Crossing the threshold
1st February, 2004
It takes no more than a gentle nudge to push a man over the edge of a cliff, but it is almost impossible to haul him back before he hits the ground. Given that we show no sign of putting a stop to global warming, Peter Bunyard takes a look at what the future might hold
Since 1990 we have experienced the warmest 10 years on record. This has left some parts of the world ravaged by drought and famine, and others suffering freak storms such as those that flooded much of lowland Britain in 2000. France, having experienced a devastatingly hot summer in 2003 then found itself enduring torrential winter rains and unprecedented floods. According to Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, the three months of June, July and August 2003 were the warmest ever recorded in western and central Europe. The average temperature for those months was nearly 4° centigrade above the long-term norm and breaking records everywhere – including the UK, where temperatures exceeded the 100° Fahrenheit mark for the first time.
Satellite data reveals that the planet has lost about 10 per cent of its snow cover since the 1960s, and that lakes and rivers in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere remain frozen for two weeks less than they did one century ago. Glaciers in non-polar regions are also retreating, while Arctic sea ice has not only thinned by some 40 per cent since the 1950s, the surface area that it covers during the spring and summer is...
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