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Unusually warm autumn raises climate change fears
Motorists drive in a flooded street near BIEL in Beirut, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
Motorists drive in a flooded street near BIEL in Beirut, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
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BEIRUT: Autumn has been unusually hot this year, with October starting with three record-breaking highs of 37, 36 and 31 and the rest of the month soaring almost 6 degrees above the average monthly temperatures.

That heat wave plowed into November with temperatures last week soaring 10 degrees above usual levels, and for the month, the average is nearly 5 degrees higher than usual.

Those high autumn temperatures are likely to wreak havoc on the environment once winter arrives, climate experts say. Unusually warm weather can have an immediate negative impact on agriculture, tourism and nature and is likely to give people a firsthand experience of the negative consequences of global warming and climate change, they say.

“We will get short rains of much stronger intensity, which will create flash floods in a way,” said Vahakn Kabakian, climate change expert at the United Nations Development Program. “Agriculture will be impacted as well, because the dry season might be longer at the end of the summer.”

Lower temperatures in the fall cool the ground and prepare the high elevations for the heavy snowfalls in the winter which leave a deep snow pack that melts as spring arrives. That melt nurtures the various ecosystems running down the mountains. But with warmer seasonal temperatures this year, with lows and highs around 5 degrees higher than usual, weather experts say there is an increased chance for fierce rainstorms that drop more water than the earth can absorb and use.

“You won’t be able to retain the water,” Kabakian said.

That excess can run off into flash floods that overrun streets and flatten agricultural fields, devastating farmer’s winter crops. The change in temperature will also add to a slow process of environmental change that has ecosystems fighting to stay alive in the warmer weather.

This year’s warmer temperatures fit into a pattern of increasingly warm seasons that Kabakian said forces plants and animals into a competitive climb for the cooler temperatures that they need. The ecosystems already at the top have nowhere else to go and can die off, he said.

Ali Fakhry from IndyAct, an organization that focuses on environmental issues, says more people may develop an appreciation for the dangers of climate change this year as high temperatures may hit people where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

The change in climate and heavy rains could ruin the idyllic snow in the upper reaches that draws people from around the world during the winter tourism season. Warmer temperatures may shorten the skiing and winter chalet season and generally bring less money into the country.

“We can sense and see the economic impact on Lebanon that is affecting us,” Fakhry said. “It will be the tourism season being affected.”

Activists say that they hope that visceral impact can build support for new initiatives to help the country reduce its environmental degradation and help the Arab world do so as well.

The country already struggles with a number of environmental issues like industrial pollution, high levels of deadly particles along roads, deforestation and littering.

Activists say having Lebanon lead international environmental efforts is the best way to start mitigating the potentially disastrous effects of long-term climate change.

The country published an environmental preservation plan this year, but environmentalists say they need to start acting on those projects to show they are really behind their goals.

“We need the Lebanese government to take a positive position and the lead for Arab countries to pledge to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses,” Fakhry said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 22, 2012, on page 4.
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