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Extreme weather on the horizon: failure to curb greenhouse effects could lead to environmental catastrophe. (Environment).

Summers are growing hotter, deserts are becoming dryer, coastal regions are in danger of being submerged, storms are turning increasingly deadly. And there may be a lot more violent weather in our future if steps are not taken soon to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, warns journalist Bob Reiss in his new book, The Coming Storm.

"With doubled [CO.sub.2] in the atmosphere from preindustrial times, a possibility predicted by the year 2030, oceans could rise due to melting polar ice and thermal expansion (the process that makes water rise in a boiling pot)," Reiss writes. "The size and intensity of hurricanes would increase. Since heat evaporates water, and evaporating water returns to earth as rain, areas prone to flooding would suffer more of it under a heightened greenhouse effect. Drier areas like the Great Plains or the sub-Saharan region of Africa would become more susceptible to drought."

The result could be catastrophic in its toll on human life as well as the monetary costs associated with such disasters. We have already witnessed growing destruction, exemplified by drought and death in Sudan, flooding in Asia, brush fires in Indonesia, and fierce winter storms in central Europe.

The weather in 1998-the hottest year on record-shattered all kinds of temperature records. In China, 240 million people were affected when the Yangtze River flooded after severe rains, killing some 2,000 people and leaving 14 million homeless. In Central America, Hurricane Mitch, a "500-year storm," killed 11,000 people, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

"In the U.S., monthly rainfall records would be broken in New Orleans; Asheville, North Carolina; Burlington, Vermont; and also in 19 places in California," writes Reiss. "Fifty-four of Florida's 67 counties would be declared federal disaster areas.

It's not simply a matter of mopping up after a disaster. The Republic of Maldives is barely above sea level. Its 250,000 citizens are scattered across 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. A strong typhoon could spell the end for the entire country, as could continued rising sea levels. The entire population would have to be evacuated as the country disappears beneath the sea.

The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring phenomenon that keeps our planet at a comfortable temperature averaging 60[degrees]F. Since the mid-nineteenth century, however, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased nearly 30%. The cause, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the increased combustion of fossil fuels to run cars, heat homes, and power factories. The EPA reports that, in the absence of emissions-control policies, carbon-dioxide concentrations by 2100 may be 30%-150% higher than today's levels and could lift the average global temperature by up to 2.5[degrees]F in the next 50 years.

Sources: The Coming Storm: Extreme Weather and Our Terrifying Future by Bob Reiss. Hyperion, www.hyperionbooks.com. 2001. 323 pages. $24.95. (Order online from www.wfs.org/specials.htm.)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20460. Web site www.epa.gov.

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Publication:The Futurist
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:514
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