Millennium 2000: Global WarmingAired January 3, 2000 - 1:17 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Melting ice caps, flooded coastlines: Pollution and global warming could make this new millennium a last millennium for all of us.
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MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: It is definitely happening.
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MANN: Straight talk, no politics. Will environmental damage from the old millennium catch up with us in the new millennium? That's one of the questions raised by research into global warming.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The search for answers has produced more than one school of thought about how we should approach the problem.
Here's CNN Environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski.
NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Storms rage, polar ice caps melt, drought spreads, diseases kill, the oceans rise. Sounds like a plot for a bad disaster movie, but scientists say these could be the real-life effects of global warming.
OPPENHEIMER: It is definitely happening. The world is about a degree Fahrenheit warmer than it was a century ago. Glaciers are melting, the ocean is getting warmer, the atmosphere is warmer at almost all levels near the surface, the soil is warmer. The whole place is heating up. There's no doubt about it: Global warming is here.
PAWELSKI: Michael Oppenheimer is one of thousands of scientists who has worked with the United Nations' intergovernmental panel on climate change. The scientists' mission: to find out the truth about global warming. The verdict: Earth is heating up and people are at least partly to blame.
The U.N. panel predicts that over the next century, the Earth will get hotter, with average temperatures rising by 2 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The culprit: air pollution, in the form of so-called greenhouse gasses; most notably carbon dioxide, from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
(on camera): Those gases act a lot like the glass in a greenhouse, trapping the sun's energy. In the same way a greenhouse stays warm on a sunny day, even in the middle of winter, so Earth stays warm even while orbiting through frigid space. That greenhouse effect is what makes life on Earth possible. But if greenhouse gasses build up too much, the planet could overheat.
(voice-over): If that happens, the U.N. scientific panel says sea level will rise between six inches and three feet over the next century. Coastal floods could become more common and more severe. Low-lying ecosystems, like Louisiana's bayous and the Florida Everglades, could be flooded, their unique mix of plants and animals forever changed.
And for some countries surrounded by ocean with little money to spend on trying to hold it back, rising sea levels could be devastating. To make matters worse, researchers predict a warmer ocean will fuel more frequent, stronger tropical storms, although, so far, the evidence is mixed on that. For example, there's no clear trend in the Atlantic.
EDWARD RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: As recently as four or five years ago, we had a very active season with strong hurricanes, 1995. Just two years later, though, it was a very quiet year. Now we're back to an active year. It's hard to pinpoint a relationship between that and global warming, at least at this stage.
PAWELSKI: Scientists say other predicted effects of global warming do seem to be happening. They point to melting polar ice and die-offs and disease in coral reefs around the world.
CARL SAFINA, NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY: It's believed that the corals can't really tolerate a big change in temperature, and it looks possible -- it hasn't been confirmed, but it looks possible that the die-offs of coral reefs are the first ecosystem-wide effects of global warming, where one whole ecosystem around the world, the coral ecosystems, are being affected by global warming.
PAWELSKI: On land, a changing climate could change the world's forests. For example, in a few generations, there may be no more making maple syrup in southern New England. Researchers say the temperatures could get too hot for sugar maples to thrive there.
In arid regions, researchers believe, things will get drier. That could mean problems for farmers, glitches in drinking water supplies, even expanding deserts.
One more threat: tropical diseases. They could widen their range to newly-warmed lands and find whole new pools of victims.
(on camera): It is a frightening list of possibilities. But there are voices of dissent. A few scientists say global warming is a theory that's so far from being proven it's not worth worrying about. Others say that while global warming may be real, it just doesn't matter. PATRICK MICHAELS, CATO INSTITUTE: We really don't care whether human beings change the climate. Every city that we have is a changed climate: several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside, for example. That's been known for years that that happens. With our industrial emissions, what we have done is we have globalized this phenomenon. Big deal.
PAWELSKI (voice-over): Pat Michaels, one of the scientists who participated in the United Nations panel on climate change says there's a herd mentality among climate researchers. He says they're latching onto the gloomiest, least-likely predictions while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Besides, he argues, even if earth's climate changes, people will simply adapt.
MICHAELS: Global warming's real, but it's an over-blown issue. The world has many problems to confront in the 21st century, and I don't think global warming is one of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Decided.
PAWELSKI: Pondering global warming is not just an academic exercise. Soon, there will be a treaty on the table, based on a U.N.- sponsored agreement reached in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. It would require richer countries, including the United States, to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of politicians and business leaders say that would hurt the American economy, especially if poor countries are not required to cut back on pollution, too.
GLENN KELLY, GLOBAL CLIMATE COALITION: It's important that any international agreement, to respond to concerns about the climate, be global in scope. If climate change is, in fact, occurring, it's a global issue and it needs to be dealt with on a global basis.
PAWELSKI: The U.S. Senate has announced its opposition to the Kyoto Agreement as it now stands. That's a giant roadblock for the treaty, because the United States is, by far, the number-one producer of greenhouse gasses, and any plan that fails to get U.S. participation is unlikely to do much.
The next millennium's wildcard is China. Its rapidly-growing, coal-fired economy is poised to surpass the United States as the world's number-one source of greenhouse gasses by the year 2025. So even if the Earth's wealthy nations agree to the hard-fought Kyoto emissions limits, the world's most populous nation could effectively cancel out the whole effort.
While governments wrangle, some surprising players have stepped up to the plate from the world of industry. Ford Motor Company, Royal Dutch Shell, BP Amoco and Dow have all have acknowledged global warming as a reality and announced concrete plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
KALEE KREIDER, NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL TRUST: Major companies have gone out of climate denial. You know, they've moved from the camp of global warming isn't real and sticking their head in the sand, to a posture of, hey, looks like global warming is real and what are we going to do about it and how do we make money on dealing with the fact that we're going to be taking some of these measures to clean our air and deal with global warming.
PAWELSKI: For now, the global-warming issue is in the hands of diplomats, politicians, businesses and the everyday decisions made by billions of people around the globe. What we do about global warming could end up defining what the world looks like in the next millennium.
Natalie Pawelski, CNN.
ALLEN: What should we do next to cope with the issue of global warming? When we come back, we'll speak with a gentleman who has some ideas in mind.
MANN: He's been reporting on the state of the world for years. Join us when we come back: Worldwatch Institute President Lester Brown. Don't go away.
ALLEN: Global warming is a key concern of the Worldwatch Institute, a private research institute devoted to the study of environmental issues, and its president is Lester Brown.
MANN: Lester Brown is credited with launching the annual State of the World reports, long considered the Bible of the environmental movement. He joins us now from Washington.
Thanks so much for being with us.
LESTER BROWN, PRES., WORLDWATCH INST.: My pleasure, Jonathan.
MANN: The whole world was afraid of Y2K. Some people prepared for it, some people didn't prepare for it, but nobody really had a problem. Is it going to turn out that global warming is the same, that we're all nervous about it and it's not going to happen?
BROWN: Well, the difference between Y2K and global warming is that global warming is already happening and we're already seeing evidence of it. We see it, for example, in ice melting, whether it's the glacier in Glacier National Park which is partly disappeared already, or whether it's the polar ice caps, or the Himalyan ice cap, for example, which stores an enormous amount of water in the form of ice and snow in the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau is beginning to shrink.
So, we're beginning to see the effects of -- sort of the second- order effects of global warming, the results of higher temperature. We see it in the form of more-destructive storms, for example, record flooding, which we've been seeing in the last few years. So, the signs of global warming are already becoming evident. This is not something that may happen in the future, it's something that has already started to happen. MANN: It is also, though, something that has happened before. I was struck, reading up about this, that around the time of the last millennium, between years 950 and around 1350, and correct me if I've got my figures wrong, here, the world was about two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is today. Is the world just getting warmer and colder by itself?
BROWN: The Earth's climate has changed dramatically over the billions of years and even within the last 100,00 years we've seen ice ages and intermittent periods of warmth in between. But what we now have is a situation where the climate, which has been remarkably stable for the last 10,000 years, ever since agriculture began, beginning to change very rapidly. The 16 warmest years in the last century have come since 1980.
One of the indicators that we chart at the institute is global average temperature; and so we look at the last century, it was fairly stable and then around 1970 began to rise and then climbed very steeply. When we went to put the 1998 data on the chart, we discovered we couldn't -- it literally went off the top of the chart and we had to recalibrate. That's one of the things that really sort of drove home for us the realization that the Earth is getting warmer and at a very rapid rate.
ALLEN: But Mr. Brown, why do you think, though, that there are so many dissenters on this issue, those that don't believe this is happening?
BROWN: There are actually very few dissenters. Within the scientific community -- the global scientific community, there's a near consensus that global warming is for real and that it has already begun to happen. You can still find a few scientists who will challenge this. Some of them are in the pay of the coal or oil industry, actually.
But the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., the International Panel on Climate Change are quite clear on this: The greenhouse effect is real. That's basic physics. One can debate how fast it's going to happen, one can debate what the precise local effects, but on the basic point of global warming, I don't think there's that much question in the mainstream scientific community anymore.
ALLEN: And we heard someone say in our report we just aired that, yes, it is real but it's not a major issue. What do you say to that?
BROWN: Well, I think you have to talk with some of the people who are being most directly affected. Some of the island countries that are barely above sea level to begin with are very much concerned that, by the end of this century, they will no longer exist. A combination of rising sea level and more destructive storms will make their islands uninhabitable.
There is already an organization of island states that's pushing very hard in the international community for more effective steps to curb global warming.
MANN: People in the developed world, people like you, say this is a problem, and people in the developing world hear about the problem, but they have bigger problems. They have enormous problems of poverty, of having millions of people who want their chance at industrialization, of having the kinds of prosperous lives the people in the United States and the West take for granted; and they hear people like you talking about the fact that industry has to cut back, that we have to be careful about the use of fuels, that developing countries won't get to do the kinds of things that made this country so rich. And they say: Why should we wait when the United States has already had its chance? Let me ask you to refer to them: Why do they have to give up the things that we take for granted?
BROWN: First of all, we've never said that industry has to cut back or the developing countries should not have the benefits that we have. What we have said is that we need to restructure the global energy economy so that it does not disrupt the Earth's climate system so that economic progress can continue. And the exciting thing is that we can now see these technologies beginning to emerge and to begin to play an important role.
We look at wind power, for example; we see enormous growth. During the 1990s, the annual growth in wind electric generation in the world has been 22 percent a year. And last year it actually jumped to 30 percent. In this country, wind power, which used to be confined largely to California, has now spread with new wind farms starting operation in the last year or so in Minnesota and Iowa and Texas, in Wyoming and Oregon.
So we're seeing the new technologies now begin to unfold that we think are going to be the cornerstones of the energy economy of the future. This is an exciting investment opportunity, and some of the more forward-looking oil companies like Shell and British Petroleum are already committing hundreds of millions of dollars to these new energy sources. They're beginning to see that this is where the future is and that we are going to be moving to a carbon-based, fossil-fuel-based economy to a solar/hydrogen economy, solar being broadly defined to include everything from wind to solar cells.
So we can see this now beginning to emerge in various parts of the world. We see the Japanese, for example, pioneering the new roofing material which is a solar cell roofing material. This new roofing material actually generates electricity when it's exposed to sun light. So this is an exciting new technology that's already catching on much faster in the developing countries than in the industrial countries.
MANN: Lester Brown, we're going to talk about the future more in a moment, but we want to thank you very much for talking with us now.
It's only about the width of a standard pencil: That's how much the ocean level is rising each year.
ALLEN: But experts like you heard Mr. Brown say, that small amounts could have disastrous effects on beaches and wildlife in the next century. When we come back, we'll see what some are doing to stave off the inevitable.
MANN: We watched the people of Kiribati as their's became the first country to enter the third millennium just a few days ago, but will that small country still be around in a thousand years to welcome the next millennium? Some say the islands of Kiribati are gradually disappearing under the waves. In fact, they say rising sea levels, as we heard, caused by global warming threaten to inundate the South Pacific island group well before the 21st century is over.
Around the world, there are concerns about rising sea levels. It is a very key environmental issue of the new century.
ALLEN: CNN's Sean Callebs takes a look at the debate now taking shape.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wide open beaches: They're among the big draws to South Florida, helping bring in $43 billion a year, making tourism the state's number-one industry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The warm weather, just the atmosphere, of not wearing any clothes and being able just to relax and be yourself.
CALLEBS: This stretch of Miami's South Beach could be called the "Gold Coast." At a cost of $65 million, the local government just finished adding tons of sand over a 10-mile stretch to create this wide expanse of beach. But wander a few miles north and look at the dramatic difference. It hasn't gone through what planners call beach renourishment.
STEPHEN LEATHERMAN, INTL. HURRICANE CENTER, FLORIDA INTL. UNIVERSITY: There's not much here is there? And this is what we're worried about in the future.
CALLEBS: Steve Leatherman studies beaches for the International Hurricane Center. Here he sees a beach starved for sand.
LEATHERMAN: So you think about the economic valuation of beaches, the value in terms of recreation, the value in terms of dollars brought in through taxes and other forms, this is the biggest thing we have are America's beaches. And yet what we're seeing is they're shrinking, they're eroding.
CALLEBS: We know why. In part, a steady rise in global temperatures have warmed the oceans causing them to expand, and added water from melting glaciers and land-based ice caps. Over the past 100 years, the sea level around the world has risen one foot and some predict, in the next 100 years, oceans could creep up as much as three more feet, one meter.
Here's what that could do to the United States Capitol. A three- foot rise in the Atlantic coupled with a moderate hurricane could push water in the Potomac River over its banks, spilling past the Washington Monument all the way to the steps of the Capitol.
(on camera): Given that information, scientists say this isn't a case of crying wolf, and they say that rising sea levels and beach erosion will become an even more pressing concern in the next century, especially when you consider that 60 percent of the people in the United States live within 50 miles of a beach.
STEPHEN LEATHERMAN, INTERNATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, FLORIDA INTL. UNIVERSITY: We're seeing nothing but continuous development and urbanization of our coasts. Sea level is going up, the beaches are eroding. We're on a collision course.
CALLEBS: The East Coast, for example. Leatherman says Florida, the Carolinas, New York, New Jersey all face severe risks of erosion, flooding and other ills as oceans rise. This is a microcosm of what's going on globally. Around the world, 90 percent of beaches are eroding.
This is becoming a standard sight along the Jersey shore: pipes, tubing, mounds of sand. This is beach renourishment in action: sand pumped in from about two or three miles offshore, then spread around by bulldozers. At a cost of about $7 million a mile, the town of Bradley Beach has a beach for the first time since a series of powerful storms chewed away miles of sand in the 1940s.
City leaders are gushing and can't wait for summer tourists.
PATRICK IL'ANGELO, BRADLEY BEACH, NEW JERSEY CITY COUNCIL: We never had a beach before, so you could count on 500 to 1,000 people that we never had. That alone is going to improve economy.
CALLEBS: There's little doubt it will provide a significant short-term economic boost. But critics like Dery Bennett of the American Litoral Society, an environmental group that studies coastal areas, say replenishment at best provides a false sense of security, because it will wash away. It's just a matter of time.
DERY BENNETT, AMERICAN LITORAL SOCIETY: There are places in New Jersey that have seen a boom in real estate construction near the coast since this sand was pumped in. More people are building in harm's way because their feeling is this is going to be here. It's going to be here forever. Uncle Sam will bail us out.
CALLEBS: As much as $5 billion to date has been invested pumping sand on beaches and the federal government pays about 75 percent of that. Bennett doesn't believe someone in say, Kansas, should have to pay to keep sand on East Coast beaches. But Ken Smith, a lobbyist for coastal areas, says spending about $100 million a year to protect beaches is money well spent.
KEN SMITH, COASTAL ADVOCATE: It's a drop in the bucket compared to the money that's coming back into the government from all these tourist areas along the coast.
LEATHERMAN: With the sea level rise and global warming, the erosion rates are going to accelerate in the future, which means the cost is going to go exponentially up to maintain these beaches. And no one seems to have that figured it out yet. It's like a great big secret.
CALLEBS: Many scientists believe the big secret is out of the bag, and erosion is a serious concern, as sea levels rise and gnaw away at the most popular, costly and threatened real estate in the nation.
Sean Callebs, CNN, Sea Bright (ph), New Jersey.
MANN: The science of global warming. You've heard about the research. Now what can be done about the problem?
ALLEN: When we return, we'll hear what a scientific expert from Britain has to say about global warming and what we should do about it.
ALLEN: We, researchers around the world are trying to pinpoint the causes of global warming and what should be done about it.
MANN: That's right. Joining us now to talk about some of the possible solutions, Jeremy Leggett of Oxford University in England. He's an expert on the science of global warming, and he joins us from our London studios.
How different do our lives have to be? How many do we have to give up to stop this before it happens or before it's too late?
JEREMY LEGGETT, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: One level of debate, it's quite simple. We just don't have to breathe so much filthy air. I mean, as we go into the next millennium, it's so frustrating that all these problems that you've described so accurately have a solution. And these solutions exist today, solar energy, all the renewable energies, all the wide family of clean energy technologies, which currently are in a complete minority in energy use, but which are here, ready to go, and even in cloudy places like Britain can deliver all the electricity, all the energy we need. We just need to fast- track them.
ALLEN: Many of these alternatives have been available for a long time, Mr. Leggett. What's it going to take for countries to switch to these and to use them? Is it going to take running out of oil or oil getting too expensive?
LEGGETT: We can't afford to run out of oil. We haven't yet burned half the oil on the planet. And if we burn the other half and all the coal and gas that go alongside it in a status quo world, we will fry. Make no mistake about it. So, you know, it's really a race against time.
And you ask what's been holding us back, and, to be frank, there are vested interests here. There are just over 100 countries around the world, oil companies, coal companies and the rest, car companies, which are responsible, directly and indirectly, for 80 percent, or thereabouts, of the greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide emissions, that we see in the atmosphere.
For a long time, most, if not all of these companies, have been pretty opposed to change. That's changing. As we go into the new century, there are encouraging things. BP and Shell have laxly started backing solar energy. Here in the U.K., you can, for example, drive into a BP Forcourt (ph) and see a wide range of environmental pamphlets, one of which tells you the remarkable statistic that here, even in cloudy Britain, if we put solar panels of existing efficiencies -- today's technology, not what we can expect to see in a few years' time with innovation -- if we put that on every available roof and facade of a building in the United Kingdom, we could generate all our electricity and more besides or a profligate amount of electricity. I mean, this is just mind boggling. All we've got to do is fast-track this stuff.
I think it's encouraging that governments like the German government and the Japanese government are realizing this and bringing in market implementation programs. Sadly, the American and British governments haven't quite caught up to that yet. I'm sure it's going to happen, though.
MANN: If the signs seem so clear and the technology is so compelling, why aren't people doing it? I just don't know anyone who's rushing out to go buy a solar water heater or to go out to get any kind of appliance that would use wind for their own personal needs. It seems like scientist are talking about this and to some extent governments are, but ordinary people, they just don't believe it or they're just not feeling compelled. Why is that?
LEGGETT: Well, I think the opinion polls are showing that people have to believe there's something you can do about this that's meaningful, something within their own limits. And it's true on one level that the real drivers of this are dysfunctional aspects of society. Right now, for example, you've talked about the threat to the insurance industry. Well, I know people at the top of that industry pretty much in every center around the world who say that the issue is so bad now that their whole industry could be bankrupted if the dice roll unkindly with global warning.
And this is now no longer even controversial, and yet the investment departments of these vast insurance companies, banks and pension funds as well, are sort of plowing Mississippi rivers of capital of suicidally into the technologies and the industries that we know are quite literally fueling this problem. So investment is very important. And one of the things that I think is very encouraging is that we're seeing a real explosion in socially screened investment. More and more people, more and more institutions are investing where they can in clean energy technologies. We're going see more and more of that. That's one thing people can do: think about where they invest.
Of course, there are many other things as well. And as the price, for example, of solar (UNINTELLIGIBLE) technology comes down, more and more people will be able to afford it, especially if they get government help of the kind that the White House wants to push through to Congress right now and can't because of the opposition there, as I understand it, from the Republicans.
MANN: On that note of mixed optimism, Jeremy Leggett of Oxford University. Thanks so much for being with us.
ALLEN: Thank you.
LEGGETT: Thank you.
MANN: Are people to blame for the shrinking Arctic ice cap?
ALLEN: When we return, we'll tell you what the latest research says about the ice cap, and we'll look at what could happen to some coastal areas if the ice keeps getting thinner.
ALLEN: Once-secret data from the Cold War era shows the Arctic icecap has been shrinking for the last several decades, but scientists aren't sure why.
MANN: Right now, they're looking at the ice and at global warming as the possible reason.
CNN's Jack Hamann takes a closer look at the scope of the problem and its possible effects around the world.
JACK HAMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine trying to take the temperature of the North Pole? There are no roads, no towns. The summer's abiding sun is erased by winters long blackness, and some of the neighbors might view you and your thermometers as lunch. But the pole isn't as lonely as you might think.
For the past 40 years, thousands of people have been spending big chunks of their lives probing the Arctic ice from just beneath the surface.
One of the coldest assignments during the Cold War was duty aboard nuclear-powered submarines. The American and Soviet navies circled each other endlessly, all the wile becoming experts on the temperature, thickness and composition of Arctic ice.
DREW ROTHROCK, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: They need to know where they can surface and what kind of ice they will be likely to have. So there's just environmental reasons for them to want these kind of data.
HAMANN: That environmental data stayed locked away throughout the Cold War. But in the early 1990s, the U.S. Navy began to open up. Dr. Drew Rothrock of the University of Washington's Polar Science Center was allowed to study measurements taken between 1993 and '97. Those measurements were sketchy, but they seem to show that Arctic ice was changing.
ROTHROCK: We plotted them up and looked at them, and they seemed thin, the ice covers seemed thin.
HAMANN: But with so few measurements, he couldn't be sure. There was too much room for error. Then one day, the Navy unlocked a few of its former top secret ice measurements from the 1950s. Eager to compare the 1990s data with the earlier numbers, Dr. Rothrock guessed that Arctic ice had probably shrunk about 18 to 20 inches over 40 years. That's about a half meter.
ROTHROCK: But when we found that the change was over a meter, we were convinced that this was a considerably bigger signal that any possible error in the data.
HAMANN: You were astonished.
ROTHROCK: I think I used the word "astonished," yes. We were very surprised.
HAMANN: The Arctic ice cap spans an area roughly the same size as the United States, although it shrinks and grows annually. A recent University of Maryland report concluded that sea ice in the northern hemisphere has decreased by seven percent over the past 46 years.
(on camera): If all of that melting had come from ice sitting on land, then cities like Seattle would have reason to worry. That's because when land-based ice melts, all of the oceans rise. But when sea ice melts, it simply displaces ocean water, sort of like an ice cube in a glass of drinking water. When the ice melts, the water line stays the same.
(voice-over): But that doesn't necessarily mean the world won't notice if the North Pole continues to thaw. For one thing, white snow and ice reflect incoming solar heat. As the ice cover shrinks, more heat is absorbed by darker ocean water, increasing the sun's impact. For another, the Arctic can play an important role in worldwide weather. It's most noticeable in the North Atlantic, where every year, cold, salty Arctic water flows south and sinks. The sinking allows water warmed in the tropic to flow northward, protecting northwestern Europe and the east coast of United States and Canada from plunging into bitterly cold winters.
Scientists now wonder whether an influx of fresh water from melting polar ice might shift the position of natural sinking. If so, it could dramatically alter the ocean's warm water conveyor belt, affecting water in a way not unlike the famous El Nino phenomenon.
ROTHROCK: It is, in the end, the ocean that determines climate, because the climate is driven -- climate change is driver by changes in sea-surface temperature.
HAMANN: And just why is polar ice thinning? Many scientists and most environmentalists will tell you, it's because humans continue to pour heat-trapping greenhouse gasses into the Earth's atmosphere. Drew Rothrock isn't so sure. He guesses that the ice has grown thinner because of a dramatic shift in the winds that whip around the North Pole. But he can't yet say whether the shift in those winds is part of a long-term natural cycle or a result of human pollution. That's where the Cold War data from those U.S. Navy submarines might help.
(on camera): There are still mountains of data available from the last 50 years, but the military is a bit shy about what it reveals. U.S. and Russian submarines still eyeball each others from underneath the North Pole. And there are those who worry that opening the vault of information to scientists might unwittingly reveal information to the Russians.
(voice-over): If the submarine data proves helpful, there may be pressure to release other secret data from spy satellites and high- altitude reconassaince missions. If the Arctic cap continues to melt and if it does, in fact, affect weather around the globe, those tidbits from the Cold War could become an important weapon in the battle to understand global warming.
Jack Hamann, CNN, Seattle.
ALLEN: And that is our report for this hour. I'm Natalie Allen.
MANN: And I'm Jonathan Mann.
Up next, our special millennium programming continues with "The Issue Is Black and White," an in-depth look at racism.
That's it for this hour. I'm Natalie Allen.
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