America’s Climate Choices

Cross-posted from NextGen Journal

A landmark report (summary available here) was published this week by the National Research Council in the United States, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. The report, “America’s Climate Choices”, was requested by Congress several years ago. It focused on the observed impacts of climate change in the United States, as well as the policy choices most likely to be effective.

The report was created not just by scientists, but also by business executives and politicians. The diverse author committee is made apparent in the report’s message. Climate scientists tend to follow the IPCC mantra of “policy-relevant but policy-neutral” – they might discuss the potential ramifications of different policy choices, but they don’t recommend one over the other.

In contrast, this report includes phrases such as, “Current efforts of local, state, and private sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts.” This is toeing the line of policy-prescriptive. It doesn’t hesitate to say that some policy options will be better than others for reducing global warming, and that the policy option of doing nothing would be foolish.

More specifically, the authors recommend a price on carbon, and describe a system similar to a carbon tax for the most effective option. They also name elements of what they see to be the best course of action for the United States:

  • “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions”
  • “begin mobilizing now for adaptation”
  • “invest in science, technology, and information systems”
  • “participate in international climate change response efforts”
  • “coordinate national response efforts”

These recommendations conflict with many postulates of the conservative American ideology. “Historically there’s only one thing Congress dislikes more than science and that’s international treaties,” writes Kevin Grandia, and this report recommends both. It’s no surprise, then, that Tea Party politicians are dismissing the report out of hand, as the New York Times reports. Apparently, Joe Barton thinks that doing nothing about climate change is a viable policy option. Fifty years from now, when civilizations and ecosystems worldwide are struggling to survive the impacts of climate change, what will history books say about Joe Barton?

The New York Times article illustrates much of what is wrong with mainstream climate journalism. It balances a massive report from the National Academy of Sciences with statements from an extremist politician. Additionally, it does a hilarious job of framing decades-old scientific findings as new and controversial, as if this report was the first to discuss them. “Not only is global warming real, but the effects are already becoming serious,” writes the New York Times. “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.”

If this is news to the New York Times, they need to catch up on their science. Right now, they’re stuck in the 1980s.


1 thought on “America’s Climate Choices

  1. Its great to finally hear rhetoric that includes the phase “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, especially from the Americans. In Canada the government has been painfully slow to publish this sort of language. As far as I have read, the major government reports have only included phases like “Adaptation to climate change”, which is a far cry from emission reductions. The reports I am referring are (Adapting to Climate change in Ontario, November 2009), and (From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a changing climate, 2007).

    The Canadian governments policy on emission reduction is weak, as seen on its climate change web site. A vague strategy of coal power plant phase out and motor vehicle efficiency increases that will not come to fruition for 5-15 years from now, simply isn’t good enough. (

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