issue guide: Global Warming

The Skinny

see also background & facts, pro & con, links

What's Up

It could be the greatest threat to our way of life – or just a lot of hot air. Scientists warn that global warming – caused partly by human activities – will radically alter weather patterns and sea levels in the not so distant future. Some skeptics say the forecasts of gloom and doom are overstated; for others, the jury’s out on how much humans have had an impact on temperature rises and how much we can do to slow or stop the trend. They warn instead that cutting back on carbon emissions, the prime cause of warming according to environmentalists, will end up severely hurting our economy without making a dent in the weather.

Environmentalists advocate a couple of measures to slow down warming. The Kyoto protocol, an international treaty that aggressively caps CO2 emissions and was once the gold standard of climate combat, was never ratified by the US. Now it looks like it'll be replaced by a new - less stringent - treaty that could be hatched in Copenhagen this December. Congress, meanwhile, is gearing up to pass a global warming bill of its own in 2009. Meanwhile, outside Congress, states have taken on global warming and the industries they say add to it - by creating their own caps and suing power plants in court - and the EPA has declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, which it may move to regulate if Congress doesn't act first.

What the Debate's About

Although few dispute the earth is getting warmer and that human activities (mostly burning fossil fuels) are adding to the heat, there’s not equal agreement on a few things: how fast we’re heating up; what the impact of a few extra degrees will be; how much humans add to the heat and how much we can do to slow it down; and, finally, what the economic costs of curbing gas emissions would be.

Estimates on temperature rises in the next century range from 1 degree to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s safe to say 10 degrees would make the earth an uncomfortable place to be, scientists disagree on the impact of smaller changes in temperature – some saying a couple of degrees could bring us longer growing seasons (good), with most others warning that even a small change could cause severe weather changes, floods and droughts (not so good).

Scientists also don’t see eye to eye on how much humans are responsible for global warming vs. how much today's warmer temperatures are part of mother nature’s usual cycle. The earth, after all, naturally warms and cools down every few thousand years. Even so, most scientists believe our current temperature upswing is not the norm. A little science is called for: warming is caused by “green house gases” that trap the sun’s heat instead of letting it bounce back into space. The amount of CO2, the prime green house gas, in the atmosphere has grown considerably since 19th century, when humans started emitting vast amounts of the gas into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. That’s not a coincidence, according to environmentalists, although skeptics say it's not 100% clear what the correlation is.

Those skeptics wonder whether it’s worth trying to slow warming down – especially when doing so could come at great economic costs, particularly to developing nations. Forcing industry to emit fewer gases would cost money. How much that cost would trickle down to affect consumers - and perhaps slow the economy is yet another area of dispute. Conservatives would rather encourage industry to voluntarily pull back on emissions - or wait for science and technology to reach firmer conclusions and more realistic solutions.

Note: Although citizenJoe presents global warming as a debate, we should note that the majority of scientists and a growing number of economists believe that human activity is a significant cause of global warming - and that efforts should be made to spew less CO2 into the atmosphere (by slowing emissions) and/or try to remove carbon from the atmosphere (a scientifically more tricky proposition). Debate today is less about whether we should be doing anything and more about how and how aggressively we should be trying to slow warming.

Where Things Stand Now

The US has been a laggard among western democracies when it comes to international initiatives to slow carbon emissions, but the Obama administration is making noises about taking the lead in this year's international negotiations. At home, Congress took its first step in slowing down carbon dioxide output in June 2009, voting on a bill HR 2454 that would bring down emissions 83% by 2050. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are seeing progress at the local level, as states and cities sue carbon emitters and set carbon caps on their own. The Environmental Protection Agency may also step in if Congress doesn't pass a global warming bill; the agency labeled carbon dioxide a pollutant in April '09, which means regulations could follow soon (WP).

Updated June, 2009

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

Also, see the comment thread archived from our earlier site.

Posted In

Global warming is real, it

Global warming is real, it is man-made, it is growing, and all the
propaganda from the deniers will not make it less so. The Earth will
have the final statement on this issue, and I can assure you it won't be
good if we keep moving in the same direction as the deniers would have
us do.

a random Joe Coel (not verified) | March 27, 2010 - 2:27pm

opposing idea

In the heated debate over global warming, there is an opposing idea,
called the cosmic ray theory, which contends that climate change is
simply caused by cosmic rays coming from the sun.

lending (not verified) | December 8, 2009 - 7:30am

Global warming errata?

Nice, mostly balanced article. Just a few things that appear to be errors:

1. Carbon dioxide is not the most abundant greenhouse gas, nor the one that has the greatest impact on. Water vapor is, by many, many orders of magnitude. There is uncertainty about what net impact warming, if it occurs, might have on water vapor in the atmosphere. Different models disagree, based on the degree to which they estimate clouds reflect solar energy or create a blanket effect.

2. Almost all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is natural. Most estimates I've seen show just 2 to 3 percent the result of human processes.

3. Greenhouse is one word, not two.


4. The extent of climate change depends in large part on when you measure it. Because most measures began at the end of the Little Ice Age (about the time the Industrial Age began) upward change is exaggerated. If you start with 1950, the change doesn't seem so alarming. And if you begin with the Medieval Warm Period or any of several other points along the way, it's difficult to see much warming at all.


5. Warming has winners and losers, and they are well-documented in a Scientific American article about two years ago. 


6. Warming appears to have peaked in 1998. Average annual temperatures have declined in recent years, and some scientists predict that Earth is now in a cooling spell that should last about 30 years a a result of the Pacific Decadal Oscilation, which I will not pretend to understand.


7. There is no "consensus" among scientists over global warming, and there shouldn't be. More than 30,000 have signed a petition saying there is little or evidence that human-induced changes in climate are occurring.


8. You point out that an overwhelming majority of scientists support anthropogenic global warming. That's a statement that, in science, has no meaning whatsoever. In fact, it should give rise to skepticism. The majority of scientists didn't believe in plate tectonics for most of the 20th century. Nor did they believe for most of the 20th century that geologic features such as the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington could be shaped by catastrophic floods, to name a few.


9. The "overwhelming majority" or "consensus" arguments are good examples of the logical fallacy in the category of reasoning known as the Bandwagon Fallacy. Which means just because a thing is popular doesn't mean it's true. A candidate for Illinois governor may win an "overwhelming majority" in the belief he'll be great. As this week's news amply demonstrates, the "overwhelming majority" does not make something true.


10. The attack on climate skeptics is anti-scientific. It employs the logical fallacy of the Ad hominem attack. Rather than engage in debate, dedicate research funds to look into issues raised, or promote their positive agenda, scientists who are skeptical of the science behind the politics of global warming are under continuous attack. Ad hominem attacks are usually signs of desperation or laziness. In a courtroom they are used strategically by defense attorneys. When the evidence doesn't support their case, a defense attorney attacks the credibility of the witness. Destroying a witness' credibility doesn't make the evidence wrong, but the lawyer hopes the jury believes it does. 

Boeflak (not verified) | December 12, 2008 - 10:41am

Global warming is not an

Global warming is not an issue that any government can deal with or do much about. Global warming is something that the nature has created. Maybe humans helped a bit but they don't have much control over it.

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Agor | September 25, 2008 - 4:42am

Climate Security Act


The Climate Security Act better known as "The Greens will melt down the world economy" will cost the taxpayers 45 Trillion dollars over 42 years. It is a "pork project" filled with government waste. Our gov’t refuses to free up the market and let Private Enterprise do it’s job. Instead they take their cue from the Sierra Club and a bunch of left wing "tree huggers." China is drilling off our coast but we are not allowed to touch any of our rich oil reserves. This is a travesty and a threat to our National Security.

Global warming is a long term scheme to fool the world into accepting a scientific dictatorship under the guise of big brother, nanny state, "global socialism"! Our lives are in grave danger from these maniacal ambitions. NOTHING LESS IT IS ACCEPTABLE OTHER THAN TOTAL REJECTION OF THIS GARBAGE AND THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT! Vote AGAINST S.2191 and throw it immediately into the nearest trash can!

How long do we keep going to the same dry well wasting our vote? Our country is coming to its demise. We can take action and change things come November.


He was a prior Congressman from Georgia. This will send SHOCKWAVES through congress, which they deserve as they refuse to represent us.

Mr. Barr stands for: Stopping wasteful farm subsidies; Balancing the budget; No "bail outs for corporations; No "nation building." Cost of war 400 million/day. He will start a withdrawal; He is anti illegal and pro border fence; We need to get back to the principles of our Forefathers. Time is of the essence!!

The Dem.’s think so little of us they want to control every facet of our lives.

The Repubs will keep us in a war for 100 years. McAmnesty also tried to take away our 1st Amendment rights with McCain-Feingold.

Both candidates want to turn us into a Third World Dump like Mexico. They expect us to support every "illegal parasite" that wanders into our country!



a random Joe (not verified) | June 8, 2008 - 11:13am
talker's picture

note from the editor

We were hesitant about letting this comment be posted - since it seemed to be little more than a political plug and less an effort to contribute to a dialogue about global warming - but since we don't have a rule against readers pushing their candidates, we guess we have to let it stand.

We don't, however, encourage other readers to campaign for their candidates on citizenJoe. There are certainly other places on the web to do that.

We instead encourage you to keep the discussion to the policies, not the politicians. Thanks, Julia

talker | June 12, 2008 - 7:55am

Follow the money

I don't think anyone has done a very good job of following the money in the global warming debate. Who stands to make money and who stands to lose? How does power shift and who benefits if the global warming sales job is successful? Look on a world wide scale and see who gains power and money.


I personally think that the global warming hype is a scam. We are even changing the language to define CO2 as a polutant. It is no more a polutant in the atmosphere than Oxygen is. Both are needed for life. If CO2 was eliminated plants would die! Not so with the various sulfer and nitrogen oxide polutants.



Bill (not verified) | June 2, 2008 - 3:15pm
dennyg's picture

Re: Follow the money

Denny small town

I agree with you're post on most points. There is considerable doubt Global Warming is "Man Made". Research by more than 90 world wide Climatologists indicate global cooling has begun as early as 1998.
Here in the Pacific Northwest glaciers on the high mountains are thickening, a new glacier is forming on Mt. St Helens.
A slow process and it will take generations to prove, just as global warming did. I am old enough to recall alarmists predicting a new Ice Age in the 1970's.
I am not troubled by helping control emissions that threaten health and enviornment. That needs to be on going and methodical, not reactionary.
Politicians are opportunistic reactionaries and reap the profits. The electricity used in Al Gore's mansion would supply a small industry.
Obama supported a bill that allowed increased emissions from nuclear plants. He also got a generous contribution from the affected company, by the way.
There is hypocrasy in almost every campaign message these days.

dennyg | June 12, 2008 - 1:37am

Global Warming Farce

Has anyone seen what is happening this week in New York City? A gathering of scientists, many of whom had to sue the IPCC to have their names removed from the IPCC report, are trying to decide how best to force the media to cover the farce that is global warming. They are considering a fraud suit against Al Gore for selling carbon credits and building an industry on this.

Why is this not being reported on? These are the people that the "scientific consensus" says do not exist. These scientists are pointing out such facts as the earth has cooled more in the last year than all of the warming reported for the last century. They are showing pictures of temperature monitoring stations, that have been in the same places for decades, that are now in the middle of asphalt parking lots, on roof tops, or mounted over air-conditioning exhausts.

Why is the MSM not reporting this? Is it because they are so invested in the farce that they refuse to show the other side? Whatever the reason, they will have to come clean soon. This has been the coldest winter on record in many places. There has been snowfall in places that have not had snow in 25 years. I can't wait to see how they address this when they have no other choice.


Autobob | March 5, 2008 - 3:54pm

I think that you are right,

I think that you are right, that each person needs to do their own part.  We must do both our own part as well as advocate for wider socila change.

dujardin | January 15, 2008 - 9:19am

People are so concerned

People are so concerned about the world ending.Well it is sad to say that we are doing it to ourselves. We are the ones creating Global Warming and we are the only ones that can prevent it. As a whole community we can prevent it. Its the little things that count. Picking up trash take public transportation, and planting more trees and help justas much as any othre big million dollar tool. We need to come together to help the future of our young ones as well as ourselves

09HellaHec | January 11, 2008 - 12:54pm

Hey, I thought this was America...

Regardless of how you may feel about the debate, doesn't it make sense to try to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency for its own sake? Every year, our economy hemorrhages billions to unfriendly regimes for the right to haul our dry cleaning in a 6.0 liter V8. We're running out of gas, and plans to produce more natural gas and petroleum from chemical conversion of coal will just mean we'll deplete our coal reserves faster. Futhermore, the fossil fuel industry tends to be pretty optimistic about what it actually can recover, as the Utah mining incindent earlier this year should illustrate, there's a lot of coal underground that may never be safely mined and all those miners are going to need to find some other way to make a living when the stuff runs out.

Why not keep all that money here? Why not start transitioning the economy to a cleaner, more efficient, leaner version? Why give all those jobs away when we so desperately need good paying work in America? We're missing out on the real issue here. Frankly, all you skeptics and poo-pooers need to get your heads out of the sand and embrace the technological and economic revolution that a cleaner, greener economy represents. This could be really big, like a secod industrial revolution.

This country never got anywhere by not challenging the status quo and its high time we Americans grew some backbone, tightened our belts, and got to work on doing what we do best: changing things.

Them's my two cents.

Louisiana Dan (not verified) | November 24, 2007 - 2:14pm

Global Warming- Did we do that??

Seems this has become a big topic ever since Al Gore threw his hat into the ring......... And tell me, what does he
REALLY know? I do agree that we need to find alternative fuels and lower the CO2 emissions,if only to break our dependence on fossill fuels and just to clean up the air, period . The Mid-East would lose a very big "hold" over the world if this were to happen, and that would be a good thing..... I do not fully believe that our "emissions" are the cause of global warming,if it is indeed really happening, but, like Al, I am no scientist!! Sure, the weather has been a bit different the last few yrs, but this is really nothing new. And as far as the 'poster child', "Katrina" and New Orleans, that place has been an accident waiting to happen for years, (Most people familiar with the area wonder how it didn't happen sooner....)I think 'Old Al' found the perfect "soapbox" to get himself back in the limelight, and I have to ask, does he practice what he preaches?? I believe not......

Doubting Josephine (not verified) | November 12, 2007 - 1:43am
talker's picture

a precautionary note or two

DJ - Thanks for your comment. Just a precautionary note: we encourage readers to share their thoughts on the policies being discussed here, but to avoid comments about the character and credibility of policy pundit or politicians. We have a special Who Do You Trust page where those kinds of comments can go. So while we encourage you to say why you disagree with Al, it doesn't elevate the debate to attack his motives or character. Thanks.

Also, I thought I should point out that while some people might go around saying Katrina was caused by global warming, I don't think many of the climatologists who claim global warming is happening seriously think that Katrina is strong evidence. Almost every global warming climatologists that I've read agrees that there are natural fluctuations in global temperatures and local climate; they claim, however, that we're in a long-term global trend toward higher temperatures.

talker | November 16, 2007 - 9:49am

Who do you trust?

This must be CJ's best kept secret. Where do you find such a page?


Autobob | November 16, 2007 - 10:04am
talker's picture

if you have to go there

Autobob - cJ's "who do you trust" page - which we set up, frankly, to avoid being completely censorious of ad hominem attacks - is here: You'd be the first to post, were you to.

But if you really want to enter the world of ulterior motives, deceit and manipulation, you'll find much more fodder here:


talker | November 16, 2007 - 10:19am

Global Warming

The global warming scandal is so farcical on many levels: all of the carbon output of mankind since the beginning of the industrialized age is equivalent to 2 mt. st. helen's volcano eruptions. Government research grants on climate don't get funded if the premise is to dispute human influence. If the nations of the world were serious about reducing emissions, they would not have helped GM to kill the electric car (independents are correcting this now - check out tesla motors) because the profit (& tax) stream from the distribution network for fuel would dry up. The real reasons for all of the uproar over global warming can be found by doing the same research used for any controversy
--- follow the money.
both for the status quo and what can be gotten.

Dr.Hank (not verified) | October 15, 2007 - 12:14pm

It feels like July in

It feels like July in October. This is not normal. There's no more debating to be warming is very real. Watch "An Inconvenient Truth" if you are skeptical. It will change the way you see your home (earth) forever. Protect it!

someone who cares (not verified) | October 13, 2007 - 11:51am

Global Warming Debate

In your note above you state that "the majority of scientists and a growing number of economists believe that human activity is a significant cause of global warming". This is simply not the case. Despite the scientific "consensus" touted in popular news outlets, there is not widespread agreement among climate scientists about the cause of recent temperature increases. In fact, recent surveys of climate scientists shows that the majority do not believe that there is a strong correlation between man-made CO2 and changes in the temperature. Moreover, past advocates of the greenhouse theory such as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore have publicly challenged the theory.

Many in the media point to the UN IPCC report as proof that there is a consensus on global warming. What they are referencing is the policy summary, which was not written by scientists, but by UN bureaucrats with no scientific training, and possible political agendas. The findings in the policy summary differ greatly from the findings in the full report drafted by consulting scientists. In fact, many scientists asked that their names be omitted as contributors because the IPCC disregarded the scientific findings in the policy report.

Chicago Joe (not verified) | October 3, 2007 - 2:59pm
talker's picture

stick to the policy - not the policy makers please

Hi Chicago Joe, Hot Under the Collar and everyone else,

This exchange shows why we recommend comments be kept to a discussion of the policies and issues themselves - and not delve into the motivations, intelligence and credibility of others who advocate certain policies.

Your points are well taken. Those who are concerned about global warming usually find IPCC credible; those who doubt global warming and/or the human role in global warming often doubt the credibility of the IPCC. Can we now move on?

Just so you know, any further comments about the trustworthiness of sources will be moved to our Who Do You Trust? page.

talker | December 8, 2007 - 11:44am

Re: "Global Warming Debate"

Concerning the comments made by this writer, he is absolutely factually incorrect when he states that "What they are referencing is the policy summary, which was not written by scientists, but by UN bureaucrats with no scientific training, and possible political agendas." This is patently untrue and obviously reflects the writer's own bias on this issue. I would seriously doubt that the writer has read either the IPCC summary OR the full report. If he had, he would have seen that the summary was drafted by fully accredited climate scientists and not the UN bureaucrats that he so derisively proclaims. Furthermore, government representatives, including the U.S., reviewed the report, not UN bureaucrats, and, if anything, they watered down the urgency of actions needed as indicated in the report.

I offer in evidence this list below of the IPCC Summary drafting authors, and would advise anyone interested to Google their names in order to verify their scientific bona fides. Additionally, if you would like to read either the full IPCC report or the summary go here and download either.

Global warming is real, it is man-made, it is growing, and all the propaganda from the deniers will not make it less so. The Earth will have the final statement on this issue, and I can assure you it won't be good if we keep moving in the same direction as the deniers would have us do.

IPCC Summary Drafting Authors:Richard B. Alley, Terje Berntsen, Nathaniel L. Bindoff, Zhenlin Chen, Amnat Chidthaisong, Pierre Friedlingstein, Jonathan M. Gregory, Gabriele C. Hegerl, Martin Heimann, Bruce Hewitson, Brian J. Hoskins, Fortunat Joos, Jean Jouzel, Vladimir Kattsov, Ulrike Lohmann, Martin Manning, Taroh Matsuno, Mario Molina, Neville Nicholls, Jonathan Overpeck, Dahe Qin, Graciela Raga, Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Jiawen Ren, Matilde Rusticucci, Susan Solomon, Richard Somerville, Thomas F. Stocker, Peter A. Stott, Ronald J. Stouffer, Penny Whetton, Richard A. Wood, David Wratt

Hot Under the Collar (not verified) | December 6, 2007 - 5:28pm

Global warming - population

We are spending the big dollars to research the cause. Take that money and harness emissions. If the real cause is out of our control figure a way to live with it. So far are making political hay out of junk science on both sides.

PMI | September 23, 2007 - 8:30pm