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We Can Stop Climate Change

Receding glaciers, like this one in Canada's Jasper National Park, are one of the visible consequences of climate change.

George Rose/Getty Images

Is global warming inevitable? The consensus among many scientists is that it is, at least to some extent, and that we can only hope to stop major disasters and deal with the consequences. Some of the world's most respected climatologists say that humanity has already passed the proverbial point of no return [source: Borenstein]. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of more than 2,000 scientists, met in 2007 and issued a stark warning, after having first announced that in 2001 global temperatures were already rising.

Even now, we are seeing the effects of climate change, such as in glacier melt and rising sea levels making South Asian cyclones more severe. The effects are expected to be particularly severe for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world [source: Kanter]. The atoll of Tuvalu now deals with high tides that threaten to submerge the entire nation.

If we produced no more greenhouse gases after today, the world would still see a 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature by mid-century because existing carbon dioxide would stay in the atmosphere for a half-century or more [source: Borenstein]. (Some countries are trying to do something about this, such as Norway, which is pumping CO2 into disused underground oil wells.) And a potentially catastrophic increase of 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century is possible [source: Borenstein].

The major remaining question, for some, is whether the amount of warming can be kept in check in order to prevent these disastrous scenarios. Encouraging grassroots environmental action is important, but intergovernmental cooperation is paramount, and that's been slow in coming, particularly with the United States, China and India. We also, experts say, need to begin to plan how to respond to warming-related disasters, such as by aiding coastal areas, establishing quick-response units for wildfires and preparing for deadly heat waves.

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