Global Warming -- Current Status

Global warming is not an issue that is new to us. For years scientists have warned the public about what the future will bring if current trends continue. Many experts have pointed fingers at suspected causes of the apparent rise in world mean temperature. Still other scientists have adopted the claim that the earth's temperature is not actually rising. To study the climate of the earth from an unbiased scientific standpoint, scientists must base their study on global climate change, not global warming. The goal of this essay is not to tell the reader what global warming is all about; instead, the focus will be on what the latest developments indicate, both scientifically, politically, and socially.

Researchers working at the Environmental Change Unit of Oxford University and other places across the globe are using computer models to try to simulate how the average global temperature will change by 2060. Assuming a doubling in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the various models predict average rises of 4.2, 4.0, and 5.2 degrees C. Several experts worry that with global temperature and population increases, the earth will have a hard time yielding enough crops for this great number of people. (Pittock 25)

In 1995, years after the possibility of global warming was announced, scientists and experts still do not agree on whether or not there truly is a problem. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had once hoped that sooner or later the data from each group of researchers would converge, and there would be agreement on both sides. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be total agreement anywhere in the near future. Scientists now feel that the uncertainty of both their measurements and their ability to predict the future will probably not decrease significantly in the next ten to fifteen years. (Morgan, Keith 476A)

While there is no consensus, the IPCC has recently reported in a draft document that, "global warming observed during the last century is unlikely to be entirely due to natural causes." (Young, 494A) This is the first time the IPCC has ever blamed human activity, although many researchers have regarded global warming as both real and anthropogenic for some time now. Perhaps the official release of this document will bring change, but it most likely will just create more speculation without action. The final version of the latest IPCC document is due to come out some time in late 1995 or early 1996. The final version will be sent to nations participating in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to use in setting domestic policies and creating international agreements on the environment.

At a time when it perhaps may be crucial to take action against global warming and its main causes, it appears the U.S. government does not feel there is much of a problem. As many people know, the Republican Congress does not appear to be very sympathetic to environmental concerns. During the past summer, the House Science Committee recommended eliminating global climate change research with the EPA, and reduced the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's global climate change programs by a third. $2.7 billion in cuts are also expected to NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program within the next five years. The critics of climate change research have labeled it as "scientific nonsense" and complain that funding levels assume that global warming has been proven. Supporters claim that they know there will be global warming, but they do not know the degree to which it will occur. They need the money for better science and technology. ("House Cuts Research")

Perhaps the most important question for environmentalists to ask themselves is not whether there is global warming or to what degree it is occurring, but instead what is being done to prevent greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The Electric Vehicle Association of America reports that there are 2,000 to 2,300 "highway capable" electric vehicles currently in operation. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns 294 natural gas-powered buses that reduce pollutants by 450 tons -- a decrease comparable to removing 7,000 cars from the road. ("Green Gas") People are indeed becoming more environmentally aware and conscious that their actions can have an large impact on the earth. But one question must be asked -- is it too late?



References

"Green Gas" Environment May 1995 37:12.

"House Cuts Climate Change Research." Environmental Science and Technology August 1995 29:356A.

Morgan, M. Granger and Keith, David W. "Subjective Judgments by Climate Experts." Environmental Science and Technology October 1995 29: 468A-76A.

Pittock, A. Barrie. "Climate Change and World Food Supply." Environment November 1995 37:25-30.

Young, Patrick. "Human role in global warming confirmed, says draft IPCC report." Environmental Science and Technology November 1995 29: 494A-5A.



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Written by Stephen M. Grimes, December, 1995
grimes@bucknell.edu