A leaked draft of a major scientific study of climate change categorically affirms its reality, the responsibility of human activity for it and its likely catastrophic impact on the planet.
Prepared by renowned scientists around the globe and now being circulated to researchers, governments and organizations for comment before its official release in the fall, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains alarming information. It will be reviewed by scientists and governments at a meeting in Stockholm next month, but its conclusions are unlikely to change.
Based on global average temperature increases between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit at the low end and up to 10 degrees at the poles, the report predicts warming of oceans, melting of snow and ice, extreme heat waves, problems in food cultivation and changes in Earth's animal and plant life.
Rising sea levels, which climbed 8 inches in the 20th century, pose a particular problem. The report estimates that they will rise another 10 inches in this century; absent measures to control greenhouse gas emissions, they could rise as much as 3 feet by 2100. The results would be catastrophic for cities such as Miami, New York and New Orleans, not to mention London, Shanghai and Sydney.
The nonchalance of governments, starting with the United States and China, in the face of all this is easy -- and hard -- to understand.
There is the press of matters such as honoring the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins football team in the White House to occupy President Barack Obama, and there is Congress' five-week vacation to get in the way of its serious consideration of the problem. There is the opposition to measures such as "cap and trade" to combat industrial emissions, based on alleged disruption of the economy, or the "Why should we act when China and India don't?" argument. There is also the naive contention that these trends are cyclical and will go away on their own -- a notion rejected by the IPCC.
If the report is right, a day will come in the not-distant future when the water is gurgling around what used to be Wall Street, when Americans will ask what their leaders were doing when they could so clearly see this cataclysm coming and didn't act. Those Americans, our children and grandchildren, are not likely to be kind.