It is time to wake up and recognise the dangers of global warming

Even without absolute scientific certainty, there comes a time when reasonable people can agree if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is . . . well . . . a duck.

Such a clear realisation was presented to the world in the past week with news that Russia is experiencing its hottest weather in 130 years, a chunk of a Greenland ice sheet described as being more than four times the size on Manhattan has broken free, and climate change negotiators are still struggling to reach a new international consensus on how to mitigate global warming caused by burning fossil fuels.

And yet, despite scientific evidence suggesting global warming is already playing havoc with the planet, policy makers remain reluctant to fully embrace renewable energies, such as emissions-free wind power, which have already proven they can mitigate climate change.

As temperatures spiked across Russia, wildfires roared through tinder-dry forests and vast plumes of smoke reduced visibility while creating breathing problems, a New York Times blogger wondered if the nation could become “the poster child for the perils of global warming this summer.”

Last Thursday was the hottest day on record in Moscow since at least 1880, and the fourth day in a week that the city set a temperature record, the blogger noted, adding Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev blamed the crisis on climate change.

“What’s happening with the planet’s climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us, meaning all heads of state, all heads of social organisations, in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate,” Time magazine quoted Medvedev as saying.

Also last Thursday, scientists with the Canadian Ice Service discovered the largest ice island since 1962 had broken away from Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland.

A Sky News report noted the 260 sq km iceberg was about 200 metres thick, approximately half the height of the famous Empire State Building.

The report quoted Andreas Muenchow, professor of ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware, saying the ice island could fuse to land, break up into smaller pieces, or slowly move south where it could block shipping.

Whether this development is as a result of rising temperatures caused by increasing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions is not yet known, but it is another significant change in our natural world and one not to be ignored.

It seems likely that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, had considered the melting ice flow and the Russian forest fires when she gave her closing address Friday at a climate change meeting in Bohn.

Figueres asserted that governments had made progress towards deciding the shape of a successful result at the annual December UN climate change conference in Cancun but now need to narrow down the many options for action on global warming presently under negotiation.

For example, she said nations could agree to take accountable action to manage and deploy climate finance, boost technology transfer and deal with adaptation, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

“Progress at Cancun would also include a mandate to take the process inexorably forward towards an encompassing agreement with legally binding status, which would take more time,” she said in a press release.

But time, it seems, is what we are running out of, at least in terms of dealing with global warming. Just ask Russian farmers burned out of their houses, or ship captains trying to detour around the largest iceberg in half a century, or national negotiators determined not to agree to a new binding agreement on limiting global greenhouse gas emissions.

By Chris Rose,