RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renée Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
A report of scientists and government experts from around the world places more confidence than ever in a finding that global warming is largely the result of human activity. This is the consensus view of a U.N.-backed group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
We're going to go now to Susan Solomon, a scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was co-chair of that science panel. Welcome to the program.
Ms. SUSAN SOLOMON (Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: And she's in Paris, where the results were announced. And how significant is this finding to you?
Ms. SOLOMON: Well, in my view, it's a huge advance to be able to have the level of confidence that we have now in the effects of human activity and climate changes. It's very exciting to me as a scientist.
INSKEEP: And it's a significant finding, I suppose, because if you agree that humans cause global warming, then you may be forced to the conclusion that human should change their behavior.
Ms. SOLOMON: Well that of course should be a political decision. And I personally try to keep those two separate. But that would be something that I suppose some people might conclude from it.
INSKEEP: Now you work for the U.S. government. You do not take instructions from the Bush administration, I suppose.
Ms. SOLOMON: Of course not.
INSKEEP: Do you think, though, that this finding is going to influence what the Bush administration has to say about climate change?
Ms. SOLOMON: You would have to ask them that question. I really, honestly, can tell you that my view of the role of science is to inform. It's to communicate what it is we know and what we don't know. It is really no to try to spin the problem. I want the politicians to do their job, and I'll be very happy to do my job.
INSKEEP: OK. A couple of things about your findings here: According to your report, how would the world be a different place in 100 years if current trends continue?
Ms. SOLOMON: Well, that's going to depend a lot on choices the people make of how much greenhouse gases to emit. If we emit lower amounts of greenhouse gases, we can have a real impact on the degree to which things will warm by the end of the century. But what's common across a broad range of scenarios or choices is that, on average, the world will be warmer; but more than that, the Arctic will be warmer than mid-latitudes and tropics.
There will be changes in the pattern of precipitation. And we're already beginning to see changes in the pattern of rainfall, where there's drying in the lower latitude, in the sub-tropics and tropics. That's a new result to this report. And actually more rainfall happening at higher latitudes. There are more heat waves, more heavy precipitation, and that again will continue to become more frequent and more intense.
So you'll see a very, very different climate in the coming century than what we had in the past one.
INSKEEP: If I can try to translate that for the layman, you're saying that areas around the equator are more at risk of becoming deserts or at least changing rapidly. Other areas could have a lot more precipitation, and you'd have a lot less Arctic ice.
Ms. SOLOMON: That's fair.
INSKEEP: And how much would the sea levels rise under your projection?
Ms. SOLOMON: Well, it's important to note that there's a factor that may be involved in sea level rise that we just don't know how to quantify yet. And that is the possibility that the ice sheets of the world might flow rapidly. So they might discharge the ice rapidly into the ocean, and obviously that would enhance sea level rise.
The other terms that contribute are thermal expansion of the ocean. And anybody who's ever made a cup of tea knows that when you heat up water, it expands. And melting of glaciers. And, you know, the other two contributions alone by 2100 will potentially account for somewhere between 0.2 to 0.4 meters of sea level rise if we stick to, say, less emission of greenhouse gases. More like 0.25 to 0.6 of we go to higher levels.
INSKEEP: You're saying sea levels are heading up a foot or maybe two feet, depending on what we do. Is that a big difference?
Ms. SOLOMON: I suppose it depends on where you live. If you're living in a place like Bangladesh, that's probably quite a difference.
INSKEEP: Susan Solomon is a U.S. government scientist. She joined us from Paris, where a panel of scientists from around the world concluded that global warming is largely the result of human activity. Thanks very much.
Ms. SOLOMON: Thank you for having me.
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