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Notes from the frontier

Notes from the frontier
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First Published: Fri, Jan 01 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Fri, Jan 01 2010. 03 36 PM IST
While researching for his book, Weisman encountered numerous locations where climate change is already forcing nature to redress imbalances, leaving humanity palpably worse off. “There are examples…that show temperatures can change rather abruptly when the chemistry tips to one side or the other,” Weisman says. “Something is going to be so overloaded very quickly that parts are going to collapse. We have to be prepared for some big changes.”
Click here to view a slideshow on 2010: Alan Weisman on climate change challenges.
“I climbed Cotopaxi with an Ecuadorian mountaineer who’d been up the mountain six months earlier. He was amazed when we reached the glacier at a little over 4,500m. We had to climb 100m higher than he did last time to reach it—an indication that the glacier was shrinking. This isn’t just a beautiful ice cap on the top of a stirring mountain…it’s the source of water to all the area’s farmers. In the case of Kilimanjaro, Kenya and Tanzania depend on rain in the spring and the fall…the rest of the year they depend on springs fed by glacier water. They’re having problems now because of turbulence in the climate. Sometimes, the fall rains aren’t coming. Sometimes, the spring rains come way too much and they get flooding, and the source of water during the rest of the year…is diminishing. If this disappears, it’s going to be an enormous problem.”
“I’ve been to some South Pacific atolls where people live on islands that are at variable sea level. Their crops are dependent on limited fresh water, which is being endangered. If sea levels keep rising…their islands are going to get swamped. Even before that, the pressure of a rising sea will allow seawater to start invading the water table. You’re going to get saltier and saltier water, and it’ll be harder to make a living that way. Bangladeshis have been living at or below sea level for a long time. They’ve learnt various coping mechanisms—they’ve learnt to go up onto roof tops at certain times of the year. That isn’t to say they don’t have any problems. They’re going to run out of their capacity to cope, because they’re going to have to spend longer and longer waiting out floods to recede. After a while, it’s going to be impossible to maintain a food or a fresh water supply.”
“Western North America is arid compared to the eastern part. Moisture is dependent on snowfall…in the mountains. The snow patch has been diminishing over the past couple of decades—measurably. We also have…vegetation that helps to retain water in the soil. There are massive forests and they’re all coming down. The forests, as they get drier, become more susceptible to bark beetles, which live in the forest, but their lifespan is usually limited by cold winters. Now, because summers are longer, the beetles have time to generate more breeding cycles. The wood is drier and cannot produce bark resin, the natural defence against these insects. (The Canadian province of) British Columbia is predicted to lose 90% of its forest by 2015. You go to Alaska and northern Mexico and places in between, and you see enormous stretches of dead forest. We may be looking at a major disaster.”
Click here for all Mint 2010 issue multimedia specials
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First Published: Fri, Jan 01 2010. 01 15 AM IST