Albion Monitor /News

Global Warming is Hard Message to Sell

by Gary Gach

(AR) SAN FRANCISCO -- This year marks the 100th anniversary of the initial discovery of global warming, also known as the Greenhouse Effect, and it may be the year that the skeptical public gets a critical message: global warming is real and it's here to stay.

The facts are not that complicated. Basically, we humans pump billions of tons of gases, mostly CO2, into the atmosphere which just stay there and trap solar heat that normally would be reradiated back into space.

In the heat Earth's sea levels will rise, glaciers retreat, tropical diseases spread, droughts and floods increase, and "small" changes capable of greatly affecting the organic system known as the environment start to occur very quickly. Telling the public the story of these changes is proving to be a major challenge to scientists.

The conference concluded once and for all that the science behind global warming is sound

There have recently been town hall-type meetings on climate change in Miami, Austin, and last month in Seattle which is accessible over the Internet, both as archives and as "live" audio.

At the October 10 San Francisco town hall, U.S. State Department Undersecretary of Global Affairs Timothy Wirth (a former Senator from Colorado) deemed climate change the most important environmental issue in our lifetimes (and our children's and grandchildren's) -- and the most complicated scientific, environmental, economic, and political challenge in history.

Up until recently, there was disagreement as to the validity of the global warming theory. Since the burning of fossil fuel is a primary source of atmospheric CO2, one hardly needs a smoking gun to wonder who's fueling many of the skeptics.

Four years ago, at the UN environmental summit, the nations of the world joined in a non-binding agreement to retard this alarming trend. December 1995, a peer-reviewed, intergovernmental panel of 2,500 climate experts stated that we humans do indeed leave our fingerprint on observable climatological data.

Human-induced warming of the earth has begun, and is bound to increase further. So, on July 17, 1996, 150 nations convened for a convention on climate change in Geneva. All but about a dozen (including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria) nations agreed on the statement that followed.

The conference concluded once and for all that the science behind global warming is sound, and that its conclusions are very serious. They said that it's time to put the debate behind us and put our shoulder to the wheel. Finally, the said, the international agreement on global warming should now be binding, not non-binding as before.

If China continues to build coal-burning power plants, we'll all get warm together

In order to achieve that, the convention agreed not to impose a common set of standards on all the nations, since different countries are at varying levels of technological and economic development. Instead, each country will minimize its share of an agreed-upon cap.

Secretary Wirth mapped out the three spheres in which this work will take place -- international, domestic, and political. On the international scene he offered the example of China, which in the next 25 years will build 120 1,000-megawatt plants. With an overtone of dark humor, he pointed out that if they build plants like their current ones, burning sulfurous coal in Shanghai to stay warm, then we'll all get warm together.

U.S.-China relations have hardly been solid, post-Tiananmen, and yet as we speak with them about other imperatives we must factor into this issue. The story is similar in such countries as India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia, facing large, problematic energy futures. Thus, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has proposed that we factor environment and population into an expansive definition of national securty.

As to the domestic front, Wirth stressed the importance of technological breakthroughs and how they can produce energy at the right price. For major industries such as utilities, cars, insurance, and renewables, there is potential for great economic gain.

As an example of the economic opportunity which energy efficiency holds, a DOE investment of about $1.1 billion over 20 years has yielded twice that amount in documented energy savings and net productivity gains. Or consider that a $3-million investment in energy- efficient windows has already saved taxpayers more than $1-billion in energy bills. Or that burning domestic, natural gas instead of foreign oil saves us untold dollars and grief.

[American Reporter Correspondent Gary Gach remembers being stopped by a pair of tourists during a Los Angeles smog alert and being asked, "Sonny! What's going on? Are my eyes bleeding?!"]

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Albion Monitor November 6, 1996 (

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