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EU paper shows options on warming Europe

By Aoife White (Associated Press) - July 1, 2007

Water shortages in the Mediterranean, flash floods along the Rhine and summers so hot that nuclear power stations can’t cool down. This is what Europe can expect as its climate warms over the next decades, a European Union paper warned Friday, as it laid out options for what governments can do now to prepare for the effects of climate change.

“Our aim is to raise awareness across Europe of the urgent need to adapt to climate change and to spark a broad public debate about what our priorities for adaptation should be,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.

The paper says that taking early action would save on future costs. Without flood defenses to cope with rising sea levels, damages would be four times higher, it estimates.

“For impacts where we have enough confidence in the forecasts, adaptation must therefore start now,” it said.

Hotter, drier summers will mean longer growing seasons for crops in northern Europe, but the European Commission stressed that these positive aspects are far outweighed by the negative problems people will face.

Electricity demand will increase in summer as Europeans turn to air conditioning in greater numbers, it warned — something that could cause major problems for nuclear power stations in France as warmer river water would not be able to cool down reactors as quickly. Hydroelectric dams could also become redundant, as water volumes fall and rivers become more silty.

More storms and flash floods may threaten energy infrastructure, roads, railways and ports, it warned.

“Risks for damage and disruption due to storms and floods, but also due to heat waves, fires and landslides, are generally expected to increase,” it said.

Few parts of Europe are likely to escape the worst of climate change, the EU paper said, warning that the Mediterranean region will lack water while the Alps will see glaciers melt, causing rivers to change course.

Rising sea levels will endanger coastal areas and raise the risk of storm damage. Flash floods will make property damage more likely for densely populated flood plains along major rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube.

The Arctic region will experience greater temperature changes than any other part of the Earth.

The EU said businesses and individuals could take action by conserving water, changing crop rotation and sowing dates and planting more drought-resistant crops.

At the same time, money may need to be invested in increasing the height of coastal dikes and relocating ports, industry and entire cities and villages from low-lying coastal areas and flood plains.

The continent has already warmed by 1 degree over the past century, faster than the global average and must get ready for even the small temperature changes that will have “very big effects” in the future, the European Commission said.

A warmer atmosphere is a wetter atmosphere, and that already means more rain and snow in northern Europe and more frequent droughts in the south.

“Recent temperature extremes, such as the record-breaking 2003 heat wave are consistent with man-made climate change,” it said. “There is overwhelming evidence that almost all natural, biological and physical processes — trees are blossoming earlier, glaciers are melting — are reacting to climatic changes in Europe and worldwide.”

More than half of Europe’s plant species could risk extinction by 2080, it said.