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The Time Bomb

  En español

By Javier Sierra

It's 2015. And now the news. Four years of devastating drought have caused the collapse of agriculture in most parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Governments are powerless to feed what has become an army of the dispossessed or to contain widespread rebellions in the region.

Tensions persist in the Persian Gulf as fears intensify that a nuclear exchange between the US and Chinese fleets will take place. At stake are the world's richest oil fields.

And in Western Europe, now known as the Siberia of the West, freezing temperatures have again broken all-time records, as football field-size icebergs are keeping the Portuguese fishing fleet from leaving their ports.

No, this is not the plot of an apocalyptic Hollywood movie. This could very well be the news of any winter day between 2010 and 2020, according to projections of a Pentagon study. The report analyzes the potential impact of catastrophic consequences of global warming on US national security.

"Because of the potentially dire consequences, the risk of abrupt climate change, although uncertain and quite possibly small, should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern," concludes the report.

According to the overwhelming majority of the world's independent experts, human activity, and the massive use of fossil fuels, is quickly contributing to the warming of the atmosphere, which could mean a ticking time bomb for human civilization.

Evidence of this warming abounds. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of this one comprise the warmest period recorded in 1,000 years. As a result, the ice caps at both poles and glaciers are melting at alarming rates.

The study forecasts the acceleration of global warming, which is caused by the increase of gases trapping the sun's rays in the atmosphere, and the almost complete melting of the pole's ice caps this decade. By 2010, it adds, due to the collapse of the ocean currents -like the Gulf Stream- which regulate the global temperature, the opposite process would begin cooling the atmosphere. By the mid- 2020s, Western Europe would be turned into the Siberia of the West, and large sections of the world would suffer catastrophic droughts and famines.

"Nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries. Less fortunate nations, especially those with ancient enmities with their neighbors, may initiate struggles for access to food, clean water or energy," the report says. "Military confrontation may be triggered by a desperate need for natural resources. Once again, warfare would define human life."

The report's authors, however, acknowledge these projections are "extreme," but they also admit "there appears to be general agreement in the scientific community that an extreme case like [this one] is not implausible."

And what's the Bush Administration's response to global warming? Ignoring the facts.

One of the first foreign policy decisions of the White House was pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, the world accord to reduce emissions of global warming gases.

Reneging on one of his campaign promises, the Bush Administration refused to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, from power plants. In fact, its Energy Bill provides massive tax breaks to coal, oil and gas plants, allowing them to generate billions of additional tons of this gas.

The administration has repeatedly opposed proposals which, by using existing technology, would require cars and light trucks to yield at least 40 miles per gallon. Such initiatives would save the US all the oil it imports from the Middle East each year, and would curb global warming emissions.

It's up to the Bush Administration to deactivate this ticking time bomb. It should rejoin the Kyoto Protocol. It should sponsor legislation that decreases, not increases, pollution from power plants and improve the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks.

Finally, the best long-term solution is to opt for alternatives sources of power, like solar, wind and ocean energies. Otherwise, the future will look chilling.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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