A farmer in northern Germany loses his crop to floods while one in Greece sees his disappear in a drought. Small mountain glaciers in the Alps shrink reducing the water in rivers that nourish the valleys below. Farmers outside of flood areas in northern and eastern Europe actually see their crop yields increase due to increased precipitation, but the pendulum swings the other way in southern Europe. The Netherlands sinks even further below sea level.
Global warming affects both the land and seas. Ocean temperatures rise more slowly because they can lose heat by evaporation and the Northern Hemisphere with its greater land mass warms faster than the southern. In addition, the Northern Hemisphere emits more greenhouse gases than the southern.
All of these are effects that are worrying scientists around the world. It has been termed “global warming” because the average measured temperature of the Earth’s surface, air, and oceans has risen in the last 50 years about a degree Celsius or 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The possible causes, including everything from “the greenhouse effect” to normal cyclical changes and sunspot cycles, have been important enough to convene international symposiums and affect American and European elections. While individual scientists, including the late Michael Crichton, have disagreed with the hypothesis of global warming, the overwhelming majority of scientists have agreed that the most likely cause is man himself. They also conclude that the warming trend will continue for more than a thousand years even if man finds a way to stabilize greenhouse gases.
CO2 concentrations in the air have continued to rise since the Industrial Revolution. No one debates that fact. What is controversial is the role that man plays and what he must do to correct a situation which on its current course will eventually make the earth uninhabitable.
For Europe, it means that warming weather will cause oceans to rise, diseases to spread, and agricultural yields to change negatively or positively depending upon rainfall in the particular region. What does this mean for Europe? Citizens of Europe are as divided as those in America as to how to combat the problem. European leaders are implementing plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent but they are not in agreement as to whether nuclear energy should be increased and whether they will be able to accomplish generating 20 percent of energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. While France and other countries use nuclear energy successfully, Austria, Denmark, and Ireland still regard nuclear energy with suspicion.
The use of mass transit, especially the train versus the automobile, is being encouraged. More and more people buy fuel efficient cars and use them sparingly. Electric dryers, a common item in American homes, are rare in Europe. Energy efficient light bulbs are considered the best option.
Scientists may disagree about the breadth and significance of global warming but all agree that it is happening. That’s why it’s essential for not just Europe and North America to work in lessening its effects, but for the entire world to participate in the process. Europeans, who live in close proximity to other countries, are more able than anyone to attest to the fact that what one country does affects everyone.