"Climate Change and global warming: the challenges and opportunities for international solutions to sustain our Earth"
by Dr. J. Siry

There is no more pervasive, persistent and daunting problem for us to face together than the opportunities and the challenges posed by global warming. From now until  the next century our means of generating electricity, traveling to work, producing food, harvesting timber and meeting the production needs of industrial society will all have to consider the consequences and costs of destabilizing the planet's thermal insulator: called "the Greenhouse effect."

Over six billion people now are disrupting the actual composition of the very air we all breathe by the cumulative size of our impacts, the depth of our demands and the duration of our affects on earth. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can in a moment of silence. We ought to dedicate a moment of silence to those who died this year from respiratory diseases exacerbated or caused by air and thermal pollution.


The ecological problem of “climate change” or disruption of the greenhouse effect is really no farther away from us than the air sacs or alveoli in our lungs. There is no more intimate and systemic problem on earth that is less understood. Accumulating greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide - CO2 , methane, nitrous oxide and trace compounds are abundant in the air and can dangerously alter the earth’s thermostat.

The scientific evidence for global warming presents a compelling case for immediate action: Delay is our worst enemy as recent findings have cleared up significant uncertainties.

• Humans have been releasing unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) or hothouse gas pollution from fossil fuel use and deforestation.

• As a direct result, concentrations of hothouse gases in the atmosphere are at their highest levels in the last 400,000 years.  Carbon dioxide concentrations are over 360 parts per million

• (PPM), 30% above pre-industrial levels of 270 to 280 PPM. That means we have measured more than a 1 PPM / annum increase every year since 1958.

• Carbon isotope ratio’ analysis of Antarctic and Greenland ice core samples proves a large human contribution to increases in GHGs.  (Wigley, 1999)
• Surface air temperature increases of 0.7 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 100 years are “undoubtedly real.”

• The warmest decade on record is the 1990s.  Seven warmest years ever recorded are 1999, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1991, 1990.  (Jones et al., 1999)

• Increases in ocean temperatures provided by NOAA research shows the first finding of evidence from three major oceans.  This is consistent with the global warming trend observed in surface temperature records.  (Science, March 24, 2000)

• The rate of increase in temperatures is advancing in the 1990s.

• 80 initial signals or more reveal the effects of climate change and are identified in a peer-reviewed study, summarized in the attached global map.  (Global Warming:  Early Warning Signs, UCS Map)

• Warming of 3.4 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit is projected from 1990 to 2100 under business as usual scenarios.

No longer can we say that nature will take its own course for we have inadvertently, ignorantly and insensitively altered the thermal capacity of the oceans and the atmosphere to protect us. Ocean and air have conspired for millennia to protect people from catastrophic storms, droughts, floods, fires and other uncharacteristic hazards of living on this small blue planet.

The current realization that we have destabilized the atmosphere has a long scientific pedigree. In the 1830s French mathematician Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier hypothesized that the carbon content of the air could raise its radiative capacity to store heat. In the 1890s Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius proved the actual quantities of carbon dioxide necessary to raise the temperature per volume of carbon content. In this century we have advanced to the point of conducting this experiment on ourselves. We are today seeing the precise affects of excessive carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide waste gas in the air and the oceans.

I should say will be seeing because carbon dioxide generated in 1902 is still, theoretically lingering in the atmosphere. Clearly the rapidly rising rate of CO2 in the air is accumulating to such an unprecedented degree that scientists worldwide have asked us to consider the consequences and reduce the need for fossil fuel combustion.

Not since nuclear fallout or Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson have the dimensions of an ecological problem been so immense and enduring with respect to the way we live our lives. At stake is the health of our children and the life that sustains the wildlife and fisheries of this planet, Earth.

Climate scientist, Thomas Wigley has said: “Today  it is clear that human influences, particularly those related to energy use and land-use changes (including desertification) can also change the climate.” (3)  He and thousands of other skeptical scientists have argued that “The consequences...  are potentially serious.” So significant were their concerns that in 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed “to provide reliable policy-relevant and policy neutral information.”

On October 26, 2000, the findings of the IPCC were leaked to the New York Times. Scientists today have moved from cautious conservatism they possessed in 1995 to a compelling belief that “Greenhouse gases produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels are altering the atmosphere in ways that affect earth's climate.”  Science reporter, Andrew C. Revkin, quoting empirical findings, wrote “it is likely that they have ‘contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years,’ an international panel of climate scientists has concluded. The panel said temperatures could go higher than previously predicted if emissions are not curtailed.”

The article went on to explain the context of this report which “represents a significant shift in tone from couched to relatively confident for the panel of hundreds of scientists, which issued two previous” IPCC “assessments of the research into global warming theory, in 1995 and 1990.”


Let me briefly summarize the past two years of science reporting:

Each new scientific finding only raises new questions -- meaning it is time for a new approach: if we look at practical steps to reduce our vulnerability to today’s weather
 “Breaking the Global-Warming Gridlock,” Daniel Sarewitz & Roger Pielke Jr.
The Atlantic Monthly, (July, 2000), pp. 55 - 64.

Europeans interpret evidence that increasing consumption is driving human-induced global warming from CO2 emissions

“Involving the Public in Climate and Energy Decisions,” Bernd Kasemir, et. al.
Environment, (April, 2000), pp. 32-41.

Over the next 50 years we can broadly understand how humans are affecting global and regional climate patterns and the long residence time of greenhouse gas emissions require monitoring improvements begin now...

The Human Impact on Climate, Karl & Trenberth,
Scientific American, 281:6, (December, 1999), pp. 100 -105.

How much of a disruption do we really cause? New evidence leads to increasing concern that human-induced global warming from CO2 emissions is already here.

“Case Grows For Climate Change,” Bette Hileman,
Chemical and Engineering News, (Volume 77, Number 32), August 9, 1999, pp. 16-23.
Red Mangrove - a salt tolerant forest vegetation is expanding its range in the Everglades and the state tree, sable Palm is drowning along the west coast in salt water from sea level rise.
“Trouble in Paradise: the Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity and Ecosystems in Florida,”
Adam Markham, (World Wildlife Fund Report) January, 1999-2000.

Compelling comparative evidence that increasing temperatures and CO2 emissions from human-induced global warming are closely related.

The Science of Climate Change: Global and US Perspectives, Wigley, Tom M.L. (1999), Pew Center for Global Climate Change,
Sr., Sc., Nat. Center for Atmo. Research, pp. 3-5.

Investigation of the means to diversify the fuels used by industrial societies based on the concern that fossil fuels’ high costs for transportation will slow global development

Reinventing the Energy System, Christopher Flavin & Seth Dunn,
State of the World: 1999, pp, 22-40.

A comprehensive review of the science, impacts, consequences and political motivation for global warming stalemate is examined and a call for action proposed to limit GHG pollution.

Ecologist, (April, 1999), entire edition. “Biomass Energy and Carbon Sinks” David O. Hall,
Environment, (January-February, 1999, p. 5.

Forecasts about the abundance of oil are warped by inconsistent definitions of “reserves.” In truth, every year for the past two decades the industry has pumped more oil than it has discovered, and the production will soon be unable to keep up with rising demand.

The End of Cheap Oil,  Colin J. Campbell & Jean H. Laberrére,
Scientific American, 278:3 (March, 1998), pp. 78-83.

Scientific evidence has become so convincing that it compels us ask two fundamental questions. One is what are we trying to do? How can we most effectively and harmlessly do it? Once you frame the questions this way, serious conservation becomes the most conservative thing you may do, because you do more with less. Thus to adopt reasonable, readily available and functionally effective technology to substantially increase efficient energy use, reduce fuel waste you actually save money and reduce hothouse, or greenhouse (GHG) gas emissions that generate thermal pollution. Thermal pollution is the driver of a runaway greenhouse effect now underway.

Here is where your role becomes doubly important. The twofold role each of us has in creating and solving global warming is matched by our private actions and our public voices. Weather or not you will sit idly by and leave the adoption of correctives to others is not my decision. This is a problem created by technology and we have the tools to make the changes. We now must develop the will power to change our behavior, improve our health and save vital resources while actually spending less money and using fewer resources over the long-term.

Consider these dozen readily available, yet costly solutions to reducing our waste of energy and pollution from fossil fuels if the US were a leader in advocating serious, consistent and meaningful emission reductions:

• hydrogen fuels cells in homes and vehicles.
• Mixed Fuel Vehicles: MFV (electric and gasoline).
• Alternative Fueled Vehicles: AFV or natural gas fueled transportation.
• Zero Emission Vehicles: (electrical, or hydrogen fueled).
• Solar thermal for heating water.
• Solar electric panels for pumping water and lighting.
• Compact Fluorescent Bulbs reduce 800 tons of CO2 emissions.
• energy efficient ballast in fluorescent lighting (cooler and efficient).
• timers, motion detectors and sensors & light emitting diodes (LEDs).
• insulation & ventilation so we cease air conditioning the outdoors.
• highly efficient appliances.
• daylighting, blinds and window treatment.
• shade trees, xeric landscapes that preserve water and cool buildings.

Why are they costly? Because by business as usual we have created an uneven energy playing field. This is a rigged market in favor of reducing the costs and contamination of fossil fuels in order to use more energy instead of allowing coal and oil to compete fairly on a level playing field with cleaner more efficient fuels. From $60 to $100 billion dollars per year in tax breaks to coal, oil, and nuclear fuels is transferred from the taxpayers, rate payers and the government to private industry. With the lowest fuel prices in the world, the United States has still not seriously
invested in fuel efficiency and energy conservation.

Here is where your private actions come in because you stand to save money with modest investments in reducing your commercial, residential and transportation uses of energy. In your churches, schools, or homes you can become energy wise and kilowatt for pound reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. The money you keep can be put toward things you really want or need to save for a rainy day.

Your public voice must also be raised to support energy conservation reform. From advocating adoption of state wide measures, to national legislation for efficiency and automotive health and safety, you must lend me your voice to improve on business as usual. In one chorus we must ask for clean fuels, clean cars, clean power and clean air. Allow our children to live in a healthier world and our seniors to breathe easier by supporting reform. This means enlarging a level playing field for clean fuels, investments in climate friendly technologies and job training to hire our youth in energy efficient commercial, industrial and service employment. By diversifying our use of fuels to supply our services two very substantial benefits will occur. First the national reliance on imported oil will cease growing to the extent it has since the Ford years. Second the sue of solar sighting, solar thermal and solar electric technology means that people in Florida, in your town of Sarasota, will have good jobs that cannot be exported overseas.

To remain silent in the face of this vast peril we can avert is to cynically regress. Join our effort to efficiently redesign our living so we may protect the things we most cherish; energy conservation remains our best means to save money, the earth and one another.

Without altering your present way of living significant reductions in pollution can occur with just the following remedial steps.

• efficient lighting with compact florescent bulbs.
• more efficient electrical motors.
• timers & sensors to turn off unnecessary appliances when not in use.
• site sensitive (to conditions) placement of structures minimizing fuel.
• cost effectively efficient appliances.

Between twenty to forty percent of current electrical needs can be reduced by just these modest initial actions. Because so many of us, waste so much energy with so little regard to the accumulating costs, even a few people making small changes have an enormous impact. The same conservative approach to water use, which also requires electricity to pump water, means even greater savings to municipalities and commercial consumers.

Since utilities are responsible for half of the green-house gas emissions in Florida, streamlining our personal uses of energy can seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The other source of thermal air pollution is vehicular traffic. No large state in the nation has worse mass transit than does Florida, and no large state in the nation has worse highway congestion. Reducing emissions in these areas will be more difficult, but no less beneficial. First he message is that you do not have to abandon your automobiles. For example there are cars on the market today that get 60 mpg and there have been prototypes for years that can get 160 mpg. Increasing fuel efficiency reduces importing of expensive and polluting oil. The question then is not how, but when will we act?

Frequently the critics of global warming argue that the economic competitiveness of the United States vis a vis the rest of the world would be jeopardized by a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. Leaving aside the argument that children with asthma and elderly people with chronic bronchial symptoms will benefit from clean air and thereby reduce costly health care, consider Japan and Germany. As the world’s largest economies after the US, these two nations use way less energy per capita than does the US. While the density of these countries is more like St. Petersburg or Miami Beach than it is comparable to Gainesville or Lakeland, European economies are generally far more energy thrifty than comparable businesses in this country. That means they have a competitive edge, not because they have more fuel, but because they use what they have more wisely. Since the Eisenhower administration the US has been a net importer of fuel, even though we have huge reserves of oil and gas, we consume more than we produce. Only Russia and Arabia have greater deposits of petroleum than does the US. Where is the conservative wisdom in spending more than you take in? Because we are energy inefficient our economy is actually less productive per unit of energy consumed than any on earth, accounting for the fact the 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are produced in the US.

As we enter the new century one thing is very clear, sea level is rising at a faster rate than ever before, temperatures of the ocean surface and deep currents are higher than ever recorded (150 years), and there is an acceleration in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Not in the last 400,000 years has there been this quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the life time of you grandchildren and great grandchildren sea level is predicted to increase between 2 and 3 feet due to the thermal expansion of the oceans. As glaciers melt and sea ice is no longer a moderating impact on global climatic conditions ask yourselves two questions. If you are about to enter a dangerous situation does the prudent person take precautions? Or do we continue as we have for fifty years, borrowing oil from Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Mexico, exporting our jobs to Asia and Latin America and using solar technology in outer space?

We have the technical capability to change our behavior to preserve our way of life and work. But do we have the capacity to make these changes? If as the Chinese say the journey of a thousand miles begins with one footstep, then the course to conserving energy and protecting your health and environment begins by changing one light bulb, one appliance and one thriftless habit at a time.

  This finding addresses questions raised by a lower temperature increase from satellite measurements; the remaining discrepancy is likely a statistical sampling issue arising from the short length of the satellite record.  (National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, January 2000).

  Radiative forcing of Climate Change, IPCC, Climate Change 1995: Science of Climate Change, pp. 75- 131. Elaboration of the physics behind atmospheric gas behavior and the uncertainties surrounding oceanic and atmospheric consequences of a rapid rise of thermal insulating gases.

Global Climate Change, Reinhardt & Vietor, Business Management and the Natural Environment: Cases & Text, (Cincinnati, Ohio: ITP, 1996), pp. 4-44 - 4-75. A comparison of contrasting evidence leads to increasingly inconclusive debate between two options: the costs of slowing greenhouse gas emissions versus adapting to sea level rise and other externalities. “No single country could significantly affect global levels of greenhouse gases through unilateral action.”

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