This Week's Debate: Global Warming

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have rekindled the debate over global warming, with some declaring that these monster storms are evidence that global warming has reached the point of no return, and others saying that this is just nature running its course.

This week, we'll look at the controversy surrounding global warming, the scientific evidence supporting (or denying) it, the political ramifications of U.S. policy on the subject, and where we go from here to ensure we don't bake ourselves into extinction, or turn the entire human race into People Popsicles, depending on which computer model you believe.

But first I want to leap past the overall scientific debate as to whether temperatures are rising because of carbon dioxide we've launched into the atmosphere and look into what's really in the news. Are increased temperatures causing killer hurricanes?

The general scientific consensus seems to be that while it's not really possible to link any particular storm to global warming, as there are numerous other factors involved, hotter surface water does create bigger storms.

Not only are surface water temperatures high in the Gulf of Mexico, but the high temperature water (about 2 degress hotter than normal) extends a lot deeper than it used to. That's significant, because big storms in the past have tended to stir up the water enough to bring cooler temperatures back to the surface, according to Dr. Judy Curry on NPR last week (can't find the transcript except on Nexis, but here's another good interview from NPR).

Georgia Tech reported earlier this month that hurricanes are getting stronger. (Could there be another big one on the way? This article says forecasters are predicting one for October.)

Assuming that's true, global warming might not be the culprit.

NOAA, the weather gurus, point out that there was a spike in major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4 and 5) between 1941 and 1950. The folks pooh-poohing the idea that global warming has anything to do with hurricanes, including Charles C.W. Cooke and Alex Kormendi in the Washington Times, take this as evidence that hurricane severity is cyclical., a site that despite its name promotes the idea that global warming is not a big deal, offers other reasons not to fear climate change.

On the other hand, there are those hurricanes -- "two hurricanes of such lethal and undeniable force that even the Bush administration is forced to kneel in abject deference before the great altar of the professional forecaster," according to Mark Morford's scathing op-ed on, the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site.

So what are the political implications of the recent storms in regards to the administration's position on global warming?

This is the administration that employed an aide who doctored documents to make the evidence for global warming look less compelling.

Is it still the case, as the Post editorialized in June, that "the White House may soon be the last institution in Washington that doesn't believe that the threat of climate change requires something more than new adjectives"?

I'll leave this question for the next few days. And if any of you Debaters can think of other global warming enigmas to be pondered, then please leave a comment and let me know.

By Emily Messner |  September 28, 2005; 3:07 PM ET  | Category:  This Week's Issue
Previous: Operation Offset: Best Way to Pay for Rebuilding the Gulf Coast? | Next: Global Warming: Bush vs. Clinton on Kyoto


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I used to work for big oil & coal's global warming lobbying group (see, but remained skeptical even during my tenure. However, the ongoing (I saw it again on Discovery Channel recently) argument by the solar physicists that the global warming theorists and the IPCC (UN global warming panel) ignored solar activity is compelling. I have yet to hear a good answer to the question of why they left the Earth's only source of energy as a constant rather than a variable.

But then again, I feel like I may have discovered Ethan Brand's unpardonable sin by having helped man-made climate change go unchecked.


Posted by: Necromancer | September 28, 2005 04:30 PM

The armadillos that used to live in South Texas are now getting squished on northern Kansas highways. I am seeing new insects that have never been this far north, my coreopsis and roses now bloom into fall instead of just in the spring, the flowers that we traditionally put out for Memorial Day are finished blooming by then. We can keep denying our responsibility for not using our resources in a sustainable manner or we can begin to give up our ludicrous lifestyle.

Posted by: linda laird, hutchinson KS | September 28, 2005 04:32 PM

I'm no scientist, but I DO recall that not so many years ago everyone on campus was crazed about the "impending global FREEZE".
That being the case, and based upon the facts I've seen so far, it just seems that "global warming" seems to be the flavor of the month. Anything to it? So far, probably not.

Posted by: bill irvin | September 28, 2005 04:32 PM

All the hurricanes I've covered in the past were named Arlene, Betsy, Carla--never so high in the alphabet as K or R. And four in Florida last year, and Isabel...something is going on that cannot be ascribed to cycles. When is the last time we had an "R?"

Posted by: Saul Friedman | September 28, 2005 04:36 PM

It is virtually impossible to ascribe stronger hurricanes to global warming..or icecap metling to global warming. But, are you willing to take that chance that global warming is natural and not induced by man's activities? We only have one earth. We can't look back in 100-200 years time and say "we blew it, next time lets do ..." because there may not be a next time.

Posted by: Doug | September 28, 2005 05:01 PM

I used to work for one of the "Big Oil" companies that now denies global warming (GW). I also worked on some meterological projects, so have familiarity with the technology but can not claim to be an expert.

However, there is significant evidence, though not overwhelming, that GW is taking place. The consequences that GW actually is occuring could be catastrophic; the cost of preparing for an alternate is modest in comparison.

So like buying insurance, one does not expect the accident to happen, but the cost of the insurance is modest while the accident could be disasterous.
Some modest effort to moderate our carbon fuel use would be a prudent.

Moderating our use of crude oil would also reduce the enevitable further conflicts that we will see in the Near East.

A prudent man would take note of the possibility. Betting our civilization on its non-existence is reckless beyond belief.

Posted by: RBStanfield | September 28, 2005 05:22 PM

The planet has had massive climate shifts for four billion years without any human intervention. Those who claim the current changes are caused by human activity have a high burden of proof.

Posted by: GW | September 28, 2005 05:24 PM

Any scientist who deserves his degree will in fact confirm that global warming IS occurring. The followup question's are now "Is this a cycle and how much are we contributing to it?"

The answer to the followup question is irreleveant. We know we are contributing to global warming. We may not know how much nor if we are in a cycle.

We can do something or just sweep it under the rug. I think we will continue to ignore action till it is far too late. Ultimately it will be insurance companies, disaster relief and medical bills that will change our outlook. We are a very foolish species.

Posted by: art | September 28, 2005 05:25 PM

GW, that burden of proof is the wide swath of destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi caused by Katrina and Rita.

Posted by: Chris | September 28, 2005 05:34 PM

What people tend to ignore is the fact that the earth is and always has been ever evolving. There have been many major heating and cooling cycles of the atmosphere over millions of years. Just as little as 18,000 years ago glaciers covered much of North America, a mile or more thick, down to New York City. Heating and cooling cycles with resultant climatic changes have been repeated long before man stepped foot on this planet, and will continue to do so when we are long gone. Over ninety nine percent of all the species that have ever existed are extinct. Continents have changed positions. Once ocean bottoms are now dry arid land. It is the height of self indulgence and perhaps nievete that anyone beleives they will keep the climate from changing and the earth a status quo.

Posted by: Jack Browning - NJ | September 28, 2005 05:37 PM

Chris: Destruction proves that humans caused it? By that logic, humans also caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

It's not impossible that humans are influencing the planet's climate. But we have a long historical record of far more severe climate changes than we're seeing now, all of which happened before humans were on the scene.

Posted by: GW | September 28, 2005 05:47 PM

What is totally being ignored in the discussion is methane explosion.

5 million years ago, 20% of the world's frozen methane reserves melted. Methane hydrate is found deep in the oceans, more than 350m down.

The relase of the gas sparked cataclysmic changes in the atmosphere: global temperatures rose by 13 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the ice cps and forcing many species to extinction. 80% of all deep-sea creatures became extinct, and there were severe consequences for land animals.

Methane is 20 times more powerful a gas at raising global temperatures than carbon dioxide. It is estimated that there is more than 200,000 trillion cubic feet of this gas at the bottom of the ocean; 80,000 times conventional natural gas reserves.

Melting occurs when the sea temperature rises enough.

Posted by: Marko | September 28, 2005 05:50 PM

Anecdotally, I have been an amateur scuba diver for the last few years. The devastation in many oceanic reefs (Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, etc.) cannot be explained by pollution, excesive tourism and/or El Nino because of the location and remoteness of some of these sites.

Some of Hawaii's reefs are fiercely protected (park rangers with kayaks and paddles to thwack offensive tourists stake out the place like vigilantes), yet recently, just eight years after my first visit, I noticed a shocking deterioration in the coral there. The only explanation available was that the oceanic temperature had risen.

Global warming is impacting all of us in ways big and small. It's time to wake up to that fact.

Posted by: Bob P. | September 28, 2005 05:52 PM

The problem with this discussion is that, while we don't know the exact complexity of the problem, we have a better understanding of the recent history and less understanding of the preceding period. That faces us with the difficulty of comparing apples and bananas (in that order) when it comes to an assessment of the contribution we actually might have at this moment. That being said, our understanding of the recent history points to a measurable possible contribution. And we'd better take that knowledge more serious. More over there are other implied factors, like dependency on a single source of energy and environmental aspects, that go in the equation. No matter how you look at it, our present usage of fossil fuels is not the best bet anymore.

Posted by: Ivo Vos - Netherlands | September 28, 2005 05:54 PM

It's clear that Mr. Irwin is no scientist, nor does he have much of an idea of what science is. Dismissing global warming as a "flavor of the month" based upon a few things he read is assinine at best. Unless you are an genuine scientist and can make a rational case against the many serious, committed scientists who have concluded that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, why should anyone bother to listen to your completely uninformed opinions on this subject?
There are those who like to claim that "Intelligent Design" and Darwinian Evolution are both "theories" and so should be considered as equally valid proposals. Like amateur global warming deniers, the only thing they demonstrate is a contempt for and ignorance of scientific method and critical rationality.
The global rise in temperature over the last century is an unassailable fact. The debate in the scientific community concerns this phenomenon's possible causes and effects. The case for man-made factors in GW is strong, but not iron-clad. The long and short term effects of GW are pretty much in the realm of conjecture right now, and it's unlikely a concrete case directly relating the recent hurricanes to GW can be made anytime soon, especially considering the cyclical factors. But it's a line of inquiry worth pursuing.
I'm not sure why Doug says that one can't ascribe icecap melting to GW. That's a pretty simple cause-effect relationship, regardless of the causes of the warming itself. But he makes a good point that caution with regards to man-made contribution to GW is the safer approach. Can anyone make a rational arguement against such caution?

Posted by: james | September 28, 2005 05:59 PM

I've seen the head of NOAA's hurricane center (Mayfield?) on TV say there's no link between hurricane strength and global warming. I've also heard several other scientists say definitively there's no link. Is the alleged link some myth perpetuated by the left?

Posted by: Willie | September 28, 2005 06:03 PM

the proof is the wide swath of destruction in LA and Miss? no offense but that does not really cut it as evidence. just like the DC blizzard of 1997 (or maybe it was 1996) would be laughable as evidence of an impending ice age.

i think the post about global warming activists assuming the power from the sun to be a constant is interesting. i cant remember seeing any article or interview with a scientist that dealt with that question.

but at the same time, i think ultimately whoever said believing in global warming, and setting energy policy and public policy in general accordingly, is like buying insurance is right. the risks are too great if the worst case scenario ends up to be the reality. but then countries like India and China need to curb their emmissions if the US is going to agree to it. that is unless the american voters are going to see a US president who presides over 4 years or 8 years of a shrinking economic output (and presumably job losses) in exchange for reduced ouput of greenhouse gases and dependence on foreign oil as making a noble decision.

Posted by: | September 28, 2005 06:11 PM

This discussion is likely to generate a lot more heat than light. If you want to know whether global warming is going on (and whether human activity is making a significant contribution) I suggest you take a look at the peer-reviewed scientific articles rather than a blog discussion where uninformed political opinions are accorded equal weight with careful scientific study.

A recent journal article reviewed the climate change literature, and found that of the 927 articles reviewed, every single one of them concluded that global warming was real. Since that review article was published, a article appeared that questioned global warming. This article has since been thoroughly debunked, making it 928-to-1.

The real question here is not whether human beings are responsible for global warming, but rather whether human beings can do anything at this point to halt it. Certainly we can try to reduce our production of greenhouse gasses; regardless of whether or not you agree that humans caused global warming, it certainly behooves us to do everything in our power to counteract it. The planet is at the tipping point.

Posted by: Brent Zenobia | September 28, 2005 06:18 PM

Here's what experts have said on the issue of hurricanes and global warming (as quoted in a recent USA Today story):

"William Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University has shown that hurricane activity waxes and wanes over 25 to 30 years. The 1910s and '20s were bad for hurricanes. Then came a period of calm, and another bad period in the 1940s and '50s. From the 1960s to 1995 was a period of calm."

"Robert Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami from 1987 to 1995, agrees. He doesn't believe there's any solid evidence that Katrina was strengthened by global warming. 'Anything we've seen so far is not outside of what has occurred in the past,' he says."

"Christopher Landsea, a researcher meteorologist in the hurricane research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says Katrina wasn't caused by global warming but is simply a part of the natural cycle of hurricane activity.

More from Landsea: "We've seen very busy times before, but the big difference is there's so many people living in hurricane alley. The coastal population is doubling roughly every 25 years from Texas to Carolina. That means the last time we were in a busy period there were many fewer people and less infrastructure in the way,' Landsea says."

Posted by: BH | September 28, 2005 06:18 PM

I think we need to step back and look at the BIG assumption there is a "debate" about global warming. This frames things as 2 parties in disagreement. If one were to suggest today there is a "debate" about whether tobacco causes harm, they would be laughed at. I suggest GW should be placed in that category. That is, as clearly established by science. No debate.

Peer reviewed science isn't debating whether humans have made a major contribution to climate change. They are looking at the details of it. The motives of skeptics should be examined in that light.

Posted by: Matt McCline | September 28, 2005 06:23 PM

All of the reliable models we have right now show substantial warming on a global scale over the next century. How much warming they show varies substantially, as does what will happen in individual regions. Personally, I study climate change in the Arctic, where some of the greatest warming has been observed. Even there, some areas, such as Eastern Canada, are cooling. The other misconception that seems to be popping up again and again is that climate change isn't a big deal because dramatic fluctuations in global climate have happened in the past. The key point to remember is that they've never happened this fast. The cycles of glacials and interglacials is effectively irrelevent in the debate over climate change--it just operates on a time scale too far removed from what we're dealing with. That said, we haven't seen any episode of warming faster than this one since at least the end of the Younger Dryas about 11500 ybp. And back then we didn't have over 6 billion people to support. . .

Posted by: Nilmat | September 28, 2005 06:29 PM

another huge problem in terms of mitigating the effects of these supposedly man made global warming powered hurricanes centers around the evacuation problem in N.O. we want everyone and their dog to have cars so they can evacuate but that is not really in step with curbing our greenhouse emissions. can anyone give me a legitimate number of what percentage of our greenhouse emissions come from cars?? assuming--for the sake of highlighting the dilema im talking about--that cars are a significant part of the problem, do we the hurricans to be less powerful but less people to have independent means to evaucate or do we want everyone to have their own mode to get out of harms way but risk making the storms more intense? so even beyond the global warming debate and whether and how much it is tied to stronger hurricanes there are practical issues of policy that are at least half of the battle. i think actually giving suggestions to solve those policy dilemas is as important as scientific studies and compliling evidence to establish that its happening. i think our policy makers would be more willing to do embrace that idea that global warming is a serious problem if there were solutions floated out there that they could put possibily put in place. i think activists should concentrate on just that because without a solution theres little point pointing out a problem. and unfortunately as much as we like to believe the opposite our political leaders devote very little time thinking about new and creative ways to deal with new problems. i think thinktanks, grass roots organizations and private citizens like people on this blog are better suited, or at least in reality the best hope, for coming up with the public policy solutions that are the logical end of this debate.

Posted by: mark | September 28, 2005 06:36 PM

For the umpteenth time, I would like to make a request of Ms. Messner, and every other journalist who reports on global warming: PLEASE vet the "experts" that you cite, with regard to their specific demonstrated expertise in climate science. Give us just the slightest blurb indicating their credentials for commenting on the SCIENCE of the matter. Do they have a PhD, and if so, what field is it in? Have they published related articles in peer-reviewed journals?

If she and the rest of the media would just follow this simple practice, the public would very quickly understand what the vast majority of the climatology community has known for years now: that there is no debate as to the fact that most of the global temperature increase we've seen in recent decades is driven by greenhouse gases emitted by human activity. (Leaving the question of hurricanes aside for the moment.)

The current journalistic norm of covering a new scientific study on the causes and effects of warming and then including "for balance", a dissenting view in the form of an industry lobbyist, does nothing to edify the public. It just perpetuates the false sense of a "debate" that no longer exists, not in the scientific community at least.

For instance, the editorial she points to in the Washington Times is credited to two "research associates" from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I do not know if they have any real scientific background (the CEI's web site does not list them among its "experts"), since the only job requirements for such a position is a clever pen and a pro-business orientation. I can however tell you, as Ms. Messner failed to, that the CEI received $1,380,000 from ExxonMobil between 2000-2003 to help them stunt public awareness and forestall action on the issue.

You can read about ExxonMobil's $8M campaign in the May 2005 issue of Mother Jones:

Posted by: Mark W. | September 28, 2005 06:38 PM

Recent studies - reported in New Scientist have shown that as sea surface temperatures rise, the intensity (but not the frequency) of Hurricanes increases.
This study is the most comprehensive carried out so far and is described by climate experts as 'The Smoking Gun' on the link between the two.
This comes ontop of increase in frequency in Hurricanes in the North Altantic,due to an unrelated natural decadal swing. The hurricane frequency world wide remains constant at around 90 per year.
Regardless these two combine to make life a bit exciting for those who live in the Southern States. As the Chinese curse goes 'may you live in exciting times'.

Posted by: Gail | September 28, 2005 06:39 PM

"Peer reviewed science isn't debating whether humans have made a major contribution to climate change. They are looking at the details of it. The motives of skeptics should be examined in that light."

Actually... I thought there was still a great deal of discussion of how much contribution humans had made. As has been pointed out here, there have been climate swings in the past couple of thousand years that dwarf the comparatively small changes due to greenhouse gasses I've read about predicted in the next century or so.

Human-created greenhouse gasses weren't a big factor, for example, when Hannibal crossed the alps. I've read they were covered with trees at the time. If Hannibal didn't see the glaciers in the Alps that are there now, does that mean my motivations for asking the question should be examined? Should Hannibal's?

I would love to see a peer-reviewed article not predicting the future weather, but taking a look at the existing climate models and trying to predict the weather backward from current conditions, with our best guesses about forcing functions (sunlight, for example), and see how well they fit the best data we have for the past. Can anyone supply papers/references?

Posted by: Les | September 28, 2005 06:42 PM

The information that Les asks for is out there, you just have to look for it. Google helps. But here's a start

Posted by: Gail | September 28, 2005 06:50 PM

Wow. No offense, but this page of comments reads like a FAQ sheet of public misconceptions about global warming.

First of all, no one, not even the oil industry lobbyists that make appearances at the end of many science news articles, is denying that GW is *happening*. There's not even a pretense of a debate about that.

Second, not to belabor my point above, but within the *scientific* community, there is no longer any serious debate that humans are driving most of the warming we've seen in recent decades. They may be debating in the weeds about exactly how much of it, but the domain of that battle is along the lines of "90%? 95? 99?"

Third, the well-worn canard of "the earth has seen extreme changes throughout its 4BY history without man's input" is just a distraction to the question. There are indeed long term natural cycles driving the earth's temperature (mostly due to astronomical processes), but the periods on these fluctuations are on the orders of millenia and longer. What most scientists are referring to when they talk about GW is a sharp (relatively speaking) recent short term "additional" warming process that we are tacking ON TOP OF these slow, low-magnitude longterm changes. But this jolt to the system is enough to throw a lot of things out of whack, and is in fact melting the polar regions.

Fourth, the "cooling scare" that was talked about briefly in the early 70s by a few scientists (and picked up sensationally by the popular press) was not nearly as mainstream as what is known today about warming. Climate science was relatively primitive then (consider that this stuff has to be modelled on computers, and what took an air-conditioned room back then can now fit on your wrist). That two-decade dip is now understood to be due to sulfates and aerosols emitted during the post-war boom (before pollution controls went into use).

I'll post this and see what else I find above to get on my soapbox about. Not trying to be snotty, but there's been a lot of disinfo spread around (perhaps by well-meaning people), and we should try not to do that.

Posted by: Mark W | September 28, 2005 06:58 PM

While I generally approve of global warming--the winters can get pretty chilly in DC--I'm not sure whether or not I think they are causing our big hurricanes. My understanding is that the limited data we have-only a hundred years or so worth--shows a pattern of periods of more and less activity. So it may be that global warming is effecting things, but it may also be normal increase. I don't think we can say for sure, and maybe it's some of both.

The big reason I don't really think global warming is to blame, is that as anyone who saw "The Day After Tomorrow" knows, global warming won't cause big Atlantic hurricanes, but rather it will unleash huge frozen polar hurricanes that will descend over the globe freezing us all.

Posted by: Sonny | September 28, 2005 07:11 PM

During a 90-some-odd degree day in September three years ago, I sat at a table in a sports bar with a guy I'd seen in years past but never spoken to. Turns out, he did compuer modeling for teh National Weather Service, so I made the obligatory comment about how hot it was for September. He nodded and mumbled something about "global warming." I suggested that there must be a lot of debate about what was causing the warming and he replied offhandedly, "Oh, no; it's pollution." Well, that was all I needed to know. It fits the data I see.

Posted by: nonseqman | September 28, 2005 07:16 PM

There is a large body of literature in psychology showing that people just aren't very good at understanding complex, nonlinear systems like the Earth's climate. People think in linear terms, and just can't cope with complicated phenomena with many variables.

The Earth's climate is a complex, nonlinear system. Such systems can be very sensitive to small changes, while at other times even large changes may have little appreciable effect. The key to understanding what will happen is not the magnitude of the change, but rather the overall state of the system. In short, the Earth's climate may be poised for some very dramatic behavior which is unprecedented in recorded human history. We do not know when these changes will occur, but we do know some of the things that have occured during the past -- like the glacier 'skid marks' in New York's Central Park. And it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that we could go from the current relatively stable conditions into a chaotic region when things whipsaw between extremes -- warming which triggers another ice age, for example. It's a real possibility.

Thus, the public does not understand the danger which global warming represents. Comments like "I generally approve of global warming--the winters can get pretty chilly in DC" reflect a profound ignorance.

Posted by: Brent Zenobia | September 28, 2005 08:02 PM

To nonseqman:

I've worked in the environmental arena for years in the U.S. Government. The problem with what your NWS friend said is that carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most associated with global warming theory proponents, is not a pollutant like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are. You breathe it out, I breathe it out, and Emily Messner of the Post breathes it out. Even if you subscribe to the global warming theory, you cannot blame it on "pollution."

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 08:26 PM

To Mark W:

Citing Mother Jones magazine is hardly a credible contribution to the debate. They're so far left they'd likely blame Al Gore himself for global warming. They'd want you to ride in a horse and buggy - if horses didn't contribute to methane emissions in the atmosphere.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 08:32 PM

To all:

A word to the wise about modeling. Modeling offers predictions, predictions that frequently do not come true. Decisions about mitigation should be made based on fact, not predictions, which are of course subject to error and even outside influence depending on the source of funding for the work (grants from slanted special interestsm for example). The debate will be with us for awhile, but look at Tony Blair's total reversal on Kyoto last week. He's embraced the U.S. government's approach, just as the G8 did. Clearly more and more people recognize the number of uncertainties in the science out there - the National Academy of Sciences even says as much. Some like to cherrypick what the NAS says. I'd urge everyone to read its entire 2001 report. It's an eye-opener, and conflicts with what a number of global warming theory proponents are saying.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 08:38 PM

One way to test the sincerity of global warming denialists (including those in this discussion) is to see if they will put their money where their mouths are. I other people have a number of standing bet offers that global warming will occur in the near future, at odds that should be very favorable to people who think we have no idea what the climate will do. So far, the vast majority of denialists are unwilling to back up their claims.

A summary of bet offers is here:

And if you want to bet me (please!):

Anyone want to step up? Don't be shy.

And by the way, we realize that there are people who claim to believe that the fact that the last few decades are the warmest in 1000 years is purely coincidental natural warming. These people don't make much sense, but they do get a free pass from the betting challenge.

Posted by: Brian S. | September 28, 2005 08:54 PM

There are several layered questions in the global warming issue:
- Is the earth warming? Yes. Last question on that score was recently solved when we discovered and corrected a systemic error in our upper air data (which seemed to indicate the upper air was cooling while the surface was warming)
- Is it human related? Partly, but not all. Variations in solar intensity (also seen in sunspot activity) seem to be a significant contributing factor. The "solar constant" is not, and there isn't a lot we can do about that.
- Can we reverse the human component? Not in the near term. If we immediately reverted to 1970s levels of CO2 emissions, the CO2 levels in the atmosphere would still rise.
This does not mean "do nothing." After all, a strong national effort to get develop alternative energy sources is needed to reduce our trade deficit, stop subsidizing hostile governments, and give us more flexibility in case of supply crunches a la Katrina-Rita. And--Bonus!--it would lower greenhouse emissions, slowing current warming and setting the stage (once the rest of the world buys in to the technology) to start reducing the man-made component of warming.
But a balanced strategy including multiple components is necessary because not single element (conservation, nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, etc) is likely to succeed. Unfortunately, what we seem to end up with is one side going "No problem" and the other side suggesting "conservation/alternative fuels are the only answer (as in, no nukes)." We need to get past that to a balanced approach--doable, if we manage to get beyond talking past each other.
Note--for what it's worth, I have an M.S. in Meteorology.

Posted by: PMCondray | September 28, 2005 08:59 PM

Brian S.

I wouldn't take your bet either way. Global warming could be attributed to natural climate cycles - a belief many prominent scientists stand by. You also neglect to point out that there was a little Ice Age not too ago, and that there were periods warmer than this long before man was as industrialized as it today - talking back around the 14th or 15th Centuries. No one denies the climate is changing. The discussion is over why. Natural cycles vs. man.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 09:04 PM

To PMCondray:

YOu make some interesting points. Let's talk about nuclear. You're right about that. Some of the environmental groups want us to reduce greennhouse gas emissions by switching from coal to other sources. One clean source is indeed nuclear. However, those same groups don't want you to develop nuclear further for fears over proliferation. Windmills in every yard isn't the answer (about what it would take to be worth anything), and solar is not just not as efficient as some would like to believe. Biomass is a possibility, as well as hydrogen technology. But the the technology isn't quite there yet to make it commercially-viable. Kudos to the current administration for making the investments to get hydrogen off the ground. Trouble is, environmental groups demonize Bush on the environment, and don't lobby Congress for his hydrogen programs.

Excellent point about solar variability.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 09:13 PM

I think the fact that Greenland will soon no longer be covered by an ice sheet and that we'll soon be able to reach the north pole by boat are a testament to the rapid global changes which have occured over the past 50 years, and while this does not prove human causality, it does correlate pretty darn well with the past century of exponentially-increased industrial carbon emmisions. Let's not wait for more data to roll in - it's like continuing to smoke until you finally get lung cancer before someone finally says 'see, told ya so.'

Posted by: MB | September 28, 2005 09:14 PM

To MB:

Too narrow a view. Glaciers once covered the Mid West. That's why the soil's so rich out there and good for crops. It wasn't man that made the glaciers disappear.

Polar shifts also occur. And it's not man that forces those occurences.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 28, 2005 09:20 PM

Global change, including global warming, is widely recognized and generally widely accepted in the scientific community. As some have correctly pointed out, the degree of human involvement in changes in climate is still an open question. However, anyone who says flat out that changes in hurricane intensity or frequency ARE DEFINITELY NOT due to global warming is stating their belief, not a scientifically demonstrated fact. BTW, if you think what we may have done to climate is scary, you should see what we done to the majority of the worlds geochemical cycles (we've altered the nitrogen cycle to a far greater extent than we have the carbon cycle) or the worlds fisheries. At the rate we're going, in a 100 years climate change will only be one of many problems we'll be facing.

The point most miss is though while we have always altered the world we live in, our ability to do so now is so extensive that we can alter it at a rate faster than we may be able to adapt.

If you really want to know what the world's experts think (sorry an m.s. in meterology isn't quite what I had in mind, though its nothing to sneeze at) check out the extensive list of publically avialable reports from the National Academy of Science. The executive summary of these reports are generally fairly straightforward. Here's a link to the climate change website.


Posted by: rock doc | September 28, 2005 10:30 PM

I am a climate scientist with some 30 years of research experience and more than 150 refereed publications on various aspects of the atmosphere. The comments posted so far cover such a broad range of topics that it would take a small treatise to deal with them adequately. So please pardon me if some of my comments are too terse.

First, I highly recommend that you consult a web site for in depth discussions of current climate issues, including many of the issues here.

Second, I strongly endorse the comments of Mark W regarding the vetting of experts. Ms. Messner does us all a disservice by creating this mix of peer-reviewed science articles (such as the cited work from the scientists at Georgia Tech -- NOT the University of Georgia, by the way) and pseudo-science from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and treating all sources as equal. If the "research associates" from CEI had to have anonymous peer review of their writing, it would never see publication.

With regard to hurricanes and global warming, it is very difficult to say at this point whether global warming is playing a role in intensifying hurricanes. What we can say is that (1) hurricanes draw their intensity from warm water; (2) ocean temperatures have increased over the past decades; (3) that increase corresponds to warming of the atmosphere; (4) the most plausible explanation (by a wide margin) for the warming over the past century is the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations; and (5) increasing the sea surface temperature increases the probability of having more intense hurricanes. So, is global warming responsible for Katrina? No. Is global warming a component in creating more intense hurricanes such as Katrina? Probably yes, but we will have to wait another decade or so to be sure if you want actual data. (Our models suggest that this is the case.)

Regarding the general issue of climate change. Climate scientists are, as a group, neither ignorant nor stupid. We have considered all the forcings we know about, including solar variability, as mechanisms of climate change. We have studied climate change on geologic time scales. The time scale for glacial ice ages is around 100,000 years and the most recent glacial age ended about 20,000 years ago. We are talking about climate change due to greenhouse warming occurring on a time scale of 100 years. Clearly, one cannot use geologic variability to either explain or scale current climate change.

Greenhouse warming is a simple physical mechanism -- add more absorbing gases to the atmosphere and you warm the surface of the planet. It is well understood and modeled. Uncertainties in predicting how much warming to expect and how fast arise because we are dealing with a complex non-linear, coupled (atmosphere, ocean, ice) system. However, there should be no doubt that warming is occurring and will continue to occur as long as we add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Other forcings such as solar variability may play a small role in the trends over the last century, but those trends are driven by increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Posted by: Tom | September 28, 2005 10:58 PM

I appreciate the Post finally addressing climate change. Er, a blog of the Post.

Tom recommended RealClimate -- climate scientists address questions such as, were scientists predicting global cooling back in the 1970s as well as more technical questions.

Until now, I've felt deserted by the Post on the climate change issue. I don't begrudge attention to the Iraq War and recent scandals, but environmental degradation is likely to be the big story in my lifetime. The more people know, the more attention this issue receives from the media, the more likely that we are to overcome the major disconnect between the public attitude and that of pretty much everyone studying climate change.

The International Climate Change Taskforce recommends limiting atmospheric levels of carbon to 400 ppm. We are on track to reach 400 ppm, by 2015 -- an increase of 120 ppm over pre-industrial levels, a large percentage of that due to US emissions.

To stabilize atmospheric carbon at whatever level, 400 ppm or 450 ppm, or even (gulp) higher, we must reduce carbon emissions to the level that the ocean can absorb, cutting back 70% worldwide, more than 90% in the US. To protect the ocean from acidification, we must reduce carbon emissions even further. Few of us appear to be acknowledging these realities in the policies we push, and in the way we live.

Posted by: Karen | September 28, 2005 11:13 PM

New Orleans should serve as a wake up call to our elected leaders in Washington. This beleaguered city dispels the myth that it is too expensive to do anything about global warming. Even if hurricane Katrina is not a direct result of the warming trend, this storm predicts the future for coastal cities worldwide as sea levels rise as the polar ice melts.

The burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change by changing the atmospheric balance with increased levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Fossil fuels are a finite energy resource that enriches foreign extremists and poisons our environment. We are deluding ourselves if we think the only cost of our energy is what we pay to SRP or Exxon.

There is no magic bullet for solving our energy problems. We need increased capacity at the same time we are trying to transition away from fossil fuels because of their true costs to our society. This transition will be painful but will also spark innovation and a better quality of life. It will be expensive, but not so much compared to the expense of more New Orleans.

Posted by: QLeap | September 29, 2005 01:28 AM

I can't believe a few people have commented on how even if global warming is occuring its a good thing.

The greatest immediate threat to global warming is not storms people - it's disease on a massive scale. When climate changes, organisms that adapt fastest dominate and multiply. Microrganisms are the most adaptable living thing. The food resources for more complex organisms will be strained as well as their immune systems.

Posted by: art | September 29, 2005 01:32 AM

Okay, somebody mentioned that the earth's temperatures go in cycles. Yeah, that's right. But at what RATE?

The current climate changes are drastically greater than any natural fluctuation. Sir Crispin Tickell compares the current rate of climate change to that caused by huge natural disasters - like the Yucatan meteor. "The problem is on a geological scale. No wonder the Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen with his colleague Eugene Stoermer should have named the current epoch the 'Anthropocene' in succession to the Holocene."

So yes, fluctuation is normal. Crashing through the roof in a few decades is not.

Posted by: David | September 29, 2005 02:15 AM

I read where the polar ice caps on Mars have recently been shrinking due to a climate change on the planet. Common sense would seem to dictate that if the Earth and Mars are both warming up, then it might be the sun responsible.

Posted by: Dick Schilling | September 29, 2005 05:42 AM

The "arguments" that global warming is either not occurring or can't be considered anthropogenic are ridiculous.

Self-confessed ignoramus Jack Browning ("I'm no scientist, but...") says because there was climate change before man and technology, current climate change CAN'T be caused by man's activities!

Dimwit Dick Schilling says that because ice caps are melting on Mars, global warming on Earth must be caused by the Sun, not by fossil fuel consumption!

As these pathetic statements suggest, the fact is, there aren't any cogent arguments against the probability that greenhouse gas emissions may be contributing to global warming. These self-confessed ignoramuses are engaging in politically inspired right wing cant. They are probably paid posters.

Posted by: Long Tom | September 29, 2005 07:00 AM

Instead of citing Yahoo and the Moonies, try reading a bit more of the actual science. Science magazine has a free section devoted to this topic (Katrina, hurricanes, global warming links). See:

And sure there's no definite answer yet, but then again what aspect of your lives have definite answers? The only question we should be asking ourselves is 'do we want life to become harder?', ie do we want the known world to change into something a bit more unknown?

Posted by: Lars | September 29, 2005 07:24 AM

Just a caution about - it is bit biased in favor of global warming theory proponents - that is to say those who man is behind any current warming trend. It's weighed heavily in favor of Michael Mann's hockey stick, and I've read several pieces lately - by scientists - who say the Mann graph is extremely flawed. (David Legates was the latest, I think, in the Canadian National Post this week or last)

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 29, 2005 07:31 AM

The Blame Game.
Seems everyone wants to point fingers rather than look at solving this problem. with current patterns and the information we now have, it seems LIKELY that industry does have something to do with global warming. Perhaps it is part of a natural cycle. However, we are exacerbating the situation.
Alternative energy anyone? Even without the prospect of global warming, getting off the "tit of the middle east" would probably be a very good idea. Personally I'm not a huge fan of hydrogen because it takes more energy (usually electricity in the form of hydrolysis) to produce it than you can get out of it. However there is very little money funneled towards this project so we don't really know.
Granted none of us will likely be alive when this planet's warming cycle progresses to the SHTF-stage. So just keep what you're doing. Nothing to see here....

Posted by: Chris Barnes | September 29, 2005 07:32 AM

Lastly - ANYone can come on here and say they are a climate scientist. "Let the buyer beware" as you read...

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 29, 2005 07:34 AM

I am an American transplant living now in Norway. On my hikes in the mountains here in and up around the Arctic circle I have noticed clear signs pointing to increased melting of snow packs and glaciers. Winters appear to be getting milder, among other acute changes noted by Norwegian meteorologists. I am not an alarmist, but something definitely is going on.

Posted by: P. Veraas | September 29, 2005 07:37 AM

To Chris Barnes - first you have to factually prove there's a problem before you set out to solve it. It has not been definitively determined that man is behind warming. Yeah yeah, all the Gore supporters reading this are having conniptions and will curse me out. That's politics, not an honest scientific debate. But ridding the earth of the combustion engine is just not a realistic answer, though. For every peer-reviewed study that says man's the cause, there's another that says it's not case. The climate is changing - yes. But if it's due to natural cycles, there's nothing we can do to stop it. We adapt, as we have over the millenia. The adaptation is natural, too.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 29, 2005 07:40 AM

To our friend in Norway - what a beautiful country. If something is happening, it could be solar variability or any number of natural occurrences. We must be open-minded to other potential causes that are backed by scietific data.

Posted by: Jolly Roger | September 29, 2005 07:43 AM

There is nearly always room for debate in science on such large issues. It's the nature of human knowledge. But observe the nature of the evidence for GW, and see also the attacks against the concept, and one sees a pattern of wishful thinking, and ad hominem attacks. Ultra-conservative ideologues do not support real science- it doesn't play well with the fundamentalists and doesn't make money quickly enough. One might ask what is the responsible approach?

Posted by: Richard Randall | September 29, 2005 08:17 AM

Here's some interesting data on the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming. For example, it turns out water vapor is the most significant greenhouse gas, at 95.0%. Kind of makes sense, on a clear day with low humidity, you can usually count on the outside temperature being a little cooler than if it's overcast. Followed by carbon dioxide at 3.6%. What's particularily interesting is that the data in Table 4a. shows that the % of man-made carbon dioxide is 0.117%.

Posted by: Curious | September 29, 2005 08:25 AM

While I think the evidence for global warming is solid, I'm skeptical about the link to the current rash of strong hurricanes. Climatologists have been telling us for a good while now that the last thirty years have been unusually quiet with regard to hurricanes and they predicted we would see a sharp increase in the number of hurricanes in the next decade or so. HOWEVER, what should be painfully obvious to us all is the awesome power of mother nature! If human activities cause a significant change in the earth's climate as some experts are predicting, it could produce catastrophic results. It's folly for President Bush and other skeptics to talk of adapting to global climate change because the scale and severity is likely to be tremendous. So I don't think it's wise to overinflate the global warming-hurricane link, but the lesson we should learn is about the awesome forces of nature that are beyond our control. Katrina and Rita should remind us that the stakes are high and the consequences serious.

Posted by: Jim Fosterr | September 29, 2005 08:29 AM

I was wondering - global warming and the research around it si probably too scientific in the face of creationism/intelligent design. So maybe it has to be taken as an act of God.

Posted by: Thomas Bader | September 29, 2005 08:37 AM

I'd like to read through the entire article, but the author, Ms. Messner, gets key facts wrong up front- so I really cannot read through it with any confidence. Just- for the record- the average global SST (sea surface temperature)increase has been shown to be between .5 and 1 degree Fahrenheit. She claims that sst has increased 2 degrees. Her source? An unfound transcript (but she offers another 'good' interview in it's place). Then she refers to info from the University of Georgia. If you click on the link you will see it is Georgia Tech University. Recently, Dr. Peter Webster of Ga Tech published an important paper in Science about this topic. Perhaps Ms. Messner should read through the link she lists.

These two "small" items might be passable for someone still inclined to get their 'facts' from the newspapers of record. But attention to detail is key in this discussion. .5 degree in increase is much less than 2 degrees. And, Georgia Tech (not the University of Georgia) is one of the nation's finest technological universities. It'd be like mistaking MIT with the University of Rhode Island.

Major newspapers used to play an important role in discerning the news, giving us the facts. Now I find that it is increasingly hard to read through a newspaper- even the Big 3- with any confidence. I feel better doing my own homework. I suggest Ms. Messner do some on her own as well. Pretty shoddy. Actually, it's embarrasing to see what the Post has become.

Posted by: Les Kahrnoff | September 29, 2005 08:50 AM

If there is one overall enigma to be addressed it is why we as citizens continue to allow this administration to deflect scientific study in an attempt to defer addressing the issue of global warming. Four years ago GW Bush opted out of Kyoto to say he wanted to study the issue more - at least he could have produced an interim report by now! I suppose one of his underlings dogs ate it?

Posted by: Joe Barnas | September 29, 2005 08:58 AM

If the % of man-made carbon dioxide is only 0.117% of total greenhouse gases, how can this have any impact on climate change?

Posted by: Brian O'Halloran | September 29, 2005 09:06 AM

James above provides one of the most reasonable positions on this whole debate. At the end, he asks, "Can anyone make a rational arguement against such caution?" My answer is: we need more data. Even if we accept the fact that human activity is a significant contributor toward GW, the cost of our proposed changes in human activity must be measured against the potential benefit.

Posted by: Randy | September 29, 2005 09:57 AM

Is anthrogenic global warming creating conditions that increase hurricane intensity? If Katrina and Rita aren't convincing enough evidence let's wait a while. According to today's satellite maps of September 29, there are four more tropical waves being formed in hurricane alley. Will any of them graduate to tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes category 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 remains to be seen. Personally, as much as I would love to have a place in the sun to avoid Canada's harsh winters, I wouldn't accept an outright gift of the most choise beachfront property on the Gulf Coast. I prefer to cold any day having experienced
a few tornados in Oklahoma. Maybe the answer to the debate will end at the conclusion of this season if an unprecedented number of monster hurricanes trash the Gulf or Atlantic coasts -- lets say in round numbers one a week until November 30, 2005. If that doesn't happen this year hold onto your scorecard it may happen next year or later. No matter what, as a geologist of more than 50 years of oilpatch experience, the skeptics and contrarians will maintain to their graves that man simply cannot possibly be an agent of geologic change. What they never acknowledge is that 6,500,000 destructive humans did not exist from the preCambrian to the Recent. The only hope for all of us is to conserve and reduce our fossil fuel consumption and control our wasteful life style. It may too late but we must try for the sake of our grandchildren and future generations. It's our only hope.

Posted by: jack century | September 29, 2005 11:09 AM

Is anthrogenic global warming creating conditions that increase hurricane intensity? If Katrina and Rita aren't convincing enough evidence let's wait a while. According to today's satellite maps of September 29, there are four more tropical waves being formed in hurricane alley. Will any of them graduate to tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes category 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 remains to be seen. Personally, as much as I would love to have a place in the sun to avoid Canada's harsh winters, I wouldn't accept an outright gift of the most choise beachfront property on the Gulf Coast. I prefer to cold any day having experienced
a few tornados in Oklahoma. Maybe the answer to the debate will end at the conclusion of this season if an unprecedented number of monster hurricanes trash the Gulf or Atlantic coasts -- lets say in round numbers one a week until November 30, 2005. If that doesn't happen this year hold onto your scorecard it may happen next year or later. No matter what, as a geologist of more than 50 years of oilpatch experience, the skeptics and contrarians will maintain to their graves that man simply cannot possibly be an agent of geologic change. What they never acknowledge is that 6,500,000 destructive humans did not exist from the preCambrian to the Recent. The only hope for all of us is to conserve and reduce our fossil fuel consumption and control our wasteful life style. It may too late but we must try for the sake of our grandchildren and future generations. It's our only hope.

Posted by: jack century | September 29, 2005 11:10 AM

I find the term "scientist" is used by the global warming crowd as a shield to deflect any real debate. Anyone with a PhD that agrees with them is, by definition, a scientist. Anyone that doesn't agree, regardless of credentials, is a dimwit or ignoramus. Peer review in today's journals seems to lean more towards "peer" than "review" and many with dissenting views never get published.

But set that aside and try focusing on SOLUTIONS.

If global warming is caused from increased solar output, then what do we do about it? Do we abandon cities and transport our population to more favorable regions? Do we accept the massive starvation of millions? Or do we do what humans do: apply our resources (i.e., energy and technology) to controlling our environment.

If global warming is caused by man, then what do we do about? Do we freeze development in third world countries? Do we shut down our coal-fired generators and reduce our energy consumption by 50%? Do we accept the massive unemployment and poverty these solutions entail? Or do we avoid this economic and global catastrophe by replacing our coal and oil economy with nuclear?

Pardon my simplicity, but doesn't this entire debate become moot if we just switch to nuclear power? With sufficient energy, we can overcome -- or at least mitigate -- the effects of global warming, regardless of cause.

Posted by: Rod | September 29, 2005 12:12 PM

Randy writes: "...we need more data. Even if we accept the fact that human activity is a significant contributor toward GW, the cost of our proposed changes in human activity must be measured against the potential benefit."

'Potential benefit' is the wrong standard to apply here. There is no benefit to preserving the status quo; rather, we are discussing ways to avoid deterioration of the status quo through future catastrophies like Katrina, the destruction of the coral reefs around the world, desertification and so forth. Thus, the debate needs to be framed in terms of potential losses rather than potential gains.

People do not weight potential benefits and losses the same way. If I were to offer you a $50 bet based on a single coin flip, virtually no one would take that bet, because the benefit of gaining $50 is more than offset by the possibility of losing $50: gaining $50 is not as much "good" as losing $50 is "bad". It's a well-established fact that people place greater emphasis on potential losses than gains.

So let's look at the potential for harm here. Contrary to the expectation that "GW is good for you", the truth is that GW has the potential to trigger far-reaching and irreversable changes that we can scarcely imagine at present. Regardless of how much of a contribution anthrogenic sources are making to GW, the consequences of GW are so catastrophic and potentially expensive that it is imperitive we do everything in our power to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. The cost of such precautions is a bargain in comparison to the losses of life and property from a few more Katrinas. Imagine how an increase of temperature might turn the American prairie states into a drought-stricken desert? Or watch helplessly as ever more intense hurricanes clobber Gulf Coast cities one by one? Or the oceanic food chain collapses as the coral reefs fail?

Posted by: Brent Zenobia | September 29, 2005 12:13 PM

"If the % of man-made carbon dioxide is only 0.117% of total greenhouse gases, how can this have any impact on climate change?"

What is 0.117% of the temperature difference between the surface of the earth and the coldness of space? That is the impact. It's easy to take numbers out of context and claim they don't have any meaning.

My problem with folks like Inhofe and Chriton, is they don't have anything but denials. Chriton selectively took the work of others to "prove" his pre-conceived point. The real question is this: What is the ideal climate for us, and how do we maintain it? Don't say it's not possible. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Posted by: t0m | September 29, 2005 12:17 PM

Before the Weather Channel, who knew how many small tropical depressions formed in the Atlantic that never got named. Today, any cloud larger than a hundred miles gets a name. That's why we are up in the R's already! And as population increases and communication and power systems get more widespread and sophisticated, etc., there is more to desroy with a Cat. 4 or 5 storm. And why do people insist on living below or at sea-level, in flood plains, on faults, near volcanoes, at the top of likely mud slides, or on the edge of dried up timber? There's plenty of room in the USA for people to live in safety, thus avoiding catastropies. In my mind, survival of the fittest boils down to, where do you build your house! As always, I'm asked to help pay for stupid people's mistakes. Nature is going to do its thing regardless of humanity, including absorbing in its own way the extra CO2 we are providing it. Live in tune with nature, not expecting it to bend to your whims. Hybrids, fuel cell power systems, solar and wind energy, etc.

Posted by: mike-s | September 29, 2005 12:20 PM

"If global warming is caused by man, then what do we do about? Do we freeze development in third world countries? Do we shut down our coal-fired generators and reduce our energy consumption by 50%? Do we accept the massive unemployment and poverty these solutions entail?"

A hundred years ago, if you asked the Wright bothers how their wood and cloth contraption could possibly carry thousands of people around the world every day, how could they answer?

The answer is we start by developing technology we have now, even if the results seem insignificant compared to the long term problem.

The climate predictions a hundred years out may be unavoidable, but if in a hundred years the polar ice caps melt, polar bears are extinct, etc etc, and people look at us none too kindly, imagine what we could avoid in two hundred years if we start now. If we don't start now, then people a hundred years from now will be at the same starting point technologically, but much worse off economically (as Katrina proved, these things do have economic impact).

Posted by: t0m | September 29, 2005 12:23 PM

Isn't the administration's opposition to Kyoto based on how US industry would be limited compared to nations like China and India and not on the science?

Posted by: john p | September 29, 2005 12:26 PM

Might I point out an entertaining science fiction book: "Fallen Angels". Pournelle and (I think?) Niven. In that book the postulation was that human CO2 output was seen as a cause for global warming. So a decade after draconian limits on Co2 emmissions, temperatures dropped... then the global weather patterns flipped into another little ice age, which had previously only been averted by the unnatural Co2.

To the poster that compared geological era weather changes to the ones we're seeing: Yes, global weather changes can happen in human lifetimes: the little ice age was not a conservative plot. Also, global changes and local changes are different things: see the archeology of Iceland and Greenland, or the dustbowl in the US midwest early last century. That last was a fast climate change over the midwest that had serious social and economic impacts over a few years.

Also see Gleik's book "Chaos": popular science, but I was impressed by how simple the equations have to be to see models of chaotic behaviour, and weather models look way more complex than those to me. (But what do I know, I'm only a computer geek.)

And to the one who posted that anyone who doubts human behavior is the major forcing agent needs to have their paycheck looked at: Tell you what. I'll add the NSF papers cited here to my reading list. If those reports resolve my uncertainties on this issue, you can rest assured that you had nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Les | September 29, 2005 12:50 PM

There is no link between Atlantic hurricanes and global warming. I know this because Charles Krauthammer made it perfectly clear when he wrote in the Post, Sept. 9, "There is no relationship between global warming and the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. Period."
Though an opinion piece, that is an absolute statement, which the Post certainly would not have printed if not proven.

Posted by: Will O'Bryan | September 29, 2005 12:50 PM

The "contrarians" claim that not long ago we went
gaga over a looming global cooling. That's a myth:

The also claim that the 1940s to 1970s cooling in
the northern hemisphere disproves global warming.
That's another myth:

They further claim that important pieces of the
science have not been independently reproduced.
More myth:

They claim that global climate models can't
reproduce past climate change. We're overflowing with myths:

They claim that climate can't be predicted
because weather is chaotic. Oh the power of myth:

If only these guys
could get through to the
dense journalists who like to be "fair."

Posted by: peterp115 | September 29, 2005 12:50 PM

A minor edit on my post: "I was impressed by how simple the equations have to be to see models of chaotic behaviour" should be "I was impressed by how simple the equations COULD be to see models of chaotic behaviour"

Posted by: Les | September 29, 2005 12:52 PM

Where does the public fit in the GW debate? Rod and other posters argue that framing the issues purely in terms of science and peer-reviewed research has the effect of shutting out the public and robbing lay persons of any voice in this debate.

This is a legitimate concern. The world is full of risks, and it's difficult to know which must be attended to and which may be safely disregarded. The public has every right to be involved in this discussion, and in fact it will be.

Climatologists with Ph.D.s and a track record of peer-reviewed research have invested their lives and their careers in the study of these phenomena, and are in a far better position to determine what the facts are than the lay public.

So what is a concerned citizen to do? Reading up on the subject is a good way to start, but who to read? Bearing in mind that powerful industry groups have a strong interest in spreading disinformation, where does a concerned citizen turn to for information? Scientific American or the Skeptical Environmentalist?

I am not a climatologist; I am a Ph.D. student using computer simulation to study the spread of ideas and technologies through human societies. When it comes to the climate, I'm just an interested lay person with a scientific background; when it comes to the behavior of complex nonlinear systems, or how the public perceives risk, I know whereof I speak.

To those who are passionately interested in this subject, I would offer a few words of advice based on my knowledge of social psychology.

First, beware of confirmation bias: the tendency to only look for evidence that supports your existing point of view, rather than evidence that might disconfirm it. It's one of the strongest and most resistant tendencies in human judgment.

Second, beware of groupthink: the tendency to associate with only like-minded individuals who act as an echo chamber for your pre-existing beliefs.

Third, beware of availability bias: the tendency to accord greater weight to exceptionally vivid episodes like Hurricane Katrina, at the expense of less-visible but potentially more important facts like the fact that coral reefs are dying off all over the world.

Fourth, beware of 'laundry-list thinking': the tendency to think that things happen in the climate due to bullet-item causes which operate independently of each other (e.g., anthrogenic "vs" natural warming) or that causality only runs one way, or that complex systems change in instantaneous or linear ways.

Complex systems can absorb input for a long time, and appear to be stable over the long term, but all the while they are edging away from a stable regime into a region of chaotic, wildly unpredictable behavior on the way to a new stable state of affairs. In the past these changes have occurred relatively slowly, over geologic time scales (although a few cases like the younger Dryas event unfolded during just a few decades.) Anthrogenic warming is a new factor which may change how the climate responds this time.

Finally, regardless of which side you are on in this debate, ask yourself how you might be wrong, and what the potential consequences might be in that case.

Posted by: Brent Zenobia | September 29, 2005 12:55 PM

Dear Ms. Messner and fellow WaPost readers: Really now! How can any of us even seriously consider that global warming (including the human-contribution to that warming) might, just might, be having the effect of increasing the number and/or severity of hurricanes? Has not our favorite newspaper's very own experienced scientist (and regular columnist) Professor Charles Krauthammer recently assured us all most emphatically that "there is no such connection, period." Dr. Krauthammer's word on the matter is certainly good enough for me; he's proved prescient on the easy success of the Iraq Watr and darned near everything else he writes about.

Posted by: Jeff Lalande | September 29, 2005 01:10 PM

When I moved out of Rhode Island 28 years ago I had never seen a mocking bird. I'm sure of this because when Harper Lee's book of the same name came out in the 1960's no one in the neighborhood knew what they were.

Now that I've moved back, the mockingbirds--the state bird of Florida--are a regular fixture. Climate change? I'd have to think so.

More worrisome than a southern bird in a northern nest, however, is a 30 to 40% decrease in the polar ice cap. With each spring I can't help but wonder if winter will ever end. Paradoxically, the warmer the north pole the colder the nearby New England area, if, as hypothesized, the Gulf Stream fizzles out because ocean salinity levels in the upper latitudes become insufficient for the continued propagation of the "conveyor belt."

Compared to catastrophic climate change, terrorism is a still a problem but a reversible one and hardly the destructive force of a Category 5 or a New England with a six week growing season and an average decrease in yearly temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees.

Washington, we have a problem.

Posted by: Steve W | September 29, 2005 01:28 PM

"They claim that climate can't be predicted
because weather is chaotic. Oh the power of myth:"

I'll follow up on the other links later- this whole work thing- but when I saw this I had to take a look, because it's a major concern I have with some models.

But this link doesn't say anything about chaos itself. It does have something to say about cyclic patterns, but that's not chaos.

Chaos theory says that in some equations that are chaotic, small changes in the initial conditions give big changes in the results. Or small changes in the parameters of the model give big changes in the results. When these changes are small enough that they exceed our capability of measuring them- that is, we can't know the initial state well enough- then in the long term the model behaves chaotically, or unstably.

Again, there's enough info in Gleik's "Chaos" to demonstrate this for yourself in an Excel spreadsheet with some simple models (I did it with the population model- tweak the parameters a hairsbreadth, and you get wildly difference steady states).

So, sorry, this isn't a myth. Or, at least, a humorous article doesn't convince me that it isn't. Math doesn't care what I think about it.

I note the graph of results from running the model backwards. I look forward to perusing that article when I have more time. Thanks for that.

Posted by: Les | September 29, 2005 02:07 PM

Progressive Action League of Loudoun is sponsoring a FREE showing of "We Are All Smith Islanders", an independent documentary about the dangers of global warming. The film shows how global warming affects agriculture, wildlife, health, and tourism throughout the Chesapeake Bay and how the crisis is expected to deepen into Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. without immediate action. The film also details clean energy solutions available that may help slow and possibly stop global warming in the region. The showing will be followed by brief presentations on the status of the Virginia Clean Energy Bill and the environmental positions of Virginia's candidates for governor.
October 11th at 7:30 PM at Bear's Den in Bluemont
From Rt. 7 turn onto Rt. 601 (Blueridge Mountain Rd)
Go about a half a mile and turn right at the first driveway
(green mailbox that says Bears Den)
Follow gravel driveway and park.
For more information: 703-777-8604

Audubon Naturalist Society is sponsoring a FREE showing of "We Are All Smith Islanders", an independent documentary about the dangers of global warming. The film shows how global warming affects agriculture, wildlife, health, and tourism throughout the Chesapeake Bay and how the crisis is expected to deepen into Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. without immediate action. The film also details clean energy solutions available that may help slow and possibly stop global warming in the region. The showing will be followed by brief presentations on the status of the Virginia Clean Energy Bill and the environmental positions of Virginia's candidates for governor.
October 13th at 7:30 PM
Audubon Naturalist Society Rust Sanctuary
802 Children's Center Road
Leesburg, VA 20175
For directions call: 703-737-0021

Go to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network website to order copy of the film and to find out how you can take action.

Posted by: Virginia Clean Energy Bill | September 29, 2005 02:17 PM

Not to worry, linda laird of hutchinson, ks, roadrunners are more likely to be seen in Kansas than are ardvarks and armadillos.
Sorry, but coreopsis bloom in the fall as does other flowers who become dorminant over the summer months and then bloom when the wheather is cooler. How long have you lived in hutchinson???

The best back-off I have seen to compromising global warning is Sen. Brownback's stand on the environment at the Ohio Sept. 19 Republic Meeting. This Sen. is for a Supreme Court ruling against Roe v. Wade. Sen. Brownback has now committed an 180 degree turn on the environment and how much the environment means to him and how much we need to preserve the environment and find alternative fuels and reduce the price of these alternamtive fuels to downgrade the world temperature increase.

After the A bomb was dumped onto Japan our earth did not have a chance to stay as it had been over an four billon year evolution. This morning on NPR the comments about the ice cap around the north pole is that the ice reflects cold air into the atmosphere which prevents complete global warming. However since the dift of the wind is from the west around the globe and the sun storms have increased in intensity over the last thirty years the global ice caps are reducing the amount of ice that can reflect cold air into the wind currents and atmosphere.

The National Reserve should be burning renewable fuel in the transportation vehicles that are used here in the United States and also in Iran/Iraq.

The last blizzard here in Kansas was in 1949. The last blizzard here in Kansas was in 1949!!!

The fuel commission that has poped up out of Katrina is only another body of reps. and sens. that are repeatingly saying the same cronyism over and over and over.

The evacuation of Houstonn is a come to facts now stuff that was being published by technical businesses in the late 1950's and 1960's about the evacuation of metro areas such as St. Louis and Kansas City if these cities and surrounding areas were hit with missiles and the cities had forwarning of evacuation of perhaps ten hours!!!! Total chaos as predicted only by nature.

As far as posting evidence, take a real good look at the Gulf of Mexico from the air and see how far into the Gulf the run-off from economically development cities reaches into the Gulf!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Arlene F. Clayton | September 29, 2005 02:23 PM

Its time we elect scientist and other intelligencia to political positions instead of lawyers and PR people. The former know what their talking about, the latter are good at selling something they know nothing about. Unfortunately, americans listen to the talking heads more than the thinkers. The thinkers don't say much, but their all warning against Global Warming and a host of other societal problems. Nothing comes free. Global warming is a problem of people not sufficiently accounting for the costs of the good by including the environmental harm and lost of irreplacable natural resources when they burn fossil fuels.

Posted by: Mark | September 29, 2005 02:27 PM

Why do we need GW as a reason to move away from the fossil fuels based economy?

There are countless better reasons that aren't up to debate. How about Coal burning power plants (mainly in India and China) causing massive mercury pollution. How about the constant increase of Asthma in children that is traceable to fossil fuel pollution. How about the US being completely at the mercy of various third world dictators (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq/Iran, Russia) who control the remainder of the Earths oil resources? How about the fact that we are nearing the "peak oil" period, which may in itself force the US to move quickly to other energy sources.

Forget GW, focus on the here and now and realize that this fossil fuel based economy is like a sinking ship. How many can we get into the lifeboats?

Posted by: Ron | September 29, 2005 02:53 PM

As far as taking a pro-active approach and looking for other sources of clean renewable energy - check out the 'Solar Tower'. It's been around for some time but has had little exposuer yet.

Maybe we just have to show how profitable this (and other wind technology) can be in order for something to get done. After all, greed is what runs things these days.

Posted by: SW | September 29, 2005 03:10 PM

Is there a reason not to care about global warming? Here's one:

The Earth has been around for billions of years and will be around for many more . . . with or without mankind.

I've got possibly thirty good years left on this planet. That's enough time to enjoy a restored V12 Jaguar or that 32 valve, duo overhead cam V8. We only live once, so turn up the heat and enjoy those weekend cruises. Although, if we believe in God there's that promise of an Afterlife. If mankind gets thinned out in the next fifty years or so, so what? I'll be dead and gone . . . having lived a rich and lavish lifesyle.

Mankind has to get persons, such as I, removed from politics to ensure survival. In my opinion, science, can ruin a good thing.

Posted by: TS | September 29, 2005 03:53 PM

George is that you? At least I agree with that last line of yours.

That 'Solar Tower' sure is an interesting technology. I like the link to EnviroMission

Posted by: ME | September 29, 2005 04:16 PM

Please, please if you are going to help don't just quote propogandists on the two sides of the issue. Talk to real practicing climate scientists with serious credentials. The anti-global-warming crowd preys on the press's ignorance and desire to be fair and objective. When you report two sides of the argument as if they are equal, you are misrepresenting the truth, which is that something like 90% of the real scientists who study climate agree that global warming is happening and is at least in part human-casued.

You reference Cooke's and Kormendi's article in the Washington Times. These authors are listed in the Times as research associates at the Competitive Enterprise Group. There is nothing that tells us whether they have a scintilla of scientific expertise. Do they have a degree in the subject? Do they do research? Have they published serious, peer-reviewed papers in respectable scientific journals? Or do they work for some organization that may have a specific agenda that they want to advance?

These are essential facts that need to be reported to your readers. And shame on the Washington Post if it accepts such sloppiness.

Posted by: RSL | September 29, 2005 04:55 PM

I am a retired PhD. engineer. As a hobby, I've spent the last several years looking into the science of global warming in some depth. The physical phenomenon is undoubtedly real, and some relatively small global warming has occurred over the last century. This amounts to roughly one degree Farenheit (a little less than the "deadband" of your house's thermostat about a given setting). Some, but not all of this warming is almost certainly the result of increasing greenhouse gases released by human activity. There is, however, still considerable uncertainty as to what level of warming to expect in the future. My own view is that it will be near the low end of the various current projections. Also, not all the effects of the warming will be negative. In fact, though there will be both winners and losers, I suspect that overall, the net results will be more positive than negative - though you seldom hear about the positive aspects. The most important conclusion I've come to is that governmental efforts to control the buildup of greenhouse gases (the Kyoto protocol and similar efforts) will be extremly expensive, will fail to have any impact on actual warming within our level to predict or measure it, and as a result wil be greatly counterproductive overall. If we wish to do anything positive it should be in setting up organizational and financial mechanisms to mitigate the warming-related problems that do occur. These should also help with other more familiar natural disasters including tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos, and normal floods and droughts as well as the manifold ravages of poverty in general. The global warming problem will eventally resolve itself through the depletion of fossil fuel reserves, which over a relatively short historical time scale will make renuable and other non-fossil fuel sources more economical to use for most of the world's energy needs.

Posted by: Keith Jackson | September 29, 2005 05:55 PM

To Les:

climate models used in GW-related work produce ensemble-averaged quantities so the chaos you're talking about is not a concern. Such GW models are _not_ the same as those that are implied by the popular saying "we can't predict the weather two weeks from now so it's ludicrous to even think we can predict the temperatures 100 years from now." Predicting the weather over a certain area has little to do with predicting the climate 100 years from now. The GW models have improved greatly since the "contrarians" constructed the talking points that are being rehashed by right-wingers and those who pay for their existence. I think now that Inhoffe involved science fiction writers in helping him out with the scientists who he tried to intimidate, and with more and more evidence that climate scientists really know what they're talking about, it will become evident that they're pulling a con job. Look at Hansen's work, pretty good reproduction of the average global temperature. Also, look at the model validations, they reproduce the historical average temperature record _only_ when the anthropogenic forcings are included. Hect, they even reproduce the slight cooling that followed the Mt. Pinatubo explosion.

Posted by: peterp115 | September 29, 2005 08:03 PM

One more link for Les (Large-Eddy Simulation ?):

hey, you may wanna offer some unused clock cycles to the effort:

Posted by: peterp115 | September 29, 2005 09:36 PM

Just to address the "question" on G/W and hurricanes and not everyone's political bias that comes out on G/W(global warming). I scanned the comments and perhaps the following was mentioned but if not: on 8/2/05 on C-SPAN, Dr. Gerry Bell of the National Weather Service and others held a news conference on the hurricane season. he was asked about the influence of G/W and he said there was "very little" influence and he said it several times while stating they have very good data back to the 1870s on hurricanes. what causes hurricane activity to be mild or severe are "tropical atlantic temperatures" called the "multi-decadel signal" which last in cycles of 10-40 years. the current warmer/more severe cycle began in 1995 and higher ocean temps are a part of the tropical pattern. Dr. Bell said from the 1970s to 1995 was a mild cycle and he pointed out that coastlines were populated and developed during this mild period of hurricane activity. Max Mayfield of the United States Hurricane Center who was all over TV during the Katrina/Rita storms and was at the above news conference holds the same view as Dr. Bell about global warming's lack of influence and said so on other TV appearances as well. Likewise, noted hurricane expert, Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University agrees with these gentleman as does NOAA.

as for G/W in general, there is no debate the global temp has risen a small amount. obviously, if it hadn't 2/3rds of north america would still be covered by ice sheets. the truth, as recently stated by noted geographer Harm de Blij, also on C-SPAN, is the the earth is still in an "ice age" (an ice age and a glaciation are two distinct things) but is in an "inter-glacial" warming period which can last around 8-20,000 years - it is anticipated the next "glaciation" period will begin within the next 2000 years. one must remember these time frames are "the blink of an eye" in geological terms. the current debate is how much effect man made activities are contributing to current
temp rise and how much is natural and what if anything man can do to affect global temp in terms of actually changing it. the "kyoto treaty" is already failing as countries who signed it are realizing it affects economic growth. it seems to me that technological advances will ultimately be the answer not economic retrenchment which is unrealistic. i suggest the following books for anyone interested in this topic: "frozen earth" by Prof. MacDougall, U.C.-San Diego; "the life and death of planet earth" by Ward and Brownlee, U. of Washington; "why geography matters" by Harm de Blij-recently published; "the collapse of the kyoto protocol" by david victor of stanford univ. who concluded it was "an workable sham"; "the environmental case for nuclear power" by robert c. morris; and two books by skeptics: "the satanic gases" by patrick michaels and robert balling and "meltdown" on how the media, academics and others distort the issue by pat michaels - you will learn a lot from these last two books even if you disagree with them (both hold PHds).

Posted by: Ron | October 5, 2005 01:49 AM

I agree with you the way you view the issue. I remember Jack London once said everything positive has a negative side; everything negative has positive side. It is also interesting to see different viewpoints & learn useful things in the discussion.

Posted by: size genetics | October 19, 2005 08:14 PM

Ozone depletion - humans modifying the use of CFC gases = stabilization and reduction of the hole in the ozone layer over the antarctic.
The general concensus is that that Global Warming is due to carbon dioxide emissions, unless your source of all thing true is the FOX NEWS NETWORK
( the spin machine of a Government that governs for self interest and not for the good of its citizens or the world )
As a race we need to curb our greed and the whats good for me mentality. We need to make some sacrifices - reduce our emmisions no so we can stabilize our climate for future generations.
It's absurd to think that we are prepared to risk the future of our grandkids and great grandkids in the name of econimic self interest now. Lets look after the mighty greenback, put our heads in the sand and tell ourselves that this future nightmare is a natural cycle of the Earths climate.
The world looks to the U.S for leadership ...thank God for the Brits.

Posted by: informed Australian | October 25, 2005 07:58 PM

It is highly obvious that the Earth is getting warmer and our consumption rates are also increasing. There is a strong correlation on this!!! The politics of this world is based on greed. Do we change our lifestyle to fit other people agendas? Yes we should do, but unfortunately people generally do not do this at all. So we have to take charge of this and lead the way!!! Do not rely on others to do it or we will fall into cul-de-sac scenario. I would like re-educate all these capitalist who are basically getting brainwashed with their Business & Economics theories. Because of the first rule or principle of Economics is that "Our wants is unlimited" which means to me "It is good to be greedy". We need to change the definition because the whole capitalistic thinking is based upon Consumption. The more we consume, the more we use items or the more we use fuels, for instance more fossil fuels being consume (burn up during combustion and etc) therefore produces a greenhouse gas more like Carbon Dioxide or any other hydrocarbon gases (Methane) that is release into the atmosphere and etc. We need to change the definition to "our wants are unlimited within reason" taking note of scarce resources and other factors, such as human survival.

We also mention it causes the increase in temperature which leads to Global Warming and eventually leads to the polar caps are melting away which also leads to rising seas levels and eventually flooding of areas or even countries. Such as Bangladesh, Belgium, Maldives, Netherlands, Polynesia, Tuvalu. Other disasters are also link such as the El Nina effect due to warmer temperature effects of the Pacific Ocean which leads to heavy rains clouds and eventually leads to heavy raining and finally to mudslides in Philippines. Hurricane Katrina and other storms like Hurricane Rita will be more frequent due to the warmer temperature of the water in various oceans due to climatic change which is also link to El-Nino effect. So looking at the snow that is melting away from Greenland and Antarctica is a very strong indicator that the Earth is basically reshaping it selves for future that includes coastlines, weather patterns and types of agriculture plantation will change too.

Posted by: Altaff Aumeeruddy | February 20, 2006 10:17 PM

I am starting to notice that the media is getting confused!!!!!! They are getting confused with the different types of models or various types of calculations for Global Warming. We are hearing conflicting reports from various scientists and media sources. Also sensationalistic reporting does not help at all and hype reports swamps the real data and information on the Global Warming issue. What chance does the average Joe in the street understands what is going on Climate Change? No chance at all I think to myself!!!!! But one thing is definitely certain is 'the world's climate is changing rapidly and unexpectedly'.

Posted by: Altaff Aumeeruddy | February 23, 2006 02:34 PM

What I have notice is the politics of the Environment is sometimes far too regionalistic and people are not aware what is happening in other countries. Sometimes it is too selfish!! I think we must have new a type of dynamic thinking that bridges differences in culture, race and even religion. This is highly significant!!!!!! Our Earth is our home!!! This should be our motto for all of us!!!!!!!

I think people around the world must chat to each other on common grounds to form a common understanding. People must appeciate each other on different views and opinions and angles which is generally sincere and etc. This must be done for the survival of the planet!!!!!!!

I think the media in some countries are sometimes deplorable and sometimes the behaviour of media when doing stories is too hype and sensationalistic style of broadcasting which usually put people off the news. They like to create a spin which usually swamps the truth of the story.

I also think governments including the USA, in Europe and the rest of the world must set an example. They all must stop playing politics with the environment because our planet is so delicate and fragile. Our Biosphere is our home and it takes one factor of many to disturb our balance biosphere.

Sometimes governments use political manoeuvring for other issues concerning economy. I also think environmental disasters increase rapidly worldwide including the USA, Europe and the rest of the world. And therefore there will be no economy left to run to due to Globalisation as well as mutinationals are inter facets and etc.

All governments have a major responsibility and the power to make sure the planet is safe and environmentally sound!!!!!!!!!! With power comes responsibility, I expect governments of the world to act on that!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Altaff Aumeeruddy | February 23, 2006 06:20 PM

The problem of global climate change is conceptually quite simple. The sun heats the Earth and some of this heat, rather than escaping back to space, is trapped in the atmosphere by clouds and greenhouse gases, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide. This can be a good thing. If all of these greenhouse gases were to suddenly disappear, our planet would be 60°F colder and uninhabitable! However..... too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect and the greenhouse's warming effect can get so strong that the planet could overheat and become uninhabitable!

Since pre-industrial times atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O have climbed by over 30%, 145% and 15% respectively. Scientists have confirmed this is primarily due to human activity. We are committing ourselves to a warmer climate in the future. Even the low end of the United Nation's IPCC's protected range represents a rate of climate change unprecedented in the past 10,000 years.

check out George W Bush's USEPA's fifty fact sheets (one for each state) if you wonder if there is any doubt we are contributing, or wonder what are the impacts?

Posted by: LD | August 16, 2006 07:14 PM

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