Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Having a Heat Wave

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Having a Heat Wave

Article excerpt

The polar ice caps are melting, islands are sinking, and coastal cities are drowning, pushing humans toward the hinterlands. It sounds like a B-movie, a prequel to Waterworld, the much-maligned Kevin Costner film about an Earth covered with water. Is it realistic? Perhaps, according to those scientists who proclaim that an increase in global warming will cause just such calamitous changes in Earth's ecosystems.

The issues of global warming have been hotly debated in recent years. On the one hand are the forecasters who say that human-induced climate change will cause irreversible changes in our environment--from rising sea levels to shifting storm patterns to forced migrations of flora and fauna. On the other hand is the rosier view that human-induced global climate change will amount to no more than a fraction of a degree per decade--hardly enough to break into a sweat.

According to Indur M. Goklany, an assistant director of Science and Technology in the Department of the Interior, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is hardly the world's most-pressing environmental problem. Although he recognizes the downside of human-induced climate change, he argues that Earth has more pressing problems. For instance, he's more concerned about curing illnesses like malaria, since curing these illnesses is easier than trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the payoff is much greater.

Chris Forest and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology take a middle of the road position about global warming. They compare the evidence of global warming to the average person's evidence of a gain in body weight. Just how reliable is the evidence, and what are the contributing factors? We may want to blame our weight gain on eating too many sweets, but can we accurately assign blame for global warming on human-induced climate change? Before we can debate the issue intelligently, Forest says, we must understand the nature and reliability of the evidence from both sides. …

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