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The storied Mediterranean faces climate change

In the first of a four-part series, the Monitor examines the impact of man-made pressures on the region.

Athens heats up
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From ancient Egypt to Rome, the fertile Mediterranean has sustained great empires for millenniums. But modern development is rapidly turning the cradle of Western civilization into a dry and inhospitable place, its coasts covered in hotels and many of its unique species driven to extinction.

In the past 30 years, coastal populations have grown some 50 percent. Coastal cities have doubled. Tourism has exploded: By 2025, 312 million tourists will visit each year. Water usage is twice that of 1950. More than 100 species are endangered.

Now, climate change is exacerbating the situation.

The region's climate may already be changing faster than projected. In June, a recording station in Athens measured the highest temperature ever recorded there, nearly 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overall, temperatures for the summer months were about 5 degrees warmer than average. Months passed without rain. Then deadly fires swept across the country, killing at least 67 people and scorching some 650,000 acres of land.

The abnormal weather in 2007 is not proof that climate change is here, scientists say, but it is a strong indicator. And it's a taste of what's likely to come if the world continues to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"You can say it was probably an ordinary summer of the years to come," says Christos Giannakopoulos, a researcher at the National Observatory of Athens and contributor to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "This [kind of] summer still will not happen every one or every two years. But in the future, this ... might happen every year."

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