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Originally published October 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 13, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Will Nobel bring action on global warming?

If public awareness of global warming needed a boost, it got one Friday with the announcement that former Vice President Al Gore and a U...

The winnings

Gore said Friday that he will give his half of the $1.5 million Nobel Prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan nonprofit group devoted to changing public opinion worldwide about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

As for more than 2,500 scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if their share of the winnings were distributed, it would break down to less than $300 each.

Seattle Times news services

If public awareness of global warming needed a boost, it got one Friday with the announcement that former Vice President Al Gore and a U.N. scientific panel had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Advocates said the award would give the issue a higher profile, give the science more weight, spawn more urgency for action, and enable Gore to build on what he already has done.

An array of activists, politicians and business leaders have called in recent years for more stringent limits on greenhouse gases linked to climate change. But no one has reshaped public perception of what once was a wonkish scientific debate more than Gore, through his slide-show presentations and the 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth."

"It's difficult for Americans to comprehend how Gore is one of the most influential global leaders of our time," said Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who first met Gore, 59, more than two decades ago. "He is influential not only for his views, but for how he is mobilizing action and awareness in all countries, on all continents."

Still, the issue remains far down the priority list for Americans.

In a September Washington Post-ABC News poll, less than 1 percent identified global warming as their top issue for the 2008 presidential campaign, and a January poll by the Pew Research Center ranked it fourth-lowest out of 23 policy priorities Americans want the president and Congress to address.

Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report this year that called evidence of global warming "unequivocal," said she was not surprised the U.S. public does not rank global warming as a higher priority.

"The world has many problems, and, just like every person, we tend to put on the back burner the ones we don't think will erupt tomorrow morning," Solomon said. "The key thing is that people understand the problem, and I have a lot of faith in humanity's ability to solve the problem it understands."

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who had dinner with Gore and a few friends in Seattle two weeks ago, said he jokingly chided Gore for not being "sufficiently alarmist" in his messages.

"I said, 'You really dropped the ball, you really undersold this global-warming thing,' " Inslee said, adding that new scientific results consistently show the climate is changing more rapidly than researchers had anticipated. "He said, 'I agree, virtually everything you see is going faster, and in a more negative direction, than I described.' "

The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to honor Gore — along with the IPCC — speaks to the emerging political and scientific consensus on the need to make more dramatic cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions generated by human activity.

"Even now, we still have people who debate it," said Benjamin Horton, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has been conducting research on sea-level rise. "But the scientific community doesn't debate it."

Indeed, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public-policy group dedicated to "free enterprise and limited government," criticized Gore's film Friday as "a colorfully illustrated lawyer's brief for global-warming alarmism and energy rationing."

The group predicted the same outcomes, but for a different reason, contending the solutions Gore proposed "would perpetuate the poverty and human misery associated with political instability and conflict."

But Frank Maisano, a Washington-based lobbyist for energy firms, said Gore "deserves a ton of credit for making climate change more of a household word."

"The problem is that what we need to do is talk about how we address the issue," Maisano said. "Many of the prescriptions he advocates are not very popular among policy people and consumers, because they're going to pay the price for them."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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