Global Climate Change Research Act Passed (1990)

The vast majority of the world’s governments and people now understand that the world’s climate is changing and that the changes are largely caused by human-based emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases into the environment.  Getting to this point of understanding, however, has required a major global—and national—commitment to scientific research and education.  That research was assured when the United States passed the Global Climate Change Research Act in 1990.

Rancor about the extent and causes of climate change was bitter in the late 1980s.  The U.S. Congress and the agencies of the executive branch debated the state of change as well as who should be developing both knowledge and policy.  During 1989, President George H. W. Bush advanced progress by asking for a report on the status of climate change in the U.S.  Congress chose to go farther, passing a law that made a climate change research program permanent and mandating a regular report on climate change to be produced at least every four years.  The Senate passed the bill 100-0 and the House of Representatives passed it by voice vote (meaning no record of the actual votes took place, recognizing overwhelming support for the bill).  President Bush signed the bill into law on November 16, 1990.  The law has not been amended since it first passed.

Data showing the increase in carbond dioxide levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory are available because of this federal law (graph by Scrippsnews).

The bill requires that the relevant government agencies work together, along with universities, states, industry and other groups, under the direction of a Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences.  The Committee is required to develop a national plan for climate change research, assess the state of the climate, represent the United States in international forums and collaborations on climate change, and report regularly to Congress and the American people.

The most recently available report is from 2014 (which means a new report is required in 2018, some of which is available now and some not).  As the report notes, it is “the result of a three-year analytical effort by a team of over 300 experts, overseen by a broadly constituted Federal Advisory Committee of 60 members.”  The report highlights 12 findings, which I have paraphrased here:

  1. Global climate change is real and caused by humans, predominantly by burning fossil fuels.
  2. Extreme weather events have become more common and are linked to climate change.
  3. More climate change will occur, especially if we keep burning fossil fuels at today’s rates.
  4. Impacts of climate change are occurring now and will get more disruptive.
  5. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways.
  6. Infrastructure is being damaged now by climate change and the damage will get worse.
  7. Water quality and quantity are especially affected by climate change.
  8. Agriculture is suffering from climate change and the damage will get worse.
  9. Climate change disproportionately impacts Indigenous Peoples.
  10. Ecosystem services are damaged by climate change.
  11. Ocean waters are changing in a variety of ways due to climate change.
  12. We’re starting to adapt to climate change, but our efforts are broadly insufficient.
Diagram from the Global Change Program’s recent report shows that 10 of 10 basic indicators point to climate change (Diagram by National Climate Data Center, NOAA)

One of the benefits of passing a law is that it cannot be changed by a member of the executive branch, be it the president or cabinet secretary.  Consequently, the government’s work to assess climate change, provide scientific information to the public, and advise the government on policy will continue, regardless of what the climate might be like in Washington!

References:

GlobalChange.gov.  Legal Mandate.  U.S. Global Change Research Program.  Available at:  https://www.globalchange.gov/about/legal-mandate#Short%20Title%20Main.  Accessed October 27, 2018.

Govtrack.  S. 169(101st):  Global Change Research Act of 1990.  Available at:  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/101/s169.  Accessed October 27, 2018.

Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Highlights of Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program.  Available at:  http://s3.amazonaws.com/nca2014/low/NCA3_Highlights_LowRes.pdf?download=1.  Accessed October 27, 2018.

Pielke, Roger A. Jr.  2000.  Policy history of the US Global Change Research Program:  Part II.  Legislative process.  Global Environmental Change 10 (2000):133-144.  Available at:  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.529.8677&rep=rep1&type=pdf.  Accessed October 27, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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