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Great Lakes Article:

Scientists call for efforts to lower emissions
By David Steinkraus
The Associated Press
4/10/03


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- Emissions of carbon dioxide from autos and power plants will cause temperature increases in the Great Lakes region over the coming century, according to a report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Some Wisconsin scientists question that conclusion, however.

The report said that winter temperatures in the region could increase by up to 16 degrees in the summer and 14 degrees in the winter by the end of the century.

"In the next 100 years, we will have the same amount of warming as seen since the last Ice Age -- 100,000 years ago," said George Kling, a biology professor at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the report, at a news conference in this Detroit suburb.

Auto and power companies say they are aggressively moving ahead with fuel efficient hybrid vehicles and clean fuel technology to reduce emissions.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, in conjunction with the Ecological Society of America, put forward three broad recommendations: Reduce emissions, minimize the impact of the emissions, and anticipate and plan for the change.

The estimates of temperature rises were based on a model that assumes high emission rates and continued dependence on fossil fuels. Even with reduced emissions, temperatures will climb over the coming decades, resulting in flooding, droughts and lower lake levels, the report said. The report also said that the region's ecological balance could change, bringing in new species to replace those here now.

The report notes that changing weather patterns will, by the century's end, mean that Michigan and Wisconsin summers would resemble those currently in Arkansas and summer in Illinois would be like that of east Texas -- hot and stiflingly humid.

Climatologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said they were skeptical. Though they had not reviewed the report, they said such conclusions don't jibe with current science.

"Global warming is happening. It's caused by CO2 (carbon dioxide) at a global scale," said Zheng-Yu Liu, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. But forecasting regional climatic variations based on what we know now is very speculative, he said.

Climatic models make assumptions, said Ed Hopkins, a lecturer in atmospheric and oceanic sciences and assistant state climatologist, and models don't necessarily reflect what happens in reality. "There are various types of feedback mechanisms that the models are not really handling well."

Water vapor is the most important agent of warming because it forms clouds which can reflect sunlight, he said. The Earth's orbit around the sun varies, altering the strength of sunlight, he said, and the Earth wobbles as it spins, also affecting the amount of sunlight in summer and winter.

In fact, models have failed to predict the climate we now have when fed data from the past, Hopkins said. It's risky, too, he said, to assume that our lifestyles won't change, that we'll continue to use fossil fuels at the present rate.

"And so trying to make a forecast out for a hundred years or so it may be interesting intellectually, but it may not be something that you necessarily want to stick your neck out on," Hopkins said.

Of the total heat-trapping gasses produced in the Great Lakes region, transportation accounts for 23 percent, topped only by utilities at 30 percent, the report said.

Michigan, by virtue of being home to automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG, can play a lead role in the efforts to curb such emissions, said David Friedman, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists Clean Vehicles program. But the companies will have assume their responsibility in pushing forward with fuel cell and hybrid vehicle technology, he said.

Car companies say they are working to introduce more fuel efficient vehicles. Ford will begin selling its Escape Hybrid SUV by the end of the year. Company spokeswoman Angela Coletti says it will be the first "no compromise hybrid SUV" to be introduced to the market.

"Hybrid vehicles are the heart of our plan for the future," said General Motors spokesman Mike Morrissey, noting that up until 2000, hybrid vehicles "had limited appeal because customers were forced to chose between fuel economy and functionality."

The company is planning on introducing a part-hybrid Chevrolet Silverado in 2004 that will boost fuel efficiency for the V-8 truck by 10-15 percent. The following year, it will bring out a hybrid Saturn Vue. In all, it plans hybrid engines for 11 of its most popular models.

DaimlerChrysler is gearing up for a similar offering in a "mild hybrid" Dodge Ram pickup that incorporates an electric motor and a diesel engine. This combination should boost efficiency by up to 15 percent.

Kling, and his colleagues from various Midwestern and Canadian universities, said that other measures that must be introduced include emissions caps and trading, improving soil management on farmlands, and limiting urban sprawl.

"The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action," he said.

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