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Penguins Are Melting

“. . . each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy
strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. . . . With old
friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to . . . roll back the
specter of a warming planet.”
—President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address

LNW_AntarcticaHow is the hurricane picture to the right related to the picture of Antarctica? Global warming has been found to increase the intensity of hurricanes (though a definite link to causing more hurricanes has not been established). As Katrina showed, fiercer intensity is bad enough.

A new report published in Nature [1] suggests that overall, Antarctica is warming, and at about the same rate as the rest of the planet. The study, by Eric J. Steig [2] of the University of Washington and colleagues, analyzes temperature data over a fifty-year span. On average, Antarctica warmed by 0.5°C between 1957 and 2006—especially on the western side near the peninsula—while on average the earth has warmed 0.6°C. (See also NASA accounts here [3] and here [4].)

The illustration above shows the “hot spot” where temperatures have risen most compared to the rest of Antarctica. Temperatures on the West Antarctica ice sheet, colored brightest red, are rising faster than in other parts of the continent. The West Antarctica ice sheet, a stretch larger than California, Texas, and Alaska combined, includes the Antarctic peninsula, which points toward South America. The Wilkins Ice Sheet, part of the peninsula, is said to be “hanging by a thread [5]”; a collapse of the West Antarctica ice sheet would cause global sea levels to rise.

David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey, who was not involved in the study published in Nature, observes [6], “Antarctic ice shelves are breaking up because of rises in sea surface temperatures, not air temperatures.” This is worrisome for two reasons: evidence of warming seas bodes ill for areas susceptible to tropical storms (warm water intensifies hurricanes), and rising sea levels obviously threaten low-lying areas such as New Orleans.

This is why Levees Not War regularly brings global warming matters to our readers’ attention—both in these “Fresh Hell” posts and in the “News” links in the left column. (See ‘Swiftly Melting Planet 2007’ and ‘Diagnosis of a Stressed-Out Planet’ [10/30/07] below.) Environmental threats are all interconnected. What good are Category 5–strength levees when the sea levels are rising to dangerous heights? (Some scientists project sea-level rises of more than 10 feet, possibly over 20, in the next century!) As President Obama notes above, energy use affects climate. Energy use also leads to war. War leads to death and other bad things, including a shortage of funds for pressing needs at home, such as reinforced levees, coastal restoration, rebuilt schools and public housing, and so on.

But maybe we’re worried over nothing. Warming-denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) claimed [7] on Bill Bennett’s conservative-talk-radio show that he has “prevailed” because “they won’t say global warming any more, they’re trying to say climate change.” In his view, it’s all a UN–MoveOn–George Soros conspiracy, and Al Gore and the Clinton Initiative are making money off the fears they’re stoking. (Inhofe, by the way, is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works [8], of which Barbara Boxer [D-CA], thank God, is the chair.) Maybe he’s right, though we’re not sure his view has been proved by “the science.”

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