Climate of terror

Global warming could devastate the poorest and most strife-ridden regions of the world -- leading to a violent uprising against the nation that uses the most resources.

By Glenn Scherer

Published September 5, 2002 7:12PM (EDT)

As the young century enters its second year, I find myself looking not at the front page, or the financial page, or even the Op-Ed page to see which way the political winds will blow.

Instead, I am drawn day after day to the weather page.

In my region, the metropolitan Northeast, water virtually stopped falling from the sky in summer 2001. August into autumn we awoke to a magnificent unbroken string of sunny, cloudless, unnaturally warm blue-sky days. Everyone I know rejoiced in our short-sleeve weather and our good luck. And the weathermen on the nightly newscasts kept smiling.

As we neared the winter solstice it stayed sunny and 70. Asters bloomed inappropriately outside my door. Our mountain lake, usually frozen by then, was ice-free. We were also eight inches short of rain.

By New Year's 2002, streams from North Carolina to New York were at their lowest ebb on record. Reservoirs resembled stony deserts. Wells ran dry. Still the drought hadn't moved to Page 1 -- Osama and Enron saw to that.

In February, the heat wave and drought finally got noticed. The New York Times reported that the winter of 2001-2002 was the warmest on U.S. record. By March, the drought extended from Maine to Georgia, with much of the New York metropolitan area a foot below normal rainfall levels -- a winter drought not seen since the 1890s. One meteorologist mused that without exceptional rains soon "we would be in a world of hurt."

Of course, his was a provincial pessimism. The Northeast and Appalachian Mountains are a tiny part of the world and have seen dry times before, seen empty reservoirs and a seared, tinder-dry landscape.

What is more troublesome is that our exceptional drought fits into a broader pattern. Around the globe, climate trends have been freakish for a decade -- enough so to make a thinking weatherman's grin twist into a worried frown.

The 1990s were the warmest decade on record in the hottest century for 1,000 years. The decade saw record destructive windstorms and floods in Europe, record droughts that scorched Africa, and record droughts and hurricanes that did multibillion-dollar damage in the Americas. The hottest year on record, 1998, was also the costliest ever for weather-related disasters. A one-year price tag on economic losses hit $92.9 billion, compared to the $78.4 billion total for all such losses over the entire decade of the 1980s.

"Hundred year" storms and droughts now come with increasing regularity -- in some places every 50 years, in others, even more often. In 1998, a freakish ice storm that hit the northeastern U.S. and Canada was the worst in recorded history; in Europe, a 1997 flood on the Oder River was caused by a 1,000-year storm. In 1999, record downpours in Venezuela killed 30,000 people.

Scientists point to global warming as the likely culprit. With both the atmosphere and the oceans heating up, adding energy to climate systems, altering wind currents and precipitation patterns, extreme weather will become more and more common.

But like TV's AccuWeather guy, the United States is ignoring the deepening storm that is global warming. Although it has just 4 percent of the planet's population, the U.S. is responsible for 23 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- a fact that makes it both practically and morally incumbent on the the U.S. to address the problem. But at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, backstage arm-twisting by the Bush administration kept the world's greatest looming environmental disaster off the agenda, while the president himself pointedly declined to attend.

America's refusal to address global warming may be good news for industries that dread possibly expensive reforms and consumers who imagine their lifestyles will be affected. But avoidance will only make the problem worse. And as global climate change makes life harsher for millions worldwide, the fallout for the U.S. in particular could be unforeseen and devastating, in ways that go far beyond water rationing or the loss of beachfront property.

A three-year drought, the worst on earth, now besieges central and south Asia, threatening 60 million people. In Iran last fall, Lake Hamoun, the country's biggest body of water and one of the largest lakes in the world, turned to desert.

In this poor, strife-ridden region, a deepening drought could be dangerously destabilizing. Imagine this scenario: A disenfranchised group, made desperate by terrible poverty and relentless drought, wields the destructive power of smallpox or nuclear weapons, seeking vengeance on the nation that consumes the most natural resources.

This may sound like fear mongering, but maybe not in light of what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says. The panel's more than 2,000 scientists tell us that our recent wildly erratic weather may be the mere prelude to extreme weather borne out of severe global warming in the 21st century. Near future climate change could be greater than anything civilization has ever experienced.

A 2001 National Research Council report says that as humankind pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we may be doing more than making a lot of hot air. We may be "forcing the climate," putting tension on an exquisitely balanced hair-trigger mechanism that once released, could send us careening into a radically new climate paradigm with new extremes of temperature and precipitation for which governments are unprepared and that would cause the world's poorest billions to suffer most.

Average global temperatures are up by 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, almost certainly as a result of fossil-fuel burning. The result: Drought and deluge are unprecedented; glaciers are melting, seas rising, coral reefs dying and heat-sensitive animals migrating. In Antarctica, icebergs the size of Rhode Island fall into the sea.

What is apparent to those watching the skies or the Weather Channel (and possessing immunity from the deep denial that accompanies U.S. fossil-fuel addiction), is that things are changing far too rapidly. Transformations that are supposed to happen in geological time are taking place in human time, and the consequences can only be guessed at.

Weather has played a huge role in the course of human events, usually unacknowledged. It was weather -- a chilly April in 1912 -- that allowed icebergs to drift exceptionally far south in the Atlantic, where one sank the Titanic. The briefest respite between gales allowed D-Day to take the Nazis by surprise. And it was the Russian winter that helped topple Napoleon and Hitler.

Weather, or rather its long-term average called climate, has shaped history with broader strokes, birthing and killing cultures. In America, pre-Inca empires rose and fell in sync with wet and dry periods. Vibrant urban societies like the Moche and Tiwanaku civilizations were wrecked by killer droughts that kicked out their agricultural underpinnings. Drought may have also destroyed Mexico's Maya. A two century-long drought, one theory says, escalated city state strife to horrific levels. Another theory claims the Maya's godlike leaders, unable to bring rain, were toppled by a disillusioned people.

Drought and deluge have triggered crop failures, starvation, revolts and the downfall of cultures in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Africa, China and the U.S. Southwest. Dry times in particular, the historical record shows, make people thirsty and hungry, turning them eventually desperate and violent.

Despite humanity's often hostile relationship with weather, we've been the big winners in the single largest climate change of recent millennia. The end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago afforded our species the ideal conditions to civilize and enter our halcyon days, maybe better called our Holocene days.

The Holocene, as our current geological period is called by scientists, began when the world warmed drastically, melting away glaciers that covered America as far south as Manhattan. The Holocene has endured minor climatic shocks but it has stayed remarkably stable, allowing us to thrive, invent agriculture and swell our numbers to 6 billion -- until now.

If today's Earth suddenly experienced some of the radical climate changes that wrenched the world in previous ages (global average temperature fluctuations of 10 degrees Fahrenheit in a single decade, for example), it seems unlikely that civilization could prosper.

But as William Stevens notes in his book "The Change in the Weather," a colossal climate shift isn't needed to make us miserable. The Little Ice Age, which occurred in Europe after 1300, brought crop failures, starvation and civil strife, all triggered by an average temperature drop of just 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. We can expect a human-caused shift larger than that in the next 20 to 30 years.

Two reports from Europe in April 2002 show that temperatures are rising fast. Great Britain's Hadley Center for Climate Prediction put average global temperatures in the decade between 2020 and 2030 at 0.5 to 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than between 1990 and 2000. Switzerland's University of Bern projects an increase of 0.9 to 1.9 degrees -- that's almost a doubling or tripling of the warming we've seen in the past hundred years, occurring in only 30.

By 2100, the United Nation's IPCC says, average global temperatures could increase up to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The gravity of this worst-case forecast becomes clear when it is compared with the global rise of just 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit that ended the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, making all the difference between the Big Apple of today and a Manhattan buried under a half mile-thick mountain of ice.

Unfortunately, worsening scientific projections have made barely a dent on the policies of our current president or the lifestyle of the U.S. populace. And while new, gloomier climate change predictions seem to be issued almost monthly, what remains unknown is how global warming will impact humanity: our food and water supply, our societies and political stability; could it catalyze revolution, civil war, world war, or global terrorism?

Few have heard of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, but its people may be the first known casualties of our smokestack- and tailpipe-induced heat wave. The country's 11,000 inhabitants could be the first of thousands, then millions, of climate-change refugees.

Here's why Tuvalu is probably doomed: A century of fossil fuel burning by industrialized nations has dramatically increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, causing additional heat from the sun to be trapped, just like inside a hothouse. This heightened greenhouse effect melted glacial ice and also thermally expanded ocean waters (H20 takes up more space when warm), pushing sea levels higher on Tuvalu by about a foot.

Rising tides caused salt intrusion, poisoning the country's water and crops. Storm surges are making the island nation unlivable (though over-development and overpopulation added to the problem).

But Tuvalu's plight was ignored. In 1993, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore refused to meet with Tuvalu Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu and hear his plea for U.S. support of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. treaty to slow global warming. Since then, the United States hasn't budged on its refusal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, George W. Bush's plan for voluntary corporate fossil fuel cutbacks plays a numbers game worthy of Enron or WorldCom, and actually allows increased emissions.

Granted, the U.S isn't the only contributor to Tuvalu's demise. Other industrial nations are responsible for 22 percent of all carbon emissions, while all developing countries contribute 41 percent. Still, it seems reasonable for the U.S., as the world's only superpower and the worst carbon polluter at 23 percent, to lead the race to cut fossil fuel use and promote sustainable energy resources like wind and solar power.

Instead, at the Sustainability Summit the U.S. firmly opposed proposals by the European Union to achieve a 15 percent level of renewable energy use by 2010, as well as Brazil's plan for a 10 percent renewable energy target of 2012. The summit's final agreement pleased the U.S., but lacks teeth. It drops Europe's insistence on firm targets, percentages and dates for the use of renewable energy.

For Tuvalu, all these proposals are too little too late. In summer 2001, the 11,000 islanders surrendered themselves to a gradual full evacuation of their country. Within 50 to 100 years, Tuvalu's nine Pacific atolls will likely be engulfed by the sea, the first nation to die of global warming.

As Tuvalu acknowledged its fate last summer, government official Paani Laupepa bitterly criticized the United States. "By refusing to ratify the [Kyoto] Protocol, the U.S. has effectively denied future generations of Tuvaluans their fundamental freedom to live where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years." Gone will be homes, schools, burial grounds and churches. All that will remain is a memory of a lost homeland and of an America that refused to help.

Before long, others may decry the U.S. and its steadfast support of the fossil fuel economy. Already, the Maldives Islands, another Pacific nation and a largely Islamic one, has appealed to the U.N. We are an "endangered nation," declared Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In this century, if IPCC predictions of a one-meter ocean rise are accurate, the Maldives will drown and its 311,000 people will become eco-refugees.

Half the rice land in Bangladesh could also be submerged, compelling mass migrations. In a nation of 134 million, one wonders where the millions of refugees who live in the endangered coastal wetlands will flee to, and what they'll eat when they get there.

As oceans rise along China's coasts, up to 70 million people could be vulnerable to a 100-year-storm surge, according to the Earth Policy Institute. Who will offer new homelands to those made homeless by climate change?

As the flood of eco-refugees rises, so could political tension. Developed nations may face demands for reparations or forgiveness of debts from those nations damaged or destroyed by global warming.

We need only look at the plight of the Palestinians to see the violence bred of a people wrenched from hearth and home. A question Americans should be asking now is: What country will bear the brunt of rage expressed by peoples disenfranchised by climate change?

The answer may lie in a statement written just before 9/11, and signed by more than 100 Nobel Prize winners including Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and Dr. Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the DNA double helix). Here is what they said:

"The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate and manifestly unjust. It cannot be expected, therefore, that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence of the rich. If, then, we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor."

These words barely made a blip in the U.S. media. But they could point to a coming global apocalypse.

Right now, the worst climatic crisis is taking place in the arid swath of South and Central Asia stretching from Iran to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This area, a volatile soup of despotism, militarism, booming population, poverty, racial and religious rivalries, fragile economies and ecologies, seems about to be fired by the match of global warming.

The International Research Institute for Climate Prediction at Columbia University (IRI) reports that Central and Southwest Asia over the past three years represents the largest region of persistent drought on earth. A three-year drought -- the worst in 50 to 100 years -- now besieges Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, threatening 60 million people.

In Afghanistan, 12 million are impacted, parched by thirst and starved by crop failures. By autumn 2001, civil unrest and drought caused a million internally displaced persons, plus several million more refugees to leave the country entirely. But those fleeing found little relief in Iran or Pakistan -- there's as little water there as back home.

In Iran, the drought has affected over half the population. In some northwest provinces, there has been no measurable rainfall in 30 months. Orchards yielding almonds, apricots and mangoes have withered. Two hundred thousand nomadic herders have lost their flocks. Nationwide, 800,000 livestock died in 2000 because of the drought. By 2001, some 80 percent of all farm animals had been sold rather than face slow death. The U.N. estimates damages at $2.5 billion last year.

In Pakistan, where the urban population is exploding, outstripping the country's ability to feed it, the drought has caused soil and seeds to blow away, vegetation to burn brown, and parched livestock to be slaughtered. 349,000 Pakistanis are impacted so far, not counting the influx of thirsty Afghans. At one refugee camp inside Pakistan wells had to be drilled a mile deep to find water. All of this in a volatile nation whose dictatorial Islamist-dominated regime supported the Taliban and possesses nuclear weapons.

Is global warming responsible for the central Asian drought? It is impossible to say for sure, but there is reason to suspect it is. IRI notes that global temperatures rose steadily over the past four years (1999 was the hottest year on record, with 2001 taking second place, and 2002 poised to steal the record). And all this warming may have contributed to the Central Asian drought.

The immediate cause of drought guessed at by IRI is a prolonged "La Niña" effect: unusually warm waters in the western Pacific Ocean colliding with cooler waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. La Niña is cousin to El Niño (a warming of central and eastern Pacific waters). El Niño is expected to become stronger under climate change, but the global warming impacts on La Niña are less known.

IRI scientists also note that hotter temperatures make any drought more severe: Hotter air causes greater evaporation rates, drying soils and reducing stream flows. That's why a summer drought is worse than a winter drought.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that decade-long climate trends from 1990 to 2000 point to a world in which global warming is at work, causing extreme weather events, intensifying droughts and storms. Insurance loss data concurs. In the 1980s, insurers worldwide paid out just $2 billion each year for weather-related disasters. In the '90s (the hottest decade on record), figures jumped to about $12 billion annually.

In 2001, the U.N.'s Environmental Programs Financial Services Initiative issued a study estimating that climate-change damage will top $304 billion annually by mid-century, potentially bankrupting some developing nations.

According to another U.N. study, crops worldwide will be negatively affected by climate change. It forecasts a 10- to 15-percent decline in grain yields in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia -- poor regions with exploding populations that can ill afford the loss. One in eight people could face famine in just 50 years due to global warming.

Still, climatologists have no smoking gun. They're unable to point to any single climatic occurrence, such as the Central Asian drought, and declare that it is due to climate change. That's because climate is a weather average taken over many years; therefore, no single event can ever be called a trend. The Bush administration has used this argument to deny climate change and continue burning fossil fuels. But it is a high-stakes gamble. Add U.S. plans to develop new fossil fuel fields and refineries in the region, and the dangers mount still higher.

The Caspian Sea Basin has been called the "new oil El Dorado," the most promising untapped oil field on earth. In 1997, the U.S. Department of State estimated the oil underground at 200 billion barrels -- a third of Persian Gulf reserves. So it is no coincidence that at the height of the Afghan war, George W. Bush rushed to meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Since then, U.S.-Russian pipeline agreements have been forged to start tapping the Caspian.

Nor was it a coincidence that the U.S. sought permission to launch aircraft from Uzbekistan during its Taliban offensive. The stationing of planes in Central Asia escalates a U.S. military buildup begun in 1997, one that was all about oil long before it was ever about terror. Oil also explains why Afghanistan's Taliban got $43 million in U.S. aid early in 2001. The gift was supposed to smooth the way for a pipeline stretching from the Caspian through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea -- a pipeline the Taliban blocked but which the new U.S.-friendly Afghan government now welcomes.

But our energy strategy in Central Asia -- whose architect was not the current Bush, but former President Jimmy Carter -- may undermine homeland security, not protect it. As we exploit Central Asian oil, we may destabilize the region by backing dictators who repress their citizenry. In the long run, using Caspian oil to fuel our cars and culture may further destabilize the region by adding to global warming. Marginal climates like that of Central Asia are likely to be most affected by climate change.

Imagine the year 2010 and a super-powerful, climate-change-induced Central Asian drought, with crop failures leading to an uprising of the hungry and thirsty Arab populations of Islamabad, of Uzbek dissidents, of the Afghan and Iranian countryside. Such tumult could cut off Caspian oil. In a worst-case scenario, our fossil fuel-dependent nation might decide it had no alternative but to throw its military might into the fray, escalating resentment and violence.

Is there a better formula for fueling global terrorism? From those angry, hungry, thirsty, dispossessed masses, many of them sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, may come the terrorists of tomorrow, bent on revenge against energy-glutted America. And next time it could be accomplished with nuclear weapons seized from Pakistan's ruling military dictatorship.

Journalist Ross Gelbspan calls the resulting political nightmare "the coming permanent state of emergency." Gelbspan predicts that "a significant surge in terrorism is the likeliest result of the desperation that is overtaking many people in environmentally disrupted countries." In his book about global warming, "The Heat Is On," he offers the following warning from Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Henry Kendall:

"The world's food supply must double within the next 30 years to feed the population, which will double within the next 60 years. Otherwise, before the middle of the next century [the 2000s] -- as many countries in the developing world run out of enough water to irrigate their crops -- population will outrun food supply, and you will see chaos. All we need is another hit from climate change -- a series of droughts or crop-destroying-rains -- and we're looking down the mouth of a gun."

The darkest, most frightening question concerns the future. There is a basic flaw in current global climate-change computer models: Every model assumes a linear progression of temperature and climate change. But evidence found in ancient ice cores gathered in Antarctica shows that climate rarely shifts in a straight line. Rather, like a car, change progresses linearly, gaining momentum, until at some unknown point, it hits a threshold and abruptly jerks up a gear. Then all bets are off and all hell breaks loose.

The rules that govern that new gear -- the extremes of temperature of wind and storm beyond the threshold -- are all different from the previous steady state. When will we reach such a threshold? That is anyone's guess, and quite possibly beyond the limits of our current knowledge of climate science.

Oil-and-coal executives and Texas politicians, members of the so-called "Carbon Club" who are now running the United States, need to recognize the grim Catch-22 in which they've placed America and the world. While there is plenty of coal and oil in the ground, enough to power humanity for centuries, every gallon burned has the potential to disrupt global politics. Each car's exhaust plume adds to the specter of hunger and thirst and terrorism likely to stalk our new century.

But there is a way out. We simply need to reduce our use of oil and coal.

Last autumn, while America focused on the World Trade Center attacks and on attacking Afghanistan, 160 nations met in Marrakesh, Morocco, and finalized mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gases 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. This is a first decisive, though baby, step toward cutting greenhouse emissions by the 50 to 70 percent the IPCC says is needed just to stabilize global warming at current levels. Accepting the treaty, those nations put themselves on a trajectory toward renewable energy -- to tap the power of the sun and of hydrogen.

The U.S. was not among them. President Bush and ExxonMobil (a major player in scripting the fossil-fuel feeding frenzy known as the Cheney Energy Plan) made our country's path clear.

Bush withdrew America from Kyoto against the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, which warned that climate change is real and getting worse (a verdict seconded by Bush's own Environmental Protection Agency, which he derisively referred to as "the bureaucracy").

Meanwhile, America's carbon dioxide emissions increased in 2001 by 3 percent, well higher than past average rises of 1.3 percent. To blame are Presidents Clinton and Bush (the elder and the younger), congressional Republicans and many Democrats, a coal-and-oil lobby that has used savvy marketing to deny the problem, and an oblivious citizenry that has made the gas-gulping SUV the source of 50 percent of new U.S. car sales and a symbol of American greed.

Much of the rest of the world recognizes climate change as a real danger. Even in the corporate world, BP and Shell have taken first steps to rethink themselves as energy companies, researching sustainable power.

There is no logical reason why ExxonMobil can't do the same. It is one of the wealthiest corporations on earth, outspending most nation states. It would be a small matter to divert a few billion oil dollars to hydrogen fuel cells, solar, wind, or biofuel power.

They have not done this. Why not? Of course, there are financial reasons. But a deeper reason may be that oil exploration is ultimately about more than money: It is an addictive adventure in empire building. Jeremy Leggett in his book "The Climate War" recounts his oil-exploration exploits before becoming a Greenpeace activist:

"I had discovered a great romance. Looking back, I have a fancy now that it stemmed from something primeval. I remember the hunter's thrill I felt in Baluchistan, watching smears of oil seeping from the ground ... Then there were the hunter's weapons ... The drill rigs and down-hole instrument packages probing for the quarry ... pipelines and supertankers carrying the object of the hunt to market ... where finally, of course, the prize could be burned: in engines, all kinds of fascinating engines."

This is the romantic bond that links Bush the Texas oilman with Saudi sheiks and Russia's Putin. This is the game that holds them rapt in Central Asia. And this is the romance with power that hypnotizes American consumers as they mount their Excursions and Expeditions. It's the same spirit that lured Marco Polo east and Cortez west. And it is the same industrial spirit that lured us to construct the greatest ocean liner ever, and to sail it too fast through a sea filled with icebergs.

No modern event better evokes the blind overconfidence of industrial society than the sinking of the Titanic. There may also be no better metaphor for America's resolute denial of climate change.

We're mesmerized by the Titanic story like children transfixed by fairy tales that end with little boys and girls devoured by wolves: The greatest ship ever built, conceived as unsinkable, opulent beyond imagining, sails with its millionaire and immigrant passengers. The reckless owners demand the captain load on the coal to reach New York in record time, despite repeated iceberg warnings.

The berg finally spotted, the big ship can't react fast enough, can't turn its Titanic mass on its too flimsy rudder. As the Titanic sinks, the wealthy still dance in the Grand Ballroom, not believing the news. Lack of preparedness dooms too many. Only half the lifeboats needed are aboard. About 1,500 passengers die. The survivors, rich and poor alike, are torn from comfort and carried in open boats upon a cruel sea. Nature humbles civilization's rebellious and arrogant angels.

The metaphorical parallels with climate change are too obvious: Just like the Titanic skipper and the captains of industry, our government and corporations pour on the steam, ignoring dire warnings. And we the people are largely complicit.

The most powerful comparison may be the tragic inability of that magnificent ship to get out of its own way. Our fossil-fuel driven juggernaut seems similarly possessed of a weak rudder. Scientists caution that we must reduce fossil-fuel burning now, must curb the current warming trend now, or else our momentum could carry us beyond an unseen climate-change threshold -- to a rendezvous with a sea of dark chaos we cannot yet clearly discern.

Back home in the Northeast, the dry spell drags on. A wet spring respite did little to end the long-term drought. Forecasts project below-normal rainfall into October. The West too is gripped by drought and its forests burn.

As I watch the blue sky, I worry my well may go dry. And I'm starting to feel a kinship with the Afghan farmer who looks into his arid heaven and slaughters a parched cow, or the Tuvalu islander who gauges a slowly rising sea.

While none of us can point to our situation and claim that the dark hand of climate change is responsible, in our hearts we may begin to guess that something has gone terribly wrong and that the time to act is now. While none of us has proof certain of the danger we are in, neither did Captain Smith who, holding a telegram in his hand telling him to slow down, sailed at full speed into an ocean full of ice.

Glenn Scherer

Glenn Scherer is an environmental journalist who resides at EcoVillage at Ithaca, N.Y.

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