Global Warming (Still) Accelerating Water Crises

Prolonged dry episodes in the US
Prolonged dry episodes in the US

It's not breaking news, but then again, most global problems aren't.

A new report by the World Resources Institute continues to confirm not only that human activity is the primary cause of rising temperatures, but also that global warming impacts are accelerating.

Climate Science 2008: Major New Discoveries is a compilation of peer-reviewed research from 2008 and includes evidence that melting rates for mountain glaciers around the world doubled between 2004 and 2006. Other examples of water supply and hydrological impacts include the rapid melting of the Himalayan Naimona’nyi Glacier (which threatens the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra Rivers -- and half a billion people) and that human activities have contributed to 60% of the changes in trends in river flow, winter air temperature, and snow pack in the western US (with an impending water crisis not far off).

Old news? Yes it is, but even with the repeated confirmation by scientific studies, governments continue to drag their feet in climate negotiations. As a friend recently asked me, Why do we make a big deal of targets if countries aren't going to keep them anyway? Well, they still have value, but maybe the time for committing to targets is long past. What we crucially need right now is a commitment to action (i.e. strong regulations, aggressive incentives, an overhaul of early education towards sustainable behavior?), not words and numbers.

As Kelly Levin, co-author of the report, states: "Climate change impacts are happening now. This is not a distant phenomenon. And many impacts are emerging at a faster rate than previously modeled." Let's hope that every congressperson, parliamentarian, school, business, and community gets the memo.

The report is broken into four sections, which include some of the following sample findings:

Physical Climate:

  • The rate of growth of global carbon dioxide emissions between 2000 and 2007 was four times that of the previous decade.
  • A large majority of warming over the last century can be attributed to human activities rather than natural factors, such as solar variability.
  • If atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reach 700 parts per million by 2100 (concentrations in 2008 were 385.57 parts per million), daily maximum temperatures are projected to rise to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the U.S. Midwest and Southern Europe and exceed 122 degrees Fahrenheit in Australia, India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.
  • Sea ice loss in the Arctic could have the potential to warm ground up to 930 miles inland, threatening to trigger "rapid degradation" of permafrost.
  • This section includes studies in the areas of abrupt change, GHG and aerosol concentrations, temperature, and ocean behavior.

Hydrological Cycle:

  • From 1996 to 2006, the rate of ice mass loss of Antarctica increased by 75 percent.
  • The rate of melting and thinning of 30 glaciers across nine mountain ranges around the world doubled between 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.
  • Up to 60 percent of the hydrological changes in the Western United States are due to human activities, a trend which, if sustained, "portends a coming crisis in water supply."
  • This section includes studies in the areas of glacial and snow melt, water supply, and storms.

Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services

  • Changes in 28,800 plant and animal systems and 829 physical climate systems have led scientists to conclude that human-induced warming is already "having a significant impact" on natural and physical systems.
  • Due to climate change-induced beetle infestations, the forests of British Columbia will turn from a small net sink of carbon dioxide to a large net source by 2020, with emissions trumping those related to forest fires.
  • If carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, tropical ocean "dead zones" are likely to increase by 50 percent by 2100.
  • This section includes studies in the areas of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

Mitigation Technologies

  • A promising method of capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air is under development.
  • A new non-toxic, inexpensive technology for storing solar energy, with potential applications for generating hydrogen power, has been discovered.
  • This section includes studies in the areas of solar, thermoelectric, biofuels, wave energy, batteries and ultracapacitors, and carbon capture.

For the full report, click here.