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The National Academy of Sciences is Clear About Climate Change, not Murky

Dan Lashof

Posted May 19, 2010

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Today the National Academy of Sciences released its most comprehensive review of climate science.

Tomorrow the Senate may be asked to ignore all that sciencey stuff and vote to overturn EPA’s determination that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are dangerous.

The choice facing Senators could not be more stark: Side with America’s most authoritative scientific body or side with big oil.

A bit of background: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has proposed a “resolution of disapproval” that would overturn EPA’s December “endangerment finding.” Under the Congressional Review Act, Senator Murkowski could bring that resolution up for a vote in the Senate at any time prior to June 7th. She has indicated that she plans to do so as soon as the Senate finishes voting on financial regulatory reform, which could be tomorrow or anytime next week. Senator Murkowski has claimed that her resolution “has nothing to do with the science of global climate change.” But in fact the resolution would nullify EPA’s determination that carbon pollution is dangerous. So a vote for the resolution would be a vote to deny the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences.

Those conclusions are as definitive as science gets:

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.

Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.

Individually and collectively, these changes pose risks for a wide range of human and environmental systems, including freshwater resources, the coastal environment, ecosystems, agriculture, fisheries, human health, and national security, among others.

The Academy is clear that this does not mean that every question about climate change has been “settled.” In fact, the report recommends a robust research program to further refine our knowledge. But the Academy is also clear that its basic conclusion that heat-trapping pollution is causing global warming is about as settled as the theory of gravity:

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Congress requested the National Academy of Sciences to prepare America’s Climate Choices precisely to inform the kind of choice that Senators will face if Senator Murkowski brings her resolution to a vote. We need to insist that Senators follow the advice they asked for.

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JRyanMay 19 2010 05:11 PM

"Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2)"

Well this is certainly evidence that the cause is lost and we are all doomed.

If most of the warming is attributed to CO2 generated by humans while there's a volcano in Iceland belching out more CO2 than we have in a decade, then there is simply nothing that can be done to reverse or even correct this warming trend.

Sarah K. McInteeMay 19 2010 05:51 PM

@JRyan, If you understood the science then you wouldn't be making such sweeping claims. I recommend Dr. David Archer's book Climate Change: understanding the forecast. The science is a solid as the science that built your computer, therefore, you much be getting your information from the misinformed.

Harald WinklerMay 20 2010 06:00 AM

Thanks, Dan, for a good summary of an important report! With attacks on the IPCC, it is good to see your National Academy of Science coming out with a clear and balanced finding. We know enough to act, that's for sure!

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