When delegates from 189 nations met in Montreal in December to discuss climate change, they accomplished little more than agreeing to more talks. The Kyoto treaty to cut carbon emissions does not yet include the United States, and faith in the protocol has eroded. So what is an enlightened world leader to do? Discover associate editor Susan Kruglinski asked some of the leading climate experts.
Robert W. Corell, senior fellow at the American Meteorological Society:
"Even if we reduce greenhouse gases, it is going to take about 300 or 400 years for the planet's temperature to stabilize. Renewable energy is one of the long-term solutions, but I think the missing agenda is adaptation—conservation, for example. We are going to go through a period of increased climate change, increased sea levels, and increased temperature, so we are going to need to adapt."
John R. Christy, director of the Earth Systems Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville:
"What I fear is the command-and-control notion of dealing with climate change, because that will reduce productivity and create more poverty. I've lived in the third world and seen what the lack of energy does to people. I don't think we would be spending resources wisely by dealing with an issue that we don't know that much about and that we can't really control anyway. I do wholeheartedly support research to find new sources of energy that don't involve burning carbon."
Tom Wigley, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
"My opinion is that Kyoto, with its targets and timetables, isn't the right way to go. We developed the atom bomb in a massive technological research program over a very short period of time. If we can do that sort of bad stuff, why can't we put our minds to it and develop alternative technologies that are competitive with fossil fuels?"
Richard Somerville, professor of meteorology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography:
"We really need a massive cut in greenhouse gases—60, 70, or 80 percent. I think we have to appeal to the economic side. We need incentives to develop a wide range of energy sources, like renewables, plus nuclear and systems of the future, like fusion. This problem, if it is successfully tackled, is going to have a solution that resembles the ozone-hole solution, which was to get governments, industry, the public, and the scientific community all on the same page."