March 11, 2007 in Nation/World

Scientists warn of dire warming effects

Seth Borenstein Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won’t have enough water, top scientists will say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of a draft of an international scientific report obtained by the Associated Press.

Tropical diseases like malaria will spread. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive.

For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. But by 2080, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation, according to the report, which is still being revised.

The draft document by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on global warming’s effects and is the second in a series of four being issued this year. Written and reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists from dozens of countries, it still must be edited by government officials.

But some scientists said the overall message is not likely to change when it’s issued in early April in Brussels, the same city where European Union leaders agreed this past week to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Their plan will be presented to President Bush and other world leaders at a summit in June.

The report offers some hope if nations slow and then reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but it notes that what’s happening now isn’t encouraging.

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” the report says, in marked contrast to a 2001 report by the same international group that said the effects of global warming were coming. But that report only mentioned scattered regional effects.

“Things are happening and happening faster than we expected,” said Patricia Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., one of the many co-authors of the new report.

The draft document says scientists are highly confident that many current problems – change in species’ habits and habitats, more acidified oceans, loss of wetlands, bleaching of coral reefs and increases in allergy-inducing pollen – can be blamed on global warming.

For example, the report says North America “has already experienced substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from recent climate extremes,” such as hurricanes and wildfires.

But the present is nothing compared to the future.

Global warming soon will “affect everyone’s life … it’s the poor sectors that will be most affected,” Romero Lankao said.

And co-author Terry Root of Stanford University said: “We truly are standing at the edge of mass extinction” of species.

The report included these likely results of global warming:

“Hundreds of millions of Africans and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have water will be short of it in less than 20 years. By 2050, more than 1 billion people in Asia could face water shortages. By 2080, water shortages could threaten 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people, depending on the level of greenhouse gases that cars and industry spew into the air.

“Death rates for the world’s poor from global warming-related illnesses, such as malnutrition and diarrhea, will rise by 2030. Malaria and dengue fever, as well as illnesses from eating contaminated shellfish, are likely to grow.

“Europe’s small glaciers will disappear with many of the continent’s large glaciers shrinking dramatically by 2050. And half of Europe’s plant species could be vulnerable, endangered or extinct by 2100.

“By 2080, between 200 million and 600 million people could be hungry because of global warming’s effects.

“About 100 million people each year could be flooded by 2080 by rising seas.

“Smog in U.S. cities will worsen and “ozone-related deaths from climate (will) increase by approximately 4.5 percent for the mid-2050s, compared with 1990s levels,” turning a small health risk into a substantial one.

“Polar bears in the wild and other animals will be pushed to extinction.

“At first, more food will be grown. For example, soybean and rice yields in Latin America will increase starting in a couple of years. Areas outside the tropics, especially the northern latitudes, will see longer growing seasons and healthier forests.

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