In an article last week, I explored the climate science positions of the Republican and Democratic tickets. The story made clear that both presidential candidates agree with the consensus view of the scientific community that recent climate change is mainly the result of human activities, such as the burning of coal and oil for energy. The vice presidential candidates, however, disagree on the human contributions to climate change.
What the story didn't explore was how, if elected, the candidates might change the sprawling federal climate science research enterprise, which totals nearly $2 billion per year. Although the candidates themselves haven't addressed the specific issue of climate science research coordination, both have indicated that they would reorient climate science programs to give policymakers at the regional and local levels more information about how climate may affect their communities.
Keep reading for more on future directions in Federal climate research. See our full forecast for the outlook through the week.
According to a news story in the October 10 issue of Science Magazine, scientists and policy experts are urging the presidential hopefuls to, if elected, reform the entity known as the "U.S. Climate Change Science Program" (CCSP) by refocusing its efforts away from the causes of climate change and towards its impacts.
Here is a snippet from the story:
"McCain is thinking about reorienting the climate research program toward what his aide, Floyd DesChamps, calls "urgent impacts." He says that the White House's "21 [CCSP] reports" are inferior to the "real National Assessment" that his boss would launch. Obama's campaign says he'll stress "short-term and long-term effects" on society and ecosystems. Both candidates have promised to strengthen Earth monitoring and efforts to link scientists and local officials."
As Science magazine discusses, climate scientists and policy experts have been increasingly sounding the alarm in recent months about stagnated climate research budgets and ineffective policy coordination to oversee the use of those funds, with some former high ranking science policy officials even calling for a major bureaucratic reorganization to address the situation.
"The health of the climate science [program] is not what it should be," Obama's emissary, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), told Science. Holt is a physicist, making him one of only a handful of scientists in Congress.
How climate science research programs are organized may seem like a bureaucratic snooze fest involving too many acronyms (NOAA, DOE, DOI, USGS, NSF etc.). However, it can also be viewed as a key step towards a more climate-resilient United States, in which decision makers are fully informed about the climate risks facing their communities and can take action to prepare for them.
According to a review of federal climate science research published last year, the way the government has spent taxpayer dollars on climate science research has left many policymakers at the local and regional levels in the dark about how climate change could affect their communities.
Currently, the CCSP coordinates federal climate research among 13 agencies that range from the Commerce Department to the Smithsonian Institution. The CCSP has come under heavy fire from politicians on Capitol Hill, including from Senator McCain, for pursuing a series of 21 separate scientific "synthesis and assessment" products on different aspects of climate science, rather than the single National Assessment on how climate change would affect the U.S. that Congress had mandated.
Whereas the single assessment approach was aimed at translating scientific data into policy-relevant information, many of the reports prepared during the past eight years have drilled down so far into the weeds of climate science that they are barely accessible to policy professionals.
According to Science, some of those advocating for a fresh approach to climate science research include the CCSP staff themselves, who are preparing transition documents for the next administration that "recommend a shift toward impacts science."
If this report is true, it's intriguing, because it seems unusual for a bureaucracy to tell a new president why what it has been doing for eight years has been wrong. One might imagine that bureaucratic entities that make such proposals don't survive long into a new administration. Perhaps we may see a new acronym or two by this time next year?