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Academy Panel Says Americans Could Adapt to Warmer Climate

September 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If the greenhouse effect makes the world significantly hotter, the United States should still be able to adapt at a reasonable cost, a National Academy of Sciences panel said Friday.

The committee said the impact of climate change on nature will be hard to control, but it was optimistic about the ability of American industry and farming to adapt to warming weather.

″Human adaptability is shown by people working in both Riyadh and Barrow,″ the panel’s report said. ″Recent American migration has on average been toward warmth.″

One of the panel’s 14 members dissented from the report, saying in a footnote that its ″complacent tone is unwarranted.″

Jane Lubchenco, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, said indirect costs - especially the environmental effects of some of the adaptation measures society might adopt - were not adequately considered.

″The implicit message of the report is that humans can adapt to the predicted climate changes without worrying about these other costs,″ she wrote.

The panel recommended diversifying water supplies, improving insulation in buildings and encouraging conservation of as many animal species as possible as ″a natural protection against surprises and shocks, climatic and otherwise.″

Since climate change might force some endangered species to migrate, ″conservation efforts need to give more attention to corridors for movement, to assisting species to surmount barriers, and to maintaining species when their natural environments are threatened,″ the report said.

The adaptation panel is one of four committees working together on a National Academy of Sciences study of the policy implications of concern about global warming.

The ″synthesis″ panel’s report, published in April, said the United States should take modest steps to try to limit production of greenhouse gases, despite uncertainty about the threat of global warming.

Both sides in the debate - those who urge immediate action and those who say such measures are too costly considering the uncertainty - praised that academy report and said it supported their arguments.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons, trap heat around the earth. The academy’s synthesis report said increasing industrial emissions are likely to cause warming of 2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of the next century.

The adaptation panel, chaired by Paul E. Waggoner, distinguished scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, found no cause for alarm.

″The historical evidence suggests that American farmers can keep up with the gradual climate change of the magnitude the panel assumes,″ the report said.

″The capacity of humans to adapt is evident in the rapid technological, economic and political changes of the past 90 years,″ it continued. ″The average renewal period for machinery and equipment and the average age of buildings are one to three decades.″

The report said it may be harder for developing countries to adapt to global warming.

It encouraged ″efforts to advance regional mobility of people, capital and goods,″ better preparations for disaster and famine relief and expansion of free-market economies, so that changing prices can serve as market signals to encourage people to adapt to global warming.

The committee concluded that even low-lying cities would be able to survive global warming, but said there seems to be little humanity could do to help the marine environment adapt to climate change.

The report also finds a silver lining in the greenhouse effect, saying that a cooling of the same magnitude ″would crush the upper Midwestern United States under ice.″

″None of the projected effects of the warming would make large areas uninhabitable,″ the committee wrote. ″So while we complain about the uncertainty of warming by greenhouse gases, we should not forget that it would make any effects from cooling, which was a subject of some scientific, public and congressional concern in the early 1970s, less likely.″

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