A year after weighing in on climate science as well as options for mitigation and adaptation, the National Research Council has issued its summary report on global warming policy in the United States. And although the political climate in Washington has changed substantially in the past year, it turns out that the choices facing America global warming remain the same.
Dubbed “America’s Climate Choices,” the project brought together a high-profile panel in an effort to cut through the climate chaff and deliver some basic guidelines on how to move forward. The committee held a summit in March 2009 (a time when many thought climate legislation was imminent) and issued its initial reports in May 2010 (a time when a few still thought there was a chance). The final report, issued Thursday, represents yet another wake-up call – at a time when US policymakers have hit the snooze button and fallen back into a deep sleep.
That doesn’t mean that the threat has gone away, and in fact the NRC makes it perfectly clear that the threat grows each day. Uncertainty cuts both ways, and less action today increases the possibility that a drastic -and expensive – response might be required later. “The risks of continuing ‘business as usual’ are greater than the risks associated with strong efforts to limit and adapt to climate change,” the report states. “Policy changes can potentially be reversed or scaled back if needed, whereas many adverse changes in the climate system would be difficult or impossible to ‘undo.’”
In the end, the committee recommends an “iterative risk management” approach that translates into doing what we can today to reduce emissions and prepare for a warming world while keeping an eye on the science and regularly assessing risks. The report also calls for more research into risk management itself as well as the communication of said risk to the general public. For its part, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change highlighted recent flooding along the Mississippi River and wildfires in Texas as examples of the kind of risks that will increase as global warming ramps up in the decades to come.
These ideas may in fact be revolutionary on Capitol Hill, but they are not new, a point made quite clearly by Republican Joe Barton in the New York Times. “I see nothing substantive in this report that adds to the knowledge base necessary to make an informed decision about what steps — if any — should be taken to address climate change,” Barton told the Times.
Indeed, it would appear that for the time being politicians on Capitol Hill are likely to keep hitting snooze.