Sunday, November 14, 2004

The scandal of global warming

Two scientific reports released last week highlight the danger and current reality of global warming. As summarized by Matt Crenson of the Associated Press:

Overall, the reports say, Earth's climate has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1900. In the Arctic, where a number of processes amplify the warming effects of carbon dioxide, most regions have experienced a temperature rise of 4 to 7 degrees in the last 50 years.

That warmth has reduced the amount of snow that falls every winter, melted away mountain glaciers and shrunk the Arctic Ocean's summer sea ice cover to its smallest extent in millennia, according to satellite measurements. Swaths of Alaskan permafrost are thawing into soggy bogs, and trees are moving northward at the expense of the tundra that rings the Arctic Ocean.

These changes seriously threaten animals such as polar bears, which live and hunt on the sea ice. The bears have already suffered a 15 percent decrease in their number of offspring and a similar decline in weight over the past 25 years. If the Arctic sea ice disappears altogether during the summer months, as some researchers expect it will by the end of the century, polar bears have little chance of survival.

One of the reports, said Crenson, "was commissioned by the Arctic Council, an international commission of eight countries, including the United States, and six indigenous groups. It was written by a team of 300 scientists."

Nevertheless, the Bush administration was at best noncommital in its response, as Crenson reports:

"The report will be a valuable contribution to the literature on potential regional impacts of climate change, and the United States government will take its findings into account as it continues to review the science," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement released Tuesday.

The United States faces a potential showdown with other members of the Arctic Council on Nov. 24, when representatives of the organization's members are scheduled to meet in Iceland to consider climate change policy recommendations.

The other report was released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change:

"Responses to climate change are being seen across the U.S.A," said Camille Parmesan, a biologist at the University of Texas in Austin. She is the co-author, with Hector Galbraith of the University of Colorado in Boulder, of "Observed Impacts of Global Climate Change in the U.S." The report was released Tuesday by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a non-partisan but not disinterested research organization dedicated to providing sound scientific information about global warming.

Parmesan and Galbraith acknowledge that nothing in the report would strike the average person as particularly alarming. They also allow that some of the past century's warming might have happened even if humans hadn't been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But they argue that the changes they describe should be taken as a "very clear signal" that climate change will have significant effects in coming decades.

And what has been the response of the Bush administration? Over the last four years, it has pursued a policy of increased destruction of our resources, rolling back hundreds of environmental regulations. And there is no sign that these two reports will in any way deter our government from speeding our planet toward the brink of environmental catastrophe. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concluded in an editorial today:

The United States must be at least a part of the solution to the problem it does more than any other country to create. Fresh from an election victory, the administration may well think it can engage in four more years of calls for better science and voluntary "action." When a Scripps Howard News Service reporter asked White House science adviser John Marburger about the possibility of regulating greenhouse emissions, he said, "Not in this administration."

The swagger in the White House walk will face the persistence of Sen. John McCain. Last week, the Arizona Republican and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., responded to the release of another report, on dramatic warming in the Arctic, with more calls for passage of their bill for reducing global-warming gases.

Most other economic powers have decided to join the Kyoto agreement on climate change. With each major scientific study, the need to limit global warming becomes more obvious. Domestically and internationally, pressure should force action by Congress and a president who came into office promising to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.


Blogger Robert said...

The sad thing is, the Bush administration doesn't have to do anything. Sound concerned... claim that the science is not conclusive and contradictory... and allow the rabid right to do the rest. If they had their way, they'd simply wait until it was a fact, and then claim that there isn't much that could be done now. I don't think I have ever seen an administration so dedicated to ideology that they are willing to ignore or discout their own scientists.

6:06 PM  

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