Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Footnote to the preceding

Consider this an additional verse to "There But for Fortune," sung by Sunday's New York Times.
Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.

In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations, that are most at risk.
The vastly unequal distribution of wealth in the world means that the poorer nations, which have contributed the least to the volume of greenhouse gases yet are the ones most likely to experience the worst effects of global warming the soonest, are also the ones least able to prepare for those effects. While the richest nations are spending billions to limit the risks they face, and
despite longstanding treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars on ways to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world's most vulnerable regions - most of them close to the equator and overwhelmingly poor.
In fact, only about $40 million, a piddling amount, is being spent on projects designed to help those most vulnerable regions adapt to climate change - while through their resources of money and technology, the rich nations can largely protect themselves from effects of flood and drought for a generation or more.
Michael H. Glantz, an expert on climate hazards at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has spent two decades pressing for more work on adaptation to warming, has called for wealthy countries to help establish a center for climate and water monitoring in Africa, run by Africans. But for now, he says he is doubtful that much will be done.

"The third world has been on its own," he said, "and I think it pretty much will remain on its own."
Maybe the right song is actually "Small Circle of Friends."

Footnote to the footnote: But don't get too smug:
Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, a NASA expert on climate and agriculture who is a lead author of the United Nations panel's forthcoming impacts report, said that while the richer northern nations may benefit temporarily, "As you march through the decades, at some point - and we don't know where these inflection points are - negative effects of climate change dominate everywhere."
Ultimately, for everyone, even for the rich nations of the Earth, the question isn't if they'll get screwed if nothing is done but only when.

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