Focus: Flooded Britain: If We Don't Act Now, It'll Be Too Late ; Global Warming Causes Floods. and in a Week's Time the World's Leaders Have a Last Chance to Do Something about It
Geoffrey Lean Environment Editor, The Independent (London, England)
Someone, somewhere may be trying to tell us something. For the floods - the worst for half a century - have arrived, with uncanny timing, at the beginning of what is likely to be the most fateful month ever for the future of the world's climate.
The appalling pictures of the flooded homes of York, Worcester and elsewhere will be fresh in the public and political mind when Gordon Brown rises to make his pre-Budget statement on Wednesday - and does much to decide Britain's strategy for tackling global warming, as well as the Government's response to the fuel protesters.
The day before, the United States will have chosen between a presidential candidate who has made combating climate change a political trademark, and one who believes this would interfere with the God-given right of Americans to drive gas-guzzlers to work.
And a week tomorrow - the very day that the fuel protesters' deadline runs out - vital international negotiations will open in the Hague. These will decide whether the world implements a painfully negotiated treaty to begin to cut the pollution that is causing the world to heat up.
It may well be that our children and grandchildren, living in a much more inhospitable climate, will look back on November 2000 as the month when Britain, America and the world failed to take the last, best chance to bring global warming under control. But nature seems to have decided that it will not let this happen without first having its say.
Ministers may have kept shamefully silent about the environmental case for fuel taxes when the protests struck in September. Environmentalists, equally reprehensibly, may have failed to speak up for their convictions. But two bouts of dreadful floods in less than a month have abruptly altered the political context - even bringing the environment near to the top of Tony Blair's personal agenda.
Nor are they the only examples of what our forefathers would have hailed as signs bearing an urgent message. This summer the fiercest wildfires on record blazed through the drought-stricken western United States, incinerating 4.3 million acres of the country, with flames up to 80 feet high.
The summer before, an unprecedented heatwave hit the east of the country, and a tropical disease, West Nile fever, began killing people in New York. Yet even under Clinton the US has remained the most reluctant to agree on international action on global warming. And in the year between, the news was punctuated by appalling floods in Mozambique, Venezuela and India, and droughts in Kenya and Ethiopia. All in all, the cost of damage wrought by the weather has been five times as great in the 1990s as in the previous decade.
Even if none of these events can in themselves be ascribed to global warming, "a pattern" - as Michael Meacher, the environment minister put it last week - "is beginning to develop". And it is one, moreover, that is entirely consistent with what scientists have long said would happen as the climate got hotter.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - on which the scientists serve - habitually minces its words. Five years ago, in its last report, it could bring itself to say only that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate". But now it concludes that pollution has "contributed substantially" to the proven warming of the climate over the past half-century.
Worse, the scientists conclude that the world, over the next century, may heat up almost twice as much as they had previously estimated.
The report is also a landmark in the long scientific debate on climate change. For the most outspoken and distinguished global- warming sceptic, Dr Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helped to compile it. And while …
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Publication information: Article title: Focus: Flooded Britain: If We Don't Act Now, It'll Be Too Late ; Global Warming Causes Floods. and in a Week's Time the World's Leaders Have a Last Chance to Do Something about It. Contributors: Geoffrey Lean Environment Editor - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 5, 2000. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.