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Putting a human face on climate change

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(Read caption) A rickshaw driver pushed his passenger through floodwaters in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka in July. Low-lying and impoverished Asian coastal cities such as Dhaka are vulnerable to damage from climate change, environmentalists say.

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Last week, the White House announced target emissions cuts in advance of the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen: a 17 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2020. The president's longer-term goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent by 2050.

Meanwhile, as the waves made by climate scientists' hacked and publicly released e-mails continued to reverberate, observations of glaciers melting faster than anticipated and other signs of warming also kept rolling in.

Among other findings, the so-called Copenhagen Diagnosis, a recently released compendium of 200 studies, points out that ice at both poles is melting faster than climate models projected, and that sea level rise from thermal expansion is – so far – about 40 percent greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report predicted.

Amid this inundation of observational data and percentage points — not to mention a considerable amount of political drama around those purloined e-mails — it's easy to forget what all those numbers are really about.

Climate change is ultimately about people's lives. And the consensus is that, on balance, human-induced climate change will generally make life harder for people (not to mention for many other life forms on Earth).

On this often overlooked facet of climate change — the part that, in many respects, matters most — there are some engrossing, first-person accounts floating about the Web these days.

In anticipation of the Copenhagen meeting, The New York Times had four contributors from around the world file dispatches on changing weather where they lived.

In Denmark, one contributor explains that where breezes once dominated, storms now seem to rage more frequently.


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