EarthTalk: In what ways is global warming already
affecting us in North America?
-- Tyler Merson, New York, NY
There are many examples of climate change’s real and
present impact. For one, the 20 hottest years since record
keeping began in the 1880s have all occurred since 1983, and
until this year 2005 was the hottest year ever. Now, according
to a new U.S. climate report, 2006 is well on its way to taking
the top spot.
If you like New England’s maple syrup, you'll be dismayed
to know that producers report seeing global warming’s
effect on their seasonal harvesting cycles. Farmers are tapping
their trees a month earlier than their ancestors did, and
some fear that global warming will eventually reduce the trees’
ability to produce high-quality sap. “I think the sugar
maple industry is on its way out,” says University of
New Hampshire professor Barrett Rock, who led research on
regional risks related to climate change.
ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest blame global warming
for the warm weather that shut down the 2004-2005 season before
it even began. University of Washington professor of atmospheric
sciences Cliff Mass reports that less snow has been falling
in Washington State for the last 20 years. “Global warming
is occurring,” he concludes. Also in trouble due to
declining snow are New England and Midwestern resorts.
The loss of sandy beaches due to climate-aggravated sea level
rises is also troubling, and the problem is accelerating.
The National Science Foundation’s Metro East Coast report
says that beach erosion will likely double by the 2020s, increase
from three- to six-fold by the 2050s and by as much as 10-fold
by the 2080s. Already, sand loss has led to large beach replenishment
efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers.
And keep plenty of calamine lotion on hand. Researchers at
Duke University found that some vines--including poison ivy--may
thrive exponentially in a warmer climate. Experiments showed
that poison ivy growing in a carbon dioxide-rich environment
grew about three times larger than normal and produced significantly
more urushiol, the allergenic substance that causes rashes.
Another indicator of increased warming is the retreat of glaciers
across western North America. This troubling phenomenon is
especially noticeable in the Waterton-Glacier park complex
on the U.S.-Canada border. Several major glaciers there have
shrunk by half or more in recent decades. On the U.S. side
of the border, the number of glaciers in Glacier National
Park has dropped from 150 in 1850 to 35 today.
Wildlife is also feeling the heat. A 2004 study by the Wildlife
Society, a 9,000-member group of wildlife professionals, found
that global warming is affecting many North American species
and could cause major shifts in ecosystems. The group concluded
that caribou, polar bears, migratory songbirds and other species
have already responded to climate change by shifting habitat,
altering their breeding patterns or changing their migration
Finally, stronger storms like Hurricane Katrina in recent
years may be partially explained by global warming. Researchers
have found that both the intensity and number of category
4 and 5 storms have greatly increased in the past 35 years,
and have linked that phenomenon to warming ocean temperatures.
CONTACT: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
syrup on your morning pancakes may become just a distant memory
if global warming's impact on seasonal harvesting cycles persists.
I heard that Coca Cola is depleting ground water around
bottling plants in India so surrounding villages have no safe
water supply? Is this true? -- Dan Ehl, Centerville,
An ongoing drought has threatened groundwater supplies across
India, and many villagers in rural areas are blaming Coca-Cola
for aggravating the problem. Coke operates 52 water-intensive
bottling plants in India. In the southern Indian village of
Plachimada in Kerala state, for example, persistent droughts
have dried up local wells, forcing many residents to rely
on water supplies trucked in daily by the government.
Some there link the dry wells to the arrival of a Coca-Cola
bottling plant in the area three years ago. Following several
large protests, the local government revoked Coca-Cola’s
license to operate last year, and ordered the company to shut
down its $25 million plant.
Similar problems have plagued the company in the rural Indian
state of Uttar Pradesh, where farming is the primary industry.
Several thousand residents took part in a 10-day march in
2004 between two Coca-Cola bottling plants thought to be depleting
groundwater. “Drinking Coke is like drinking farmer’s
blood in India,” said protest organizer Nandlal Master.
“Coca-Cola is creating thirst in India, and is directly
responsible for the loss of livelihood and even hunger for
thousands of people across India,” added Master, who
represents the India Resource Center in the campaign against
Indeed, one report, in the daily newspaper Mathrubhumi, described
local women having to travel five kilometers (three miles)
to obtain drinkable water, during which time soft drinks would
come out of the Coca-Cola plant by the truckload.
Water isn't the only issue. The Central Pollution Control
Board of India found in 2003 that sludge from the Uttar Pradesh
factory was contaminated with high levels of cadmium, lead
and chromium. To make matters worse, Coke was offloading cadmium-laden
waste sludge as “free fertilizer” to tribal farmers
who live near the plant, prompting questions as to why they
would do that but not provide clean water to local residents
whose underground supplies were being “stolen.”
Another Indian nonprofit group, the Centre for Science and
Environment (CSE), says it tested 57 carbonated beverages
made by Coca-Cola and Pepsi at 25 bottling plants and found
a “cocktail of between three to five different pesticides
in all samples.” CSE Director Sunita Narain, winner
of the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize, described the group’s
findings as “a grave public health scandal.”
For its part, Coca-Cola says that “a small number of
politically motivated groups” are going after the company
“for the furtherance of their own anti-multinational
agenda.” It denies that its actions in India have contributed
to depleting local aquifers, and calls allegations “without
any scientific basis.”
CONTACTS: India Resource Center, www.indiaresource.org;
Coca-Cola India, www.coca-colaindia.com.