ecostory 28-2007
'Frozen north' on a trajectory to catastrophe as climate changes
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Below is a copy of a letter to the editor of the Financial Times of 5 April 2007.
It denounces the popular idea that climate change could be beneficial for some people in some areas.
People talk of palm trees in Switzerland and higher agricultural production in Siberia.
Both are confusions.
You cannot enjoy lying under a palm tree if the area is otherwise threatened by weather extremes, floods and land slides, after the alpine glaciers and permafrost have molten away.
Mr Jim Wherry explains the prospects for Siberia and Canada:

Sir, I read your editorial about global warming ("Hard bargaining", March 31) in which you stated: "From Siberia to Alaska, denizens of the frozen north will be reflecting that every cloud has a silver lining [when global warming happens and temperatures rise]." By coincidence, I was headed to Fairbanks, Alaska, at the time.

Plainly, "global warming bad news" is all around us. But those not familiar with the "frozen north" may not understand the looming catastrophe that awaits us. The Arctic Circle and the continent of Antarctica are the largest deserts in the world. They receive very little precipitation, as such, because most of the moisture is locked in the permafrost.

Fairbanks receives 7-10 inches of precipitation a year. When the effects of climate change take hold, the permafrost will unlock all this moisture. We will see snow as never before. Winters will become worse, not better. Frozen tundra will turn to swampy marsh. Roads built on the tundra will sink into this new marsh. Caribou, elk and moose will bog down in the new mud which will then freeze, trapping the poor animals in an icy death grip.

Caribou migrating patterns will be disrupted along with their food supplies and mating areas. Since these animals are already about as far north as they can go, they cannot simply "migrate north" to find new areas in which to live. Global warming is a disaster for all of us.We must act now to mitigate our past failures, or we will suffer the consequences of our abuse and neglect.

It is a shame and an embarrassment that Germany produces 40 per cent of the world's solar power, while the US produces less than 10 per cent. Surely, a great nation like mine can do better than this.

Jim Wherry,

Fairbanks, AK, US
Mr Wherry sets hope on Solar Power, to replace electricy generation using fossil fuels. The bulk of fossil fuels and their climate gases are used for transportation.
We repeat: immediaty action is required. Humanity is overexploiting virtually all natural resources. Economic growth is exacerbating the problem.
So we must reject the ideology of economic growth. We must scale down "production", which actually means the conversion of non-renewable resources into short-lived consumer goods. We must restructure our economy, foster longevity, i.e products that last longer than a life time, reduce speeds and relocalise production and consumption.
That will dramatically reduce climate gas emissions.

Helmut Lubbers

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    Hard bargaining - Published: March 31 2007 03:00 Copyright Financial Times, reproduced for reference puposes only, without commercial objective
    As the climate continues to change, some good news at last: England will enjoy mild Mediterranean winters and delightful champagne vintages; Scottish farmers will be able to cultivate new crops, not to mention suntans. From Siberia to Alaska, denizens of the frozen north will be reflecting that every cloud has a silver lining. All this we suspected anyway, and the more sober details are likely to be confirmed this week - as much as climate forecasts are ever confirmed - by the scientists comprising the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
    Yet it would be unwise to uncork that English champagne just yet. The British like to complain about the weather, but barring an occasional dusting of snow, we know that we can cope with the current climate. What appears to be an improvement, therefore, may not be. There are enough feedback loops in the climate to make all prognostications unreliable. We may be promised bright sunshine and suffer blizzards after all.
    Furthermore, since we are well adapted to our current climate, most changes are likely to be for the worse. Our houses, roads and railways are built neither for hotter weather nor for colder. Changes in rainfall will require new agricultural techniques. In short, an Italian climate is nice for Rome but will take some getting used to in the vineyards surrounding Birmingham.
    Things look much grimmer for those in climates that are already quite warm enough. East Asia and the southern US are promised more hurricanes and cyclones, Africa and south Asia droughts and disease. Hurricane Katrina was a reminder that the US is not immune to extreme weather, but rich countries are better equipped to adapt to any change than poor ones. Rich economies are far less dependent on agriculture - and not at all on subsistence farming - and are also better able to deal with malaria. The rich are most likely to feel the impact indirectly through migration from poor and unstable areas.
    This, then, is the situation: climate change poses risks to all of us, but by far the largest risks to poor countries. It is very probably the result of carbon dioxide emissions, and they have come largely (not wholly) from rich countries. That is unfair, but more to the point, it means that political agreement will not be easy to reach. Poor countries have more to gain from development than from restricting their own limited emissions. A feeling of universal brotherhood has not been enough to persuade rich countries to limit theirs. In retrospect it is not hard to see why the Kyoto agreement failed to have much impact. Future negotiators will have to do better.
    There are precedents for reaching an international agreement on sharing costs and benefits - notably, the Marshall Plan. This negotiation will be a tougher nut to crack. For now the champagne should stay in the bottle.