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Meeting the Most Serious Environmental Issue

Solutions could include energy-efficient technologies, incentives for conservation, and reduced energy subsidies

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It's official: The winter of 1996-97 was one of the wettest in United States history. In the last few years trends in flooding have been rewritten in many regions of the country, along with heat waves, record heat days, severe rains, and dry spells. The weather has gotten peculiar everywhere, and this past winter's rainfall and flooding is symptomatic of this larger trend.

Scientists suspect that our emissions of greenhouse gases are part of the reason for our odd new weather patterns. In Kyoto, Japan, this December, the United States, Japan, and more than 150 other parties to the 1992 Rio Treaty on Climate Change will consider setting binding global limits on greenhouse gas emissions. These are produced primarily by burning fossil fuels for a wide variety of human needs.

Scientists have tied the escalation of atmospheric greenhouse gases to long-term climate changes, such as global warming and intensified water cycles. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 2,500 expert scientists from around the world, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane - have grown significantly by about 30 percent, 15 percent, and 145 percent respectively since the Industrial Revolution began.

They are expected to more than double next century, and are growing faster than at any time in our geological record. As a result, by the end of the next century global temperatures are expected to rise between 1.8 and 6.3 degrees F., with a best guess of 3.6 degrees - the largest warming the earth has seen in 100 million years. The IPCC reached consensus that these climate changes are beyond natural variation and reflect "a discernible human influence."

It depends on where you live

Depending on where you live, the potential adverse impact of these trends on human habitation, water supplies, food supplies, infectious diseases, forests, fish and wildlife populations, urban infrastructure, floodplain, and coastal developments may be enormous.

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