Scientists: Global Warning Man-Made, Here to Stay
A scientific panel reports that global warming is man’s fault, there’s nothing we can do to stop it, and that we’d better act now.
Scientists from 113 countries issued a landmark report Friday saying they have little doubt global warming is caused by man, and predicting that hotter temperatures and rises in sea level will “continue for centuries” no matter how much humans control their pollution.
The 21-page report represents the most authoritative science on global warming as the panel comprises hundreds of scientists and representatives. It only addresses how and why the planet is warming, not what to do about it. Another report by the panel later this year will address the most effective measures for slowing global warming.
One of the authors, Kevin Trenberth, said scientists are worried that world leaders will take the message in the wrong way and throw up their hands. Instead, world leaders should to reduce emissions and adapt to a warmer world with wilder weather, he said. “This is just not something you can stop. We’re just going to have to live with it,” said Trenberth, the director of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “We’re creating a different planet. If you were to come up back in 100 years time, we’ll have a different climate.”
The scientists said global warming was “very likely” caused by human activity, a phrase that translates to a more than 90 percent certainty that it is caused by man’s burning of fossil fuels. That was the strongest conclusion to date, making it nearly impossible to say natural forces are to blame.
It also said no matter how much civilization slows or reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and sea level rise will continue on for centuries. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,” the scientists said.
“The point here is to highlight what will happen if we don’t do something and what will happen if we do something,” said another author, Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Arizona. “I can tell if you will decide not to do something the impacts will be much larger than if we do something.”
A USA Today editorial begins,
Perhaps it’s a sign of confidence that a group of the world’s top climatologists would issue a global warming report on Groundhog Day, rather than some time in July. A few years ago such a report, released just as frigid air surged into North America, might have produced some chuckles or shrugs. But not this time. Too many of the world’s leaders, in government and business, see the same things as these scientists do.
Then again, Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring, providing further evidence for the panel’s findings.
The column goes on to note the beginnings of a political consensus to take meaningful steps that wouldn’t cripple the economies of the West and emerging nations, which have been deal breakers in the past.
This awakening is particularly encouraging because it echoes trends that have overcome severe, expensive environmental problems in the past. Odd as it might sound now, water pollution was so bad in 1969 that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire. Air in major cities was unpleasant to breathe. Both problems were seen as enormously costly to fix. Neither proved unaffordable. The same is true for acid rain and the ozone hole.
Addressing global warming needn’t bankrupt U.S. motorists. At least in the initial phases of global warming plans, the biggest change is likely to be in a reduction in the use of coal, because that fuel produces far more carbon dioxide per unit of power than other fuels.
The most commonly cited approaches are cap-and-trade system, which would impose mandatory limits and allow companies to trade them. Another is a tax on fuels based on the amount of carbon dioxide they emit.
The biggest challenge, now that so many opinion leaders in the West recognize the problem, is bringing along the developing world. Countries such as China and India have a right to the fruits of economic growth long enjoyed elsewhere. But if only the developed world adopts strict policies, then some of the most polluting industries might simply migrate abroad.
Technology holds the key. Developing countries needn’t make all of the environmental mistakes made in the West if they have better technologies for power generation and transportation.
That’s the bottom line. Absent a clear and present crisis, no one would spend the money or otherwise make the sacrifices necessary to deal with the problem. Properly motivated, though, investment in alternative technologies is happening. And the modern lifestyle will continue to expand, simply using more environmentally friendly means.