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Dire Warming Report too Soft, Scientists Say

Alan Zarembo / Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
A new global warming report issued Friday by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future: hundreds of millions of people short of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a landscape ravaged by floods and millions of species sentenced to extinction.Despite its harsh vision, the report was quickly criticized by some scientists who said its findings were watered down at the last minute by governments seeking to deflect calls for action.

“The science got hijacked by the political bureaucrats at the late stage of the game,” said John Walsh, a climate expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who helped write a chapter on the polar regions.

Even in its softened form, the report outlined devastating effects that will strike all regions of the world and all levels of society. Those without resources to adapt to the changes will suffer the most, according to the study from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“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 IPCC, which released the report in Brussels.

The report is the second of four scheduled to be issued this year by the U.N., which marshaled more than 2,500 scientists to give their best predictions of the consequences of a few degrees increase in temperature. The first report, released in February, said global warming was irreversible but could be moderated by large-scale societal changes.

That report said with 90% confidence that the warming was caused by humans, and its conclusions were widely accepted because of the years of accumulated scientific data supporting them.

In contrast, the latest report was more controversial because it tackled the more uncertain issues of the precise effects of warming and the ability of humans to adapt to them.
(7 April 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

Wars For Water?

Michael Klare, Newsweek International
For years, experts and pundits have predicted that conflicts will increase over an ever scarcer and more valuable commodity: water. The fear has been that as populations grow and development spreads, vicious battles will erupt between water-rich and water-poor nations, particularly in major river basins where upstream nations control the flow of water to those downstream. To the doomsayers, global warming will only make those battles worse by decreasing rainfall and increasing evaporation in critical areas.

The argument has a certain logic. Consider the Colorado River, a major water source for seven U.S. states and part of northwestern Mexico. Even now the Colorado can barely meet the needs of the many millions who rely on it. If water levels drop, according to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, it “could derail the system altogether,” igniting bruising fights over ever-diminishing supplies. Things could get even uglier over the Nile (shared by Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda), the Jordan (shared by Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan), the Tigris-Euphrates system (shared by Turkey, Syria and Iraq) and the Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra systems (shared by India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh).

Some of these rivers have almost sparked wars before: Egypt has repeatedly threatened military action if Kenya, Uganda or Ethiopia diverted the Nile, and Iraq, the last state in the Euphrates’s journey, mobilized its troops against Syria in 1975 when Damascus cut off the tap.

It turns out, however, that such conflicts are not necessary or even likely. For one thing, many areas of the world are in for more, not less, precipitation in the years ahead. The Zambezi River in Mozambique has already flooded its banks twice in the past decade.

…Even in places that get less rain, conflict is not a given, since a number of drying regions are adapting to the change by building new dams and reservoirs or embarking on collaborative projects to make sure all those affected get the water they need.

…Environmentalists warn, however, that such measures alone will not overcome the impact of climate change. Too often, says Lori Pottinger of the International Rivers Network, these projects ignore “the poorest of the poor,” who are the most likely to suffer from flooding and drought. That is why, she argues, these large-scale projects must incorporate small, localized adaptation efforts such as rainfall harvesting (collecting rainwater in rooftop reservoirs for household use) and greater assistance for those displaced by floods. The MRC has already undertaken several such efforts.

As all this suggests, the geopolitical forecast for global warming is a lot more complicated than previously assumed.
(16 April 2007)
Michael Klare has written extensively on the political fallout from diminishing oil supplies. -BA

Mountaineers testify to warming’s effect

John Heilprin, Associated Press
Mountaineers are bringing back firsthand accounts of vanishing glaciers, melting ice routes, crumbling rock formations and flood-prone lakes where glaciers once rose.

The observations are transforming a growing number of alpine and ice climbers, some of whom have scientific training, into eyewitnesses of global warming. Increasingly, they are deciding not to leave it to scientists to tell the entire story.

“I personally have done a bunch of ice climbs around the world that no longer exist,” said Yvon Chouinard, a renowned climber and surfer and founder of Patagonia, Inc., an outdoor clothing and gear company that champions the environment. “I mean, I was aghast at the change.”

Chouinard pointed to recent trips where the ice had all but disappeared on the famous Diamond Couloir of 16,897-foot Mount Kenya, and snow was absent at low elevations on 4,409-foot Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, in the Highlands of northwest Scotland. He sees a role for climbers in debating climate change, even if their chronicles are unscientific.

“Most people don’t care whether the ice goes or not, the kind of ice that we climb on and stuff,” he said. But climbers’ stories, he added, can “make it personal, instead of just scientists talking about it. Telling personal stories might hit home to some people.”
(7 April 2007)

The Curse of Akkad

Graham Strouts, Zone 5
…With the publication of the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change this week arriving during what seems like an exceptionally warm April- a heatwave I think we could say – I thought I might post a couple of reviews of books I read last year on the subject.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury, 2006, 210pp
The Last Generation: How Nature will take her revenge for Climate Change Fred Pierce, Eden Project Books, 2006, 324pp

… English writer Fred Pierce has added to his over 20-years of reporting on climate change for New Scientist and his more than a dozen books on environmental issues with the starkly entitled The Last Generation.

This refers not-quite to the apocalyptic conclusions presented for example by James Lovelock in his recent The Revenge of Gaia that ours will be the last generation even to survive at all, but that ours is the last generation since the last ice-age that will have the comfort and security of living with a relatively stable and predictable climate. “The big new discovery is that planet Earth does not generally engage in gradual change”. Quoting Australian scientist Will Steffan early in the book, who says “abrupt change seems to be the norm, not the exception”, Pierce presents the nature of our predicament: “We have been lured into a false sense of security by the relatively quiet climatic era during which our modern complex civilisations have grown and flourished. This security has left us unexpectedly vulnerable as we stumble into a new era of abrupt change.”

…Kolbert’s book is the shorter of the two, very clear and easy to read, with just a little more focus on the human stories and a slightly more chatty style; Pierce’s covers a good deal more ground, and in more detail, and is especially effective in showing the various different opinions within the scientific community as regards what the main drivers in climate change are …

…Both books have a chapter entitled “The Curse of Akkad”. This refers to a text of that name telling the story of the Akkadian empire, ruled 4,200 years ago by the despot Sargon, who presided over a vast agricultural empire in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. For a long time, it was believed that the demise of Sargon’s empire after only a hundred years was due to political reasons and invasions from outside. Pierce quotes the archaeologist Harvey Weiss’s work which uncovered a “lost city” in Syria in the 70s which provided evidence of an abrupt abandonment of the city which filled up with layers of dust. This event was dated and traced to a “huge global dust spike” which has traces of dust that period in tropical ice cores. Although no-one knows for sure what caused this, it all points to a sudden and abrupt change in climate causing persistent droughts in many areas.
(9 April 2007)