In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama picked up climate change deniers’ well-used “I’m not a scientist, but” phrase, and turned it on its head.
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
The President’s nod to U.S. scientific bodies like NASA and NOAA is well timed. In addition to their recent announcements about 2014’s record setting heat, a trove of academic studies have appeared in Nature and Science in just the last two weeks. For example:
- This paper in Nature reconciles gaps between models and observations of ocean levels since the 1990s and concludes that sea level rise is happening even more rapidly than thought.
- This paper in Science chronicles how global warming, ocean acidification, aquaculture, and mining “pose extreme threats to ocean life,” and proposes creating ocean reserves and managing unprotected spaces akin to land conservation.
- This paper in Science reports that climate change and species extinctions indicate the the planet is entering a “danger zone,” with human activity degrading the environment “at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years.”
- This briefing in the Proceedings of the Institute for Civil Engineering (ICE) warns that the West Antarctica ice sheet collapse will cause over 11 feet of sea level rise that will disproportionately affect North America.
- The U.S. Global Change Research Program reports in this National Climate Assessment on the direct human health impacts of climate change, including increased disease and food insecurity.
In the non-academic realm,the World Economic Forum’s 2015 edition of its Global Risks Report ranks extreme weather, water crises, natural catastrophes, the failure to adapt to climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem collapse among the Top 10 risks to human security.
With this data in hand, our non-scientist-in-chief stated last night:
“That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”
UPDATE: On Wednesday, January 21, 2015, the U.S. Senate voted 98-1 on a Keystone XL bill amendment declaring that climate change is real and not a hoax. That’s the good news on congressional understanding of the climate change science. The bad news? The failure of a second amendment acknowledging the human causes of it – specifically, that “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change” – because the causation language of “significantly” troubled many Republicans. Despite the good work of “a lot of really good scientists” at NOAA, NASA, and the IPCC (and despite the five Republicans, Lindsay Graham,Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, and Lamar Alexander, who voted for it). Oh, and one more tally in the two-steps-backward column: Sen. James Inhofe signed on as a co-sponsor to that first amendment, saying for the record that “climate has always changed” and that it’s “arrogant” to think humankind can change climate. Sigh. Nonetheless Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders called the climate change votes “a step forward” for Republicans: “I think what is exciting is that today we saw for the first time – a number, a minority – but some Republicans going onboard and saying that climate change is real and it’s caused by human activity.” For more, read here.