Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who Ate The Homework?

"The overarching problem is that the administration -- acting primarily through senior positions in the Executive Office of the President... does not want and has acted to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implications for society."
-- Rick Piltz, Letter of Resignation, June 1, 2005
Mr. Bush seems to be in a rare mood, for him, of accepting personal responsibility to "the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right" in handling the Hurricane Katrina disaster. So, he might want to explain when he addresses the nation Thursday why his administration is late with its climate science homework.

It's relevant not because the Bush Administration caused Katrina to destroy New Orleans, but because it did violate federal law when it deliberately neglected its duty to help prepare the entire nation against the substantial threats posed by global warming. There are serious and substantial threats to American lives, property, and prosperity about which even the Pentagon, among many others, has been warning.

M.I.T. hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel was once a Doubting Thomas, but no more, when it comes to global warming. As he recently explained in an interview, "the higher the temperature of the sea surface, the more intense and the greater the duration of hurricanes." [emphasis added] (For a fuller exposition of Dr. Emanuel's conclusions click here and click here.

A Federal statute known as the "Global Change Research Act of 1990"stipulates that every administration must submit a "scientific assessment" of global climate change "to provide usable information on which to base policy decisions relating to global change" and for federal budgeting purposes. The idea behind this "Bush I" era law was to "assist the nation and the world in understanding, assessing, predicting, and responding" to the threat of climate change. An updated report every few years is needed so that the nation can take necessary steps to adapt to climate change and protect citizen lives and property.

The law requires that the administration:
On a periodic basis (not less frequently than every 4 years)...shall prepare and submit to the President and the Congress an assessment which --

1. integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program and discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings;

2.analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and

3.analyzes current trends in global change, both human- induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.
However, according to an April 14, 2005, evaluation by the Government Accounting Office (in pdf format), the Bush administration failed to meet its first 4-year deadline. [To locate the report, you have to go here and use the search window to find GAO Report 05-338R]. Instead, it reorganized all federal government climate research efforts in 2002 into an "interagency" creature known as the "Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)." The public explanation was that the CCSP was intended "to coordinate and direct U.S. research efforts in the area of climate change." No less than 13 "federal departments and agencies" were to contribute in writing a plan that called for the staged release of 21 "shorter" scientific reports.

Now, however, it is certain that the Bush administration also will fail to meet its own unilaterally-revised schedule. As the GAO notes, "the first 9 reports are due on or before September 30, 2005, and the other 12 are due on or before September 30, 2007."

That isn't going to happen. Of the 9 reports due this month:
"A specific timeline is in place for only the first report, and that report is on schedule. For 3 other reports, draft prospectuses, the first step in the writing process, have been released for public comment, but for the remaining 5 reports, originally planned for September 2005, no prospectuses had been published as of February 2005. Those reports are now expected to be completed up to a year later than planned, September 2006. The remaining 12 reports are currently expected to be completed by September 2007, according to the CCSP Strategic Plan. [But]... the completion of these 12 reports would be affected to some extent by the delay in issuing the first 9 reports... .
In July, Assistant Secretary of Commerce James R. Mahoney offered three reasons for the CCSP's failure to meet the administration's self-proclaimed deadline as well as the one stipulated in federal law. At the top of his list was the Executive Office of the President "underestimated the complexity and scope of the work involved to produce the reports." That sounds a lot like "the dog ate my homework," but not a four-legged dog.

The other two reasons included internal squabbling "about compliance with the Data Quality Act and Office of Management and Budget guidance on peer review" and "the director was severely ill ... when the assessment was getting started, which slowed momentum." There is no doubt that Mahoney -- who resigned recently, effective upon a replacement being named -- has been sick. But the biggie here is the internal squabbling over the "data quality" and "peer review" issues.

As CCSP senior associate Rick Piltz put it in a memorandum to Mahoney and other superiors after he resigned earlier this year, "the overarching problem is that the administration -- acting primarily through senior positions in the Executive Office of the President, and to some extent the State Department, and aligning itself with some of its key allies -- does not want and has acted to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implications for society." He adds:
The administration will not accept and use appropriately the findings and conclusions of the national and international climate assessments, and it hinders and even prevents the climate science program from doing so. In 14 years -- 10 years working with the program and, before that, with the House Science Committee I have seen the program and its leadership go through a lot of changes. Each administration has a policy position on climate change. But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which the politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program in its relationship to the research community, to program managers, to policy makers, and to the public interest.

* * *
A flagrant and fundamental example of the politicization of the CCSP has been the treatment under this Administration of the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. The National Assessment is the most substantial scientifically based climate change assessment project in the history of the program to date... .The Administration decided early-on to essentially send the National Assessment into a black hole ... .
In simple English, the scientists involved with CCSP wanted to produce a scientific report while the Administration would accept only an ideologically-driven endorsement of the petroleum industry's "What, me worry?" campaign. Or, as Ana Unruh Cohen presciently put it earlier this year, even as Mr. Bush was busy creating "a false crisis" in Social Security his administration was studiously ignoring "the real crisis of climate change."

Bush didn't cause the New Orleans catastrophe, of course. But when he addresses the nation Thursday we should look for any glimmer of understanding that New Orleans is a wake-up call for him to take the necessary steps to protect all vulnerable areas of the nation from the potentially cataclysmic effects of global climate change.


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