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Climate - June 20

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As Iraq runs dry, a plague of snakes is unleashed

Patrick Cockburn, Independent (UK)
An unprecedented fall in the water levels of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has left the rural population at the mercy of heat, drought – and displaced wildlife.
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Swarms of snakes are attacking people and cattle in southern Iraq as the Euphrates and Tigris rivers dry up and the reptiles lose their natural habitat among the reed beds.

... The plague of snakes is the latest result of an unprecedented fall in the level of the water in the Euphrates and the Tigris, the two great rivers which for thousands of years have made life possible in the sun-baked plains of Mesopotamia, the very name of which means "between the rivers" in Greek. The rivers that made Iraq's dry soil so fertile are drying up because the supply of water, which once flowed south into Iraq from Turkey, Syria and Iran, is now held back by dams and used for irrigation. On the Euphrates alone, Turkey has five large dams upriver from Iraq, and Syria has two.

The diversion of water from the rivers has already destroyed a large swathe of Iraqi agriculture and the result of Iraq being starved of water may be one of the world's greatest natural disasters, akin to the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. Already the advance of the desert has led to frequent dust storms in Baghdad which close the airport. Yet this dramatic climatic change has attracted little attention outside Iraq, overshadowed by the violence following the US-led invasion in 2003 and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The collapse in the water levels of the rivers has been swift, the amount of water in the Euphrates falling by three-quarters in less than a decade.
(15 June 2009)



African farms becoming too hot to handle

Bob Holmes, New Scientist
frican farmers will soon face growing seasons hotter than any in their experience. To cope with this rapid climate change, they – and the plant breeders who supply their crops – will need to make big changes, and soon.

Agricultural experts have predicted for some time that farmers are likely to face problems as climates become hotter and drier than they are today. Indeed, some farmers in South Africa are already reporting difficulties (pdf).

To see how fast, and how broadly, this will strike, Marshall Burke, an agricultural economist at Stanford University, and colleagues, averaged the results from 18 global climate models to forecast likely temperature and rainfall conditions in 2025, 2050 and 2075 in regions of Africa where maize, millet and sorghum are grown today. Then, assuming that year-to-year variability would remain the same as today – perhaps a conservative assumption – they asked how much these future climates would overlap with existing climates.
(17 June 2009)



Warming may outstrip Africa's ability to feed itself: study

Marlowe Hood, AFP
By mid-century, climate change may have outrun the ability of Africa's farmers to adapt to rising temperatures, threatening the continent's precarious food security, warns a new study.

Growing seasons throughout nearly all of Africa in 2050 will likely be "hotter than any year in historical experience," reports the study, published in the current issue of the British-based journal Global Environmental Change.
(17 June 2009)



Climate change hits China's 'poor hardest'

AFP
Climate change hits China's poor the hardest and also forces some of those lifted out of hardship back into it, activist groups Greenpeace and Oxfam said Wednesday.

The two urged the Chinese government to review its existing poverty alleviation policy to take climate change into account, in a report compiled with experts from the nation's Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"Climate change is making poverty alleviation work harder... because as soon as there is a disaster in those places where the environment is very fragile, these return to poverty," Xu Yinlong of the academy told reporters.

According to Hu Angang, an economist at Beijing's Tsinghua University who wrote a preface to the report, China is one of the countries in the world most prone to natural disasters.
(17 June 2009)



Learning to Live With Climate Change Will Not Be Enough

David W. Orr, Yale Environment 360
A leading environmentalist explains why drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions now will be easier, cheaper, and more ethical than dealing with runaway climate destabilization later.
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... Now, facing climate destabilization, our choices for action are said to be adapting to a warmer world or mitigating the severity of climate change by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, neither adaptation nor mitigation alone will be sufficient, and sometimes they may overlap. But in a world of limited resources, money, and time we will be forced often to choose between the two. In making such choices, the major issues in dispute have to do with estimates of the pace, scale, and duration of climatic disruption. And here the scientific evidence tilts the balance strongly toward mitigation.

The argument for adaptation to the effects of climate change rests on a chain of logic that goes something like this: Climate change is real, but will be slow and moderate enough to permit orderly adaptation to changes that we can foresee and comprehend. Those changes will, in a few decades, plateau around a new, manageable stable state, leaving the gains of the modern world mostly intact — albeit powered by wind, solar, and as-yet-undreamed advanced technologies.

In other words, the developed world can adapt to climatic changes without sacrificing much. The targets for adaptation include developing heat- and drought-tolerant crops for agriculture, changing architectural standards to withstand greater heat and larger storms, and modifying infrastructure to accommodate larger storm events and rising sea levels, as well as prolonged heat and drought. These are eminently sensible and obvious measures that we must take.

... Proponents of mitigation, on the other hand, give priority to limiting the emission of heat trapping-gases as quickly as possible to reduce the eventual severity of climatic disruption. The essence of the case for mitigation is that:

  • Growing scientific evidence indicates that the effects of climate change will be greater and will occur faster than previously thought.

  • The duration of climate effects will last for thousands of years, not decades.
  • We are in a very tight race to avoid causing irreversible changes that would seriously damage or destroy civilization.
  • The effects of climate destabilization can be contained perhaps only by emergency action to stabilize and then reduce CO2 levels.

Practically, climate mitigation means reversing the addition of carbon to the atmosphere by making a rapid transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Arguments for mitigation, in other words, are rather like those for turning the water off in an overflowing tub before mopping.

David W. Orr is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College. He is the author of five books, including Design on the Edge: The Making of a High Performance Building. His next book, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, will be published this summer.
(1 June 2009)
David Orr is a Post Carbon fellow.

An important point emerges from Dr. Orr's article: those countries who caused the problem - the US and Northern Europe - may tend to favor adaptation, since the effects of climate change will not fall as heavily on them as on Africa and Southeast Asia (e.g. the Indian subcontinent). The side-effects of industrialization will be pushed on to those who are least able to cope with them and who benefitted least from the burning of fossil fuels. -BA

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