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Context of 'June 2001: National Research Council Attributes Global Warming to Greenhouse Gases'

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The National Research Council issues a report on global climate change that was commissioned by the White House. The opening paragraph of the document reads: “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability. Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century. Secondary effects are suggested by computer model simulations and basic physical reasoning. These include increases in rainfall rates and increased susceptibility of semi-arid regions to drought. The impacts of these changes will be critically dependent on the magnitude of the warming and the rate with which it occurs.” [Committee on the Science of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2001; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Boston Globe, 6/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Research Council (NRC)

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its third assessment report concluding that evidence indicates that human activity is the major force behind global warming. “The report analyzes the enormous body of observations of all parts of the climate system, concluding that this body of observations now gives a collective picture of a warming world…. A detailed study is made of human influence on climate and whether it can be identified with any more confidence than in 1996, concluding that there is new and stronger evidence that most of the observed warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” The panel also notes in its report that “the globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the period 1990 to 2100.” Roughly 1,000 experts from around the world participated in the drafting, revising and finalizing of the report and approximately 2,500 helped review it. [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Boston Globe, 6/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The Environmental Protection Agency sends the United Nations a report on climate change, in which the US admits for the first time that human activity is largely to blame for recent global warming. It attributes rising global surface temperatures to the burning of fossil fuels and details the potential effects of continued warming. For example, the report notes, “A few ecosystems, such as alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains and some barrier islands, are likely to disappear entirely in some areas. Other ecosystems, such as Southeastern forests, are likely to experience major species shifts or break up into a mosaic of grasslands, woodlands, and forests.” However the report does not recommend cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Rather it suggests adapting to a warmer climate, saying that nothing can be done about the greenhouse gases that have already been released into the atmosphere. Neither industry nor the environmental groups are pleased with the report. Industry’s opinions were conveyed in letters during the comment period in 2002. They had objected to the conclusion that greenhouse gases were contributing to global warming. On the other hand, environmentalists are bewildered by the the administration’s unwillingness to address the problem. “The Bush administration now admits that global warming will change America’s most unique wild places and wildlife forever,” says Mark Van Putten. “How can it acknowledge global warming is a disaster in the making and then refuse to help solve the problem, especially when solutions are so clear?” [Environmental Protection Agency, 5/2002; New York Times, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Mark Van Putten, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

The Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the EPA’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) advises the EPA that the report “needs balance” and asserts that “global climate change has beneficial effects as well as adverse impacts.” The office also suggests removing the discussion on global warming completely from the report’s executive summary. “[D]elete climate change or use previously agreed upon material,” writes one staffer at the White House Council of Environmental Quality. Similarly, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy suggests removing a discussion of the potential impacts climate change might have on human health and ecology. The Department of Energy also gets involved, arguing through the White House that EPA should delete any discussion of atmospheric concentrations of carbon because it is not a “good indicator of climate change.” Another official warns, “Take care here and be sure to be consistent with existing administration policy. Let us try to avoid another CAR scenario.” This is a reference to the Climate Action Report (CAR) (see May 2002) that the US submitted to the UN in May 2002. That report concluded that human activities are “causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise.” White House officials also suggest making edits to particular sentences. For example, the OMB asks the EPA to delete the phrases, “alter regional patterns of climate,” and, “potentially affect the balance of radiation.” It also suggests replacing the passage, “changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities,” with, “a causal link between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Several of the edits are made by CEQ chief Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist. According to a congressional investigation, Cooney removes climate change “from a discussion of environmental issues that have global consequences, delete[s] a chart depicting historical temperature reconstruction, and insert[s] the word ‘potentially’ in several places to reduce the certainty of scientific statements regarding the impacts of climate change.” Cooney also advocates the removal of references to a 2001 National Research Council report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures rose significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. Cooney also adds a claim to the draft report that satellite data does not support global warming, and removes a phrase that says “regional patterns may be altered” by climate change. In one memo, Cooney writes, “These changes must be made.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003; US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Philip A. Cooney, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

EPA staffers write in a confidential memo that due to White House tinkering (see April 2003) with the agency’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) the report “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

In an internal EPA memo, agency staff describe three different courses of action the EPA administrator can take in dealing with the changes that the White House has made to the forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003). Over the last several weeks, White House officials have made so many changes (see April 2003) to the climate change section of the report that scientists no longer believe the section accurately depicts the scientific consensus on the issue (see April 29, 2003). The first option suggested in the memo is that the EPA administrator could accept the edits made by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget. The memo notes that this would be the “easiest” road to take, but warns that the “EPA will take responsibility and severe criticism from the science and environmental community for poorly representing the science.” The altered report “provides specific text to attack,” the memo adds. According to the memo, the White House edits “undercut” the conclusions of the National Research Council (see June 2001) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see October 1, 2001). Alternatively, the memo suggests, the EPA administrator could opt to cut the entire climate change section from the report. The last option discussed in the memo is that the EPA administrator could stand firm against the White House’s “no further changes” edict and attempt to reach a compromise. While EPA staff seem to prefer this approach, believing that this is the “only approach that could produce a credible climate change section,” they caution that confronting the White House could “antagonize” officials and that “it is likely not feasible to negotiate agreeable text.” The EPA will ultimately choose to remove the climate section completely from the report. [US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer, and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency’s administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2003; New York Times, 6/19/2003] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, the Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents… show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed (see June 2003) from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House (see April 2003). [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA’s report also leaves out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina, US Environmental Record, Global Warming

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, responding to a reporter’s question, says, “The National Academies of Science came out with a report in 2001 (see June 2001) that was requested by the President; it took a look at science of climate change, and in that very report it talked about how there are considerable uncertainties.” [White House, 6/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming


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