Global warming potential economic boon for Georgia

ATLANTA - With access to vast timberland, Georgia businesses could become leaders in the increasingly profitable field of combatting global warming, an Atlanta-based British diplomat told lawmakers Thursday.

"Tackling climate change is an opportunity for economic growth and for new jobs to be created," said Martin Rickerd, the United Kingdom's consul general in the Georgia capital. "Georgia is well placed to get a piece of this action."

Thursday's hearing before two Senate committees was the second on global warming at the Capitol in less than four months.

Last August, as temperatures soared into the 100s, a panel of climate change skeptics sought to downplay warnings that rising temperatures across the globe caused by manmade pollution are responsible for increasingly extreme weather, from longer droughts to more frequent and severe hurricanes.

That session before a House committee drew accusations from environmental advocates and others that legislative Republican leaders sympathetic toward Georgia's heavy polluting industries were presenting one side of the global warming debate.

On Thursday, Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, vowed that won't happen as senators begin taking up the issue.

"We try to be very balanced in the Senate," said Tolleson, chairman of the upper chamber's Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment. "We try to give both sides of the story."

In keeping with that approach, senators heard Thursday from Rickerd and Harold Brown, an agricultural scientist at the University of Georgia and self-described global warming skeptic.

Rickerd noted efforts already under way in Georgia to use wastes from the timber industry and other agricultural byproducts to produce ethanol and called for more of the same.

He also described what the British government is doing to head off the worse effects of global warming.

Rickerd said the United Kingdom has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since 1990 by providing both incentives and penalties to energy-intensive industries and requiring power producers to gradually increase the energy they get from renewable sources.

He said both local and national governments in Great Britain also have aggressively pushed energy efficiency and conservation, including London's well-publicized congestion charge requiring motorists to pay more than $16 to drive into the central city.

But Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, a member of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, bristled at much of Rickerd's prescription for attacking climate change.

"Are you suggesting that governments should ration the amount of energy people can use in their homes and businesses?" he asked the diplomat.

Seabaugh said he doesn't buy into the "hysteria" surrounding global warming, a view that Brown supported during his testimony.

Brown, a professor emeritus at UGA, cited a host of articles from both scientists and mainstream journalists pointing to climate change as a cyclical phenomenon that has not been influenced by industrialization. For example, he said the warmest year in Greenland's recent history occurred back in 1941, while average temperatures in Georgia since 1930 have fallen by nearly 2 degrees.

Brown said the dire warnings of approaching public health and ecological disasters aren't borne out by the research that has been done.

"We shouldn't solve problems until we can define them," he said.

But Rickerd said the preponderance of evidence shows that human influence has greatly accelerated cyclical climate change that would have occurred much more gradually otherwise. He also rejected Seabaugh's characterization of how global warming research is being received by the public.

"It isn't hysteria," Rickerd said. "It's an issue that, after a lot of thought, people recognize as a serious problem that we have to do something to address.

"If we leave the planet in worse shape than we found it, our children and grandchildren are not going to like it."