How was your Earth Day? What would Mother Earth say about it?
On April 13, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, consisting of nearly 1,000 scientists from 74 countries, issued its long-awaited report. The studies found that global warming, almost certainly driven in part by human activity, already affects the Earth's ecosystems, and it predicted continued change.
That was three years ago. The April issue of National Geographic reports that we have "lately raised the Earth's temperature by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit ... even this additional warming of the air creates changes from Louisiana to the Philippines."
What does this mean for us? The 20th century has seen the greatest warming in the past 1,000 years. The hottest ones on record (that we have complete data on) are 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2003. One result - less fresh water. Almost 70 percent of our fresh water is frozen in ice. From Alaska to Asia, glaciers are melting at a furious pace. When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1910, it contained 150 glaciers. It has now fewer than 30. Our aquifers are being drained for drinking water and irrigation faster than they can be naturally replenished.
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Another result - less nice weather. Warmer air means stronger storms, drier conditions in arid places, wetter conditions in damp ones, and sea levels rising as glaciers melt. Sea levels in South Florida have risen 9 inches since 1930. This could put their mangrove forests under water in this century.
Less food. Rising sea levels mean less arable land for agriculture. Shrinking levels of fresh water mean less for irrigation.
Fewer Earthlings. We humans aren't the only ones who will pay the price for our mistreatment of the planet. We can already see the negative effects: bleached corals, worldwide decline in amphibian species, dying forests due to beetle proliferation in warmer temperatures, polar bears threatened by melting pack ice, and myriad other plant and animal species, such as monarch butterflies, threatened by climate changes.
Some would say people have no impact in the world's climate - we can cut and pollute and mine and drain at will. They say the scientists are misleading. However, most scientists do agree that human activity - burning fossil fuels, clearing forests, misuse of fresh water resources - is a major contributor to global climate change and that it will continue as greenhouse gases increase. This is based on a vast array of scientific data collected over decades, including glacial ice cores, ancient cavern samples, tree rings, corals and fossil evidence.
To quote author and poet Barbara Kingsolver, "We have been slow to give up on the myth of Earth's infinite generosity. Rather grandly, we have overdrawn our accounts." We know what is harmful, and we know what to do about it. So, will we call on the world's leaders to turn things around or will we simply allow our debts to be paid by our grandchildren?
The writer lives in Conway.