- Politics and Social Issues
Global Warming 4--2007
Middle Stance Emerges In Debate on Climate--THERE IS STILL A CHANCE OF AVOIDING CATASTROPHE
According to a NY Times article dated Jan. 1, 2007, some scientists are adopting a middle ground in the debate over global warming. They agree that accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping tailpipe and smokestack gases probably pose a momentous environmental challenge, but they say the appropriate response is more akin to buying fire insurance and installing sprinklers and new wiring in an old, irreplaceable house than to fighting a fire already raging. Others remain much more pessimistic. ALL AGREE WE FACE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.
"Climate change presents a very real risk," said Carl Wunsch, a climate and oceans expert at MIT. "It seems worth a very large premium to insure ourselves against the most catastrophic scenarios. Denying the risk seems utterly stupid. Claiming we can calculate the probabilities with any degree of skill seems equally stupid."
Roger Pielke: "We do have a problem, we do need to act, but what actions are practical and pragmatic?...But the discourse is in danger of tipping society onto a negative, depressive and reactionary trajectory."
Other experts say there is no time for nuance, given the general lack of public response to the threat posed particularly by carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fossil fuels and forests that persists for a century or more in the air and is accumulating rapidly in the atmosphere and changing the pH of the oceans.
James E. Hansen, the veteran climate scientist with NASA:
"If we want to avoid producing a different planet, we need to start acting now," and not with paltry steps, he said in a recent e-mail exchange with a reporter and other scientists. "It seems almost to be a secret that we cannot put all o f the fossil fuel CO2 into the air without producing a different planet, and, yes, dangerous change. There are people who don't know that!"
21st CENTURY WARMING LIKELY TO BE SEVERAL TIMES GREATER THAN 20th.
Studies used to generate the next UN report have shown a likely warming in the 21st century--undless emissions of greenhouse gases abate--at least several times that of the last century's one-degree rise.
Dr. Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in Britain, says it's best not to gloss over uncertainties. In fact, he and others say that uncertainty is one reason to act--as a hedge against the prospect that PROBLEMS COULD BE MUCH WORSE THAN PROJECTED.
Dr. Hulme and others avoid sounding alarmist, but offer scant comfort to anyone who doubts that humans are contributing to warming or believes the matter can be deferred.
These experts see a clear need for the public to engage now, but not to panic...many in this group see a need to portray clearly that the RESPONSE WOULD REQUIRE FAR MORE THAN SWITCHING TO FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULBS AND HYBRID CARS.
Dr. Jerry D. Mahlman, climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado: "This is a mega-ethical challenge . The buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases cannot be quickly reversed with existing technologies. And even if every engine on earth were shut down today, there would be no measurable impact on the warming rate for many years, given the buildup of heat already banked in the seas."
Because of the scale and time lag, a better strategy, Dr. Mahlman and others say, is to treat human-caused warming more as a risk to be reduced rather than a problem to be solved.
John M. Wallace, climatologist at University of Washington: "Global warming is real, it's serious, but it's just one of many global challenges we're facing...I portray it as part of a broader problem of environmental stewardship--preserving a liveable planet with abundant resources for future generations."
Some experts, though, argue that moderation in a message is likely to be misread as satisfaction with the pace of change.
John P. Holdren, an energy and environment expert at Harvard and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science defended the more strident calls for limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
"I am one of those who believes that ANY REASONABLY COMPREHENSIVE AND UP-TO-DATE LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE MAKES CLEAR THAT CIVILIZATION HAS ALREADY GENERATED DANGEROUS ANTHROPOGENIC INTERFERENCE IN THE CLIMATE SYSTEM. wHAT KEEPS ME GOING IS MY BELIEF THAT THERE IS STILL A CHANCE OF AVOIDING CATASTROPHE."
Andrew C. Revkin's article is linked below. READ IT!
A Middle Stance On Global Warming Emerges Among Scientists
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