Making Climate Forecasts Matter
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20418
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
The study was supported by Contracts No. 56-DKNA-6-90040 and 50-DKNA-7-90052 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Making climate forecasts matter / Paul C. Stern and William
Easterling, editors; Panel on the Human Dimensions of
Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Variability, Committee on the Human
Dimensions of Global Change, Commission on Behavioral and Social
Sciences and Education, National Research Council.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-309-06475-9 (hardcover)
1. Climatic changesSocial aspects. 2. Weather
forecastsSocial aspects. I. Stern, Paul C., 1944- II. Easterling,
William E. III. National Research Council (U.S.). Panel on the
Human Dimensions of Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Variability.
QC981.8.C5 M345 1999
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Copyright 1999 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Panel on the Human Dimensions of Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Variability
WILLIAM E. EASTERLING (Chair), Department of Geography and Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University
PAUL R. EPSTEIN, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
KATHLEEN A. GALVIN, Department of Anthropology, Colorado State University
DIANA M. LIVERMAN, Latin American Area Center and Department of Geography, University of Arizona
DENNIS S. MILETI, Department of Sociology and Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, University of Colorado
KATHLEEN A. MILLER, Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
FRANKLIN W. NUTTER, Reinsurance Association of America, Washington, DC
MARK R. ROSENZWEIG, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania
EDWARD S. SARACHIK, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington
ELKE U. WEBER, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University
PAUL C. STERN, Study Director, National Research Council
HEATHER C. SCHOFIELD, Senior Project Assistant, National Research Council
PAUL McLAUGHLIN, Consultant, Independent Researcher
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Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change 1998
DIANA M. LIVERMAN (Chair), Latin American Area Center and Department of Geography, University of Arizona
JOHN ANTLE, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University
PAUL R. EPSTEIN, Center for Health and Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
MYRON GUTMANN, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin
PAUL MAYEWSKI, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire
EMILIO F. MORAN, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University
ELINOR OSTROM, Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University
EDWARD PARSON, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
RONALD R. RINDFUSS, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
ROBERT SOCOLOW, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University
SUSAN STONICH, Department of Anthropology, University of California
ELKE WEBER, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University
EDWARD FRIEMAN (ex officio, chair, Board on Sustainable Development), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
ORAN R. YOUNG (ex officio, International Human Dimensions Programme liaison), Institute of Arctic Studies, Dartmouth College
PAUL C. STERN, Study Director, National Research Council
HEATHER C. SCHOFIELD, Senior Project Assistant, National Research Council
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Climatic variability on the seasonal-to-interannual time scale affects many facets of human life. It always has. Throughout human history, departures from the seasonal rhythms of climate often provided the difference between wealth and poverty, feast and famine, health and disease, and even life and death. Sometimes, more subtly, they spelled delicate differences among degrees of profit and loss. So pervasive are the implications of climatic variability for human welfare that, for thousands of years, societies have developed coping strategies ranging from elaborate irrigation systems to nomadic pastoralism to the modern disaster insurance industry.
The effects of climatic variability are, at times, dramatic and unmistakable; at other times, they are muted and difficult to separate from other driving forces affecting society. Haunting television images of withered crops and starving Ethiopians in the 1970s gave the viewing public a chilling firsthand glimpse of what can happen when rains so desperately needed cease. More careful analysis shows, however, that although drought precipitated the famine, it was also due to other factors, such as war, forced resettlement, and disruption of the national food system.
As we look to the future, there are compelling reasons to believe that the welfare of societies worldwide will be increasingly tied to risks and opportunities associated with seasonal-to-interannual climatic variability. Several trends point in this direction. The global demand for food and fiber will continue to rise, fueled by growth in population and incomes, especially in developing countries. The ability of the world's farmers and foresters to meet the demand sustainably is in question. The
disparity of incomes between the rich and poor, north and south, and urban and rural is growing wider. Rapid urbanization, especially in developing countries, is drawing labor and capital from rural hinterlands and transforming prime agricultural land along the urban fringe, thus degrading resource bases. Development in semiarid regions and along coastal lowlands is occurring at a rapid pace, thus increasing the human population in the areas most vulnerable to climatic variations. For better or worse, unprecedented long-term climatic changes likely to occur from greenhouse warming will also change seasonal-to-interannual variability.
Improvement in the ability to forecast climatic variability based on knowledge of ocean-atmosphere interactions is one of the premiere advancements in the atmospheric sciences at the close of the 20th century. Improved seasonal-to-interannual climate prediction offers society an opportunity to partially or fully protect, or even to increase, social welfare. It promises to enable society to deal with the effects of climate variability more effectively than ever. But increase in forecast skill is not a panacea. The improved forecasts remain far from perfect. They are often ill-suited for direct use in decision making. And decision making is often ill-suited for use of the forecasts.
In recognition of the above, the Office of Global Programs (OGP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has elected to focus its Economics and Human Dimensions of Climate Fluctuations research program on increasing understanding of how society is affected by seasonal-to-interannual climate variability and, in turn, how society may benefit from improved ability to forecast such variability. NOAA asked the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change of the National Research Council (NRC) to establish the Panel on the Human Dimensions of Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Variability to examine these issues. The panel was given this task: to provide scientific input to NOAA on research needs and programs in the area of human dimensions of seasonal-to-interannual climate variability, including issues of societal vulnerability, use of forecast information, the value of short-term climate prediction, and adaptation to climate variability with and without climate forecast information.
The panel met three times between May 1997 and May 1998a period spanning perhaps the most extreme El Niño event of the century and during which seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasting became, for the first time, an item of headline news. The panel recognized that, as we deliberated, a major natural experiment was occurring that could provide great insights about the usefulness of climate forecasts. The panel did not attempt to draw conclusions from this natural experimentthe data are not yet inbut instead assessed the state of knowledge, data, and scientific methods on the issues before it and considered how NOAA and other
interested organizations might use science and experience with past climate forecasts to build scientific capability for making climate forecasts more useful to society. In particular, the panel has formulated a set of scientific questions founded on the current state of knowledge to guide NOAA's research program on Economics and Human Dimensions of Climate Fluctuations.
I believe that the panel's analysis of the issues and the scientific questions we have raised will also be of interest to readers outside NOAA. These particularly include other organizations that may support research aimed at making climate forecasts more useful including, in the United States, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy and, on the international scene, the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, the various regional institutes and organizations supporting research on global change, and private research sponsors concerned with the wellbeing of regions and groups that are vulnerable to climatic variations. The panel's work will also raise intellectual questions of interest to social scientists who have not previously conducted research on climate variations but who may become more interested in the topic as they see its relationship to broader social science issues such as societal adaptation, communication, decision making, and social modeling.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC's Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: John Antle, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University; Michael H. Glantz, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO; Jerry D. Mahlman, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton University; Edward Parson, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Robert J. Serafin, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO; Burton H. Singer, Office of Population Research, Princeton University; Susan Stonich, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Billie Lee Turner, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University. Although the individuals listed above have provided many constructive comments and
suggestions, it must be emphasized that responsibility for the final content of this report rests solely with the authoring panel and the institution.
On behalf of the panel, I would like to thank Paul Stern for his active role in the affairs of the panel. He made a strong intellectual mark on this effort and was instrumental in weaving the many small pieces of this book into a coherent whole. His indispensable contribution was made all the more remarkable by the personal adversity with which he dealt throughout the time the panel was active. We also thank Heather Schofield, whose efforts were essential in organizing our meetings and getting this volume ready for publication and Christine McShane, who provided essential help in editing the volume and preparing it for publication. Paul McLaughlin provided valuable ideas in getting the panel started on its work. We especially thank Claudia Nierenberg and Caitlin Simpson of NOAA's Office of Global Programs, who asked us to initiate this study and maintained productive contact with the panel throughout our deliberations. They saw, before several of us on the panel, that research on climate forecasting would raise interesting social science questions in addition to having important practical applications.
WILLIAM E. EASTERLING, CHAIR
PANEL ON HUMAN DIMENSIONS OF SEASONAL-TO-INTERANNUAL CLIMATE VARIABILITY
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