SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Global warming future: Drought, wildfire, floods, pestilence


June 14, 2007

Top climate scientists offered Western governors an assessment on the impacts of global warming that sounded like something out of the Old Testament: drought, wildfire, floods and pestilence.

More importantly, the governors themselves put to rest any remaining doubt on a human role in the problem.

"Are there any respected scientific organizations left that dispute what you are saying?" asked Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., adding, "and you can't say the White House and Congress."

"Where there is skepticism, it is coming from an increasingly small number of individuals who have some kind of ax to grind," of a moral or religious point of view, said Christopher Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "There is not a reputable organization in the world that opposes the core conclusions."

The scientists' briefing Tuesday only reinforced what the Western Governors' Association that represents 19 Western U.S. states had been hearing during the three-day conference. Greenhouse gases spewed by automobiles and coal- and gas-fired power plants are increasing Earth's temperature. Global warming of even a few degrees causes flooding in coastal cities, deadly urban heat waves, longer and more severe droughts, and possibly the onslaught of tropical diseases, such as malaria.

The governors must grapple with how the policies of their individual states can impact a global problem with solutions that will take 10 to 50 years to put in place, the scientists said.

"In 2007, we have to design an energy system for 2050 to 2100," said Field. "That will require incentives and leadership."

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal asked, for instance, if nearly sacrosanct Western water laws would be a barrier to adapting to global warming.

"Most of the water systems are already over-allocated. Somehow there have to be shifts," Field said. "A lot of current water law makes it difficult to make those changes."

Freudenthal, incoming chairman of the Western Governors' Association, vented some of the frustration his colleagues share in making policy to meet the almost-apocalyptic predictions.

"You're asking us to base policy on your data. How damn sure are you of this data?"

The scientists acknowledged that while the science is good, more information needs to be gathered and analyzed for detailed local projections.

"If we were really sure, we wouldn't bother to monitor," said Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy's chief scientist.

"We are not going to reduce the growth of need in energy and we need to understand the economics of it," Freudenthal said later. "It is important we move aggressively on this. But whenever we would push (energy experts about) how much will it cost and how soon it can be done, the discussion became less precise."

Freudenthal and incoming vice chairman Huntsman pledged to keep the group focused on high energy costs and climate change.

"It is clear that this is certainly the issue of our time and it makes no sense for us to ignore what is the 900-pound gorilla of policy decisions," said Freudenthal. "We are looking for the silver lining in a black cloud."


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Ketchikan, Alaska