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England Gets Serious About Global Warming

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  • Mike Neuman
    England Gets Serious About Global Warming by Jim Motavalli According to the prestigious journal Nature, 2004 was the fourth- warmest year on record. And
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 23, 2005
      England Gets Serious About Global Warming
      by Jim Motavalli

      According to the prestigious journal Nature, 2004 was the fourth-
      warmest year on record. And January 2005 was the second-warmest
      January of the past 27 years, says the Earth System Science Center at
      the University of Alabama.

      Despite evidence like this, climate change has yet to make it onto
      the radar screens of most Americans. The opposite is true in England,
      where the science is hotly debated. In the Daily Express newspaper,
      for instance, David Bellamy, a much-beloved figure in Britain for his
      TV shows about plants and other natural phenomena, recently weighed
      in with a treatise. He claimed that global warming is a lot of hot
      air, but even if it was true the increase in carbon dioxide would
      simply be good for plant growth. Bellamy had apparently missed a 2002
      article in the respected journal Science, which concluded
      that "elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) actually reduces
      [emphasis added] plant growth when combined with other likely
      consequences of climate change—namely, higher temperatures, increased
      precipitation or increased nitrogen deposits in the soil."

      But Bellamy is definitely in the minority in England, a country that
      is fast recognizing its responsibility to do something about global
      warming. Last September, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a major
      speech on the subject, pointing out that the 10 warmest years on
      record have all been since 1990, and that the planet has experienced
      the most drastic temperature rise in more than 1,000 years in the
      northern hemisphere. "Glaciers are melting," he said. "Sea ice and
      snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an
      earlier spring. Sea levels are rising…Apart from a diminishing
      handful of skeptics, there is a virtual worldwide scientific
      consensus on the scope of the problem."

      Unlike the U.S., which refuses to sign the treaty, England is on
      target to meet its Kyoto goals, thanks to a determined carbon
      reduction effort underway on the federal and municipal level. Typical
      of the commitment is Allan Jones, the new head of the London Climate
      Change Agency. Jones came to London after achieving revolutionary
      change in Woking, a city of 100,000 people. With combined heat and
      power (CHP) cogeneration systems and solar energy (10 percent of
      Great Britain's installed capacity), Woking has reduced its energy
      use by 48 percent since 1990, which means 5.4 million pounds of CO2
      kept out of the atmosphere. The city is now nearly 90 percent
      independent of the grid, with its own energy services company.

      Woking's reductions will be scaled up for Greater London, which has
      7.2 million people. Nicky Gavron, the city's deputy mayor, is
      confident that this world capital can reach the ambitious goal of a
      20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. It doesn't have much
      choice, she adds, since rising tides are an imminent threat. "The
      Thames Barrier, built to close against rare storm surges, has been
      forced to shut 19 times in a month," she says. "With rising tides we
      would lose most of South London, The City [London's Wall Street] and
      the tube [subway]."

      London is addressing its transportation-based emissions with a £5
      ($9) "congestion charge" for vehicles entering the city. Imposed in
      2003 by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the scheme has already reduced
      traffic delays by 30 percent. An estimated 18 percent reduction has
      been achieved on traffic entering the zone. Bus ridership is up.
      Although some taxi drivers are sour on Livingstone as "anti-car," 70
      percent of businesses (initially the biggest opponents of congestion
      charging) are now supportive.

      Gavron estimates that only 20 percent of London's CO2 emissions is
      caused by vehicles; buildings produce more than 70 percent. London is
      learning from partners like Toronto how to implement energy audits
      and make new home construction (necessary because of rising
      population) more efficient. Woking's CHP model—high-efficiency
      localized units that combine power generation with heating and
      cooling—will also be studied. "We're going for big CO2 hits," she

      And Britain is also leading the scientific charge. Opening the UK
      Conference on "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change" in Exeter, Dennis
      Tirpak pointed out that "there is evidence that rising greenhouse
      gases are affecting rainfall patterns and the global water cycle."
      These same gases "are probably increasing river flows into the Arctic
      Ocean, consistent with the observational record since the 1960s."
      The scientists at the conference were struggling with the use of the
      word "dangerous," since their work demands objectivity. But there was
      little doubt that the evidence they presented threatens our future.
      Stephen H. Schneider of Stanford University (who was privately
      contemptuous of the Bush administration's go-slow approach to global
      warming) reiterated the global effects predicted by the
      Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): more frequent heat
      waves, more intense storms, a faster spread of disease, inundation of
      small island nations, species extinction and loss of biodiversity.

      Schneider detailed such speculative effects as a possible collapse of
      the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (the Day After Tomorrow
      scenario, though on a much less dramatic timetable), and the
      deglaciation of polar ice sheets in Greenland and the West Antarctic,
      causing many feet of additional sea-level rise. Then there are what
      he called "true surprises," dramatic events like rapidly forced
      climate change that we can't accurately foresee (despite the rows of
      climate-dedicated supercomputers on display in the Hadley Centre,
      where the conference took place).

      The collapse of thermohaline circulation is a fancy way of saying
      that huge amounts of Arctic ice melt will affect the flow of warm
      water in the Gulf Stream, plunging Europe into dramatically colder
      temperatures. Will it occur? Opinions at the conference were divided.
      Richard Wood of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
      described it as a "high impact, low-probability event." He predicted
      a shutdown of "from zero to 50 percent" over the next century. "Loss
      of the thermohaline circulation is possible, and it could be
      irreversible," Wood said. "But there is no detectable weakening yet."
      An even scarier scenario was presented by Michael Schlesinger of the
      University of Illinois. He predicted, "The likelihood of the collapse
      of thermohaline circulation in the next 200 years is two in three.
      Even with rigorous human intervention to stop it the risk is one in
      four." He gave the numbers as a four-in-10 chance by 2100, and 65 out
      of 100 by 2200.

      Sir David King, the Blair government's chief science advisor (and a
      professor of physical chemistry at Cambridge), concluded, "Kyoto is
      just a beginning for dealing with climate change. The UK will take a
      leading role, but true global action is necessary. We have to bring
      India, Brazil and China [which will build as many power stations in
      2005 as exist in all of England] into the process. And we have to
      persuade people to worry about this for their grandchildren's sake.
      We're not talking about long-term scenarios anymore. The impacts over
      just the next 30 years could be quite severe."
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