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Hearing is Prelude to
Senate Showdown on Climate Change

by Randy Showstack, Staff Writer for EOS

October 14, 2003

Transactions, Newspaper of the American Geophysical Union
p. 426, Vol 84, Number 41.

Two U.S. senators who are sponsoring legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have indicated that they will loosen the reduction requirements in an effort to attract additional support for the bill. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) indicated they will offer the amended version in preparation for a Senate showdown on climate change expected later this fall.

The Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S.139), originally introduced in January 2003, still would promote climate research, establish a mandatory carbon dioxide reduction program, and require affected industry sectors to reduce greenhouse emissions to year 2000 levels by the year 2010.However, McCain said the bill no longer would require further reductions, by the year 2016, to levels that existed in 1990. The bill also would be far less rigorous than the Kyoto Protocol.

At a 1 October hearing on "the case for climate change action" held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, committee chair McCain said the bill's modifications could "build additional momentum for the measure in the Senate."

McCain said, "While these consequences [of climate change] are alarming to think about, and politicians are naturally inclined to postpone tough choices, no excuse for inaction on this issue is acceptable."

He said a vote on the legislation, which the Senate leadership has agreed to, would put senators on record on the issue for the first time since 1997.

Antonio Busalacchi,Jr., chair of the National Research Council's climate research committee, testified at the hearing, "The planet has a fever, and it is time to take action:' He said there is widespread scientific consensus that climate is changing and that "the human-induced increase in greenhouse gas abundances is responsible for a significant portion of the observed climate changes."

Thomas Wigley, senior scientist in the climate and global dynamics divisions of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that a strong warming trend over the 20th century "can only be explained if one includes anthropogenic factors as part of the cause." He noted that the natural warming trend over the 20th century accounts for only 23-32% of the total trend. "In the absence of climate mitigation policies, future warming will likely be 2 to 7 times the rate of warming over the 20th century," he said, adding that "immediate action of some form is absolutely required."

Stephen Schneider, professor of biological sciences and co-director of the Center for Environmental Science and Policy at Stanford University, discounted arguments that solar variability largely is responsible for the upswing in global warming. "The probability of the radical upward swing in temperature at the tail end of the 20th century being just a natural quirk of nature-as some 'contrarians' and their political supporters contend-is an exceedingly low probability If, as some assert, "the Sun did it then what was the Sun doing over the previous 2 millennia? It is rather perverse to expect such a radical behavior from the Sun just now-when we have clear evidence of human-induced pressures coincident with the warming."

Schneider added that critics and skeptics may question the value of a protocol or legislation on climate change that is relatively modest and does not result in significant emission reductions. However, he said, "That is true in the short term, but all journeys begin with small steps."

 

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