LAST week's release of a summary of an upcoming United Nations global warming report coincided with crazy-cold temperatures in the Midwest and East. Indeed, quite a few Americans weathering arctic-like conditions probably hoped what's said about global warming is at least partly true. The U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) blames human activity for warming during the past 50 years. At least that's what it says in the report's summary for policy-makers; a Reader's Digest version of the full document is due out in May. It says the earth's temperature will increase between 3.2 degrees and 7.8 degrees in the next 100 years, and that sea levels will rise between 7 and 23 inches. Cooler heads note the summary is more political than scientific, and that what counts is factual basis for the IPCC's conclusions that will be revealed in a few months. Even so, global warming has people talking. President Bush mentioned it in his State of the Union speech. There's speculation former Vice President Al Gore will win an Oscar for his role in the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth.” Democrats leading Congress say they plan to act on greenhouse gas emissions. Senate environment committee Chairman Barbara Boxer of California says the global warming debate is over, that it's time for action. Phew! If it weren't freezing cold most places, we'd invite everyone to sit down for some iced tea. Yet global warming rhetoric has sprinted ahead of the facts — with dissenting voices dismissed as the descendants of people who believed the earth is flat. The danger is that global warming hysteria, like any panic, is its own accelerator. "It's like little kids locking themselves in dark closets to see how much they can scare each other and themselves,” Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, said last week on CNN's "Larry King Live.” Lindzen is right, and the result is an inhospitable climate for a useful, informed public policy debate.
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