Heated Over Global Warming

AFTER all the warnings of a manmade global warming climate change, some experts now advise us to cool the anxiety. The computer studies behind the warnings are too ``iffy'' to be credible, they say. That's nice to know. But it doesn't help responsible government officials decide what to do about the pollution that is supposed to be driving the warming.

The fuss among the experts is really over a scientific nonissue.

They all agree that the computer projections have serious drawbacks. They agree that human activity is putting heat-trapping gases - notably carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels - into the air at a rate that, theoretically, could warm Earth by several degrees Celsius over the next 50 to 100 years. They agree that the way the ocean and general cloudiness adjust to this trend will likely determine if and how much warming occurs. They also agree that present computer simulations can't take adequate account of these crucial factors. Hence the uncertainty of global warming forecasts.

Given the consensus on these basic points, there is no serious scientific controversy. The concerns are political.

Environmental advocates, including some of the climate experts, use possible global warming to push their agenda for energy conservation, reduced fossil fuel use, and increased aid to help third-world nations develop in environmentally sound ways. These are important goals, rightly belonghigh on the international political agenda.

But as nations begin to consider possibly sweeping economic changes to meet such goals, critics warn there is no scientific justification to make such changes. The global warming forecasts are too vague to be a basis for serious policymaking.

This, naturally, enrages the environmentalists. Yet, even politically, the ensuing controversy seems to involve a nonissue.

The critics suggest policymakers should wait for better forecasts. One of the leading statements - a study issued by the George C. Marshall Institute - urges the United States to put $100 million into more powerful computers and to beef up geophysical observations. It suggests these could bring more certainty to the forecasts in three to five years. That seems wishful. While they probably will improve, global warming forecasts are likely to be unclear for many years to come.

Relevant policymaking should proceed in spite of climatic uncertainty. The measures needed to ameliorate a possible manmade global warming should be taken anyway for their own sake. We need to curb fossil fuel pollution, including acid rain, whatever the climatic outlook. We need worldwide energy conservation. Economically advanced nations need to help the less advance develop in ways that protect our common planetary environment.

Political leaders should get on with policy making to advance these inherently worthwhile goals and forget the cat fight among the climatologists.

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