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A SCIENTIFIC statement that recently came out of Madrid should put to rest any doubts about global warming and the human role in it.

Through the years, skeptics -- some of them hired guns for the coal and oil industries -- have managed to cast uncertainty over the warnings of scientists about the warming trend and its causes.

But now a United Nations statement prepared by scientists and policymakers from 75 counties puts together the collective findings of 2,500 climate experts in a way that should send the skeptics to the sidelines.

In stronger language than has been heard before, it says that global warming has begun, that human actions are largely responsible for it, and that governments must legislate major changes if they hope to restore balance to the world's climate.

The culprits are heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are added to the atmosphere when fossil fuels -- oil and coal -- are burned. To bring the abstract home, yes, what they are talking about includes our beloved family cars, especially the big gas-thirsty ones. How about sport utility vehicles? You bet. Is all this leading into the idea of tailpipe testing? Of course. At the very least.

The statement followed arduous negotiations in which Kuwait and Saudi Arabia sought to soften conclusions to suit their national interests.

The two oil nations got some phrases moderated but eventually joined in signing the document. While the statement sounds like a U.N. exercise that will attract dust in years to come, don't sell it short. It can be a scientific support for those who would draft laws, regulations and treaties meant to reduce greenhouse gasses to a more rational level. It should mute those who would minimize the potential damages of global warming or denigrate research.

The Madrid statement was the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created in 1988. A month earlier another IPCC group had concluded that the Earth has entered a time of climatic instability likely to lead to "widespread economic, social and environmental dislocation over the next century."

What does that mean? It means rising sea levels that could put islands under water and flood coasts. It means heat waves of unusual severity. It means droughts that destroy crops. It could help spread infectious diseases. It could put forests and other ecosystems under dangerous stress. It could mean violent hurricanes.

The scientists asserted that the Earth is heating at a rate faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years. They concluded that the climate can only be stabilized if greenhouse gases are reduced substantially below 1990 levels, a target that sounds easy but isn't because carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase.

Of immediate consequence, the Madrid statement shows -- again -- that the conservative movement to loosen environmental laws has no scientific basis.

This time it's the climate experts who have spoken. Time to hear and heed them.

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