Predictions, skepticism, victims, trends
Predictions of the effects of global warming:
Nobody is certain what will happen next. Deforestation, drainage of wetlands,
pollution of ground waters and rivers, erosion and desertification of
agricultural lands, global climate change? The prognosis is depressing. Some
environmental consequences of the greenhouse effect and of the accompanying
global warming are already with us; other are predictable with high probability:
We know that average global surface temperatures have risen by 1.0oF
(0.6oC) in the last 140 years, and
scientists expect that they could rise further 1.0oF
to 4.5oF (0.6 to 2.5oC)
in the next 50 years. However, there are a lot more changes likely beyond simple warming of the earth. Possible impacts include:
|Climate change may kill off traditional crops.|
|Scientists have observed a wide range of changes in the migration
patterns of birds, fish and turtles, apparently in response to warming which
has already taken place.|
|Since 1970, mean ocean surface temperatures worldwide have risen about
Global air temperatures have also inched up about the same amount.|
|The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane,
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other greenhouse gases is expected to
increase by 30% during the next 50 years.
|The ozone layer that protects humans and other living things from
ultra-violet radiation is already being rapidly depleted and the
process continues. 2|
|Ocean circulation has been observed to be slowing.|
||Evaporation will increase as the climate warms up. Weather patterns may
change producing not only an increase in average global precipitation but
also heat waves and violent storms. Among the predicted results of
protracted global warming were violent and frequent weather disturbances,
including hurricanes, cyclones, and tornados. The storms are already observed to be getting
stronger, and they last longer.|
|Even relatively small increases in sea temperature may have dramatic
impact on wild-life due to speeded up depletion of the krill and of the tiny
plankton organisms that form the basis of the food web in the oceans
(leading, for example, to the decline in the breeding of sea birds deprived
|Coral atolls in the Pacific and Indian Ocean are slowly showing
|A temperature increase of a few degrees is all that is needed to bring
about the melting of the polar ice caps. It was thought that the entire
Greenland ice sheet could melt in about 1,000 years, but the latest evidence
suggests that it could happen much sooner - a comprehensive analysis found
that the amount of ice dumped into the Atlantic Ocean has doubled in the
last five years. 3 The
melting of the ice sheets of Greenland and the Antarctica would cause
inundation of most of the world's coastal cities and farms. It is claimed
that just the complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would raise global
sea levels by about 23 feet (7 m)! 3
In 1996, Green-land was losing about 100 cubic km per year in mass from its
ice sheet, and the loss had increased in 2005 to about 220 cubic km.|
|Even if the rise in sea levels is less dramatic, low-lying lands will be
flooded. Some coastal areas may become uninhabitable. Just another 20 inches
of sea-level rise by 2100 will make most atolls uninhabitable. The
inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati (Gilbert and Ellice), the
Tokelaus, the Tuomotus, Maledives, etc. will have to move somewhere else.
Bangladesh will lose more than half it's rice-growing land. If large ice
sheets of Greenland and Antarctica move into the sea, most of the world's
coastal cities and farms will be inundated.|
|The icy homeland of the arctic natives, such as the Inuit, is melting.
This threatens the their hunting culture. While many species have been able
to adapt to new conditions by moving further towards the poles, this option
is not available to such animals as polar bears, seals and walruses, whose
habitat is disappearing with the melting of Arctic sea ice.|
|If the climate change materializes to the predicted extent, it will
devastate the earth's productivity. New research in Australia suggests that
the amount of water reaching the rivers will decline by up to four times as
fast as the percentage reduction of rainfall in dry areas. This, alongside
the disappearance of the glaciers, spells the end of agriculture based on
|Global warming may reduce mountain snow pack on which the western states
in the US depend for much of their water storage and supply. Left unchecked,
global warming would cause unprecedented disruption of the already strained
water resources that are central to West Coast economics.
|Nobody can predict what the probable impact of climate change will be on
food sup-plies. Only one thing seems certain: The developing countries that
are poor and have made no contribution to the climate problem would suffer
A product of the burning of coal, which is immediately objected to, is smog.
As discussed by Sean McDonagh, 6
in industrial states such as the United States, England, Germany, and Japan, the
preferred way of combating smog was building taller smoke stacks. This measure
helps reduce the smog in the vicinity of the plant, but results in acid rain
that affects lakes, forests, and farmlands in countries hundreds of miles away.
Thousands of freshwater lakes in Canada and Scandinavia have become so acidic
that all life-forms are dying. Canadian scientists estimated that 4.4 million tonnes of acid reaching eastern Canada originated in the US. In reply, the
Reagan administration insisted on more scientific studies before limiting the
emissions from heavy industries and coal burning utilities.
6 Note that in 1984, the Thatcher
and Reagan governments refused to sign an agreement on the reduction of the
emission of Sulphur dioxide (by 30% over the next 5 years) which is the
constituent of acid rain causing the problems.
6 The story has a familiar ring to it.
As to the burning of coal itself, Montana and Wyoming together have more energy
in coal reserves than Saudi Arabia has in oil reserves. Most of the coal is used
to produce electricity via coal-fired steam turbines operating at 25%
efficiency. A pound of coal releases about 3.5 pounds of CO2 into the
atmosphere. This makes coal the dirtiest resource in terms of acid rain,
regional air pollution, and global warming. Like the U.S., China, too, has huge
coal deposits and is predicted to double its coal production in order to build
up its industrial capacity. On the plus side is that China signed onto the Marrakesh Accord (the follow-on to the Kyoto protocol), according to which the
industrial nations must, on average, decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to
7% below the 1990 levels by the year 2012; the U.S. did not participate in the
Unfortunately, carbon dioxide (CO2)
is well mixed in the Earth's atmosphere. That is, the level of CO2
everywhere on the planet is influenced by each country's CO2
emissions. One country could drastically lower its emissions, and have little
effect on the main greenhouse gas everywhere. Only a joint effort by the
countries producing major emissions would have a significant impact on
greenhouse gas levels.
Skepticism towards global warming:
There is general unwillingness to tackle global warming, to face this
enormous environmental challenge. There are, of course, still those who deny
that any warming is taking place, and/or who maintain that global warming can be
explained by already well known natural phenomena. Not surprisingly, few of them
are climatologists, and fewer still are climatologists who are not funded by the
fossil fuel industry.
Outside the political institutions the ranks of the global-warming skeptics
seem to be growing thinner:
|In 1995, the IPCC said that "the balance of evidence suggests that
there is a discernible human influence on global climate" They
strengthened this claim in 2001 to "There is new and stronger evidence
that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to
human activities." 'Balance of evidence' does not mean an unambiguous
proof, but the evidence is getting stronger and stronger. |
||According to Wikipedia, the current scientific opinion on climate change
is that recent warming is largely human caused. This fact was denied by the
US government. |
|According to the former US President Bill Clinton, there is no longer
any serious doubt that climate change is real, accelerating, and caused by
|Geof Jenkins, of the UK Met Office, said recently: |
"Over the last few decades there's been much more evidence for the
human influence on climate. We reached the point where it's only by
including human activity that we can explain what's happening."
We cannot yet say that the higher temperatures we are getting are the result
of global warming. What we can say is that they correspond to the predictions
made by climate scientists.
Who are victimized by global warming?
With about 4% of the world's population, the U.S. use about a quarter of
world's energy. Each U.S. inhabitant uses twice the energy of a Western
European, 12 times that of a resident of China, 33 times more than a citizen of
India, and 147 times that of a Bangladeshi. While the U.S. and other
industrialized countries produce most of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the
effects of global warming are felt worldwide, most dramatically among the fringe
cultures and species of the world whose homelands are degraded or destroyed.
Some of the regions hardest hit by global warming will be in the developing
nations of the tropics. Since the damage is primarily the result of gas
emissions by the rich nations, this is of global justice concern. Among the big
losers will be the inhabitants of tropical islands who could lose their homes to
the rising seas.
The targets set in the Kyoto Protocol are merely scratching the surface of
the problem. The aim is to reduce emissions from industrialized nations only by
around 5%, whereas the consensus among many climate scientists is that in order
to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, emissions cuts in the order
of 60% across the board are needed. The 60% reduction was effectively rejected
by the British Government - the US Government refused to accept even a modest 5%
reduction by signing up to the Kyoto Protocol.
Industrial countries cut their overall emissions by about 3% from 1990 to
2000. However, even this minimal cut happened because a sharp decrease in
emissions from the collapsing economies of former Soviet countries masked an 8%
rise among rich countries. In the words of Jeffrey Kluger:
"When it comes to the atmosphere, there is no such thing as creative
accounting. If the world's population won't bring their climate ledger back
into balance, the climate will surely do it for them."
Unfortunately, the political processes are not moving at a speed to satisfy
scientists who want to see large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It is
unfortunate that the climate resembles a speeding train that takes a long time
to slow down, i.e., if we move quickly to clean energy, stop deforesting the
tropics, and move to more sustainable agriculture, the effect will not be
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- McDonagh Sean, "Johannesburg 2002,"
- Goldsmith Edward, "The Way," Themis Books, (1996),
- Rincon Paul, "Greenland ice swells ocean rise," BBC News,
- Monbiot George, "Sleeping to Extinction," The Guardian,
- Mazza Patrick, "Transportation and Global Warming Solutions,"
- McDonagh Sean, "To Care for the Earth," Geoffrey Chapman, (1989).
- Kluger Jeffrey, "Evidence is Mounting that Human Activity is Helping
Monster Hurricanes," Time, 2005-OCT-03.
Copyright 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-25
Latest update: 2013-MAR-15
Author: Vladimir Tomek