Editorial

Climate Business as Usual

The Bush administration has undertaken a quest for "sound science" as its basis for addressing climate change. But as evidenced by reports of the past year alone, the administration's "science" is driven more by politics than by the pursuit of truth.

As reported in The New York Times, the administration's Climate Action Report, originally released in May 2002, was later altered to include sections that emphasize the uncertainties of climate science, following an initial uproar from administration officials and industry lobbyists. Shortly thereafter, the Environmental Protection Agency released its annual report on U.S. pollution trends, excluding a discussion of CO2 and climate change for the first time in six years. The administration explained the omission by saying that CO2 does not directly threaten people or ecosystems. Still, leaders around the country aren't waiting for Bush to firm up his science before moving ahead: New Jersey's attorney general David Samson, for example, has warned that climate change "poses real and immediate dangers to New Jersey's environment and the health of our citizens."

In mid-November, the administration published its draft strategy for the Climate Change Science Program, outlining a multi-billion dollar plan to study issues most scientists believe have been settled, such as the share of warming since 1950 that is attributable to human activities. The plan ignores several previous studies, including one released in September 2002 by NASA which concludes that global temperature change in the past 50 years is due mainly to human releases of greenhouse gases. According to the NASA report, a continuation of "business as usual" will result in an accelerating rate of warming, raising global temperatures to levels that have not existed during the past several hundred thousand years.

The climate strategy that the Bush administration claims is "a serious, sensible, and science-based response to this global problem" is itself nothing more than business as usual. The administration admits that its plan would increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions a further 43 percent by 2020, while the IPCC-the global scientific body of experts on climate change-has warned that global CO2 emissions must be cut by at least 70 percent during this century to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Most of the world has accepted existing scientific evidence and recognized that climate change is already taking a severe toll in terms of economic and environmental costs and loss of human lives in both developed and developing nations. The European Union, Japan, China, India, and others are moving forward to find solutions, benefiting from investments in new technologies, new jobs, more secure energy systems, improved health, and cleaner air and water.

But the world won't get far in solving climate change without the United States, which is responsible for 25 percent of global emissions. It's high time for Bush science to get up to speed with the science now accepted by the rest of the world.

 

Janet L. Sawin, Research Associate