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The Earth Is Shrinking: Advancing Deserts and Rising Seas Squeezing Civilization

Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute
Our early twenty-first century civilization is being squeezed between advancing deserts and rising seas. Measured by the land area that can support human habitation, the earth is shrinking. Mounting population densities, once generated solely by the addition of over 70 million people per year, are now also fueled by the relentless advance of deserts and the rise in sea level.

The newly established trends of expanding deserts and rising seas are both of human origin. The former is primarily the result of overstocking grasslands and overplowing land. Rising seas result from temperature increases set in motion by carbon released from the burning of fossil fuels.

…During this century we must deal with the effects of the trends-rapid population growth, advancing deserts, and rising seas-that we set in motion during the last century. Growth in the human population of over 70 million per year is accompanied by a simultaneous growth of livestock populations of more than 35 million per year. The rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that are destabilizing the earth’s climate are driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Our choice is a simple one: reverse these trends or risk being overwhelmed by them.
(15 Nov 2006)

Scientists fear global warming will generate longer, more expensive wildfire seasons

AP, International Herald Tribue
Global warming could stoke ferocious wildfires that will be more difficult and costly to fight and might drastically alter the environment in parts of the world, some scientists warn.

Recent studies have tied rising temperatures to an upswing in forest fires, particularly in the western United States.

The wildfire season that just ended in the U.S. was the most severe — and expensive — on record with more than 89,000 fires scorching 9.5 million acres (3.8 million hectares), according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The U.S. Forest Service spent $1.5 billion (€1.2 billion) fighting those fires — about $100 million (€78 million) over budget.

Wildfire season typically peaks in late summer and early fall. Climate change is already being blamed for a longer fire season and some even predict the possibility of a year-round fire season
(14 Nov 2006)

Diseases appear on rise with temperature

Charles J. Hanley, Associate Press via Seattle P-I
NAIROBI, Kenya — A warmer world already seems to be producing a sicker world, health experts reported Tuesday, citing surges in Kenya, China and Europe of such diseases as malaria, heart ailments and dengue fever.

“Climate affects some of the most important diseases afflicting the world,” said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum of the World Health Organization. “The impacts may already be significant.”

Kristie L. Ebi, an American public health consultant for the agency, warned “climate change could overwhelm public health services.”
(14 Nov 2006)

Climate change hits hard in the Australian outback

Nick Squires, Christian Science Monitor
BOURKE, AUSTRALIA – The once mighty Darling River, Australia’s longest waterway, is dwindling by the day beneath a blazing blue sky, its sluggish waters an unhealthy shade of pea-green.

The Darling is the lifeblood of Bourke, one of Australia’s most celebrated outback towns. Located in the parched west of New South Wales state, the expression “back o’ Bourke” is understood by all Australians to mean in the middle of nowhere. But the town’s legendary resilience has been pushed to a breaking point by six years of drought, the worst “big dry” since the British settlement of Australia in 1788.

Desperate graziers have taken to rounding up the flocks of feral goats which inhabit the scrub. Until recently dismissed as pests, they are now the only thing left to sell. The mental stress is enormous – a national mental health organization, Beyond Blue, has claimed an Australian farmer commits suicide once every four days.

The drought has prompted an intense debate in Australia about the effects of global warming and whether some areas are becoming too dry for farming. But the government, which like the US has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, insists there is no proven connection between climate change and drought.

Unless the drought breaks soon, Bourke will become “an economic and social disaster,” according to a recent report published by Charles Sturt University in New South Wales.

Australia was ranked 47th out of 56 nations for its lack of willingness to deal with climate change in a study published last week by a German environmental group, Germanwatch. The US, meanwhile, ranked 53rd.
(20 Nov 2006)