The Poor State of the Nations Climate

President George W. Bush will deliver his final State of the Union address on Monday. We can be sure he will talk about Iraq and the economy, particularly the hot topic of the moment: recession. He probably will discuss Iran and the war on terrorism. He may talk about immigration and rising oil prices, two topics he raised last year and on which there has been no progress.

But will he talk about global climate change?

On the eve of the address and in no uncertain terms, a group of the nation’s leading scientists and policy experts is advising the President that he should.

“We regret to report that the state of the nation’s climate policy is poor, and the climate and the ecosystems that depend upon it are showing increasing signs of disruption,” the group says in a statement being delivered to the White House today. We can no longer discuss the State of the Union without assessing the state of the nation’s climate.

Among the diverse signatories are two Nobel Laureates; nearly 30 mayors of U.S. cities; climate experts from 15 academic institutions including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Duke Universities; and leaders of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Federation of American Scientists, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences. Individuals from several foundations, think tanks, and businesses also signed.

The seven-page statement makes clear that global warming deserves much more attention in the State of the Union address than the President gave it last year, when he sent the policy world atwitter with six words — “serious challenge of global climate change”. As it turns out, those words were the high point of the Administration’s climate action agenda last year. The low point came in Bali.

Compared to the other issues the president is likely to discuss, none approaches global warming in scale, duration or significance. Recession may be dominating the attention of the White House, the candidates and Congress. But as TIME columnist Justin Fox noted this week, the recession is “just a passing phenomenon.”

“Keep that in mind when listening to those presidential candidates talk economics,” Fox wrote, “By the time one of them takes office a year from now, this year’s slump will probably be history. It’s the other stuff that he or she might actually be able to do something about.”

Among the themes in the “State of the Climate” paper are that climate change is not a distant problem and it is not simply an environmental issue.

“The early signs of climate change are appearing much more quickly than predicted,” the statement says. “These signs are not restricted to the Arctic and Antarctic. We are seeing troubling patterns emerging in the United States that are consistent with the predicted impacts of climate change.” Among them are changing precipitation patterns, Atlantic hurricane activity, the frequency and size of wildfires, diminishing snow pack, changing migratory patterns, and damage from insects, including the death of pine forests.

“Some suffering is inevitable and we must help those least able to cope,” the statement says. “But the more quickly we reduce emissions today and prepare for the consequences of emissions from the past, the less suffering there will be. Those are the realities that we must acknowledge and act upon now.”

Among the statement’s many other points are these:

• The transformation to a clean global economy will open “paths of possibility to all Americans, including those the old economy left behind.

The federal Climate Change Science Program should be fully funded and should produce more information about the local, social and economic impacts of climate change so that communities can prepare.

• In order to have constructive engagement with the international community, the United States needs concrete action at home.

The statement, produced by the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), is open for signature by all who wish to endorse it. It is more than a prompt for the President’s address on Monday; it’s also a document that, with sufficient support, can send yet another signal to the candidates that this election should be a breakthrough not only for race and gender, but for long-overdue White House leadership on energy security and climate action. The complete document and a signature tool are posted on PCAP’s web site:

— Bill B.

11 Responses to The Poor State of the Nations Climate

  1. Bill Becker says:

    The State of the Climate message was delivered to the White House this morning (Jan. 24). Here’s the coverage by ABC News:

  2. jcwinnie says:

    Man, Bill, I want some of those happy pills that you are taking!

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Bill Becker — Thanks for the link.

  4. Paul K says:

    The pundits ask of every State of the Union, “Will it play in Peoria?” That’s here in Illinois. In Illinois the climate is pretty good, though the weather is often terrible. We have not had the kind of temperature increases seen in Alaska and across the arctic. I sometimes wonder how global global warming is. There are places in the U.S. where the average temperature has actually gone down over the last 30 years or so. The Southern Hemisphere isn’t warming the same as the Northern where the northern latitudes are warming much faster than the rest of the hemisphere. Of course, even if the warming is not evenly spread, it is no less distressing to those experiencing it. It is right to sympathize with the mayor’s rage against change. Some from states whose residents don’t receive an annual piece of oil company profits may find some irony in it. The warming is undeniable. Some will fare worse in a warmer Alaska. Some will fare better. Some have been through it before. The so-called medieval warm period is thought to have been localized in Northern Europe and the northern Western Hemisphere. Perhaps we are in for a repeat.

  5. Ronald says:

    One of the problems with explaining the global warming problem is explaining what’s happening in the present and near future and then explaining the distant 30, 50, and 100 year future. What happens now is not a major problem. It’s if we don’t do something about this, it will be a much larger problem for future generations.

    That’s why discussing what’s happened so far as being bad, people will look around and say, it’s not so bad, just a little warming. The really bad happens in the future, when we’ve increased temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius and more. We’ll be in a different climate, more droughts and floods, and maybe Ocean level rise. Those areas that are food breadbaskets now maybe in the future to dry to farm. Those cities next to the ocean will be fighting rising water.

    It’s just not in human thinking to consider problems in the future when we are worried about what’s happening to us now. Understanding the global warming problem takes more imagination and commitment than most people have.

  6. Bill Becker says:

    jcwinnie — I’d happily share my happy pills if I had any. We wrote and delivered the State of the Climate message to the White House with no real hope that anyone there would read it, let alone fold it into the State of the Union address. I intended it as an exercise with two parts. The first is to find ways for the climate-action community to speak with one voice. I tried to do that by writing a statement that goes back to first principles. The second part of the exercise was to keep the drumbeat going for serious climate action in the U.S. The President, as we know, marches to a different drummer. I’m playing more for the candidates and the Congress (there go those happy pills again). In the Presidential Climate Action Project, we’ve conjured up more than 300 specific ideas for presidential action. The ideas are great, but they won’t go far unless the candidates get courage, and the candidates probably won’t get courage until they hear the drumbeat growing louder, and louder, and more persistent.

    Smart or stupid, good or bad, that’s the idea behind the State of the Climate document. Gotta keep trying.

  7. Paul K says:

    Political solutions are extremely slow. I have advocated looking not to the politicians, but to the people. To demonstrate what I mean by this, I have decided to form the Fossil Fuel Replacement Association. Its purpose will be funding the installation of solar panel, photo voltaic cell and small wind projects. I intend to file the paper work necessary to qualify as a tax exempt 501C(3) with tax deductible for contributers.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Ronald — What is happening now is rather bad, to put it mildly, in all those regions experiencing greater drought and those experiencing greater flooding. Off the top of my head: The Sahel, East Africa, South Asia(flooding), South China(flooding), Australia, Southeast United States. Not to mention that 2007 was a poor crop year in much of eastern Europe. Oh yes, the entire Mediterrean basin is drying up and so the the southern portion of the Amazon Basin.

    Handley Certer predicts that 2008 will be much like 2007 and then globl warming will really kick in. Does not look good..

  9. Bill Becker says:

    I agree with David: Climate change is happening now. But we don’t have to look so far away to see its signs. While the scientists won’t attribute a hurricane or five years of temperature records to climate change (they need longer patterns), we’re seeing many effects consistent with the predicted impacts: drought, increased intensity and size of wildfires, changing rainfall patterns that leave regions too wet at times, and too dry at others. In my previous posts about the hidden costs of inaction, I mentioned the announcement by federal foresters last week that all of Colorado’s and southern Wyoming’s mature lodgepole pine forests, more than a million acres, will be dead in 3-5 years due to pine bark beetle infestation, partly as a result of milder winters. (Prolonged cold weather kills them.) Unless you’re running from a fire in southern California, none of these signs is so immediate to most Americans that they’ll put down the remote control and get up off the couch. But climate change is at our doorstep. Some would say it already has snuck into the house. Still, with apologies to my libertarian brothers and sisters, I suspect it will take carbon pricing and some well-designed government mandates to force action.

  10. Ronald says:

    Some people think that the global warming that we see and is affecting the climate and weather in some places on the earth is bad.

    Two points
    That still doesn’t compare with what the future climate earth will look like. If the worst that it gets is what we see now, it maybe wouldn’t mean we should make the drastic changes to our energy system. The worse problem is that future climate earth will be much worse than what we have now and it is hard relay that idea to people who don’t see the problems now.

    Some may think the global warming we see is bad, but it is not bad enough to convince many, many people, especially in our country, that it is bad enough to be concerned about. The drought in the southeast is not unlike a drought in the 1950’s. Deniers of global warming are still able to convince many people that the droughts and weather changes in the southwest and pacific coast are normal levels for forest fires.

    If we were to have a few years of what the climate will be like in the year 2050 or 2100, then you may see some peoples mind changed, but we don’t have the luxury or are that lucky. We’re stuck with the moderately warmer and changed climate and weather of 2008, not the hugely warmer and very much changed climate and weather of 2050 or 2100. As I understand it, the statistically warm summer of 2003 in Europe will have been statistically a very cool summer in the future.

    Bad is all relative. We may consider the climate change we have now as bad. The climate change that is in the future is worse. The future really really bad is all we can work towards to avoid, we are already dialed in for the moderately bad that is going to occur.

  11. Paul K says:

    I do not speak for libertarians but the words “to force action” are equally grating to the liberal ear.