Sunday set: Changing world

Global warming will irrevocably alter the face of the Earth

The more I report on climate change and the environment, the more I learn to cherish the landscapes that I see, because it’s really starting to sink in that humankind, during this Anthropocene Age, is fundamentally changing Earth’s ecosystems, altering the climate and impacting the landscape on levels seem almost inconceivable.

Take the Danube River (or most other major rivers, for that matter), where I spent a few hours Saturday afternoon swimming to cool of from a hot summer day in the city. While the water offered cool relief, I couldn’t stop thinking about a story I wrote a few years ago about scientists who discovered how, at times, there’s more plastic pollution than fish larvae in Europe’s second-biggest stream.

And watching sunset colors tinge the Ötscher, the highest peak peak in the eastermost reaches of the Alps, was a reminder that global warming is inexorably changing mountain ecosystems to the detriment not only of nature, but to ancient agricultural practices that are a culturally important part of life in the Alps.

And looking at lingering snowfields spread across the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park makes it clear that climate change will take big bite out of water supplies in the arid West. One new study projects the snowline will climb uphill by more than 1,000 vertical feet in the next few decades.

In the Arctic, the jet stream has been wandering farther north than ever before, bringing huge masses of warm air over Greenland and melting the ice sheet at an ever-increasing rate that will lead to accelerated sea level rise and coastal flooding sooner rather than later. And at the other end of the Earth, CO2 levels just topped 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years, foretelling huge changes in the frozen continent, where there’s no going back.

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