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Melting Glaciers Means Poor Harvests?

Posted by: John Carey on March 20, 2008

The facts are indisputable and sobering. The glaciers in the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau are melting. Those glaciers feed mighty rivers like the Ganges in India and the Yellow River and Yangtze in China. Those rivers, in turn, help irrigate the wheat and rice fields of those two countries, which are the leading grain producers in the world.

By some estimates these glaciers could be gone within 30 years. Why is that important? Consider the Ganges. Since 70% of the water in the river in the dry season comes from meltwater, the disappearance of the glaciers means that the Ganges could become a seasonal river, says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. “I’ve tried to imagine what would happen to 400 million people living in the Ganges river basin if the river stops flowing,” Brown says.

One obvious result: a severe strain on agriculture, not just in India but also China. And it would come at a time when world grain stocks are already at their lowest level on record. “The world has never faced a potentially predictable reduction in grain harvest as we are now looking at with the melting of the glaciers,” Brown says. That’s why Brown is one of many voices called for immediate action to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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