U.S. behind curve on global warming
February 7, 2007
Two recent reports on climate change put the U.S. position on global warming in stark relief.
The first report confirms that human activity is the main cause of global warming, while the other investigation reveals widespread political interference in federal climate science here in the United States.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) solidifies the scientific understanding that the increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere are man-made. The report finds that evidence of the climate's warming "is unequivocal" based on observed increases in the world's average air and ocean temperatures, the widespread melting of snow and ice and a rising global average sea level.
Six years in the making, the report is the first of three major studies that will comprise the full IPCC assessment, with input from more than 1,200 authors and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries. The report is sobering. And its implication is clear: The United States, the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, needs to stop ignoring the problem.
The other report, released by the Union of Concerned Scientists -- the organization I work for -- and the Government Accountability Project uncovered new evidence that political barriers are hindering federal climate scientists from releasing and discussing their findings on global warming.
One hundred-fifty scientists reported at least 435 occurrences of political interference in their work over the past five years. Interference ranged from pressure to eliminate the words "climate change" and "global warming" in their communications to officials listening in on interviews between scientists and journalists.
Rather than trying to silence global warming scientists, whose research is funded by the American public, the federal government needs to listen to the experts, consider their scientific conclusions and take action.
And there's no time to lose.
The science shows us that we can avoid the worst consequences of global warming -- more intense droughts, more frequent heat waves, rising sea levels -- if we start cutting emissions from cars, power plants and other activity now.
To effectively fight global warming, industrialized nations like the United States will need to begin today to cut their emissions significantly below current levels by the middle of this century.
Fortunately, we already have the tools that will put us on the path toward reducing our global warming emissions.
As a start, we need to shift from old, polluting technology like coal-fired power plants and gas-guzzling cars to cleaner, smarter technology, like solar panels and hybrid vehicles. Turning to energy efficiency technologies in the home, like compact florescent light bulbs and Energy Star appliances, can reduce electricity use and emissions, while saving consumers money in the long run.
Another step we can take is to create a national standard that would require a percentage of our electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and bioenergy. This could build a market for affordable alternatives to fossil fuels while creating jobs and lowering our utility bills.
It's time for our nation to stop being a laggard on this issue. And the Bush administration must stop suppressing the good government science coming from our federal employees.
Kathleen Rest is executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. She can be reached at email@example.com.