New Year, New Look, Old Problem

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  06 Jan 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5757, pp. 15
DOI: 10.1126/science.1123759

The new year brings Science a new look, and we hope you'll like it. It also has brought us, our readers, and all Americans another failure to solve an old problem. I'll begin with our redesign and then turn once again, as promised in the last issue, to the refusal of the U.S. government to deal realistically with climate change.

For our redesign, many of my colleagues have been hard at work thinking about design, user-friendly navigation, and related topics. The preparation was undertaken on two tracks: one aimed at restructuring the electronic version of Science and the other at creating a new and clearer layout for our print volume. If you are reading this from a monitor, we hope you are already more comfortable finding your way around. I am from the information technology Eocene, so I appreciate any help in navigating the online world. I find the new structure a great improvement and hope you do too.

If you have the print volume in hand, you will see more color-coding of sections, more guidance in the Table of Contents, and a more lively and inviting design—all without decreasing the number of words per page. Particularly where print design is concerned, change can be a dangerous thing, sometimes activating critics who have grown to love the old look. We believe we have made Science easier to get around in and more attractive, too. But let us know what you think, with as many specifics as you can.

Now I turn to a different kind of change. For more than two decades, the phenomenon of global warming and its scientific basis have been high-priority objectives for researchers in atmospheric physics and chemistry, oceanography, and paleoclimatology, among others. The consequences of the past century's temperature increase are becoming dramatically apparent in the increased frequency of extreme weather events, the de-icing of the Arctic, and the geographic redistribution of plants and animals.


There is now a broad scientific consensus with regard to the cause. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), largely produced as a result of human enterprises, are responsible for the increase of about 0.7° C in the past century. Models, now running at climate centers in several nations, agree that if we continue business as usual, we may expect a 2° to 5° C increase in the next century. With that, there may be a concomitant rise in sea level and an increase in the weather-related damage that has become a contemporary fact of life.

There is more history than that, but most of those who read this journal know the story. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol laid out some targets and timetables, and although enough nations have now ratified it, the United States has not and has resisted every international effort to reach further agreements. That takes us to Montreal, where a Conference of the Parties has just closed out 2005. The U.S. delegation began by objecting to any setting of reduction targets beyond 2012. When a group of developing countries agreed on the need to reduce tropical deforestation—a major contributor to GHG emissions—potential U.S. participants declined to engage in the discussion. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, though speculations abound.

Thus does the Bush administration keep its record clean: Do nothing except promise voluntary efforts and back long-range research. The climate-denial consortium, supported by a dwindling but effective industry lobbying effort, has staved off serious action. It is a disgraceful record, and the scientific community, which has been on the right side of this one, doesn't deserve to be part of what has become a national embarrassment.

The good news in this department is industry. BP, Shell, General Electric, and hybrid car makers have gotten the message that in the new climate environment, first movers may have the competitive advantage. An investor coalition including CalPERS, the giant California public employers' retirement system, has asked 30 insurance companies to disclose their climate change risks and say what they are doing about them. Actually, the giant reinsurance companies are ahead of them. Swiss Re—imagine this—may be asking holdouts like ExxonMobil this: If you are convinced there's no problem, how about excluding climate risks from your directors' and officers' policies? Good question!

Navigate This Article