The University Record, October 1, 1997

Issue of global warming needs to be localized to encourage action

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Students, faculty, and former students from various U-M disciplines met last week with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt for an informal conversation prior to his presentation, "Global Warning: A Call for Action on Climate Change." Babbitt asked the 12 invited participants to help him find ways to dispel some of the mythology attached to the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. That mythology, he said, is being strengthened through a $13 million advertising barrage to "emulate the success of the tobacco industry by denying the existence of the problem, hiring a few wily pseudo-scientists, and to create enough uncertainty that no one will take action."

There is a perception that the auto industry will fail, and that thousands of people will be homeless if fossil fuel consumption is decreased, Babbitt said. "What this is about is fuel consumption and not the demand for automobiles," he said.

Babbitt told the audience that global warming due to carbon dioxide pollution is not widely perceived as a problem. CO2 pollution is not obvious, he said. "You can't see it, you can't taste it, you can't smell it. But it is an intergenerational issue, with suggested implications that even with a three- to five- degree increase in the mean temperature worldwide, sea levels will rise three to five feet."

Babbitt accentuated his point by noting that Alaskan glaciers have shrunk 50 percent in the last 100 years, that one-third of the Everglades has disappeared in the last century. Louisiana is shrinking by 40 square miles a year due to rising waters, and predictions are that Bangladesh's 80 million people will have to move somewhere as waters inundate that low-lying country. And the mosquito vector already is moving northward, with all the health risks associated with it right behind.

Reduced fossil fuel consumption will not decimate the auto industry, Babbitt maintained. He believes innovations will strengthen the auto industry, and challenges the audience in saying that college campuses will have to provide the leadership in finding solutions to CO2 and resulting global warming problems.

Agreeing that the issue of global warming and the effect of fuel emissions on that warming is very complicated, participants suggested finding a way to translate the global issue into a local one and stressing the impacts of global warming on personal health.

Babbitt told the participants that even while he was a student at Notre Dame, Ann Arbor always stood as a center for student activism. It is that activism he was encouraging during his visit here.