In an interview with BBC, Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Marburger made some welcome straightforward statements, for a change, based on scientific assessment of the danger of unchecked climate change. But when it came to linking harmful climate change impacts to the need for a strong policy response, he didn’t stray from the White House political line.

[We’re back to posting after a break to deal with other matters. We’ll be posting regularly during the fall.]

BBC News reported on September 14:

Bush aide says warming man-made
By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

The US chief scientist has told the BBC that climate change is now a fact. Professor John Marburger, who advises President Bush, said it was more than 90% certain that greenhouse gas emissions from mankind are to blame.

The Earth may become “unliveable” without cuts in CO2 output, he said, but he labelled targets for curbing temperature rise as “arbitrary”.

His comments come shortly before major meetings on climate change at the UN and the Washington White House….

In the starkest warning from the White House so far about the dangers ahead, Professor Marburger told the BBC that climate change was unequivocal, with mankind more than 90% likely to blame….

Despite disagreement on the details of climate science, he said: “I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be. “And it’s going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies.”…

“The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere and there’s no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unliveable,” he said.

Marburger said in the interview, “We strongly agree with the IPCC reports and support its conclusions….We know we need to change our energy technology, the way we produce things in our economies.”

But when it came to saying anything that might be taken as endorsing the need for a stronger U.S. emissions reduction policy, Marburger ducked coming to grips with the IPCC assessment reports on climate change Impacts and Mitigation.

His formulation was, because “we don’t know exactly what the impacts will be or whether they will be too fast to accommodate smoothly,” we don’t have a scientific basis for targeting a limit on global temperature increase.

Mr Marburger said the state of the science made it difficult to justify any particular target.

“It’s not clear that we’ll be in a position to predict the future accurately enough to make policy confidently for a long time,” he said.

“I think 2C [degrees Celsius] is rather arbitrary, and it’s not clear to me that the answer shouldn’t be 3C or more or less. It’s a hunch, a guess.”

The truth, he said, was that we just do not know what the ‘safe’ limit is.


Marburger concluded with, “I say let’s forget about these artificial numbers and get on with the business of changing our energy technologies.”

OK, so Marburger appears to have finally gotten past the kind of slippery statements he has made in the past to avoid a straightforward acknowledgement of projected human-induced global warming and its potentially catastrophic (“unlivable”) consequences. The core IPCC conclusions about projected change in the physical climate system are prevailing. BUT—until the government leadership is willing to engage in a much more serious discussion of the wide range of observed and projected harmful IMPACTS of climate change (not just that we can’t predict them and their rate of occurrence “exactly”), they will undermine the mobilization of political will needed to drive support for the change in energy technology that they claim to support. 

As the disinformation campaign loses all traction on the denial of anthropogenic global warming, their strategy will likely shift more to blowing smoke on the science and seriousness of climate change impacts and the need for a stronger goal on emissions reductions. Will Marburger say anything to clearly differentiate himself from that shift? He hasn’t yet.

Link to audio of the interview