Thursday, February 01, 2007

Global warming showstopper

It's real. It's serious. And it's largely man-made.

That is the consensus opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group that includes hundreds of scientists in 113 countries and represents the current state-of-the-art on global warming.

The report says rising temperatures are "very likely" human-caused -- a phrase that reflects more than 90 percent certainty.

Some specifics:

The panel predicted temperature rises of 2-11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. That was a wider range than in the 2001 report.

However, the panel also said its best estimate was for temperature rises of 3.2-7.1 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2001, all the panel gave was a range of 2.5-10.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

On sea levels, the report projects rises of 7-23 inches by the end of the century. An additional 3.9-7.8 inches are possible if recent, surprising melting of polar ice sheets continues.... Many scientists had warned that this estimate was too cautious and said sea level rise could be closer to 3-5 feet because of ice sheet melt.

Besides directly flooding land, rising sea levels would increase erosion, increase flooding during storms, and degrade inland soil and water quality. And that effect would be compounded by another effect of global warming: an increase in the number and intensity of severe storms like hurricanes.

What should be done? The report is a bit gloomy about that. It says the warming at this point will continue for centuries no matter what humans do about it. So the question is, what effort should be made now to eventually mitigate our influence on global temperature?

Those are the sort of questions that Congress will take up soon. The House has created a global warming committee, which is supposed to develop a bill by July. Meanwhile, various Senators have introduced bills aimed at reducing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by various amounts. So we can expect some sort of action on that front sooner rather than later. Whether it will amount to more than grandstanding, and whether it will survive potential Republican opposition, is another thing.

Food for thought.


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