"World on Edge details the vice closing around us: a quadruple squeeze of global warming and shortages in food, water and energy. Then it explains the path out—and how little time we have left to take that path. Got anything more important to read than that?" —Peter Goldmark, former head of the Port authority of New York and New Jersey, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and CEO of the International Herald Tribune
Chapter 4. Rising Temperatures and Rising Seas: Introduction
As the earth's temperature rises, it alters the entire climate system, affecting all life on earth. It brings more intense heat waves, more destructive storms, lower crop yields, ice melting, and rising seas, and it shrinks the snowfields and glaciers that feed so many of the world's rivers. Among the industries most affected are agriculture, insurance, and tourism.
Intense heat waves are taking a growing human toll. In 1995, 700 residents of Chicago died in a heat wave. In the summer of 1998, 100 Texans died in a prolonged heat spell. At about the same time, some 2,500 people died in a heat wave in India. In May 2002, in a heat wave in India that reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), more than 1,000 people died in the state of Andhra Pradesh alone.1
Among the various manifestations of rising temperatures, ice melting, in particular, is drawing attention from scientists. They are particularly concerned because of the effect on sea level. Rising seas that encroach on a continent and shrink the habitable land area while population is growing can only exacerbate an already difficult problem.
More frequent and more destructive storms are now a matter of record. The insurance industry is painfully aware of the relationship between higher temperatures and storm intensity. The last few years have brought a flurry of lowered credit ratings, both for insurance companies and the reinsurance companies that back them up by spreading their risks.
Numerous industries are affected, including many smaller ones. For example, as mountain snow cover shrinks, the ski industry also shrinks, losing revenue and jobs. In the United States, the ski industry has launched its own campaign to reduce carbon emissions by buying wind-generated electricity to operate ski lifts. Industry leaders call their campaign "Keep Winter Cool."2
4 1. Cindy Schreuder and Sharman Stein, "Heat's Toll Worse Than Believed, Study Says at Least 200 More Died," Chicago Tribune, 21 September 1995; "Texas-Sized Heat Wave Easing Slightly," CNN, 3 August 1998; "India Heat Wave Toll Tops 1,000," CNN, 22 May 2002; "India's Heatwave Toll 1,200, No Respite in Sight," Agence France-Presse, 23 May 2002.
2. Paul Tolme, "Skiing: Trying to Keep Cool," Newsweek, 2 December 2002, p. 8.
Copyright © 2003 Earth Policy Institute