen government agencies, said Dr. James R. Mahoney, the assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and the director of the effort.

"The key here is how do we move forward," said Dr. Mahoney, who directed a similar research program on acid rain in 1988. "Let us try to frame the questions that need addressing and, in some orderly way, determine what we know and what we don't know — and what can we reasonably expect to learn in the next two to four years."

Some experts on global change said the research plan was deeply flawed because it ignored findings of a decade-long federal assessment of potential impacts of climate change around the United States that was published in 2000 by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That assessment has been attacked by industry lobbyists and some scientists as overly apocalyptic and shaped by Vice President Al Gore, and they have strongly pressed the Bush administration to expunge it from any new documents.

Dr. Mahoney said the previous climate-impacts assessment contained much high quality work that was left out to avoid new conflicts. "The important thing is to say how can we move ahead without fighting the old battles," he said.

Other experts said they doubted the new approach would speed action. It does not differ much from strategies set more than a decade ago by the first Bush administration, which also called for reducing uncertainties and improving the accuracy of projections, some experts said.

As a result, they said, the new research program is unlikely to answer a central question first posed by President Bush in a Rose Garden speech in June 2001: how much human interference with the climate system is too much?

"If you only talk about reducing uncertainty, that's very appealing to folks who don't want to act on climate change because it implies we can wait," said Dr. Roger A. Pielke Jr., an expert on environmental risks at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and one of three authors of "Prediction: Science, Decision Making and the Future of Nature" (Island Press, 2000).

Nature 420, 110 (2002), 14 Nov 2002

Call for More Data Forms Basis of Bush Climate Strategy

By Tony Reichhardt

Improved computer models, accelerated studies of the global carbon cycle, and standardization of climate data are among the priorities listed in the Bush administration's draft strategy for climate-change research, released on 11 November.

The plan sets an overall direction for the Climate Change Science Program, which was created last year to address near-term uncertainties in climate science. The new programme merged the $1.7-billion, multi-agency US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) with the narrower $40-million Climate Change Research Initiative.

The new strategy acknowledges that global warming is under way, but reflects the Bush administration's wariness on the subject by emphasizing gaps in knowledge that need to be filled before policy-makers can make confident decisions.

As well as listing high-priority research needs, such as characterizing atmospheric aerosols, the plan calls for investment in observational networks, including an Integrated Ocean Observing System.

The strategy will now undergo extensive review, starting with a workshop in Washington next month for scientists and policy-makers. It also will be vetted by a fast-track National Academy of Sciences panel chaired by Thomas Graedel, director of Yale University's Center for Industrial Ecology. A

final version of the plan is expected to be released next April.

The plan's authors say that they relied heavily on previous academy reports that outlined priorities for climate-change research. But conspicuously absent from the document is any mention of the controversial "National Assessment" published by the USGCRP in 2000, which described possible regional affects of climate change in the United States. The new strategy states flatly that modelled projections "are often contradictory and are not sufficiently reliable tools for planning."

The National Assessment infuriated global-warming sceptics, who sued to prevent its release, charging that it was politically motivated. The anger has not subsided. Last month Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a public-policy organization based in Washington, called for members of the team that produced the National Assessment to be barred from next month's workshop.

The President’s research initiative is detailed at: http://www.climatescience.gov