Sudden New Heat on Global Warmth as Climate Changes, Industry Skeptics Join Clinton in Bid to Curb Greenhouse Gases

Article excerpt

A few months into his presidency, Bill Clinton got burned on global warming.

He proposed a tax on fuels that produce carbon dioxide, the main "greenhouse gas" many scientists believe is the culprit behind climate change. But the "carbon tax" idea went nowhere - and that was even before Republicans took over Congress - and Mr. Clinton fell back on proposals relying largely on voluntary efforts.

Now, the White House once again is emphasizing what is becoming a profound environmental issue that could have universal impact. Meeting with industry leaders this week, Clinton cited "pretty clear evidence that the climate is changing" and called for "realistic but binding limits to emissions of greenhouse gases." The key word here was "binding," meaning that strict limits would have to be met.

The White House activity comes at a time when the prospect of global warming, while still a subject of considerable scientific and political debate, seems to be more of a certainty. And it follows a shift in position by some industry skeptics who now agree that steps should be taken to head off global warming.

British Petroleum has broken from its oil-producing colleagues to acknowledge the likely existence of global warming. And major insurance companies around the world (which must cover the cost of property damage when extreme weather events occur) have called for "early, substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."

"The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on climate," says Jane Lubchenco, professor of zoology at Oregon State University and one of seven prominent scientists who recently briefed the president and Vice President Al Gore on the latest evidence that human activities are affecting climate patterns around the world.

The event (which featured three Nobel laureates) was seen by the White House as an opportunity to educate the public as well on a subject that can seem arcane and threatening.

Dr. Lubchenco cites as evidence increases in recorded temperatures, changes in sea levels, increases in the incidence of tropical diseases, and more instances of extreme weather events such as floods, hurricanes, and droughts.

"You can't say that this flood or this hurricane or this drought was caused by climate change," cautions Lubchenco, who recently finished up a term as president of the 144,000-member American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). "What you can say is that we are seeing increases in the frequency of these things, and those increases are consistent with the predictions of the {computer} models."

This, in essence, is the same thing some 2,500 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have said in recent reports. …