CATACLYSMIC NEW evidence of the threat of global warming emerged last week. As government ministers from across the world met to discuss the issue in Germany, scientists warned that global temperatures could rise faster than at any time in Earth's history.
Most scientists agree that Earth's average temperature has increased by 1ºC since 1850. New estimates now suggest the speed of global warming could accelerate so temperatures rise by as much as 8ºC by the end of the next century. That is 2.5ºC more than anyone previously thought possible. At no time in Earth's entire history will global temperatures have changed so much in such a short space of time. The results could be catastrophic. Many commentators fear there could even be disruption of the basic functioning of society, even threatening the collapse of civilisation.
The new calculations are by the reputable Hadley Centre for Climate Change, in Berkshire. The results shocked the scientists involved. One of them, Geoff Jenkins, took the new findings to world leaders meeting in Bonn in Germany. 'The results only came through in the last two weeks and we were surprised at the increased severity of the global warming problem,' he said. Ute Collier of the World Wide Fund for Nature said, 'This is quite frightening and should add urgency to these negotiations. It's not just the heating up - it's the extreme weather events which have trebled in number over the last 30 years.'
The Hadley results come from one of the most detailed computer models yet of the relationships between climate and the world's major forests. Already global warming is believed by most experts to lie behind the increase in extreme weather patterns. The latest example was the devastating cyclone that hit India last month, making ten million people homeless and killing thousands. Higher global temperatures can also shift the climate in ways that have a devastating impact on agriculture, turning fertile areas into arid deserts. Higher temperatures can melt the polar ice caps. Whole countries like Holland and Bangladesh could be submerged.
If the predictions are true, most of the vast Amazon rain forest would disappear. That could accelerate global warming, as the carbon stored in the trees would be released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide accounts for some 70 percent of the effect of global warming. It heats the atmosphere through the greenhouse effect, trapping the sun's heat.
The new threat is a direct result of capitalism and its blind chase for profit. One quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions are pumped out by the United States. One third of those emissions are from cars and trucks. Yet the giant car firms, and the oil and rubber companies, want to sell even more cars. They, and the governments which back them, want to see such a 'car culture' replicated across the globe to swell their profits. The result could make even last week's new warnings on global warming look tame.
The car, oil and gas companies are part of the Global Climate Coalition, a big business lobby whose aim is to prevent any real action on carbon dioxide emissions. Such people would rather risk the planet's future than see their profits threatened. Politicians claim they recognise the threat of global warming. They have held a series of summits, from Rio in 1992 to Kyoto in 1997, to discuss freezing carbon dioxide emissions. But the result has been precisely nothing.
Carbon dioxide emissions are still rising on a global scale. US emissions have risen 14 percent since 1990. Even the OECD club of rich nations published two reports last week, which concluded there was little chance of the Kyoto targets being met. The world's rulers refuse to challenge big business and its thirst for profit, even though it risks destroying the planet. There is only one way to avoid the terrible threat of global warming. That is for the majority of people to seize control of industry and society from the minority who control it at present. Only then can we insist that people and the planet must come before profit.