Water and food security

September 13, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

StoppingI attended a talk the other day by Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia. He talked about his recent experiences in Ethiopia and climate change in general. He talked about how the future, unless we act fast, will be one of skirmishes over food and water.

And a report is now suggesting that the global cost of adapting to climate change could be at least 2–3 times more than the previous estimate from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (which was between US$49 billion and $171 billion from 2030).

I’ve blogged about this many times before. We all need to be turning our minds to coping in a world with scarce water and diminishing food supplies. South Africa is expected to run out of available water reserves by 2025; one quarter of the planet’s population could be affected by flooding due to warming in the Arctic outstripping predictions; and Australia will literally be toast. Climate change scientists are predicting that Australia’s temperature will increase more than the average global temperature rise with more days over 35 degrees C. This will be accompanied by water shortages, due to evaporation, and loss of biodiversity.  August has seen very warm weather in NSW and Queensland for example. The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this is almost certainly going to be the hottest August on record.

Climate change will alter where people can find water, grow food and live. And the result of this will be “forced” migration as people search for water and food and communities (and possibly nations) will be in conflict over dwindling natural resources.

Pause: if you don’t belive in global warming, this is the time to buzz off to another blog.

Climate change has contributed to social insecurity before. Temperature shifts of even a few degrees can lead to conflict gradually over the long term. Modern humans, for example, moved into Europe, pushing Neanderthals into the northern part of the continent where colder temperatures (and clashes with humans) led to Neanderthals being kaput. Theories suggest that climate change, leading to warmer weather in Europe, triggered the interaction of human societies with Neanderthals.

Peasant revolts occured in China, between 700 and 900 AD, due to weak summer monsoons that failed to develop over the Pacific Ocean. Crops failed to grow and intrastate conflict weakened, and eventually led to the complete collapse of, the Tang Dynasty.

Diminished long-term rainfall patterns around 860 AD led to crop failures for the Mayans and warming temperatures (along with Spanish conquistadors and other factors) led to skirmishes within the Mayan empire and its eventual demise.

So wars and conflicts have historic links to climate change. By 2050, I can imagine a world nothing like we have now. Perhaps only a quarter of the estimated 9.2 billion people in 2050 will have clean water, regular food and a secure pension (Government pensions will surely be kaput as nations struggle to finance the affects of climate change and the long-term fallout from the GFC stimulus packages).

I’ve been reading various reports on what our future world will be like – it’s not pretty, especially when it comes to community and national security. I thought I’d share these resources with you and encourage you to read them so that you can start to think (if you’re not already) about how to protect yourself and your family.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s report on rising temperatures and rising tensions is a must read. Also their report on climate change and security in Africa (Africa surely must be the canary in the coal mine).

The International Food Policy Research Institute has a number of useful resources on climate change. You can download discussion papers, powerpoint presentations and watch webcasts. Two focus briefs I found of particular interest – Adaptation to Climate Change and Climate Change in Africa: Key Facts & Findings.

The International Food Policy Research Institute will be launching a new study in Bangkok in late September entitled “Addressing Climate Change in the Asia and Pacific Region: Building Climate Resilience in the Agriculture Sector”.  The study warns that by 2050, if we keep going with our stupid ways, the yields of irrigated crops in South Asia will decrease significantly – maize (-17%), wheat (-12%) and rice (-10%) – because of climate change-induced heat and water stress. The result? Food scarcity will lead to higher prices and reduced caloric intake across the region.

The question will be how do we adapt and cope in this rather frightening future? Will genetically-modified crops be bred, which can withstand hotter temperatures and how safe will these GM crops be? Will the planet groan under the sheer weight of 9+ billion people by 2050 (I’ve also predictions of 11 billion)?  Will we be forced to secure our land and homes from waves of forced migrants seeking out water and food?

Entry filed under: Climate Change, Future predictions, global warming, Social problems, Useful resources. Tags: .

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