Top U.S. Scientists Reach Verdict On Climate

NWF climate scientist Amanda Staudt, Ph.D., contributes from Washington, D.C. after a National Academy of Sciences briefing. 

Remember the climate denier offensive called “hackergate” that tried to undo years of public understanding on the causes and impacts of global warming? Today the National Academiesthe most prestigious scientific body in the United States—set the record straight on climate science. In three major reports, the Academies examine how climate change is already affecting our environment and communities, and the tools available to solve the climate crisis. 

These three reports are the first products of the America’s Climate Choices study that started 18 months ago and included a widely attended summit in March 2009. But, more importantly, these reports are the first comprehensive review and analysis of climate change that the Academies have produced in nearly two decades. Not since 1992, when the 944-page tome Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming was published, have the Academies examined the issue of climate change so thoroughly. 

In fact, the 2001 Academies report Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions―the report requested by the Bush administration in 2001 and responsible for the most clear acknowledgment from our previous president that climate change is a problem―doesn’t hold a candle to these reports in terms of their careful review of an ever-growing library of scientific data and literature, and their widespread engagement of the scientific community and other experts in sectors from health to transportation.Forget hackergate and all the quibbles over small errors in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

Advancing the Science of Climate Change states: 

– “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”
– “The ultimate magnitude of climate change and the severity of its impacts depend strongly on the actions that human societies take to respond to these risks.”
– “[T]he core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined throroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.” 

Having previously worked as a senior program officer at the National Academies, I have read and helped write many reports that they have issued on climate change. I know how hard it can be to get such strong statements through the consensus and review process. All members of an Academy panel must sign off on their report in its entirety. Where there is disagreement among the panel members, the statements are weakened and caveats are added. Clearly, there was no disagreement on this Academy panel about the fact that climate change is a clear and present threat.   

National Academies reports

Advancing the Science of Climate Change 

Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change