Global Warming: A Reduced Threat?

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  • 1 Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
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One popular and apocalyptic vision of the world influenced by increasing concentrations of infrared-absorbing trace gases is that of ecological disaster brought about by rapidly rising temperatures, sea level, and evaporation rates. This vision developed from a suite of climate models that have since considerably changed in both their dynamics and their estimates of prospective warming. Observed temperatures indicate that much more warming should already have taken place than predicted by earlier models in the Northern Hemisphere, and that night, rather than day, readings in that hemisphere show a relative warming. A high-latitude polar-night warming or a general night warming could be either benign or beneficial. A large number of plant species show both increased growth and greater water-use efficiency under enhanced carbon dioxide.

An extensive body of evidence now indicates that anthropogenerated sulfate emissions are mitigating some of the warming, and that increased cloudiness as a result of these emissions will further enhance night, rather than day, warming. The sulfate emissions, though, are not sufficient to explain all of the night warming. However, the sensitivity of climate to anthropogenerated aerosols, and the general lack of previously predicted warming, could drastically alter the debate on global warming in favor of less expensive policies.

One popular and apocalyptic vision of the world influenced by increasing concentrations of infrared-absorbing trace gases is that of ecological disaster brought about by rapidly rising temperatures, sea level, and evaporation rates. This vision developed from a suite of climate models that have since considerably changed in both their dynamics and their estimates of prospective warming. Observed temperatures indicate that much more warming should already have taken place than predicted by earlier models in the Northern Hemisphere, and that night, rather than day, readings in that hemisphere show a relative warming. A high-latitude polar-night warming or a general night warming could be either benign or beneficial. A large number of plant species show both increased growth and greater water-use efficiency under enhanced carbon dioxide.

An extensive body of evidence now indicates that anthropogenerated sulfate emissions are mitigating some of the warming, and that increased cloudiness as a result of these emissions will further enhance night, rather than day, warming. The sulfate emissions, though, are not sufficient to explain all of the night warming. However, the sensitivity of climate to anthropogenerated aerosols, and the general lack of previously predicted warming, could drastically alter the debate on global warming in favor of less expensive policies.

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