NOTE TO U.S. MEDIA: Please don’t fall for the Bush administration’s final climate trick — don’t ignore these important studies.
Normally, when an administration wants to bury bad news — such as a government report it doesn’t like — the story gets released Friday afternoon. That ensures minimal media coverage. For news it really doesn’t like, the Friday of a three-day weekend is ideal.
So what subject matter is so abhorrent it would motivate the Bush administration to release multiple reports simultaneously the Friday before the four-day weekend that culminates in their loss of power, and when they can be certain the media will be focused on other matters?
Answer: The impact of human-caused global warming on Americans — arguably the single most taboo subject in the entire Bush administration. For eight years they have avoided their statutory obligation to detail the impacts of climate change on this country. And they have systematically muzzled government climate scientists from discussing those impacts with the public or the media.
It was easier to find people in the Bush administration to talk about torture or warrantless wiretaps, than it was to get someone to speak on (or off) the record on the likely impact of Bush’s policy of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions on Americans.
On Friday January 16, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program actually released four major Synthesis and Assessment reports. You may remember the last report the CCSP released — U.S. Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely “substantially exceed” IPCC projections, SW faces “permanent drying” by 2050. I was told by scientists knowledgeable about the CCSP process that all of the major impact reports were slowed down in the review process to make sure they came out after the election.
So what are the reports the Bushies have tried to bury? From the CCSP website:
Final Report of Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.1 (Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region) is posted online. See also press release from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and EPA web-page. (posted 16 Jan 2009)
Final Report of Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.2 (Thresholds of Climate Change in Ecosystems) is posted. See also press release from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). (posted 16 Jan 2009)
Final Report of Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.3 (Aerosol properties and their impacts on climate) is posted online. See also press release from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (posted 16 Jan 2009)
Final Report of Synthesis and Assessment Product 1.2 (Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes) is posted. See also press release from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). (posted 16 Jan 2009)
These are all substantive and comprehensive studies, almost on a par with the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment.
The sea-level report warns, “Most coastal wetlands in the mid-Atlantic would be lost if sea level rises one meter in the next century.” If the report has a weakness, it’s that it is still mired in the IPCC’s outdated and incomplete projection. The CCSP report considers one-meter sea-level rise by 2100 its extreme scenario, and actually focuses on two considerably milder scenarios, when the latest science and its own December report makes clear a one meter rise by 2100 is hardly a worst-case scenario for this country.
“The Arctic and High Latitudes” report concludes its discussion of Arctic ice loss:
Shrinkage that was both similarly large and rapid has not been documented over at least the last few thousand years … The recent ice loss does not seem to be explainable by natural climatic and hydrographic variability on decadal time scales, and is remarkable for occurring when reduction in summer sunshine from orbital changes has caused sea-ice melting to be less likely than in the previous millennia since the end of the last ice age. The recent changes thus appear notably anomalous …
Canadian media wrote one of the few stories on the study, headlined, “Climate warming ‘highly unusual’ says new study: Findings counter argument that melt is part of climate cycle“:
A major U.S. government report on Arctic climate, prepared with information from eight Canadian scientists, has concluded that the recent rapid warming of polar temperatures and shrinking of multi-year Arctic sea ice are “highly unusual compared to events from previous thousands of years.”
The findings, released Friday, counter suggestions from skeptics that such recent events as the opening of the Northwest Passage and collapse of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic are predictable phenomena that can be explained as part of a natural climate cycle rather than being driven by elevated carbon emissions from human activity.
The U.S. public deserves to know what the latest science says about recent Arctic warming.
The Thresholds of Climate Change in Ecosystems report is sufficiently interesting and important and long that I will address it in a separate post after the inauguration.
Let me end with a quote from the Arctic report:
The past tells us that when thresholds in the climate system are crossed, climate change can be very large and very fast. We cannot rule out that human-induced climate change will trigger such events in the future.
The time to act is now.