Monday, June 29, 2009

Adapt Or Die

Global Humanitarian Forum has released a "The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis," which examines the human impact of climate change. These are the bits that stuck out most to me:

Climate change is already seriously affecting hundreds of millions of people today and in the next twenty years those affected will likely more than double – making it the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time. Those seriously affected are in need of immediate assistance either following a weather-related disaster, or because livelihoods have been severely compromised by climate change. The number of those severely affected by climate change is more than ten times greater than for instance those injured in traffic accidents each year, and more than the global annual number of new malaria cases. Within the next 20 years, one in ten of the world’s present population could be directly and seriously affected.
It is a grave global justice concern that those who suffer most from climate change have done the least to cause it. Developing countries bear over nine-tenths of the climate change burden: 98% of the seriously affected and 99% of all deaths from weather-related disasters, along with over 90% of the total economic losses. The 50 Least Developed Countries contribute less than 1% of global carbon emissions.
To avert the worst outcomes of climate change, adaptation efforts need to be scaled up by a factor of more than 100 in developing countries. The only way to reduce the present human impact is through adaptation. But funding for adaptation in developing countries is not even one percent of what is needed. The multilateral funds that have been pledged for climate change adaptation funding currently amount to under half a billion US dollars.
The most powerful consequences of climate change arise when a chain reaction magnifies the effects of rising temperatures. Think of a region suffering from water scarcity. That scarcity reduces the amount of arable land and thereby aggravates food security. The reduced crop production results in loss of income for farmers and may bring malnutrition. Health issues arise that could further diminish economic activity as family members become too weak to work. With time, worsening environmental conditions combined with financial instability may force populations to migrate. Migration can then become a catalyst for social unrest if increased population density in the place of refuge causes resource scarcity.
Climate change aggravates existing problems. Many people today are not resilient to current weather patterns and climate variability, which is to say that they are unable to protect their families, livelihoods and food supply from the negative impacts of seasonal rainfall leading to floods or water scarcity during extended droughts. Climate change will multiply these risks.
Tulsi Khara, India has lived all her 70 years in the world’s largest delta, where the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers meet and flow into the Bay of Bengal. “We are not educated people, but I can sense something grave is happening around us. I couldn’t believe my eyes – the land that I had tilled for years, that fed me and my family for generations, has vanished. We have lost our livelihood. All our belongings and cattle were swept away by cyclones. We have moved to Sagar Island and are trying to rebuild our lives from scratch. It wasn’t like this when I was young. Storms have become more intense than ever. Displacement and death are everywhere here. The land is shrinking and salty water gets into our fields, making them useless. We feel very insecure now.”
The main gradual changes are rising earth surface temperatures, rising sea levels, desertification, changes in local rainfall and river run-off patterns with increased precipitation in high latitudes and decreased precipitation in sub-tropical latitudes, salinisation of river deltas, accelerated species extinction rates, loss of biodiversity and a weakening of ecosystems. The impact of this gradual change is considerable. It reduces access to fresh and safe drinking water, negatively affects health and poses a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In some areas where employment and crop choices are limited, decreasing crop yields have led to famines. Desertification and other forms of land degradation have led to migration. Furthermore, the rise in sea levels has already spurred the first permanent displacement of small island inhabitants in the Pacific.
The number of deaths from weather-related disasters and gradual environmental degradation due to climate change is expected to jump to about 500,000 people per year. (Source)
Humans are smart enough to figure all this out, but will we be smart enough to save ourselves?

I certainly hope so. It's the future outcome I'm working my ass off for.

I'd like to leave you with this video, which is a first-hand account of Alaskan teens on how climate change is threatening their village (via Twilight Earth):

Related posts:
Cultures Threatened as Climate Changes
Climate Change Art Destroys All Humans
The Problem With the Green Movement

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Neil said...

Or the global warming/climate change issue is being inflated to it's fever pitch but folks who stand to make a buck (some green, you know.) I sure don't know, but rushing towards "solutions" can create worse problems, similar to how the banning of DDT (by noble overlords) led to an explosion of malaria in Africa. I would counsel prudence...don't chug the Kool-Aid (Oh Yeah!) I recommend Climate Debate Daily ( for more balance.

May said...

I don't think climate change is being taken seriously enough in our culture. No matter how bad we say it is, the reality will be much worse because we are working from old climate and temperature statistics that simply don't work with the new paradigm that has been created thanks to excessive, wasteful use of the totally awesome resources on Earth.

I completely disagree with you that this is a stunt to make money. I am personally involved in this movement on a daily basis and I meet the people who are interested in these things - it's not people who are rich or people who can expect to make money. It's people who don't want their life to suddenly become horrendous because of avoidable problems.

I think your comparison of this problem to the banning of a pesticide is absolutely nonsensical. What does one have to do with the other?

Oh! And I never drink Kool-Aid. That shit's disgusting.

Neil said...

The example of the pesticide ban is (as I prefaced that comment) an example of solutions which create worse problems. You may disagree regarding the whole thing being a con to make money, but you are not in a position of power or are a loyal footsoldier & I do commend your intent. Personally, I think that being a good steward of our environment is part of being a good person. That said, given your occupation, I doubt you hear much of the arguments from the other side or that you would do anything other than reject them out of hand.

May said...

I have listened to many arguments put forth from "the other side" as you put it. However I have found all of the arguments against climate change and actions that would make countries sustainable to be based on bad information, wrong assumptions and a misunderstanding of data regarding Earth's systems and their operations and interactions.

I am a strong champion of taking action on climate change because I have read nearly all information (note: not opinions) on the subject and the only reasonable response to all the information is to see that climate change is a problem affecting us right now that will affect us worse in the future.

It is the only conclusion that all the facts support and it's the conclusion that I support.

In the end it doesn't matter what I think. But what does matter is the millions of people who will be suffering in a few years because people weren't willing to change their behaviors even when they knew better. I'm trying to reduce the suffering that we will ultimately feel.

That I'm not a person "in power" or a policy maker doesn't affect the other people who are "foot soldiers" in this battle. Environmentalists have been lobbying for over thirty years for the government to take action on the inevitable problems of climate change. Scientists have known this was going to happen for decades and no one would listen to them until lately. Politicians are only listening now because they are being forced to listen by people like me who are concerned about the future.

Applecart T. said...

I don't think humans will make it … we're really not altruistic … 'adapt or die' reminds me of Social Darwin-days … we, the rich countries, used up what we wanted and still do (got the A/C on, USA?) and then expect the rest of the world not to.

As a 'poor' person in a rich country, I watch my stupid 1918 house suck up fossil-fuel-spew and much much more that is utterly ridiculous (really, 50 people would live here if this was not America) — without actually being able to do anything about it but pretend to feel guilty.

EG: Our neighbor has a baby (18 months, planned; parents are in 30s to 40s) … bought a gas mower today … asked me yesterday about our push-comes-to-shove one (how it cut; I said, 'you've seen it; it's not perfect, but it's not bad … I like the quiet and don't want to mess around with gas'), citing the fact it's only $25 more for a gas-powered machine and giving lip-service to 'it's better for the environment.'

That's why I'm a pessimist. The vegan neighbors with two little kids probably will buy a power mower, too (to replace stolen one); maybe they will share with other neighbor (since they kind-of used to before last week's theft).

I am glad I know some things because of 'environmentalists.' (And the only reason my mom recycles is because it was legislated / financially mandatory, so …)

Keep fighting the good fight. I'm still eating meat, you know, and doing other crap I'm trying to quit.