Archive for the ‘assessment’ Category

Haters of science? The Bush administration sounds the alarm, "climate change is coming … and is here!"

May 29th, 2008 No comments

Climate change, largely due to human activities, is currently underway, with more very serious – and largely unstoppable changes – expected in the next 25 years, and landowners, communities, farmers, businesses, communities and state and local government should pay attention, anticipate and start adapting!  So says our federal government, sotto voce, after devoting seven years and considerable effort to make sure that the public did NOT get this news and that climate change did not appear on the federal regulatory or legislative agenda.

Under pressure from ongoing climate change and boxed in by laws and a court decision, the ice dam that has blocked the flow of scientific information from the federal government over the past seven years melted this past week, yielding two long-delayed (and partially over-lapping) reports that were released rather quietly – without any prominent mention by the White House or other agency.  How interesting – has climate science finally trumped political expediency (and hidden rent-seeking)?

1.  Most notably, the Bush administration caved to an August 2007 federal court order and published on Thursday, May 29, the “Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States,” its first (and long overdue) comprehensive national assessment of the impacts of climate change in the U.S.  Despite this report being expressly required by law (the 1990 Global Change Research Act) to be prepared every four years (the last one had been issued in 2000 by the Clinton administration), the Bush administration not only refused to prepare the report (which is intended to give the President, Congresscritters and government agencies a single document to refer to when evaluating climate policy) but has until now done its best to suppress and prevent action on the 2000 assessment.

According to reporting by Bill Blakemore of ABC News, the new assessment:

“Integrat[es] federal research efforts of many agencies and literally thousands of scientists, [and] reports that the global climate disruption now under way is already damaging U.S. water resources, agriculture and wildlife and is expected to keep doing so—often worsening—for “the next few decades and beyond.”

There is no part of the country that escapes some sort of consequence,” said Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Institute

Temperatures are expected to continue rising by about 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit before the century is out. The report says that in the West grain harvests and vegetable and fruit crops are more likely to fail because of rising temperatures. It also points out that weeds—of concern both to farmers and those who suffer from pollen allergies—are growing more rapidly due to elevated levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the air.

“These are consequences for forests in our backyard, for agriculture on which we depend, for the water resources that we depend on, both for agricultural production and household use and manufacturing, that this is the basis of a good quality of life for everybody,” Janetos said.

The report projects a likely increase in frequency and severity of heat waves and other extreme weather events, including storms and floods …. 

It also projects that because of worsening weather and heat the nation’s transportation systems face “significant challenges.” Coastal and river flooding and landslides are hitting roads, rails and ports, and heat spells buckle or soften roads.

Forests in the West, Southwest and Alaska will be assaulted by more frequent forest fires and decimated by insects that no longer die off in winter because winters are generally warmer. In the middle of the country are reports increasing drought.

Janetos warns that these dire effects are already under way, not lurking the future.

“These are things that are happening today. They’re not just things that will happen 30, 40, 50, 100 years from now,” he said. “We wanted to be within the planning horizon that land managers and conservation planners and farmers actually have to deal with.”

 According to Seth Borenstein of the AP:

Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist who was not involved in the effort called it “a litany of bad news in store for the U.S.”

And Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist who chaired the group of scientists who reviewed the report for the federal government said: “It basically says the America we’ve known we can no longer count on. It’s a pretty dramatic picture of all kinds of change rippling through natural systems across the country. And all of that has implications for people.”

White House associate science director Sharon Hays, in a teleconference with reporters, declined to characterize the findings as bad, but said it is an issue the administration takes seriously. She said the report was comprehensive and “communicates what the scientists are telling us.”

That includes:

– Increased heat deaths and deaths from climate-worsened smog. In Los Angeles alone yearly heat fatalities could increase by more than 1,000 by 2080, and the Midwest and Northeast are most vulnerable to increased heat deaths.

– Worsening water shortages for agriculture and urban users. From California to New York, lack of water will be an issue.

– A need for billions of dollars in more power plants (one major cause of global warming gases) to cool a hotter country.

– More death and damage from wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters and extreme weather. In the last three decades, wildfire season in the West has increased by 78 days. [TT:  As I noted on several Mises blog threads last year; e.g.,]

– Increased insect infestations and food- and waterborne microbes and diseases. Insect and pathogen outbreaks to the forests are causing $1.5 billion in annual losses.

– “Finally, climate change is very likely to accentuate the disparities already evident in the American health care system,” the report said. “Many of the expected health effects are likely to fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured.”

Rick Piltz, who worked in the administration until 2005 (when he quit to protest the administration’s politicized manipulation of the climate science) and is now Climate Science Watch Director at the non-profit, non-partisan Government Accountability Project (the leading whistle-blower protection organization), commented:

“This report discusses evidence of climate disruption that has been well-understood in the science community and in the government for some time,” said Rick Piltz, Director of the Government Accountability Project’s Climate Science Watch program. “After seven years of denial, disinformation, cover-up, and delay, in its waning months, the Bush administration is finally beginning to allow the publication of reports that acknowledge this scientific reality.”

Piltz further said:

“rather than focusing exclusively on the report and the legalities of its due dates, it would be more illuminating to focus on the seven-plus years of time lost under this administration, starting from early-on when they suppressed official references to and use of the first National Assessment report, shut down all follow-on work, and pulled federal support from the emerging scientist-stakeholder communication networks around the country that were a hallmark of the National Assessment effort. The damage done by the administration’s political decision to disconnect the Climate Change Science Program from effective communication with stakeholders (with the exception of a few niche projects) is not undone by the report issued on May 29, which was drafted internally and without public review or documented stakeholder communication.”

2.  The national assessment was preceded on Tuesday, May 27 by a sector report on the impacts of climate change on agricultureThe effects of climate change on agriculture, land resources, water resources, and biodiversity in the United States, Final Report, Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3.  This is one of many sector-specific reports by which the administration had intended to dodge the requirement for an overall national assessment.

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reported as follows:

Anthony C. Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the University of Maryland and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said the document aims to inform federal resource managers and dispel the public’s perception that global warming will not be felt until years from now.

“They imagine all these ecological impacts are in some distant future,” said Janetos, one of the lead authors, who noted that many animals and plants have shifted their migratory and blooming patterns to reflect recent changes in temperature. “They’re not in some distant future. We’re experiencing them now.”

The document concludes that Americans must face the fact that many of these changes are locked in even if the country takes significant steps to cut emissions in the coming decades.

“Climate change is currently impacting the nation’s ecosystems and services in significant ways, and those alterations are very likely to accelerate in the future, in some cases dramatically,” the report says. “Even under the most optimistic CO2 emission scenarios, important changes in sea level, regional and super-regional temperatures and precipitation patterns will have profound effects.” …

In addition, the number and frequency of forest fires and insect outbreaks are “increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska,” while “precipitation, stream flow, and stream temperatures are increasing in most of the continental United States” and snowpack is declining in the West.

The Agriculture Department, the study’s lead sponsor, issued a statement yesterday highlighting some of the report’s findings for farmers, noting that the higher temperatures mean that grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly but face an increased risk of failure and “will negatively affect livestock.”

The report predicts that some of the nation’s most valued landscapes may change radically in the near future as precipitation and weather patterns continue to shift.

“Management of Western reservoir systems is very likely to become more challenging as runoff patterns continue to change,” it states. “Arid areas are very likely to experience increased erosion and fire risk. In arid ecosystems that have not co-evolved with a fire cycle, the probability of loss of iconic, charismatic megaflora such as Saguaro cacti and Joshua trees will greatly increase.”

According to reporting by Judith Kohler of the AP:

“I think what’s really eye-opening is the depth and breadth of the impacts and consequences going on right now,” said Tony Janetos, a study author and director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland.

Scientists produced the report by analyzing research from more than 1,000 publications, rather than conducting new research. It’s part of a federal assessment of global warming for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, sponsored by 13 federal agencies, led by the Department of Agriculture.

“Just to see it all there like that and to realize the impacts are pervasive right now is a little bit scary,” said Peter Backlund, director of research relations at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

Drought-strained forests in the West and Southeast are easy prey for tree-killing insects like bark beetles. Snow in the Western mountains is melting earlier, making it more difficult for managers overseeing a long-established system of reservoirs and irrigation ditches that serves Western states.

The Southeast doesn’t have the same kind of storage system because rain historically has been more consistent. Current weather disruptions have the region struggling with drought, Janetos said.

Rising carbon dioxide levels are changing the metabolism of grasses and shrubs on range land, decreasing the protein levels in plants eaten by cattle.

Warmer, drier weather is altering the biodiversity of deserts in the Southwest and the high, colder deserts of Nevada, Utah and eastern Washington, said Steve Archer of the University of Arizona. Plants and animals already living in extreme conditions face threats from wildfires and nonnative species, he said.

“These areas historically support a large ranching industry, wildlife habitat,” Archer said. “They are major watersheds and airsheds.”

The scientists said longer growing seasons provided by higher temperatures don’t necessarily translate into bigger crop yields because plants have certain growth patterns.

Their report focuses on the next 25 to 50 years, rather than the next 100 years as other studies have done.

“Sometimes it’s so far out that people just don’t grasp that it’s a problem. This really brings it home,” said Jerry Hatfield, lab director of the National Soil Tilth laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The World Wildlife Fund has a press release that identifies the following findings of the report of particular concern(from which I have omitted WWF’s legislative proposals):

Climate change is fueling forest fires, creating water scarcity, harming animal habitats, and causing other significant changes throughout the United States that will only worsen as global temperatures increase, concludes a new federal government assessment of current and future climate change impacts.

“The number and frequency of forest fires and insect outbreaks are increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska.  Precipitation, streamflow, and stream temperatures are increasing in most of the continental United States.  The western United States is experiencing reduced snowpack and earlier peaks in spring runoff.  The growth of many crops and weeds is being stimulated.  Migration of plant and animal species is changing the composition and structure of arid, polar, aquatic, coastal and other ecosystems.” 

“Climate change is currently impacting the nation’s ecosystems and services in significant ways, and those alterations are very likely to accelerate in the future, in some cases dramatically…..  Even under the most optimistic CO2 emission scenarios, important changes in sea level, regional and super-regional temperatures, and precipitation patterns will have profound effects.”

“Management of water resources will become more challenging.  Increased incidence of disturbances such as forest fires, insect outbreaks, severe storms, and drought will command public attention and place increasing demands on management resources. Ecosystems are likely to be pushed increasingly into alternate states with the possible breakdown of traditional species relationships, such as pollinator/plant and predator/prey interactions, adding additional stresses and potential for system failures. Some agricultural and forest systems may experience near-term productivity increases, but over the long term, many such systems are likely to experience overall decreases in productivity that could result in economic losses, diminished ecosystem services, and the need for new, and in many cases significant, changes to management regimes.”