The Intersection

Juliet Eilperin, too, had a front page story in the Post yesterday about global warming. Alas, it wasn’t as juicy as the Times piece about James Hansen (though it included a bit about him). It was mainly about the future risk of dangerous or abrupt climate change, but I found myself puzzled by the story framing introduced in the very first paragraph:

Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.

Isn’t Eilperin missing a step? I agree that the debate about what’s happening in the atmosphere is basically over. But doesn’t that mean that the next debate will be over how and to what extent global warming impacts–sea level rise, melting glaciers, etc–will be felt locally, and to what extent local changes are indicative of a global trend?

It’s not that the question of when global warming will reach its “tipping point” is uninteresting–in fact, it’s absolutely crucial, especially from a policy/decision standpoint. But in her framing, Eilperin ignores the growing story about present day and near-future impacts, which is where a lot of debate can be expected to occur over the coming years. In fact, that debate has already begun.

Comments

  1. #1 Benjamin Harrison
    January 30, 2006

    That’s a bit of a false dichotomy, I think. The notion of “too soon” or “too fast” is fundamentally tied to the short term impacts of climate change. Those consequences are imposing the time scale cited in the first paragraph, and are reasonably outlined in the remainder of the article.

  2. #2 jason spaceman
    January 30, 2006

    Off topic, but you might enjoy this NY Times article:

    Where Science and Public Policy Intersect, Researchers Offer a Short Lesson on Basics

    By CORNELIA DEAN
    Published: January 31, 2006

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 � Congress took a science class this month, and some experts would like to make it a regular part of the curriculum.

    “It’s not that we are inattentive; it’s just that we have the war on terrorism, the Iraq initiative, Social Security, the budget, the list goes on and on,” said Representative Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican and head of the House Science Committee.

    Beyond that, Mr. Boehlert said, “everyone boasts that they are for science-based policy until the scientific consensus leads to an unwelcome conclusion, and then they want to go to Plan B.”

    So now, when scientific questions pervade legislation on issues like climate change and stem cell research, there is growing concern that Congressional misunderstanding can produce misguided policy.

    To fight such misunderstanding, Mr. Boehlert and others sponsored the Jan. 23 briefing, organized by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard.

    Capitol Hill has briefings by the dozen every year in which industry, academic and activist groups address diverse topics related to science.

    Some criticize these briefings as little more than showboating. But Mr. Boehlert, like many others, thinks they are “absolutely” useful. And the briefing was unusual in that its subject was not avian flu, the budget for NASA or any other relatively narrow issue, but rather “how science works.”

  3. #3 Tom Kearney
    February 1, 2006

    Chris,

    As a former global warming skeptic, one argument I heard from some on the right was that yes, the earth is warming, but it is due to increase in heat from the sun or something like that, and not CO2 emissions. How would you respond to that?

    Thanks,

    TK

  4. #4 Steve Bloom
    February 2, 2006

    TK, the basic answer is that is indeed the sun doing the warming, but that the greenhouse gasses (mainly CO2) we are adding to the atmosphere cause the planet to retain more heat. A further wrinkle is that the warming effect is partly indirect: The direct GHG warming allows for more water vapor, which is in turn drives the majority of the warming. Increased output from the sun could of course do the same thing, but we know that there is another cause since (among other things) during the modern period of very accurate solar measurements (since 1978) solar output has been nearly flat even while warming has continued at a very rapid pace.

    For a reasonably detailed but not-too-technical primer, I suggest http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/Climate.html, and then the http://www.realclimate.org blog for breaking news and details.