1998 a Milestone in Global Warming

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The World Meteorological Organization announced what many Americans this season have been feeling in their bones: Baby, it's hot outside. In fact, 1998 will go down as the warmest year on the planet since temperature records have been kept. Worse, 1998 will be recorded as the 20th year in a row that the surface of the earth has been warmer than its recent long-term average. Researchers worry that we may have seen nothing yet.

"In the scientific community," says Washington correspondent Dick Thompson, "the debate is largely settled that the global warming trend is human-induced and the result of industrial emissions into the air." The real debate is not whether the trend will continue, but how abruptly the temperature will rise. "Scientists are not sure whether world temperatures will rise linearly, "says Thompson, "or whether there's a threshold beyond which temperatures will skyrocket." Such dramatic warming periods, over as little as a decade, have already occurred in the history of the Earth. And if one were to occur again now, the ecological and social disruptions could be incendiary.