Six months after "climategate" called into question the science underpinning claims of global warming, the National Academy of Sciences said Wednesday the science is sound, human-caused warming is already occurring, and the U.S. must take urgent action.
Trying to end the scientific debate and set the stage for action, the National Research Council, an arm of the Academy, took the unusual step of recommending specific political moves. The council called for lawmakers to set a price on carbon dioxide emissions through either a tax or a cap-and-trade system, and to adopt an emissions-reductions target similar to the one proposed by President Obama.
"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," the scientists concluded in one of several congressionally mandated reports released Wednesday.
The report comes three years after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global warming is real and very likely manmade. But that report, and the temperature record underlying many of its conclusions, have come into question with the revelation of e-mails from a leading British climate research project that seemed to suggest scientists manipulated data. Critics labeled the e-mails "climategate."
The science debate will get an airing in Congress. Rep. Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Global Warming, will hold a hearing Thursday on the academy's reports.
But the science also could face a challenge on the Senate floor soon.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, is planning to offer legislation that would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Already, Freedom Action, a project of employees of the free-market think-tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, is running radio ads in six states arguing that the e-mails in question taint the entire process.
"The National Academy of Sciences reports are swimming against the tide here, which is they're trying to save the establishment position supporting alarmism, when not only the science is moving against them, but public opinion is going against them, partly because of climategate," said Myron Ebell, director of Freedom Action.
Mr. Ebell predicted that even lawmakers who conclude global warming is occurring, and is largely caused by humans, might still balk at the Obama administration rules as being unwise and potentially damaging to some states' economies. And he said there will be other votes that could give Congress other chances to object to the administration rules.
The House last year passed a bill that set a limit on carbon emissions and allowed emission credits to be traded among companies, but that approach has stalled in the Senate. Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, announced a different set of caps last week, but that approach appears to lack enough support to overcome an expected filibuster.
Pamela A. Matson, who led the panel on climate science, said members were aware of "the publicity around doubts about climate change," and that research is never finished.
But she said they have high confidence now that warming is occurring, and the panelists said research should now begin to focus not on whether warming is occurring but rather on questions of how to combat warming or adapt to its effects.
She said their conclusions in the reports are in line with many in the IPCC's 2007 report, though for example where the earlier report said sea levels might rise by as much as a foot and a half through 2100, new research says it could rise by as much as 5 feet.
Environmentalists said the academy reports should be a turning point in the debate.
"Those who are out there denying climate science, many for ideological reasons, aren't going to go away, so in that sense this report doesn't end that debate. I don't think you ever can. But I do hope it turns a corner and allows people to really see what the fundamental conclusions of the scientific community are," said Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.