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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

On the brink?

This summer, Russia's triple-digit temperatures and smog-producing wildfires increased Moscow's death rate at one point to 700 people a day. In Pakistan, monsoon season has caused the death of 1,500 people and left 34 million homeless.

In Gansu, a northwest province of China, floods and landslides have drowned or buried 1,100 people. As of late last week, about 600 people were unaccounted for in the deep mud and searing heat. Closer to home, Iowa is soaked with record-breaking rain that has brought misery to thousands.

In the meantime, the United Nations' network of weather scientists, known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has accumulated data through the years that predict intense heat waves and rainfall as a result of rising global temperatures.

What isn't in doubt, even among the biggest skeptics of climate science, is that worldwide temperatures from January to June were the highest on record. If only the panel's voluminous data could generate a workable map that would predict where heat waves and intense rains will come next.

Most climate scientists shy away from making direct connections between general warming and specific weather events such as floods or droughts. But some believe humans have passed a point of no return, where even a significant reduction in the level of greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to avert an onslaught of more weather extremes and their grim consequences.

Another of those consequences was detected recently by researchers. A 100-square-mile mountain of ice, more than four times the size of Manhattan, broke away in Greenland's far northwest. Adrift in the Arctic Ocean, it poses a threat to drilling rigs and sea lanes, not to mention a melt that could raise sea levels.

If this giant iceberg were a metaphor for climate change, it would tell those of us on the Titanic to do our best — through more-sensible energy policies — to steer clear of such disasters in the making.

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