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US National Research Council reiterates need for action in US to limit magnitude of climate change; final volume in America’s Climate Choices

Illustration of the steps in an iterative risk management approach for addressing climate change. From: America’s Climate Choices. Click to enlarge.

Warning that the risk of dangerous climate change impacts is growing with every ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, a US National Research Council committee reiterated the pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.

US options for responding to the risks posed by climate change are analyzed in a new report—and the final volume—in America’s Climate Choices, a series of studies requested by Congress. The committee that authored the report included scientists and engineers, economists, business leaders, an ex-governor, a former congressman, and other policy experts.

The new report builds upon the four previous America’s Climate Choices panel reports: Advancing the Science of Climate Change; Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change; Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change; and Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change. (Earlier post.)

The new report reaffirms that the preponderance of scientific evidence points to human activities—especially the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—as the most likely cause for most of the global warming that has occurred over the last several decades. This trend cannot be explained by natural factors such as internal climate variability or changes in incoming energy from the sun. The report adds that the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems can generally be expected to intensify with warming.

While it recognized that climate change is inherently a global issue requiring an international response, the committee focused on the charge from Congress to identify steps and strategies that US decision makers could adopt now. A coordinated national response to climate change, which the country currently lacks, is needed and should be guided by an iterative risk management framework in which actions taken can be revised as new knowledge is gained.

America’s response to climate change is ultimately about making choices in the face of risk. Risk management strategies must be durable enough to promote sustained progress yet sufficiently flexible to take advantage of new knowledge and technologies.

—committee vice chair William L. Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

According to the report, essential elements of an effective national response include:

  • Enacting policies and programs that reduce risk by limiting the causes of climate change and reducing vulnerability to its impacts;

  • Investing in research and development efforts that increase knowledge and improve the number and effectiveness of response options available;

  • Developing institutions and processes that ensure pertinent information is collected and that link scientific and technical analysis with public deliberation and decision making; and

  • Periodically evaluating how response efforts are progressing and updating response goals and strategies in light of new information and understanding.

Substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions should be among the highest priorities in the national response, the committee said. Although the exact magnitude and speed of reductions will depend on how much risk society deems acceptable, it would be imprudent to delay taking action. The committee cited many reasons for not waiting, including that the faster emissions are reduced, the lower the risks.

Because the effects of greenhouse gases can take decades to manifest and then persist for hundreds or even thousands of years, waiting for impacts to occur before taking action will likely be too late for meaningful mitigation. Beginning emissions reductions soon will also lower the pressure to make steeper and costlier cuts later.

It is our judgment that the most effective strategy is to begin ramping down emissions as soon as possible.

— committee chair Albert Carnesale, chancellor emeritus and professor, University of California, Los Angeles

Summary of recommendations
  1. In order to minimize the risks of climate change and its adverse impacts, the US should reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially over the coming decades.

  2. Adaptation planning and implementation should be initiated at all levels of society.
  3. The federal government should maintain an integrated, coordinated, and expanded portfolio of research programs with the dual aims of increasing our understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change and enhancing our ability to limit climate change and to adapt to its impacts.
  4. The federal government should lead in developing, supporting, and coordinating the information systems needed to inform and evaluate America’s climate choices, to ensure legitimacy and access to climate services, greenhouse gas accounting systems, and educational information.
  5. The nation’s climate change response efforts should include broad-based deliberative processes for assuring public and private-sector engagement with scientific analyses, and with the development, implementation, and periodic review of public policies.
  6. The United States should actively engage in international-level climate change response efforts.
  7. The federal government should facilitate coordination of the many interrelated components of America’s response to climate change with a process that identifies the most critical coordination issues and recommends concrete steps for how to address these issues.

State and local efforts currently under way or being initiated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are potentially quite significant but unlikely to yield outcomes comparable to what could be achieved with a strong federal effort, according to the committee. It said the most efficient way to accelerate emissions reductions is through a nationally uniform price on greenhouse gas emissions with a price trajectory sufficient to spur investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies. Having such policies in place is crucial to guide investments in energy infrastructure that will largely determine the direction of greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.

The committee deemed the risks of sticking to business as usual to be a much greater concern than the risks associated with a strong response. Most policy responses could be reversed if they prove to be more stringent than is needed, but adverse changes to the climate system are difficult or impossible to undo. It also said that uncertainty in projecting the severity, location, or time of climate change impacts is not a reason for inaction. On the contrary, uncertainty about future risks could be a compelling reason for taking action given that abrupt, unanticipated, or more severe impacts could occur.

Aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would reduce the need for adaptation but not eliminate it, the committee emphasized, urging the nation to mobilize now to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts. While adaptation planning largely occurs at the state and local level, the federal government should help coordinate these efforts and develop a national adaptation strategy.

In addition, the federal government should maintain an integrated portfolio of research programs aimed at increasing understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change and developing tools to limit climate change and adapt to its impacts. The government also needs to take the lead in collecting and sharing climate change information to ensure that pertinent knowledge is used to inform decisions. Public and private sector engagement through broad-based deliberative processes is essential as well. These processes should include transparent analyses of climate change information, an explicit discussion of uncertainties, and consideration of how decisions will be affected by differing personal values.

Because emissions reductions in the US alone will not be adequate to avert dangerous climate change risks, US leadership needs to remain actively engaged in international climate change response efforts, the committee emphasized. If the US pursues strong emission reduction efforts, it will be better positioned to influence other countries to do the same. Given that climate change impacts elsewhere in the world may affect US interests, it would also be prudent to help enhance the adaptive capacity of other nations, particularly developing countries.

The America’s Climate Choices studies were sponsored by NOAA. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter. Committee members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies’ conflict-of-interest standards. The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.




Still too vague with little indication of how reductions/ changes/ and sacrifices would trickle down and affect the lifestyle choices of everyday people.

How about this: you can do anything you want as part of a national policy on climate change as long I can continue to afford to own an 1800ft2 house in a middle-class suburban neighborhood on a 3000ft2 lot with a family of 4 on both a cooling (a/c) and heating season (i.e. suburban large town, Pennsylvania); 2 cars, one small and one large; and 4 weeks of vacation; on an annual family salary of $70k with a technical degree and 5 years experience. If you consider utilities and living expenses as the major drivers along with access to middle class jobs at a 6% unemployment rate, regular personal vehicle use, and unrestricted moderate-cost national travel, then we can say that the sacrifices expected with implementing climate change cost policies are fair and reasonable with all the permutations that would be possible with family type, living location, skill sets, and lifestyle choices, against the 'standard' above.


Bush said that the only way the economy could grow is drill baby drill. That is a pretty dim witted outlook.



Try asking God. Perhaps he's inclined to guarantee you your American Dream.


Actualy sjc what bush said was if we didnt drill more we would likely run into problems with oil costs long before we were ready with solutions to the need for oil.


Dear Anne,
Good for you. I am glad that your mental illness is not keeping you from sharing your views with others.
Sincerely, Jer.


We can not drill our way out of the problem and most people know this. We produce less than 6 million barrels per day and use more than 18 million barrels per day. We peaked in 1970 at just under 10 million barrels per day and import more than 60% of what we use. The liability in the Gulf was reduced to $75 million to encourage development starting 2003, it made up for some of the field decline.


Only a child would view drilling as that sjc. Its about doing our part to keep things running globaly until our tech manages to overcome the root problems. Until then every well we dont drill means higher oil prices.. and that means someone else far away gets that closer to death.

But I guess you dont care about that do you?


if we had dollar gas again the economy would pick up
from cheaper goods and traveling

but dollar gas is never going to happen again



You are not making much sense, having a difficult day?


Ill make it simple so you can understand. If we dont drill and global supplies dip below demand who winds up losing? Not us. The weaker nations who cant afford to buy the oil are the ones who fall first.

If we drill we MIGHT postpone that fall long enough for us to cut our consumption and for them to leapfrog out of oil. But if we dont drill we prolly will miss that deadline by quite a bit.


When you have a finite resource, the faster you extract it and the faster you use it the more quickly you will run out.

We do not have to wait for anything, synthetic fuels were developed 80 years ago. We have 100 years of natural gas, 200 years of coal and biomass is sustainable at 1 billion tons per year.

richard schumacher

Yes, the US has enough coal to meet 200 years worth of its current energy needs (1). Now we need the wisdom not to use it, because using it would do us irreparable harm.

(1) But who thinks that US energy needs will not grow? And of course the world as a whole has only about 100 years worth of coal even at current rates of energy consumption. Whoever develops non-fossil energy will do well, both by using it themselves and selling it to others.


Drill baby Drill and Biofuel baby Biofuel will not solve the root problem that USA is facing.

The lasting solution is to do more with less liquid fuel. This could be done much sooner than claimed with:

1. Improved 50+ mpg ICE.
2. Improved 80 + mpg HEVs.
3. Improved 200 + mpg PHEVs
4. Improved, no fuel, BEVs.
5. Medium speed cargo e-trains.
6. High speed passengers e-trains
7. 54-foot cargo trailers and containers on e-trains.
8. Short range e-tractors at both ends.
9. All electric houses with high level energy conservation applied.
10.SG will be a short term fix.

Americans will have to roll up their sleeves and do it, if they want to keep the American dream from becoming the American nightmare.

The days of ultra cheap oil, fuels and energy are over.


You can increase supply of oil or biofuels or synthetic fuels. You can conserve through carpools or telecommuting. You can have higher efficiency through CAFE. Or you can substitute with electric created from coal, natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear and others.

It is shifting, substituting or doing without. Commuting from the suburbs to the city and back has used LOTS of fuel that last 60 years. Doing without may mean living closer to work or taking mass transit. Lot of ways to use less oil, but the ones that will work because they are actually DONE will be the easiest ones that bring the most benefit.


"...especially the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—as the most likely cause for most of the global warming that has occurred over the last several decades."

It is now just pathetic to watch these once-mighty climate priests bang their heads against the same wall - expecting different results. Acceptance of failure is the mark of wise men. Apparently these remaining priests hoping desperately to hang onto their publicly funded research grants - cannot accept their failure in public mind.

The public knows there is no CO2-based AGW, never has been. Chancellor Albert Carnesale needs to take a long look in the mirror and ask himself - "What have I learned from Copenhagen and Cancun?" Acceptance is a quality best taught through one's own action.

Stan Peterson

More political nonsense.

The world is NOT warming. The seas are NOT risng. The Ice is NOT melting. The People are NOT buying the nonsense any longer.

Even AstroPhysicist Dr. Hansen agrees.

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