Global Warming Debate Heats Up

Guest Commentary

The debate is over 

Many of you probably saw recent headlines to the effect that there is now “unequivocal” evidence that global warming is a fact and that most of it is most likely man-made. The body that made this assessment is the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which is composed of thousands of leading climate scientists from around the world appointed by the U.N.

In 1990, in its first report, the IPCC found evidence of global warming but said its causes could be natural as readily as human.

In 1995, IPCC concluded that “the balance of the evidence” suggested a human influence on the global climate.

In 2001, the IPCC report (link: www.nytimes.com/earth ) put the probability that human activity caused most of the warming of the previous half century at 66-90%.

In 2007, the IPCC concluded that it was 90-99% likely that human activity was the predominant cause of the warming of the last 50 years and that there could be no further doubt at all that global warming itself was a fact. Even the contrarians among the scientists no longer deny this last point. The number of current weather trends that the IPCC sees as part of global warming is staggering. 11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record worldwide. In temperate zones the frequency of cold days has diminished and the frequency of hot days and heat waves has increased. There is less precipitation in the subtropics and in most of the tropics and more in the rest of the world. There has been an increase in brief periods of catastrophic rainfalls and snowfalls, even in places where overall precipitation has decreased. There is a trend towards more intense hurricanes which is likely to continue. And the list goes on.

As Senator John McCain has said, “the debate is over.” Even the new CEO of Exxon Mobil, Lee Raymond, said last month at Davos, speaking about global warming: “It is clear that something is going on. It’s not useful to debate it any longer.” (New York Times, 2/10/07) And his company is now saying in full page ads that global warming is one of its concerns. This is the same company, of course, that until recently was funding anti-global warming groups. And the U.S. Administration has slowly begun to change its tune in the last few months.

In 2005, Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle concluded that the country could not wait for the U.S. government to take the lead on the global warming issue. So he helped bring about the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, which over 400 communities in the U.S. have now signed on to. And more are signing on every day. The signers of this agreement pledge themselves “to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing global warming pollution by taking action in our own operations and communities.” (For the full text of the Agreement and related sites go to www.globesavers.org)

The Kyoto Protocol target for the U.S. is reducing greenhouse gas emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. Many communities are pledging an even higher target, 10% or more. In the Chicago area some of the communities that have signed are Highland Park, Schaumburg, Carol Stream, Northbrook and Chicago. ( In future issues we will discuss what some of these communities have already done to implement their pledges.)

We cannot wait for our national government to take the lead. Every year of delay will make the problem worse and the solutions harder. We must take action in our own personal lives and local communities now.

Park Forest resident Walter Falk administrates the website GlobeSavers.org.