Meteorologists Cut to the Chase: It’s Time to Defend Against Climate Change

The reality is that the effects of climate change are here and aren’t going away. We can spend all we want on innovations for clean power, but Hurricane Katrina has already caused over $80 billion in damage, and weather-sensitive sectors of the U.S. economy add up to $2 trillion of our gross national product. With that depressing thought, a coalition of climate groups led by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research has started pushing the next administration to fund new research on how best to understand, adapt to and prevent severe weather caused by climate change.

UCAR’s coalition has proposed a $9 billion (almost 50 percent) increase in planned spending on meteorological research, with a focus on understanding the causes of severe weather, forecasting weather patterns, and emergency planning (no, “Good job, Brownie!” from these folks). While the U.S. government has funded decades of climate-modeling research, this newly proposed research and development effort would boost the total investment and also allocate funding to help municipalities, states and the federal government plan for the direct, local impacts of climate change.

Currently, federal budgeting for climate- and weather-related research calls for $19.4 billion of investment. The UCAR coalition calls for an additional $9 billion to reduce weather damage by developing better analysis and response systems, while simultaneously assessing the effectiveness of our efforts to mitigate climate change. The proposal includes:

  • More detailed observations from both satellites and ground stations
  • Growing supercomputer capacity for more detailed modeling and predictive ability
  • Research to understand how weather and climate impact society
  • Translating results from that new research into policy-related tools, and
  • Work to assure that those new policies are in our best interests.

The consortium proposal derives from one incontrovertible fact: We are already seeing regional trends toward more severe and unpredictable weather. And these trends are economically and environmentally damaging. We don’t need greater scientific certainty in our global scale modeling to know that real weather impacts are felt at a local, not global, level. Without giving up long-term funding of global climate research, UCAR’s budget addition emphasizes immediate investment in tools and policies that can help plan for the effects of climate change that we are experiencing today.

According to the coalition’s proposal, the combined $27 billion for climate research and mitigation should be overseen by staff of the OMB and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). But under this Administration, the OSTP hasn’t exactly stepped up to the plate in the climate fight — this July, they used a business case rather than science to oppose the EPA’s efforts to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act. Even so, UCAR’s coalition clearly remains hopeful that a new administration will return the OSTP to a science-based department rather than a pro-business, anti-regulation Executive Office.

For the last seven years, the Bush Administration has severely under-funded climate-change research while failing to seriously address the energy issue. While it’s too late for the Bush administration to change its ways, the next administration has the opportunity — perhaps through the recommendations of UCAR’s coalition — to pick up the slack where the current administration left off.

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