P&S Type OK
I am considered ancient, 72, but fortunately still have good visual acuity. I find your type in Vol.29, No.1 more than adequate. Cheers,
America needs some blunt talk about global warming. Essentially every knowledgeable scientist now agrees that global warming is probably here now, and will almost certainly have serious and possibly damaging effects during the next century, yet our politics and our news media nearly ignore the entire issue. It is as though a man's home was obviously on fire and yet the owner was relaxing in the living room, taking no action, because the fire had not yet reached his sofa.
A few reality checks: Earth has already warmed by 0.8 o C during this century.1 It is likely that the 1990s have been the warmest decade of the past one thousand years.2 Global warming is raising the probability of weather extremes, creating hurricanes, rainstorms, and droughts that are especially intense. Examples include the Yangtze River flooding of 1998, the Red River valley flooding in the Dakotas in 1997, the Upper Mississippi Basin flooding in 1993, the droughts and fires in Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and Florida during 1997-98, and hurricanes Mitch and Floyd.3
A significant new finding has been added to this dreary mix: The floating sea ice associated with the Arctic ice cap, covering an area as large as the United States, is melting rapidly and is in danger of melting completely in only a few decades. There is little doubt (specifically, an 0.1 percent doubt) about the cause: human-caused global climate change. This melting will seriously alter Earth's reflectivity, converting the Arctic Ocean from a brilliantly white reflector sending 80% of solar energy back into space into a heat collector absorbing 80% of incident sunlight "with drastic climate implications for the Northern Hemisphere." 4
There is some good news: The notorious pro-fossil-fuel lobbying and propaganda organization known as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) is falling apart. Several Fortune 500 companies, including British Petroleum, Shell Oil, and Dow Chemical, have recently dropped out of the GCC. And just a few days ago Ford Motor Company announced that it also is quitting the GCC, stating that "credible evidence of global warming exists and companies should work together to find technological solutions."5
Effective remedial action is not yet even being discussed. A 50-80% reduction in carbon emissions is needed,6 yet emissions continue growing. The emissions reductions called for by the 1997 Kyoto global warming agreement are so small as to be practically meaningless.7 Several Senators, including my own state's Tim Hutchinson, are cosponsoring a bill to actually weaken the Kyoto agreement, exactly the opposite of what needs to be done.8 Serious action means massive reductions in our fossil fuel use, primarily coal-burning electric generating plants and motor vehicles.
The house is burning down, folks. It's time to get up from the sofa and put out the fire.
1. The earlier figure of 0.5 o C needs to be revised upward. See Kevin Trenberth, "The extreme weather events of 1997 and 1998," Consequences, Volume 5, Number 1 (1999), pp. 2-15.
2. Environmental Defense Fund, "Global warming: Projections for the new millennium," 3 December 1999, available at www.edf.org. Also see Reuters News Service report, 3 March 1999.
3. See Trenberth, ref. 1.
4. Science 3 December 1999, p. 1828, pp. 1934-1937, pp. 1937-1939. Also Barbara Levi, Physics Today, January 2000, p. 19. Also the Associated Press report, dated 3 December 1999.
5. Associated Press report, 7 December 1999.
6. U. S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Changing by Degrees, 1991, p. 4.
7. Science 19 December 1997, p. 2048.
8. Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Climate Change Legislation," 14 June 1999.
Professor Emeritus of Physics
University of Arkansas
I read your article "Kansas School Board - A Giant Leap Backwards" with some amusement, and a great deal of concern. It seems to me that the "scientific community" is neither "shocked" or "outraged" about this decision as your article claimed. In fact, I cannot find anyone with the slightest bit of outrage, and to my knowledge no one has been treated for shock. Most just shake their heads. But I am very, very concerned about the response of the leaders of the scientific community. I ask all of your readers what real change will anyone make in their life if the universe is only 10,000 years old, or if they were not a result of DNA mutations of some ape. Quite frankly I can think none, at least none that would be harmful to society. On the other hand, if we should fix this outrageous problem by amending the Kansas State Constitution to make the State Board of Education appointed rather than elected we do take a giant leap backwards, a leap away from democracy. We need to let democracy work, it is the friend of truth, not the enemy. Think very carefully if you really want a governor appointing such a board, could not the concentrating of power someday lead to a much worse situation? How about a national board to dictate what all children must be taught? Do we need to be reminded of Nazi Germany, or of the many countries that currently teach their own version of history? As for me, I choose democracy.
Dr. Alvin J. Drehman
Air Force Research Laboratory
Dr. Drehman "cannot find anyone with the slightest bit of outrage", but a perusal of Science, Nature or other science magazines, as well as the news articles on the subject will enable one to find hundreds, if not thousands, of outraged scientists. Please note the article by Adrian Melott in this issue as well as the front page of the Jan, 2000 issue of APS News. As to "what real change will anyone make in their life", one should note that virtually all of 20th century biology is based on evolution, and modern biology is certainly relevant to all of us. His point about democracy is well-taken; a better solution than making the Kansas School Board appointed would be to vote them out in the next election.