Just how warm is the earth getting?

June 22, 2009 12:27:35 PM PDT
From oceans rising to animals dying, dangerous global warming has been a hot topic, even getting the attention of Hollywood. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Now, it turns out, some of the tests done by NASA that first showed the earth was getting warmer were wrong.

Even climate skeptics agree that the earth's temperatures are rising. But how much and where and why are all debatable topics. And when bloggers recently caught NASA using bad temperature numbers, they exploded, claiming bad data makes bad science. It muddies the debate.

By now, the argument has died down somewhat that ice is melting and the earth is warming. But is it happening so slow you don't notice or fast enough for scientists to see? And the bigger question is why?

Are fossil fuel and industrial emissions to blame or is it just the earth's natural change? Or some combination?

For a long time, NASA scientists have collected temperature data from around the world. A few weeks ago, NASA scientists in New York announced that October 2008 was the warmest October ever. The problem was, it wasn't.

Bloggers figured out that NASA used bad data. Sensors NASA relies on in Russia sent September data, not October data, which made the global average warmer. Once bloggers blogged, NASA re-figured and found out it was just the second warmest global October on record.

But that's not the bigger point. A degree here or there is probably not that significant, but questioning the data may be. Since politicians rely on NASA data to make policy, your life will change based on that unclear results.

Just last night, President-elect Barack Obama vowed to address climate change as one of his first priorities. Based on what scientists tell him, he wants to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent.

But...

"That gives the impression there's some uncertainly when there really isn't," said UH environmental professor Dr. Barry Lefer.

Dr. Barry Lefer says scientists make mistakes all the time and even when they're corrected, muddy conclusions confuse the public, which extends controversy.

"It really muddies it and I try to bypass the whole thing and say, 'Look, if you don't believe in climate change, we've got an air quality problem in Houston. And everything you do to improve air quality helps our carbon footprint'," said Dr. Lefer.

He's not the only one who's come to the conclusion the debate needs to change. We spoke with the former president of Shell U.S. John Hofmeister Wednesday. While he admits the climate is getting warmer, he says the solution lies in getting the world to tackle its emissions, whether they warm the planet or not.

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