Last week’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change represents “history’s most definitive statement of scientific consensus on climate change.” Its main findings: global warming is “unequivocal,” and human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950. If left unchecked, it will destroy our habitat. “It’s time to end the debate and act,” House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) says. “All the naysayers should step aside.” This morning, Gordon chaired Congress’ first hearings on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (details here). These proceedings should be the beginning of a thorough and sustained examination of the report’s findings by Congress, the media, and ordinary citizens. The good news is there is still “an enormous amount the international community could do to avert climate change if swift action was taken,” says Dr. Graeme Pearman, who helped draft the report.
- This is one of the most scientifically rigorous and comprehensive documents on climate change to date. Climate skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) says the IPCC’s report is “a political document, not a scientific report.” In fact, the power of the IPCC findings is in their exhaustive scientific rigor. “The main science report–more than 1,600 pages in its draft form–was compiled by 150 scientists as main authors, another 400 scientists as contributing authors, a team of review editors, and some 600 reviewers. Says one climate scientist, “Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document–that’s what makes it so scary.” The findings of the new report are most dramatic when compared to language used in previous IPCC statements. The panel’s first report released in 1990 found that rising temperatures were “broadly consistent with prediction of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability,” meaning “the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability.” In 2001 report cited “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” In the latest report, it states that warming is “very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations.”
- The effects of climate change on our habitat and our populations will be devastating. Continued global warming is predicted in the new report, leading to a “huge disruption to agriculture, more floods, heat waves, desertification, and melting glaciers.” “Cyclones will hit harder. Violent storms and extreme heat waves will strike more frequently. Evaporation will suck up scarce inland water. Sea levels will creep up half a meter. Oceans will be so acidic that in some places shells and reefs will dissolve.” The increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 “more likely than not” can be attributed to man-made global warming, the report finds. Australia, currently in the grip of its worst recorded drought, is warned that the Great Barrier Reef will “become ‘functionally extinct’ because of coral bleaching.” The human impact of global warming will be catastrophic, “forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants”–dubbed climate refugees–“whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.” Climate change will bring water scarcity to between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people by the end of the century; an additional 200 million to 600 million people across the world “would face food shortages in another 70 years, while coastal flooding would hit another 7 million homes.”
- The administration continues to stall action on the climate issue while others take the lead. A White House letter released yesterday laments that, following the release of the IPCC report, “a number of media reports perpetuated inaccuracies that the president’s concern about climate change is new.” Actually, the White House says, “Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem.” But just last year, Bush claimed there is still “a debate over whether [global warming] is man-made or naturally caused.” Moreover, the Bush administration has rejected global solutions, from 2001’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol to last week’s dismissal (along with China and India) of a new global body aimed at slowing warming, and last month’s stark warning from the National Academy of Sciences about our ability to understand and predict the impacts of climate change due to the significant funding cuts in critical programs since 2000. But there are some on Capitol Hill who see the crisis and are ready to act. Last week in the wake of the report, Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA) reintroducing the aggressive Global Warming Reduction Act, which includes some policies advocated by experts at the Center for American Progress.