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Climate Change Qs & AAAs
As Earth Warms, AAAS Convenes
All-Star U.S. Climate-Change Panel
Island and river-delta communities are vanishing beneath the waves as the Earth warms, ice melts and sea levels rise worldwide. Native Inuit fishermen are falling through thinning Arctic ice they've traversed many times before. In recent decades, climate change claimed some 150,000 lives in 2000 and sickened many others, especially elderly people and very young children, according to the World Health Organization's (WHO) "World Health Report 2002."
Specifically, climate change was estimated by WHO to be responsible in 2000 for 150,000 deaths and 5.5 million "life-years"a measure of life-shortening events such as diseasesas well as some 2.4 percent of worldwide diarrhea, and 6 percent of malaria in middle-income countries.
What climate conditions await our children and grandchildrenfrom Louisiana to India, and from London to Africa?
Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy and AAAS Science & Policy Director Albert Teich have invited Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Sherwood Rowland and other leading U.S. climate-change authorities to address a wide range of key issues 15 June, as part of the "Qs and AAAS About Global Climate Change" conference. A full program is now available online.
The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, has estimated that, between 1990 and 2100, temperatures will rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 10.4 F). Already during the 20th century, the IPCC has reported, temperatures have increased between 0.2 and 0.6 degrees C-or, an increase of about 1 degree F to date, with most of the warming happening over the most recent decades.
Scientists generally agree that temperatures are rising as a result of human activities such as fossil-fuel burning, which releases carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. This warming has caused glacial melting and subsequent increases in sea levels worldwide of up to 20 centimeters, or 7.8 inches.
"We cannot explain the general warming trend over the last century without invoking human-induced effects," U.K. Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King wrote in his 9 January 2004 article in Science, echoing the sentiments of most in the scientific community. "Only the forcing from increasing greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations could explain the general upward trend in temperature over the past 150 years."
Unless the buildup of greenhouse gases slows, temperatures will continue to rise. Continued warming is expected to dramatically increase flooding, affecting communities and economies around the world, King and others have reported. "As a consequence of continued warming, millions more people around the world may in future be exposed to the risk of hunger, drought, flooding, and debilitating diseases such as malaria," King noted, citing U.K.'s Flood and Coastal Defences Report. "Poor people in developing countries are likely to be most vulnerable." Stabilizing carbon dioxide levels at around 550 parts per million by 2100 "could reduce flooding frequency by some 80 to 90 percent along the most vulnerable parts of the Indian and Bangladesh coastlines," King said.
But, how can policymakers and the public separate scientific myths from realities? And, what are the best strategies for addressing climate-change, in light of remaining scientific uncertainties?
A dozen leading U.S. climate-change scientists, including Nobel Laureate Rowland of the University of California, Irvine, will respond to King's challenge to America, as outlined in his 9 January Science article. After all, King noted, "Climate change is no respecter of national boundaries." Moreover, the United Kingdom generates about 2 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, whereas the United States produces more than 20 percent, but contains only 4 percent of the world's population. "We cannot solve the problem in isolation," King concluded. "The United States is already in the forefront of the science and technology of global change, and the next step is surely to tackle emissions control too."
Alan I. Leshner, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of Science, will join Science Editor-in-Chief Kennedy in co-hosting the 15 June conference, "Qs and AAAs About Global Climate Change."
The event, being sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Conference Board, is free and open to the public. But, space is limited, and all attendees must pre-register by sending e-mail to RSVP@aaas.org. Please include your name, title, and organizational affiliation in your response.
View the full conference program here.
3 June 2004