ATLANTA --- Taking the steps needed to combat global warming would boost the economy, improve air quality and ensure cleaner water, a British official told state lawmakers at a hearing on climate change.
But one legislator challenged the international scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to a warming world and implied that the globe might not be heating up, something conceded even by many skeptics of manmade climate change.
Lawmakers called the meeting, which included members of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee and the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, to hear testimony on whether cars, power plants and other activities contribute to climate change by belching greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
The witness chosen to represent the view of the overwhelming majority of scientists -- that humans are accelerating global warming -- focused much of his address on the positive side effects the state and nation could see from addressing climate change.
"Put another way, even if we have this whole thing wrong or the impacts are smaller than first thought, just think about the benefits that will have been accrued by tackling it: cleaner air with subsequent health benefits; cleaner water supply; greater energy security; and growth in the green economy," said Martin Rickerd, the consul general for the British consulate.
Mr. Rickerd also differed with the idea that choking off greenhouse gas emissions could stifle the economy, saying it would be cheaper to address climate change now than in the future.
"The UK has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels ... and, given likely reductions from emissions trading, is on target to double that by 2020," Mr. Rickerd said. "And we've done all this without ruining the economy. Those reductions came in a period in which the UK's economy saw uninterrupted growth totaling 35 percent."
He said Georgia could see an economic windfall because of the efforts of state officials to promote cellulosic ethanol, a clean-burning fuel created from biomass, like the waste created in the timber industry.
"Corn-based ethanol is part of the future energy mix, but already governments and industry are starting to look at more efficient alternatives," he said. "Cellulosic ethanol is in the front rank of possibilities."
But Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, questioned the scientific consensus that Earth is warming. He pointed out that most scientists in Christopher Columbus' day believed Earth was flat and that a squadron of fighter planes lost over Greenland in 1942 were found in the 1990s under 250 feet of ice even as the world was reportedly getting warmer.
He said he believes the theory of manmade climate change is being pushed by industries that could benefit financially.
"That is the reason why I remain highly skeptical of the hysteria over global warming," Mr. Seabaugh said.
Mr. Rickerd later disputed Mr. Seabaugh's characterization.
"It isn't hysteria," he said, and pointed out that, while some areas of the world have cooled, the average global temperature is rising.
In a separate presentation, self-proclaimed global warming skeptic Harold Brown, an agricultural scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, said that many were worried about "global cooling" as recently as the 1970s.
"Global warming is a wonderful environmental disease," he said sarcastically. "It has a thousand symptoms and a thousand cures and it has tens of thousands of practitioners with job security for decades to come unless the press and public opinion get tired of it."