It may already be too late to reverse global warming damage

Published 4:01 am Monday, April 3, 2006

By Staff
As idyllic as it sounds, I found our snow-free Michigan winter unsettling. Regular readers know the Week in Revue has railed about global warming for years to no avail. I'm John Quixote. I tilt at windmills.
Our politicians have been in denial so long the end game started without them, from polar bears drowning as they try to tiptoe from one melting ice floe to another, to the amount of the earth's surface afflicted by drought more than doubling since the 1970s.
Cyclone Larry in Australia reminds us another hurricane season lurks just around the corner.
Politicians seemed to think they could keep shoving global warming to the back burner for their successors to worry about decades after they left office, like our habitat is Social Security or health care.
Turns out glaciers can move faster than their stereotype.
The demise of our crashing climate is hastened by tipping points and feedback loops.
The journal Science published a study suggesting that by the end of the century, the world could be locked in to an eventual rise in sea levels of as much as 20 feet.
Of the 20 hottest years on record, 19 occurred since the 1980s; 2005 was one of the hottest years in more than a century, according to NASA scientists.
It's not just that Greenland ice is melting, but that it's doing so more than twice as fast. Fifty-three cubic miles drained into the sea last year alone, compared to 22 cubic miles in 1996.
A cubic mile of water is about five times the amount Los Angeles uses in a year.
Dumping that much water into the ocean is dangerous.
Icebergs don't raise sea levels when they melt because they're floating. But land ice, like Greenland's, pours into oceans already rising because warm water expands.
Greenland's ice sheet would be enough to raise global sea levels 23 feet. Goodbye, Florida. So long, Bangladesh. The Antarctic holds enough ice to raise sea levels more than 215 feet.
Time's compelling April 3 cover story (its last was in 2001) explains why the loss of the planet's ice cover is accelerating with a vengeance.
As the poles' bright white surface shrinks, it alters the relationship between Earth and the sun. Polar ice is so reflective that 90 percent of the sunlight that strikes it simply bounces back into space, taking much of its energy with it.
But ocean water does the opposite. It absorbs 90 percent of the energy it receives. The more energy it retains, the warmer it gets. The result is that each mile of ice that melts vanishes faster than the mile that preceded it. That's what scientists call a feedback loop.
Is it already too late to reverse changes wrought by global warming? “That's still not clear,” Time concludes. “Curbing global warming may be an order of magnitude harder than, say … putting a man on the moon.”
Consider also that India's greenhouse-gas emissions could rise 70 percent by 2025.
The increase in China's emissions from 2000 to 2030 will nearly equal the increase from the entire industrialized world.
India's energy consumption jumped 208 percent from 1980 to 2001, even faster than China's, yet nearly half the population still lacks regular access to electricity.
The average gas-guzzling American is responsible for 20 times as much carbon-dioxide emissions as the average Indian, but China and India have 2.4 billion inhabitants.
Ocean waters are a full degree warmer than in 1970. “Warmer water is like rocket fuel for typhoons and hurricanes,” Time explains.
Two studies last year found that in the past 35 years the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide doubled.
Wind speed and duration of all hurricanes jumped 50 percent.
The United States, which thumbed its nose at 141 nations that ratified the Kyoto treaty to reduce emissions, is home to less than 5 percent of Earth's inhabitants, but we produce 35 percent of carbon dioxide.
George W. Bush in his State of the Union address gave lip service to America's oil addiction and switchgrass as an alternative, but no real initiatives followed.
Environmental groups seem resigned to twiddling their thumbs until 2009, when the Bush administration is gone - especially after NASA climate-change researcher Jim Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, complained that he has been harassed by White House appointees for trying to sound the global warming alarm. “They're trying to deny the science,” he said.
U.S. mayors are filling Washington's leadership void. More than 200 signed a climate protection agreement to meet the Kyoto goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in their cities to 1990 levels by 2012.
Likewise, nine eastern states established a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Martyr wannabe Zacarias Moussaoui, 37, capped three years of denying any role in the 9/11 terrorism plot by testifying in Alexandria, Va., March 27 that he intended to fly a fifth 747 jetliner into the White House with the help of would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Dick DeVos: When I schlepped around the Law and Courts Building in Cassopolis last Aug. 25 with the Grand Rapids Republican running for governor, I knew he was rich, but not the wealthiest candidate ever to seek statewide office in Michigan. I didn't know that he owns a share of the Orlando Magic basketball team or a stake in a Bahamas resort or four homes, plus a shared vacation home in Colorado. Estimates of his net worth “start in the $500-million range,” the Detroit Free Press reported April 1. Democrats want his immense personal wealth to make him out of touch with ordinary voters, but he seemed pretty down-to-earth. Personal success shouldn't disqualify him from office.
Jill Carroll: The reporter was freed after almost three months in captivity in Iraq and returned safely to America. The 28-year-old Christian Science Monitor freelancer grew up in Ann Arbor.
Paul Young (Mark Moses) on “Desperate Housewives,” Charlie (Dominic Monaghan on “Lost” and Capt. Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) on “CSI” are three TV characters The Detroit News says should be killed before this season ends. I would miss Brass.
Jon Stewart: The host of Comedy Central's fake news program, “The Daily Show,” fresh from hosting the Academy Awards last month, hosts the 65th Peabody Awards June 5 in New York City.
He's won two of the prestigious broadcasting awards, for “Indecision 2000” and “Indecision 2004.”
Graceland: Elvis Presley's home in Memphis was designated a National Historic Landmark March 27.
Quips, quotes and qulunkers: “That's not what they need.”