The Climate Change Connection

By Helvarg, David | American Forests, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

The Climate Change Connection


Helvarg, David, American Forests


"If you liked El Nino for the last several months, you will love the 21st century if we keep on the path we're on," President Clinton warned last spring in a California speech promoting energy conservation and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In June Vice President Al Gore held a White House press conference to announce findings by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that suggested global warming may have also contributed to the appearance of more frequent and more severe El Nino events over the past two decades. "This wetter and warmer winter that we've just experienced gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in a greenhouse-gas, globally warmed world," said NOAA administrator James Baker.

"We've seen unusual changes since 1976 with more El Ninos and the two biggest recorded El Ninos in 1982-83 and 1997-98. This raises questions of whether this is being caused by climate change," agrees Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.Trenberth, who also spoke at the White House press conference, explains that aEI Ninos take place partly in response to heat buildup, as a way to get heat out of the tropical Pacific... the idea is that with more heat going into the atmosphere (from global warming) you'll have more El Nino events."

More than 2,500 of the world's leading scientists, organized as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have already reported that the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels such as oil and coal has contributed to a 1 degree increase in world temperature over the last century. They project that without drastic corrective action, temperatures around the world will rise another 1.8 to 6.3 degrees over the next century. Along with rising sea levels and more severe storms, they expect extensive loss of forest because of weather-related increases in fires and insect damage, as well as some species' inability to adapt to a rapidly warming climate. …

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