Greenland Trip Stokes Boxer's Global Warming Fire

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - A fact-finding trip to Greenland has renewed Sen. Barbara Boxer's desire to pass legislation aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, according to the senator who has been promising such legislation since early in her term as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Boxer, a California Democrat, took nine members of her committee to Greenland July 27-29 to tour glaciers, ice shelves and fishing villages in the arctic nation which is home to 10 percent of the planet's ice. Sen. Barbara Boxer

"It's one thing to hear about the Greenland ice sheet; it's another thing to see it," she told a news conference Monday. "It's one thing to read about the impacts of global warming on the native people there; it's another thing to have them look you in the eye and tell you."

Boxer said icebergs "are heading to the Atlantic Ocean at a speed twice as fast as in 1985; melting at a rate that will lead to sea-level rises with disastrous consequences unless we act to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide that have already caused the temperature in Greenland to rise four degrees since 1988."

She said increased temperatures are driving polar bears into villages where they are killed because they pose a risk to humans. She also said fishermen in the region are being forced to adapt to changes in fish habits as a result of the warming.

Boxer said the trip reminded her that "I have a responsibility to move now to lessen the impacts of severe global warming."

Several bills have been drafted that would address carbon emissions through cap-and-trade systems. Boxer has promised since April that she will move legislation through her committee as soon as a bill exists that could pass the narrowly divided Senate.

Most recently, she pledged to use the momentum created by former Vice President Al Gore's Live Earth concerts to push for action on climate change.

In June, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) announced plans for a bipartisan bill to establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. Their bill is expected to be unveiled before the August recess begins next week, and Boxer expressed her interest in addressing the bill when Congress returns in September.

Even though no cap-and-trade legislation has passed in the seven months since Democrats took control of Congress, Boxer said Monday that she is pleased with her progress. Pursuing a bill in her committee is "all about the votes," and Warner's support for global warming legislation "was our breakthrough," she said.

Not everyone who went on the trip was convinced that what senators were looking at was the result of man-made global warming. In a blog posting on the Environment and Public Works Committee website Monday, Marc Morano, a spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), pointed to several studies that question human contribution to global warming.

Inhofe did not travel to Greenland with his committee colleagues, but Morano, a former reporter for Cybercast News Service, went as his representative.

"Recent research has found that Greenland has been warming since the 1880s, but since 1955, temperature averages at Greenland stations have been colder than the period between 1881-1955," Morano wrote.

A 2006 study carried out by Denmark's Aarhus University found that Greenland's glaciers have been melting for the past century, since before man-made carbon emissions were a factor, he noted. A 2006 Los Alamos National Laboratory study found the rate of warming in Greenland was higher in the 1920s than the 1990s.

Other studies Morano cited found that while low elevation ice sheets are thinning, higher elevation interior ice sheets are thickening. A 2003 Harvard University study found that the Earth was warmer during the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300 AD) than it is today.

"These studies suggest that the biggest perceived threat to Greenland's glaciers may be contained in unproven computer models predicting a future catastrophic melt," Morano wrote, noting that U.N. scientist Jim Renwick has acknowledged that "half of the variability in the climate system is not predictable, so we don't expect to do terrifically well [in forecasting what will happen]."

Boxer acknowledged Morano's presence on the trip, noting that he frequently challenged scientists with those and other studies, and said his objections were "really very illuminating." But she said she was confident that all senators ended the trip accepting that man-made global warming is responsible for Greenland's changes.

Morano said he couldn't speak for the senators' views on the subject but told Cybercast News Service, "what all the senators and I saw was nothing more than natural climate variability and normal summer melt of Greenland's glaciers."

"The senators were shown nothing alarming," he said. "They were shown Greenland during the summer during a melt ... that was still not as warm as the Greenland of the 1920s and 30s, according to the peer-reviewed research."

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