Monday, Sept. 18, 2006 | Scientists admit they’ve been frustrated.
They’ve known about global warming since the late 1980s. They’ve written hundreds of papers about its causes. Humankind is burning fossil fuels, producing greenhouse gases that trap more of the sun’s energy. And they’ve detailed its effects and implications: Warmer oceans. Higher sea levels. Stronger hurricanes. Skinnier polar bears. More common heat waves.
The rest of us haven’t quite gotten it. A powerful minority of scientists – some with financial backing from the fossil fuel industry – have characterized the earth’s increasing temperature as part of a natural cycle of warm temperatures.
Within the last year, public perception of the debate has been changing. Some scientists and environmentalists say historians will reflect on 2006 as the seminal year in the debate. The year the Republican governor of California agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The year that millions saw Al Gore’s definitive global warming movie. The year that a heat wave killed 140 across the state.
Two-thousand-and-six. The moment the tide turned on global warming. The moment we realized: Climate change is real.
Momentum has been building since last summer, said Tim Barnett, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography marine physicist and climate specialist. In July, science advisors from the Group of 8 governments – the world’s richest countries – agreed that climate change was a serious problem. A month later, Hurricane Katrina flattened the Gulf Coast. Even if no definitive link exists between Katrina and global warming, scientists say a warmer planet means more severe storms. The year finished as the warmest on record.