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World: Scientists Work To Predict Consequences Of Global Warming

By Beth Pugh

Washington, 2 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - A newly-released report assessing the implications of climate change says scientists can now more accurately predict regional consequences of global warming.

The report, called "Our Changing Planet," is produced annually by a group of governmental organizations and agencies that work together under the name "U.S. Global Change Research Program."

In addition to submitting its report to the U.S. Congress last week, the organization is sponsoring a series of workshops throughout the country that aim to improve the public's understanding of the implications of global climate change.

Dr. Robert Corell, chairman of the federal committee that directs the program, said in a press conference last Thursday that scientists' insight on climate change has reached a point where they can begin to emphasize the regional impact of human beings' negative influence on the environment. The workshops sponsored by the program seek to make the issue of climate change understandable for the public, who Corell says will be increasingly affected by higher average temperatures in the coming century.

Corell said scientists around the world agree that average temperatures around the world are now increasing .3 to .6 degrees Celsius per year. This rate, according to the report, exceeds normal fluctuations in the earth's temperatures. Global warming, as this process is called, is accelerated by emission of "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide and methane. These gases, which increase the atmospheric trapping of infrared radiation, are part of the human-induced changes in the environment, the report says.

The steady increase of the earth's temperatures will mean that agricultural growing regions around the world will shift northward, Corell said. Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Russia will see their growing seasons increase.

He said Russia's grain yield will increase 20 to 30 percent as those in the U.S.'s midwest region shrink correspondingly. Additionally, people in areas such as southeastern Europe, France, and much of the United States will be increasingly exposed to harmful radiation.

Corell said that scientists' increasingly accurate ability to predict which regions will be most affected by climate changes will allow them to help the public understand what scientists have known for years. He said that people are more likely to support governmental action to regulate industries that contribute to global warming if scientists are able to demonstrate how specific regions will be harmed by the changes in climate.

Efforts to combat global warming are essential because it has become evident that the level of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will at least double in the coming decades, Corell said. If the levels of greenhouse gases were to triple or quadruple, many regions of the planet will be uninhabitable without constant air conditioning, he said.

The report says that by making future environmental ramifications clear today, industries may be encouraged to begin making environment-friendly adjustments before an environmental crisis occurs.

Some industry critics regard the scientific community's warning about global warming as a scare tactic, but the information contained in the report is accepted by scientists throughout the world, Corell said.

Although the new report is aimed at assessing the impact of climate change specifically for the United States, Corell told RFE/RL that cooperation on the problem of global warming within the international scientific community has been superb.

"All over Europe, they're in the same boat we are," he said.

Because of the large scope of climate change, an organization called the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change coordinates the work of scientists throughout the world.

Corell said the United States currently funds nearly half of the studies on climate change but added that Japan has recently emerged as a major financial and scientific contributor.