A vast drought threatens to kill the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, and as it dries up and becomes a tinder box, the likelihood of devastating fires predicted in Whitley Strieber's 1984 book Nature's End become greater and greater. Scientists in the UK are warning that dramatic changes may soon occur in Africa's vegetation in response to global warming, on a similar scale to the last Ice Age and the African forest decline 2,500 years ago. How will these faraway events affect us?
Nature's End was based on the most extreme global warming models available in 1984, and it portrayed a destroyed Amazon, parched by drought and devastated by fires that grew as big as entire nations. Now just such a fire danger exists in the Amazon, and if the present drought does not break soon, massive fires are inevitable. It would be a tragedy to lose the Amazon, because it is not only the source of important medicines?many of which have yet to be discovered?but it also send huge amounts of oxygen in the air. No one knows how the destruction of such a huge breathing apparatus for the Earth will affect the climate?but it won't be good.
The Amazon drought is caused by deforestation, as locals chop down trees in order to produce more farmland, abetted by global warming. The irony is that the US has a huge surplus of food, so why can't be send some of it to hungry Brazil, in exchange for saving the rainforest? Future historians will puzzle over this conundrum.
When studying potential climate change, scientists now all use supercomputers to predict the future. In the UK, biologists have used computers to predict the effect of climate change on over 5,000 species of plants. Researcher Jon Lovett says, "The results were extraordinary?plants migrate out of the Congo rainforests and there is a massive intensification of drought?The remarkable thing is that similar changes seem to have occurred in the past." When we showed his computer results to French palaeobotanist Jean Maley, he immediately noticed correlations with events in the last Ice Age and in the African forest decline about 2,500 years ago. Lovett says, "The social effects of climate change are tightly linked to politics and so difficult to predict, but the way things are going it looks like Africa is going to be in for a rough ride over the next few decades."
In our new world economy, a rough ride in one part of the world means a rough ride for all of us.
Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk
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