New studies show that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere - the main cause of dangerous climate change - have risen abruptly in recent years, and could continue to rise at an alarming pace if strong actions to curb emissions aren't taken promptly. This news follows on the heels of a recent summit of the most polluting countries, convened by the Bush administration, at which they reaffirmed their refusal to set limits for carbon dioxide emissions. This should be an embarrassment to all Americans.
Environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has described George W. Bush as the worst environmental president in U.S. history. During Bush's first term in office, his administration initiated more than 200 rollbacks of environmental laws. These moves serve to benefit big corporations, which are no longer inconvenienced by having to comply with strict pollution control standards. This kind of environmental irresponsibility is contributing to increased global warming which, if allowed to continue unchecked, could pose a serious threat to human life around the world.
Despite the ongoing assertions of some diehard naysayers, hard data are now confirming that climate change is dramatic, real, and driven by fossil fuel burning. Weather patterns are increasingly unstable, deep oceans are warming, glaciers are melting, drought and famine are proliferating, sea levels are rising, and the timing of the seasons themselves is altered.
Increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have resulted in a one-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature over the last century. That may not seem like much of a warming effect, but the process is speeding up in a big way, and could soon careen out of control if measures are not taken to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the average global temperature will rise from three to 10 degrees Fahrenheit later in this century. Other studies suggest an even greater warming effect much sooner. The consequences could be cataclysmic.
Already global climate change is affecting the lives and livelihoods of some of the world's most vulnerable people, threatening millennia-old cultures, and literally stealing the ground beneath people's feet. The people of the Inuit nation near the Arctic Circle are seeing deformed fish, depleted caribou herds, dying forests, starving seals, and emaciated polar bears. Recently, the Inuit began battling with northward-migrating mosquitoes and other infections disease-carrying insects, which they had never before encountered. As the sea ice melts, rising water levels are washing away entire coastal villages. Half a world away, islands in the South Pacific are being submerged by rising sea levels caused by global warming. Leo Falcam, former president of the Federated States of Micronesia, described climate change as "a form of slow death."
Even farther inland, the consequences are bleak, as global warming will have a considerable effect on food production worldwide. The IPCC has predicted that a half-degree temperature increase would cause a drop of 20 to 40 percent in rice yields in Southeast Asia, and would cut India's wheat yield by up to 20 percent. Looking forward, it gets even worse and hits closer to home. The UN's Environmental Program projects that later this century global warming will reduce several of the world's key food crops, such as corn grown in the Midwestern U.S., by some 30 percent. Adding to this threat to food security is the fact that world food consumption has, for the first time in recorded history, outpaced food production for four consecutive years, according to the Earth Policy Institute. In other words, folks, already there is not enough food to go around.
Flooding and erosion of islands and coasts presents a serious hardship in affected areas of the world, but the airborne diseases and malnutrition caused by global warming are matters of life and death. Summing up the situation, the British medical journal "The Lancet" called indifference to climate change "a form of bio-political terrorism."
The U.S. - with about five percent of the world's population - remains the world's chief polluter, generating 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Humanity must not be made to suffer the consequences of corporate cronyism. The Bush administration, and our state officials as well, must make this issue a priority and take immediate, proactive measures to control pollution and fight global warming. We owe that much to our future generations and to the world.