RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
November 1, 2004
"We sometimes get the feeling they are going to let us die," said Enele Soponga the other year. Soponga is the ambassador to the UN of Tuvalu, an island nation with a population of 12,000 that is projected to be the first island state to go under water. Tuvalu's main island has already been inundated three times in 2003; vegetable plots were washed away along with the island's drinking water.[i]
Soponga, who is also the chairperson of the Association of Small Island States, is not alone in his sentiment.
Climate change is not a smart bomb. Like weapons of mass destruction, human-induced climate change will hit the environment and smash people's lives indiscriminately, punishing the vulnerable and the weak the hardest. The warning signs are everywhere.
The three hottest years in recorded history - 1998, 2002 and 2003 - all occurred in the last six years. The 1990s remain the warmest decade on record.[ii]
Weeks ago Japan suffered from its fourth major storm since late August. It was reportedly "the most powerful to hit Okinawa since 1972."
In March, a hurricane hit the Brazilian coast - the first ever recorded in the South Atlantic. The Brazilian weather service, with no established naming sequence, had no idea what to call it. The agency eventually settled on Catarina, after the state where the hurricane made landfall.
According to a recent scientific study, because of increasing global temperatures, "hurricanes will grow stronger and wetter as a result of global warming."[iii] The study, said Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel, a hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "is by far and away the most comprehensive effort" to assess the problem. The study "clinches the issue," Emanuel said, concerning the link between the warming of tropical oceans and storm intensity.[iv]
Other scientists agree. According to Tom Knutson and Bob Tuleya, tropical climate modelers at the Princeton, New Jersey-based Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, large parts of the world "can expect a 20 percent increase in rainfall, and damage due to increased wind speeds might rise as much as 10 percent. That 10 or 20 percent may not sound like much, but add it to a top-ranked Category 5 monster headed for Mobile, Alabama and you've got a major disaster in the making . . . [In addition,] a greenhouse gas-induced warming may lead to a gradually increasing risk in the occurrence of highly-destructive Category 5 storms."[v]
Warming temperatures have resulted in massive ice loss. On the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's Nunavut territory floats the 3,000-year old tens of meters thick Ward Hunt Ice Shelf.[vi] The reporter Jane George recounted last year that "when the British Arctic Expedition traveled there in 1875 and Robert E. Peary explored the area in 1907, the shelf of land-fast ice was still intact, but, by 1982, 90 per cent of the shelf had been lost." Changes in the ice shelf have also drained the 30-km-by-5-km Lake Disraeli of its fresh water.[vii]
In the Pyrenees, glacier surface has decreased from 1779 hectares in 1894 to 290 hectares in 2001. Glacial mass in the region shrunk by 52 percent from 1980-2001.[viii] The European Environment Agency has recently issued a report estimating that three-quarters of glaciers in the Swiss Alps are likely to disappear by 2050.
According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the rapid melting of the world's highest ice fields is "driving up sea levels, increasing floods and turning verdant mountain slopes into deserts." The Chinese scientists recently published the most detailed study ever undertaken of China's glaciers, which are said to account for 15 percent of the planet's ice. The study, the Glacier Inventory, was approved for publication last week after a quarter of a century of exploration in China and Tibet.
In the past 24 years, the Chinese scientists have measured glacier loss "equivalent to more than 3,000 sq km." Among the most marked changes has been the 500metre retreat of the glacier at the source of the Yangtze on the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. If the climate continued to change at the current pace, scientists predict that two-thirds of China's glaciers would disappear by the end of the 2050s
The consequences for ecosystems and humans are nothing short of ominous.
"In the short term," said Yao Tandong, who led 50 scientists in studying the decline of the Himalayan glaciers, "the water from the ice would fill reservoirs and lead to more flooding - as was already the case in Nepal and downstream areas of China." Yao predicted that in the future, "the end of the glaciers would deprive the mountain ecology of its main life source and hasten the desertification that threatens western China, particularly in Gansu and Xinjiang provinces." Once the mountain ice disappears, "rivers would start to dry up and ocean levels would rise, threatening coastal cities."
The Chinese study confirmed earlier studies of Everest, "which showed the world's tallest peak more than 1.3 meters shorter than in 1953, when it was first scaled by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay."[ix]
Climate change, said the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is "a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power that it radically alters human existence."
It's time for the world to wean itself away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, the burning of which releases massive amounts of C02, the greenhouse gas mainly responsible for global warming. It's high time that we embrace the solution to the problem - a solution that is by no means difficult to embrace.
The European Renewable Energy Council has shown that with the right support policies from government, renewable energy from wind, geothermal, small hydro, modern biomass and solar power can provide 50 percent of global energy supply by 2040.
Traditional energy economists say that renewable energy is too expensive and that we can't afford to develop it. The truth is, wrote a young environmentalist in the South China Morning Post recently, "we cannot afford not to.[x]
[i] "Sinking islands battle for climate aid cash," The Sun-Herald, December 14, 2003.
[ii] "Global warnings," Greenpeace International, September 17, 2004.
[iii] The study was published online on Tuesday by The Journal of Climate and can be found at www.gfdl.noaa.gov/reference/bibliography/2004/tk0401.pdf
[iv] "Global Warming Is Expected to Raise Hurricane Intensity," Andrew Revkin, The New York Times, September 30, 2004.
[v] "Warning in the Winds," Mark Lynas, The Washington Post, September 19, 2004
[vi] "Arctic ice shelf splits," BBC News World Edition, September 23, 2003.
[vii] Ellesmere Island's ice shelf broken into pieces: Changes may mark rapid global warming," Jane George, Nunatsiaq News, July 30, 2004.
[viii] More interesting multimedia information in the climate pages of Greenpeace International
[ix] Highest icefields will not last 100 years, study finds; China's glacier research warns of deserts and floods due to warming," Jonathan Watts, The Guardian-UK, September 24, 2004.
[x] "How to blow away China's pollution," Gloria Chang, South China Morning Post, September 18, 2004.