New Scientist, NYT – The waters are rising. We may soon say goodbye to Tuvalu and Kiribati. Goodbye the Maldives (and Florida). And goodbye Holland, which is especially unfair for the nation that is hosting the UN summit on global warming, where the U.S. has agreed to plant more trees, but not to cut down on greenhouse emissions. But even if all the nations there agree to reduce carbon emissions, it might already be too late to save the Greenland ice sheet, which would cause a rise in the sea level and the disappearance of dozens of nations, and parts of others.
Observations of the Terra satellite have revealed that four new lakes have formed in the desert in southern Egypt. When the Aswan High Dam was built in 1971, it was known that it would overflow if Lake Nasser would overflow it if it reached a high enough level. “But nobody thought it would ever happen,” says geologist Robert Stern of the University of Texas at Dallas. Two years ago, however, the lake reached its brim for the first time after heavy rains brought about by El Nino, and water flowed over it into the desert.
Here in the U.S., on Long Island in New York, the Army Corps of Engineers is looking at how to help communities protect themselves from rising sea levels that could bring ocean storm surges miles inland. On Wall Street, El Nino seminars about weather-risk financing have become common.
New Jersey is a rare instance of a state that actively promotes climate-change policies. It has begun an aggressive program of buying out property owners whose homes or businesses are in vulnerable flood plains. State economic development officials have been enlisted to promote the idea of reduced emissions for businesses.
Some private groups, like Environmental Defense, warn that state and local governments should be actively preparing people for a significantly altered terrain in the near future, in which some coastal areas may have to be surrendered to the rising seas. Scientists at Columbia University have projected a worst-case scenario in which the sea rises nearly four feet in the New York metropolitan area over the next 100 years. Researchers are looking at how rising salt water could contaminate underground aquifers on Long Island.
Doctors at the New York State Department of Health say that a warmer weather pattern in the 21st century could make the region more vulnerable to foreign diseases like the West Nile virus. “You have to anticipate the potential that there could be an introduction of some new diseases related to this,” said Dr. Dale L. Morse, the director of the division of infectious disease. The thinning ozone layer has already caused an increase in cataracts and skin cancers, and may suppress the immune system.
New York-New Jersey transportation authorities have begun a study of how climate change could affect the region?s transportation network, especially runways in low-lying areas, such as La Guardia and Kennedy.
Dr. Morse warns us that we must be cautious and says that energy-saving efforts in the 1970?s could have been partly to blame for the spread of Legionnaires? disease. To conserve energy, many hospitals reduced the temperature of their hot water by a few degrees, and that slight difference was apparently enough to allow the disease to propagate.
Sources: New Scientist, Nov. 18 and 25, 2000; New York Times, Nov. 19, 2000.
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