In recent months, the term "global warming" has seemingly become a ubiquitous refrain of the environmentalist left. In the face of criticisms by the Bush administration and the counter-claims of conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI)-funded scientists, the global warming issue runs the risk of being labeled as nothing more than further yuppie-environmentalist panic-mongering.
However, everybody knows that the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have one, and a Feb. 2 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did just that. The Workgroup I Summary for Policymakers, the collaborative findings of over 2,500 leading scientists from more than 30 countries, states conclusively that warming of the climate system is "unequivocal," and that it is very likely (more than 90 percent probable) that this warming is caused by human activity.
Bearing in mind these findings, and the fact that the three warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and 19 out of the warmest 20 since 1980, it is impossible for a rational person to dismiss the prevalence of global warming. But what implications does this issue carry for us? Many people, including Geneseo students forced to struggle to class through the frozen wastes of our campus, might not mind a world that's just a little bit warmer.
However, when viewed from a global perspective, the implications of the warming trend are severe. The IPCC estimated a 3.2°F to 7.2°F increase in average temperature which carries many undesirable consequences: expanding deserts, a diminishing fresh water supply, a sea level climb of seven to 23 inches, increased occurrence and severity of tropical storms, increased disease transmission, and fluctuating crop yields. Another chilling projection places two-thirds of the world's 6.5 billion people in a position of "increased water scarcity" by 2025 as a result of our shifting climate.
With all these forecasts of gloom and doom being thrown around, it is understandable that critics would be eager to paint a less morbid picture. The primary voice of criticism comes from a panel of scientists - experts paid $10,000 plus travel and other expenses by the self-proclaimed "nonpartison"AEI to find and report weaknesses in the IPCC's findings and methods. The think tank's quest for truth is funded in part by Exxon Mobil and led by a board of trustees composed of such undoubtedly nonpartisan" members as the Bush-appointed Lee R. Raymond (former CEO of Exxon Mobil) and William S. Stavropoulos (former chairman of the Dow Chemical Company).
While the AEI claims that such an investigation of a major scientific publication is not unusual and that the payment offered is "modest," one scientist offered the job disagrees. Don Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois stated that, "To me this is really amazing, you never get offered that kind of money." He also cast doubt on the intentions of the study, commenting that, "even if groups ask you to write things, they don't try to give you the answer beforehand."
All corporate-funded, politically dubious attempts to convolute the truth of global warming aside, it is obvious to any clear-headed individual that the impact of our activity on our planet is severe and palpable. And it's only going to get worse. It will take the concerted efforts of the entire human race, not to mention vast political and economic reform to mitigate the worst of the social and ecological upheaval to come.