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Putting a human face on climate change

Last week, the White House announced target emissions cuts in advance of the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen: a 17 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2020. The president’s longer-term goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent by 2050.

Meanwhile, as the waves made by climate scientists’ hacked and publicly released e-mails continued to reverberate, observations of glaciers melting faster than anticipated and other signs of warming also kept rolling in.

Among other findings, the so-called Copenhagen Diagnosis, a recently released compendium of 200 studies, points out that ice at both poles is melting faster than climate models projected, and that sea level rise from thermal expansion is – so far – about 40 percent greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report predicted.

Amid this inundation of observational data and percentage points — not to mention a considerable amount of political drama around those purloined e-mails — it’s easy to forget what all those numbers are really about.

Climate change is ultimately about people’s lives. And the consensus is that, on balance, human-induced climate change will generally make life harder for people (not to mention for many other life forms on Earth).

On this often overlooked facet of climate change — the part that, in many respects, matters most — there are some engrossing, first-person accounts floating about the Web these days.

In anticipation of the Copenhagen meeting, The New York Times had four contributors from around the world file dispatches on changing weather where they lived.

In Denmark, one contributor explains that where breezes once dominated, storms now seem to rage more frequently.

Another recounts how, in Cape Town, South Africa, weather patterns have become increasingly fickle, and wildfires more ferocious. The fires are now threatening a unique, flower-filled ecosystem.

A contributor from Brazil tells of the day he witnessed an exhausted penguin wash up on Ipanema Beach near Rio de Janeiro, far north of its customary habitat. Had changing ocean currents and shifting prey abundance brought the penguin a thousand miles north of its comfort zone?

And in Tokyo, one contributor recalls that, in the 1960s, snow used to fall in the city during winter. But is the cause climate change, or just more asphalt?

The Guardian, meanwhile, has a video on what it’s calling “climate migration.” Low-lying Bangladesh has for years been a case study for those worried about sea level rise — 160 million people living on a flood-prone river delta with nowhere to go.

The video tells the story of two families that, as they struggle against cyclones of growing strength and the floodwaters they bring, consider leaving their villages and moving to the city.

Together, these stories offer a mosaic of climate change at the personal level — how it affects individual lives. As we contemplate the charts and graphics that will likely abound in coming weeks, it’s worth remembering that behind these abstract representations of data hide many stories like these.

Moises Velasquez-Manoff reports for the Christian Science Monitor.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by david granneman on 12/02/2009 - 12:40 pm.

    is minnpost like the un ipcc climate scientists who surpress desenting opionions.

  2. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 12/02/2009 - 03:57 pm.

    Couple of question on the released emails –

    1) Was anything actually done? This might take a while to investigate, but if there was no action it was essentially just malicious talk – kind of like we should kneecap Drew Brees before the Viking play New Orleans in the playoffs. Emails (and I know mine do) can express desires rather than actual attempts to do anything.
    Match up the emails with specific attempts and then you may have something.

    2) What kind of emails do you think the Global Warming deniers have? Would someone please hack them and then get back to me on this?

    3) What percentage of the emails is “trash talk” as compared to legitimate work? What is there in the emails that adds to the idea that AGW is real? Something like “I keep going through the figures and it seems that Climate Change may be worse than I originally thought?”

  3. Submitted by dan buechler on 12/02/2009 - 05:03 pm.

    D.G. The scientists have actually underestimated the growing severity of the problem i.e. poles are melting faster and thermal expansion of seawater is quicker. I’d be pleased if you would move to an area like the Gulf Coast so you could observe the damage up close and personal.

  4. Submitted by david granneman on 12/02/2009 - 08:52 pm.

    could you explain to me what- we need to trick the data to hide the decline – means to you. does that have a different meaning to you being a highly educated person. what does we -need to erase emails because they could be requested by the freedom in information law mean to you. what does we need to discredit and change the defintion ot peer review to stop any dissent mean to you. how much investigation is needed to see a giant scam has been perpetuated by people getting rich on global warming. it turns out that al gore’s conscensus of scientists turns out to be a gang of liars. why is minnpost not covering the climategate fraud. we can surely save the planet by taking money from YOUR pocket and putting in AL GORE’S pocket.

  5. Submitted by david granneman on 12/02/2009 - 09:07 pm.

    the earth is really cooling

  6. Submitted by david granneman on 12/03/2009 - 07:26 pm.

    if you believe in global warming – DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO – IT WILL RUIN YOU DAY

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/10/2009 - 12:28 pm.

    Consensus? You are not being honest; there is not a consensus.

    I just came in from shoveling snow on this subzero December morning in Minneapolis.

    Snarky emails aside, it is this revelation of dumped data (timesonline story above), that is the most damning of all news for the warm-mongers. Without the raw data, the debate is indeed over. Now it is a question of faith; either you believe in global warming (known as climate change this time of year in Minneapolis) or you do not. The carbon credits are killing the opportunity for my faith; for me scam and faith are incompatible.

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