For the last several months, with sick fascination, I have been compiling a list of rapidly escalating eco-horrors. I don’t know what to do with this list. Each item by itself is terrifying, taken together, and indeed it is imperative that we do connect them, the enormity of the peril we face is breath-takingly clear. I won’t try to analyze them for you, they speak for themselves. Read them, weep, take action.
In December the US Geological Survey also warned that sea-level rise could be even worse than feared, as much as 1.5 metres by the end of this century, partly due to increased melting of the volume of water stored in glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland.
Most of the planet’s glaciers are melting so fast that many will disappear by the middle of the century, a leading expert has warned. Figures from the World Glacier Monitoring Service show that although melt rates for 2007 fell substantially from record levels the previous year, the loss of ice was still the third worst on record.
Sea levels on the United States’ mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than the global average because of global warming, threatening the future of coastal communities, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday.Coastal waters from New York to North Carolina have crept up by an average of 2.4 to 4.4 millimeters (0.09 to 0.17 inches) a year, compared with an average global increase of 1.7 millimeters (0.07 inches) a year, the EPA said in a report.
Scientists will warn this week that rising sea levels, triggered by global warming, pose a far greater danger to the planet than previously estimated. There is now a major risk that many coastal areas around the world will be inundated by the end of the century because Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting faster than previously estimated.
But the report contained an important caveat: that its sea-level rise estimate contained very little input from melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. The IPCC forecast therefore tended to underestimate forthcoming changes.
The role of the United States in climate disruption is far greater than most people realize. Not only does the U.S. emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) than any other nation besides China, not only does the U.S. have one the highest per-capita emissions in the world, but the U.S. economy also accounts for a massive amount of emissions released by the rest of the world too. S&R has investigated just how much CO2 the United States economy is actually responsible for, and the results suggest the real emissions are 20% greater than official estimates.
A swelling global population, changing diets and mankind’s expanding “water footprint” could be bringing an end to the era of cheap water.
The warnings, in an annual report by the Pacific Institute in California, come as ecologists have begun adopting the term “peak ecological water” — the point where, like the concept of “peak oil”, the world has to confront a natural limit on something once considered virtually infinite.
A significant part of the problem is the huge, and often deeply inefficient, use of water by industry and agriculture. UN calculations suggest that more than one third of the world’s population is suffering from water shortages: by 2020 water use is expected to increase by 40 per cent from current levels, and by 2025, according to another UN estimate, two out of three people could be living under conditions of “water stress”.
A major U.S. government report on Arctic climate, prepared with input from eight Canadian scientists, has concluded that the recent rapid warming of polar temperatures and shrinking of multi-year Arctic sea ice are “highly unusual compared to events from previous thousands of years.“The findings, released on Friday, counter suggestions from some skeptics that such recent events as the opening of the Northwest Passage and collapse of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic are predictable phenomena that could be explained as part of a natural climate cycle rather than being driven by elevated carbon emissions from human activity.
The study also sounds the alarm that “temperature change in the Arctic is happening at a greater rate than other places in the Northern Hemisphere, and this is expected to continue in the future. As a result, glacier and ice-sheet melting, sea-ice retreat, coastal erosion and sea level rise can be expected to continue.”
The international climate debate has focused primarily on emissions from deforestation, but the researchers say their analysis shows that attention must also be paid to the impacts of climate change on forests.
While deforestation is responsible for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, forests currently absorb more carbon than they emit.
But the problem is that the balance could shift as the planet warms, the report concludes, and the sequestration service provided by the forest biomes “could be lost entirely if the Earth heats up by 2.5C or more”.
But several scientists at the Copenhagen meeting spoke of a rise of a metre or more, even if the world’s greenhouse gas emissions were kept at a low level.
The assessment says higher temperatures – along with prolonged droughts, more pest invasions, and other environmental stresses – would trigger considerable forest destruction and degradation.
This could create a dangerous feedback loop, it adds, in which damage to forests from climate change would increase global carbon emissions that then exacerbate global warming.
U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water — contamination the federal government has consistently overlooked, according to an Associated Press investigation.
Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking: For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder; nitroglycerin is a heart drug and also used in explosives; copper shows up in everything from pipes to contraceptives.
Researchers have found that even extremely diluted concentrations of drugs harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs. Some scientists say they are increasingly concerned that the consumption of combinations of many drugs, even in small amounts, could harm humans over decades.
The flow of water in the world’s largest rivers has declined over the past half-century, with significant changes found in about a third of the big rivers. An analysis of 925 major rivers from 1948 to 2004 showed an overall decline in total discharge.
“Freshwater resources will likely decline in the coming decades over many densely populated areas at mid- to low latitudes, largely due to climate changes, Dai said. “Rapid disappearing mountain glaciers in the Tibetan plateau and other places will make matters worse.”