Scientists: global warming means dark future

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week released a 1,572-page report outlining global warming’s dramatic consequences for human life, ecosystems and world geography.

The IPCC study, released in Brussels April 6, says that at least initially humans and biological systems in tropical and subtropical areas will suffer most from global warming.

Greenpeace spokesperson Stephanie Tunmore called the report, “Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” a “glimpse into an apocalyptic future.” Her comments appeared in a front-page preview in The New York Times.

The panel earlier issued assessments in 1990, 1995 and 2001. This year’s is being issued in three installments. Findings released in February blamed global warming on human activities, the current report focuses on the effects of climate change and a forthcoming report on proposed remedies is expected in May.

The World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Program formed the IPCC in 1988.

Over 2,500 scientists and 450 lead authors contributed to the present study. From April 2 on, many of the authors and delegates from 130 governments were in Brussels engaged in contentious discussions.

U.S. and Chinese representatives, whose countries produce over 45 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, forced a toning down of alarming language. Washington alone among 35 industrialized nations rejected the 1997 Kyoto protocol calling for significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2012. China, as a developing country, is not bound by the Kyoto agreements.

Reflecting “current scientific understanding,” a 23-page summary “for policymakers” (available at www.ipcc.ch/) is notable for its plain language and stark conclusions.

The authors predict increased runoff from snow packs and glaciers; plants and animals moving “poleward”; the warming of lakes and rivers; early springs; and changing ocean salinity, acidity and oxygenation. Many sea creatures will disappear.

By mid-century, 10-40 percent more water will be available in northern areas, leading to new agricultural and forestry management practices. Drought and diminished high altitude snow and glaciers will cause a 10-30 percent falloff in accessible water for mid-latitude regions. Yet recurring deluges will augment the effects of ocean flooding. Forests will disappear in the South and deserts expand. Crop productivity will be down.

Global temperature increases of 1.5-2.5 degrees centigrade will put 20-30 percent of plant and animal species “at increased risk of extinction.” Possible increases of 6 degrees within 100 years would lead to extinction of 25-33 percent of all species of flora and fauna.

Melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica portends flooding and disrupted coastlines and ecosystems, especially in the “mega-deltas” and lowlands of Asia and Africa. Hundreds of millions of people will relocate, or die. Malnutrition, infectious diseases, heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts will kill millions.

In Africa, up to 250 million people will be facing severe water shortages by 2020. Agricultural production will be down 50 percent. By mid-century, crop yields in Central and South Asia may be off 30 percent. The report indicates that significant global warming will continue even if emissions are reduced.

Together the United States and Western European countries account for 75 percent of greenhouse gases, Africa and its 840 million people, less than 3 percent. “The inequity of this whole situation is really enormous if you look at who’s responsible and who’s suffering as a result,” said IPCC chairperson Rajendra Pachauri.

Despite treaty commitments, the industrialized powers spend only $40 million a year aimed at preserving life and livelihoods in the poor world. By contrast, in the north, billions are projected for heat-resistant seeds, genetically modified crops, floating homes, desalination plants and sea barriers.

The U.S. government subsidizes oil and coal companies to the tune of $20 billion annually, with Canadian and Australian subsidies amounting to $300 per capita.

Las Vegas is emblematic of a divided world. The city has grown from 25,000 people 50 years ago to 2.6 million with 330,000 new arrivals since 2002. Water there comes from the Colorado River where the flow has dropped 25 percent. Earlier this year a development company purchased 200 acres of land for “the largest indoor water park in North America” and indoor skiing and ice skating facilities.

atwhit @ megalink.net