Changing Climate: MANAGING THE RISKS


The National Research Council advised a nation awash in weather and climate extremes — floods, droughts, tornadoes — that it’s time to cut down on greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and look at the threat of global warming the way people handle other uncertain risks to life and property.

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Doing nothing is more dangerous and costly than doing too much, the NRC Committee on America’s Climate Choices warned, and those who argue for inaction because scientists are uncertain about “the severity, location, or time of climate change impacts” are failing to apprehend the risks of a climate on the move.

The committee wrote:

“Waiting for unacceptable impacts to occur before taking action is imprudent because many of the impacts of GHGs emitted today will not fully manifest themselves for decades; and once they do appear, they can be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years. The amount of warming is expected to increase with the cumulative amount of GHGs emitted, and thus the chances of encountering dangerous climate impacts grows with every extra ton we emit. At the same time, national and world demand for energy is on the rise, and new investments in energy infrastructure are inevitable. If those investments are in CO2-emitting infrastructure, we will have committed our- selves to growing GHG emissions for decades to come.”

The committee called for a “risk management” approach, acknowledging the uncertainties and responding “just as is done in many areas of life. For example, people buy home insurance to protect against potential losses, and businesses plan contingently for a range of possible future economic conditions.”

The report, commissioned by Congress, is the final installment of a series of extensive analyzes of national priorities in climate research and adaptation strategies. The committee is composed of scientists, engineers, economists, business leaders and policy specialists.


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