Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The most important story you didn't see

I've been waiting for major press outlets other than The Times of London to pick up the story about the slowing of the Gulf Stream, an event long predicted by global climate scientists who said it could result from global warming. The consequences of a halt to the flow of warm water from the tropics to northern Europe could be nothing short of catastrophic, pushing it into a deep freeze à la The Day After Tomorrow (though the changes would take place over a decade or more).

Instead, a Google search reveals virtually nothing except for the usual gaggle of environmental sites and blogs--and the occasional right-wing nut case site claiming that this proves somehow that global warming is a hoax. This story should be on the front page of every newspaper and leading every newscast. That's how big it is.

The Gulf Stream has already slowed by three-quarters its usual rate. A stoppage could create change of the magnitude that would not only affect Europe, but the entire world as Europe's economy including its agriculture would be deeply affected. Ultimately, mass migrations could take place from north to south. And, what's more is that no one expected the slowing to occur this soon. It is happening much faster and to a much greater degree that anyone thought possible.

To think through what might happen the Pentagon commissioned a study to analyze the national security considerations. It is grim reading.

So, why hasn't this story been widely reported? I can only believe that environmental literacy among the world's reporters and editors is so poor that they cannot understand the implications of the finding. After 30 years of environmental journalism, you would think that something like this would jump out at them.

CORRECTION: Commenter Sim rightly points out that the slowing was observed occurring in only one of three places where water sinks to the bottom. So it is incorrect to say that the Gulf Stream has slowed by three-quarters. Only in one area has the sinking of water slowed by three-quarters. As the article points out, "...there are two other areas around the north Atlantic where water sinks, helping to maintain circulation. Less is known about how climate change is affecting these."

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

2 comments:

odograph said...

I agree that the slowing Gulf Stream is big news, and (as with other evidence of climate change) should get wider coverage.

But you know what I'd like a climatologist to explain? How this manages to coincide with Europe's record-hot summers.

We are certainly getting climate change, but the logic that a slow Stream means a frozen Europe looks too simple.

sim said...

I also agree this is big news, but you're portraying it inaccurately.

It's not the Gulf Stream itself they have found slowing down - it's the sinking of cold water in the Greenland Sea that has slowed. While this is the engine that keeps the Gulf Stream moving, it's only one of them. Like the article mentions, "there are two other areas around the north Atlantic where water sinks, helping to maintain circulation. Less is known about how climate change is affecting these."

So your statement "The Gulf Stream has already slowed by three-quarters its usual rate" is not quite accurate.