Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Climate change: Don't blame it for everything - yet

Most analysts acknowledge you need a range of solutions to improve climate change outcomes. Most acknowledge that things will get appreciably worse before they stabilise. But few are willing to use recent unusual climatic phenomena as proof. For example, the following are not generally taken as proof:

  • Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans: yes, weather fluctuations will be more extreme, storms wilder, but this is not necessarily noticeable yet;

  • That mammoth iceberg off the coast of New Zealand was not taken as evidence. On the other hand, the Antarctic ice shelves are definitely breaking up

  • Australia is still in the midst of the longest and worst drought in recorded history. Still not evidence that weather patterns have already changed.

However, more easily acceptable evidence lies at the the cold regions of the planet. These areas will be – are – the first to experience permanent environmental change. This includes the thawing of the Russian tundra, the retreating of the snows of Kilimanjaro [predicted to be gone by about 2020: the local ecosystem and people rely on water from the seasonal melts], the retreating of glaciers, and the vanishing ice in the seas off Alaska.

It's important to get it in perspective, and avoid blaming everything on this phenomenon. But it's also important to recognise what will change, and the devastation of whole ecosystems, which is hiding behind the headlines. Yet every incremental step we take will achieve good.

Next time around, the last hungry mile of personal responsibility: carbon offsetting, and why it is proving so difficult at this early stage of action.

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