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Environment

Can Global Warming be Stopped?

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There's much that intrigues me about this recently published study, but let's start with the University of Utah press release, titled, "Is Global Warming Unstoppable?" In case that didn't catch your eye, here's the dek: "Theory also says energy conservation doesn't help." Now let's go to the first three concise graphs of the release, which, like the headline, grabs you by the throat:

In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions - the major cause of global warming - cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. "It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates," says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences. Garrett's study was panned by some economists and rejected by several journals before acceptance by Climatic Change, a journal edited by renowned Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider. The study will be published online this week.

Who ever wrote this copy had to have previously worked in journalism. And when was the last time you saw a press release provide that kind of a back story to a study? (Hey, this research was panned and rejected well before it found a publisher.) It's just brilliant stuff. And so is the rest of the release, which lucidly lays out the study's methodology, key findings, and implications. There's even a colorful bit on the researcher's own "green" lifestyle, set up by this exchange:

So is Garrett arguing that conserving energy doesn't matter?

"I'm just saying it's not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way because the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production. If it feels good to conserve energy, that is fine, but there shouldn't be any pretense that it will make a difference." Yet, Garrett says his findings contradict his own previously held beliefs about conservation, and he continues to ride a bike or bus to work, line dry family clothing and use a push lawnmower.

The only thing missing, if this were a typical newspaper story, are the obligatory quotes from fellow scientists applauding and trashing the study. So allowing that this study is indeed "provocative" and credible, since it found a home in the journal Climatic Change, why hasn't it gotten greater pick up in the science media or the blogosphere? After googling the researcher, Tim Garrett, I see that ScienceDaily distributed the University of Utah release and that a few bloggers and local journos noted the study. Beyond that, however, pretty much a black hole. No way you can fault the PR release. It all but screamed, LOOK AT ME. So what gives? If Garrett is on to something here, then shouldn't his study be getting more attention? H/T: Michael TobisUPDATE: My hunch was correct. Lee Siegel, the writer of the press release, is a former reporter of 25 years--12 spent with the AP. He also has a flair for headlines and sizzling copy. Check out this one, which gained worldwide notice.

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