Politics clouds global warming

June 02, 2000|By Matthew Henson

WASHINGTON -- IT'S not summer yet, but already things are heating up.

New reports have been released touting the severe consequences of ignoring global warming.

We have been bombarded with warning signs in recent months. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released data citing the warmest January-to-March period since authorities began keeping records 106 years ago. A separate analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that humans have "discernibly influenced the Earth's climate" and the planet's surface will likely warm between 2 degrees and 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of the IPCC report, said the remarkable record-setting warming of the1990s -- combined with better statistical analysis of data and enhanced computer models -- has produced strong evidence that "man-made climate change has emerged from the noise of natural variability."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches globally over the past century. The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere and floating ice in the Arctic Ocean has decreased significantly. Worldwide precipitation over land has increased by about 1 percent. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to accelerate these changes.

These recent reports were preceded by countless warnings from scientists ranging from the doomsayers to the naysayers and everyone in between. Environmentalists have used studies to sound alarms.

To combat what the conservatives call the environmentalists' "Chicken Little" policy, they have their own team of scientists with clear corporate and industrial ties, thus further clouding the debate.

The evidence is piling up at an alarming rate. Yet politicians still overlook the most important aspect of the issue -- allowing accurate scientific information to lead the debate. By ignoring this important variable, we are letting weather fall victim to a highly politicized environment.

Clearly, weather should not be a political issue. The public has a right to accurate scientific information that should not be clouded by political rhetoric.

Yet a clear example of political gridlock is the controversial international treaty that the Clinton administration has offered as the main solution to global warming. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 commits industrial countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The U.S. Senate has yet to agree that there may be a problem, let alone consider a treaty to cut global emissions.

While the Kyoto Protocol may not see the light of day in the Senate for the foreseeable future, other countries are ready to take action on the global warming accord.

Environmental ministers of the Group of 8 nations ended talks last month calling for ratification. "We agreed that an early ratification of the protocol was necessary and that this means that most countries must do so by 2002," said Kayoko Shimizu, Japanese Environmental Agency chief.

"The administration and the environmentalists have put a tremendous emphasis on the Kyoto Protocol as the only solution to this problem. By putting all of their eggs into one basket they are playing an extremely high-risk game with an important issue," said Angela Antonelli, director of economic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Many political experts believe that the rhetoric will only increase from both parties.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has crowned himself the latest champion of the environment. At the same time, environmentalists claim that the governor of the most polluted state in the nation would rather hug an oil rig than a tree. Vice President Al Gore is quick to chime in with his own message to combat "the most serious threat we have ever faced." But even his most valued constituency, the environmental movement, abandoned him and endorsed his primary opponent, Bill Bradley, saying Mr. Gore was "all talk and no action."

Both candidates will be looking to court concerned voters with promises while looking to manufacturing executives for campaign cash. Governor Bush will paint Mr. Gore as an extremist and Mr. Gore will counter with the governor's dismal environmental record.

Meanwhile, voters will continue to look for the truth beyond the politics.

Matthew Henson is communications director of the Natural Resources News Service in Washington.

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