Heating Up for Global Warning: Research and Policy

Article excerpt

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When the film An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, won the 2006 Academy Award for best documentary feature, it focused people's attention on the climate crisis (www.climatecrisis.net; www.oscars.org/79academy awards/nomswins.html). In the documentary, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore presented his renowned global warming slideshow with enhanced footage depicting the causes and effects of global warming and his commitment to informing others about it. The film's evolution actually began in the late 1960s during Gore's college years at Harvard University. It was there that he learned about the increase of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) in the Earth's atmosphere from the late Roger Lavelle, who was one of the lead scientists planning experiments for the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year and who proposed to Charles D. Keeling the first large-scale measurements of C[O.sub.2] in the Earth's atmosphere.

Adding to his Oscar, Gore was named as co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts. Details about this award and its recipients are on the Nobel Foundation's website (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007).

How effective was An Inconvenient Truth in spreading the word about global warming? A look at newspaper coverage of the topics related to global warming and climate change, based on searches in InfoTrac Custom Newspapers, provides an answer. The documentary film received its theatrical release in June 2006, and media promotions began 1 to 2 months prior. Newspapers have shown a marked increase in the coverage of global warming news in the past 15 to 18 months.

SCIENCE AND POLICY DRIVERS SINCE 2000

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; www.ipcc.ch) issued a series of state-of-the-art scientific documents, Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). These reports were written, peer-reviewed, and commented on by panels of scientists from around the world. There are four components of this Report--"Working Group I Report (WGI): The Physical Science Basis"; "Working Group II Report (WGII): Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"; "Working Group III Report (WGIII): Mitigation of Climate Change"; and "The AR4 Synthesis Report." It was for the efforts of the IPCC in bringing a dedicated, scientific assessment on the issues related to global warming that they share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Gore.

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While there is not total unanimity about the scientific assessments presented in these reports, there is compelling evidence indicating that human-induced changes to the climate over the past 3 decades have recognizably affected many physical and biological aspects of the Earth's biogeochemical systems. The international news tracking and reporting service Truthout (www.truthout.org) has nearly 200 articles related to the IPCC reports and the reactions to them from around the world. In a Scientific American article ("The Physical Science behind Climate Change," August 2007, pp. 64-73), William Collins and his co-authors discuss why "climatologists are confident that human activity is to blame for a warming world."

The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), which discusses the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy, is considered the most accurate economic assessment on this topic. The primary conclusions state that 1% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) must be invested annually to prevent the direst effects of global warming. Stern stated in British Broadcasting Corp. interviews prior to his report's official release, "Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. …