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Warning on warming


The recent storms that pounded California in December and the record snow blizzards and extremely chilly weather that caused chaos in Europe and the northeastern United States and Canada should serve as a grim reminder to people all over the world that climate change brought about by global warming is no longer just a problem of future generations, and that we should all act now to avert worse consequences.

Even Georgia and nearby areas, which have not seen snow in 128 years, suddenly had a white Christmas!

Australia, where it is summer at this time of the year and which was rarely affected by storms in the past, stand to lose $7 billion in damaged crops and had to evacuate thousands of families the other week due to “unprecedented” flooding brought about by continuous rains.

Even in the Philippines, where the rainy season traditionally ended in early September, had to celebrate the Christmas season under heavy rains and chilly weather, not to mention the unusual heavy floods in Albay and other Bicol areas.

Almost everybody who were affected by these recent weather disturbances were one in saying they have not experienced such storms and blizzards in years, and yet are unable to relate it to global warming.

In March 2009, the world’s foremost experts on global warming gathered in an emergency meeting in Copenhagen to warn politicians to act now to minimize the impact of what they described could be ‘irreversible’ climate shifts and hopefully save a world that they said was “on the brink.”

The 2,500 scientists from 80 countries who attended the conference warned in their statement: “There is no excuse for inaction.”

Katherine Richardson of the University of Copenhagen, the primary organizer of the conference, said: “We need the politicians to realize what a risk they are taking on behalf of their constituents, the world and, even more importantly, future generations. All of the signals from the earth system and the climate system show us that we are on a path that will have enormous and unacceptable consequences.”

The scientists were concerned that any significant delay in reducing emissions would lead to “a range of tipping points” that would make it significantly more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas levels.

The scientists pointed to an increasing possibility that there would be increases in average temperatures of six degrees by the end of the century, which, they said, would produce conditions not seen on Earth for more than 30 million years. That could mean, they added, massive rises in sea level, whole areas devastated by hurricanes and other areas turned into uninhabitable desert, forcing billions of people to leave their homelands.

They warned that implications could be severe, noting that 10 percent of the world’s population – about 600 million people – live in vulnerable areas. They fear that these conditions could lead to wars over key resources, including water supplies, falls in crop yields in southern Europe, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Almost a third of animal and plant species could become extinct. Warm-water corals are among the species most at risk; animals that will struggle to survive include polar bears and emperor penguins.

“Much of southern Europe would look like the Sahara. Many of the major rivers of the world, serving billions of people, would dry up in the dry seasons or re-route,” one scientist said.

A United Nations report presented during the conference noted that surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying. The report warned that lack of access to water helps drive poverty and deprivation, and breeds the potential for unrest and conflict.

Prof. Nicholas Stern, who wrote the highly influential Stern report, which in 2006 alerted the world to the financial costs of climate change, said politicians have yet to grasp how devastating climate change would be to society in this century.

Wars, famines, floods and hurricanes would wreak havoc unless greenhouse gas emissions were controlled, Stern said at the conference. He predicted that a four or five- degree rise over the next 100 years would result in collapses in crop yields, rivers drying and perhaps billions of people being forced to leave their homes.

“What would be the implication of that?” he asked. “Extended social conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades. This is the kind of implication that follows from temperature increases of that magnitude.”

Not only politicians, but a vast majority of ordinary people remain unperturbed by the warnings of climate experts, obviously for a lack of better understanding of how gas emissions can affect their lives, except for the fact that emissions can irritate their nostrils, and if they have asthma or allergy, can trigger attacks. Scientists need to explain in terms the ordinary people and politician can understand how fossil fuel and other gas emissions can lead to catastrophic conditions, and why people should be concerned more than a century down the road, when neither they nor their children’s children would be alive by then.

The fact is we are already feeling the effects of global warming right in our own backyards. The frequent heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather in Europe, the East Coast and even here in California during summer, and the record snow blizzards during winter are some clear signs. The unusually strong storms and flooding in Louisiana and other coastal areas are the result of ocean warming and sea level rise. A big chunk of Greenland and other Arctic glaciers are melting, and temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, including Alaska, have risen by as much as 7 degrees in the last 50 years. The drought and wildfires in California and Europe are known to be direct results of global warming, too.

Global warming’s impact is likely to become more frequent and widespread with continued warming, which would spread disease, bring early spring, extinction and migration of many tropical animals and plants, destruction of coral reefs which would, in turn, endanger sea animal life, and bring more heavy downpours, heavy snowfalls, flooding, drought and fires.

With all these in mind, people around the world should stop asking that silly and selfish question “Why should I worry at all?”

By Val G. Abelgas

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