Leading article: It is not too late to save the planet

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The Independent Online

Every week, it seems, brings a fresh shock about how rapidly and fundamentally global warming is changing our world. Last week there were two. In the first, Nasa scientists told the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science that the Greenland ice-sheet appears to be breaking up as its glaciers are accelerating towards the sea, a development first reported by The Independent on Sunday in November. Its disappearance would raise sea levels some 20ft, inundating coastal cities, but the second piece of news disclosed was even more alarming. Humanity is emitting carbon dioxide and methane - the two main greenhouse gases - into the atmosphere 30 times faster than they were naturally released during the last comparable period of global warming, 55 million years ago. That left Antarctica as the only place on the globe that could have sustained human life.

It is becoming horrifyingly clear that the world's climate scientists, often accused of exaggerating by President George Bush and his oil-soaked cronies, have in fact been underplaying the crisis. Cautious creatures by nature, they have only recently said the climate change is far faster than they ever expected. That has left us desperately short of time.

It is late, very late, but not, as Professor James Lovelock suggests in his book The Revenge of Gaia, too late. The solutions are known, the technologies available, and we have perhaps a decade to make the radical change of direction to save the planet. Counselling despair makes doom a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither governments nor people will change their behaviour if they are persuaded there is no point; they will pollute and be merry, for tomorrow, the planet dies. And it is ecological apartheid to suggest Western countries should secure their own civilisations and, by implication, let the rest of the world fry. This is a global issue, the greatest we face, and it can only be solved globally. If we act together, swiftly, we can yet preserve a habitable world for our children.

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