Veterans Day, 2030 Could Look Like Syria Today, Thanks To Climate Change

נשלח 14 בנוב׳ 2014, 9:06 על ידי Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 14 בנוב׳ 2014, 9:06 ]
by Joe Romm Posted on November 11, 2014


Syrian refugees filling their buckets at Atmeh refugee camp, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria

Syrian refugees filling their buckets at Atmeh refugee camp, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria

CREDIT: AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC

What will be the worst direct impacts to humans be from our unsustainable use of energy over the next few decades? Topping that list is Dust-Bowlification, extreme weather, super-charged storm surges, and food insecurity: in short, hell and high water.

But all of the impacts occurring at once will have an even more devastating synergy (see “here“) — one which may well affect far more people: war, conflict, competition for arable and/or habitable land.

We will have to work as hard as possible to make sure we don’t leave a world of wars to our children. That means avoiding decades, if not centuries, of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change.

Climate-Wars

In 2011, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “said rising temperatures and rainwater shortages are having a devastating effect on food production. Failing to address the problem will have repercussions on health, security and stability.”

The Pentagon itself made the climate/security link explicit in a 2014 report warning that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” has impacts that can “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict” and will probably lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources.”

The world’s leading scientists and governments came to the same conclusion after reviewing the scientific literature. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned this year that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.”

Last May, Tom Friedman wrote a column, “Memorial Day 2050,” which begins by quoting Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State who observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” He concludes that the fight against climate change is our most important “fight for freedom” today, and ends “Let’s act so the next generation will want to honor us with a Memorial Day, the way we honor the sacrifice of previous generations.”

Last year, Friedman described how warming-worsened drought has exacerbated political instability even now in Syria. His piece “Without Water, Revolution” explained:

This Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved…

In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.

Now large parts of both Syria and Iraq are being overrun and terrorized by the extremist group ISIS, which was able to gain its original foothold in Syria because of the corrupt regime’s misgovernance and the subsequent civil war.

Unfortunately, warming-worsened drought is causing problems all around the Mediterranean:

NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. [Click to enlarge.]

But, obviously, the poorer a country is — and the worse it is governed — the more warming-worsened drought is likely to drive instability.

“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work…

Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.

You can watch Friedman actually enter Syria during the civil war to learn more about the climate change connection here.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that “climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.”

That’s a key reason 33 generals and admirals supported the comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs bill in 2010, asserting “Climate change is making the world a more dangerous place” and “threatening America’s security.”

Sadly, the chance that humanity will avert catastrophic climate impacts has dropped sharply in the past few years, a point underscored by the recent elections in which climate science deniers increased their stranglehold on Congress. And that means it is increasingly likely we face a world far beyond 450 ppm atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a world likely cross carbon cycle tipping points that threaten to quickly take us to 800 to 1000 ppm — a world of rapid warming and a ruined climate far outside the bounds of any human experience.

It is a world with dozens of Syrias and Darfurs and Pakistani mega-floods, of countless environmental refugees — hundreds of millions in the second half of this century — all clamoring to occupy the parts of the developed world that aren’t flooded or Dust-Bowlified.

In such a world, everyone will ultimately become a veteran, and Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day may fade into obscurity, as people forget about a time when wars were the exception, a time when soldiers were but a small minority of the population. And if we don’t act swiftly and strongly to stop it, the IPCC warned earlier this month that the worst impacts were irreversible on a time scale of centuries if not millennia.

So when does this start to happen on a grand scale?

Back in 2008, Thomas Fingar, then “the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst,” sees it happening by the mid-2020s:

By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest.

…Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.

For the latest science, see the Climate Progress post from last month, “Unchecked Warming To Dust-Bowlify Southwest, Central Plains, Amazon, Europe For Centuries.”

We’ve already seen that even areas expected to become wetter can experience an extreme heat wave so unprecedented that it forces the entire country to suspend grain exports, as happened in Russia in 2010.

The U.K. government’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, laid out a scenario similar to Fingar’s in a 2009 speech. He warned that by 2030, “A ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions,” as the UK’s Guardian put it.

You can see a five-minute BBC interview with Beddington here. The speech is online.

Some of this can be avoided or minimized if we act now. Some of it can’t. But if we don’t act strongly now, then by Veteran’s Day 2030, many of the global conflicts will either be resource wars or wars driven by environmental degradation and dislocation. Indeed, that may already have started to happen in places like Syria and Darfur.

To hear one discussion of the kind of wars we might be seeing, albeit for the year 2046, here is a three-part radio series on Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian journalist and historian of warfare.

For all of the above reasons, veterans and security experts and politicians of all parties have begun working together to avoid the worst.

Our choice today is clear. We can continue listening to the voices of denial and delay and disinformation, assuring that everyone ultimately becomes a veteran of the growing number of climate-related conflicts. Or we can launch a WWII-scale effort and a WWII-style effort to address the problem as Dr. James Hansen and I and many others have called for. That is our most necessary fight today.


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