Change is coming

President Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change  in Washington in June.
President Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change in Washington in June.

A leaked draft of a major scientific study of climate change categorically affirms its reality, the responsibility of human activity for it, and its likely catastrophic impact on the planet.

Prepared by renowned scientists around the globe and circulated to researchers, governments, and organizations for comment before its official release in the fall, the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes alarming information. Scientists and governments will review it at a meeting in Stockholm next month, but its conclusions are unlikely to change.

Based on global average temperature increases of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit at the low end to as much as 10 degrees at the poles, the report predicts warming of oceans, melting of snow and ice, extreme heat waves, problems with food cultivation, and changes in Earth’s animal and plant life.

Sea levels, which climbed eight inches in the 20th century, pose a particular problem. The report estimates they will rise another 10 inches this century; absent measures to control greenhouse-gas emissions, they could rise as much as three feet by 2100.

The results would be catastrophic for cities such as New York, Miami, and New Orleans, not to mention London, Shanghai, and Sydney.

The nonchalance of governments, starting with the United States and China, in the face of all this is baffling. There is opposition to “cap and trade” measures to combat industrial emissions, based on alleged disruption of the economy. There is the naive contention that these trends are cyclical and will go away on their own — a notion rejected by the climate panel.

If the report is right, a day will come in the not-too-distant future when water is gurgling around what used to be Wall Street. Americans will ask what their leaders were doing when they could see this cataclysm coming, but didn’t act.

These people — our children and grandchildren — are not likely to be kind to our memories.