The Issues: Global Warming

CBS News continues an election-year series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen looks at what President Bush and Sen. Kerry have to say about global warming.

Top-of-the-world Barrow, Alaska is a tiny window on global warming. Average temperatures are up four degrees in the past 30 years, reaching an almost unheard of upper-60s in the summertime. Houses are sinking in the thawing permafrost. The nearby Arctic ice pack is shrinking.

As village elders say, it's just too warm.

"I hope you understand me," says elder Ken Tooviak. "Too hot!"

Much of the warming is natural. But scientists contend the balance has been tipped dangerously by an increase in manmade heat-trapping greenhouse gases – from industry emissions to auto exhaust.

"So the warming trend itself may be a natural thing, but the size of it is being affected by people," says scientist Gleen Sheehan.

Computer climate models predict the warming will trigger a range of calamities from more intense hurricane seasons to droughts. Britain's chief science adviser says it's a greater threat than terrorism.

Both presidential candidates agree the Earth is getting hotter. They've had one heated exchange on whether an international treaty would have any effect.

"They pulled out of global warming. Declared it dead. Didn't even accept the science," said Sen. John Kerry at the second presidential debate in St. Louis.

"Well, had we joined the Kyoto Treaty, which I guess he's referring to, it would have cost America a lot of jobs," responded President Bush.

Instead of a treaty that would put limits on industrial production, the president offers a complex proposal to cut what he calls the "intensity" of greenhouse gasses - though his own campaign's calculations indicate overall emissions would actually increase.

President Bush also insists science can't definitively link manmade carbon dioxide emissions with a warming planet.

Tempe, Arizona's Sherwood Idso is among the handful of scientists whose views mirror those of the president.

"It's just coincidental that the industrial revolution has come along and put all this extra CO2 into the air," Idso says.

So man is not a factor? "I believe that," Idso adds. "Or if he is a factor, he's a much smaller factor than what the climate alarmists are suggesting."

But the president's own panel on climate change issued a report this year acknowledging the influence of man on warming. The vast majority of scientists worldwide agree.

Kerry says, "I'll be a president who trusts science." And he pledges to take the action required that will prevent harmful changes in the Earth's climate. But he offers few specifics.

Global warming remains a difficult issue with no quick fix and considerable debate on just how it will affect America and the world. But it is a debate that is taking place largely outside the campaign of 2004.