Best teaching tool I have seen on climate change in a while… check it out.

I am going to Amazon to buy the book.

Hat Tip: Dot Earth

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Global warming is mostly due to human-induced actions and it’s been going on for about 1300 years now. At this point, it’s more than the extinction of species and low quality crops, it’s accompanying national tension over water supply and serious health-related impacts. Are the words prevention or mitigation too late to be used at this stage of global warming?

To answer this question, it is interesting to look at how individual nations are coping. As examples, we wanted to look at the climate change situation in our own countries — Mexico and South Korea.

The impact of climate change on South Korea can be seen in a variety of ways. Chungcheong Province has suffered from red tides, exacerbated by climate change, which not only reduce the amount of freshwater, but also kills fish and harms beach-goers. Climate change is also contributing to increasing numbers of heat waves which are especially damaging to people with heart, respiratory disease, diabetes and high blood pressure and the number of malaria patients has increased 400 times within 3 years.

South Korea is also one of the biggest victims of the ‘Asian brown haze.’ It is mentioned as a semi-permanent feature in Dupont’s study on the strategic impact of climate change, but I can say for sure that it has become a permanent phenomenon. Dust from China flies over to Korea (usually Seoul) and flies around for 2~3 days, and within this period, cars are covered in dust as if they haven’t been used for 10 years, and if it were to rain, it would be more like raining mud.

Finally, Korea has been known for its 4 distinct seasons, but this has become an old story now. Spring and fall has vanished for about two years now. Temperature has risen from an average of -5~2 degrees to 18~20 degrees in just two days. Korean research reports have shown that even if countries fully engage in reducing greenhouse gas emission, temperature will continue to rise on an average of 2 degrees each year and that the only way to cope with the abnormal temperature change is to get used to it.

The South Korean government, in order to act against global warming, has created an environmental group call the ‘Korea Green Foundation.’ Yet, many in South Korea are still unaware of the seriousness of global warming and are blaming China for the yellow dust phenomenon.

In the case of Mexico, the most vulnerable regions are the Central and Lerma-Chapala-Santiago Basin because the predicted increase in temperature coupled with a decrease in rainfall could cause severe water supply shortages in those regions. Northern areas and regions with large populations are vulnerable to droughts and desertification, while the Tabasco State Coast is supposed to be the most vulnerable to sea level changes. Northern and Central regions are also vulnerable in agricultural sector because the different temperature and precipitation changes; and finally forests are the most vulnerable ecosystems throughout the country.

SEMARNAT (the Mexican government branch that is in charge of taking care of environmental and natural resources) will seek to promote President Felipe Calderon’s proposal to create a Green Fund to finance green-house gas reduction projects. Also, several movements by national organizations to control vehicle pollution by working to improve car maintenance have been launched. Like South Korea, Mexico has no mitigation targets under Kyoto, but has agreed to play a more active role in the post Kyoto world since it believes that “Latin America and the Caribbean have the resources and leadership to be part of the global solution required to lead the world towards development with low carbon emission”

Human security in both countries has been threatened by extreme weather events linked to climate change. In Mexico, Wilma (2005) wrecked havoc with more than 30 dead and with economic damages of 29 million dollars approximately. In South Korea, an East Asian heat wave in 1994 affected over 1000 people in the region. The Shanshan Typhoon (2006) had more than 100 mm of rain and knocked out electricity to about four thousand homes in southeastern of South Korea.

When we look at these two countries, both of whom rank high on the human development index, yet neither of whom have implemented any serious greenhouse gas mitigation programs to date, we wonder whether it is too late to use the term ‘prevention’? Is it even possible to clean up after this mess?

Patty (Mexico) and Jenna (South Korea)

Sources:

“The Strategic Implications of Climate Change,” Alan Dupont

Korea.net News http://www.korea.net/News/news/NewsView.asp?serial_no=20060726017&part=109&SearchDay=
http://www.korea.net/news/News/NewsView.asp?serial_no=20080102019&part=115&SearchDay=

“If we behave as if its too late, then our prophecy is bound to come true” George Monbiot
EPA. Climate change. Retrieved on April 2nd from:

Conde, Cecilia; Gay, Carlos. “Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability in Mexico” (September-October 1999) Retrieved on April 2nd, 2009 from: http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/newsletter/1999.10/Mexico.html

Mexico’s Involvement in Efforts to Combat Climate Change (Monday, December 15, 2008) Retrieved on April 2nd from: http://mexidata.info/id2098.html and

Red tide spreads over west coast (July27, 2006) Retrieved on April 2nd from: http://www.korea.net/News/news/NewsView.asp?serial_no=20060726017&part=109&SearchDay=

Dot Earth had a good post recently about one US family’s quest to reduce their energy consumption by 80% (to around 2000 watts per person), without radically decreasing their standard of living. A 2000 watt target (based on a Swiss target called the 2,000 Watt Society) would mean that their energy output would equal the world average per capita output — helping them to contribute to their goal of insuring that families in the developed world would be consuming the same amount of energy as those in the developing world.

The [Hager Family] seek to prove that personal choices matter. Here’s their query to you:  Hello from Oregon — We’re a family of five in Eugene, involved in rehabbing an older, inner-city house for maximum energy efficiency. We were inspired by the 2,000 Watt Society in Switzerland, and are hoping to cut our per-capita energy use down by 80 percent or so, to a globally sustainable level — without losing a lot of quality of life. I guess you could say we’re … seeking single-family, real-world contributions to big environmental problems. Please let us know if you’re involved in similar efforts (you can track our family blog at thinhouse.net ).

Could you do it?  Use the ECo2 calculator here to determine your own energy consumption.  I roughly estimated my family’s to be around 7000 watts per person (air travel was a real killer for us), so we too would have to reduce by about 70-80% to hit the 2000 watt mark.  Could we do it?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  2000w might not be possible, but 4000w certainly would be.  It would be expensive in the short run to “retool” our lives to make this shift, but over the long run I think it might improve our overall quality of living.

Is this the best path to follow?  According to the American Enterprise Institute’s calculations here, it would be economically devastating if everyone in the US economy engaged in such massive energy reductions.   While I find their quality of life arguments to be weak (living in smaller houses/flats, driving/ flying less, reducing mindless consumption would improve quality of life in my view), I do worry about the impact on employment opportunities if overall consumption dropped dramatically.  Yes, a “green new deal” might help restructure the economy to maintain sustainable rates of growth and employment over the long run, but in the short run it could be economically very painful and the short run could very well coincide with much of your your own life.   Rather than cutting our own consumption to benefit the next generation, are we better off simply saving a chunk of money for the next generation to use as they see fit (i.e. building typhoon-proof houses on stilts)?

— LMC

Long Time No Sea

April 1, 2009

This case study shows that the cause of climate change is not limited to emissions of greenhouse gases; it is also highly related to our attitude and the way we treat natural resources. The Kyoto Protocol has spotted out the main causes of climate change, but reducing emission of greenhouse gases alone cannot solve the problem of global climate change. Over the past few weeks, we saw that over-exploitation of natural resources can result in important threats towards human security, potentially in the form of violent conflicts: “As the world population grows, its escalating resource needs place ever-increasing pressure on land. This creates conflicts among competing user groups, and often results in adverse impacts both to the land and to its living and non-living resources.” But over-exploitation can also lead to climate change, a truly global phenomenon.

We have discussed water scarcity two weeks ago, and we are discussing climate change this week. But did you know that  water itself can have an impact on climate change? This week, we are going to share a real story on climate change, called “Long time no sea”. The “sea” we are talking about is the Aral Sea in Central Asia, an inland sea lying between southern Kazakhstan and northwest Uzbekistan. Once the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea has been shrinking for the last 40 years because of diversion of its two sources, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya Rivers. By 2007, the Aral Sea had declined to 10% of its original size and split into three separate lakes. Please click here to see how the size of the sea decreased from the 1960s. 

 

The reason for “long time no sea” was the over-pumping of water for cotton and rice production, causing the remaining water to become highly salinated. As a result, not only did the “sea’s” 24 species of freshwater fish die out, even fishing boats found themselves marooned in the middle of a desert !! The Kazakh and Uzbek had to say goodbye to their beach, harbour and fishing industry. But there is more to it.

 

As water plays an important role in regulating the climate system,  over-pumping has resulted in distortions in the climate: “with the reduction of the Aral Sea’s size, the surrounding climate has changed, becoming more continental with shorter, hotter, rainless summers and longer, colder, snowless winters. The growing season has been reduced to an average of 170 days a year, while dust storms rage on more than 90 days annually.” The IPCC also suggests that the drying off process and subsequent desertification and salinization of soils resulted in a temperature increase of 1.5 C within 100-150 km of the edge of the sea.  The reason behind this is that “The temperature of ocean helps regulate the amount of carbon dioxide released or absorbed into the water“. Although we may think that 1.5 C is minimal, it can cause serious impacts to the ecosystem including human lives – e.g. the dust storms which are undoubtedly threats towards human security. 

 

You may be wondering: “Where was the international community?”. Actually, the international community did take actions, but it was too late already: “There have been international and worldwide studies done on the Aral Sea and many different organizations and people have tried various ways to keep the flow of water directed into the Aral Sea. However, it comes down to the fact that it seems it is too late for anything to be done“.

 

Therefore, Human Security advocates should not limit themselves at pressuring the USA to sign up the Kyoto Protocol in the coming climate change conference; they also work to ensure that our natural resources are properly used. It undoubtedly requires collaboration within the international community. While poorer developing countries rely heavily on natural resources to produce primary commodities and maintain their living standard, they may not have enough knowledge and technology to manage their natural resources. Action should be taken as early as possible by the international community or other cases of “long time no sea’ will keep repeating, resulting in an accelerated rate of climate change…

 

By Tong Yui Wa Andy & Yu Wai Yan Becky

If you would like to know more about how Aral Sea is going on, you can look at this article for the recent projects to save the sea! 

chinagreenlogo

The Asia Society has a new video documentary on the environmental challenges facing the Tibetan plateau, which may, as the excerpt below illustrates, have a profound impact on regional water supplies.

As the source of most of the major river systems in Asia from China to Pakistan, including the Yellow, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Indus, the Tibetan Plateau has become an epicenter of crisis. With the retreating of its glaciers – what glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has called the “fresh water bank account” of Asia – rivers and lakes have started running lower, pastures have become drier, deserts larger, weather patterns more unpredictable. Indeed, the whole ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau and its hinterland are now slipping toward a catastrophic environmental disaster which will have continental implications far beyond the plateau itself.

Human security students should take the time to at least browse through this site, as our modules on water resources in Asia and climate change are directly related.

The AFP ran a funny piece about the obtuseness of the language used in global climate policy discussions

If you don’t understand the following sentence about on-going climate policy negotiations in Poland this week, click here for a clever translation.

The BINGOs are at odds with the TUNGOs and the RINGOs over the NAMAs and the NAPAs. RFUK is concerned about what REDD is going to do to PAM. But at least the SIDS are keen on LULUCF.

(Hat Tip: Climate News Headlines)

earth

Andrew Revkin has a recent post in his “Dot Earth” blog where he argues that “climate change is not the story of our time.”

Q. Obviously climate change is the biggest story on your plate right now, but looking ahead what do you see?

A.
My coverage has evolved. Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory — not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite — how can we make a transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.

And it’s a story about conflict. It’s a story about the fact that there are a billion teenagers on planet earth right now. A hundred thirty years ago there were only a billion people altogether — grandparents, kids. Now there are a billion teenagers and they could just as easily become child soldiers and drug dealers as innovators and the owners of small companies in favelas in Brazil. And little tweaks in their prospects, a little bit of education, a little bit of opportunity, a micro loan or something, something that gets girls into schools, those things — that’s the story of our time. And climate change is like a symptom of the story of our time, meaning our energy choices right now come with a lot of emissions of greenhouse gases and if we don’t have a lot of new [choices] we’re going to have a lot of warming.

Have we reached the earth’s capacity?   To think through that question, I recommend Bill McKibben’s 1998 Atlantic article, “A Special Moment in History.” In my view, its becoming increasingly difficult to believe that technology and human ingenuity will save us.  That said, I know that in my own life and those of most people I know in the US, UK and China, there remains plenty of room to conserve and contribute.  Moreover, in parts of the world where there is severe environmental degradation, political conflict and economic hopelessness, there remain many reasons to hope for a better future — among them, acts of heroism and generosity, educational innovation, technological advancement, social entrepreneurship, new political leaders, and a growing sense of global obligation.  Despite our mistakes, I still believe that we can work to insure that my children and their generation will have the space to flourish.