In 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it was believed the Earth was flat as a pancake and the determined explorer was doomed to sail off the edge.
Today, a frustrated U.S. President Barack Obama likens the “flat-Earth theory” to the beliefs of sceptics doubting the existence of global warming. On this now-confirmed round planet, doubters claim the issue is a “hoax, a global conspiracy, and a plot” against big businesses that rely heavily on fossil fuels.
In a provocative environmental study ordered by Obama — the most comprehensive yet in the world — a collaboration of U.S. scientists sound the alarm that climate change is now being felt in every corner of the United States. The report, National Climate Assessment, also crosses the border into Canada with warnings.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” according to a summation of the study recently published in the The New York Times.
The report paints an ominous picture of drought, flooding, disappearing beaches as ocean levels rise, erratic changes in weather patterns — and conditions prime for the invasion of the pine beetle killing forests in British Columbia and areas closer to home in our West Country.
Also closer to home, Canadian Press reported last week that global warming is rapidly turning the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park into an endangered species. Some experts predict the massive Athabasca Glacier, the most visited glacier in North America, and the largest in the icefields, is in danger of disappearing within a generation.
“It’s astonishing,” says John Wilmshurst, the parks resource conservation manager. “We’re losing at least five metres a year on the surface of that glacier,” says Wilmshurst. “Absolutely the glacier will be gone. Not within my lifetime, probably, but maybe within my children’s lifetime.” He further adds: “we should be preparing for drier conditions in the future. I think long term it’s not good news at all.”
The Times reports that global warming shows no mercy today in all areas of the U.S. Human-induced climate change is to blame for “water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.”
The large scientific panel links these radical changes to an average warming of less than two degrees Fahrenheit across that country in the past century.
If greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, the scientists warn “warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.”
The report further states: “Winters are generally shorter and warmer (in the U.S.). Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighbourhoods.”
And of our glaciers are “shrinking substantially” — the report points to the rapid melt in British Columbia, the Columbia Icefields and in Alaska. CP reports that, according to the U.S. study, the melting trend is expected to continue “and has implications for hydro-power production, ocean circulation patterns, fisheries and a global rise in sea levels.”
The Obama administration hopes to use the report to muster public support for a climate policy that would place new restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gasses.
But U.S. politicians who question global warming accuse the president of plotting “a war on coal.”
Some Republican members of Congress, according to The Times, maintain the science of global warming is a “hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy of scientists.”
Obama mocks their beliefs “as comparable to belief in a flat Earth.”
In Canada, rising sea levels could pose an apocalyptic scenario on the West and East Coasts. The U.S. study warns sea levels could rise anywhere from 30 cm to 1.2 metres (one to four feet), and possibly as high as 1.8 metres (six feet) globally by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions continue at a rapid pace.
The report also blames climate change on the outbreak of mountain pine beetles, which are destroying millions of acres of forest in the U.S., B.C. and Central Alberta’s West Country. These bugs proliferate under conditions of warmer winters and longer summers.
At the Columbia Icefields, Bob Sandford, chairman of the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade, calls the rapid melting rate “mind boggling.” Not only has the toe of the Athabasca Glacier receded by 1.5 km since 1890, leaving behind a moonscape of rocks and gravel, that massive compilation of ice is also becoming shallower.
“I first wrote a tourist book on the Columbia Icefields in 1994 and it was generally held that it was somewhere around 325 square km.” Sandford told CP. “That icefield now is calculated to be about 220 square km. That gives you an indication how rapidly things are changing.”
We have reached a fork in the road. Do we take the route of aggressive commitments in addressing global warming, or the other route dragging our heels and damn the future? The choice is ours.
Rick Zemanek is a retired Advocate editor.