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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Nature's wonders endangered

By Irene Croft Jr.

Global warming, and how it is affecting world economies, resources, populations, animal habitats, weather and of course tourism, is constantly in the news.

Scientists continue to debate the causes, some citing increasing levels of man-made pollutants and greenhouse gases (such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane), while others interpret from geological records that climate change is a natural cyclical pattern on Earth.

But the fact is that no one, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Dan Luzadder, knows with any certainty the causes or consequences of global warming. What is known is that the phenomenon is real, and that it is causing significant changes in weather patterns worldwide. Those changes are beginning to have a profound impact on travelers and many of the destinations they cherish.

Tourism officials are concerned by a triple whammy to an ever-fragile worldwide tourism economy fear of terrorism, economic/energy issues, and now an increasing number of devastating natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and forest fires. U.S. leaders remain uncertain about how to plan for, or respond to, climate changes that will affect many of the places you, your children and their children would likely want to explore. My response is to go soon, before a number of the world's great natural, cultural and wildlife wonders are irretrievably diminished, damaged or obliterated.

Of interest to travelers, Luzadder points to 19 examples, among many others, of evidence that global warming is destructive and on the rise:

  • ANTARCTICA: The Muller Ice Shelf has been receding rapidly after growing steadily for 400 years. After millennia of stability, the Larsen B Ice Shelf, larger than Rhode Island, has shrunk 40 percent since the 1960s.

  • ARCTIC CIRCLE: The Arctic Ocean ice cap is the smallest it has been in recorded history. NASA says the polar ice cap is now melting at the rate of 9 percent a decade.

  • ARGENTINA: The Upsala Glacier, once the largest in South America, is shrinking at a rate of 600 feet a year.

  • AUSTRALIA: Twenty-seven percent of coral reefs have been destroyed in the past 50 years due to rising sea-surface temperatures.

  • AUSTRIA AND GERMANY: Rapidly melting snow caps caused the worst flooding in centuries during the summer of 2005, endangering numerous UNESCO World Monument sites.

  • BANGLADESH: The sea level is rising more than one-tenth of an inch a year, threatening the homes and livelihood of 13 million to 30 million people.

  • CHESAPEAKE BAY: The rise in sea level is more than twice the world average. At least two islands and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge are sinking.

  • FRANCE: During the two weeks of August 2003 when temperatures soared to 104 degrees, 15,000 people perished.

  • GREENLAND: Outlet glaciers are moving a matter of yards per hour and rapidly thinning.

  • INDIA: More than 1,500 people died in the heat wave of 2003. Rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal threaten Bengal tigers and hundreds of bird species in the world's largest mangrove forests.

  • MONTANA: Studies predict that Glacier National Park, the pride of the U.S. Park System, will have no glaciers in 70 years.

  • OREGON: Mount Hood has lost most of its summer snow cap since 1985.

  • PORTUGAL: The combination of heat and drought touched off massive, deadly forest fires in 2005.

  • SIBERIA: A one-degree increase in the average temperature of soil 16 inches below the surface is depleting the permafrost.

  • SOUTH PACIFIC: The island nations of Tuvalu and Kiribati are developing plans to evacuate their populations. Rising sea levels are expected to all but inundate the islands.

  • SWITZERLAND: The Rhone glacier in Valais has shrunk by more than 1.5 miles in the past century.

  • TANZANIA: At current rates of thawing, Mount Kilimanjaro will be ice-free in only 15 years.

  • TIBET: Melting perma-frost has destroyed hundreds of miles of railroad tracks across the northern Tibetan Plateau.

  • GLOBALLY: Travel guides and outfitters report unexpected rainfall worldwide, along with rising temperatures and an increase in malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

    Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 40-year veteran globetrotter. Her column is published in this section every other week.