The Obama Administration June 16 continued setting the table for congressional consideration of climate change legislation and for international follow-up with release of what NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco called a “game changer” report on domestic impacts.

Lubchenco said the new report “demonstrates concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now, in our own back yard, and it affects the things that people care about.” She said the report should help dispel impressions that climate change impacts will be distant in time and far-off in location, and she said the report should inform, but not dictate, policy responses.

Top Administration scientific personnel and outside experts releasing the report, while insisting that its findings demand early action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, repeatedly answered reporters’ questions by saying “it is not too late to act” to avoid some of the most serious potential impacts.

Contributing author Don Wuebbles, of the University of Illinois, for instance, characterized himself as “optimistic,” but added, “We do need to act soon, sooner rather than later” to avoid the most serious impacts. “We do need to really act soon.”

Repeat After Me … The Sooner the Better

Responding to a question from Associated Press’s Seth Borenstein seeking “a timeframe … how much time is left to act?,” lead author Jerry Melillo, of Woods Hole’s Marine Biological Laboratory, said it is impossible to determine “a date certain” given that the climate is “a dynamic process, moving rapidly. The sooner we act, the better.” Asked the kinds of worst-case impacts he hoped might yet be avoided, Melillo gave as examples the goal of avoiding more damaging storm surges facing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and serious distress to the global food supply system.

“A lot of things are potentially possible,” he said, “and I think we’d like to see them avoided.”

Presidential science advisor John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, responding to a question, said he is hopeful about the prospects for carbon capture and sequestration technology. He characterized the development of effective large-scale CCS technology as “a great challenge, not cheap, but I think it’s probably going to work.”

“I don’t accept the proposition that this is too hard,” Holdren said, adding that a key challenge is making CCS cost-effective.

The study was released in a White House/Executive Office Building room and communicated live online. Some reporters trying to follow the briefing remotely complained that an absence of name tags or tent cards made it hard for them to know who was speaking at a given time, and some complained they were unable to hear reporters’ questions from the audience. Others said the room was largely filled by non-press, with reporters sequestered to the rear of the room, where their questions were largely inaudible to those listening via the Internet.  The White House posted video of the session at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y88sgDM9HmA .

Editor’s Note:  This piece was edited on June 17, 2009, to add the link to the YouTube site.

Topics: Policy & Politics