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The Immensity of Global Warming   August 7, 2005

When you stand on the edge of the vast Pacific ocean, thinking how it takes 10 hours to cross its expanse in a jet aircraft traveling at 600 miles per hour (the cruising speed of a Boeing 777), it seems implausible that human activity could be affecting the oceans and atmosphere of our seemingly enormous planet. These thoughts occurred to me as I swam off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, last month (photo to the right).

Yet the evidence is now overwhelming that human activity, specifically the burning of fossil hydrocarbons, has indeed warmed the entire ocean and atmosphere--or at least the top layer of the oceans which most directly affect weather.

For evidence, start with the Larsen B ice shelf breaking off of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Then consider The collapse of the food chain off the Pacific Coast.

Or how about the multi-year rise of extreme weather in Europe, for example the recent violent thunderstorms.

Modeling global warming is a difficult exercise, as establishing the data points and parameters is necessarily a process of pruning the inputs to a managable number. Furthermore, the overlapping cycles of weather-changing processes run from daily weather to ice ages. Indeed, a recent Scientific American article posited that the neolithic human practise of agriculture (clearing land via slash-and-burn) may have begun global warming and thus delayed the onset of the next ice age, which would "normally" be occuring in this era.

Such global warming research is necessarily contentious, as it relies on data which is open to various interpretations. This does not mean, however, that the science is guesswork; it simply means that there are parameters of accuracy and certainty which can be exploited by determined skeptics or those with a political agenda of denying the evidence that global warming is a fact and that it will alter global weather in dramatic ways.

The best available evidence suggests that weather in North America--home to the world's worst weather, including tornados, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms--will grow worse in some ways, such as more plentiful and powerful hurricanes, while perhaps gaining a longer growing season and more rain in the Great Plains states. Drought will increase in some areas as well, so it's a mixed bag.

Droughts in Europe and Asia now seem endemic, along with higher temperatures and a more volatile monsoon season--flash flooding, killing heat, etc.

The least noticeable but most devastating consequence of the collapse of the Antarctic ice shelves will be the rise of sea levels around the globe, inundating major parts of Bangladesh and Florida. Watching the waves breaking onto Oahu's sandy beaches, It's hard to imagine that a small rise in sea level could change anything; but evidence suggests that if the melting which is underway at the poles continues apace, even cities such as New York will be at risk of flooding.

It's a weakness of the human mind, this inability to foresee the consequences of actions whose effects are not readily observable. Thus we clearcut the trees in our neck of the woods, and so do our neighbors--and eventually the entire forest has been destroyed. We can't detect the rise in the oceans with our eyes, and so we don't believe it's possible until the flooding is a reality and it's too late to stop the feedback loop: warmer water melts more ice which raises the level even higher.

For a complete list of current ecology-related news events, check out Environmental Health News.

Also worth reading is EarthWeek.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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