Friday, April 06, 2007


This morning I took a deep breath and sat down to read about the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is grim, grim reading, which should have people clamouring in the streets. (They won't, of course. They'll be wearing t-shirts and driving their Jeeps to the shopping centre.)

For those of you who have the stomach for it, here's a summary of some of the IPCC's findings.The IPCC's 'Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Report' ( was compiled by more than 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, with 800 contributing authors and 450 lead authorities from over 130 countries.

In its first working group report, the 'Physical Science Basis', published in February, the IPCC concluded that it was "very likely" - more than 90% probable - that global warming is man-made.

Global temperatures will rise by between 1.8 degrees Centigrade and 4 degrees Centigrade in the 21st Century (a mere 5 degree global shift triggered the last glaciation).

Impacts of warming include the following probable scenarios:

* 75 million to 200 million more people in Africa will be exposed to water shortages; rain-dependent agricultural yields could fall by 50% by 2020. The costs of adapting to climatic change could be as much as 10% of economic output. In short, the lifestyles of the richest nations will ruin the poorest.

* The Great Barrier Reef will experience 'significant loss of biodiversity' by 2020.

* Eastern parts of the Amazon rainforest will gradually change to savannah from forest.

* Rivers will dwindle everywhere, with impacts felt most severely in China and India, following decreased precipitation and glacier melt in the Himalayas.

* Small glaciers in the Alps will vanish by mid-century. Larger ones will shrink between 30% and 70% by 2100.

* In polar regions, land-based arctic ice zones could shrink by up to a third by 2100. Sea ice will vanish by 2040. Bye-bye, polar bears!

* Permafrost areas may decrease 33% by 2050 - leading to massive releases of methane, another major greenhouse gas.

* If global temperatures rise by 2 degrees Centigrade (on the very low end of predictions), up to a third of all species will face the risk of extinction.

* Huge patterns of flora and fauna shift, with extensive species loss, in Europe, of up to 60% in some areas.
I can hardly believe these words as I type them. It all sounds like science fiction but, God help us, it's science fact. And bear in mind that the IPCC delegates wrangled for a long time over the content of their report, with the world's biggest polluters, China and the USA, objecting to phrasing and seeking to tone down the most dire predictions. With help from the Saudis (of course), they seem to have succeeded. So even these terrifying statistics have been watered down.

Global warming is the planetary emergency. It isn't just an issue among others: it's the envelope in which all other issues are contained. Looking at our reactionary press, our plane-binging, gas-guzzling citizens, it's clear that we in the rich world have a long, long way to go if we're going to confront the catastrophe.

The moral and cultural shift needed is far greater than that which led, 200 years ago, to the abolition of the slave trade. That took decades to bring about.

We, unfortunately, do not have the luxury of time.


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