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Mounting evidence of global warming's impact
Ignoring the threat

By Nicole Colson | October 6, 2006 | Page 4

A SERIOUS threat to the lives of billions around the globe is mounting, while politicians turn a blind eye. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of new warnings about the pace, severity and catastrophic impact of global warming that is already underway.

A recent report by NASA scientists that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the planet's temperature has climbed to the highest level in at least 12,000 years--since the last glacial period--and that increased temperatures have begun to severely impact plant and animal species.

Climate change may also now be taking place at a faster rate, since global warming has been stronger in the far north, where melting ice and snow have begun to expose the darker land and rocks beneath, allowing more solar radiation to be absorbed.

According to the NASA team, arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate--not just during summer, which is typical, but now in winter as well. Last year, scientists discovered that a mass of polar ice twice the size of Texas had melted since NASA started compiling satellite data 27 years ago. In the last two arctic winters--2005 and 2006--the size of the sea ice was 6 percent smaller than average.

This has had a devastating impact on dozens of species, from phytoplankton (tiny plants that form the base of an aquatic food chain and need oxygen-rich cold water to thrive) to large mammals like polar bears (which typically use the solid ice that forms in the winters to hunt seals and other animals).

Occurrences of polar bears drowning after bring trapped on melting ice floes or becoming emaciated due to the shortened winter hunting season are becoming more frequent. Polar bear populations in Hudson Bay and elsewhere have experienced such dramatic declines that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the bears as a "threatened" species.

According to the NASA team, if the melting trend continues, by the end of the century, there may be no sea ice left in the Arctic during summers.

At the same time, a recent report from the British Antarctic Survey found that global sea levels are continuing to rise at an increased pace, threatening coastal and low-lying areas around the globe --including heavily populated areas like Bangladesh, the Nile Delta and even London--with flooding, storm surge and even complete submersion.

Moreover, a September 8 estimate by the organization found a large area--nearly the size of North America--of pronounced thinning of the ozone layer over the South Pole.

The impact of climate change is being felt around the globe: from Holland, where increased flooding has forced the government to implement strategic planned flooding of an area more than twice the size of London; to South America, where a severe drought last year, which scientists say may become an annual occurrence, slowed the Amazon River to a trickle in some areas; to Africa, where increased severity of both wet and dry seasons has disrupted animal migrations and killed hundreds of people.

"I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate longer than a decade, at the most," NASA scientist James Hansen, who leads the team that released the National Academy of Science report, recently told a gathering of the Climate Change Research Conference.

But instead of taking action to reduce climate change, politicians in the U.S. have reacted with, at best, hot air--and, more frequently, with callous indifference.

In February, for example, Hansen revealed to reporters that the Bush administration had for several months restricted his public speaking following his calls for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And the journal Nature reported that in May, the White House blocked the release of a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--part of the Commerce Department--tying global warming to the increased frequency and strength of hurricanes.

Now comes word that the former Texas oil man in the White House--a global warming naysayer who let the energy industry write his administration's energy policies--may "embrace" rhetoric about global warming and the need to reduce emissions. But any administration proposals are likely to be cosmetic at best.

The same is true about California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent signing of a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, refineries and manufacturing plants. Schwarzenegger called the legislation "a bold new era of environmental protection," but the law, which requires a "plan" to cut state greenhouse gas emissions by about 25 percent, doesn't require reductions to begin until 2012.

The law also opens the way for companies who pollute to trade "credits" with less-polluting companies--and it contains an "escape clause" letting the governor suspend regulations for up to a year in the event of "extraordinary circumstances, catastrophic events or threat of significant economic harm."

Don't make the mistake of thinking the Democrats will do any more to save the environment. While Bill Clinton's "Clinton Global Initiative" recently made headlines when British mogul Sir Richard Branson pledged to use "all future profits from his airline and rail businesses on combating global warming," no one should forget that as president, Clinton refused to adopt the Kyoto protocol on global warming--while opening forests to logging and handing out tax breaks to oil and energy companies.

In a system more concerned with profits than people, politicians will always put the environment last.

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