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Issue 26
June , 2010
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Then and Now

Suparna Dutta
Source: Toxics Alert, Date: June , 2010

Debates surrounding impacts of global warming are as heated as the topic itself. For every set of scientists that point out impending doom as a result of climate change, there is another bunch that draw a completely different or at least a less horrific picture. For a lay person this can get very,very confusing. I will give you two examples here.

The error-riddled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that drew a lot of flak for predicting Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 and could eventually leave hundreds of millions of Asians without sufficient food is still fresh in public memory. A Dutch research team led by Walter Immerzeel of Future Water and Utrecht University examined how climate change will affect five major Asian rivers -- often referred to as the region's "water towers" -- that together supply water to more than 1.4 billion people, roughly one-fifth of the world's population.

This new study by researchers in the Netherlands, recently published in Science magazine suggests that increased rainfall in some river basins will blunt the effect of the disappearing snow and ice.They include the Indus, which begins in the Tibetan Plateau and runs through Pakistan; the Ganges, which traverses India and Bangladesh; the Brahmaputra, which winds through the Himalayas into India; the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which run through China. The Dutch research team tackled the problem by examining the role glacial meltwater plays in each river basin, compared with other sources of freshwater -- rainfall and melting snowpack.

While a well-respected body such as IPCC should have been more careful before publishing any such reports related to impacts of climate change, there is hardly any doubt that global warming is one of the most worrisome crises in today's world. If some recent studies are to be believed, rising global temperatures might already be helping infectious diseases to move north.The report based on findings of a group of European scientists, links warmer temperatures to the spread of dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria and even human plague in the continent.When temperatures rise, the insects that spread disease mature faster and produce more offspring, the report says.This is juxtaposed with the United Nations climate experts recommendation for cutting carbon emissions to prevent the rise of global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Researchers believe that global warming is already responsible for some 150,000 deaths each year around the world, and fear that the number may well double by 2030 even if we start getting serious about emissions reductions today.Two years back a team of health and climate scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison published these findings in the prestigious, peer-reviewed science journal Nature. But in this case ,too, skeptics have pointed out that since global warming would raise maximum summer temperatures modestly while raising winter minimum temperatures significantly, it "should help reduce human death rates."

However, these heated arguments ,whether correlating anything and everything to climate change or calling the crisis a myth propounded by soothsayers without sufficient scientific evidence, have definitely served one purpose. Every person has some opinion on the topic.Whether he believes in climate change impacts or wants to write it off as a figment of imagination of few scaremongers, he is certainly engaged. If I have to enumerate one good impact of climate change, this would be it!