Several years ago, commentators referred to Global Warming as "a
possibility, according to some scientists". Many politicians had not
accepted the idea, and for most ordinary people, the topic was either
one to be dismissed as some vague threat for the future (along the
lines of the sun burning out) or as the basis of wishes about warmer
summers and shorter winters.
Well, the future is now! Commentators refer to global warming as an
established scientific fact. Many politicians have recognized the same,
as witness the recent decision taken by New England governors and
Eastern Canadian Premiers to sign an accord by which all of them agreed
to work toward very specific targets to reduce greenhouse emissions,
first to ten percent less than 1990 levels by the end of the next few
years, and secondly, by a much larger percentage within the lifetime of
young adults today.
The fact of global warming is now accepted by all but a few politicians
(unfortunately inculding the most powerful of them all) and by some
leaders in industry, who stand to lose financially by any curtailment
of their activities. In fact, there is general concensus that we are
now experiencing it and that the best we can do is to take actions to
delay the long term consequences of runaway heat buildup in the
atmosphere. The City of Charlottetown, for example, has accepted the
fact that it will have to deal with rising sea levels over the next
fifty to one hundred years, which threaten current waterfront
properties. It has also decided to curtail future development on the
waterfront, at least until a solid strategy can be developed to handle
water levels which could be as much as two meters higher than those
Citizens of Sackville have been warned that a similiar fate awaits
them. The historic dikes on the Tantramar will not hold back the seas
of fifty years from now; they may not hold back an extreme storm surge
right now, or ten years from now. The people of Shediac, Cap Pele and
other towns and villages along Northumberland Strait are dealing with
the reality now; each winter more of their waterfront properties
disappear into the strait.
Further north, Inuit people are reporting that fall begins several
weeks later now than it did ten years ago, and summer begins
correspondingly earlier. Most startlingly, scientists have realized
that the huge icecap off Ward Hunt Island, off the northern tip of
Ellesmere Island and the most northerly piece of land on the planet,
has lost more than ninty percent of its mass - within the past ten
years! There is now open water in the Arctic where there has not been
for hundreds of years.
We know that the planet has been warming and then chilling in cyclic
patterns for millenia. It could be argued that, after all, this is part
of the normal process of planetary life. And so it is. However there
are two significant differences about this cycle that we cannot ignore.
One of them is that, according to the geological record, there has
never been a movement toward planetary warming that has happened so
quickly. This is, it is very evident, because of the massive human
contribution to the process.
The second difference can be stated very simply. At the time of the
last Ice Age (which is the end result of all previous global warming
cycles - and a topic for another column), total population on the
planet was in the order of about 20 000 000 people; the projected
population in another fifty years will be in the order of 15 000 000
000, or approximately 750 TIMES as many people to try to feed in the
face of almost unimaginable terrestrial change.The usual strategy
followed by species to survive these cycles of heat and cold has been
to migrate. The huge numbers of humans which will be affected (are
being affected now) preclude any realistic idea of migration; the
rapidity of the change causes the same problems for other species.
I want to pursue several of these ideas further next month. For now, I
want to close by stating that I do not think that the situation is
hopeless, merely desperate.
This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column.
It is reproduced with Mike's permission.