Dispatch to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times:
Last week I faxed you the material on the following pages in an attempt to draw to the attention of your editorial staff an event of major importance. I am writing again with the assumption that my own words were unpersuasive as to the importance of the AGU (American Geophysical Union) statement described on the following pages. There are better writers than I and their words are included in this fax.
In today's mail I received, EOS, the weekly publication of the AGU with an unprecedented front page editorial discussing the new position statement.
Perhaps I should be more blunt. From the standpoint of the peer-refereed scientific community, everything you have heard about global warming and climate change over the past ten years is tabloid journalism. This is the first time a major peer-refereed scientific organization has laid out the facts. The facts are highly relevant and directly applicable to the Corpus Christi area.
Best Wishes, Dr. Grady Blount,
Full text of the AGU statement can be found at:
The AGU statement, titled Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases is also reproduced at the end of the following editorial.
Real Scientists Take A Stand
One of the most important scientific announcements of the decade was made and ignored last week. The subject was global warming and the news will likely be greeted as unwelcome by both sides of this politically-charged issue.
Innocuously titled "AGU Position Statement - Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases", it marks the first time that the scientists who actually study global change have taken a public policy stand on the subject.
It is blessedly straight-forward: Greenhouse gas concentrations have increased substantially and they have a warming effect on the Earth's surface. The culprit is fossil fuel burning. No rocket science here. More profound is their discussion of the balance between what we know-the scientific evidence, and what we don't know-the ubiquitous uncertainties of how the Earth System will respond.
Their conclusion: Global warming is underway; but not at a rate unprecedented in Earth history. The inherent complexity and variability of Earth's climate is such that long-term change will not become evident until it is a fait accompli. With repercussions as dramatic as rising sea level and changes in crop production patterns, they firmly conclude that our understanding about "how" exceeds our uncertainty about who (is responsible). The time for debate has passed.
Scientists are telling us unequivocally that climate change is underway. But social responses to those changes are not scientific judgements. The scientific goal is to perform basic research to quantify the effects of human activities on climate change. Simultaneously, we are urged to begin studying strategies for emissions reduction, carbon sequestration, and methods for adapting society to climate change.
In spite of these facts we will continue to hear the dangerous and distracting voices of the pseudo-scientists. The Flat-Earth crowd who, with creationism in one hand and the fate of humanity in the other, will continue to insist that Earth does not change. They will stubbornly cling to the notion that the Ice Age never happened, that climate is static, and that the biosphere does not evolve.
Our only protection against continued obfuscation is a scientifically literate public and a media savvy enough to report on the difference between hard reality and dogmatic fantasy.
The warning about global change has been issued. It does not call for dramatic changes in lifestyle or Kyoto Protocols. It does call for prudent preparations for what now appears to be inevitable climate change. From our tenuous perch along a coastline which has flooded repeatedly, it is a warning worth heeding.
-Grady Blount, February 1, 1999
Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases
Adopted by Council December 1998
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have substantially increased as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion and other human activities. These elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases are predicted to persist in the atmosphere for times ranging to thousands of years. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases affect the Earth-atmosphere energy balance, enhancing the natural greenhouse effect and thereby exerting a warming influence at the Earth's surface.
Although greenhouse gas concentrations and their climatic influences are projected to increase, the detailed response of the system is uncertain. Principal sources of this uncertainty are the climate system's inherent complexity and natural variability. The increase in global mean surface temperatures over the past 150 years appears to be unusual in the context of the last few centuries, but it is not clearly outside the range of climate variability of the last few thousand years. The geologic record of the more distant past provides evidence of larger climate variations associated with changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These changes appear to be consistent with present understanding of the radiative properties of carbon dioxide and of the influence of climate on the carbon cycle. There is no known geologic precedent for the transfer of carbon from the Earth's crust to atmospheric carbon dioxide, in quantities comparable to the burning of fossil fuels, without simultaneous changes in other parts of the carbon cycle and climate system. This close coupling between atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate suggests that a change in one would in all likelihood be accompanied by a change in the other.
Present understanding of the Earth climate system provides a compelling basis for legitimate public concern over future global- and regional-scale changes resulting from increased concentrations of greenhouse gases. These changes are predicted to include increases in global mean surface temperatures, increases in global mean rates of precipitation and evaporation, rising sea levels, and changes in the biosphere. Understanding of the fundamental processes responsible for global climate change has greatly improved over the past decade, and predictive capabilities are advancing. However, there are significant scientific uncertainties, for example, in predictions of local effects of climate change, occurrence of extreme weather events, effects of aerosols, changes in clouds, shifts in the intensity and distribution of precipitation, and changes in oceanic circulation. In view of the complexity of the Earth climate system, uncertainty in its description and in the prediction of changes will never be completely eliminated.
Because of these uncertainties, there is much public debate over the extent to which increased concentrations of greenhouse gases have caused or will cause climate change, and over potential actions to limit and/or respond to climate change. It is important that public debate take into account the extent of scientific knowledge and the uncertainties. Science cannot be the sole source of guidance on how society should respond to climate issues. Nonetheless, scientific understanding based on peer-reviewed research must be central to informed decision-making. AGU calls for an enhancement of research to improve the quantification of anthropogenic influences on climate. To this end, international programs of research are essential. AGU encourages scientists worldwide to participate in such programs and in scientific assessments and policy discussions.
The world may already be committed to some degree of human-caused climate change, and further buildup of greenhouse gas concentrations may be expected to cause further change. Some of these changes may be beneficial and others damaging for different parts of the world. However, the rapidity and uneven geographic distribution of these changes could be very disruptive. AGU recommends the development and evaluation of strategies such as emissions reduction, carbon sequestration, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. AGU believes that the present level of scientific uncertainty does not justify inaction in the mitigation of human-induced climate change and/or the adaptation to it.