Washington Wakes up to Global Warming

Environmental IssuesWeatherGlobal ChangeScienceGlobal WarmingWeather ReportsConservation

By MATT CRENSON
AP National Writer
   NEW YORK (AP) -- Maybe it's the weird winter weather, or the
newly Democratic Congress.
   Maybe it's the news reports about starving polar bears, or the
Oscar nomination for Al Gore's global warming cri de coeur, "An
Inconvenient Truth."
   Whatever the reason, years of resistance to the reality of
climate change are suddenly melting away like the
soon-to-be-history snows of Kilimanjaro.
   Now even George W. Bush says it's a problem.
   For years, the president and his supporters argued that not
enough was known about global warming to do anything about it. But
during last week's State of the Union address Bush finally referred
to global warming as an established fact.
   "These technologies will help us be better stewards of the
environment, and they will help us to confront the serious
challenge of global climate change," Bush said in proposing a
series of measures to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent in
10 years.
   Environmentalists and scientists who study the problem say the
nostrums Bush proposed Tuesday night will do little to prevent the
serious environmental effects that the globe faces in coming
decades.
   Environmentalists favor imposing a mandatory cap on greenhouse
gas emissions tied to a market-based emissions trading system.
Several of the global warming bills that have been introduced to
the new Democrat-controlled Congress would do exactly that. House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed creating a new global warming
committee to consider the legislation.
   "We want the pressure on. The pressure will drive the
development of new technologies," said Rep. Henry Waxman,
D-Calif., who introduced one of the global warming bills.
   Many industry leaders have come to realize that such measures
may be more an opportunity than a hindrance. The day before Bush's
speech the chief executives of 10 corporations, including Alcoa
Inc., BP America Inc., DuPont Co., Caterpillar Inc., General
Electric Co. and Duke Energy Corp., called for mandatory limits on
greenhouse gas emissions.
   "It must be mandatory, so there is no doubt about our
actions," said Jim Rogers, chairman of Duke Energy. "The science
of global warming is clear. We know enough to act now. We must act
now."
   And a week before the State of the Union address a dozen
evangelicals called action against global warming a "moral
imperative" in a joint statement with scientists from the Centers
for Disease Control, NASA, Harvard and other institutions.
   There is still plenty of opposition to action on global warming
in both the evangelical and business communities, but the tide is
clearly turning.
   "You're seeing a major political shift that is fairly
broad-based," said Robert Watson, a scientist at the World Bank
and former chairman of the United Nations scientific panel
responsible for evaluating the threat of climate change.
   Scientists have been at the vanguard of the climate change issue
for decades. As early as 1965 a scientific advisory board to
President Johnson warned that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide
could lead to "marked changes in climate" by 2000.
   In 1988 the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change. Though assailed by critics as an overly alarmist
organization, the panel actually represents a relatively cautious
assessment of global warming because it relies on input from
hundreds of scientists, including well-known skeptics and industry
researchers.
   Every five or six years since 1990, the IPCC has released an
updated assessment of the environmental threat posed by global
warming. And every time, a single memorable and increasingly
alarming statement has stood out from the thousands of pages of
technical discussion.
   The first report noted that Earth's average temperature had
risen by 0.5 to one degree Fahrenheit in the past century, a
warming consistent with the global warming predictions but still
within the range of natural climate variability.
   "The observed increase could be largely due to this natural
variability," the scientists concluded.
   But by 1995 that possibility had all but vanished: "The balance
of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global
climate," the second IPCC report concluded.
   Six years after that: "There is new and stronger evidence that
most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable
to human activities."
   Since then, scientists have accumulated abundant evidence that
global warming is upon us. They have documented a dramatic retreat
of the Arctic sea in recent summers, accelerated melting on the
Greenland and Antarctic ice caps and the virtual collapse in
mountain glaciers around the globe. They have found plants and
animals well poleward of their normal ranges. They have recorded
temperature records in many locations and shifts in atmospheric and
oceanic circulation. Globally, the planet is the warmest it has
been in thousands of years, if not more.
   Emboldened by these discoveries, scientists just in the last
month have issued some dire warnings. The Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists, originally formed in response to the dangers of nuclear
weapons, cited the climate change threat in moving its "doomsday
clock" two minutes closer to midnight. And Britain's
meteorological agency announced just three days into the year that
2007 has a 60 percent likelihood of being the warmest year on
record, thanks to the combined effects of global warming and El
Nino.
   "You just can't explain the observed changes that we've seen in
the last half of the 20th century by invoking natural causes,"
said Benjamin Santer, a U.S. government scientist who was involved
in previous IPCC assessments.
   The scientists who will gather in Paris this coming week to
complete the first section of this year's IPCC report are not
allowed to talk about the early drafts that have been circulating
in recent months.
   But there is little doubt that when the report is released on
Friday it will include references to some of the specific
environmental effects of global warming that have already been
observed, and an even stronger statement about the imminent threat
of global warming.

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