Speaker Downplays Greenhouse Effect

April 26, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

A Virginia scientist has challenged an apocalyptic notion of global warming popular among environmentalists.

The so-called greenhouse effect, caused by the release of pollutants like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is real, the scientist told a group of Annapolis and South County activists Monday night.

But environmental groups, the media and some politicians have oversimplified the problem to gain attention and shape national policy, said Patrick J. Michaels, an associate professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia.

"Global warming is a big scareissue," he said. But the "data show the chance for the apocalypse isfading."

"I don't think we can make good policy based on that as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse."

County, state and federal governments are beginning to grapple with global warming.

This month, a National Academy of Sciences report urged President GeorgeBush to react promptly with a set of anti-pollution and energy efficiency measures it said would slow global warming without putting a strain on the economy.

The academy's report acknowledges the limits on what scientists know about the problem, but concludes pursuing remedies immediately will be less expensive than if the government waits.

Maryland's General Assembly passed a tree preservation law earlier this month, in part under the belief that the loss of forests contributes to the green house effect. Anne Arundel County adopted a similar tree law last spring.

The Galesville-based Chesapeake Environmental Protection Association invited Michaels to present his lecture,"Global Warming: Beyond the Consensus," to its members.

Scientists don't understand global warming well enough to set governmental policies that could drastically alter how the world lives, Michaels toldabout 30 members and guests Monday.

Using slides and an inflatable globe, Michaels presented the audience with the same data that he said are used by scientists predicting global holocaust.

Michaels said he shares some of those scientists' concerns, but believes the issue has been blown out of proportion.

Except for a few recent years with record high temperatures, the globe has not warmed as the other scientists' projections suggest it should have, he said. And much of the warming has occurred at night, which he said is actually beneficial.

Michaels speculated that the issue had caromed out of control because some environmental groups and politicians seized on it as way to promote their causes and careers.

And, he added, newspapers "need a disaster to sell papers."

Michaels' view is controversial,particularly in the environmental community.

"A number of people in the environmental community actually confronted me and said, 'How can you bring that heretic among us?' " said Jim Martin, president ofthe Chesapeake Environmental Protection Association.

Michaels, who is writing a book, said he is used to being cast as the heretic.

"People have adopted this issue as a religion, so I've selected as atitle 'Satanic Gases,' " Michaels said in a joking reference to carbon dioxide and other gases believed to cause global warming.

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