What should poets do?
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From: portsideMod <[log in to unmask]>
Date sent: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 18:41:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Warming world on thin ice
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Warming World on Thin Ice
Rapidly Melting Glaciers Threaten Death to Millions
by Making Huge Areas Uninhabitable
June 9, 2002, The Observer of London
By Joanna Walters
Ian McNaught-Davis has spent a long time in the
mountains. Stocky and affable, the president of
mountaineering's international association, the UIAA,
is not easily fazed. But when he hiked into the
glaciers surrounding the world's highest mountains on
a UIAA mission funded by the United Nations
Environment Program, he was profoundly shocked.
It's about time we slowed this whole thing down and
stopped it. If the US would get off their arses, maybe
someone would sit up and take notice.
Ian McNaught-Davis UIAA - International Mountaineering
and Climbing Federation For generations of explorers,
environmentalists and local people, these cold
Himalayan valleys, with glaciers that stretch for
miles, seemed to symbolize a kind of cold, brutal
After hiking through zero visibility and atrocious
weather for five days, McNaught-Davis emerged into a
sherpa village surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
There he was confronted with a shocking truth: the
glaciers on Everest were melting alarmingly quickly.
McNaught-Davis listened as kinsmen of Nepalese sherpa
Tenzing Norgay, who conquered Everest with Sir Edmund
Hillary in 1953, reported a rapid retreat of the
Khumbu glacier from which the two pioneers set out.
Sherpas and Buddhist lamas told him the glacier no
longer reached to where Hillary's base camp tents were
pitched: it had melted three miles up the valley.
To check their accounts, McNaught-Davis climbed up to
a glacial meltpool at 5,000 meters that 20 years ago
was marked on maps as a series of small ponds.
He found that the ponds had merged into a vast lake
more than a mile long. 'It was huge. I was completely
amazed,' he said. 'Further up the glacier you can see
more ponds forming.'
A mountaineer overlooks the Imja glacier lake in the
Everest region of Nepal (undated UNEP handout photo).
The Imja lake did not exist 35 years ago. Experts of
the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in
Geneva warned June 5, 2002 of bursting Himalayan
glacial lakes, threatening the lives of millions of
people, because of ice melt caused by global warming.
And it is happening so quickly that map makers cannot
keep up. Locally, the prospect of these glacial lakes
bursting their banks and obliterating whole villages
is frightening. Globally, McNaught-Davis believes what
mountaineers are seeing first is a bellwether for the
climate change affecting us all.
'It is a harbinger, a clue that something terrible is
happening. Some scientists say "It must be other
factors", but when you talk to people who have lived
and climbed in these mountains for 60 years they say
it is getting warmer, and the glaciers are shrinking
at a sprint.'
Closer to home in the Alps, mountaineers report that
rock pillars held on to their crags by ice for
thousands of years are simply crumbling away as the
ice melts. The climbing and skiing resort of Chamonix
is under threat in the long-term, as the peaks around
Mont Blanc begin to lose their ice and become more
prone to avalanches.
McNaught-Davis said a recent visit to the Eiger in
Switzerland was a shock too. 'The north face used to
have three massive ice fields. The last time I was
there, there was one left, and it was almost gone.'
Glaciers on the African peaks of Kilimanjaro and Mount
Kenya are receding rapidly, and the same is happening
in the South American Andes.
It is not only the mountain glaciers that are melting.
American NASA scientists say the rate at which the
huge Greenland ice sheet is melting has increased by a
fifth in the last two decades.
This is because more meltwater is trickling down from
the surface of the sheet to the bedrock 1,200 meters
below. The water 'lubricates' the path of the whole
sheet, causing it to slip faster towards the sea. Team
member Jay Zwally said such a process had never before
been detected in large ice sheets.
NASA believes global warming could be to blame - and
it is the first time the scientists have suggested
such a link.
This pattern is repeated in all the world's coldest
places. Antarctica has been the scene of huge
collapses of ice shelves. In the Arctic, seasonal
melting around the North Pole has led to a suggestion
that soon shipping will be able to navigate the North
West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
All this comes as the world's environment Ministers
failed at a meeting in Bali last week to agree tough
action to halt global warming and wipe out poverty.
They now approach the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in
August in disarray and facing accusations of betrayal
from environmental groups.
Kate Hampton, international climate campaigner for
Friends of the Earth, sees a direct link between
disagreement among Western nations about how to tackle
pollution and the reports of vanishing ice sheets.
'Glaciers are the water towers of the world - vital
for storage. If they are melting fast this has grave
implications for the people who live locally but is
also a sign of global warming.
'Water supplies everywhere are under threat from
climate change,' she said.
Water is a vital bargaining chip in any Middle East
peace talks. While politics and religion grab the
headlines, shrinking water resources in this dry
region are always a major factor when negotiators draw
lines on maps.
Hampton warned that without serious strategies to
reverse global warming, the next few decades would see
tens of millions of 'climate refugees' fleeing regions
in Africa and Asia, where extreme drought and floods
become the norm.
'What will happen when millions of Bangladeshis from
the flood plains are literally washed out, and end up
spilling into poor parts of India?' she said.
In the US scientists are warning that the 'sunshine
state' of California could become the 'desert state'.
The Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change has
already established that the average temperature on
Earth rose by 0.6 C in the twentieth century. They
predict it will be between 1.4 C and 5.8 C warmer by
2100 than it was in 1990. The sea could rise by
between nine and 88cms.
The higher end of these forecasts spells an
environmental apocalypse. Today it means a few
disappointed ice climbers, but by the end of the
century it could mean death for tens of millions.
In Britain the winters are already becoming warmer,
with violent storms and flash floods more frequent.
Hampton said the reports of disappearing Himalayan
glaciers confirmed what many scientists and
environmentalists had been saying for a decade.
'This is a serious issue in areas where the people who
live there are the least responsible for causing the
problem - industrialized nations are not getting to
grips with this in the face of the most overwhelming
evidence,' she said.
The Kyoto protocol was meant to make the climate
targets reached at the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago
But while the European Union is preparing to sign up
to the protocol this year the US first watered it
down, then walked away from it - holding the world's
climate hostage, said Hampton.
Campaigners are worried that what should in effect be
an emergency summit to save the planet in Johannesburg
will be at best a farce and at worst a confirmation of
the power of corporate America over the environment -
with President George W. Bush presiding as polluter-
Ian McNaught-Davis believes every car-driving
Westerner munching fruit flown in from halfway around
the globe must take a share of responsibility for
pumping climate-warming carbon dioxide into the
'It's about time we slowed this whole thing down and
stopped it. If the US would get off their arses, maybe
someone would sit up and take notice,' he added.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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