White House Climate Policy Remains Unchanged in Face of Science Shift

New Admin. Science Statement at Odds with Do-nothing Global Warming Policy

Statement by Dr. Dan Lashof, Science Director, NRDC Climate Center, on release of U.S. Climate Program 2004-2005 report:

WASHINGTON (August 26, 2004) -- The White House released a report to Congress yesterday that includes summaries of recent research on global warming, concluding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollution are the only likely explanation for the unprecedented warming observed over the past few decades. This marks a shift in White House views on global warming science, with previous statements from the administration stressing uncertainties, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Scientists know that the Earth today is already warming, and that it is warming faster than at any time in history. All 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1990, and 19 of the 20 warmest since 1980. Most experts, including the National Academy of Sciences, agree that heat-trapping pollution is the main cause for the unprecedented warming. They say average temperature increases of 3 to 10 degrees F will occur by the end of the century unless emissions are cut soon.

Below is Dr. Lashof's statement:

"The White House is finally recognizing what scientists have been saying for years -- that global warming is real, is happening, and heat-trapping pollution is the problem. Unfortunately, there has been no shift in their policy on global warming. They still support an industry-friendly, voluntary program that will do nothing to curb the emissions that cause global warming.

"Meanwhile, real bi-partisan solutions like the McCain-Lieberman bill exist. This legislation, and solutions like it in states across the country, would set real, enforceable limits on the pollution that causes global warming and encourage innovation and technological advancement.

"Now that the White House has woken up to the truth about global warming, they need to take action to fix this problem."

A summary of some of the recent research highlighted in the report follows:

Some Recent Research Highlighted in Our Changing Planet 2004-2005

Detecting the Human Influence on Climate: Using climate models with improved representations of natural variability, scientists have confirmed that observed global temperatures during the 20th Century can only be explained when the effect of heat-trapping gases is included along with natural factors. A similar analysis for North America reached the same conclusion, showing that natural factors could explain temperature variations up to about 1950, but it is unlikely that these factors alone could produce the warming observed since then.

Arctic Warming: As predicted by climate models, the arctic is warming much faster than the world as a whole. From 1981 to 2001 the Arctic region warmed by 1.1 degree Fahrenheit. In the high latitude region of North America the warming was even greater -- a staggering 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in just twenty years.

Ocean Heat Storage: Much of the excess heat trapped by carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants is stored in the ocean, delaying the increase in surface temperatures that will eventually be seen. Consistent with available observations, climate models show that the rate of ocean heat storage has more than tripled since 1950.

The Perfect Ocean for Drought: Recent work provides compelling evidence that the severe drought that has affected the Western United States since 1998 is part of a persistent climate pattern that was strongly influenced by the tropical oceans. Unusually cold sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific occurred together with unprecedented warmth in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans. Climate model simulations demonstrate that this pattern of sea surface temperatures is ideally suited to produce an atmospheric circulation pattern conducive to producing drought in the western United States.

Plants and Animals Feeling the Heat: Analyses based on a large number of studies of plants and animals across a wide range of natural systems worldwide have found that many species have shifted their geographic ranges or changed temperature-sensitive behaviors -- such as migration, flowering, or egg-laying -- in ways consistent with reacting to global warming. The balance of evidence from these studies suggests that impacts of global warming are discernible in animal and plant populations.

Weeds Take Advantage of Excess Carbon Dioxide: Higher CO2 concentrations stimulate plant growth, but recent research shows that this may be more of a curse than a blessing for farmers and ranchers. One study showed that shortgrass prairie grown with twice-ambient CO2 concentrations had less nitrogen and was less digestable than forage produced in current CO2 concentrations. Other studies found that increased CO2 stimulated the growth of five of the most important species of invasive weeds more than any other plant species yet studied. In addition, at twice ambient CO2, white clover leaf area consumed by an insect pest (the Western flower thrips) was approximately 90% greater than leaf area consumed in ambient CO2.