Monday, October 29, 2007

Himalayas warming? What would be the consequence?

There is an issue about which I have seen nothing said so far, and that is the social and political consequences of the warming of the Himalayas. I am aware that, for instance, Mt Kilimanjaro is losing its glacial cover; I suppose that the consequences of that loss to agriculture in Africa will be huge.

But to consider this issue in the context of the Himalaya mountains suddenly stuns me. Almost all the great rivers of Asia are fed by waters from the Himalayas: the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddi, Menam, Mekong, Yangtze, Huang Ho, Oxus, Helmand. Hari Rud -- rivers that nourish billions of people from Afghanistan to the Pacific Ocean. These populations could be at risk when the glacial ice on the Himalayas declines, as it will if the process now foreseen elsewhere takes place globally.

When might such a development take place? Of course the time frame is now under discussion, but some recent formulations of the process suggest that awareness of such this development would take form intermittently, as catastrophic changes take place in the glacial ice cover. As water for crops declines the result will be huge shortfalls in production even as the populations of the world continue to increase.

The notion of limits to growth that was once scorned may be gaining new relevance.

We are living in a time when the impact of global warming and the size of the earth's populations may be pushing the system beyond recovery. Nothing new, since many other folks are saying this, but somehow the realization of how it might work in the greater part of Asia where the greater population of the world is situated generates new reasons for concern -- not least the awareness that historically we humans tend to avoid confronting issues that can be deferred. And in this case, what is there to do?

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