One of the more startling stories recently was an article on the climate in Alaska, where the average temperature has risen seven degrees in the last 30 years and mosquitoes have shown up in normally frigid Barrow, the northernmost town in North America.
Large portions of Alaska are melting and other strange things are happening. Just a few hours' drive from Anchorage, a four-million-acre spruce forest has been killed by beetles, a development that is both astonishing and depressing. It is believed to be the largest loss of trees to insects ever recorded in North America.
"Government scientists," wrote the author, "tied the event to rising temperatures, which allow the beetles to reproduce at twice their normal rate."
Meanwhile, enormous wildfires have been raging in bone-dry regions of the West and Southwest. Fires whipped by high winds in the mountains of eastern Arizona have driven thousands of residents from their homes. One local official, John Stewart, said: "The forest is burning like you're pouring gasoline on it. And the wind is like taking a blow torch to it."
In Colorado, which is enduring its worst drought in decades, residents have been trying to cope with at least five major fires, including the largest in the state's history. Investigators believe it was deliberately set by a U.S. Forest Service worker. The long drought and continuing hot weather provided the conditions that enabled this apparent act of arson to explode into an unprecedented conflagration.
Big fires are becoming the rule. By late last week authorities reported that in the first six months of this year, nearly two million acres have burned or are currently burning in the United States, which is almost twice the average of the last 10 years.
Strange, indeed. Mosquitoes in northernmost Alaska. Much of the West and Southwest ablaze. Extended droughts. Extreme heat waves.
Can you say global warming?
The year 2003 was, globally, the second hottest on record. The hottest was 1998.
Now imagine that just a few more years go by and the world becomes hotter still, which will almost certainly be the case. What then?
Do you think, maybe, we should be paying more attention to this?
What is missing in most conversations in the U.S. about global warming is a sense of urgency. A Bush administration report earlier this month acknowledged that human activity - the burning of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere - was the primary cause of the recent warming of the planet, and that the warming will result in some extremely serious consequences in the U.S.
President Bush (who has distanced himself from his own administration's report) wants to rely mostly on voluntary - not mandatory - efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under the president's strategy, it's estimated that emissions will actually increase over the next decade. We're speeding toward a wall and the president is not only refusing to step on the brake, he's accelerating.
Ten years is too long to wait to do something real about this problem. Dr. David Armstrong, a professor of geosciences who is an expert on climate change, has studied the imminent threat that planetary warming poses to the world's coral reefs. These are ecosystems so abundant in animal and plant life that they are sometimes called the rain forests of the oceans.
Dr. Armstrong noted that one of the essential questions of the global warming debate is, "How warm is too warm?"
When you consider that the increased warming is already threatening to decimate the world's coral reefs, and that we're already seeing the melting of the tundra in Alaska, and that alpine ecosystems are already being squeezed off the tops of mountains, it's not too difficult to reach the conclusion that "too warm," in Dr. Armstrong's words, "isn't awfully far from where we already are."
Closing our eyes and pumping another decade's worth of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current very dangerous rate would not seem to be a very bright idea. The gases remain in the atmosphere for centuries, and in some cases millenniums, which means the damage cannot quickly be undone.
What a miserable legacy for this generation to leave to its children and grandchildren.
James Nash is a climate scientist with Greatest Planet (www.greatestplanet.org ). Greatest Planet is a non-profit environmental organization specialising in carbon offset investments. James Nash is solely responsible for the contents of this article.