NOAA News || NOAA Home Page || Back to Story


Earth Day Remarks on Global Climate Change
Dr. D. James Baker
U.S. Coast Guard Station, Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans
April 18, 2000 1:00 p.m. EDT

April 18, 2000 — Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here at Lake Pontchartrain during Earth Week. This Saturday marks the 30th Anniversary of the first Earth Day. Looking back, we can see that the first Earth Day inspired landmark
environmental legislation, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as the
Act creating my agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or

NOAA has broad responsibilities in the environmental field, including predicting the
weather, through our National Weather Service, protecting the Nation's coastal areas,
through the National Ocean Service, and managing marine fisheries, through the
National Marine Fisheries Service. NOAA is a science-based agency. We provide
cutting-edge research on atmospheric and oceanic topics, to help the country address
environmental issues.

It is my pleasure today to share the stage with our partner FEMA. James Lee Witt and I
are here in New Orleans to discuss hurricanes with the nation's foremost experts.
Tomorrow, on the first day of the National Hurricane Conference, I plan to speak about
the technological advances my agency is making toward providing better hurricane
forecasts. NOAA and FEMA continue to work very closely together to help mitigate the
impact of these seasonal storms.

This afternoon, I wanted to spend a few moments talking to you about the bigger
climate picture global climate change.

Lake Pontchartrain is an appropriate backdrop to discuss climate change. Storm surge
models have shown lake waters overflowing the levees of the city during a worst case
storm surge. With sea level rise, the danger to New Orleans becomes even greater.

The warming atmosphere and its consequences, such as sea level rise, and more
severe weather are subjects that I'm sure concern those who live in a city that's below
sea level and ever vulnerable to floods and hurricanes. In fact, an international
organization of scientists ranked New Orleans as the North American city most
vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, the topic of global warming is especially
relevant here.

Let me start with the latest global warming news. Our climate is warming, now at a rate
faster than any other time in our instrumental records. In the last few years,
temperature records around the country and the world have consistently been broken.

Just today, NOAA researchers announced that the United States recently experienced
its warmest January, February and March ever, at 41.7 degrees which breaks the old
record in 1990 for the same period by 1 degree.

During this period, every state in the continental U.S. was warmer than its long-term
average—with 30 states from just West of the Rockies to New England were much
above average.

This increase in temperature, averaged over the entire U.S., may not seem like much;
regional statistics, however, indicate higher increases in many cases. Sustained at this
rate, such long-term climate change could have major impacts on the environment,
human health, the economy, and society. It could affect everything from energy use and
transportation to water resource management to international trade and development to
agriculture and natural ecosystems.

Coastal Impacts

A few degrees of warming should concern coastal communities in particular. The
current scientific consensus estimates that the global average temperatures will
increase from 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, causing sea level rise of 6 to
37 inches, and greater rises in the centuries beyond 2100.

With half of the U.S. population and more than two thirds of the global population
currently living in coastal areas, future sea level rises, altered storm patterns, and
higher storm surges could have devastating effects.

Even with current global populations, a 20-inch rise in sea level without adaptive
measures directly threatens 92 million people. Making matters worse, Americans are
moving to coastal areas at a rate of 3,600 each day.

A relatively small change in average global temperatures can lead to more extreme
weather events, including droughts, floods, and hurricanes. I would like to point out,
however, that the scientists cannot say if we will have more hurricanes, but mostly
agree that the hurricanes that we do have will be
more severe.

New observations, when combined with our improving understanding of the climate
system, increasingly point to human influences as a major cause of these climate
changes. Changes in the Earth's climate will affect temperature and precipitation
patterns worldwide. With the stakes so high, it is imperative that our decisions reflect
the best available scientific information.

IPCC Draft Report

About every five years, the world's leading climate researchers provide an update on
the science of climate change, projected impacts and vulnerability, and options for
mitigation. This group, called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC,
has just released a draft of the latest scientific report for public technical review. In
1996, the IPCC concluded that the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human
influence on global climate.

The first volume of the report details climate variability and change, changing
atmospheric chemistry, global climate models, changes in sea level, and other
advances in scientific understanding. The report will become the definitive word on
global warming and its effects for the next five-years.

The notice of public review, published in the Federal Register by the National Science
Foundation, calls for technical review and comments from U.S. scientists and experts,
to give back to the IPCC in three weeks time. Drafts of the remaining two volumes, on
impacts and mitigation, will be available in mid-May.

The draft of volume I is available via the Web by sending an email request to:, or by faxing a request to (202) 488-8681.

Next Steps

NOAA will continue to coordinate the work of federal, international, and private
scientists who are doing their part to provide the best possible data, understanding, and
forecasts for policy makers as they deal with these difficult issues.

Thirty years ago, few would have predicted that we could have accomplished so much
in the fight for our environment. But we have. Our task now is to bring the same
determination to bear against a new, more profound set of environmental challenges
like global warming.

Ignoring climate change will likely be the most costly of all possible choices, for our
children and us. We must realize that when it comes to the environment, everyone is a
stakeholder. It is a challenge we cannot afford to ignore.