'Global Warming Is Not a Crisis'

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Climate change is big news these days, from melting mountain glaciers to warming seas. But is the buildup of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere leading to a crisis?

That was the question at the core of a recent Oxford-style debate called Intelligence Squared U.S. The series is based on the Intelligence Squared program that began in London in 2002. Three experts argue in favor of a motion; three others argue against it.

In this debate, the proposition was: "Global Warming Is Not a Crisis." In a vote before the debate, about 30 percent of the audience agreed with the motion, while 57 percent were against and 13 percent undecided. The debate seemed to affect a number of people: Afterward, about 46 percent agreed with the motion, roughly 42 percent were opposed and about 12 percent were undecided.

Highlights from the debate:


FOR THE MOTION

Michael Crichton
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Michael Crichton, author and filmmaker known for Jurassic Park and the television show E.R., says: "Is the globe warming? Yes. Is the greenhouse effect real? Yes. Is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, being increased by men? Yes. Would we expect this warming to have an effect? Yes. Do human beings in general affect the climate? Yes. But none of that answers the core question of whether or not carbon dioxide is the contemporary driver for the warming we're seeing. And as far as I could tell scientists had, had postulated that but they hadn't demonstrated it. So I'm kind of stranded here."


Richard S. Lindzen
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says: "Please keep in mind what the proposition is. It is not a debate over whether the earth has been warming over the past century. The earth is always warming or cooling, at least a few tenths of a degree.... Indeed, as far as I can tell, even our opponents do not claim that global warming is a crisis at present. Rather, we are primarily addressing the future. Now, much of the current alarm, I would suggest, is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate."


Philip Stott
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Philip Stott, emeritus professor of bio-geography at the University of London, says: "What we have fundamentally forgotten is simple primary school science. Climate always changes. It is always... warming or cooling, it's never stable. And if it were stable, it would actually be interesting scientifically because it would be the first time for four and a half billion years.... So the debate, is climate changing and are humans affecting climate change, is actually nearly irrelevant. The answers are yes and yes, and always will be."


AGAINST THE MOTION

Brenda Ekwurzel
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Brenda Ekwurzel, climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says: "Right now, we're on a spending spree with our heat-trapping emissions. We're building up the future costs of global warming. And when this bill comes due in the not-too-distant future, choosing not to fight global warming is about as irresponsible as not making payments on a high-interest credit card. With such high stakes, common sense requires that we act now and while we still have options. Within the next decade, we will continue to determine whether or not our children and grandchildren look back at this time and decide whether we failed them."


Gavin Schmidt
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says: "We're very confident that the planet has been warming up, and we're pretty sure that the other things that are going on — changes to the sun, changes to particles in the air, changes to ozone — have made some difference but aren't dominant. The physics tells us that this is a very consistent picture. Our suspects, the greenhouse gases, had both the opportunity and the means to cause this climate change, and they're very likely guilty. And they are increasing faster than ever."


Richard C.J. Somerville
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Richard C.J. Somerville, professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, says: "The motion before us, global warming is not a crisis, means we ought to know what crisis means. The word does not mean catastrophe or alarmism. It means a crucial or decisive moment, a turning point, a state of affairs in which a decisive change for better or worse is imminent. We are talking about the future here. The entire world now really does have a critical choice to make. It is whether to continue on the present path of adding more and more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere or whether to find another path."


The Intelligence Squared U.S. series is produced in New York City by The Rosenkranz Foundation and for broadcast by WNYC.

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