The release of a draft climate assessment on Friday went largely unnoticed by many Americans. News of an unexpectedly robust January stock market bump, rampant cases of flu, recent gun control developments, and Sean Lowe's take on the latest bachelorettes may have overshadowed it. However, our lives and the world's future may depend on taking the report's contents seriously. Comments are requested from tomorrow (January 14, 2013) through April 12.
"Climate change is already affecting the American people," the draft report begins. "Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting."
The National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee, formed in 1990 by enactment of the Global Change Research Act, gathered a team of more than 240 experts from 13 government agencies to produce the assessment. For the first time, the federal government has confirmed what many Americans and other citizens of the world have been thinking for years:
"These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity [anthropogenic]."
The multidisciplinary team that compiled the report also notes that American institutions and infrastructure are designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future. The strong implication here is that redevelopment of our current infrastructure as is may not be enough to withstand coming alterations in the natural world. "Using scientific information to prepare for these changes in advance," says the panel, will provide many economic opportunities. "Proactively managing the risks will reduce costs over time."
If you're having the feeling that you've heard this all before, you'd be right. Climate investigations were certainly espoused by his predecessors, but the law mandating them was initiated by President Ronald Reagan.
President Reagan's inspiration takes hold
Twenty-three years ago (1990), the United States Congress enacted a law that called for research into and action on global warming and related issues (Public Law 101-606(11/16/90) 104 Stat. 3096-3104). Although the bill was signed early in the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, President Ronald Reagan, whose environmentalist beliefs accompanied a largely conservative philosophy, suggested the national climate change investigation.
As well as embodying Reagan's feelings for the environment, the law reflected the view of the President's cost-benefit advisors that the environmental cancers caused by ozone depletion would eventually become more costly than phasing out fossil fuels responsible for greenhouse gases.
Congress directs study and quadrennial reports on climate change
The Act created the U.S. Global Change Research Program to help Americans understand and respond to global climate developments. The program was intended to establish an integrated and ongoing effort to explore the cumulative effects on the environment of both human activities and natural processes. It would thus help the federal government prioritize future investments in climate science. The law also aimed to support international protocols for global change research. It required program officials to report to the President and Congress every four years on progress to date.
The world takes on the environmental effort
Two years later, the United Nations adopted a Framework Convention on Climate Change to consider what the world could do to limit global temperature increases, the resulting climate change, and the impacts that were, by then, inevitable.
But at this point, American interest in the subject did a costly and dangerous about-face.
NEXT: Little or no progress with Reagan's climate change plans after two decades
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covered issues raised at the recently concluded 18th UN climate change summit meeting and during the 2012 presidential election. Her other work has included investigations into solar, wind, biomass, large and small hydroelectric, geothermal, and conventional energy forms. Sandy has also reported for Examiner.com on extreme weather disasters over the past few years.
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