Monday, March 14, 2011

Welcome Al Gore to a Warming Colombia

Going, going, gone? Cocuy National Park's glaciers may be gone in 25 years. (Photo: Paisa Tours)
It doesn't particularly feel like it here in chilly, rainy Bogotá, but Colombia's weather is getting warmer. When Al Gore visits this Wednesday for an environmental forum sponsored by El Espectador, he'll have lots to talk about.

Per-capita, Colombians emit small amounts of carbon dioxide - although that is growing. In 2007, the average Colombian emitted 1.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide - much less than neighboring Venezuela, at 6  tons per capita, and a tiny fraction of the typical North American's almost 20 tons. However, Colombia is eagerly doing its part to dig fossil fuels out of the earth and ship them to the rest of the world to burn. Both coal and petroleum production are booming.

Flooding last year (AP photo)
But Colombia, with its tremendous biodiversity and great dependence on natural ecosystems for water, energy, food and the tourism industry, will suffer badly from global warming - in fact, it already is.

During last year's torrential rains and flooding, Colombia's leaders blamed the disaster on climate change. The New York Times reports that warming is wilting the country's coffee crop. Meanwhile, warming is killing coral reefs and 75% of Colombia's vital paramos, high-altitude wetlands, may disappear. Most dramatically, sea-level rises could turn the city of Cartagena into an island. Colombia's glaciers will be gone in a few decades.

Cartagena - an island?
Like the rest of Latin America, the retreat of Colombia's glaciers will hurt the country in many ways: river flow patterns will change dramatically, devastating agriculture and slashing the hydroelecticity generation on which the country depends.

A poor nation, Colombia is already spending millions of dollars to adapt to climate change.

Another angle: Lots of rainforest is destroyed for coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production. However, those impacts would be reduced if cocaine were not prohibited.

Here's my take on Al Gore's speech.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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