Three quarters of a billion people is a lot of people.
And that's how many people, within the next 22 years, will almost certainly run low on water – a necessity of life – in just the regions whose rivers are supplied with water from the glaciers in the Himalayas.
To put that in perspective, 750 million people is more than twice the current population of United States. It's about the population of all of Europe. In the year 1900 there were only 500 million people on the entire planet. Seven hundred fifty million people is a lot of people.
The IPCC – the international body of scientists analyzing global climate change – is releasing its new report in stages over the next week and this early piece was reported on by the Financial Times on Monday. Under the headline "Climate Change Chief Sounds Alert on Himalayan Glaciers," the opening sentence of the article by Pilita Clark summarizes a very tightly:
"The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, the head of the world's leading authority on climate change has warned."
And that's just the Himalayas and the rivers flow out of their glaciers toward South Asian regions including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. There are similar glaciers along the mountain ranges of western South America that supply water to other hundreds of millions of people – they are all at risk, too. We're even seen it here in the United States, with last year's drought in the West. Glaciers are changing in Europe, and the regions of Tanzania supplied by the famous "Snows Of Kilimanjaro," are drying up in ways that are creating serious drought problems for the people in those parts of Africa.
Contrary to what the front groups funded by the fossil fuel industry would have you believe, climate change doesn't just mean the winters are milder. Or the plants have more carbon dioxide.
It means that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced, will starve, and will die. It means wars. It means famines. It means raging forest fires and the death of grasslands. It means the acidification of our oceans and the destruction of our ocean ecosystems. It means that we stand on the edge of tipping points that hurtle humanity toward extinction.
There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, times when more than half of all life died and all the top predators – animals like us – vanished or nearly finished. All of these mass extinctions were provoked by geologically-sudden global warming.
And now we are driving a similar process by burning fossil fuels.
People around the world are already dying from global climate change. Wars are already being fought because of climate change. The Earth is changing before our very eyes.
There are solutions, ranging from a carbon tax to rapid transitions into alternative energy. We need to be pursuing them now.
The debate is long over. The world is waking up.
And the fossil fuel Industry is being shown for what it is – fossils promoting fossils, intellectual frauds and greedheads.
It's time to move from the energy forms of the 19th century into the modern, clean, nonpolluting energies currently available in the 21st-century. Now.
Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is The Thom Hartmann Reader.