| Compiled by Badpuppy's GayToday
From World Watch Institute Reports
The average temperature of the earth's atmosphere hit the highest level ever recorded in the first two-thirds of 1998, literally jumping off the charts. (See Figure.) Six of the first eight months of the year were the warmest since records began in 1866.
The accelerating pace of climate change is out of step with the glacial pace of climate negotiations, which have been frozen since the Kyoto Protocol was crafted a year ago.
"Unless the government officials who gather in Buenos Aires November 2 for a new round of climate negotiations can plug the loopholes in the Protocol and pave the way for its ratification," say Worldwatch researchers Christopher Flavin and Seth Dunn, "they face serious risk that it will never be adopted, nullifying a decade of efforts to protect the climate. If nothing of consequence happens in Buenos Aires, that in itself will be big news."
Even before this year, the 14 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980. And researchers from the University of Massachusetts say that based on the analysis of tree rings, the recent temperatures are the warmest in 600 years.
Scientists believe that we are in effect creating a more feverish planet by adding billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The symptoms-higher temperatures and more hot and dry spells-are likely to be seen in the form of more severe weather. One factor in the extreme weather of 1998 was the periodic El Niño warming of the eastern Pacific. But the severity of the recent El Niño-the most extreme so far-may itself be a manifestation of human-induced climate change.
Some 56 countries have been hit by severe floods this year, and at least 45 were stricken by drought. China was particularly hard hit, suffering an estimated $36 billion in losses due to the flooding of the Yangtze river basin-equal to near 5 percent of the country's annual economic output. An estimated 2,500 Chinese were killed and another 56 million displaced by the floods, the country's worst in 44 years.
Bangladesh was hit by an unusually long and severe monsoon season, which left two-thirds of the country, including much of the capital, Dhaka, underwater for over a month, leaving 21 million people homeless. Nor was the host country for the Buenos Aires climate meetings spared. Floods in Argentina and Paraguay in 1998 cost $2.5 billion, and threatened the region's wheat and soybean crops.
Worldwide economic losses from storms, floods, droughts and other weather-related natural disasters totaled an estimated $72 billion during the first 7 months of 1997-which already exceeded the record of $60 billion for the full 12 months of 1996.
A more unstable climate is also causing record-breaking heat waves. One hundred Texans died in a prolonged summer heat spell during which temperatures in Dallas rose above 35 degrees Celsius for weeks on end. An estimated 3,000 people died in India's most intense heat wave in 50 years.
Climate disruption is leading to the spread of infectious diseases, according to Paul Epstein of the Harvard Medical School. Rising temperatures and more persistent rainfall allow tropical and subtropical diseases to move into new areas. In the past year, tens of thousands of Africans were hit by Rift Valley Fever, and 200 were killed, after the heaviest rains since 1961.
The World Health Organization has documented "quantitative leaps" in the incidence of malaria in the past several years. Outbreaks of hantavirus and cholera have occurred in the region immediately surrounding Buenos Aires.
One of the planet's most prominent "hotspots" is just a few thousand miles from the southern tip of Argentina: Antarctica. The peninsula has warmed up by 2.5 degrees Celsius since the mid-1940s. According to a research team led by G.D. Clow of the U.S. Geological Survey, Antarctica is warmer now than at any time in the last 4,000 years.
This past March, a 200-square-kilometer block of ice fell from the Larsen B ice shelf, pushing its size to an historical minimum. In October, an iceberg 7,125 square kilometers in area-larger than the U.S. state of Delaware-separated from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey believe that the Larsen B shelf may be on the verge of entering an "irreversible retreat phase." They are also concerned about the collapse of the larger West Antarctic ice sheet, which could raise sea levels by as much as 5 meters and inundate coastal regions.
Glaciers outside Antarctica are shrinking, too. Half the glacier ice in the European Alps has disappeared in the last century. The famous ice field in America's Glacier National Park is shrinking fast, as are the glaciers in the Patagonian Andes along the Argentine border.
Accelerated temperature change is giving an ironic twist to our notion of "glacial pace." As climate change picks up speed, it is the international political process that is now moving at the pace we used to associate with large chunks of ice.
Prior to and during the Buenos Aires conference, articles from a special climate issue of World Watch magazine may be downloaded from the Institute's web site at:
World Watch Institute: www.worldwatch.org