TOPICS > Science

Climate Tension

July 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


BETTY ANN BOWSER: For months the G-8 chairman, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been beating the drum for agreement on climate change.

TONY BLAIR: Climate change is in my view long-term the single biggest issue that we face. And the brutal truth is, without America in the process of dialogue and action in the international community, we aren’t going to make progress on it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Blair continued to press for support on an aggressive plan to curb global warming when he met with the president last month at the White House, but Mr. Bush said the U.S. needs more research.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In terms of climatechange, I’ve always said it’s a serious long-term issue that needs to be dealt with. And my administration isn’t waiting around to deal with the issue, we’re acting. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent on research about climate change. We want to know more about it. It’s easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In recent weeks, several publications have reported that administration officials watered down negative language on global warming in documents to be presented to the G-8 meeting.

The British newspaper The Observer reported that leaked documents showed administration officials removed all reference to global warming as a serious threat to human health and ecosystems, deleted any suggestion that global warming has started, and expunged any suggestion that humans were to blame.

When asked about the reports, the president’s top environmental advisor, Jim Connaughton, did not deny them; instead, he said climate change will still be an important issue at the summit.

JIM CONNAUGHTON: The G-8 will be historic coming together. The first conversation of the G-8 leaders of this type focused on climate change. The leaders will indicate that we need to integrate our management strategies on energy security, reducing harmful air pollution, while we deal with the long term issue of reducing greenhouse gases. And then we’ll have a broad plan of action that will set forth to implement those objectives, so it’s going to be a very constructive and very positive outcome.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Scientists explain global warming as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the loweratmosphere, making the Earth warmer. They also say that’s why glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and Iceland are melting at alarming rates, coral reefs are dying from warmer water, and sea levels are rising.

But President Bush’s policy on climate change has been at odds with most of the scientific community. In his first term, Mr. Bush said the U.S. would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement signed by 141 countries that promise to reduce greenhouse gases.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The approach taken under the Kyoto Protocol would have required the United States to make deep and immediate cuts in our economy to meet an arbitrary target. It would have cost our economy up to $400 billion, and we would have lost 4.9 million jobs.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Bush administration has consistently said more research needs to be done on why the Earth is heating up, particularly man’s role in that. But most members of the scientific community say there is already enough valid science. Dr. Ralph Cicerone is the new president of the National Academy of Sciences, and an expert on climate change.

DR. RALPH CICERONE: The Earth is warming up and the climate is always changing throughout earth’s history, but the warming, especially the last twenty-five to thirty years, has been most noticeable, very well documented and rapid.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Scientists here at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, have been studying global warming for three decades. Senior scientist Gerald Meehl says the most dramatic warming so far took place at the end of the last century.

GERALD MEEHL: Most of that change is probably due to human activity. And so that’s a fairly powerful smoking gun statement, where you connect human activity to a climate change in a way that is fairly robust in terms of the studies that have been done and the numbers of people around the world that have looked at this. It’s not just U.S. scientists that look; this is the international climate science community that makes these kinds of studies.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Although, the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the president hasused an approach to the problem that measures the gases against an economic model. Under the president’s “Clean Skies” initiative, gases would be calculated by something called “greenhouse gas intensity.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our immediate goal is to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy. My administration is committed to cutting our nation’s greenhouse gas intensity, how much we emit per unit of economic activity, by 18 percent over the next ten years.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality says intensity is a very effective way to make progress.

JIM CONNAUGHTON: Emissions intensity is the amount of greenhouse gases per unit of economic activity. That’s one of the best measures because, for example, in the United States we have a growing population and a growing economy.

Our goal is to first slow the growth of greenhouse gasses. Then as the science justifies, stop the growth and reverse it. That’s a sensible course of action; it’s similar to what happened with air pollution in United States over the last 100 years.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Connaughton also said the administration’s $20 billion energy program is moving forward on other fronts, with a hydrogen cell car initiative, participation in a project to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source, and promoting other technologies.

The president’s climate change policies have met with opposition. There have been demonstrations at home and around the world.

SPOKESMAN: Three months into his administration I think we now — and I say this with incredible regret and anger are facing the most anti-environmental president in modern history.

SPOKESMAN: The energy plan will greatly increase the problem, and does not provide a solution. It’s going 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and it definitely shows that the U.S. is not sincere in helping the world.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Now, for the first time, the National Academy of Sciences has joined 10 other national science academies in urging world leaders to acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing, to address its causes, and prepare for its consequences.

SPOKESMAN: In another way it’s a demonstration that the Academies of Sciences around the world want to work together from a common base of information, and with the most common goals that we can end up with. So slowing down the build up of these greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is a commonly adopted goal.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The international climate change scientific community will be watching closely as the seven industrialized nations and Russia talk about global warming this week.