Can You Prevent Global Warming?
April 4, 2006
The people who brought you Smokey Bear urge citizen action to forestall climate change.
Two new Public Service Announcements released by the Ad Council say global warming could produce irreversible changes as soon as 30 years from now, and they urge individual citizens to take action.
The ads correctly summarize the bulk of scientific opinion, which holds that the earth will warm by 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) sometime in the next 20 to 54 years, and that this warming will be accompanied by severe weather events. It's not so clear what the ad's viewers can do about that.
On March 23, 2006, the Ad Council and Environmental Defense announced the start of a new public service campaign to raise awareness of global warming and educate individuals on what they can do to help.
Environmental Defense is a non-profit environmental advocacy group that has focused on the issue of global warming for several years. The Ad Council is a non-profit public service group that helps coordinate advocacy campaigns with various sponsors. Past campaigns have targeted such things as drunk driving and forest fires with the "Friends Don't let Friends Drive Drunk" and "Smokey Bear" ads.
Is the Globe Warming?
The central message for the campaign, as explained on the Ad Council's Web site, is that " The most respected scientific organizations have stated unequivocally that global warming is happening , and people are causing it by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests." That is correct.
Indeed, that conclusion is supported both by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the top science advisers of 11 leading industrial nations, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
The IPCC is a UN organization which connects experts from around the world to study climate change, and includes the work of hundreds of contributors for its reports. Their most recent report, released in 2001, stated that the earth has warmed 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 20th century and that there was "new and stronger evidence" that human activity was the cause.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a society of scholars chartered by Congress in 1863 to advise the government. In 2001 the NAS, in a report requested by the Bush White House, said:
In June 2005, the science academies of 11 leading industrial nations (including the NAS) issued a joint statement urging prompt action on climate change:
Together, the two ads say that within 30 years the planet could see irreversible changes bringing severe weather events including heat waves, droughts and hurricanes. They also urge viewers to visit a Web site to learn what to do.
“Consequences are Only 30 Years Away.”
The ad "Train" states, "Some say that irreversible consequences are only 30 years away." That's a fair characterization; mainstream scientific opinion holds that big changes could happen that soon.
Ad Council Ad: "Train"
(On Screen: Camera cuts between images of trees, grass and the outdoors)
( On Screen: A speeding train )
All of the studies cited by the ad's sponsors warn of irreversible consequences based on a prediction that temperatures will rise an additional 1.3 Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit). The IPCC report predicts that will happen sometime between 2026 and 2060, depending.
That's not a unanimous conclusion, however. The IPCC report notes reservations of some experts who think the science is not definitive enough to say temperatures will rise that quickly. One such dissenter is J. Patrick Michaels, a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists as well a contributing author of the IPCC report. He also maintains the World Climate Report blog, and is a fellow at the free-market, libertarian Cato Institute.
"Massive Heat Waves . . . Severe Drought . . . Devastating Hurricanes"
The "Tick" ad projects the message that today's children will grow up to be confronted by "massive heat waves," "severe drought" and "devastating hurricanes" as a result of man-made global warming.
To document these threats the Ad Council provides several peer-reviewed papers from science journals. The IPCC report stated:
Ad Council Ad: "Tick" (Camera Cuts to Different Children to say each word with the "ticking" sound of a clock in the background.)
Ad Council Ad: "Tick"
(Camera Cuts to Different Children to say each word with the "ticking" sound of a clock in the background.)
However, the IPCC consensus also noted some degree of uncertainty:
Another view is offered by Roger Pielke Jr., who says perceptions regarding hurricanes are skewed by recent major storms. He adds:
Pielke directs the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and maintains the Prometheus science policy web log.
"There’s still time,” "Our Future is Up to You."
Both television ads follow up with calls to action. The campaign's Web site has a section where individuals can calculate the amount of carbon dioxide they produce and see tips on "cutting the carbs," such as using energy-efficient lightbulbs and programmable thermostats, planting trees, washing clothes in cold water, driving less aggressively and less often, keeping tires properly inflated and turning off car air conditioners and "cracking the window" instead.
It's not clear what this would accomplish, however, even if a majority of Americans began following such advice. Many scientists say far more drastic reductions in emissions are needed. A Dutch report cited by sponsors says, for example, "Industrialized countries will need to reduce their emissions by 15-30% below 1990 levels in 2020."
Dissenters argue that drastic changes are not worth the effort. Michaels summarizes this point of view in a recent web post:
However, the more widely held scientific opinion is that massive change is needed soon. The IPCC summary for policymakers urged nations to adopt a wide "portfolio" of painful and politically controversial actions, including taxes and regulations:
- by Justin Bank and Brooks Jackson
den Elzen, M & M Meinshausen. "Multi-gas emission pathways for meeting the EU 2°C climate target," Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. 2005.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report, Cambridge University Press. 2001.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policy Makers.
Joint Statement of Science Academies: Global Response to Climate Change, 2005
Michaels, Patrick J. "Non-Linear Climate Change," World Climate Report. 9 Aug 2004.
Michaels, Patrick J. "Observations, Not Models," World Climate Report. 14 April 2004.
Michaels, Patrick J. "Hot Tip: Post Misses Point," World Climate Report. 31 Jan 2006.
National Acadamies of Science. "Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions," The National Academies Press. 2001.
Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch. "Hurricanes and Global Warming," Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Nov 2005.
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