NYU Alumni Magazine Fall 2007

The Heat is On

The evidence is in on global warming and, more than ever, the planet's future is in our hands. So what can New York, NYU—and you—do…before it's too late?

In August of 2003, a heat wave enveloped Europe, killing some 35,000 people—more deaths than any single nation suffered in the Invasion of Normandy. With temperatures hovering over 100 degrees for several weeks, it was probably that continent's hottest summer in 500 years — and just one deadly example of how Earth is steadily, and dangerously, warming.

In fact, the planet's hottest 12 years on record—since reliable measurements began in 1861—have occurred over the past 17 years, according to a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But that's just the start. Scientists predict that Earth's average temperature could increase up to 11.5°F by 2100—a rate more than 10 times greater than the warming witnessed in the 20th century, and possibly unprecedented in the past 10,000 years. Even conservative estimates predict the globe will heat by 2°F over the next century, possibly triggering a spiral of natural disasters far surpassing Hurricane Katrina or this summer's wildfires in the western United States.

Who's to blame? Mostly us, it appears, and our galloping consumption of fossil fuels. But, more important, people are now asking: Is there a fix? The following pages examine the issue and reveal answers that our great-grandchildren will likely debate as the climate continues to transfigure their world.