Signs of Trouble?

“Veu Lesa, a 73-year-old villager in Tuvalu, does not need scientific reports to tell him that the sea is rising,” says The New Zealand Herald. “The beaches of his childhood are vanishing. The crops that used to feed his family have been poisoned by salt water. In April [2007], he had to leave his home when a spring tide flooded it, and the waves showered it with rocks and debris.”

FOR the people of Tuvalu, a group of islands no more than 13 feet [4 m] above sea level, global warming is, not abstract science, but “a daily reality,” says the Herald. * Thousands have already left the islands, and many more are preparing to go.

Meanwhile, Robert, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, can water his garden only on certain days, using a bucket​—not a hose. And unless he goes to a car wash that recycles water, he can wash only parts of his car​—mirrors, windows, and registration plates. Why such restrictions? Robert lives in a part of the country that is suffering from what has been called the worst drought in a century. Other areas are even worse off. Are the problems in Australia and Tuvalu evidence of global warming?

What Some Predict

Many believe that human activities are a major cause of global warming, which may have catastrophic consequences for the climate and the environment. For example, large-scale melting of land-based ice and the expansion of the oceans as water warms could cause sea levels to rise drastically. Low-lying islands such as Tuvalu could disappear, as could large parts of the Netherlands and Florida, to name just two other areas. Millions of people could be displaced from such places as Shanghai and Calcutta, as well as parts of Bangladesh.

At the same time, rising temperatures could intensify storms, floods, and droughts. In the Himalayas, disappearing glaciers​—from areas that feed seven river systems—​could cause shortages of freshwater for 40 percent of the world’s population. Also at risk are thousands of species of animals, including polar bears, whose hunting grounds are largely on the ice. Indeed, reports already indicate that many bears are losing weight and some are even starving.

Rising temperatures may also foster the spread of disease by enabling mosquitoes, ticks, and other disease-carrying organisms, including fungi, to spread farther afield. “The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons,” says the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “The effects may be less dramatic in the short term . . . , but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival.” Adding an even more ominous note, some scientists believe that changes attributed to global warming are occurring faster than they had expected.

What are we to make of these predictions? Is life on earth really at a crossroads? Skeptics of global warming say that such dire predictions are groundless. Others are not sure. So, what is the truth? Is earth’s future​—and ours—​in peril?

[Footnote]

^ par. 3 “Global warming” refers to an overall increase in temperature in earth’s atmosphere and oceans.