Scientists sound alarm

As the end of the month approaches, scientific evidence indicates that this has been the wettest September Attica has experienced in the past century. Heavy rain and the resulting damage by flooding has led even the most cynical to realize that something is clearly, definitely wrong. The climate is changing, not only in Greece but around the globe, and the first signs of those changes can only instill fear as to what is to follow. Attica’s weather over the past month has made the words «extreme weather conditions» part of our daily vocabulary. «September’s rain is the most characteristic example,» Dimitris Lalas, head of the Athens National Observatory, told Kathimerini. «So far we have had 211 millimeters of rain and the month isn’t over yet. The previous high was 144 mm in 1949. Attica’s average annual rainfall is less than 400 mm. It is clear that this September was an extreme case, but it is not the only change that has become noticeable in Greece. The average temperature over the previous decade was the highest this century. Scientists are sounding the alarm. «The outlook for the southern Balkans is that the average rainfall will drop by 12 percent by 2050 and by 24 percent in 2100. At the same time, the average annual temperature will increase by 1-1.7 degrees over the next 50 years and by 2.2-3.6 degrees over the next century,» explained Lalas. «There is a line that the experts draw from Barcelona across to Thessaloniki. Above that line, the weather will become warmer, but rainfall will also increase. Below that line, there will be less rain and higher temperatures. The question is on which side of that line we will find ourselves eventually. The climate in the southern Balkans, according to predictions so far, will become more similar to that in southern Lebanon or Egypt.» Attica’s recent, extreme weather conditions are nothing compared to what is happening in other parts of the world. «Over the past 30 years we have noticed a rise in the frequency of extreme weather conditions, something both weather experts and insurance companies agree on,» explained Professor Christos Zerefos of Athens University and director of the UN’s World Ozone Mapping Center. «Unfortunately, over the past three decades there have been record rises in the rate of global warming, droughts and flooding,» he said. Dramatic changes are already under way. «The picture is quite disappointing. Since 1970 the entire region from North Africa to Afghanistan has been affected by extended periods of drought. We have already seen the first ‘environmental migrants’ and serious disputes over water. At the same time, the temperature has been rising not only in the atmosphere over the northern and southern continental regions but over the oceans,» he added. «The latest icebergs that have melted were as big as half the area of Cyprus. As a result of human intervention, lakes and catchment areas in high areas, such as in China, have been filled by earthworks and overflow easily, flooding valleys. Areas of rapid economic development, such as southeast Asia, have high pollution levels and the signs of environmental degradation are now visible to the naked eye. In Latin America, every year the rain forests are reduced by an area the size of Crete. As you realize, the situation is serious,» said Zerefos. These signs are becoming apparent all around the world. «Human intervention has made the earth less hospitable,» added Zerefos. «On the one hand, living things are absorbing dangerous radiation and on the other there has been a continual increase in extreme conditions that have a cost, directly or otherwise, in human lives. I believe that nature will soon make us understand, in a spectacular fashion, that economic growth cannot have greater priority than the environment. Imagine what will happen if the billions of people in China and India start to follow the Western style of economy and life,» he concluded. «We just can’t keep interfering with nature like this,» added Lalas. «When nature’s functions are affected, then there are alterations to balances and we cannot know which. We are changing and it’s time we realized it sooner rather than later, so there can be international pressure for steps to be taken.»