Reporter-Times (Martinsville, Indiana), November 30, 2007
[Rachel's introduction: "The IPCC has provided enough evidence to be past the precautionary stage, but the White House is saying there's still enough uncertainty that we have to be very careful on what actions we do take. But urgent action is warranted," Auer said. "It's the precautionary principle. If there is a risk of harm to human health or the environment, you don't have to have fully established cause-and-effect relationships to take action."]
By Anne Kibbler firstname.lastname@example.org
Irrefutable. Unequivocal. Overwhelming.
When the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent report on global warming, the language - based on the work of almost 4,000 scientists and other experts from more than 130 countries -- left little room for argument.
"Today, the time for doubt has passed," said the report, released earlier this month. "The IPCC has unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity."
The panel, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, helped bring the global warming crisis down to ground level, said Matt Auer, professor of environmental science at Indiana University. But much of the work at the intergovernmental level is far removed from the concerns of ordinary people. The challenge, Auer said, is to get people to understand they need to change their own lifestyles.
"I think people perhaps are increasingly persuaded there is a problem, but that doesn't mean they're prepared to make the changes and sacrifices required to address the problem," he said. "My own bias is that we tend to get distracted by intergovernmental negotiations, and it begins to dominate the story instead of the more decentralized issues that we should be thinking about with global warming. What does this mean for Bloomington and Monroe County? What steps is our own municipality taking, or our university?"
Auer said he's cautiously optimistic about the future of climate change discussions, starting with an international conference next month in Bali. During that meeting, government leaders will try to come up with an action plan for measures to take when the Kyoto Protocol, an international accord to reduce greenhouse gases, expires in 2012. There's little agreement so far, however, on what targets or timetables to follow, and some reluctance on the part of the United States to consider new measures.
The U.S. was one of few developed countries that did not sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Auer said the White House, which was opposed to the treaty, now is using stronger language about the need for action on global warming, but it has called mainly for voluntary action by industry to reduce pollution.
"The IPCC has provided enough evidence to be past the precautionary stage, but the White House is saying there's still enough uncertainty that we have to be very careful on what actions we do take. But urgent action is warranted," Auer said. "It's the precautionary principle. If there is a risk of harm to human health or the environment, you don't have to have fully established cause-and-effect relationships to take action."
Jeff Riegel, one of the volunteers trained by Al Gore's staff to give presentations on "An Inconvenient Truth," said climate change has to start with the individual. But it may be a while before the urgency for change sinks in with ordinary citizens.
"I am 100 percent sure that this problem can be solved," said Riegel, the director of Bloomington-based BirdCountry.US. "I am also 99 percent sure that it will not be solved until there occur multiple catastrophic events. Unfortunately, I think thousands of people are going to have to die in this country before people wake up. They haven't felt it personally yet. When that happens, there will be overwhelming support. We won't be able to get anything done in this country without taking the environment into consideration. That's the way it should have been all along."
Riegel said when he shows the Gore movie, he tells people there's a lot they can do: switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs; don't drive when they don't have to; pay attention to the companies they spend money on; and vote for politicians who support climate change policy.
"Virtually every politician is getting on board," he said. "Even the ones that aren't are going to be, or they will be booted out of office in the next 10 years."
Key points from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report:
From 1900 to 2005, precipitation increased significantly in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe and northern and central Asia, but declined in the African Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia.
Globally, the area affected by drought has likely increased since the 1970s.
The rate of global average sea level rise, caused by melting ice, has risen from .07 inches per year to .12 inches per year from 1961 to 1993.
The projected sea level rise at the end of the 21st century is from 7 to 23 inches.
Approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction.
Simon Brassell, chairman of the geological sciences department at Indiana University, has studied data that track climate change and the melting of glaciers during the history of the Earth. He says skeptics are just picking little holes in the global warming theory. He calls their views "a denial of evidence."
"Criticisms of Al Gore's movie ("An Inconvenient Truth") are minor details that are easily refuted," Brassell said. "It's a 'throwing- the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater' scenario. There are some aspects (of the movie) where there's a slight misinterpretation, and part of that can be addressed, but it doesn't change the overall message."
Brassell's analysis of studies of drilled ice cores, which indicate the correlation between increased carbon dioxide pollution and higher temperatures, makes clear that the recent spike in global temperatures is related to human use of fossil fuels.
"It's difficult to regard this as a natural variation in the climate system because of how stable it's been in the last 10,000 years," Brassell said. "Putting two and two together, it seems it's not just an inconvenient truth, but an irrefutable argument."
Copyright 1997-2007 Reporter-Times.com