By Dan Shapley
The annual Vital Signs report by the WorldWatch Institute identified 44 trends that indicate the world is on a path toward irrevocable and damaging global warming, and that climate change is not the only serious environment issue confronting the global community.
"The world is running out of time to head off catastrophic climate change, and it is essential that Europe and the rest of the international community bring pressure to bear on U.S. policymakers to address the climate crisis," Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs Project Director, said in a statement made available to the press.
"The United States must be held accountable for its emissions, double the per capita level in Europe, and should follow the EU lead by committing to reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050." The United accounted for over 21% of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in 2005.
Raging fires in Greece, flooding in England and intense heat waves across southeastern Europe are early warning signs of climate change that should be headed, the non-profit group said. Here are some of the facts presented in the report:
- More wood was removed from forests in 2005 than ever before.
- Steel production grew 10% to a record 1.24 billion tons in 2006, while primary aluminum output increased to a record 33 million tons. Aluminum production accounted for roughly 3 percent of global electricity use.
- Meat production hit a record 276 million tons (43 kilograms per person) in 2006.
- Meat consumption is one of several factors driving rising soybean demand. Rapid expansion of soybean plantations in South America could displace 22 million hectares of tropical forest and savanna in the next 20 years.
- The rise in global seafood consumption comes even as many fish species become scarcer: in 2004, 156 million tons of seafood was eaten, an average of three times as much seafood per person than in 1950.
- The warming climate is undermining biodiversity by accelerating habitat loss, altering the timing of animal migrations and plant flowerings, and shifting some species toward the poles and to higher altitudes.
- The oceans have absorbed about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans in the last 200 years. Climate change is altering fish migration routes, pushing up sea levels, intensifying coastal erosion, raising ocean acidity, and interfering with currents that move vital nutrients upward from the deep sea.
- Despite a relatively calm U.S. hurricane season in 2006, the world experienced more weather-related disasters than in any of the previous three years. Nearly 100 million people were affected.
- While U.S. carbon emissions continue to grow, the fastest rise is occurring in Asia, particularly China and India.
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