Three recent news accounts reveal the reality and complexity of the looming global disaster. Anyone who has studied human evolution knows that we’re a resilient species, but we’re going to be put to the test.
The Associated Press had this little story:
Arctic ice has shrunk to the lowest level on record, new satellite images show, raising the possibility that the Northwest Passage that eluded famous explorers will become an open shipping lane.
At face value, that sounds kind of cool. Take a cruise from Alaska to Europe. Or from Alaska to New England, via the Beaufort Sea.
Except that this could make for some brand new military tensions. As the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute explains:
With the ice disappearing, the currents and narrow channels pose less of an impediment to navigation: an experienced sailor could now take a large tanker through the straits during the late summer and early autumn. Governments are gradually waking up to this new reality. In 2001, a report prepared for the US Navy predicted that, ‘within five to ten years, the Northwest Passage will be open to non-ice-strengthened vessels for at least one month each summer.’ A briefing given to the Canadian defence minister, Gordon O’Connor, in February 2006 was confident that ‘the Northwest Passage could be open to more regular navigation by 2015’ if ‘the current rate of ice thinning continues’.
But even more dangerous than any of that is what this means for the rest of the world. The melting of the ice up north means rising sea levels. Everywhere. More on that, below.
ANSA Italia had this:
The effects of climate change are already apparent, many experts say. According to the Italian Meteorological Society, the first eight months of 2007 were the hottest in the country for 250 years.
Which adds Italy to the list of countries experiencing record heat. That list includes Japan, Russia, Hungary, Romania, Greece, and the Balkans, plus the western United States. And this after the deadly record heat throughout Europe, in 2006. And there has been record rainfall in China, and record flooding in England, plus this, as reported by Reuters:
Huge swell waves swamped some 68 islands in the Maldives in May, resulting in severe damage, and the Arabian Sea had its first documented cyclone in June, touching Oman and Iran.
Temperature records were broken in southeastern Europe in June and July, and in western and central Russia in May. In many European countries, April was the warmest ever recorded.
Argentina and Chile saw unusually cold winter temperatures in July while South Africa had its first significant snowfall since 1981 in June.
Yes, one could say that the weather is getting weird, except that weird is now the norm.
Melting ice, rising oceans and extreme weather. Add them all up and we have serious problems.
Spiegel Online explained one of them:
International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
Think about that. Polynesian nations are disappearing beneath the rising ocean. The natural and human tragedies speak for themselves. But, as the Spiegel article explains:
Only one thing seems clear so far: without a physical territory, all the Tuvaluans become stateless. There is no general right to a back-up nation or to citizenship of a neighboring country. Those who are already emigrating are not considered refugees. Even so, their numbers are growing.
And we know how well the world deals with refugees and the stateless. But while Tuvalu has the honor of being the test case, any number of nations may suffer similar fates. Not that they will all drown, but they may freeze, or turn to deserts. The IPCC report, as explained by Reuters:
The report said warming, widely blamed on human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, would cause desertification, droughts and rising seas and would hit hard in the tropics, from sub-Saharan Africa to Pacific islands.
“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And as explained by Spiegel Online:
The UN climate panel expects “increasing deaths, injuries and illness from heat waves, floods, storms, forest fires and droughts.” The draft summary for policymakers details “heat-related mortality” especially in Europe and Asia.
Several hundred million people in densely populated coastal regions — particularly river deltas in Asia — are threatened by rising sea levels and the increasing risk of flooding. More than one-sixth of the world’s population lives in areas affected by water sources from glaciers and snow pack that will “very likely” disappear, according to the report.
And I’ve already written about the possibility that the melting freshwater from the glaciers of Europe, Greenland and North America will suppress the North Atlantic Current, resulting in the seemingly paradoxical Global Warming consequence of a mini ice age in Europe.
Think of the political consequences of hundreds of millions of people having to flee their homes. Imagine the political consequences of entire continents’ farm belts being turned to tundra or desert. Even if the natural impacts are somehow less than catastrophic, the political impacts likely won’t be. As the Guardian already reported, for the people of Darfur, those impacts are already genocidal.
So, rather than wasting a trillion dollars to destroy yet another innocent nation, wouldn’t it be better to spend that money researching and developing possible solutions to the crisis that may soon engulf us all?