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Climate Change: Why We're in Trouble
In future, we will pray for it to rain on our parade... or what's left of it
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2008-06-20 11:41 (KST)   
The author would like to invite his global readership to leave comments how climate change is affecting their part of the world.  <Editor's Note>
Is there life on Mars? Simple answer: No. How do I know? Well, if you look at images of the planet, images of the landscape, and even microscopic images, it's not difficult to escape that conclusion. Mars is just rustic dust. It's amusing to speculate if there is life on a planet so far away when we are rapidly exterminating life on our own planet -- and rapidly turning it into a sterile dust bowl.

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Satellite photos of Earth present a vibrant and beautiful contrast to Mars. There is an atmosphere for one, filled with twirling systems. There are continents separated by vast blue seas, and these continents are covered in grasses and trees, whole cities teeming with the traffic of life. Life on Earth is obvious, but no less amazing.

Many people may honestly believe it is an exaggeration to compare life on Earth to Mars. In fact, some have hypothesized that bacterial life arose on Mars and arrived on Earth deeply embedded in space rock or dust. When life took root here, for reasons we're unsure of, they came to an end on mars. Beyond these debates, are the more obvious changes; we can see them from space. The deserts of our world are advancing. And most of the sophisticated models we have to work with predict a future for our world that is simply this: hot and dry.

All Things Are Connected

Many writers and experts that mock the notion of climate change have gained a wide following amongst people who'd rather not add climate change to a grocery list of concerns. And it is a perfectly reasonable question -- why care about climate change when there are apparently far more urgent issues to deal with -- principally fuel and food crisis. The reason is simple. While many human beings might have forgotten this, nevertheless we live in a closed system, and a highly connected system at that.

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Climate Change Crisis Most Important

My two earlier articles on why we're in trouble both allude to climate change. Many may be surprised to hear that the fuel crisis is less of a crisis than food, and food is less of a crisis than climate change. Climate change underlies and drives both. Climate change is also very difficult to affect once the forces of change are in motion.

Fuel is a good place to start. How to we consume and use fuel? How can we operate differently? Fuel is a good place to start because it will help us solve our food crisis; it will help us learn to live properly again, find ways to connect to and resuscitate organic systems. Climate change, and its associated impacts, are really moving to produce a singular bottom line for our species: starvation.

Cloudy Outlook

Human beings are not very good at subtlety. We are programmed right now by cause and effect. If we don't see immediate results or reactions, we don't see a relationship. If we (the media, but also individuals soliciting attention -- from friends or from the opposite sex) cannot immediately find an audience of supporters, we feel our broadcasts are meaningless, and change them, or adapt them, or give up altogether.

Lighthouse Analogy

Here's what's wrong with sucking up to popular culture. Imagine you are a lighthouse, built for the purposes of warning ships about the rocky coastline. One day you find the weather is fine, and there are no ships on the horizon. Do you then decide, on the basis of one day, one afternoon, that your life has no purpose. For that particular moment it might not. But circumstances change, contexts change.

In the same way, it is hard for people to imagine what possible impact climate change might have on them, when their experience of climate is very limited. Air conditioning and heaters (and fossil fuels help provide the succour of both) cushion us from unseasonably hot or cold weather. In citadels like Dubai office workers can ski indoors while outdoor temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius. Workers enjoy cool office environments, climb in air conditioned cars, and go home to cool air conditioned homes. This bubble existence is a luxury that few can afford, and it is a temporary blip on the radar of human existence.

Farmers Feel the Affects

Climate change is real. Those people who feel it, those that are affected directly by climate change are farmers and the rural poor (mostly subsistence farmers). They notice a direct impact not only in extreme weather, but in the sheer variability of it. Farmers need to anticipate rain and frost, and this has become increasingly tricky as spring arrives earlier and earlier, and unseasonal rain and frost plays havoc with harvesting. The fact is world grain stores are at record lows and crop prices at record highs. This alone ought to be enough.

Personally I believe that world travelers (especially those who spent a handful of years in different countries) develop a more accurate understanding of how conditions are changing on the ground all over the world. I have discovered this in both Korea and South Africa.

Worldwide Problem

TheOilDrum.com's Eugene Linden writes:
"... drought is afflicting parts of the Southeast [USA], it is also been affecting the Southwest, northern Mexico, parts of Spain, and Greece. In the southern hemisphere, Australia is still suffering the worst drought in its history, New Zealand has suffered cuts in hydroelectric power because of lack of water, and Chile is in its worst drought in 50 years. In fact an entire swath around the world in subtropical and Mediterranean latitudes has been in various stages of drought since the late 1990s...[and just]one significant contributing factor to soaring wheat prices has been the ongoing drought in Australia, which is one of the world's breadbaskets. A factor putting upwards pressure on copper prices has been the drought in Chile, which has reduced hydroelectric power generation and imposed limits on mine operations in one of the world's largest copper producing regions."
Linden goes on to describe the research of Dr. Richard Seager, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. Seager's research shows a model where moist air shifts towards the poles, wet areas become wetter, and dry areas drier. Most of the subtropics and Mediterranean regions suffer long term if not permanent desiccation.

Other Converging Catastrophes

Climate change is more than just temperature differences. Diseases begin to operate in new areas, causing all sorts of unforeseen outbreaks and problems with regard to control and countermeasures. Malaria spreads based on temperature and rainfall. And diseases like West Nile are increasingly appearing in new areas. Another problem is insect pests emerging in areas where floral habitats were never supposed to suffer their presence. Long term habitats for humans and other creatures become unsustainable, and the movements and migrations of people leads to strains on resources in other areas, leading to large scale conflict. And finally, water resources. How will these change?

Observe Your World

My observations around the world demonstrate that all these changes are clearly well underway. In Johannesburg we are already experiencing unusually wet weather year round, and temperatures in summer are milder than usual, winters are also warmer than usual. In a city just 400 kilometers away, where I lived most of my life, the opposite is happening. It is becoming hotter than ever, and even drier. In South Korea and parts of China (subtropical areas) it's the same -- hotter and drier. In Mediterranean areas (winter rainfall) like California, Australia and South Africa's Western Cape, there have been incredibly dry conditions leading to runaway fires.

The Threat of Fire

Fire is a tremendous threat to the fragile balance that exists in the world's carbon sync. Fires in the Amazon burn unabated as more and more land is cleared to grow soya (since America has set aside their own land to grow biofuels, and do the market for soya has now increased for countries like Brazil).

There are naturally those who want to continue to argue whether climate change is happening in the first place, and then whether human beings have anything to do with it. It is interesting to observe after Hurricane Katrina and the current Midwest floods, how scientists were initially very quick to dismiss human culpability. As these severe large scale disruptions (which are comparable to the impacts of Weapons of Mass Destruction) occur more frequently, there is less and less sense of the irrelevance of Nature. That is not enough.

No Cake to Eat Analogy

An imperfect analogy for our psychology -- in terms of doing something (the lighthouse example represents the importance of subtlety) -- is finding two children in a kitchen, with a birthday cake flattened on the floor between them. Both children blame one another, but the issue is that someone is going to experience the pain of a birthday without a birthday cake. It doesn't matter how it happened. What matters is starting the job of baking a new cake. And that involves cleaning up the mess - however it was made. Naturally, when we begin to clean the mess, we have to take ownership of the problems that cause it (otherwise our work may end up smashed and sullied on the floor).

Is there life on Earth? If you're reading this, probably there is intelligent life! But for how much longer? That depends on how we respond, right now, to what we are doing and what is happening to our world. Do we get to work, or remain lazily reactive, hoping it will all go away and some solution will fall out of the sky alongside Jiminy Cricket, Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? One of the first ways to respond is simply to start thinking and talking about this topic. Search for the truth, and when you find it, share it.

On OhmyNews I have in the past invited contributors to note their concerns -- in their regions -- of how climate change is affecting their communities. I once again want to call upon all those reading this message, to begin communicating the local impacts of climate change, so we can begin to form a consensus on what is happening, how serious it is, and where to go from here.

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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