Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NAS & Climate Change

After our Spring Break we will spend some time on the topic of global warming. One of the things I will tell you about is a NAS report published in 2001. One member of the NAS panel writing the report,Richard Lindzen, writes:
Last week the National Academy of Sciences released a report on climate change, prepared in response to a request from the White House, that was depicted in the press as an implicit endorsement of the Kyoto Protocol. CNN's Michelle Mitchell was typical of the coverage when she declared that the report represented "a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room."

As one of 11 scientists who prepared the report, I can state that this is simply untrue. For starters, the NAS never asks that all participants agree to all elements of a report, but rather that the report represent the span of views. This the full report did, making clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.

As usual, far too much public attention was paid to the hastily prepared summary rather than to the body of the report. The summary began with a zinger--that greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise, etc., before following with the necessary qualifications. For example, the full text noted that 20 years was too short a period for estimating long-term trends, but the summary forgot to mention this.

Our primary conclusion was that despite some knowledge and agreement, the science is by no means settled. We are quite confident (1) that global mean temperature is about 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was a century ago; (2) that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen over the past two centuries; and (3) that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the earth (one of many, the most important being water vapor and clouds).

But--and I cannot stress this enough--we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future. That is to say, contrary to media impressions, agreement with the three basic statements tells us almost nothing relevant to policy discussions.
You should probably be interested in the entire piece.

2 comments:

Katie Bodden said...

In the study itself it has a foreword that says:
"The report does not make policy recommendations regarding what to do about the potential of global warming. Thus, it does
not estimate the potential economic and environmental costs, benefits, and uncertainties regarding various policy responses and
future human behaviors."
Maybe the press should have bothered to REALLY read the report

Katie Bodden said...

The report itself is avialable on this link, if anyone wants to read it.
http://newton.nap.edu/html/climatechange/