A nepalese Sherpa fears his mountain valley will be flooded by melting glacier runoff high in the Himalayas. A Fiji islander frets about rising sea levels, while villagers cope...

Share story

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A Nepalese Sherpa fears his mountain valley will be flooded by melting glacier runoff high in the Himalayas. A Fiji islander frets about rising sea levels, while villagers cope with the destruction of mangrove swamps in India.

As scientists debate whether global warming is affecting Earth, “climate witnesses” told a U.N. environmental conference yesterday they are feeling the heat of the changing weather patterns they say are drastically affecting their way of life from the Himalayas to the South Pacific.

“In the past we just accepted it was the will of God,” said Penina Moce, a woman from a fishing village in Fiji. “But now we believe there could be other reasons.”

Moce, 44, spoke as delegates from nearly 200 countries sat down in Buenos Aires for an annual gathering by government officials, scientists and environmentalists aimed at trying to reduce “greenhouse” emissions believed by many to be causing a rise in Earth’s temperatures.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Moce said many on her South Pacific island of 400 people are alarmed by recent signs of altering climate: shortened rainy seasons, eroding coastlines and dwindling fish stocks. Water, already in short supply, has become even harder to come by, she said.

Environmentalists say her testimony exemplifies what is occurring in some areas affected by global warming and climate change — issues the world has tried to address through the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement requiring initial cuts in “greenhouse gas” emissions by 2012 that comes into force in February.

With only a few months remaining before Kyoto takes effect, the science over global warming remains divided. The United States — the largest industrialized country not to join the treaty — has cited scientific uncertainties as one of the reasons.

Many scientists believe carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — released by factories, vehicles and coal-burning power plants — seriously threaten life on Earth by causing a gradual rise in the planet’s temperature. Global warming has been blamed for more violent storms, rising sea levels and shrinking habitats.

Caspar Ammann, a scientist and climatologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said changes are apparent around the world. A study by Tom Wigley of NCAR and Sarah Raper of the Climatic Research Unit in Britain found a 90 percent probability global temperatures will rise 3.1 to 8.9 degrees between 1990 and 2100 as a result of human influences if greenhouse-gas emissions continue unchecked.

Other experts disagree, saying Earth’s temperatures have varied greatly over time, and little is known about how the atmosphere copes with temperature change.

“If you look at the long-term records of temperatures, you will see periods warmer than today and periods colder than today,” said John Cristy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama.

“We don’t see the same warming in the deep atmosphere,” he said. “If it were man-made, that’s where you would see the warming.”