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Time to Get Serious About Climate Change

John P. Holdren
(Image courtesy of
Martha Stewart)

With an increased incidence of forest fires linked to global warming, AAAS President John P. Holdren and CEO Alan I. Leshner Sunday called for the U.S. public and their leaders to “muster the political will for serious evasive action” to address climate change.

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the two AAAS leaders said that there can be no doubt about the reality of climate change. Circumstances require that the U.S. move with urgency to adopt an ambitious and challenging set of responses.

Adaptations such as modified farming practices and investment in new dams and dikes “will be essential because the climate is already changing and will change more before measures to reduce or counter society’s emissions of heat-trapping gases can take hold,” Holdren and Leshner wrote. “But the greater the climatic disruption, the more costly and difficult it will be to adapt.”

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner

The authors called for further dramatic improvements in the energy efficiency of motor vehicles, appliances and manufacturing. But stabilizing the climate will require “huge” reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, and therefore the United States must made an equally strong push to replace fossil fuel sources and electricity with “some combination of renewable energy sources, nuclear energy and advanced fossil-fuel technologies that capture and sequester carbon dioxide rather than releasing it to the atmosphere.”

Further, they said, it will be necessary to create penalties on carbon-dioxide emissions, such as a carbon tax or a system of tradable permits to limit total emissions—both approaches which the administration of President George W. Bush “has steadfastly refused to embrace.”

While the administration argues that improved technology is the key to solving climate change, they added, federal appropriations for energy research, development and demonstration have been essentially flat since 2001.

“Global climate change is real, and it is serious,” Holdren and Leshner conclude. “The United States—the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet—needs to become a leader instead of a laggard in developing and deploying serious solutions. The public should demand no less.”

Holdren is president of AAAS director of the Woods Hole Research Center, and Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University. Leshner is CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science.

Click here to see a PDF of the full commentary from the San Francisco Chronicle.

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