Global warming will make world poverty worse, which could destabilize the third-world countries where millions of poor people live and make them more open to government extremism. The UN's Rajendra Pachauri says, "Large areas of poverty are dangerous for the world as a whole as they provide fertile ground for extremist views...Things go wrong. People want to blame someone."
The recent extreme weather worldwide, such as the rain and floods that hit central Europe this summer, may mean that climate change is already here. "Purely by association, there is something to worry about,? he says. ?In the last 10 years, the number of such freak incidents has doubled."
Scientists now say that the recent gentle winters in the U.S. indicate global warming is on the way. But they have a chilling prediction: they think the weather will suddenly turn frigid, and stay that way for decades or maybe centuries. In the Northeast, subzero temperatures could become normal in the winter, filling rivers with ice, cutting the growing season short, and altering bird migrations.
This is caused by the increased amount of freshwater in the usually salty North Atlantic ocean that has been spreading in the last seven years. It now covers 15 million square miles and reaches south from Greenland to just off the coast of the Carolinas.
If this continues, it will change the Gulf Stream, which moves warm air to the north in the winter. If that current is slowed down by the freshwater?or stopped altogether?the average winter temperatures in the Northeastern United States and in Western Europe will plummet 10 degrees. A five-degree drop would take place in the rest of the U.S. "None of us could tell you whether that event happens next year or 100 years from now," says Raymond W. Schmitt Jr., of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Researchers are worried about telling the public and setting off a panic, Schmitt says. The U.N. committee on global warming says, "such a shutdown is unlikely by 2100." But John Gagosian, head of Woods Hole, says, "In just the past year, we have seen ominous signs that we may be headed toward a potentially dangerous threshold. If we cross it, Earth's climate could switch gears and jump very rapidly?not gradually?into a completely different mode of operation."
The Gulf Stream may already be slowing down. At a time when other glaciers around the world are shrinking, the Scandinavian glacier is growing, and this may be because less warm air is reaching that far in the North Atlantic.
The British are so worried about the upcoming deep freeze, they?ve invested $30 million in trying to figure out what's going on. A shift in the ocean current will drastically change their climate and ability to grow food. Scientists who have studied ice cores think this is part of a natural cycle that may have occurred several times in the last 100,000 years. Changes in the Gulf Stream probably caused the Little Ice Age, which began in the 15th century and ended about 1850.
When scientists first began talking about global warming, they thought it happened gradually. However, in the last 15 years, researchers who?ve been studying ice cores that date back 100,000 years have found evidence of sudden climate shifts. "Large, abrupt and widespread climate changes occurred repeatedly in the past across most of the Earth, and many followed closely after freshening of the North Atlantic," says Richard B. Alley, of Penn State University, who is chairman of the National Research Council's Committee on Abrupt Climate Change.
One of these abrupt changes was the "Younger Dryas" event, a dramatic cooling that took place about 12,000 years ago, 6,000 years after the last Ice Age. It happened suddenly, in just a few years.
Researchers agree on one thing about global warming and sudden climate change: there?s no way to stop it. Andrew Weaver, of the University of Victoria in Canada, says that would be "like one person standing on a railroad track trying to stop a train."
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