The Earth’s weather patterns are changing. Floods in Pakistan have destroyed many villages and killed thousands of people. A heat wave in Russia has started forest fires, burned grain fields and filled the air in Moscow with smoke that has doubled the death rate from heart and lung ailments. These extreme meteorological conditions are examples of events that provide further evidence that global warming is a real threat in our lifetime.
Moscow in the Western part Russia typically has summer temperatures that average 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but this summer has been very hot and very dry with temperatures as high as 100 degrees. More than 500 forest fires have filled the air with smoke and ignited underground peat-bog fires. The smoke has filled many buildings, and the State Historical Museum on Red Square was forced to close because it couldn’t stop its smoke detectors from going off. The cloak of smoke turned the picturesque spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral into gray outlines. The pedestrians that had to be outdoors had their faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked bandanas.
The heat and smoke in Moscow have nearly doubled the mortality rate in recent days. The health minister, Andrei Seltsovsky, said that the daily death toll had risen from an average of between 360 and 380 to around 700. Ambulance calls were up by about 25% because of increases in heart and lung ailments and strokes. Many residents are leaving the Moscow area temporarily to escape the polluted air.
In 2009, Russia was the world’s third-largest wheat exporter, but this year’s severe drought has destroyed at least 20 percent of the harvest and the fires have burned many fields. Global commodity prices for wheat have been climbing since June as a result. Fearing domestic deficits, Russia has imposed a ban on wheat exports and this has pushed prices even higher.
While Russia is suffering droughts and sweltering record temperatures, Pakistan has been deluged by torrential rains that brought death and destruction to many villages. Millions of Pakistanis are affected by the worst floods to hit the country in decades, and the heavy rains make it very difficult to deliver supplies to communities in the Swat Valley that have been isolated by the high waters. According to UN estimates, as many as four million Pakistanis face food shortages after floods destroyed up to 570,000 hectares of crops in central Punjab province alone. The prices for fruits and vegetables were reportedly soaring throughout Pakistan.
Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of Earth’s oceans and surface air. Most of the temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century has been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide which results from burning of fossil fuels. As warming continues, the tawing of the permafrost in the northern latitudes will release methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The warmer temperatures will evaporate more ocean water and create more violent storms and more unpredictable weather patterns.