Is global warming to blame?

New research released Friday has removed what some scientists regard as the last shred of doubt that global warming is occurring.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 13, 2005



"You can’t blame the weather on it."

—Fred Singer


New research released Friday has removed what some scientists regard as the last shred of doubt that global warming is occurring.

Researchers this week uncovered errors in previous data that was pivotal to the argument that global warming was not occurring in the tropics. Previous reports showed the tropics experienced little atmospheric heating - and even some cooling. But now scientists have found that data is flawed due to misread satellite readings coupled with a math error.

Many scientists had already acknowledged that global warming over the last 30 years has resulted in a total increase of about 1 degree Fahrenheit. The pace of global warming is predicted to accelerate in this century.

But is global warming to blame for the record-breaking hurricane seasons we’ve been having? "The answer is, we don't know," said Fred Singer, president of the Arlingon, Va.-based Science & Environmental Policy Project. "But probably not. There is no evidence that global warming could cause such an effect."

At least some meteorologists agree, saying that the increased hurricanes are part of a natural weather cycle that occurs every 30 to 50 years, not a direct result of global warming.

But other scientists and environmental advocates disagree, saying that global warming has not only had a hand in creating larger and more numerous storms, but that warming is set to wreak future havoc as well, in the form of more extreme weather conditions, elevated ocean levels that will submerge substantial portions of land, and increased flooding in some areas with extreme drought in others.

Singer - who in 1998 publicly argued global warming was not occurring - said he now believes it is happening. But, he said, its impact is so small it's barely detectable. "You can't blame the weather on it," he said. "I remember when people blamed any kind of unusual weather on atomic testing."

Yet whether global warming is causing worse hurricanes or not, some experts have warned that global heat could exact a heavy toll in the long run. Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated earth surface temperatures could be up to 10.4 degrees above 1990 levels by the year 2100. That substantial a rise could potentially worsen storms, raise sea levels and eat away ice caps.

U.S. emissions are projected to keep rising, and some scientists say the nation is committing future generations to what could be extraordinary costs and problems, including increased hurricanes and tornadoes.

Christy Smith, a United Methodist layperson who has been active in disaster response, has seen firsthand what hurricanes can do to people's homes and their spirits. Smith - who is not a scientist but avidly reads the latest scientific reports on global warming - said she has little doubt global warming is occurring.

"I believe we're stretching current ecosystems to their limit," she said. "Most climate models predict a steady rise in temperature."

Smith said she remembers when even the existence of global warming was under debate by scientists. "There was controversy 10 years ago," she said. "But at least from what I'm understanding, the prominent scientists now agree there is global warming."

And, Smith said, it's only a matter of time before scientists come to agree that the effects of global warming will be both significant and serious. For Smith and others, doing something about global warming isn't just a scientific matter - it's a matter of faith and ethics.

"In this country we need to start thinking about our wasteful consumption of everything," she said. "Is that an ethical way to live? The reason our government has not been pro-active is that we don't want to do anything to slow down our economic engine."

President George W. Bush, when rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouses gases, said the protocol would have "wrecked" the economy.

But, like Smith, some scientists are arguing that the cost of doing something now might outweigh the costs of coping with the results down the road. Economists and scientists alike are examining the future cost of global warming, which could include changes to water supply infrastructure and the impact on global human health. Countries already wracked with frequent disaster - such as Bangladesh - stand to be most heavily impacted by the potential effects of global warming.

"Who is it that's your neighbor again?" asked Smith. "Is it only the person who lives in my country? Or is it the person impacted by my decisions? We just don't really think in those terms."

From a common sense perspective, people have to start taking care of their earth, said Smith. "Let's say it in simple terms: the poor old earth is not going to be able to take it all. If we don't do something, bad things are going to happen that we're not going to like. If we don't choose to solve it now, by choice, it's going to get solved in really unpleasant ways."

The dire consequences portrayed in dramatic movies may not be happening now, but taking a personal approach to conservation is important right now, argued Smith, and every individual can make a difference when it comes to global warming.

"It's easy to get covered up with sorrow because this seems like an insurmountable issue. But we can't do that. We have a chance right now to make a difference. Because, from a disaster response perspective, there aren't going to be enough people to respond to the disasters caused by the global climate change."


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