Ivan the Ordinary

September 15, 2004

AN INTERNATIONAL group of scientists studying global warming predicted in 2001 a sharp increase in melting of glaciers and polar ice, heat waves and related deaths, severe storms and flooding, and drought and wildfires, as well as substantially altered patterns of species migration.

Three years later, it can be reported all of that and more has happened - with stunning and record speed. The latest fearful evidence storming in from the Gulf of Mexico goes by the name of Ivan, the fourth major hurricane of a season that usually doesn't produce so many and still has 2 1/2 months to go.

Japan has been hit this year by seven typhoons, the most since record-keeping began in 1951, and the worst floods in decades have killed more than 400 people in China. In Europe, 19,000 people succumbed last year to a heat wave that was one of the deadliest of the decade.

This is only the beginning, experts agree. Even those who contend climate change is a natural cyclical phenomenon expect the cycle to last decades or more.

But conceding Mother Nature's contribution to these extreme weather events makes it all the more important for humans to take whatever steps they can to minimize the damage.

"It is a huge issue, and time is running out," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday in trying to goad his Group of Eight peers, including President Bush, into getting serious about reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that appear to be accelerating global warming by trapping heat from the sun.

Mr. Blair has also set his sights on China and India, the two giant nations whose rapidly expanding economies could easily wreak havoc on the global environment over the next few decades.

But China and India can't be expected to impose the emission controls and other steps required to curb greenhouse gases unless the United States leads the way.

Sens. John McCain and Joseph I. Lieberman, leading champions of capping emissions on utilities and other industrial sources, are scheduled to resume their crusade today at a Senate hearing on the impact of climate change.

All those in Ivan's path will be able to answer the question firsthand - the lives lost, the houses flattened or flooded, the property destroyed, the families separated and routines disrupted. New Orleans, the below-sea-level delta queen who has been flirting with disaster for years, could finally be overwhelmed by it.

Would Ivan have happened without human influence on global warming? Perhaps. But with the climate already heating up, it's foolish to imagine that we shouldn't take what precautions we can.

If we have to learn to live with global warming, it's time to at least try to control the thermostat a bit.

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