First published in the Mountain Echoes column April 2002
In a recent article in the Guardian Andrew Simms pointed out that the requirements for cutting greenhouse gas levels by nations are non-negotiable and that negotiating on who will cut what is like negotiating to build a bridge half way across a canyon. Some time ago a CSIRO scientist pointed out to me that global warming was an established fact and would continue to increase. The actions of man and governments will only ameliorate the increases and the effects of these. They will not stop it.
As old colonial boundaries render it difficult to solve Australia’s water problems, so the nation state is incapable of solving world problems, of which global warming in one of the major ones. It seems wiser to accept that due to the inability of the nation states to solve or agree to solve world problems, along with the ability of vested interests to direct the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth, that global warming will occur. Its effects will quite possibly be catastrophic, if for example, the West Antarctic ice sheet were to melt over a relatively short period of time.
As I write this another article in the Melbourne Age (18.4.02) warns of dire consequences of global warming in the Himalayas. Studies have identified 44 glacial lakes in Nepal and Bhutan that have substantially grown in area over the last 40 years, and were in danger of bursting within ‘five to ten years’. This growth in size is due to the increased melting of the glaciers, itself in turn due to a local warming increase of the average temperature of one degree centigrade. The article warns of the danger of these lakes bursting the natural dams that confine them and of the havoc such an event would cause to lives, stock, agriculture and infrastructure downstream. It also warns that such an effect may be occurring more widely in the more than 2000 glacial lakes in Nepal and at various other glacial lakes spread throughout the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and other mountain ranges. The consequences of this occurring seem statistically quite probable and will have a disastrous, but localised, effect.
The consequences of a melted, partially melted, or even slowly melting West Antarctic ice sheet on the other hand will certainly be both of disastrous proportions and universal. Real estate at various points around coastlines will be the first casualty. Often this land such as alluvial river deltas is agriculturally quite rich and heavily populated. The movement of refugees within and between countries will consequently be enormous as too death from floods that combine with rising sea levels. The infrastructure of docks, port facilities and commercial areas of large cities will also be threatened and possibly severely disrupt world trade, in particular the bulk movement of grain to prevent starvation on a massive scale.
The association of lung cancer and cigarette smoking took an absolute age to be established and generally accepted, whilst scientific studies had been indicating the obvious for several decades. Perhaps too, the evidence of an infinitely more complicated global warming will have to be seen to be markedly varying from the average before being accepted by both nations and individuals. By then it will be far too late.
*this unedited piece a bit dated and pessimistic