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Watch Out For Extreme Weather, Scientists Say

Thanks to global warming, the future is going to look more and more like a bad Roland Emmerich movie, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet world leaders are doing little to tackle the threat.

The panel took an extensive review of existing climate data and concluded that extreme weather is going to increase dramatically throughout this century. For example, they predict once-in-a-lifetime heat waves should now be expected to occur about once every five years. Places near the equator will turn into choking ovens annually.

Their findings indicate major storms will triple, and flooding in Southeast Asia will quadruple.

We might not even be able to develop ways to counter the threat, or even diasaster-proof cities. Alarmingly, scientists “aren’t sure quite which weather disaster will be the biggest threat,” since the complex interaction of weather patterns, population density, and economics makes it difficult to determine which global areas.

These findings come on the heel of another finding that global temperatures have risen nearly 1 degree Celsius since the 1950’s; even assuming that a much higher proportion of the change is due to climate variability rather than industry, at least 50% is likely to have been induced through human carbon emissions. Another analysis suggests that “delaying significant mitigation action for more than a decade could have serious consequences.” (As a savvy Onion article joked, global warming may be irreversible by 2006.)

Why the lack of urgency? As the report notes, 95% of deaths from extreme weather events occur in developing countries – the same nations which lack the bargaining power necessary to force cooperation on climate change. Meanwhile, the leading economies in the world continue to focus on short-term economic benefits at potentially extreme cost.

American intransigence explains a great deal of the failure to accomplish even slight long-term reductions in emissions. Even the Obama administration has proven reluctant at best to press for a stronger regulatory framework, while more ardent critics see the president actively working to dismantle it at worst.

Nowhere could the difference between the action that is needed and the cynical skepticism which is making action impossible be more starkly illuminated than our dysfunctional legislature. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released dueling statements on Wednesday morning. Senator Barbara Boxer commented that “wishing that climate change will go away by clinging to a tiny minority view is not a policy – it is a fantasy… problems do not go away by pretending they do not exist… it endangers billions of people around the globe.”

Senator James Inhofe, however, was irreconcilable. “Today,” he gloated, “I’m happy to bring you the good news about the complete collapse of the global warming movement and the failure of the Kyoto process… tossing out any remote possibility of a UN global warming treaty is one of the most important things we can do for the economy.”

Can we expect our leaders to grow some backbone on global warming? Not likely. Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who used to clamor that the Republican party “can’t run from science,” now has begun backtracking, claiming that “the scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation about what might lie beneath all of this.”

And as much as President Obama and the Democratic leadership would like to place all blame on the Republican party, Senator Inhofe makes one chilling point: “The message to the U.N. delegates in South Africa this week is clear: you are being ignored. And you are being ignored by your biggest allies in the United States: President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate.”

Our leaders have proven they are not willing to take action before climate change becomes a real crisis measured in widespread death, global turmoil, and trillions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and cities. Americans themselves need to hold our leaders accountable for their lack of concern and strongly pressure the rabble in Washingtonto strongly support action to reduce emissions by any means possible.

Photo Credit: vandango

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