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Scientists to lawmakers: Global warming no sign of doomsday

ATLANTA - The threat posed by global warming is being exaggerated by "alarmists," several scientists who have been criticized as "deniers" told a Georgia House committee Tuesday.

But even if the worst fears associated with rising temperatures come to pass, there's little the current generation of technology could do that would be worth the economic costs, a panel of scientists associated with universities and think tanks testified during a special hearing of the Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

"This is not going to be something to cause major harm to humankind," said Joel Schwartz, senior fellow and scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. "But even if it was, the cure would be worse than the disease."

Schwartz and his colleagues were invited to the Georgia Capitol to discuss an issue that has resonated in a big way during the last couple of weeks, as temperatures across the state have soared well into the 100s, setting records even for August.

On a larger scale, global warming has been getting increased attention during the last several years. It is being linked to such alarming climactic trends as shrinking polar ice caps, more frequent heat waves and droughts, and increasingly severe hurricanes.

This year, former Vice President and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore won an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth," his documentary on global warming.

"This is an issue that at some point in the future, we could face and be asked to make decisions as policy makers," Rep. Jeff Lewis, R-Cartersville, the committee's chairman, told his legislative colleagues at the outset of Tuesday's session. "We're here today to learn."

Robert Dickinson, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, testified that research has established a clear link between human activity and the increase in carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases in the atmosphere during the last 30 years.

He said warmer temperatures are being accompanied by rising sea levels and a decrease in snow cover.

Dickinson said warmer temperatures also are leading to larger extremes in weather, including more variability in precipitation.

But he said such changes aren't likely to result in the doomsday scenarios some scientists are predicting.

"We're not talking about anything close to the end of the Earth," he said.

Others on the panel went further, testifying that the restrictions on energy consumption that would be necessary to achieve even a minimal reversal of global warming would be unacceptable.

Schwartz said the U.S. would have to cut carbon emissions by 70 percent to 80 percent.

"We're talking about forcing people to energy consumption levels that are associated with extreme poverty," he said.

"There is global warming," added Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia. "(But) you can't do a lot about it with the current technology."

Dickinson, only somewhat more optimistic, said probably the best that could be expected in the next several decades is that technological improvements would slow down global warming.

Some lawmakers seemed skeptical about both the testimony and the witnesses who gave it.

Rep. Sistie Hudson, D-Sparta, cited a recent article in Newsweek magazine that described an organized effort bankrolled by oil companies to debunk global warming using academics and conservative think tanks.

"What are we as state legislators to believe?" she asked.

Environmental advocates responded to Tuesday's hearing by criticizing both state and federal policy makers for not doing enough to combat global warming.

"Georgia is failing to take advantage of our almost unlimited potential to generate electricity from energy efficiency and renewable energy sources," Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia said in a written statement. "Consequently, other states and countries are outpacing us."