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Future Is Now

Costa Rica

new internationalist
issue 319 - December 1999

Future is now

Still think all the fuss around global warming is just hot air?
Here’s just a small sample of the evidence that shows it’s for real.

[image, unknown]


Vibrant colours replaced by skeletal white. Corals are bleaching by the mile as sea temperatures climb and waters become more acidic due to higher carbon-dioxide levels. Mass death can follow. Colonies in the Indian Ocean, western and eastern Pacific now resemble graveyards. Caribbean corals which help protect coastlines are also endangered. Fish that depend on the ecosystems created by them are suffering. And as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef crumbles, so also could the livelihoods of thousands of people dependent on the tourists who come to see the gemlike creatures.

For 20,000 years the Larsen B ice-shelf had lain undisturbed, until in 1998 this gigantic fissure opened up. Sad, yes, but not surprising as the Antarctic peninsula has reported the highest sustained warming – a rise of 2.5° C. Rocks that have been covered by ice for millennia have begun to poke through. In the mid-1990s the adjoining Larsen A broke away, looking, as an observing scientist put it, ‘like bits of polystyrene foam... smashed by a child’. It was 8,000 square kilometres in size – small compared to Larsen B. As mammoth chunks of ice break away and melt, sea levels could rise catastrophically.

[image, unknown]

The golden toad of Costa Rica is gone forever. A denizen of the misty, humid highland forests near Monteverde, it has been killed by warmer temperatures. The forest today is drier with fewer mists and higher clouds. The moist, breathing skin of the golden toad fell prey to infection – a fate shared by other amphibians. Frogs and toads worldwide are showing freakish deformities and skin abnormalities as a result of their sensitivity to rising temperatures and ultraviolet radiation.

A slender finger into the sea, Tarawa atoll is part of the idyllic-looking but fragile Pacific island nation of Kiribati. The United Nations Environment Programme has recommended the immediate evacuation of Tarawa as it is at risk of sinking under storm surges from the rising sea. Already some small islands fringing Kiribati have disappeared. Roads have had to be moved inland on the main island as the ocean gnaws into the shore. With increasingly stormy weather battering them, nearly 40 other islands worldwide are in the same scary boat.

[image, unknown]

The work of survival resumes in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. Hitting Honduras and Nicaragua at the tail end of October 1998, Mitch killed some 11,000 people. It had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm when it hit Honduras. But with winds forced to rise by mountain ranges, it dropped a year’s rainfall in just two days. In its path were the flimsy homes of people crowded on to marginal lands, which were either washed away or buried under the million or so landslips that occurred. For heavily indebted Honduras, the damage in money terms was equal to 60 per cent of its annual gross domestic product. Last year’s El Niño, which triggered Mitch, caused more damage than usual – a fact commentators link to global warming.

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