Friday, January 11, 2008

The effects of climate change and pollution

I read with interest the top 100 science stories of 2007, as ranked by Discover magazine. I was struck by just how many stories involving climate change and pollution made the list.

Many people would rather fiddle while the Earth burns. But at the end of the day, tackling these serious global challenges is infinitely more important than whining about Al Gore's mansion.

Their #1 story explained the huge impact of China's unrestrained economic growth. And not just on China itself.

The country will soon surpass the United States as the world's largest polluter (in raw terms; the US will remain at the top... er bottom... of that list per capita). China's coal-fired power plants emit the world’s highest levels of sulfur dioxide (a major element of acid rain) and mercury, both of which rise high into the atmosphere and hitch a ride on air currents circling the globe.

Furthermore, a study found that three-quarters of the black carbon pollution in the atmosphere over the western United States originates in Asia. It is estimated that as much as 35 percent of all the mercury pollution in the western United States comes from abroad, and China is most likely the main culprit. According to the World Wildlife Fund, untreated waste has turned China’s Yangtze River basin into the single largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean.

Man-aggravated climate change is already hitting hard in many countries, including Australia. The Land Down Under is suffering through its worst drought in a milenmium.

"Australia is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the impact of climate change on water resources,” says Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia. “Many people thought there would be adequate time to adapt to less water. The lesson from Australia is that the shift has been very dramatic and has occurred in a very short period."



Some other climate change and pollution related stories in Discover's top 100...

-Soot Began Harming Arctic A Century Ago

-Quantifying Global Warming

-Acid Rain Intensifies Threat To Marine Life. Those of us who live in or near the Adirondacks already know the devastating ecological impact of acid rain caused by pollution from far away.

-Wastewater Decimates Minnows

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