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Issue Date:  February 16, 2007

Time to act on global warming

When the news stories appeared last week about the release of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the convening body of the world’s climate scientists, the U.S. heartland happened to be in the grip of severe cold. Highs in Missouri were only in the teens and low 20s, with nightly lows near zero. It was even more frigid farther north.

The local newspaper ran a letter to the editor from a reader, K.A. Newman, who was fed up with other missives sneering at the ironic disconnect between the report’s findings and the frozen outdoors.

Newman listed notable local winter occurrences -- the first chilly evening in November, the early December opening of the public ice rink, and “the first cold snap or snowfall, when ill-informed Midwesterners start up on global warming.”

Newman added, “It’s called ‘global warming’ for a reason, not ‘Kansas City warming,’ not ‘my snow-covered driveway warming,’ and not ‘my-deck-is-iced-up warming.’

“The fact is the earth is getting warmer year by year, not every day and not in every place, but on average. This has become undisputed fact by all who aren’t involved in the oil, gas, coal or timber industries. The debate that matters: What role does human activity play in this, what are the long-term consequences, and what we should be doing about it?”

The writer aptly summed up the findings detailed in the 21-page report, the first volume of the “Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007.” The panel concluded that global temperatures have already begun rising and that there is a better than 90 percent chance that this rise is caused by human emissions of greenhouse pollutants.

The panel itself is made up of roughly 1,250 expert climate scientists, researchers who study peer-reviewed and scientific documents to distill the information relevant to understanding the causes of global warming, as well as the effects the heat-up is having on the planet and the options for mitigation and adaptation. The report builds upon past panel assessments and incorporates new findings from the past six years of research.

The prestigious journal Scientific American headlined its coverage, “Climate Change Science Moves from Proof to Prevention.” Commenting on the report, University of Florida botany professor Steven Muley summed it up: “Global warming is as real as a heart attack.”

The report prints its first summary in bold face: “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.”

The report states, “The understanding of anthropogenic (human-caused) warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report (2001), leading to very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”

Some may continue to hold to beliefs that all is well, even in the face of overwhelming international consensus. It is clear, however, that rational people have made adjustments in their behavior to correct or avert threats that were potentially far less alarming than global warming. In the interests of future generations we should be compelled to err on the side of caution and, increasingly, on the side of reason.

The panel report says that “warming of the climate is unequivocal.”

Last month, the nation’s leading environmental group, the Sierra Club, joined with the American Solar Energy Society, key congressional chairpersons and representatives, and one of the nation’s preeminent climate scientists, NASA’s James Hansen, to unveil a new report authored by the society that lays out a plan for dramatically reducing the nation’s global warming emissions.

The roadmap -- now the official Sierra Club global warming strategy -- details how an aggressive yet achievable increase in the use of energy efficiency and renewables alone can achieve a 60 to 80 percent reduction in U.S. global warming emissions by 2050.

Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director, said: “Fully three-quarters of the reductions in global warming pollution called for by Dr. Hansen and other scientists can be realized using energy efficiency, wind and solar -- all technologies we have today. The rest can be made with geothermal, biofuels, biomass and other renewables. We already have the best, cheapest and cleanest solutions at our disposal; now we just need the market and our political leaders to put them to work.”

On Feb. 8, the House Committee on Science and Technology held Capitol Hill’s first formal hearings on the report. Some analysts suggest that the evidence in the panel report could make it difficult for President Bush to justify a veto if any bills come to his desk before his term ends.

Recent news reports about scientists across seven federal agencies saying they have been pressured by the Bush administration to remove references to “climate change” and “global warming” from a range of documents, including news releases and communications with Congress, are deeply disturbing.

Expert scientists have provided us with a diagnosis of the problem and a prognosis for our planet’s health. Now it’s time for policymakers to do their jobs. Future generations are depending on us to do whatever we can to turn things around.

Related Web site
(Includes a fact sheet on 10 Things You Can Do to Help Curb Global Warming)

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2007

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