Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Climate Refugees Look Like

Before the main post, two action alerts. First, Greenpeace is asking us to send a letter to Sonia Gandhi about the BRAI Bill; apparently, she's our best hope on this issue, at this moment. It's just like signing a petition; it won't take long, so why not do this today?

And this just in via the Indian Youth Climate Network:
The Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a new network of individuals and organizations across the country has announced that a “Kisan Swaraj Yatra” would set off from Sabarmati Ashram on October 2nd 2010, to remind all Indians of our hard-won independence and the insidious ways in which agri-business corporations, supported by the State are taking this independence and sovereignty away, especially with regard to our food and farming. This Yatra is a call for joining forces to save Indian farming and farmers mired in deep distress and to forge a sustainable path forward for Indian farming.
Please go here for more information. 
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I don't watch TV much at all.  In fact our TV is not even currently hooked up to cable and reception is so bad on the ground floor of our block of flats that there's almost no point of turning it on. Don't get me wrong; I do watch an occasional film on DVD, and I get more "screen time" than I need through the computer.  I'm no purist. Still I do think that less TV means more reading and that's generally good.

But last weekend, I took an internet holiday and got out of the house.  Somehow I found myself sitting with a friend...watching TV. My friend is a rather serious fellow, so we ended up watching coverage of the flooding in Pakistan.  Of course I've read a lot about that flooding. I know the destruction is massive and Pakistan's infrastructure has been set back years, even decades.  I can even hyper link to an article that explains how many billions of dollars in damage has been done, how many thousands of miles of roads destroyed.

But in spite of an annoying team of American reporters, the TV footage I saw last weekend gave me insight I think I'd missed in the print coverage I'd seen.  There were thousands of people streaming out of villages and cities, fleeing the rising water; there were people fighting over drinking water and flour; terrified little children wandering, knee deep in water.

Here is the problem honest environmentalists have.  We know you can never say with certainty that this flood was a direct result of climate change. But we also know that most scientists believe that climate change is leading to an increase in certain kinds of extreme weather events--like severe flooding and cyclones.  And that means that in years to come, we are going to see more and more disasters like we've been seeing in Pakistan, Leh and China.  

So we're stuck: if we claim a connection, the climate deniers will question our credibility, even though many of them jump at the chance to cry "global cooling" every time it snows.  If we don't claim a connection, we lose a powerful opportunity to educate about the kind of future we are looking at if we allow climate change to go unchecked.

Politicians are trying to figure out how to talk about this issue.  Hillary Clinton recently spoke of "linkage" between the recent floods and climate change. I guess it's a start, but I'm sure we can do better than "linkage".  Scientists are also grappling with how to explain uncertain events clearly: many are looking at the connection between climate change an severe weather much more seriously than they did a decade ago, even.  My sense is that we need to get comfortable with the word "probably."  (Read this article if you want more on that.)

And then we must say clearly, and with a high level of confidence, that much of the recent flooding we've seen in Asia was probably a result of climate change, but it most certainly offers us a glimpse of what we expect to happen more and more often in the future if we don't do something soon.  And it's not a pretty picture.  

We must tell our friends and neighbors: Hey, if you are wondering what to worry about when it comes to climate change, the destruction wrought by extreme weather events and the resulting climate refugees is a good place to start.  After that, you can start considering the hunger caused when too many monsoons fail.  Or think about what suddenly happens when you reach the bottom of your bottle of Limca and then consider tube wells and falling water tables.  And if you really want a scary scenario, imagine the political destabilisation that tends to accompany these kinds of events.

That should be enough to worry about for now.

What Climate Refugees Look Like:
What They Carried Away (Time-CNN photo essay)
Pakistan Flood in Pictures (The New Statesman)

4 comments:

  1. When Hillary Clinton or some one from administration makes the connection, there is some bit of vested interest which can be of Monsanto or Nuclear lobby.

    Here it is important for the environmentalists to make a sound argument and connection so that alternatives which are not viable too are rejected.
    Recent flooding in Pakistan and cloud burst in Leh two are very much linked-Change in patterns of climate is a reason.

    South Asia being an ecological fragile zone need an integrated approach. We all should leave our petty differences aside, come together to face and mitigate the crisis. If the modern nation states are not ready, resistance movements, human rights groups, environmentalists should sit under a single roof. Discuss the action plan and take it forward.

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  2. @Kabir, You know, I'd bet a lot of money that Hillary Clinton and her husband, and Mr. Obama, and his wife and vice president, and Sonia Gandhi and her son and daughter and Manmohan Singh, etc. etc. ALL understand very well the problems we face--they are not stupid and they have the best scientists in the world explaining things to them. Who among them is willing to spend the political capital it would take to make a difference on the issue? Not one, that I can see...even Al Gore waited until he was no longer in office to say what he knew was true all along: we are in deep trouble.

    Sorry for that rant. And yes, you are right about South Asia being fragile in many ways. We need a plan soon!
    Glad you stopped by.

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  3. It's dangerous to link the Pakistan floods to Global warming. That's because environmentalists also do the same for a drought.

    You know me Hari, I obviously go with the Climate Scientists and naturally feel that human caused Climate is real. But claiming that the floods are caused by global warming will just make the crackheads say:

    "When there's a drought you say it's because of GW. When there are floods you say it's because of global warming. Is there any that isn't caused by global warming?"

    And that's a powerful argument. We can't fall into that trap.

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  4. @Bhagwad--This is not an easy issue. And believe me, I hear what you are saying. But these connections are not something I've made up; they are supported by climate theory. From my reading, there is a lot to support the ideas that climate change will lead to more extreme weather and changing weather patterns (yes, both flooding AND, in some cases drought)...I think we have to learn to talk about this honestly and convincingly.
    It's not something I'm done thinking about, however. This article in the Hindu (http://www.hindu.com/2010/08/16/stories/2010081651191100.htm) and this one in New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727754.200-time-to-blame-climate-change-for-extreme-weather.html) are worth reading. But there are better ones out there. I'll look for them.

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What do you think?