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Global warming's PR problem

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  • Pat Neuman
    Global warming s PR problem By Andrew C. Revkin The New York Times SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2006 NEW YORK Global warming has the feel of breaking news these days.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24 5:18 AM
      Global warming's PR problem
      By Andrew C. Revkin The New York Times

      SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2006

      NEW YORK Global warming has the feel of breaking news these days.

      Polar bears are drowning; an American city is underwater; ice sheets
      are crumbling. Time magazine proclaimed that readers should be
      worried. Very worried. There are new hot-selling books and a batch
      of documentaries, including one starring former Vice President Al
      Gore and his climate-evangelist slide show that is touted as "the
      most terrifying movie you will ever see."

      Are humans like frogs in a simmering pot, unaware that temperatures
      have reached the boiling point? Or has global warming been spun into
      an "alarmist gale," as Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in a recent Wall Street
      Journal op-ed article?

      There is enough static in the air to simultaneously confuse, alarm
      and paralyze the public. Is global warming now a reality? What do
      scientists know for sure and when are they just guessing?

      And what can truly be accomplished by changing behavior? After all,
      there are still the traditional calls to limit heat-trapped
      greenhouse-gas emissions, but a growing number of experts are also
      saying what was once unthinkable: Humans may have to adapt to a
      warmer globe.

      Here is an attempt to shed a little light in all the heat.

      Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the
      prevailing scientific view: Without big changes in emissions rates,
      global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to
      lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of
      climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.

      Over the 20th century, the Earth's average surface temperature rose
      about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 Fahrenheit) to about 15 degrees (59
      Fahrenheit).

      But the rate of warming from the 1970s until now has been three
      times the average rate of warming since 1900. Seas have risen about
      15 to 20 centimeters, or 6 to 8 inches, globally over the past
      century, and the rate of rise has increased in the past decade.

      In 2001, a large team of scientists issued the latest assessment of
      climate change and concluded that more than half of the recent
      warming was likely to have been caused by people, primarily because
      we are adding tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other
      long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning
      coal and oil.

      There is no serious debate any more about one thing: More of these
      gases will cause more warming. Lindzen, who contends that any human
      climate influence is negligible and has long criticized those
      calling global warming a catastrophe, agreed on this basic fact in
      his article.

      At the same time, few scientists agree with the idea that the recent
      spate of potent hurricanes, European heat waves, African drought and
      other weather extremes are, in essence, our fault. There is more
      than enough natural variability in nature to mask a direct
      connection, they say.

      Even recent sightings of drowned polar bears cannot be firmly
      ascribed to human influence on climate given the big cyclical
      fluctuations of sea ice around the Arctic.

      The unresolved questions concern the pace and extent of future
      warming and the impact on wildlife, agriculture, disease, local
      weather and the height of the world's oceans - in other words, all
      of the things that matter to people.

      The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the
      journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 3
      degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) should the concentration of carbon
      dioxide reach twice the 280- parts-per-million figure that had been
      the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than
      some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far
      higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry
      lobbyists.

      As a result, by 2100 or so, sea levels could be several feet higher
      than they are now, and the new norm on the planet for centuries
      thereafter could be retreating shorelines as Antarctic and Greenland
      ice sheets relentlessly erode.

      Rivers fed by mountain glaciers, including those nourishing much of
      south Asia, could shrivel. Grand plans to restore New Orleans and
      the Everglades in Florida would be rendered meaningless as seawater
      advances.

      Manhattan would become New Orleans - a semi-submerged city
      surrounded by levees. In summers, polar bears would be stuck on the
      few remaining ice-clotted shores around the largely blue Arctic
      Ocean.

      Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might
      change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge
      uncertainties for a long time to come, said M. Granger Morgan, a
      physicist and policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University in
      Pittsburgh.

      For example, while computer simulations of the climate consistently
      show that the centers of big continents are likely to grow drier,
      and winters and nights generally warmer, they cannot reliably
      predict conditions in Chicago or Shanghai.

      By the clock of geology, this climate shift is unfolding at a
      dizzying, perhaps unprecedented pace, but by time scales relevant to
      people, it is happening in slow motion. If damage does not happen
      for 100 years or so, it is hard to persuade governments or voters to
      take action.

      And there is the rub. Many scientists say that to avoid a doubling
      of carbon dioxide concentrations, energy efficiency must be
      increased drastically, and soon. And by midcentury, they add, there
      must be a complete transformation of energy technology. That may be
      why some environmentalists try to link today's weather to tomorrow's
      problem.

      While scientists say they lack firm evidence connecting recent
      weather to the human influence on climate, campaigners still push
      the notion.

      A Gallup survey last month shows that people are still not worried
      about climate change. When participants were asked to rank 10
      environmental problems, global warming was near the bottom.

      Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the
      kind of problem people have proved singularly terrible at solving: a
      long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before
      the harm is clear.

      "I wish I were more optimistic of our ability to get a broad slice
      of the public to understand this and be motivated to act," said
      David Hawkins, who directs the climate program at the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, a private group.

      In an e-mail message, he wrote: "Perhaps pictures of drowning polar
      bears (which we are trying to find) will move people but even there,
      people will need to believe that those drownings are due to our
      failure to build cleaner power plants and cars."

      NEW YORK Global warming has the feel of breaking news these days.

      Polar bears are drowning; an American city is underwater; ice sheets
      are crumbling. Time magazine proclaimed that readers should be
      worried. Very worried. There are new hot-selling books and a batch
      of documentaries, including one starring former Vice President Al
      Gore and his climate-evangelist slide show that is touted as "the
      most terrifying movie you will ever see."

      Are humans like frogs in a simmering pot, unaware that temperatures
      have reached the boiling point? Or has global warming been spun into
      an "alarmist gale," as Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in a recent Wall Street
      Journal op-ed article?

      There is enough static in the air to simultaneously confuse, alarm
      and paralyze the public. Is global warming now a reality? What do
      scientists know for sure and when are they just guessing?

      And what can truly be accomplished by changing behavior? After all,
      there are still the traditional calls to limit heat-trapped
      greenhouse-gas emissions, but a growing number of experts are also
      saying what was once unthinkable: Humans may have to adapt to a
      warmer globe.

      Here is an attempt to shed a little light in all the heat.

      Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the
      prevailing scientific view: Without big changes in emissions rates,
      global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to
      lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of
      climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.

      Over the 20th century, the Earth's average surface temperature rose
      about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 Fahrenheit) to about 15 degrees (59
      Fahrenheit).

      But the rate of warming from the 1970s until now has been three
      times the average rate of warming since 1900. Seas have risen about
      15 to 20 centimeters, or 6 to 8 inches, globally over the past
      century, and the rate of rise has increased in the past decade.

      In 2001, a large team of scientists issued the latest assessment of
      climate change and concluded that more than half of the recent
      warming was likely to have been caused by people, primarily because
      we are adding tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other
      long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning
      coal and oil.

      There is no serious debate any more about one thing: More of these
      gases will cause more warming. Lindzen, who contends that any human
      climate influence is negligible and has long criticized those
      calling global warming a catastrophe, agreed on this basic fact in
      his article.

      At the same time, few scientists agree with the idea that the recent
      spate of potent hurricanes, European heat waves, African drought and
      other weather extremes are, in essence, our fault. There is more
      than enough natural variability in nature to mask a direct
      connection, they say.

      Even recent sightings of drowned polar bears cannot be firmly
      ascribed to human influence on climate given the big cyclical
      fluctuations of sea ice around the Arctic.

      The unresolved questions concern the pace and extent of future
      warming and the impact on wildlife, agriculture, disease, local
      weather and the height of the world's oceans - in other words, all
      of the things that matter to people.

      The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the
      journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 3
      degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) should the concentration of carbon
      dioxide reach twice the 280- parts-per-million figure that had been
      the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than
      some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far
      higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry
      lobbyists.

      As a result, by 2100 or so, sea levels could be several feet higher
      than they are now, and the new norm on the planet for centuries
      thereafter could be retreating shorelines as Antarctic and Greenland
      ice sheets relentlessly erode.

      Rivers fed by mountain glaciers, including those nourishing much of
      south Asia, could shrivel. Grand plans to restore New Orleans and
      the Everglades in Florida would be rendered meaningless as seawater
      advances.

      Manhattan would become New Orleans - a semi-submerged city
      surrounded by levees. In summers, polar bears would be stuck on the
      few remaining ice-clotted shores around the largely blue Arctic
      Ocean.

      Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might
      change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge
      uncertainties for a long time to come, said M. Granger Morgan, a
      physicist and policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University in
      Pittsburgh.

      For example, while computer simulations of the climate consistently
      show that the centers of big continents are likely to grow drier,
      and winters and nights generally warmer, they cannot reliably
      predict conditions in Chicago or Shanghai.

      By the clock of geology, this climate shift is unfolding at a
      dizzying, perhaps unprecedented pace, but by time scales relevant to
      people, it is happening in slow motion. If damage does not happen
      for 100 years or so, it is hard to persuade governments or voters to
      take action.

      And there is the rub. Many scientists say that to avoid a doubling
      of carbon dioxide concentrations, energy efficiency must be
      increased drastically, and soon. And by midcentury, they add, there
      must be a complete transformation of energy technology. That may be
      why some environmentalists try to link today's weather to tomorrow's
      problem.

      While scientists say they lack firm evidence connecting recent
      weather to the human influence on climate, campaigners still push
      the notion.

      A Gallup survey last month shows that people are still not worried
      about climate change. When participants were asked to rank 10
      environmental problems, global warming was near the bottom.

      Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the
      kind of problem people have proved singularly terrible at solving: a
      long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before
      the harm is clear.

      "I wish I were more optimistic of our ability to get a broad slice
      of the public to understand this and be motivated to act," said
      David Hawkins, who directs the climate program at the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, a private group.

      In an e-mail message, he wrote: "Perhaps pictures of drowning polar
      bears (which we are trying to find) will move people but even there,
      people will need to believe that those drownings are due to our
      failure to build cleaner power plants and cars."

      NEW YORK Global warming has the feel of breaking news these days.

      Polar bears are drowning; an American city is underwater; ice sheets
      are crumbling. Time magazine proclaimed that readers should be
      worried. Very worried. There are new hot-selling books and a batch
      of documentaries, including one starring former Vice President Al
      Gore and his climate-evangelist slide show that is touted as "the
      most terrifying movie you will ever see."

      Are humans like frogs in a simmering pot, unaware that temperatures
      have reached the boiling point? Or has global warming been spun into
      an "alarmist gale," as Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in a recent Wall Street
      Journal op-ed article?

      There is enough static in the air to simultaneously confuse, alarm
      and paralyze the public. Is global warming now a reality? What do
      scientists know for sure and when are they just guessing?

      And what can truly be accomplished by changing behavior? After all,
      there are still the traditional calls to limit heat-trapped
      greenhouse-gas emissions, but a growing number of experts are also
      saying what was once unthinkable: Humans may have to adapt to a
      warmer globe.

      Here is an attempt to shed a little light in all the heat.

      Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the
      prevailing scientific view: Without big changes in emissions rates,
      global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to
      lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of
      climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.

      Over the 20th century, the Earth's average surface temperature rose
      about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 Fahrenheit) to about 15 degrees (59
      Fahrenheit).

      But the rate of warming from the 1970s until now has been three
      times the average rate of warming since 1900. Seas have risen about
      15 to 20 centimeters, or 6 to 8 inches, globally over the past
      century, and the rate of rise has increased in the past decade.

      In 2001, a large team of scientists issued the latest assessment of
      climate change and concluded that more than half of the recent
      warming was likely to have been caused by people, primarily because
      we are adding tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other
      long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning
      coal and oil.

      There is no serious debate any more about one thing: More of these
      gases will cause more warming. Lindzen, who contends that any human
      climate influence is negligible and has long criticized those
      calling global warming a catastrophe, agreed on this basic fact in
      his article.

      At the same time, few scientists agree with the idea that the recent
      spate of potent hurricanes, European heat waves, African drought and
      other weather extremes are, in essence, our fault. There is more
      than enough natural variability in nature to mask a direct
      connection, they say.

      Even recent sightings of drowned polar bears cannot be firmly
      ascribed to human influence on climate given the big cyclical
      fluctuations of sea ice around the Arctic.

      The unresolved questions concern the pace and extent of future
      warming and the impact on wildlife, agriculture, disease, local
      weather and the height of the world's oceans - in other words, all
      of the things that matter to people.

      The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the
      journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 3
      degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) should the concentration of carbon
      dioxide reach twice the 280- parts-per-million figure that had been
      the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than
      some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far
      higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry
      lobbyists.

      As a result, by 2100 or so, sea levels could be several feet higher
      than they are now, and the new norm on the planet for centuries
      thereafter could be retreating shorelines as Antarctic and Greenland
      ice sheets relentlessly erode.

      Rivers fed by mountain glaciers, including those nourishing much of
      south Asia, could shrivel. Grand plans to restore New Orleans and
      the Everglades in Florida would be rendered meaningless as seawater
      advances.

      Manhattan would become New Orleans - a semi-submerged city
      surrounded by levees. In summers, polar bears would be stuck on the
      few remaining ice-clotted shores around the largely blue Arctic
      Ocean.

      Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might
      change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge
      uncertainties for a long time to come, said M. Granger Morgan, a
      physicist and policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University in
      Pittsburgh.

      For example, while computer simulations of the climate consistently
      show that the centers of big continents are likely to grow drier,
      and winters and nights generally warmer, they cannot reliably
      predict conditions in Chicago or Shanghai.

      By the clock of geology, this climate shift is unfolding at a
      dizzying, perhaps unprecedented pace, but by time scales relevant to
      people, it is happening in slow motion. If damage does not happen
      for 100 years or so, it is hard to persuade governments or voters to
      take action.

      And there is the rub. Many scientists say that to avoid a doubling
      of carbon dioxide concentrations, energy efficiency must be
      increased drastically, and soon. And by midcentury, they add, there
      must be a complete transformation of energy technology. That may be
      why some environmentalists try to link today's weather to tomorrow's
      problem.

      While scientists say they lack firm evidence connecting recent
      weather to the human influence on climate, campaigners still push
      the notion.

      A Gallup survey last month shows that people are still not worried
      about climate change. When participants were asked to rank 10
      environmental problems, global warming was near the bottom.

      Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the
      kind of problem people have proved singularly terrible at solving: a
      long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before
      the harm is clear.

      "I wish I were more optimistic of our ability to get a broad slice
      of the public to understand this and be motivated to act," said
      David Hawkins, who directs the climate program at the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, a private group.

      In an e-mail message, he wrote: "Perhaps pictures of drowning polar
      bears (which we are trying to find) will move people but even there,
      people will need to believe that those drownings are due to our
      failure to build cleaner power plants and cars."

      NEW YORK Global warming has the feel of breaking news these days.

      Polar bears are drowning; an American city is underwater; ice sheets
      are crumbling. Time magazine proclaimed that readers should be
      worried. Very worried. There are new hot-selling books and a batch
      of documentaries, including one starring former Vice President Al
      Gore and his climate-evangelist slide show that is touted as "the
      most terrifying movie you will ever see."

      Are humans like frogs in a simmering pot, unaware that temperatures
      have reached the boiling point? Or has global warming been spun into
      an "alarmist gale," as Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in a recent Wall Street
      Journal op-ed article?

      There is enough static in the air to simultaneously confuse, alarm
      and paralyze the public. Is global warming now a reality? What do
      scientists know for sure and when are they just guessing?

      And what can truly be accomplished by changing behavior? After all,
      there are still the traditional calls to limit heat-trapped
      greenhouse-gas emissions, but a growing number of experts are also
      saying what was once unthinkable: Humans may have to adapt to a
      warmer globe.

      Here is an attempt to shed a little light in all the heat.

      Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the
      prevailing scientific view: Without big changes in emissions rates,
      global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to
      lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of
      climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.

      Over the 20th century, the Earth's average surface temperature rose
      about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 Fahrenheit) to about 15 degrees (59
      Fahrenheit).

      But the rate of warming from the 1970s until now has been three
      times the average rate of warming since 1900. Seas have risen about
      15 to 20 centimeters, or 6 to 8 inches, globally over the past
      century, and the rate of rise has increased in the past decade.

      In 2001, a large team of scientists issued the latest assessment of
      climate change and concluded that more than half of the recent
      warming was likely to have been caused by people, primarily because
      we are adding tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other
      long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning
      coal and oil.

      There is no serious debate any more about one thing: More of these
      gases will cause more warming. Lindzen, who contends that any human
      climate influence is negligible and has long criticized those
      calling global warming a catastrophe, agreed on this basic fact in
      his article.

      At the same time, few scientists agree with the idea that the recent
      spate of potent hurricanes, European heat waves, African drought and
      other weather extremes are, in essence, our fault. There is more
      than enough natural variability in nature to mask a direct
      connection, they say.

      Even recent sightings of drowned polar bears cannot be firmly
      ascribed to human influence on climate given the big cyclical
      fluctuations of sea ice around the Arctic.

      The unresolved questions concern the pace and extent of future
      warming and the impact on wildlife, agriculture, disease, local
      weather and the height of the world's oceans - in other words, all
      of the things that matter to people.

      The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the
      journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 3
      degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) should the concentration of carbon
      dioxide reach twice the 280- parts-per-million figure that had been
      the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than
      some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far
      higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry
      lobbyists.

      As a result, by 2100 or so, sea levels could be several feet higher
      than they are now, and the new norm on the planet for centuries
      thereafter could be retreating shorelines as Antarctic and Greenland
      ice sheets relentlessly erode.

      Rivers fed by mountain glaciers, including those nourishing much of
      south Asia, could shrivel. Grand plans to restore New Orleans and
      the Everglades in Florida would be rendered meaningless as seawater
      advances.

      Manhattan would become New Orleans - a semi-submerged city
      surrounded by levees. In summers, polar bears would be stuck on the
      few remaining ice-clotted shores around the largely blue Arctic
      Ocean.

      Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might
      change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge
      uncertainties for a long time to come, said M. Granger Morgan, a
      physicist and policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University in
      Pittsburgh.

      For example, while computer simulations of the climate consistently
      show that the centers of big continents are likely to grow drier,
      and winters and nights generally warmer, they cannot reliably
      predict conditions in Chicago or Shanghai.

      By the clock of geology, this climate shift is unfolding at a
      dizzying, perhaps unprecedented pace, but by time scales relevant to
      people, it is happening in slow motion. If damage does not happen
      for 100 years or so, it is hard to persuade governments or voters to
      take action.

      And there is the rub. Many scientists say that to avoid a doubling
      of carbon dioxide concentrations, energy efficiency must be
      increased drastically, and soon. And by midcentury, they add, there
      must be a complete transformation of energy technology. That may be
      why some environmentalists try to link today's weather to tomorrow's
      problem.

      While scientists say they lack firm evidence connecting recent
      weather to the human influence on climate, campaigners still push
      the notion.

      A Gallup survey last month shows that people are still not worried
      about climate change. When participants were asked to rank 10
      environmental problems, global warming was near the bottom.

      Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the
      kind of problem people have proved singularly terrible at solving: a
      long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before
      the harm is clear.

      "I wish I were more optimistic of our ability to get a broad slice
      of the public to understand this and be motivated to act," said
      David Hawkins, who directs the climate program at the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, a private group.

      In an e-mail message, he wrote: "Perhaps pictures of drowning polar
      bears (which we are trying to find) will move people but even there,
      people will need to believe that those drownings are due to our
      failure to build cleaner power plants and cars."

      http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/23/news/warm.php
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