by Judith Curry
The public comment period for the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) 2012-2021 Strategic Plan is open until November 29, 2011. Lets take a look at the draft plan.
Here is some background on the USGCRP from their web site:
A nation, globally engaged and guided by science, meeting the challenges of climate and global change
To build a knowledge base that informs human responses to climate and global change through coordinated and integrated federal programs of research, education, communication, and decision support
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. The USGCRP began as a presidential initiative in 1989 and was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-606), which called for “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”
During the past two decades, the United States, through the USGCRP, has made the world’s largest scientific investment in the areas of climate change and global change research. Since its inception, the USGCRP has supported research and observational activities in collaboration with several other national and international science programs.
These activities led to major advances in several key areas including but not limited to:
- Observing and understanding short- and long-term changes in climate, the ozone layer, and land cover;
- Identifying the impacts of these changes on ecosystems and society;
- Estimating future changes in the physical environment, and vulnerabilities and risks associated with those changes; and
- Providing scientific information to enable effective decision making to address the threats and opportunities posed by climate and global change
USGCRP draft strategic plan
Table of Contents
II. VISION AND MISSION
- USGCRP Vision and Mission
- Framework for the New USGCRP
- Cross-Linking Activities
III. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Goal 1: Advance Science
- Objective 1.1: Earth System Understanding.
- Objective 1.2: Science for Adaptation and Mitigation
- Objective 1.3: Integrated Observations
- Objective 1.4: Integrated Modeling
- Objective 1.5: Information Management and Sharing
Goal 2: Inform Decisions
- Objective 2.1: Inform Adaptation Decisions
- Objective 2.2: Inform Mitigation Decisions
- Objective 2.3: Enhancing Climate Services
- Objective 2.4: Enhancing International Partnerships
Goal 3: Sustained Assessments
- Objective 3.1: Scientific Integration
- Objective 3.2: Ongoing Capacity
- Objective 3.3: Inform Responses
- Objective 3.4: Evaluate Progress
Goal 4: Communicate and Educate
- Objective 4.1: Strengthen Communication and Education Research
- Objective 4.2: Reach Diverse Audiences
IV. COORDINATING WITH OTHER NATIONS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
V. IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY
The entire document is 93 pages. The objective “Advance the Science” is 25 pages long, with the goal “Earth System Understanding” being 6 pages. A summary of the Goals encompassed in these 25 pages:
Goal 1. Advance Science: Advance scientific knowledge of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system. This goal identifies the research, including integrated observations and modeling, that is necessary to better understand the behavior and interaction of human and Earth systems and their response to global change. The Program will increasingly emphasize integrated physical, biological, and social science research, and developing reliable knowledge of the causes and consequences of global change at regional and global scales. USGCRP’s strong research tradition provides the foundation for the entire Program.
Goal 2. Inform Decisions: Provide the scientific basis to inform and enable timely decisions on adaptation and mitigation. USGCRP member and cooperating agencies will emphasize translating research (from Goal 1) into formats and results that are policy relevant, useable, and accessible to decision makers. The Program and its member agencies are also expanding their ability to provide global change information, tools, and services the public and private sectors need to make decisions.
Goal 3. Sustained Assessments: Build sustained assessment capacity that improves the nation’s ability to understand, anticipate, and respond to global change impacts and vulnerabilities. USGCRP will conduct and participate in national and international assessments to evaluate current and likely future scenarios of global change and their impacts, as well as how effectively science is being used to support the country’s response to change. It will also build a standing capacity to conduct national assessments and support those at regional levels. Together, Goals 2 and 3 will evaluate progress in responding to change and identify science and stakeholder needs for further progress. The Program will use this regular assessment to inform its priorities.
Goal 4. Communicate and Educate: Advance communications and education to broaden public understanding of global change, and empower the workforce of the future. As a trusted provider of accurate information on global change, USGCRP will use its research results to communicate with and educate stakeholders in ways that are relevant to their lives and needs. The Program and its member agencies will adopt, develop, and share best practices in communication that enhance stakeholder engagement. Educational efforts will support development of a scientific and general workforce able to use global change knowledge in their lives and careers. They will also help build global change literacy among the general public.
JC quick reaction: Where’s the actual physical (and chemical) science?
Some insight into the dynamics that resulted in a substantial change in emphasis in climate research is provided by a meeting that I attended earlier this week in Boulder: the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Annual Members Meeting. An overview of UCAR is provided at Wikipedia:
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is a nonprofit consortium of more than 75 universities offering Ph.D.s in theatmospheric and related sciences. UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides additional services to strengthen and support research and education through its community programs.
The link to the meeting web site is [here]. Of particular relevance to the topic under discussion are these agenda items:
Keynote: Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University “Universities and Transdisciplinary Education for Sustainability”
UCAR Members’ Meeting Forum: Panel Discussion
The nutshell of Crow’s presentation is this:
A + B = C
- A: scientific and disciplinary knowledge
- B: impacts of A, communication of A and impacts, and translation A for policy makers
- C: policy
Crow argued that the emphasis needs to be on B, which requires an entirely new structure for universities.
The panel discussion picked up on this broad theme, focusing on the communication issue, with Don Wuebbles from the University of Illinois describing their new interdisciplinary program on environment and society that was dealing with the A+B=C problem.
Whereas I had suffered silently through all this, after the panel discussion, I had to make a statement. Here is my general recollection of what I said:
A plus B most emphatically does NOT equal C. A+B=C represents the linear, “truth to power” model of decision making that has been known for decades NOT to work for complex environmental problems.
Decision making associated with the issues of climate and global change can be characterized as decision making under deep uncertainty. The deep uncertainty is associated with our reliance on projections from climate models, which are loaded with uncertainties and do not adequately treat natural climate variability. Further substantial areas of ignorance remain in our basic understanding of some of the relevant phyiscal, chemical and dynamical processes.
If we as scientists are not humble about the uncertainties and areas of ignorance, we have an enormous capacity to mislead decision makers and point them in the direction of poor policies. Uncertainty is essential information for decision makers.
Climate scientists have this very naive understanding of the policy process, which is aptly described by the A+B=C model in the context of the precautionary principle. This naive understanding is reflected in the palpable frustration of many climate scientists at the failure of the “truth” as they “know” it to influence global and national energy and climate policy. This frustration has degenerated into using to word “denier” to refer to anyone who disagrees with them on either the science or the policy solution.
The path that we seem to be on, whereby the science is settled and all we need is better communication and translation of the science to policy makers, not only has the potential to seriously mislead decision makers, but also to destroy atmospheric and climate science in the process.
There was applause. Not a standing ovation, but applause from a substantial segment of the 200+ audience.
There were several other interesting comments in the discussion. One person brought up the point that the U.S. land grant universities had a long tradition of working with decision makers in the context of agricultural extension, etc. Another person put up a new equation, something like this:
C = A + B + X(AB)**n + f(C)
which, to the extent an equation like this is useful, much better reflects the actual decision making process than A+B=C.
At the break, close to 20 people came up to me to thank me for what I said, “somebody had to say it,” and few others who liked what I said but seemed to be hearing this kind of an idea for the first time (I of course steered them to judithcurry.com)
Climate science in the U.S., at least at the institutional level, seems to have gone off the rails. The difference in what is being emphasized in the Obama vs the Bush (43) administration is huge. Going back to Bush 41, his administration supported a substantial increase in the relevant budgets supporting climate science. When Al Gore was running for president, many climate scientists that I spoke with were concerned that Gore might assume that the science is settled, and move straight to the applications and ignore scientific research in this area. We are now seeing this realized under the Obama administration. In hindsight, the CCSP strategic plan was pretty good, and the issues raised in that plan are far from being “settled.”
So, who wrote the USGCRP strategic plan? Their website says:
The new strategic plan is being developed by writing teams comprised of scientists and research program managers from the contributing USGCRP agencies, with input from federal and public stakeholders. Stakeholder input will be gathered through a public outreach as well as a public comment period that will begin in May 2011. The document will then go through several rounds of review, including a review by the National Research Council, and a final version of the Strategic Plan is expected to be released in December 2011.
Looks like the team included zero input from independent academic scientists.
Moderation note: This thread can potentially be important. If the comment thread turns out well, i will submit the weblink to the entire thread as a public comment to the USGCRP. So I will edit little “sniping” comments, and please keep your comments on the topic of of the USGCRP and U.S. climate research policy.