Greenland melts, while Arabia waits to catch fire


For years, the debate over climate change happened largely at an academic level that wasn’t always easy for the general public to understand. While scientists studied global temperature data and closely tracked the level of carbon pollution in the atmosphere, the impact on the ground seemed a little less clear. For every unseasonably warm winter here in parts of the United States, there were also record-setting blizzards, and warnings that weather patterns shouldn’t be confused with the broader climate.

But over the last year or two, the effects of greenhouse gas-pollution by humans, most notably its impact on the earth’s temperature, are quite simply becoming too dramatic to ignore. Here on American soil, there is the record drought that California and other regions have endured amid rising temperatures. But in more remote corners of the globe, the effect on climate has been much more dramatic.

This week, the New York Times ran an article that shocked a lot of people. The newspaper even unveiled a new drone that it’ll be using to conduct photojournalism. The drone’s first mission: Dramatic photographs of the rapid melting of the large ice caps over Greenland, which are creating a massive river of cold water that is flooding the Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels and altering climate patterns.

Here’s an excerpt from the accompanying article:

The midnight sun still gleamed at 1 a.m. across the brilliant expanse of the Greenland ice sheet. Brandon Overstreet, a doctoral candidate in hydrology at the University of Wyoming, picked his way across the frozen landscape, clipped his climbing harness to an anchor in the ice and crept toward the edge of a river that rushed downstream toward an enormous sinkhole.

If he fell in, “the death rate is 100 percent,” said Mr. Overstreet’s friend and fellow researcher, Lincoln Pitcher.

But Mr. Overstreet’s task, to collect critical data from the river, is essential to understanding one of the most consequential impacts of global warming. The scientific data he and a team of six other researchers collect here could yield groundbreaking information on the rate at which the melting of Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet.

Needless to say, such a large rise in sea levels due to this ice melt would be totally catastrophic. My beloved hometown of New Orleans would be completed surrounded by miles and miles of ocean; indeed, much if not all of Louisiana would be under water under the worst case scenario. But melting ice is just one part of the equation: Scientists also predict searing temperatures. Parts of the world that already deal with extreme heat could be rendered unlivable by global warming:

By the end of this century, areas of the Persian Gulf could be hit by waves of heat and humidity so severe that simply being outside for several hours could threaten human life, according to a study published Monday. Because of humanity’s contribution to climate change, the authors wrote, some population centers in the Middle East “are likely to experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.”

The dangerously muggy summer conditions predicted for places near the warm waters of the gulf could overwhelm the ability of the human body to reduce its temperature through sweating and ventilation. That threatens anyone without air-conditioning, including the poor, but also those who work outdoors in professions like agriculture and construction.

These stories, which came out about the same time, are two of the most alarming pieces about global warming that I’ve yet read. And they come at a critical time: Just as President Obama is preparing to meet with roughly 80 other world leaders, including the heads of state of China and India, in Paris to seek a common approach to tackling climate change. There are some who worry that it’s already too late. But given the potentially dreadful consequences, what is the alternative.

Read the article and watch the astonishing video from the New York Times about melting ice in Greenland:

Here is the Times coverage of the deadly heat forecast for the Persian Gulf region:

Learn more about the risks of burning fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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