Bush global-warming plan criticized, but his advisers have said that scientists' ability to create models for forecasting climate change is still not precise enough for the U.S. to agree to international mandates
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Scientists advising the White House on President Bush's plan for 10 more years of research into global warming criticized the idea yesterday as too unfocused to deal adequately with the potential threats.
"They didn't set the hard priorities," said Michael Prather, a climate expert at the University of California-Irvine. "We've had a decade of global climate change research. From the scientists' point of view, we have a pretty good idea of what is happening."
Prather, part of a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said the scientists' biggest worry is that the White House goal of reducing uncertainty, while admirable, will take too long.
In a report issued yesterday, the academy panel noted that Earth's surface warmed by about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th century, which caused "melting glaciers and ice caps, sea-level rise, extended growing seasons and changes in the geographical distributions of plant and animal species."
Because Earth responds so slowly to changes in the levels of warming gases, the report said, environmental impacts from global warming will continue during the 21st century and beyond.
The White House's research approach "lacks most elements of a strategic plan" because it has no clear guiding vision or specific timetable for what should be accomplished, the report said.
"Future science must also focus on more applied research that can directly support decision-making," wrote Thomas Graedel, a Yale University professor who oversaw the academy's review.
The White House does deserve credit for recognizing that research into climatic change must be communicated better so people can make decisions that will affect a broad range of activities, Prather said.
When Congress created the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 1990, it said the government must create a 10-year research plan and update it every three years. That has not been done until now.
"The Bush administration undertook to comply with it by doing this," Assistant Commerce Secretary James Mahoney said yesterday.
Mahoney, who administers U.S. climate research, said the report reflects that the research plan is developing.
"Nobody ever undertook to do something like this before," he said. "They certainly cite many areas where we need to improve, but we're in a process where we pushed to very quickly turn around a battleship, and we've never had a plan before."
Gregory Symmes, the academy staff member who directed the study, said emphasizing decision-making is important so federal research isn't "just science for science's sake but transfers that knowledge into useful forms."
The academy chided Bush for not including additional money in his proposed financial year 2004 budget for initiatives recommended by the plan.
Bush asked that new research be completed in the next four years to help provide more accurate projections of climate change and to clarify how much recent warming has been caused by burning fossil fuels and other human activity. The budget for climate change research that he sent to Congress would remain almost exactly the same, at $1.7 billion.
Bush's advisers have said that scientists' ability to create models for forecasting climate change is still not precise enough for the United States to agree to international long-term mandatory cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Those gases, such as carbon dioxide, come from various sources including
the burning of oil and coal and are blamed by many scientists for
contributing to a "greenhouse" or warming effect on global
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