The Atlas of Climate Change

With increasing signs of climactic change upon us, Kirstin Dow and Thomas E Downing’s new report, The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World’s Great Challenge, is the first climate change handbook. It uses clear, colour-coded mapping to illustrate the global effects of events such as weather-related disasters and fossil fuel burning. Below are some of the findings and responses discussed in the book.

Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 
1 edition (2 October 2006)
ISBN: 0520250230
RRP: £10.47

Signs of Change
While a single extreme weather event does not prove that the climate is changing, observed changes in temperature and atmospheric composition have led scientists to conclude that global weather patterns are likely to be affected by climate change. Aerial photographs show the retreat of summer ice over Greenland, while the snow-capped peaks of Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro may vanish altogether by 2025.

Driving Climate Change
Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for half of global warming and can remain in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. Since 1870, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been on a sharp upward curve. About half of all current greenhouse gas emissions are from the energy used in heating and lighting, transportation and manufacturing, and 51 per cent of the total emissions of CO2 from 1950 to 2000 were the result of the combined efforts of Europe and the US.
Nitrous oxide is 300 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. The great majority of emissions are from agriculture – nitrogen-based fertilizers and livestock manure – with additional releases in waste, industrial processes and energy use.

Food Security
Perhaps the most effective example proving the globally interconnected nature of climate change is the map showing potential future changes in crop yields. Interestingly, many temperate areas show increases, but what is most alarming is the number of warning signs showing that 25 per cent or more children under five are underweight.

Added to this is the negative health impact of disasters such as flooding and drought.

Rising Sea Levels
Nakibae Teuatabo, Chief Climate Negotiator for Kiribati: “Some of our islands are only a few metres wide in places. Imagine standing on one of these islands with waves pounding on one side and the lagoon on the other. It’s frightening.”

Venice’s St Mark’s Square floods around 50 times more each year than it did in the 1950s.

Responding to Change
Mapping Climate Change acknowledges that “many countries are making progress towards their Kyoto commitments, but even the agreed targets fall far short of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at levels considered to be safe”. It highlights carbon trading as one way to share the burden of reducing emissions globally, and also considers financing, renewable energy and personal action –
encouraging us as individuals to calculate our emissions and
become carbon neutral.