Scientists: Urgent to Limit Greenhouse Gases

May 12, 2011  NYT
Scientists Report Stresses Urgency of Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The nation’s scientific establishment issued a stark warning to the American public on Thursday: Not only is global warming real, but the effects are already becoming serious and the need has become pressing for a strong national policy to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The report, by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, did not endorse any specific legislative approach, but it did say that attaching some kind of price to emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, would ideally be an essential component of any plan.
The risks associated with doing business as usual are a much greater concern than the risks associated with engaging in ambitious but measured response efforts, the report concludes. This is because many aspects of an overly ambitious policy response could be reversed or otherwise addressed, if needed, through subsequent policy change, whereas adverse changes in the climate system are much more difficult (indeed, on the time scale of our lifetimes, may be impossible) to undo.
The report, America’s Climate Choices, was ordered by Congress several years ago to offer action-oriented advice on how the nation should be reacting to the potential consequences of climate change.
But the answer comes at a time when efforts to adopt a climate-change policy have stalled in Washington, with many of the Republicans who control the House expressing open skepticism about the science of climate change. Other legislators, including some Democrats, worry that any new law would translate into higher energy prices and hurt the economy.
Not only is the science behind the climate-change forecast solid, the report found, but the risks to future generations from further inaction are profound. Already, the report noted, sea level is rising in many American towns and the average United States air temperature has increased by two degrees in the last 50 years.
The report’s authors , an unusual combination of climate scientists, businessmen and politicians,  said they were very aware that the political mood on climate change had changed significantly from when the committee was formed in 2009. Because the report was also about policy advice, the council named nonscientists, including Jim Geringer, a conservative Republican and a former governor of Wyoming.
Albert Carnesale, the chairman of the panel and a chancellor emeritus of the University of California, Los Angeles, said that he hoped the panel’s diversity and that many came to the job without prior bias would help sell it even to skeptical policy makers.
“It is an urgent problem to turn to, and what we’ve done differently is to look at this as a risk management problem,” Dr. Carnesale said.
“While no one knows the exact shape of the risks,” Dr. Carnesale said, “we know that they are real enough to act on. And that they will be harder to act on as time passes. We don’t know exactly when the tsunami will hit or how high it will be, but we know it is coming, and we should prepare,” Dr. Carnesale said. Read more.

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