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Can’t Stand the Heat?

By Lyle V. Harris (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) - August 23, 2007

A legislative hearing at the state Capitol this week was officially titled “Global Warming: Debunking the Myth or a Need for Climate Change Policy.”

A more fitting description would have been “Global Warming for Dummies.”

The three-hour spectacle wasn’t intended as a forthright and balanced discussion about what’s arguably the most important environmental challenge of our generation. It was a rigged show trial contrived to further obscure an issue that has left many thoughtful Americans and their elected officials understandably bewildered.

Most of those invited to testify at the panel came with a mission, to try to belittle and demean the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific community that global warming is real, that it poses a serious threat and that to a large degree it is probably caused by mankind.

The lone defender of the scientific mainstream invited to speak before the state House Energy Utility and Telecommunications Committee was Robert Dickinson of Georgia Tech, an eminent, soft-spoken academic who has spent more than a decade examining climate changes linked to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, his calm, scientifically calibrated testimony was all but drowned out by the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” rhetoric of his fellow panelists, who repeated the main talking points of the increasingly isolated and discredited global-warming deniers:

• Greedy/lonely scientists are just making the whole thing up to get more government funding/fame.

• The vast majority of climate experts are naively mistaken or woefully misguided about the clear evidence of global warming and its potential consequences.

• Since it’s getting hotter anyway, just wear sunscreen.

It’s worth noting that several skeptics on the panel, like others who pitch similar nonsense, have received substantial funding from corporate interests that have spent millions trying to convince the public that global warming doesn’t exist. For the record, the predicted signs of global warming — melting sea ice, rising temperatures, etc. — have come even more quickly and dramatically than scientists had expected. If the trend continues, the brain-melting temperatures and relentless droughts that Georgia has been experiencing could become more common.

But to listen to some of Georgia’s elected leadership, all is just dandy.

“What this has done is it has affirmed my assumption coming in here that there are too many opinions on this subject” to draw a conclusion, state Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn) said after the hearing, thus justifying doing nothing.

The good news is, the opinions of Georgia state legislators don’t carry much weight in the larger debate, not when previous skeptics such as President Bush (the former denier-in-chief) now admit publicly that man-made global warming is a serious problem.

Slowly but inevitably, the scientific consensus about global warming has begun to create a political consensus about the steps needed to address the problem:

• Failing to limit emissions of greenhouse gases is short-sighted. The United States, which produces the bulk of those emissions, should be at the forefront of international efforts to limit concentration of those gases in the atmosphere, if only to buy governments and their citizens more time to adapt to coming climate change.

• Our nation should invest more heavily in the next generation of cleaner fuels, particularly renewables such as biofuels, solar and wind that help reduce pollution. Doing so will create jobs and boost the economy by creating new markets for homegrown products and technologies.

• America should also lead the way in energy efficiency. Instead of merely building more power plants, for example, we need to commit ourselves to consuming less energy and squeezing the most out of every gallon, watt and therm we do consume.

There’s nothing revolutionary in such steps, and most will produce other benefits as well, such as reducing our reliance on foreign oil and making our economy more efficient.

Even while we continue to study global warming, the time for action is now.