Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why the Warming Matters

With time on my hands today, surely you didn't think I'd let a new global warming report go by and not talk about how the demands the changes will make on our systems will have inevitable and costly impacts on what we're able to do about corrections sentencing. You did? Well, . . . sorry. Anyway, here's a story on the historical effects on societies dealing with warming climates:

Global warming is one of the most significant threats facing humankind, researchers warned, as they unveiled a study showing how climate changes in the past led to famine, wars and population declines.

The world's growing population may be unable to adequately adapt to ecological changes brought about by the expected rise in global temperatures, scientists in China, Hong Kong, the United States and Britain wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The warmer temperatures are probably good for a while, but beyond some level plants will be stressed," said Peter Brecke, associate professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

"With more droughts and a rapidly growing population, it is going to get harder and harder to provide food for everyone and thus we should not be surprised to see more instances of starvation and probably more cases of hungry people clashing over scarce food and water."

Trawling through history and working out correlative patterns, the team found that temperature declines were followed by wars, famines and population reductions.
A report last week said climate change will put half the world's countries at risk of conflict or serious political instability.

International Alert, a London-based conflict resolution group, identified 46 countries -- home to 2.7 billion people -- where it said the effects of climate change would create a high risk of violent conflict. It identified another 56 states where there was a risk of political instability.

"I would expect to see some pretty serious conflicts that are clearly linked to climate change on the international scene by 2020," International Alert secretary general Dan Smith told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Near the top of the list are west and central Africa, with clashes already reported in northern Ghana between herders and farmers as agricultural patterns change.

Bangladesh could also see dangerous changes, while the visible decline in levels of the River Ganges in India, on which 400 million people depend, could spark new tensions there.

Water shortages would make solving tensions in the already volatile Middle East even harder, Smith said, while currently peaceful Latin American states could be destabilized by unrest following changes in the melting of glaciers affecting rivers.

Unless communities and governments begin discussing the issues in advance, he said, there is a risk climate shift could be the spark that relights wars such as those in Liberia and Sierra Leone in west Africa or the Caucasus on Russia's borders. Current economic growth in developing states could also be hit.

And here's why we won't do what we'll really need to in time, a classic Tragedy of the Commons situation where no one does what's necessary because they can't trust each other to do what's right and there's no overarching authority to enforce the actions and enable people to feel they won't be taken for suckers:

China sought to head off expected pressure at an upcoming international climate change meeting, saying Thursday that global warming largely remained a problem for richer countries to tackle.

With a juggernaut economy and a consumer car-buying frenzy, China is expected to soon surpass the United States as the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. That has made China a growing focus for some foreign governments and activist groups searching for solutions to climate change at next month's U.N. meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Staking out ground ahead of that meeting, officials with China's national weather agency and the Foreign Ministry unveiled a television documentary on climate change and outlined government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they struck an uncompromising note, saying that success at Bali depends chiefly on richer countries.

"The key point is to have developed countries continue to fulfill their obligations to reduce their gas emissions after 2012," Foreign Ministry official Song Dong said at a news conference.

Wanna bet how this will all work out? I know this: Get your tax-writing checkbooks out.

[And never forget the water.]

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