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Spring/Summer 2009 Vol. 9 Number 1



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MEETINGS


NAS President Ralph Cicerone at the summit on America’s Climate Choices, held March 30 and 31, 2009, at the National Academy of Sciences, photos by William Geiger A National Response to Climate Change

Summit Kicks off New Study


The “green movement” has penetrated the American consciousness, and its growing popularity has been turning people on to becoming more environmentally responsible. Across the country people are trying to help by swapping plastic bags for reusable bags at the grocery store, reducing their carbon footprint, or making more energy-efficient choices. This wave of “green” enthusiasm mainly focuses on how individuals or business can help lessen their environmental impact, but actions such as reducing the use of plastic bags won’t really influence the overarching issue of global warming. To combat climate change, a more far-reaching course of action is needed, not only for individuals, but the entire nation.

Looking for such a path, Congress asked the National Research Council to study the steps and strategies policy leaders should take. The resulting project, America’s Climate Choices, lays the groundwork for how the nation can respond through a series of reports that will be issued next year.

Participants at the summit on America’s Climate Choices, held March 30 and 31, 2009, at the National Academy of Sciences, photos by William Geiger Participants at the summit on America’s Climate Choices, held March 30 and 31, 2009, at the National Academy of Sciences, photos by William Geiger Participants at the summit on America’s Climate Choices, held March 30 and 31, 2009, at the National Academy of Sciences, photos by William Geiger Participants at the summit on America’s Climate Choices, held March 30 and 31, 2009, at the National Academy of Sciences, photos by William Geiger

A summit last spring brought together members of Congress, administration officials, top scientists, business leaders, state government officials, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations to hear the expert views on what the study should cover and include.

“This study is not about what the individuals should do … recycle aluminum cans or not,” said Albert Carnesale, chair of the Committee on America’s Climate Choices while addressing the audience. “This is about … what the nation is going to do.”

“This report will inform a thousand different policy decisions layered throughout our federal, state, and local government — in fact, our entire economy,” said U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. “If sea levels are projected to rise X feet over the next 30 years, for example, how does that affect wetlands restoration activities in Louisiana? How do we provide water to California if the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is substantially reduced? At what point will depleted aquifers in America’s bread basket force us to make fundamental changes in our agriculture policy?”

Rep. Mollohan added that he expected the study to define these uncertainties, evaluate this meaningfulness for policymakers, and map out a way to narrow the remaining questions about climate change.

Examining the Challenges

Some of the most difficult obstacles to combating climate change that speakers identified deal with improving technology to create more efficient use of fuel and electricity, promoting more climate-friendly behaviors, and incorporating information about climate change into decision being made at all levels. Currently, the United States puts out 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide of the world’s total output of 30 billion tons per year. In order to substantially reduce these emissions, massive changes are needed in the ways we produce and use energy, said Robert Socolow, a professor at Princeton University and member of the America’s Climate Choices committee.

Moreover, the study needs to consider how U.S. climate solutions will integrate into a global framework. How much would they cost to implement, and how does that mesh with the current gloomy state of the economy? “Without a blueprint for domestic action, it will be difficult to agree to an international plan with firm targets for the United States and other nations,” noted Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Looking Back and Forward

Although the summit was a launch pad for the America’s Climate Choices study, it also provided an opportunity to collect feedback and firmly frame the questions and issues the study will address. Four study panels will issue reports, and the project will culminate with an overarching report that identifies short-term actions and the most promising long-term strategies to respond to climate change.  — Jennifer Walsh

America’s Climate Choices. Committee on America’s Climate Choices, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies. The committee is chaired by Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.



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Copyright 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences