Environmental and Societal Impacts Group

Protection of Life and Property


Climate Change Policy

In the late 1980s, some members of Congress grew increasingly frustrated with the Bush administration's approach to global climate change policy. When the administrative development of the US Global Change Research expanded to the legislative process, it provided Congress with a convenient opportunity to influence the executive branch to serve Congressional goals. Pielke tells the story of the US Global Change Research Program in two papers which will appear in Global Environmental Change during FY00 ("Policy History of the US Global Change Research Program: Part I, Administrative Development" and "Part II, Legislative Process." The central thesis of the two papers is that how policy makers, administrators, and scientists define the role of science in the policy process is critical to success or failure of policies that depend on scientific input. The Global Change Research Program was established to support policy development; however, rather than forcing a political consensus, scientific research has been selectively used (and misused) by opposing camps in the global warming debate to support previously held positions. Preprints are available from Pielke.

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Temporal Fluctuations in Weather and Climate that Cause Economic and Human Health Impacts

In this paper published in FY99, Pielke, in collaboration with K. Kunkel (University of Illinois-Urbana, IL) and S. Changnon (Changnon Climatologists, Mahomet, IL), review existing work on trends during this century in societal impacts (direct economic losses and fatalities) in the United States from extreme weather conditions, and compares those with trends of associated atmospheric phenomena. Most measures of the economic impacts of weather and climate extremes over the past several decades reveal increasing losses. But trends in most related weather and climate extremes do not show comparable increases with time. This suggests that increasing losses are primarily due to increasing vulnerability arising from a variety of societal changes. The paper focuses on phenomena identified at a 1997 US Weather Research Program workshop as being the most significant from the standpoint of societal impacts. Reprints are available from Pielke.

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Economic Issues of Climate Change

John Firor continued his studies of the Kyoto agreement and especially of the barriers to further progress in reaching an operating treaty to take steps to reduce the probability of a damaging, human-induced climate change. The rapid progress of climate change science at NCAR and elsewhere, combined with many studies indicating that the technology to process and use fossil fuels exists that would allow countries to continue present activities while using much less of these fuels, suggests that there should be few barriers to progress. This is especially true since, as reported in FY98, the introduction of these technologies could be made with little or no net cost to the countries making the change.

Examining the statements made by individuals and groups strongly opposing US participation in the Kyoto Accord indicates that, although economic studies indicate that US participation could be effected at little or no net cost, these opponents understand correctly that some sectors of our society could be hurt. Fossil fuel companies and manufacturers of products such as automobiles requiring large energy input during their use could, like all industries, economically reduce energy use in their own operations, but a national effort to reduce fossil fuel use could reduce the sales of their product. So spokesmen for these industries continue to claim that the science of climate change is not yet clear enough to indicate a need for action. American agriculture has developed into an energy-intensive activity, but agricultural research has so far put little effort into developing modes of sustainable agriculture using less energy and fewer chemicals. Thus, agricultural groups and members of Congress from farm states have joined in opposing the ratification of the Kyoto Agreement.

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Societal Benefits of ENSO Forecasts

El Niño often dominates world news about climate because of its widespread and frequently disastrous impacts. The ENSO research community's ability to predict El Niño is limited, but resources are being committed to the improvement and dissemination of forecasts. Glantz, in collaboration with Alexander Pfaff (Columbia University, New York) and Kenneth Broad (International Research Institute, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY), published a paper ("Who Benefits from Climate Forecasts?," in Nature) during FY99 discussing the Peruvian fishing sector during the 1997-98 El Niño event, with lessons to be learned that could apply to the dissemination of El Niño forecasts to other regions of the world and to economic sectors such as agriculture, disaster prevention, and water management. These lessons also apply to research and development choices made by climate scientists about the kinds of expertise and productions to develop and provide.

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Inland Seas (Aral Sea and Caspian Sea) Research

Two of the globe's great terminal inland seas the Caspian and the Aral lie only a few hundred kilometers apart in Central Asia. The waters of both are suffering ecological damage due to imprudent human action. Compounding the ecological management problem is the need to coordinate the post-Cold War policies of the nation-states that border these seas. In addition to the publication of his edited book on the Aral Sea (Creeping Environmental Problems and Sustainable Development in the Aral Sea Basin), Michael Glantz has continued his research on inland seas during FY99 with the publication of two articles, "The dying Aral Sea," which appeared in the Work in Progress: A Review of Research Activities of the United Nations University, and an article in Calypso Log (publication of the Cousteau Society), "Aral Sea: Going, going . . . almost gone" (by Glantz and Zonn).

Glantz also presented a paper as an invited participant at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop ("Caspian Sea: A Quest for Environmental Security," held in Venice, Italy, 15-19 March 1999) entitled "Creeping Environmental Problems in the Caspian Region." Glantz continued his research with Igor Zonn of UNEPCOM on inland seas, visiting Russia and Dagestan in July-August 1999 to make preliminary strategic planning for a NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Dagestan with a focus on sturgeon poaching. (The invasion of Dagestan by Chechen rebels put Dagestan off limits for this workshop, which may now be held in Moscow.) Glantz also collaborated with Nikolai Orlovsky, Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in Israel, on research on the ecological consequences of land irrigation in the Aral Sea Basin. A paper is being submitted in FY00. Glantz has also been appointed as a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres' Scientific Advisory Committee for the Aral Sea Area Operational Research in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

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Red River Flood Research

In April 1997, communities along the Red River of the North, which flows north along the North Dakota-Minnesota border, experienced extreme flooding. Damages related to the event have been estimated at $1-2 billion, with most occurring in Grand Forks, ND, and East Grand Forks, MN. Almost immediately after the flood, residents and policy makers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks began to point fingers at the river stge predictions issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). Pielke, in a paper published in FY99 ("Who Decides? Forecasts and Responsibilities in the 1997 Red River Flood", Applied Behavioral Science Review), focuses on the role of river stage predictions in decision-making processes leading up to the inundation of these two communities. Interviews were conducted by Pielke as part of the NWS Survey Assessment Team, which evaluated the agency's performance. Pielke served as an independent member of the team. Reprints are available from Pielke.

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Table of Contents | Enhancing Resilience of Natural Resources | Protection of Life & Property
Fundamental Research | Education & Outreach | FY99 Scientific Highlights
FY99 Publications | FY99 Educational Activities | FY99 Community Service
FY99 Staff, Visitors & Collaborators | Environmental & Societal Impacts Group
ESIG 1999 Annual Scientific Report Home Page | NCAR 1999 Annual Scientific Report Home Page

FY99 Scientific Highlights Education and Outreach Fundamental Research Protection of Life and Property Enhancing Resilience of Natural Resources Table of Contents Environmental and Societal Impacts Group FY99 Staff, Visitors and Collaborators FY99 Community Service FY99 Educational Activities FY99 Publications NCAR Annual Scientific Report NCAR Annual Scientific Report NCAR Annual Scientific Report