Sea Change

Reactions to last week’s IPCC report run the gamut from denial to determination to change. By Susan Cosier

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report last week, scientists confirmed that what we’re already experiencing—warmer temperatures, higher seas, and more dramatic weather—is almost certainly because of global warming.

The 21-page report, written by about 600 scientists and reviewed by some 600 more, was heralded by the press as the end of the debate on global warming: It predicts how the greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere will change our planet, and perhaps most importantly, it suggests that if we take immediate action to curb our emissions, we may be able to diminish the effects of global warming.

To reach their conclusions, the scientists (who were not paid for their work) pored over climate studies for six years. This year’s report was the fourth since the panel’s formation in 1988.

What makes this report so different from the last, which was released in 2001? According to the document itself, in the past six years, “progress in understanding how climate is changing in space and in time has been gained through improvements and extension of numerous datasets and data analyses, broader geographical coverage, better understanding of uncertainties, and a wider variety of measurements.” It shows that global warming is real and the scientists are 90 percent sure that humans are the main driving force behind it.

The first installation of the report is a summary for policy makers, even though the scientists are prohibited from directly suggesting policy measures. Some scientists, like Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who co-chaired the committee that produced the report, don’t feel that it is scientists’ responsibility to advise policy makers.

At a news conference last Friday, she told reporters, “I can only give you something that’s going to disappoint you, sir, and that is that it’s my personal scientific approach to say it’s not my role to try to communicate what should be done. I believe that is a societal choice.”

But despite the content of the report and the scientific consensus, a number of people are still rebelling against the paradigm shift. The Bush administration, for example seems to be in a state of denial.

"We are a small contributor when you look at the rest of the world," said U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman in a teleconference. (In fact, the United States alone is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, though it contains less than five percent of the global population.)

Others, however, like some of the Democrats newly in power in Congress (California Senator Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among them) are calling for new policies to reduce greenhouse gases. Some of the suggestions include carbon sequestration (when carbon is captured and stored in the biosphere, underground, or in the oceans so it isn’t emitted into the atmosphere) and economic incentives—such as carbon taxing and trading—that would encourage individuals and businesses to limit their emissions.

Throughout this year, the IPCC will release four more sections of the report: a closer look at the science behind climate change, recommendations for limiting emissions, recommendations for mitigating the consequences of global warming, and an overall synthesis. These sections are sure to generate more conversation as we move away from the debate on global warming and into a discussion of what to do about it.

For a variety of perspectives on the report, check out these links:

 New York Times : here and here

The BBC: here  and  here

Nature: here and here

NPR Science Friday

Mother Jones Blog: here and here

Scientific American

Wall Street Journal Blog


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What? No links to the conservative media for the denial perspective?

Loved the insight! Will visit this site often to see what thoughts you have on current topics.

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