Coal Tattoo

Three new studies were issued today by the National Academies emphasizing why the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. The reports, by the Research Council, the operating arm of  the National Academy of Sciencies and the National Academy of Engineering, are part of a congressionally requested suite of five studies known as America’s Climate Choices.

Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said today:

These reports show that the state of climate change science is strong. But the nation also needs the scientific community to expand upon its understanding of why climate change is happening, and focus also on when and where the most severe impacts will occur and what we can do to respond.

Perhaps most important for readers in the coalfields — where some in  the industry continues to push the line that climate change isn’t real or is some made-up hoax — is the first of the reports, which describes the compelling case that climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activities. That conclusion, the report finds, is based on a strong, credible body of evidence. As the National Academies described in a press release:
While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never “closed,” the report emphasizes that multiple lines of evidence support scientific understanding of climate change. The core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.

The report itself says:

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems.

In addition, according to the press release:

Although limiting emissions must be a global effort to be effective, strong U.S. actions to reduce emissions will help encourage other countries to do the same. In addition, the U.S. could establish itself as a leader in developing and deploying the technologies necessary to limit and adapt to climate change.


The report does not recommend a specific target for a domestic emissions budget, but suggests a range of emissions from 170 to 200 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent for the period 2012 through 2050 as a reasonable goal, a goal that is roughly in line with the range of emission reduction targets proposed recently by the Obama administration and members of Congress. Even at the higher end of this range, meeting the target will require a major departure from “business-as-usual” emission trends. The report notes that with the exception of the recent economic downtown, domestic emissions have been rising for most of the past three decades. The U.S. emitted approximately 7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent in 2008 (the most current year for which such data were available). If emissions continue at that rate, the proposed budget range would be used up well before 2050, the report says.