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Vindicating Lovelock, Brower, Thoreau…

With the release of the Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change, confirming the repercussions of global warming, it’s the moment to demand a fight from the political establishment against the most dangerous consequences.

This past April 6, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a document warning of mass exoduses and the extinction of one of every three species of animals and plants as a result of climate change.

Although we’ve become accustomed to alarmist reports filled with geostrategic warnings, the likely extinction of about 30% of all species should worry us more than human-induced global warming has up until now, given that it has been a taboo topic for partisan scientists and public figures with industrial and geopolitical interests.

If emissions are controlled, change will be less dramatic

The scientists that participated in the working group of the IPCC in charge of evaluating the scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change (Working Group I), are conclusive regarding one issue: if emissions are controlled, the consequences of global warming will be less dramatic.

It’s the identical argument as that put forth by the British scientist Nicholas Stern, advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when in 2006 he presented the study known as The Stern Report: according to this report, planetary global warming can cause, in just a few decades, a world economic crash bigger even than that of the Great Depression of 1929: if we don’t adopt solutions now, a fifth of the world GDP is in danger.

The world political establishment shouldn’t act falsely unaware, as seems to have occurred with the administration of George W. Bush, after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated any legal excuse of the country’s conservatives to not act against climate change.

Editorials in the world’s most prestigious publications have supported the argument that unequivocal action against the worst effects of global warming can no longer be avoided. Though they have also supported the idea that emissions reductions and other similar measures can reduce the most disastrous catastrophic consequences.

Concern about the possible extinction of 30% of all species?

The approved document, a summary of the Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Board on Climate Change, explains the impacts of global warming, the vulnerability of the different areas of the planet and the changes that will affect us, even if the increase of the worldwide average temperature is situated in the low bracket of the documented forecasts (according to the Brit Martin Parry, one of the authors of the document, the consequences will increase in gravity with warming of over 3°C in this century).

Scientists from more than 100 countries have helped corroborate the largest compilation that the international community has been able to agree upon up until now related to global warming.

  • The impact of global warming: freshwater shortage, increase in famines, displacement of millions of people, reduction of crops, extinction of up to 30% of species, increase of health problems and pandemics.
  • The most affected regions will be the Arctic (the polar bear and the problems its having adapting to the new environment will become a symbol of the fight against global warming, or so we believe at faircompanies), Sub-Saharan Africa, small islands, large river deltas and regions more to the south of the temperate zones, among them the Mediterranean.

Caubernet Sauvignon in Scotland?

The business section of the Financial Times (March 31 to April 1, 2007) dared to predict some advantages of this catastrophe for the majority of rich countries, since the developed economies are situated geographically, mostly, in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe and the most advanced Asian economies, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong).

In the article, titled “Climate change to benefit rich countries”, the author (Fiona Harvey) argues that “tourism may boom, farmers find yields increasing, and crofters in Scotland look forward to sipping homegrown CabernetSauvignon as they gaze over their vineyards.” (The southern French grape Cabernet Sauvignon currently is only appropriate in more temperate zones of California, Chile or South Africa, besides Central and Southern Europe).

Harvey points out that ironically, it is the same regions that are most responsible for global warming- given that Europe and the United States have emitted the majority of the contaminating gases since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution- that stand to benefit the most.

Simultaneously, the poorest regions of the world, those that have contributed the least in industrial emissions, will suffer most given that the increase in temperatures will reduce their arable land, droughts will be more extreme and diseases like malaria will extend beyond their traditional limits.

Although this climate shift would make the Scottish enologists happier than those responsible for British transportation, since the railway infrastructure on the United Kingdom relies on rails that have not been designed to withstand the temperatures of the Mediterranean. The railroad tracks, the highways and other infrastructures would deteriorate quickly in extensive zones of the Northern Hemisphere due to the increase in heat waves and unusually high temperatures during summer months.

The author of the Financial Times article, clearly, is limited to enumerate in a picturesque way the advantages and disadvantages of climate change predicted with certainty by the IPCC. There is no discussion of the mass extinction of species, that would certainly cause a deep depression for environmentalists like Henry David Thoureau, Walt Whitman or David Brower.

The veteran naturalistic and American writer Edward O. Wilson (a natural-born optimist) and the Brit James Lovelock (alarmist, author of the Gaia theory; he believes that the massive use of nuclear energy is the only solution to a catastrophe that will result in the rich living further north and the poor trying to save themselves during an eternal exodus toward the north), have spent decades trying to raise awareness about what is now being explained to us by the Fourth Summary Report of the IPCC.

Climate Change: distribution of CO2 emissions, in % of the world total, for the period of 1950-2000 (Sources: The Atlas of Climate Change, The Woods Hole Research Center and the World Meterological Organization).

  • United States and Canada: 29% of worldwide emissions between 1950 and 2000.
  • Europe: 24%
  • Commonwealth of Independent States (ex USSR-CIS): 15%
  • East Asia: 11%
  • Japan: 5%
  • Central America and South America: 4%
  • Southern Asia (Indian subcontinent): 3%
  • Middle East: 2,5%
  • Africa: 2,5%
  • Southeast Asia: 2%
  • Australia and New Zealand: 1%
  • Others: 1%

The IPCC and its role in the study of climate change

The IPCC has as an objective, as stated on its website, “to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Under the threatening epigraph “Climate Change 2007”, a small animation opens to specify the availability, since April 6, of the summary for policymakers (who represent us in confronting this problem) of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

The title of the document seems more ambiguous than the message that it contains, thanks to the work of 2,500 scientists, hundreds of specialists from 130 countries and 6 years of hard work. The striking points here are the context in which it was developed, the seriousness of its warnings and the solidity of its arguments, which seem to be taken into account by the United States, China, India and Brazil.

The first, is the main economy of the world and a symbolic democracy, a heritage shared only with Great Britain, cradle of the Magna Carta and of the parliamentary monarchy; and France, instigator of the French Revolution and of a good part of the ideological advances of the Renaissance, ideology that now should be revised to confront the environmental crisis. Additionally, the United States is the main source of contaminating gases and the great absentee from the first world consensus to try to stop the most disastrous consequences of climate change: the so-called Kyoto Protocol.

Australia is the other rich country that has not ratified the protocol, as well as the 9th largest worldwide contributor to greenhouse gases (just ahead of Spain, despite having less than the half of the Spanish population). The remaining 39 countries that are considered most developed agreed to initiate the fight against the greenhouse effect in the Japanese city back in 1997. They have done little since then.

China, India and Brazil are the three emerging countries whose notable increase in wealth, that will continue over the coming decades, would enable them to become major worldwide polluters, next to the United States and Russia, currently the first and second largest contributors to greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to attribute climate change to the growing contaminating gas emissions of the developing world. Just a glance at the 10 largest producers of CO2 in the world is sufficient to realize that the western standard of living is far from sustainable. Canada, with little more than 40 million inhabitants, is the country that consumes the most energy per inhabitant and the fifth largest in the world. The United States, the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, ranks second internationally regarding energy consumption percapita (Is there a cultural connection in North America regarding energy consumption?).

Australia emits more CO2 than Spain and almost so much as France, despite having only 20 million inhabitants. Europe, signor of the Kyoto commitment (as opposed to the US and Australia), supported by all the members of the EU, shouldn’t feel proud of the reality that, beyond the rhetoric of Kyoto, five of the ten main contaminating countries belong to the club of Brussels.

The 10 main producers of CO2 (Source: the daily El País, business section from Sunday April 8, 2007): millions of tons of carbon dioxide, 2004.

  • US: 7.067.6
  • Russia: 2024,2
  • Japan: 1.355, 2
  • Germany: 1.015,3
  • Canada: 758,1
  • United Kingdom: 665,3
  • Italy: 582,5
  • France: 562,6
  • Australia: 529,2
  • Spain: 427,9

Consequences of extreme weather

On April 8, 2007, the spanish daily newspaper El País compiled a list of consequences that, according to the IPCC, will result from the extreme weather conditions due to the increase in temperatures.

The report for policymakers specifies the impact of the extreme weather phenomena. The phenomena are ordered with respect to the greater to smaller probability that they will occur:

  • Warming: fewer cold days and nights and more warm days in the majority of regions, with a resulting increase in crops in the coldest zones and a decrease in the warmest zones. It will reduce the amount of fresh water that is dependent on the thaw and will increase the rate of evaporation. In many places the energy demand for heating will decrease, but will increase for cooling. The worst air quality is in the cities.
  • Heat waves: more heat waves, less crops in the temperate zones and more forest fires. Greater demand for drinking water. Greater risk of associated deaths from heat.
  • Torrential rains: the increase of strong rains will cause crop damage and soil erosion. Adverse effects also on fresh water. Greater risk of illnesses. Changes for commerce, destruction of homes and transportation.
  • Drought: degradation of the land. Less crops, greater loss of life of cattle and increase of forest fires. In many regions, more difficulties with the drinking water and more problems associated with diet and water shortages. Disastrous population migrations.
  • Tropical Storms: damages to crops, forests and coral reefs. Destruction of infrastructures can affect freshwater and electricity supply. Greater risk of deaths, traumatic injuries and illnesses.
  • Sea Level: a rise of saltwater affecting fresh water in estuaries and coastal zones. Greater risk of death and damages from floods. Repercussions on a sanitary level (spread of pandemics, shortage of supplies, etc).