On Sunday, as the clanging of the radiators shook Harvard students from their sleep with the announcement that another brutally cold New England winter had arrived, a tempest of mythical proportions raged across the pond. For three days, the Brits were forced to ride out a full-force gale that produced tornadoes, blizzards, heavy flooding and dangerously fierce winds. The storm, labeled by experts as the worst in the last quarter-century, wreaked havoc with the country's transportation systems and caused at least fifteen deaths.
Had such meteorological events occurred within the context of a Shakespearean play or a Greek drama, the bizarre weather in Britain--concurrent with unusually severe typhoons in Taiwan, floods in Bangladesh, fires in Italy and droughts in Burundi and Iran--they would have stood as an omen portending the death of a king or the end of an empire. Humans have long interpreted the wrath of the (literal) heavens as punishment for their earthly transgressions. If our modern, secular selves were to sit up and take notice of ten thousand years of weather interpretation, what evil deed might be to blame?
According to a new report released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a highly respected group of international scientists assembled by the United Nations Environment Programme, that indeed is the now-undeniable human contribution to and causation of global warming. The panel, (which issued two prior assessments in 1995 and 1990), made a dramatic shift from their earlier, more conservative stance as a result of five years of intensive research compiled by teams around the world. This report placed the onus for the trend squarely upon the shoulders of a society whose reckless burning of fossil fuels has altered the earth's atmosphere and contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years.
Most disturbing is the reports conclusion that the upper range of warming over the next 100 years could, in a worst-case-scenario, raise the average global temperature 11 degrees Fahrenheit; and no matter what precautions we endeavor to undertake, average temperatures will rise by at least three degrees in that time period. In contrast, current temperatures are only nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were at the end of the last Ice Age. These findings are unique in that they represent the closest the scientific community has ever come to a consensus on the issue of global warming; previous data to date has been conflicting and inconclusive.
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