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Science and Public Policy: The Global Warming Debate

How will we face the threat of global warming in the coming century? This is the question for debate by Donald McFarlane, professor of biology and ecology at Claremont McKenna College; James Higdon, professor of physics at Claremont McKenna College; John Passacontando, founder and executive director of Ozone Action; and Glenn Kelly, executive director of The Global Climate Coalition.

Global warming may be the most serious environmental and economic threat facing the earth in the coming century. Our planet's temperature rising as little as three degrees could result in significant coastal flooding, wetland and coral reef destruction, declining agricultural production in the Midwest, and an increase in the severity of storms and weather patterns such as El Nino. Scientific associations like the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have released statements confirming that man's polluting activities have caused the atmospheric carbon levels to rise significantly, and that our use of fossil fuels has had "a discernable influence on global climate." However, neither of these organizations has yet to determine how profound the effects of our greenhouse gas emissions will be on the future of our planet.

Tonight's debate will focus on whether the scientific evidence supporting the theory of global warming is strong enough to warrant policy action to reduce our emission of greenhouse gasses. McFarlane and Higdon will offer scientific evidence of global warming and discuss the scientific community's differing opinions on the need for regulatory action. As a professor of ecology, tropical ecology, and the environment of Southern California, McFarlane believes that there is enough scientific evidence collected to warrant serious concern about the threat of global warming. Higdon, a member of the American Physical Society, contends that the scientific evidence of the potential consequences of global warming are not significant enough to warrant major policy changes to regulate carbon emissions.

Passacontando and Kelly are advocates from opposing sides of the global climate policy debate. As spokesperson for Ozone Action, an organization founded in 1993 to work exclusively on the atmospheric issues of global warming and ozone depletion, Passacontando is dedicated to educating both policy makers and the public about this issue. He is an advocate for developing sound policy to address these serious environmental threats. In contrast, Kelly's GCC, one of the largest collective lobbying groups for companies such as Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, and CSX Transportation, lobbies against "drastic" and/or "hasty" changes in our government's policy towards global climate regulation. The GCC maintains "even if all scientific uncertainties were resolved, sound policy decisions should consider the economic and social alternative policy choices."