Friday, June 17, 2011

China's New Climate, And Yours

Southern China has been enduring the worst drought in half a century but not any longer.   Now the region is inundated by flood waters, it's newly engorged rivers, including the Yangtze, overflowing their banks.   550,000 people have already been relocated and further areas are expected to be evacuated.

Television channels that were only recently broadcasting images of dried-up lake beds are now carrying footage of flooded homes and boats plying their way through inundated streets. China Daily said 550,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

The dramatic shift is in line with weather trends identified by the Beijing Climate Centre, which says rain is coming in shorter, fiercer bursts, interspersed by protracted periods of drought.

...Monitoring stations on 40 rivers have recorded water levels above the safety limit, including Asia's biggest waterway – the Yangtze – which is simultaneously suffering a flood downstream and a drought closer to its source.

This alternating "flood & drought" cycle appears to be setting in around the world from Asia to the United States, in Britain, in Europe and in parts of Latin America.  Other areas such as the Middle East, Russia and Africa seem to be spared the flooding but impacted by severe drought.

Just a few years ago the changes that are happening today were merely predictions of what might arrive in 2030 or 2050 - decades down the road.  Those warnings, that the bought and paid for denialists slammed as alarmist, now are shown to have been unduly optimistic, almost rosey.

What's yet to come?  Who knows?  We're only beginning to discover how mankind will respond to these changes.  We didn't foresee how the food price impacts of climate change would translate into popular revolt in the Arab world.  We're starting to witness the onset of climate migration, so far mainly out of Africa into Europe.  Perhaps much sooner than expected, the United States will have to fortify and defend its border with Mexico and its vulnerable Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic coastlines as populations in Central America flee the ecological devastation of their homelands.  The Pentagon is very much alive to this reality.

And then there is the United States itself.  In the course of this century, climate change is expected to render some heavily populated regions of the US less habitable.   The East and Gulf coasts are particularly susceptible to sea level rise and the associated problem of storm surges.  As areas like parts of Florida dry up it tends to give rise to seawater inundation, contaminating what had been fresh groundwater resources.   The combined effect of these various impacts is predicted to be internal displacement of a portion of the American population.  People are going to have to be relocated which is a considerable social and economic burden for a nation already debt ridden.   This is not a nation that will be inclined to absorb large scale climate migration out of Central America.

Eventually and quite probably within the next ten years, climate change together with associated environmental challenges, will dominate the political agenda even here in Canada.   By all indications that won't be a transition of choice.  No political party in Canada, save the Greens, really takes this problem seriously and we (particularly our children and grandchildren) may pay dearly for their gross negligence.   This is one of those potentially existential challenges that, when you fall behind, proves enormously difficult to ever again catch up.


Anonymous said...

Why isn't the Canadian media covering any of this?

I understand they can't have a story on every bad thing that happens in the world, but half a million people being relocated is a big deal.

Worse, with floods and droughts worldwide, why doesn't the media cover the world's changing climate?

Why don't they even cover how food & food prices will be affected by floods or droughts in the food-producing areas of the globe? This CBC article, as an example, blames speculators for rising food prices, promotes further regulation as some sort of holy grail, and seems not at all concerned with the impact to Canadians.

The Mound of Sound said...

The Canadian media are relatively dormant on climate change, asleep at the wheel. There is a sort of repetitiveness about it - how many times have there been stories about Arctic ice melting faster than forecast. We get those stories because we keep underestimating the event but after a while they do blur.

Speculators are indeed contributing immensely to global food prices but they'll game any commodity they sense is less than secure. It's what they do and it's insanely predatory and inevitably inflicts an awful lot of suffering on the most vulnerable. They ought to take the brokers at Goldman and force them for a year or two to live with and eat like the families who suffer at their hands. That would cure the speculation problem rather quickly.

The UN released a study today that indicated soaring food prices have very little effect on improving supply.

We also need to stay conscious of "landscape amnesia." This happens when we forget what normal looked like sometimes just a few years earlier. Man has a tendancy to see the present as "normal". This is akin to how you boil a frog by starting with a pot of cold water.