In reality, however, there is little scientific debate that concentrations of greenhouse gases—mostly in the form of carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of coal, oil and gas—are to blame for the warming trends that we are now seeing. In fact, hundreds of scientific studies point to some alarming trends that should cause us all grave concern:
- During the past decade, as a result of global warming, heat waves have become much more intense. In 2003 an extreme heatwave in Europe took the lives of nearly 35,000 people. In 2005 many cities in the United States broke all-time records for high temperatures and for the number of consecutive days with temperatures of 100 degrees or more. Indeed, the year 2005 was the hottest year recorded since 1860. Just a coincidence?
- Climate change has caused severe droughts throughout the world. It is predicted that 1.8 billion people will face water shortages by 2025.
- The warming of the earth’s oceans has increased the severity of hurricanes, making them much more damaging to humans and property than they were in the past. There is a consensus among scientists that global warming will lead to an increase in the number of hurricanes hitting the United States in the future. Insurance companies have already begun to deny homeowners in costal areas flood insurance because even they are beginning to understand the potential impact of global warming on their "bottom lines."
- Climate change has already caused glaciers to retreat at an unprecedented rate. Simulations project that a 2-3 degree celsius increase in temperature could cause the meltdown of Greenland’s icesheets. Continued melting of glaciers during this century will inevitably cause sea levels to rise, flooding low lying areas such as Bangladesh and causing a potential wave of refugees into neighboring countries. If sea levels rise as significantly as some scientists predict, much of Long Island and lower Manhattan could be covered in water.
- Climate change has the potential to lead to the mass extinction of animal species. In a 2004 issue of Nature, scientists studying the world’s diverse hotspots have predicted that by 2050 a quarter of the world’s species could be on the path to extinction as a result of global warming. Subsequent studies seem to bear out these findings, leading scientists to warn that catastrophic species loss could occur across the planet.
Even if only some of these predictions come true, it would mean that the world our children will inhabit in the future will be significantly less hospitable than it is now. This should inspire us all--whether we are liberals or conservatives--to work together to solve the grave environmental problems currently facing the planet.
One positive trend to note is that the three major candidates running for president--four if you count my hero, Ralph Nader--have fairly solid environmental records. So, even if John McCain becomes the next president, we will probably see some bipartisan efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and stem the tide of global warming. And this, of course, is in everybody's best interest.