Reports that the effects of global warming may be felt by the average person quicker and deeper than previously thought were reflected in a flurry of news coverage over the past week.
The Associated Press broke a big story last weekend, giving an advance look at the draft of an international scientific report due out next month. Among the findings, according to AP: "The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won't have enough water...."
"At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels...."
"Things are happening and happening faster than we expected," Patricia Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told the wire service.
Written and reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists from around the world, the document is the second in a series of four being issued this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its final form, as edited by government officials, could differ somewhat from the version leaked to AP.
Considered by some scientists to be the "emotional heart" of climate-change research, this report focuses on how global warming alters the planet and life. University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver told AP:
"The science is one thing. This is how it affects me, you, and the person next door."
Meanwhile, on Monday, scientists in Australia reported findings on rising sea levels that were too fresh for inclusion in the IPCC report. "Data from satellites is showing that sea-level rises and polar ice-melting might be worse than earlier thought," according to a Reuters report from a global oceans conference in Hobart, Australia.
"All indications are that it's going to get faster," said Eric Lindstrom, head of oceanography at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
These reports follow action on March 9 by the European Union's 27 member nations who agreed to adopt legally binding reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy – steps which go beyond the targets of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"During a sometimes contentious two-day meeting in Brussels, the leaders agreed to cut the gas emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels in the next 13 years," The Washington Post reported.
"They set binding targets for renewable-energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro power, to supply 20 percent of the union's power needs and for biofuels to be used in 10 percent of the bloc's road vehicles by 2020."
National targets will be negotiated by the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, before going to the European Parliament for approval. British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week called global warming "the biggest long-term threat facing our world."
The British government proposed a draft climate-change bill that would require a 60 percent reduction in total carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050. "This bill is an international landmark," the environment minister, David Miliband, told reporters. "It is the first time any country has set itself legally binding carbon targets. It is an environmental contract for future generations."
As public and political pressure build to do something about climate change, mainstream magazines, including some that might seem unlikely to cover the subject, are taking up the call. Sports Illustrated, ELLE, Outside Magazine, and The Atlantic will all feature global warming and the environment in coming weeks, Reuters reported. Media consultant Peter Kreisky told the news agency:
"Clearly the editors of these magazines feel that the time has come. With Al Gore, his Oscar [for the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth"], and a higher level of awareness, this is becoming important."