In Greenland, the polar ice-cap, now 11,000 years old, has begun breaking up at as a result of global-warming and is now pouring 12 cubic miles of freed water into the north Atlantic every year, raising sea-levels around the globe. Scientists warn that the extra cold water could eventually switch off the massive current that carries warmth from the tropics to north-western Europe meaning catastrophic change for Europe as a whole. All Artic ice may actually vanish by the year 2070.
Such phenomena are demonstrated in a startling climate change exhibition that has opened in Rome prior to touring the world for the next two years. Organised by the British Council, Britains principal agency for cultural relations with other countries, it features 88 stark pictures commissioned from the worlds ten top photographers and demonstrates that climate change, largely the result of an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil-fuels, is about to uproot the lives of millions around the globe. But the message is that change, now being accelerated by mankind, can be brought under control.
Predications are that sea-levels will continue to rise for the next 800 years, and that cities such as low-lying New Orleans in the United States and even some quarters of New York, could soon face periodic flooding as part of day-to-day existence. The seas around the world, scientists predict, are set to rise by 88 centimetres by the end of the present century, flooding areas where 100 million people now live.
The threat is already imminent for the 29 atolls and the 57,000 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. There are particularly ugly pictures in the exhibition of steel containers and heavy junk erected along shrinking beaches by the desperate government as its last line of defence against the sea.
Among the most dramatic revelations are pictures of Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya, Africas highest mountain before-and-after shots showing it once regally crowned by a permanent thick snow-cap but now a mountain topped by only a few strands, looking like a bald old man. It will be completely bald, the meteorologists predict, by 2020, with devastating results for its surrounding water-gathering forests and the enormous plain below, soon likely to become a desert with its present wildlife turned to carcasses.
Entitled NorthSouthEastWest the exhibition shows ghostly space-age figures firing what seem to be long-barrelled guns into thick white clouds at ground-level, figures who instead are operators fumigating a town in India against multiplying mosquitoes, a mounting health hazard brought on by the warming of the planet. Yet by 2010, the experts warn, India will have graduated to the fourth biggest polluter in the world. Worldwide warming could eventually lead to 200 million so-called environmental refugees by 2050.
Warming has already pushed up the death-rate in Europe. When the deputy British ambassador to Rome, Scott Wightman, opened the exhibition he recalled the large number of deaths in Italy (citing a figure of 20,000) during the heat wave in 2003. He said extremes of weather were likely to become more frequent, witnessed by the fact that the five hottest years ever recorded had been during the past seven years. But Wightman quoted the British prime minister, Tony Blair, as sounding an optimistic tone when he said: The clock is ticking, the climate is changing, but we can do something about it.
Happier photographs vividly illustrate Blairs hope. For example the giant so-called Pacific Wheel in the amusement park of Santa Monica in California is driven totally by solar power. However the exhibition illustrates that the world leader in anti-warming technology is not the United States but Japan. A case in point: its newest trains now draw 30 per cent of the electricity they devour from their own braking-systems. Japanese researchers are already deep into what is known as ocean thermal energy, which exploits the difference between the colder depths of the sea and its warmer upper currents.
A British author, Arthur Clark, is quoted as predicting that with 50 years, the world will be able to give up fossil fuels altogether and to tap unlimited resources of clean energy by turning instead to nuclear or hydrogen plants, as well as solar panels and even solar cookers.
The exhibition is housed in Romes Civic Museum of Zoology, Via Aldrovandi 18, near the Bioparco. 09.00-17.00. Mondays closed. Until 21 August.