Climate change is real, and action is needed

October 30, 2011

Richard Haddad's assertions in his commentary on climate change ("Get past alarmism on global warming," Oct. 26) are completely at odds with all reliable scientific evidence and analysis.

In a report completed earlier this year, our National Academy of Sciences concluded that global warming is unequivocal, has been primarily caused by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and nature. Surveys show that 97 percent of scientists who do research related to climate agree that our emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases are causing Earth's climate to change.

The scientists involved in the so-called "Climategate" have been cleared of any misconduct through multiple inquiries in Great Britain and the U.S. The only scandal here is the deliberate mischaracterization of stolen emails by climate change deniers. Fortunately, most Americans are not so easily misled. In a recent Stanford University poll, 86 percent agreed that the world's temperature has been going up in the last 100 years and 72 percent (and a majority of Republicans) believe that global warming is partially or mostly caused by the things people do.

Scientists have long known that certain gases cause a greenhouse effect, keeping Earth's atmosphere relatively warm. Although only a small component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide has increased by 25 percent just since 1960. Calculations that include the warming effect due to increased carbon dioxide, the increase in water vapor (another important greenhouse gas) that results from and intensifies that warming, exchanges of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean, variations in solar activity, and the tempering effects of volcanic eruptions make it clear that human activities are the primary cause of the warming that has been observed. Similar calculations used to project future climatic conditions through this century lead us to expect oppressively hot summers, continued melting in polar regions, several feet of sea level rise, and increases in intensity and frequency of extreme events — the kinds of record breaking floods, droughts and heat waves that have been so much in evidence this year.

So, efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and industry and for the state of Maryland as a whole are sensible and necessary. And, creating a plan for sustainable growth and development in Maryland — even if it didn't contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions — makes sense for assuring our quality of life, managing public expenditures, restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and conserving our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren.

Donald F. Boesch, Cambridge

The writer is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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