by Joanna Zelman
"The summer season has not even officially started yet in the U.S. and already people are cranking up the a/c, boxing away the sweaters, seeking out the best swimming hole, and plotting how to avoid sweat stains. It’s about to get a lot worse. A recent study conducted by Stanford University scientists has concluded that if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, many regions in the world will probably experience an irreversible rise in summer temperatures within the next 20 to 60 years.
LiveScience explains that a single heat wave or warm day is not a sign of global warming. But while an individual weather event cannot be attributed to a warming world, more long-term trends are accepted in the scientific community as evidence of man-made global warming.
The recent Stanford study, which will be published this month in the journal "Climatic Change Letters," found that middle latitude regions of Europe, China and North America (including the U.S.) will likely see extreme shifts in summers temperatures within the next 60 years. In just the next two decades, tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America could see permanent and “unprecedented” summer heat. The most immediate rise in extreme temperatures is expected to occur in the tropics. Last year tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record, with the average worldwide temperature 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The Associated Press reports, “Most atmospheric scientists attribute the change to gases released into the air by industrial processes and gasoline-burning engines.” This is man-made global warming.
The Stanford study's lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, sought to determine when the current hottest temperatures would become “the new normal.” He says, "According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years." Diffenbaugh and co-author Martin Scherer came to this conclusion after analyzing over 50 climate model experiments, including both computer simulations of 21st century predictions and 20th century simulations that accurately predicted the Earth’s climate over the past 50 years.
Beyond perhaps a need to stock up on sunglasses and deodorant, what is the significance of these findings? According to Diffenbaugh, this dramatic rise in seasonal temperatures could severely affect human health and agriculture. Regarding health, heat waves can kill. As Diffenbaugh cites, heat waves in 2003 killed an estimated 35,000 people in Europe. Last year, a record heat wave in Russia killed 700 people per day. As for agriculture, new research reveals that global warming has hindered crop yields. Higher temperatures cause dehydration and prevent pollination, resulting in a rise in food prices. Other studies suggest that warmer winters keep pests alive longer, allowing them to carry plant diseases, and greenhouse gases affect a plant’s structure, reducing its protection abilities.
The Stanford report comes amid many other dire global warming predictions. One recent study found that rising sea levels could threaten 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100. Reuters reports cities including Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, and Virginia Beach could lose over 10 percent of their land area by the end of this century.
U.N. predictions suggest that there may be 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. This past year alone, natural disasters displaced 42 million people, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. According to the organization, over 90 percent of the disaster displacements were caused by weather incidents that were probably, to some extent, impacted by global warming. Scientists and government planners announced in May that heavy rains, deep snowfalls, monster floods and deadly droughts signal a "new normal" of extreme U.S. weather events influenced by climate change.
How many looming threats and even visible evidence are needed before serious action is taken to fight global warming? Instead of recognizing that another air conditioner is just a bandaid on our warming world, climate talks are expected to miss the Kyoto deadline, climate scientists are receiving death threats, and global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide were the highest ever last year. Will significant action against global warming have to wait until we can’t take the heat?”