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The destruction of the environment

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  • The destruction of the environment

    Long post, the complete original article is only available to Independent portfolio subscribers.

    Back in the Sixties, a great movie was released called The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Leo McKern, I recall, played a Daily Express reporter along with the then real-life editor of the paper, Arthur Christiansen. What the Express discovered was that the British government was erecting showers in Hyde Park to keep people cool when in fact it was still winter. Investigative reporting eventually revealed - and this, remember, was fiction - that the US and Soviet powers had, without knowing of the other's activities, tested nuclear weapons at exactly the same moment at opposite sides of the earth.

    I'm not sure that our present-day colleagues on the Express would discover any of this but that's not the point. In the movie, our planet had been blasted off course - and was now heading towards the sun. The governments, of course, tried to cover this up.

    Now I remembered this creaky old film early this week when I woke up at my home in Beirut shivering with cold. This is mid-February in Lebanon and early spring should have warmed the air. But it hadn't. Up in the Christian mountain town of Jezzine, it was snowing fiercely. I walked to my balcony over the Mediterranean and a sharp, freezing wind was coming off the sea. Well poor old Bob, you might say. Better install central heating. (Most Lebanese exist like me with a series of dangerous and cheaply made gas heaters.)

    But right now, flying around the world to launch my new book - travelling more than the average air crew - I'm finding a lot of odd parallels. In Melbourne last autumn, for example, the Australian spring turned out to be much colder than expected. Yet in Toronto at Christmas, all the snow melted. I padded round the streets of the city and had to take my pullover off because of the sun. It was the warmest winter in the records of a country whose tundra wastes are known for their frozen desolation.

    I should add that those Canadians who welcomed this dangerous thaw seem at odds with reality; it's a bit like being cold and then expressing pleasure that your house is burning down on the grounds that you now feel warmer.

    Then there are the air crews I was talking about. Out here in the Middle East, for instance, pilots have told me that head winds can now be so fierce at high altitude that they are being forced to request lower altitudes from air traffic control. As a flyer who knows how to be afraid on a bumpy flight - I am - I can tell you that I haven't encountered as much turbulence as I have in the past 24 months.

    Now a deviation - but an important one. A British scientist, Chris Busby, has been digging through statistics from the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment which measures uranium in high-volume air samples. His suspicion was that depleted uranium particles from the two Gulf wars - DU is used in the anti-armour warheads of the ordnance of American and British tanks and planes - may have spread across Europe. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but here's something very odd.

    When Busby applied for the information from Aldermaston in 2004, they told him to get lost. When he demanded the information under the 2005 Freedom of Information Act, Aldermaston coughed up the figures. But wait.

    The only statistic missing from the data they gave him was for the early months of 2003. Remember what was happening then? A little dust-up in Iraq, a massive American-British invasion of Saddam's dictatorship in which tons of DU shells were used by American troops. Eventually Busby, who worked out all the high-altitude wind movements over Europe, received the data from the Defence Procurement Agency in Bristol - which showed an increase in uranium in high-volume air sampling over Britain during this period.

    Well, we aren't dead yet - though readers in Reading will not be happy to learn that the filter system samplings around Aldermaston showed that even they got an increase. Shock and awe indeed.

    Back to our main story. I'm tired of hearing about "global warming" - it's become such a cliché that it's a turn-off, a no-read, a yawn-cliché. As perhaps our governments wish it to be. Melting ice caps and disappearing icebergs have become de rigueur for all reporting. After Unesco put the Ilulissat ice fjord on the World Heritage List, it was discovered to have receded three miles. And there's a lovely irony in the fact that the Canadians are now having a row with the United States about shipping lanes in the far north - because the Americans would like to use a melted North West Passage which comes partly under Canadian sovereignty. But I have a hunch that something more serious is happening to our planet which we are not being told about.

    So let me remind you how The Day the Earth Caught Fire ended. Russian and American scientists were planning a new and joint explosion to set the world back on course. The last shot in the movie was set in the basement printing rooms (the real ones) of the Daily Express. The printers were standing by their machines with two headlines plated up to run, depending on the results of the detonation.

    One said "World Doomed", the other "World Saved", As that great populist columnist John Gordon of the Sunday Express used to write: makes you sit up a bit, doesn't it?

    Is the problem weather, or is it war?

  • #2
    The Antarctic ice sheet is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year in a trend that scientists link to global warming, according to a new paper that provides the first evidence that the sheet's total mass is shrinking significantly.

    The new findings, which are being published today in the journal Science, suggest that global sea level could rise substantially over the next several centuries.

    It is one of a slew of scientific papers in recent weeks that have sought to gauge the impact of climate change on the world's oceans and lakes. Just last month two researchers reported that Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, and a separate paper in Science today predicts that by the end of this century lakes and streams on one-fourth of the African continent could be drying up because of higher temperatures....

    Antarctic ice sheet is melting rapidly


    • #3
      Britain thirsts for end to record dry conditions


      • #4
        Huge solar storms could zap Earth, scientists warn: Next sunspot cycle may disrupt power, communications


        • #5
          Exotic species in a little-known "Garden of Eden" in the mountains of New Guinea island are under threat from global warming, New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday.

          "A paradise world of undiscovered species and tropical glaciers in the mountains of New Guinea is disappearing faster than it can be explored," the British-based magazine said.

          It quoted Michael Prentice, a climatologist at Plymouth State University, New Hampshire, as saying that temperatures in the highlands of the tropical island were rising far faster than previously thought....

          Global warming threatens New Guinea paradise-report


          • #6
            Greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and climate change have reached their highest ever levels in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday....

            Global warming gases at highest levels ever: UN


            • #7
              Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter, raising fears that global warming may have tipped the polar regions in to irreversible climate change far sooner than predicted.

              Satellite measurements of the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice show that for every month this winter, the ice failed to return even to its long-term average rate of decline. It is the second consecutive winter that the sea ice has not managed to re-form enough to compensate for the unprecedented melting seen during the past few summers....

              Climate change 'irreversible' as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form


              • #8

                As a government scientist, James Hansen is taking a risk. He says there are things the White House doesn't want you to hear but he's going to say them anyway.

                Hansen is arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming. He's the head of NASA's top institute studying the climate. But this eminent scientist tells says that the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say. Politicians, he says, are rewriting the science....


                • #9

                  Virtually all indicators of the likely future for the diversity of life on Earth are heading in the wrong direction, a major new report says.

                  The Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is published as national delegates gather in Brazil under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

                  The Convention commits governments to slow the decline in the richness of living systems by 2010.

                  The GBO says "unprecedented efforts" will be needed to achieve this aim.

                  It sets out 15 indicators of progress towards the 2010 target, ranging from trends in the extent of wildlife habitats to the build-up of nutrients such as nitrogen which can harm aquatic life.

                  Only one of the 15 - the area of the world's surface officially protected for wildlife - is moving in the right direction for biodiversity....

                  Life's diversity 'being depleted'


                  • #10
                    Within the next 100 years, the growing human influence on Earth's climate could lead to a long and irreversible rise in sea levels by eroding Earth's vast polar ice sheets, according to new observations and analysis by several teams of scientists.

                    One team, using computer models of climate and ice, found that by about 2100, average temperatures could be 4 degrees warmer than today and that over the coming centuries, the world's oceans could rise 13 to 20 feet -- conditions last seen 130,000 years ago, between the last two ice ages.

                    The findings, being reported today in the journal Science, are consistent with other recent studies of melting and erosion at the poles. Many experts say there are still uncertainties about timing, extent and causes.

                    But Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, a lead author of one of the studies, said the new findings made a strong case for the danger of failing to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases....

                    Earth's warming likely irreversible, scientists say


                    • #11

                      DOZENS of the world’s cities, including London and New York, could be flooded by the end of the century, according to research which suggests that global warming will increase sea levels more rapidly than was previously thought....

                      London 'under water by 2100' as Antarctica crumbles into the sea


                      • #12
                        Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever... more and more land is being devastated by drought... rising waters are drowning low-lying communities... By any measure, Earth is at ... The Tipping Point

                        No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.....

                        Earth at the Tipping Point


                        • #13
                          AIR temperatures above the entire frozen continent of Antarctica have risen three times faster than the rest of the world during the past 30 years.

                          While it is well established that temperatures are increasing rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula, the land tongue that protrudes towards South America, the trend has been harder to confirm over the continent as a whole.

                          Now analysis of weather balloon data by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that not only are the lower reaches of the Antarctic atmosphere warming, but that they are doing so at the fastest rate observed anywhere on Earth......

                          Antarctic air is warming faster than rest of world


                          • #14
                            Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

                            Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.....

                            Climate researchers feeling heat from White House


                            • #15
                              Scientists warn of ecological catastrophe across Asia:

                              Global warming is rapidly melting the ice-bound roof of the world, and turning it into desert, leading scientists have revealed.

                              The Chinese Academy of Sciences - the country's top scientific body - has announced that the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are vanishing so fast that they will be reduced by 50 per cent every decade. Each year enough water permanently melts from them to fill the entire Yellow River.

                              They added that the vast environmental changes brought about by the process will increase droughts and sandstorms over the rest of the country, and devastate many of the world's greatest rivers, in what experts warn will be an "ecological catastrophe".

                              The plateau, says the academy, has a staggering 46,298 glaciers, covering almost 60,000 square miles. At an average height of 13,000 feet above sea level, they make up the largest area of ice outside the polar regions, nearly a sixth of the world's total.

                              The glaciers have been receding over the past four decades, as the world has gradually warmed up, but the process has now accelerated alarmingly. Average temperatures in Tibet have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 20 years, causing the glaciers to shrink by 7 per cent a year, which means that they will halve every 10 years.

                              Prof Dong Guangrong, speaking for the academy - after a study analysing data from 680 weather stations scattered across the country - said that the rising temperatures would thaw out the tundra of the plateau, turning it into desert.

                              He added: "The melting glaciers will ultimately trigger more droughts, expand desertification and increase sand storms." The water running off the plateau is increasing soil erosion and so allowing the deserts to spread.

                              Sandstorms, blowing in from the degraded land, are already plaguing the country. So far this year, 13 of them have hit northern China, including Beijing. Three weeks ago one storm swept across an eighth of the vast country and even reached Korea and Japan. On the way, it dumped a mind-boggling 336,000 tons of dust on the capital, causing dangerous air pollution.

                              The rising temperatures are also endangering the newly built world's highest railway, which is due to go into operation this summer. They threaten to melt the permafrost under the tracks of the £1.7bn Tibetan railway, constructed to link the area with China's northwestern Qinghai province.

                              Perhaps worst of all, the melting threatens to disrupt water supplies over much of Asia. Many of the continent's greatest rivers - including the Yangtze, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong and the Yellow River - rise on the plateau.

                              In China alone, 300 million people depend on water from the glaciers for their survival. Yet the plateau is drying up, threatening to escalate an already dire situation across the country. Already 400 cities are short of water; in 100 of them - including Beijing - the shortages are becoming critical.

                              Even hopes that the melting glaciers might provide a temporary respite, by increasing the amount of water flowing off the plateau - have been dashed. For most of the water is evaporating before it reaches the people that need it - again because of the rising temperatures brought by global warning.

                              Yao Tandong, head of the academy's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research Institute, summed it up. "The full-scale glacier shrinkage in the plateau regions will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe," he said.

                              Ice-capped roof of world turns to desert


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