Media, environmentalists pounce on new Administration report

by William Yeatman on August 31, 2004

in Politics, Science

The annual report of the U. S. Climate Change Science Program for fiscal years 2004-5, entitled, Our Changing Planet, was released on August 25.  It was immediately hailed as a turn-around in the Bush Administrations position by the media and environmental groups.

 The New York Times in a story by Andrew Revkin on August 25 set the tone, and an editorial the next day called the report a striking shift in the way the Bush administration has portrayed the science of climate change.  Other newspaper editorial columns and environmental groups jumped on this interpretation.

The striking shift is confined to several short passages in a 130-page document that are less qualified and more direct than in the FY 2003 edition.  The statements that attracted the most attention are the following:

Multiple ensemble simulations of the 20th century climate have been conducted using climate models that include new and improved estimates of natural and anthropogenic forcing.  The simulations show that observed globally averaged surface air temperatures can be replicated only when both anthropogenic forcings, e.g., greenhouse gases, as well as natural forcings such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions are included in the model.  These simulations improve on the robustness of earlier work (pages 46-7).

 Comparison of index trends in observations and model simulations shows that North American temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations.  Observed trends over this period are consistent with simulations that include anthropogenic forcing from increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols.  However, most of the observed warming from 1900 to 1949 was likely due to natural climate variation (page 47).

 Administration officials disputed that the report represents a striking shift in their position.  In a Washington Post article on Aug. 27, White House Science Adviser John Marburger, one of the signatories to the report, was quoted as saying that the findings had no implications for policy.

 Further, a New York Times reporter covering the presidential campaign put the question directly to President Bush (Aug. 27): Asked why the administration had changed its position on what causes global warming, Mr. Bush replied, Ah, we did?  I don’t think so.

The report may be found on the web at


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