Global warming a certainty

Whether humans have made significant contributions to it is a hotly debated question.

Get ready for a real-life “Waterworld.” Global climate change will rear its ugly head this century. That the Earth’s temperature is rising more quickly than it was hundreds of years ago is not in dispute, but whether humans have made a significant contribution to this change is a hotly debated political landmine.

A four-year study released last week leaves little doubt that humans have an effect on conditions in the Arctic Circle – and that greenhouse gas emissions are not slowing down. The Arctic Council – made up of the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden – commissioned the study, completed by more than 300 scientists and elders from native peoples in the areas. It concluded greenhouse gas emissions have a profound effect on Arctic Circle ecosystems.

The resulting retreating ice sheets will devastate polar bear and ice-living seal populations, as well as communities that rely on them for food. Globally, Greenland’s melting ice sheets are likely to raise sea levels and increase flooding in coastal cities such as New York, Tokyo and Shanghai, China, – perhaps not “Waterworld,” but potentially devastating nonetheless.

Other studies confirm global climate change, noting glacial retreat in Tibet, which has increased severely during the last several decades. Rivers and waterfalls now occupy spaces once covered in solid ice. Similar retreats are seen worldwide in glaciers and mountain ice caps, such as Peru’s Quelccaya ice cap and Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro, whose ice cap is expected to disappear altogether within 15 years. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions will not halt or reverse the changes occurring in the Arctic Circle and other icy areas, but it might slow the process down enough to allow ecosystems and wildlife to adapt to the changing climate.

Those who disagree with the concept of human-induced global warming can make a strong case for gradual geological changes and naturally occurring temperature shifts over thousands of years, and natural processes might indeed account for some of the climate change that scientists observe today.

In the end, there is little doubt greenhouse gas emissions have a significant impact on the environment. Our leaders must recognize this and move us toward stricter emissions standards.