Global warming is no longer a laughing matter

February 04, 2007|by LINDA DUFFIELD

"We're creating a different planet. If you were to come ... back in 100 years' time, we'll have a different climate."

- Kevin Trenberth, one of the report's authors and director of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

It has been probably 15 years since I saw comedian George Carlin perform at The Maryland Theatre. His standup routine that night included a bit that, according to about a zillion sites on the Web, is titled "The Planet Is Fine."

That monologue of Carlin's stuck in my mind all these years, I guess because I found the premise fascinating and believable.


The point of the bit, in a nutshell, is: How arrogant are we humans to think that we need to save the planet. Long before we can do irreparable harm to Earth, the planet will become uninhabitable and humans will be wiped out.

Carlin notes that over the centuries, the planet has been through things that were worse than humans - things like tidal waves, cosmic rays, ice ages, magnetic reversal of the poles and so on and on.

And so, he theorizes, once humans have died off, the Earth will begin to heal itself.

One can only hope.

We humans have, after all, been bad stewards of a planet that offers so much bounty. We have spewed fossil fuel emissions into the air, polluted the waters, cut down rain forests, endangered our swamps and thrown Styrofoam into our landfills.

For the past 30 years or so, many of us have denied there was a problem, denied the polar ice cap was melting, denied the hole in the ozone layer was expanding. And there were those who ridiculed anyone who tried to convince us otherwise.

Now, perhaps, that will change, and not just because Mother Nature seems to be fighting back.

On Friday, scientists from 113 countries issued a report that says there is little doubt global warming is caused by man. And they predicted that we've reached the point where the effects of global warming will continue for centuries, no matter what we do now to control greenhouse gases.

Among other things, the scientists and others who edited the 21-page report:

· Agreed man-made emissions of greenhouse gases can be blamed for stronger hurricanes, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean, hotter nights, heat waves, devastating droughts and fewer cold days.

· Predicted Earth's temperature could increase between 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. The panel said its best estimate was for temperature rises of 3.2 to 7.1 degrees.

· Predicted sea level would rise by 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century. An additional 3.9 to 7.8 inches are possible if recent melting of polar ice sheets continues.

One of the authors of the report, Kevin Trenberth, was quoted as saying that scientists fear world leaders will decide there is nothing they can do. Not true, he said, suggesting they should work to reduce emissions and adapt to a warmer world with wilder weather.

Now, keep in mind that the United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Surely it must be time that global warming no longer be seen as a liberal vs. conservative issue, or an economic matter, but as a dead-serious problem that already is affecting us, and can have serious consequences for those who come after us.

Let's pressure those in power to tackle that problem, to take steps to ensure that those who follow us will not have to find out whether George Carlin had a point.

Linda Duffield is associate editor of The Herald-Mail. You can e-mail her at

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