Thursday, October 1, 2009

Will's "national commission"

In his Washington Post column today, George Will, cites some recent news stories and research that seemingly contradict expectations regarding global warming. Will impugns scientists who disagree with his take on the data.

For instance, Will muses about a scientist who is quoted in a news article as saying that evidence from one controversial study (Will conveniently ignores the controversey) might be misused or misrepresented by opponents (as Will does). Will also accuses a new scientific report that indicates greater long-term warming as being "strident," as if the report were written in reaction to the recent news articles (Will writes this way; the scientists did not).

Will ends his column with a call for "a national commission appointed to assess the evidence about climate change." Will either overlooks or ignores that the United States has had a series of independent, non-partisan, expert commissions that have studied and continue to study climate issues. The commissions have been organized under the auspices of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The current, ongoing commission is the Committee on America's Climate Choices.

The most recent assessment and summary of the evidence from the NAS reports as follows.
There is a growing concern about global warming and the impact it will have on people and the ecosystems on which they depend. Temperatures have already risen 1.4°F since the start of the 20th century—with much of this warming occurring in just the last 30 years—and temperatures will likely rise at least another 2°F, and possibly more than 11°F, over the next 100 years. This warming will cause significant changes in sea level, ecosystems, and ice cover, among other impacts. In the Arctic, where temperatures have increased almost twice as much as the global average, the landscape and ecosystems are already changing rapidly.

Most scientists agree that the warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (see Figure 1). Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, have increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, industrial processes, and transportation. Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in at least 650,000 years and continue to rise.

There is no doubt that climate will continue to change throughout the 21st century and beyond, but there are still important questions regarding how large and how fast these changes will be, and what effects they will have in different regions. In some parts of the world, global warming could bring positive effects such as longer growing seasons and milder winters. Unfortunately, it is likely to bring harmful effects to a much higher percentage of the world’s people. For example, people in coastal communities will likely experience increased flooding due to rising sea levels.

The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to begin taking steps to prepare for climate change and to slow it. Human actions over the next few decades will have a major influence on the magnitude and rate of future warming. Large, disruptive changes are much more likely if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue building up in the atmosphere at their present rate. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require strong national and international commitments, technological innovation, and human willpower.
It takes another type of willpower to ignore recommendations of an independent, expert panel composed of the nation's top scientists.