A Change In The Climate

I have been in a very strange and silent mood the last couple of days.  Let me try and work through it with you during this post.

I am reading a very thought provoking book titled "Climate Wars", by Gwynne Dyer.  The premise of the book is as follows;

"Dwindling resources. Massive population shifts. Natural disasters. Spreading epidemics. Drought. Rising sea levels. Plummeting agricultural yields. Crashing economies. Political extremism. These are some of the expected consequences of runaway climate change in the decades ahead, and any of them could tip the world towards conflict. Prescient, unflinching, and based on exhaustive research and interviews, Climate Wars promises to be one of the most important books in the coming years."

I have read 68 pages so far and it is riveting stuff, but I think it is responsible for my current mood.

In the book, Dyer argues that it is because of the "Politics as usual", and natural national protectionism being taken by most world governments, is the reason it will be extremely difficult for the leaders of the world to come to a consensus and a realistic emissions target to avert catastrophic climate change.  I tend to agree with him, which makes me sad.  Evidence for this argument has been visible all around us for quite some time.  In Australia, the damage done by the Howard Government over the last 11 years has been well documented in "High and Dry – John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future", by Guy Pearse.  An interesting read in itself.

The Bush administration’s similar campaign of denial and censorship of the scientific evidence regarding Climate Change may have doomed the entire human race to a gloomy future.  From reading Dyer’s book, this is what I have learnt so far.  Many climatologist’s believe that the planet is already locked in to a 3° C rise in global average temperatures with what WE HAVE ALREADY EMITTED!  A scary thought, but not so bad, I hear you say.  Think of it this way then. 

"People really need to understand that the average surface temperature is just an index of the state of the climate.  It’s sort of like the temperature of your body, and you say ‘What’s a few degrees among friends?’, and then you realise that if you have a fever of 40.5° C, then though that’s only three and a half degrees above normal, it’s potentially fatal.  The same thing is true of the world: differences of a few degrees in the average temperature of the world reflect massive changes in the patterns of the climate that are determinative of human well-being." – John Holdren, director, Woods Hole Research Centre in an interview with Dyer Feb 6, 2008

The key are the words ‘average surface temperature’.  It may not increase by much at the equator, with some scientists predicting only a 0.5° C rise, however, at the poles that equates to an 8-12 degree increase in average temperature by 2100.  An ice free arctic ocean, rapidly melting Greenland and Antarctic Ice sheets, and glaciers around the globe, mean rises in sea levels, the likes we have not experienced during the reign of our current civilization.  This will result in massive population relocations, many of them unorganised and forced upon the residents of low lying countries.

So, if no stand-out leadership presents itself in the next year or so, it is unlikely that the predecessor treaty to Kyoto will have any teeth and will fail to address the issue.  Where does that leave us?  With no real plans to reduce global emissions, can we expect the first major wars over resources, such as a basic human necessity for water?

Here is an example of what may happen with a 3° C rise in average surface temperatures.  The main rivers that flow out of the Himalayas are a huge issue when Climate Change is taken into account.  The Indus, Ganges and Yangtze Rivers are fed all year round by glacial melting and winter snow melt, however when the glaciers are fully melted by mid century, they will be reduced to a trickle during the summer months.  The Yellow River is fed by a seasonal monsoon event, which is also in threat of failing.  These four rivers alone provide drinking water and irrigation for nearly 30% of the worlds population.  Can you imagine over 2,500,000,000 hungry and thirsty mouths?  Where will they go?  Will the populations of China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh go hungry, or simply invade to the north to take what they need to survive?  What do you think Russia will have to say about these Climate Change refugees occupying Siberia?  I don’t think they will be all that happy with the situation!  Also remember that three of the four countries (except Bangladesh) are known to posses nuclear weapons, as does Russia and a few of the countries in between.  China has the largest military force in the world, and not much would be able to stop a determined China seeking resources and food for a hungry population if this situation arises.

As for Australia, it is predicted that there will be more rain in the north west, but less in the southern part of the country.  That means that the entire "Wheat Belt" stretching from Perth to the Murray-Darling basin will get 20-30% less rainfall.  In this scenario, we will barely be able to feed our own nation let alone export grain or any other foodstuffs for that matter.  Similar events may happen across the globe as rainfall patterns change.  Famines will be common place, with nations turning inward to feed their own populations first. Countries that already import much of their food will be hardest hit.  No amount of money will be able to buy it.

Sounds very scary doesn’t it?  Now I know why I have this mood!  I suppose that unless something radical happens during President Obama’s first term of office, with massive cuts in the U.S.A’s emissions, and the convincing of China and India to also cut their emissions rapidly, we will definitely be locked in for troubled times ahead.

So what is the solution?  I don’t really have one, but the only one that comes foremost to mind is people power.  Let your elected officials know that you want and need real leadership regarding the issue of Climate Change.  If many of my readers and I can take decisive action by reducing our carbon footprint, why can’t the rest of the western, and developing world reduce theirs?   

I believe that all we need to do (or can do) is to show them that we have the courage to do what is the right, is a moral course of action and they will listen and follow our lead.  It has been proven throughout history that governments don’t lead the people, the people lead the government by popular opinion, and then governments mandate the people’s will by enacting a law.  If we all stand up for what is right, then the scenarios that I have proposed may never take place, and I would have been melancholy for absolutely no reason at all!  I can only hope that as global citizens, we can achieve what our politicians have until now, failed to deliver.

It will be an interesting year ahead politically! 

I am feeling much better now.  Thanks for listening to my rant.




  1. JulieG says

    I’ve been facing a similar gloomy mood caused by reading Climate Code Red – very hard to work out what to do about it. As you say, we have to demand better policy from our leaders, they won’t do it on their own!

  2. says

    Hi, Gavin. That book and myriad others like it only tell one side of the story. Did you know that the Chinese lived on millet before they started cultivating rice? And it grows in DRY climates? The Indians have thousands of heirloom varieties of grains and veggies that incorporate all kinds of resistance genes to heat, drought, flood (there are rice varieties that can grow in several feet of water- or dry land rices that need a LOT less). As long as agribiz does not wipe them out, these landraces could well provide the sustenance we all need. And if you live in a temperate region-worst case scenario- drive 200 miles toward the equator from your present location and ask them what they grow. I saw one of the models used to make these terrifying predictions in Science (top scientific journal in America) a few years back- I dug into the actual stats in the research article, and the model was 37% accurate at predicting the PAST. We do need to correct our wasteful actions, and repent of our greed and hubris, but when someone gets too insistent about scaring you (and selling you their latest book or carbon indulgence or solar device), back away slowly- then go out and dig a new bed or build a rainwater cistern, enjoy the outdoors, and realize that we will be Provided for. The ingredients are already there.

  3. says

    Fantastic and powerful post Gavin! Boy are we all in trouble! I rant away at home about this and all the family do is raise their eyebrows heavenward and say Mums off again! I shall still rant and make changes and drag as many as I can albeit kicking and screaming into a state of reality asap! Presents this year have included solar powered radios and wind up torches and I will continue in this vein throughout the year. I will make changes, I promise!

  4. says

    What a VERY scary situation.

    I really don’t understand how our leaders can be so blind to all this. Here in the UK we’re being urge to “spend more” to help get us out of the reccession but I can’t get my head around why we’d want to carry on producing more stuff and thus polluting the earth and destroying its natural resources just because we’re having a bit of an economical crisis. I may well be missing something but it seems to me they’re only interested in what’s happening here and now and not what the effects will be in the future.

  5. says

    Gavin, how well you put what I and many others feel into words. I can’t see away ahead unless we have a world leader who is prepared to take the risk and impose a change of life amoung his/her people. Perhaps Obama will be this leader? The difficulty there is that there are so many other pressing problems that need attention as well and these problems are more visable. I for one am going to take your advice and just make a nuisance of myself with my local representative. Keep up the good work.

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