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Three Views on Global Warming

Penn State Glaciologist Richard Alley
Richard Harris, NPR /
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Penn State Glaciologist Richard Alley
University of Alabama in Huntsville Climatologist John Christy
Richard Harris, NPR /
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University of Alabama in Huntsville Climatologist John Christy

Columbia University Oceanographer Wallace Broecker
Richard Harris, NPR /
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Columbia University Oceanographer Wallace Broecker

There's a sharp difference of opinion among scientists about global warming and the risks it may pose. A few scientists say scenarios of rapid climate change are unwarranted. But others are worried that rising levels of carbon dioxide could trigger a sharp and painful change in the Earth's climate. Scientists are influenced by the way they interpret data, but also by their broader world views. In a three-part series for Morning Edition, NPR's Richard Harris spoke to three prominent scientists about their views on global warming.

Part 1: Richard Alley, Penn State University Glaciologist

Richard Alley discovered something 10 years ago that made him worry the Earth's climate could suddenly shift, and it changed his life. It was a two-mile long ice core, pulled up from the center of Greenland. It contained bubbles of air that reveal what the Earth's atmosphere was like over a period of 100,000 years. The ice core showed that at one point, in as little as 10 years, the global climate had drastically changed. Soon after that discovery, climate change became a personal crusade for Alley.

Part 2: John Christy, University of Alabama Climatologist

Last fall, the Senate debated a bill that would have created regulations to combat global warming. Sen. James Inhofe [R-OK] led the opposition, and went so far as to call global warming a hoax. He based that statement, in part, on the work of John Christy, a professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Christy is a respected climatologist, but he's also a maverick who argues that global warming isn't a problem worth worrying about. His major contribution has been to analyze millions of measurements from weather satellites, looking for a global temperature trend. He's found almost no sign of global warming in the satellite data, and is confident that forecasts of warming up to 10 degrees in the next century are wrong.

Part 3: Wallace Broecker, Columbia University Oceanographer

When Wallace Broecker started his career in science more than 50 years ago, no one was worried that humans could change the climate. Broecker, now an oceanographer with Columbia University, has helped to reverse that. And he's using his considerable stature to advocate a far-out scheme to slow global warming: giant machines would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the concentrated gas could be either pumped deep underground or turned into carbon-rich rocks. This certainly wouldn't be cheap, but he says it would be easier than social engineering.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.