Global Warning

What do you get when greenhouse gases inspire greenhouse guesses? A heated argument--but not much scientific agreement.

Rather than drastic emissions cuts, Trenberth favors small incentives to start the process--such as adding a penny a gallon every year to the gas tax in order to gently wean Americans from their gas hogs. In part because of government subsidies, American gas prices are far lower than those in Europe; when Americans realize the true cost of energy use, Trenberth says, they'll cut back--particularly if the government "maybe even makes it neutral by having a tax savings in some other area."

Industry could also be given tax incentives to become more efficient and to develop other energy sources. Such initiatives, he says, could slow global warming.

And if it occurs gradually, global warming may not be so bad after all, Trenberth suggests, risking the ire of his compatriots. "I saw a paper from Canada talking about global warming, and they were like, 'Hey, global warming...sounds great!'"

As politicians debate the issue on a global level, closer to home the discussion continues to be intensely personal.

NCAR's Mickey Glantz says he once tried to broach the subject with his colleagues of who would be winners and who would be losers if the global-warming threat were real. "But they didn't want to hear about winners," he says, "because the winners would be the people who create the most greenhouse gases and live in the northern hemisphere, which might see benefits like longer growing seasons. They didn't want to hear it...just like they don't want to hear anything the other side has to say.

"They don't pay attention to things that refute their cases," Glantz says. "They know their arguments' weaknesses and avoid talking about them. I've seen a respected scientist at NCAR throw away a letter from a colleague who challenged his theory rather than respond to it. And on this subject, you're disloyal if you don't speak with one voice."

And the global-warming naysayers are just as guilty of ignoring the evidence as are global-warming proponents, he says. "They want to say the glass of evidence is 25 percent empty rather than 75 percent full," Glantz continues.

When it comes to global warming, Glantz divides the scientific world into thirds: doves on one side, hawks on the other, and owls in the middle. "Most scientists, I believe, are owls," he says. "They may be leaning one way or the other, but the science isn't there yet. The hawks, meanwhile, have floodwaters lapping at our doors, while the doves are out there saying that more carbon dioxide will be good for plants."

And so scientists are under pressure from the public and policy-makers to give definitive answers when they don't yet exist. As a recognized authority on El Nino, Glantz is irritated by scientists who make statements to the media about what the phenomenon will mean to specific areas of the country. "I get calls from someone who wants to know how much snow he'll get in Boston because of El Nino," he says. "He's heard some scientist saying 300 inches, so now he's worried. But they don't know, and I don't know.

"We've had big El Nino years when California had a drought, and El Nino years when California was deluged with rain...a few miles either way and you get an entirely different scenario.

"The science has become irrelevant," he says. "It's politics that primes the public-policy pump.

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