U.S. National Academy of Sciences labels as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities”

New report confirms failure to act poses “significant risks”

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems….

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.

The National Academy released three reports today on “America’s Climate Choices.”

Today I’ll focus on their review of climate science, Advancing the Science of Climate Change (news release here, Report in Brief here, Read/purchase full report here).

The report is a typical NAS product, which means it is uber-conservative from a scientific perspective, much like the IPCC.  So that means whenever it actual makes a strong assertion, like the ones above, it is doubly impressive.  Those who continue to attack what are essentially ‘settled facts’ deserve the label that I and others have been using — ‘anti-scientific’.

The report has same fatal failing as the IPCC report: It fails to spell out clearly to policymakers, the public, and the media what the likely impacts are if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, including both business-as-usual and plausible worst-case scenarios.

The report does note, “A separate NRC report, expected in summer 2010, provides an analysis of impacts at different magnitudes of future climate change.”  So that presumably will be the report to watch for.  It also notes:

Some of the greatest risks posed by climate change are associated with these abrupt changes and other climate “surprises” (unexpected changes or impacts), yet the likelihood of such events is not well known. Moreover, there has been comparatively little research on the impacts that might be associated with “extreme” climate change””for example, the impacts that could be expected if global temperatures rise by 10 °F (6 °C) or more over the next century.

Well, 10F might be “extreme” climate change to scientists who can’t imagine why the world basically keeps ignoring their calls to action — but right now, it isn’t close to the plausible, “extreme,” worst case:

No, 10F warming is merely the high end of business-as-usual emissions projects (and I think we are getting a better understanding of what this Hell and High Water means):

The chapter on sea level rise does do a pretty good job summarizing the post-IPCC science (click here).  And it reproduces this figure (see “Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100“):

But it refuses to draw any conclusions or even present its own range of SLR by 2100.  I’m hopeful the summer report will be clearer on this.

The best thing about the report is the unequivocal defense of our basic scientific understanding that the climate is changing and that humans are a primary cause.  Here is the discussion of how we know humans are responsible for most of the observed warming in the last century and especially the last several decades (from page 29):


The climate is changing, humans are causing it, and the time to act is now.

Note:  I’m in meeting the rest of the day, so I welcome readers identifying any choice nuggets in the report good or bad.


37 Responses to U.S. National Academy of Sciences labels as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities”

  1. mike roddy says:

    This is more credible than IPCC, since it’s up to date and less subject to dilution by committee.

    I agree with Joe that political action can only occur if the more frightening plausible scenarios are communicated to our leadership and to the general public. There has been too much timidity here, since scientists have been so relentlessly attacked by corrupt members of the media and Congress that they have resorted to more hedging than the data would indicate.

    The recent letter from NAS members and these reports show a shift to much more forceful language. It’s been refreshing to see our best scientists join people like Jim Hansen in taking a stand. These reports are good, but will join the others in ending up in page 11, or in a 15 second mention right before the last commercial break. The fight appears to be finally under way, though, and it will be a long and tough one, especially now that we know about where everyone stands.

  2. Wit's End says:

    Just received my copy of Clive Hamilton’s “Requiem for a Species.” Not for the faint of heart, in the book he takes the position that people must become informed in order to prepare, and that scientists need to inform the public, loudly, instead of just whispering amongst themselves. I thought at the release of the NAS reports, Dr. Matson did an excellent job, especially in linking extreme weather events like flooding to AGW.

  3. Bill W says:

    $45 to buy the PDF? Ouch! That’s going to limit its circulation. I could understand the price for a hard copy, but why for the PDF? This is really a shame. This document needs to be everywhere, not hidden away.

  4. Mike #22 says:

    Here is page 228 from “Advancing the Science of Climate Change” where the temperature response curves for corn and soybean, Vegetative Response and Reproductive Response, are clearly shown…

    Corn and soybeans yields will be “negatively affected” “by even small increases in temperature”, and “reproductive failure” occurs for corn at 95 deg F and soybean at 102 deg F. Having said that they are apparently done with the subject.

    This report, like many others, glosses over the massive threat to the world’s grain crop posed by warming. Ideal corn growing conditions coincide with ideal soils in America’s corn belt. Shift the temperatures northward, and the ideal soil become the Great Lakes and terrain that has been scraped by glaciers. Plants can cope with heat only if they have enough water–which means irrigation, lots of it.

    The agricultural experts in academia and in industry (hard to see where the one leaves off and the other starts) have had so many successes in getting better yields, they seem to think that shifting the temperature tolerance of cell machinery is just another detail. If that were true, then wouldn’t they have already developed strains of corn and soybeans that tolerate higher temperatures and give yields comparable to the corn belt?

  5. John McCormick says:

    A hard look at the NAS report has it looking like VP Gore’s messages back in 1995. It could be said there is not a lot left to say about America’s Climate Choices…except to say we must commit all the resources America is willing to commit to safeguarding our domestic energy industry and the energy status quo (that includes our military costs to protect oil imports).

    Maybe it was a silly exercise but I searched the entire report for the word *needed*. It appears 271 times.

    Granted the report is the next blueprint for guiding US climate change research. But, what is really needed is for our Congress and the President to treat climate change as the looming disaster that it really is and will spell the end our prosperity and cancel the future of our grandchildren.

    John McCormick

  6. Steve H says:

    “Despite these uncertainties and complexities, it
    is clear that Earth’s future climate will be unlike the
    climate that ecosystems and human societies have
    become accustomed to during the last 10,000 years,
    leading to significant challenges across a broad range
    of human endeavors.”

    That is incorrect. A “broad range” of human endeavors? More like “the ability of any human’s body to maintain homeostasis will be likely near impossible without external aids, and everything else (eating, drinking, breathing) goes downhill from there.”

  7. cervantes says:

    Well you know that if the corporate media bother to report on this at all, they’ll be fair and balanced: they’ll give Lord Monckton equal time.

  8. dougmoreland says:

    Once again I have to ask, “Show me the evidence.”
    I went to the links in this report and see generic reports, with general conclusions. (“Warming very likely due to human activity”is not exactly a clear statement of cause.)
    Global warming, like all science today, has implications of funding and jobs and prestige. The author implies this is all “factual” and scientific” he does NOT show us clearly the evidence.
    For 10 years now I have been asking for a specific journal article that proves global warming is a result of human activity.
    Please, just point me to this article. And if you cannot, please say so.

  9. Erasmussimo says:

    dougmoreland, there is no single journal article that proves AGW. Indeed, there is nothing that proves ANY scientific theory; proof is a mathematical concept, not a scientific one. In the world of science, we have only different degrees of confidence in different hypotheses. Any scientific hypothesis can be disproven at any time by a contradictory datum. Therefore, the best way to judge the merits of any scientific hypothesis is to evaluate the evidence that supports it — ALL the evidence. After you have studied all the evidence — which will take you many years — you can come to a well-founded judgement of your own as to the merits of the AGW hypothesis. I suggest that you start with IPCC AR4 WG1.

    If you are unwilling to do that much work, you should instead rely on the advice of a reputable group of scientists. As it happens, Congress realized this problem and created just such an organization nearly 150 years ago. They charged this organization with providing the very best scientific judgement on matters of public policy import. The organization is quite conservative, only publishing advice when it feels very confident of its conclusions. And in fact, in nearly 150 years of operation, this organization has NEVER issued a formal report that was later shown to be incorrect. They have a perfect track record.

    What is this organization, you ask. It’s the National Academy of Sciences — the source of the above report.

  10. Artful Dodger says:

    OT, but relevant to prior discussions in the comments section here:

    Yup, Revkin dares go there re: explosions to stop the BP geiser

    Some in the comments even advocate thermonuclear. Sad to say, but we should have started a betting pool on this inevitability.

    I’m not informed either way to make the call on this one, but I recall (correctly I hope) comments here cautioning strongly against this route.

  11. C. Vink says:

    @dougmoreland May 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm: – and please follow the links to the scientific journals if you want to check JR’s exposés. You wil have to visit a library for the articles which require subscription for online reading.

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    Dougmoreland I’m sorry there’s no really kind way to explain this, so take it from another Doug as best you can.

    You’re asking for what others can’t give you. At the end of the day if you’re not sufficiently intelligent, are too lazy or have a intractable reason to ignore what’s plainly in your face it does not matter what amount of effort you demand from others, you’ll never be able to understand or necessarily even see the evidence for anthropogenic warming.

    NAS and its NRC are about the closest you’ll get to the proverbial horse’s mouth, the gold standard for science assessment. If you don’t get this most basic fact you need to start doing some homework, on your own because others cannot learn for you. If you can’t do the work needed to get caught up on this only you can really know the reason why, nobody else can help you.

    Here’s a great place to start:

    Spencer Weart’s History of Global Warming

  13. Leif says:

    dougmorland, #9: Science will not say unequivocally that you will die if you jump out of a 20 story building. Science will say “more than likely” or 95% or some such. If science tells you that you have even a 9o% chance you will die on your next plane ride are you going to make that flight? You wear seat belts and the chance of a car wreck on any given day is almost vanishingly small. Get real…

  14. Chris Winter says:

    Doug Moreland wrote: “For 10 years now I have been asking for a specific journal article that proves global warming is a result of human activity.”

    That’s the difference between science and law. If this were a dispute about a legal issue (and if I were a lawyer well-versed on that issue), I could point you to a specific case that would decide it in a clear-cut and ironclad way.

    Science is not like that. There are no ironclad decisions, and no Supreme Court of Science to make them. Likelihoods are the best science has to offer, and that’s the beauty of it. Once, as far as we knew, time always flowed at the same rate, everywhere. Einstein came along and showed us exceptions to this rule. We follow the old rule because it is good enough for most activities — but we understand that rule to be no rule at all, but merely an approximation, a likelihood.

    It’s the same with global warming. No one can prove human activities are causing the change. To do that in your lifetime would require magic. The CO2 concentration would have to be wished back to pre-industrial levels; then the temperature would have to be monitored for a few years.

    But if you look at the several lines of evidence — the rising concentration of CO2; the isotope ratio that shows a large percentage of that CO2 to come from old carbon (that is, fossil fuels); the rising temperature; and the fact that sunlight is not getting more intense — it is hard to argue rationally that the cause is anything other than more and more people turning more and more hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide.

  15. David HS says:

    Another starting point for Mr. Moreland can be found at

    There are several links for complete beginners, some described as “basics” and even one on Climate Literacy!

  16. Wit's End says:

    Sorry if this post comes up twice – I’ve been in moderation purgatory!

    Mike #22, we are going to have significant crop loss, much worse than we already have had, from rising levels of tropospheric ozone.

    “…incidence of O3 induced visible foliar injury is widespread across the eastern and western U.S. Visible foliar injury was observed in counties that are meeting the current level of the 8-hr standard and an alternative secondary standard option of a SUM06 of 25 ppm-hr proposed in 1996.”

    That’s from the EPA. They know, they just aren’t advertising, how serious the problem is.

    Kinda like the oil volcano.

  17. robhon says:

    I have a hunch that Doug Morland doesn’t want to find the evidence. I’m a non-scientist who has been looking into this issue for the past two years and pretty much ALL I find are scientific papers pointing to global warming being a result of human activity.

  18. Just minutes ago when Fox News read this news piece, Bret Baier ended it by saying “…although many other scientists disagree with the assertion that climate change is caused by humans”

    It’s always nice to see the overwhelming minority of climate scientists (5-10%) extrapolated into “many others.”

  19. DrD says:

    Like Robhon (#15), my background–other than basic undergraduate chemistry and biolgy courses–does not prepare me to fully understand the details and nuances of scientific reports. Yet that same background has involved considerable research and analysis in other fields and my conclusions are the same as his. The majority of climate reports and their assorted summaries demonstrate that those researchers who have looked at the issues objectively and with the advantage of science-based reasoning and training reached the same conclusions that the NAS has now reached. I have to trust someone (from time to time) and I find myself trusting the scientists rather than the anti-scientists.
    And Joe, once again thanks for this site.

  20. DrD says:

    When I started commenting, Robhon was post #15. Before I hit submit he had moved to #18. Sorry for any confusion.

  21. Sarah says:

    Here’s a nice interactive site by the Nature Conservancy that lets you examine temperature and ppt projections, and compare the different climate models. It’s quite nicely done. You can select regions (US, states, or global) and choose annual or monthly averages. (of course, projections at the state level likely have considerable uncertainty- I wouldn’t buy a retirement home based on these maps, especially since they don’t show sea level!)

  22. Chris Dudley says:

    On page 88 of the third report (on adaptation) we have:

    “A somewhat different issue is the vulnerability of coastal energy facilities, especially in the Gulf Coast region, to combined impacts of sea-level rise, more intense storm and land subsidence (CCSP, 2008a). In the near term adaptations are likely to emphasize protecting coastal energy and industrial infrastructures with barriers, but for the longer run investment strategies for new infrastructures may consider shifts in location to less vulnerable areas.”

    Investment in new nuclear power is longer run no matter what owing to the long time line for decommissioning. Current plans to provide loan guarantees for new nuclear power should come with strings attached to assure that sites at least 100 m above current sea level are chosen for new power plants. South Texas Project and Calvert Cliffs are sites that should be ineligible for loan guarantees.

    The report also mentions adapting energy systems by reducing water use, mentioning that nuclear power, in particular, becomes unreliable during heat waves. Nuclear power has more waste heat than other forms of thermal generation owing to the fragility of the fuel. It thus takes more cooling and more water for the same amount of electricity produced. It may not be a good choice in a warming world with changing rainfall patterns that may cut a new power plant’s cooling water supply before the plant’s lifetime is reached.

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  24. SecularAnimist says:

    dougmoreland wrote: “Once again I have to ask, ‘Show me the evidence.'”

    Why? Because you are too lazy to do the required reading yourself?

  25. dhogaza says:

    Well, the NY Times had this buried about half-way through the A section.

    But my local daily, The Oregonian, had it on page 2, and included a box announcing the ocean heat paper appearing now in Naturw, including a direct quote from Josh Willis (of ARGOS buoy analysis fame).

  26. shoshin says:

    Ho Hum…. another government body with a vested interest in maintaining their funding in the face of coming staggering cut backs….

  27. Doug Bostrom says:

    shoshin says: May 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Ho Hum…. another government body…

    Always a good idea to use a pseudonym when displaying embarrassing levels of ignorance.

    Why not get educated? These days you can do it for free if you’re genuinely interested in learning.

    Wit’s End points out, you can read the NAS reports here:

  28. dhogaza says:

    Ho Hum…. another government body with a vested interest in maintaining their funding in the face of coming staggering cut backs….

    Uh, no, sorry, not a government body. Members are elected by their peers, and serve pro bono.

  29. geschrei says:

    There is only one inescapable conclusion from this report:

    Current US immigration policy, which over the last three decades has encouraged millions of humans from low-C02 producing nations to emigrate (legally or not) to the nation which produces the most C02 in the world, is absolutely suicidal. Not merely to the US, but to the entire planet.

    The US must enact an IMMEDIATE immigration moratorium, and make every effort to return non-permanent residents to their respective homelands, regardless of cost. If we choose not to take this action, nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING we do about climate change will make a difference.

  30. GeoPhysicist says:

    I dont really care which side of the debate you fall on, but the words ‘fact’ and ‘very likely’ DO NOT belong together in any document pertaining to science. Either a fact is certain, or it is a theory with a stated probability of actuality!

    No Grand statements with a side of bet hedging please, makes us all look like fools.

  31. Raul says:

    The US has had many chances to get into the class that takes outcome
    into consideration. As climate takes generations in time scale to change
    significantly, it has been easy for the class of study without outcome
    to proliferate. Seems that spacecraft did make it to the moon and there
    is a space station out there. Must be there are classes that take some
    consideration of outcome into perspective. Us believers that there are those who show some great intelligence could band together to make a
    small tombstone for the earth before it becomes to late to show respect for the ones who thought of outcome on a multi-generational scale.

  32. Mike #22 says:

    30) You may want to look at the definition of “settled facts” as used by scientists.

  33. Raul says:

    Low impact settled fact. She didn’t want to think of climate change
    because it might mean that her make-up would melt even more than she
    already experiences on her way from her air-conditioned car to the
    air-conditioned shopping mall.
    Low impact settled fact. He didn’t want to think of climate change
    because it may mean that air-conditioning expenses could go even
    higher and he really wanted to buy her an even larger car so she
    could buy even more so he would have a reason to have the new addition
    on the house to put all those wonderful new things.

  34. Raul says:

    Some point to weather as a way to help the home to be more comfortable.
    They say with some types of design the home cans stay more comfortable.
    Passive solar heating up north is including heat collecting panels to
    bring the power of the sunlight into the home. There is use of some phase
    change materials to collect that warmth for release at night.
    In hot climates wide overhangs create shade. Radiant barriers in the roof and on the paint of outside walls do much to redirect heat gain away from
    indoor spaces.
    Another way to redirect heat is to direct it into the ground and exchange for the earths cooler temps about 6′ under the surface.
    Many techniques are available to passively keep an area comfortable.
    Could we make passive collectors for the new force out in the Gulf?

  35. Danny Heim says:

    I am very happy that scientists are speaking out about the realities of climate change. But I am also saddened that it will take such loud shouting for anyone to hear.

    Isn’t it just too bad, we have to spend some dollars to save our butts. It’s hard to believe that in the face of such overwhelming evidence that we squabble over costs. Considering the impacts of this “future” sure to be and sure to be RIGHT FREAKING NOW climate change, we should not care even if “attempting” to thwart this disaster causes a global depression. I’d rather stand in a soup line than be dead.

    And to think that so many people think this is a hoax. Let’s see, over 3000 scientists, 150 nations and every major science organization in the world got together and ALL agreed to con the entire world into giving them money. Wow, now that’s an accomplishment. OR, could it be that they are simply telling the truth, be honest with yourself (and common sense) and ask,” Which scenario seems more likely?”