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Archive for Monday, March 29, 2004

A new environmental threat

March 29, 2004

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Here's something to add to your already long list of things to worry about -- we may be about to witness the coming of a new global conflict, and it's got nothing to do with terrorism.

According to a recently published Pentagon report, our military brain trust is studying the possibility that the world could descend into a state of perpetual conflict due to the something called Abrupt Climate Change. Such a war would not be fought over religious or political differences but for survival itself, as nations compete for a rapidly dwindling supply of life-giving natural resources.

Abrupt Climate Change is a frightening twist on the global warming theory that already keeps some people awake at night. The traditional global warming theory held by many (though certainly not all) environmental scientists suggests that the Earth is gradually getting warmer, due in part to the presence of "greenhouse gasses" that are emitted during the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. Many scientists believe that this warming process is a bad thing because it tampers with the Earth's delicate ecological system.

Some colder areas of the Earth may actually be made more hospitable to life by this warming trend, but, by and large, the effects are thought to be detrimental. Habitable land space could be decreased as deserts expand and oceans rise due to the melting of the polar ice caps. Flooding and heat waves could become more prevalent and the geographic range for some infectious diseases could also increase.

Traditionally understood global warming sounds bad enough, but according to the Abrupt Climate Change theory things could fall apart much faster than originally thought.

Instead of a gradual warming process, Abrupt Climate Change suggests that once the great walls of ice in the polar regions start to melt, the salinity of seawater will begin to be diluted. Salt in the ocean is thought to be an important component in a current that takes tropical heat northward and cold water southward and thereby moderates temperatures in the United States and Europe.

Some scientists worry that tampering with that current could lead to violent changes in our climate that could be realized in a span of years and not decades or centuries.

We're talking about severe winters in some areas, severe drought in others, increasingly dangerous storm phenomenon, flooding, high winds, and a severe disruption in the world's food and energy supply. And as a result of the increasing scarcity of food and habitable living space, nations may be forced to go to war to ensure the survival of their citizens.

Of course, Abrupt Climate Change is only a theory and the whole topic of global warming is still the subject of intense debate among scientists and lawmakers. But the fact that the Pentagon thought enough of the idea to develop contingency plans to ensure America's survival in such a scenario tells me we ought to start thinking a little more seriously about curbing the activities that appear to be contributing to global warming.

There are many good reasons to make the reduction of the use of fossil fuels a national priority, but until now we seem to have lacked the will to take any real steps to do so. Perhaps the specter of the end of the world as we know it will motivate our government to reconsider their reluctance to tighten automobile gas mileage standards and mandate the development and use of renewable energy sources.

Probably not, but a guy can dream.


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