WASHINGTON — President Clinton launched a campaign Thursday to build support for international efforts to attack global warming, seeking to undermine skeptics who say scientists have not yet established that the Earth's atmosphere is nearing dangerous temperatures.
"It is no longer a theory, but now a fact that global warming is for real," the president said at an hourlong conference with three Nobel Prize laureates and four other scientists. They presented the president with a summary of data leading them to conclude that the world's climate is indeed undergoing significant change.
Earlier in the day, however, a leading representative of the nation's manufacturers urged Congress to resist pressure to commit the nation to binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are believed by many scientists to cause atmospheric warming.
The new focus on the issue at the White House and the Capitol signals the start of what is likely to be a drawn-out debate in Washington on whether the nation's reliance on fossil fuels is responsible for climatic changes, and what should be done about it.
Although the scientists' presentation was directed at the president and, seated with him, Vice President Al Gore, both have made it clear in the past that they are convinced that global warming is occurring and that it poses a severe threat.
The real purpose of the session was to build the case for measures that are likely to encounter stiff opposition from the public or industry and utilities. Such measures would likely be built around energy conservation, not just in the home and on the highways but in big factories and power plants.
The immediate point of contention is the position the United States will take into negotiations later this year among more than 150 nations. The talks, in Bonn and then in Kyoto, Japan, are intended to produce a treaty that would commit the participants to specific steps toward lowered emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases.
"We have evidence, we see the train coming; but most ordinary Americans, in their day-to-day lives, can't hear the whistle blowing," the president said.