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Introduction ............................................................................................................................................................ 1 Climate Change or Global Warming? ............................................................................................................. 3 Lovelock and Gaia ............................................................................................................................................ 3 Climate Change, Temperature, and CO2 .................................................................................................. 9 Is the Debate Really Over? .............................................................................................................................. 16 Where Do We Go From Here? ....................................................................................................................... 20 Bangladesh ........................................................................................................................................................... 21 Geographic Location .................................................................................................................................... 23 Physiography .................................................................................................................................................. 23 Natural Disasters ........................................................................................................................................... 24 Causes of Natural Disasters .................................................................................................................. 26 Rainfall and Drought .......................................................................................................................... 28 Cyclones ................................................................................................................................................... 29 The Effects of Climate change ......................................................................................................... 29 Ice Caps, Glaciers, and Sea Levels ............................................................................................. 29 Changes in Rainfall and Flooding.............................................................................................. 31 Wasted Water and Floods............................................................................................................ 34 Flooding – A Man-made Disaster: BANGLADESH & Bihar .............................................. 37 Global Warming and Biodiversity ........................................................................................................... 42 Climate Change and Plant Migration ..................................................................................................... 46 Global Warming and Water ....................................................................................................................... 47 Droughts....................................................................................................................................................... 50 Hunger ..................................................................................................................................................... 53 The Future ............................................................................................................................................................ 55 Works Cited .......................................................................................................................................................... 57 An Invitation ........................................................................................................................................................ 64
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As a boy growing up in Michigan, I was the beneficiary of a wide range of habitats. Behind my home were hay fields, the ‘woods,’ and the ‘swamp.’ Across the road from my home was ‘the lake.’ Together they were the perfect venue for a boy growing up. My entire world, at the time, revolved around my rural hamlet, a lakeside summer escape for many urbandwellers. After decades of wandering around the country and world, for the sake of schooling and employment, I returned to my hometown. The hometown I had known was gone, replaced by apartment complexes and mercantiles. Gone were the fields behind my home – now the land was filled with new homes, landscaped thoroughfares, and manicured lawns. The ‘woods,’ where I had explored and hunted, was just a remnant of its former self. The swamp, where I had collected frog eggs and tadpoles, was now high and dry. The lake was ‘down.’ My hometown had grown into a bedroom community for a city that had always seemed ‘so very far away.’ In reality, it was only 10 miles away, but as a youth, it seemed so much farther. With advent of the interstate, it was a fifteen minute drive. Now, it took less time to drive to the city than it had taken me to walk to school, a trip I had made twice a day for the better part of my youth. I had not given my hometown environment a lot of thought, and as a young man, I had not even contemplated it ever really changing. Over the 30+ years that had intervened between my departure and return, everything about my hometown had changed. It was no longer the quaint lakeside community I had enjoyed during my ‘growing-up years.’ I began to process and analyze the changes. In the final analysis, the sociological changes I saw were
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inevitable. The environmental changes may have been inevitable as well but they seemed more profound. While we generally see environmental change as the by-product of ‘development,’ I have come to the belated conclusion that, while Humankind Mankind1 has wrought a certain amount of havoc on the environment, we are not alone. As human beings, we have lulled or deluded ourselves into the belief that we are the primary agents of change on the face of the Earth through the aegis of technology.2 This attitude, especially strong in Western civilization, has been with us since at least Medieval times, and that egotism has roots that undoubtedly extend back to well before the Greeks.3 It is time to accept the fact that we are not alone in changing the face of the Earth. I am not sure I can fully subscribe to the notion that Earth is somehow a sentient entity, as some would have us believe, or something akin to James Cameron’s Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. However, I do completely agree that to try and somehow ‘take the Earth out of the equation’ is nothing less than hubris on Mankind’s part. There is a cliché that goes: You cannot fool Mother Nature. Cliché or not, there is an abundance of truth in that statement. Earth has been regulating itself for billions of years, responding to cataclysmic events, such as asteroid and comet impacts, as well as volcanic eruptions and their consequences. Within the context of geologic time, Mankind has existed less than a blink of an eye but during that brief time, we have successfully undone much of what it took millions of years for Earth to do on her own. As a young man, I did not see, nor did I feel, the rhythmic pulsations of the Earth but time and experience have made me aware, or at least a bit more sensitive. Viewed from space, our planet is unique. It is blue – a water rich world. For me, however, and possibly even more important, it is surrounded with a protective layer we call the atmosphere, a gossamer layer. I have come to see the atmosphere as being much like what the New Agers call one’s aura. It pulses, expands and contracts, changes colors, and illuminates, all in response to what is happening on the Earth’s surface or in response to the space that surrounds it. It may not be a sentient, living being but it is dynamic, oftentimes exhibiting lifelike responses to the pressures and stresses placed on it. It is alive and responsive, and seems to have the capacity to regulate itself. Presently, Earth is in a life or death struggle with the human race, a battle that Mankind will almost inevitably lose, just as so many other species have in the past.4
2 3 4
I am sorry but Humankind just does not sound right. It’s like ‘personhole cover’ for manhole cover. We just don’t have to be that politically correct and Mankind is neither sexist nor pejorative in my mind. See (Thomas, Willam L., Jr., (ed), 1956 ). See (Rorabacher, 1973). (Raup, 1991) suggests that the flora and fauna that form today’s biodiversity are but a microscopic remnant of all the life forms that once inhabited Earth, and may represent just 0.1% of all the species that ever lived. Thus, 99.9% if all the life that has existed on Earth is now extinct.
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OUR WATER RICH HOME - EARTH
CLIMATE CHANGE OR GLOBAL WARMING?
There is no longer any legitimate debate over whether or not climate change is real. That stage of the problem has become a closed book. The two sides to that discussion have ignored one another’s arguments, each citing ‘their’ evidence; and based on the political support for the global warming advocates, there is no doubt that global warming now enjoys the status of undeniable truth. It is now a fact, gospel. The question, then, is what can be done about it? Based on the number of worldwide forums, conferences, and summits, each spewing out heady reports, statements, accords and protocols, one would think that everyone would have subscribed to the notion that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic and reversible change. There can be no doubt that it will be cataclysmic. The only real question is whether it is reversible. LOVELOCK AND GAIA James Lovelock suggests that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth are closely integrated to form a complex interacting system that maintains the climatic and biogeochemical conditions on Earth in a preferred homeostasis.5 This idea is frequently de5
(Lovelock, 2006). See also, (Lovelock, 2009).
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scribed as viewing the Earth as a single organism. Lovelock and other supporters of this line of thinking now call it the Gaia theory, regarding it as a scientific theory and not merely a hypothesis, since they believe it has passed the required predictive tests.6
JAMES LOVELOCK AND GAIA
Under Gaia, Earth behaves much as if it were a single, self-regulating system or organism, with physical, chemical, biological, and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability. Human activities have significantly influenced Earth's environment in many ways. Anthropogenic changes to Earth's land surface, oceans, coasts and atmosphere and to biological diversity, the water cycle and biogeochemical cycles are clearly identifiable beyond natural variability. They are equal to some of the greatest forces of nature in their extent and impact. Many are accelerating. Global change is real and is happening now. Best guess estimates place the age of Earth at around 4.5 billion years. Until very recently, for billions of years, animal species evolved, most becoming extinct, continents drifted, there was a regular cycle of ice ages followed by warmer periods, global temperatures rose and fell, along with CO2 concentrations. These changes were gradual but incessant, taking thousands or millions of years to complete. The pace of these changes, at least for plants and animals, quickened as Man’s technology evolved. In the last 5 – 10,000 years, the pattern of vegetation and faunal species extinctions has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. This pattern of extinctions is contemporaneous with the rise of animal and plant domestication – animal husbandry and agriculture. As the only species capable of destroying the planet, we have an obligation to try to protect every surviving species that occupies it. We are left with a fraction of all the life forms that
(Lovelock, 2009), p. 7.
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once occupied the planet. For every species going extinct, including humans, it is because of our unbridled activity and not because of any other natural process. The maintenance of Earth’s biodiversity is essentially maintaining life on Earth, as we know it. Its maintenance, its conservation, is a prerequisite for sustainable development and, for this reason; it constitutes one of the greatest challenges of our time.
OUR CONCERN FOR BIODIVERSITY HAS BOTH A PHILOSOPHICAL AS WELL AS A PRAGMATIC BASIS. PHILOSOPHICALLY, BIODIVERSITY IS SIMPLY WORTH PROTECTING REGARDLESS OF ITS VALUE OR UTILITY TO HUMANS, BECAUSE IT IS INTRINSICALLY VALUABLE. ALL SPECIES HAVE THE INHERENT RIGHT TO SURVIVE. HUMANS ARE A PART OF THE TAPESTRY OF NATURE BUT WE HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PROTECT OR DESTROY IT. PRACTICALLY, IN THE PROCESS OF DESTROYING NATURE, WE WILL PUT OURSELVES AT RISK. THEREFORE, WE HAVE BOTH A PHILOSOPHICAL AND A PRACTICAL BASIS FOR ENSURING THE BIODIVERSITY OF THE PLANET. 7
Global change cannot be understood in terms of a simple cause-and-effect paradigm, however. Human-driven changes cause multiple effects that have impacts throughout the Earth’s many layers of life. These effects interact with one another, with local- and regionalscale changes in multidimensional patterns that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to predict. Human activities may have inadvertently triggered such changes with severe consequences for Earth's environment and its inhabitants. Earth has operated in different states over the last half million years, with abrupt transitions (a decade or less) sometimes occurring between them. Human activity has the potential to change this pattern and initiate alternative modes of operation that may prove irreversible and less hospitable to humans and other life forms. The probability of a human-driven abrupt change in Earth's environment has yet to be accurately and completely quantified but it is not negligible. In terms of some key environmental parameters, Earth has moved well outside the range of the natural variability exhibited over the last half million years, or so. The nature of those changes, now occurring simultaneously on Earth, are unprecedented. The Earth is currently operating in, what might be termed, a no-analogue state. Upon the urging of the Swedish climatologist, Bert Bolin, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body charged with evaluating the risk of climate change caused by human activity. Since its inception, thousands of scientists have been collecting and analyzing information regarding the ongoing changes in Earth’s atmosphere. Based on these data, the IPCC has issued four reports.8
See (Rorabacher, Hunger and Poverty in South Asia, 2010), pp. 288-293, passim. See, (IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (AR4), 2008), (IPCC, 2001: Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report (TAR), 2001), (IPCC Second Assessment Report: Climate Change 1995 (SAR), 1996), and (IPCC First Assessment Report 1990 (FAR), 1990).
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The original mandate of the IPCC read: Undertake in a comprehensive and objective manner, periodic assessments of the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of the risks of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.9 [Emphasis added]. The Australian delegation suggested the removal of the underlined portion of the original mandate. This change was later approved but not until after 21 years as the operating principle of the organization. The four (or five) words – the risks of human-induced – are pejorative. They herald the focus of the group’s efforts and reflect the presumption that humans are the cause of climate change. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the IPCC, whether intentionally or unintentionally, was predisposed to the acceptance of any information or data that supported this contention. In essence, the IPCC had formulated a self-fulfilling prophecy. The data collected in support of this premise, proved the assumption was correct and that this change is accelerating. The data, however, are not without their flaws. They are often contradictory and unreliable; and for this reason, they are not amenable to the formulation of clear-cut, absolute, and defensible theories, hypotheses, or policy statements. They do suggest, however, certain guesses regarding future of climate change. Lovelock states: But so far these guesses have been unable to match the observed changes in climate closely enough for us to be confident about IPCC forecasts decades into the future.10 Furthermore, current predictive models are not even able to model the past, for which we know the trends based on empirical data. This is because of what is now referred to as ‘post-normal science.’ Post-normal science followed on the heels of what Kuhn called ‘normal science.’11 Under normal science, scientists would go to their labs, perform their experiments, record their measurements, calculate their statistics, build their models, and then proceed on a particular path based on a well-established paradigm. Post-normal science, on the other hand, acknowledges that some groups want or need to know the answers well before normal science has resolved the inherent uncertainties surrounding them.12 Such groups have a stake in the outcome and want some way of dealing with the vast array of uncertainties that are not all equal in the degree of confidence they carry. Compared to applied science and professional consultancy, post-normal science carries both higher decision stakes and higher uncertainty.
(IPCC, 2007), p. 3. This document provides the original and suggested changes to the IPCC Terms of Reference, including changes to its original mission statement. 10 (Lovelock, 2009), p. 3. See, also, Figure 1, below. 11 (Kuhn, 1962). 12 See (Funtowicz, S.O. and J.R. Ravetz, 1993).
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Post-normal modelers inherently begin with certain assumptions about climate that they build into their models. For instance, the computers do not decide if CO2 is a more important to climate change than solar activity, dust, temperature, water vapor, etc. – the modelers, by the assumptions they determine to be most important, decide these things. The models return the result that CO2 is the most important driver of climate in the coming century because programmers built that assumption into the model, not because the model somehow sorts through different inputs and comes up with the key drivers on its own. Models, in general, become the tools of self-fulfilling prophecy – they predict what the programmer believes to be true. That is simply human nature. Future predictions based on the uncertainty of the future presents a much more difficult problem, especially when dealing with the complexity of Earth’s atmosphere. A similar situation obtained when The Limits to Growth was published in 1972.13 The book used an existing computer model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth's finite natural resources and Mankind. Five variables were examined in the belief that exponential growth accurately described their patterns of increase, and that the ability of technology to increase the availability of resources grows only linearly. The authors intended to explore the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among these five variables. The study at least initially, was heralded as a breakthrough in scholarship and computer modeling. Later, the study came under heavy scrutiny and criticism. Its conclusions were stunning. The book prophesized that the world would ultimately run out of many of its key resources. These limits would become the "ultimate" predicament for Mankind. The 30-year hence deadline “predicted” never materialized but its possibilities shook the economists and ecologists of the day. The Limits to Growth model had simply predicted what most ecologists – now generally called, environmentalists – believed would happen. Just like the Limits to Growth, the findings of the IPCC seem unsubstantiated and contradictory. It is difficult to make predictions with confidence in the absence of reliable and consistent data, especially when these predictions must be made in the present to preserve or prepare for the future. It is all the more difficult when our data do not mirror field observations or changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. Part of the problem with IPCC forecasts regarding climate change is that the IPCC: Operates under the authority of consensus, not as unbiased scientists. Bases its forecasts, not on empirically derived data but upon ever more sophisticated theoretical models. Has failed to predict current climatic conditions based on its research dating back to 1991.
(Meadows, Donella H., et. al., 1972)
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The IPCC operates and behaves like most panels. It is composed of individuals, nominated by governments, or their agencies, each with specific agendas. Hardcore science takes a back seat to the political and economic agendas and exigencies of the participating members. Steve Schneider, in his book The Patient from Hell, recounted his experience with the IPCC’s Working Group II Report of 2001.14 He described how scientific fact was manipulated, digested, and recast until it bore little or no resemblance to its original self. In the end, however, it did satisfy the national interests and agendas of the countries represented at the meeting. This is not science. It is political science. The quantification of everything from quantum particle mechanics through the social sciences, and almost every branch of the physical sciences, along with the increase in our computational capabilities, has ushered in a growing dependence upon the role of predictive statistics, or computer modeling of almost everything. The consequence of this increased capability is that fieldwork – data collection – is increasingly being replaced by computer models or inference. It will be admitted that, in many respects, computer models are easier and faster to create than raw data databases and simultaneously, oftentimes less expensive. Maintaining and sending a large field party out into the world has grown increasingly expensive and, in some case, politically and physically dangerous. The problem with this move toward computer modeling, over fieldwork, is that we are also removed from the reality of the situation – hands on experiences. Once insulated from reality and no longer dependent upon fieldwork, raw data collection requirements, computer models can be blind us to what is happening ‘in the real world.’ Most computer models define trend lines, rather than exact data points, which can be measured and verified. In computer simulations, we must deal with levels of confidence and statistical significance, which are analogous to the use, or misuse of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle outside quantum physics. We place unrealistic faith in computer modeled trend lines, assuming that the use of other sophisticated ‘statistical techniques,’ somehow creates useable data. Trend lines are approximations of what we believe to be happening in the real world. The question, then is, why do not the trend lines dealing with climate change reflect what is observable. Why, after so many Working Group reports and reports of findings, do we find almost no useful, accurate predictive models of what is happening in our atmosphere? See Figure 1.
MODELS OF THE PAST SHOULD COINCIDE PERFECTLY WITH OBSERVATION OR FIELD DATA FROM THE PAST. HOWEVER, MODEL TREND LINES CONTINUE TO FLUCTUATE AROUND THE DATA-DRIVEN ‘OBSERVED LINES.’
As referenced by (Lovelock, 2009), p. 8.
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FIGURE 1 – CLIMATE ATTRIBUTION15
While Earth has come under much more intense human intervention over the last century or so, two interrelated, phenomena have taken center stage in the discussions centering on climate change. These are changes in the Earth’s temperature regime and the increase in greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2), or just ‘carbon.’ We ‘believe’ we know what is happening but . . . . It has been assumed and predictive models suggest that the build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) has resulted in the rise in Earth’s average temperature. However, observational data simply do not support this contention and relationship over long periods. See Figure 1 and 2.
CLIMATE CHANGE, TEMPERATURE, AND CO2 Paleontological evidence suggests that throughout the Earth’s history, average temperatures, as well as CO2 levels have often been higher than at present. See Figures 3 and 5, below. Five hundred million years ago, CO2 was as much as 20 times more prevalent than today, decreasing to 4-5 times during the Jurassic and then slowly declining with a particularly swift reduction occurring 49 million years ago.16 It has been suggested, and is now an
(Jones, P.D. and Moberg, A., 2003) and (Meehl, G., et. al., 2004). See (Courses) and (Berner, Robert A. and Zavareth Kothavala, 2001).
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accepted ‘fact’ that human activity such as the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation have caused the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to increase by about 35% since the beginning of the Age of Industrialization.17 There are a few flaws in the industrialization argument: It is not supported by historical fact. During the so-called Holocene Maximum, temperatures were among the highest in geologic history. Compared to earlier and subsequent geologic periods, current levels of CO2 are substantially lower.18 CO2 in our atmosphere has been increasing steadily for the last 18,000 years, well before humans had invented smokestacks or internal combustion engines.19 Total human contributions to greenhouse gases account for only about 0.28% of the "greenhouse effect.”20 See Figure 2. Approximately 99.72% of the "greenhouse effect" is due to natural causes -mostly water vapor and traces of other gases, which man has no control over. Eliminating human activity altogether would have little impact on climate change.
THE IDEA THAT MAN-MADE POLLUTION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR GLOBAL WARMING CANNOT BE SUPPORTED BY HISTORICAL FACT, OR PROVEN EMPIRICALLY. THE HOTTEST PERIOD IN EARTH’S HISTORY -- THE HOLOCENE -- OCCURRED APPROXIMATELY 7500 TO 4000 YEARS BCE (BEFORE THE CURRENT ERA), LONG BEFORE HUMANS INVENTED INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION.
(NOAA, 2005) See (Bradley, 1990) for discussion of Holocene Maximum. The Holocene was followed by several thousands of years of global cooling. See (Dansgaard, W., et. al., 1969) and (Schönwiese, 1995). See (Pidwirny, 2009), Chapter 7. See also comment made by Henrik Svensmark, director of the Centre for SunClimate Research, Danish National Space Center, http://www.asinglevoice.us/Environment/GlobalWarming/GlobalWarmingResources/MarkLandsbaum.htm.
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FIGURE 2 – SOURCES OF GREENHOUSE GASES
Most scientists continue to subscribe to the belief that as CO2 levels increase, so must average temperatures, i.e., global warming. It has been suggested that the Earth has not experienced current levels of atmospheric CO2 in the last 2 million years.21 However, during earlier epochs, the Earth’s temperatures have been significantly higher than at present. In fact, until recent geologic time, the Earth’s average temperature had been falling, relative to earlier periods. See Figure 3.
FIGURE 3 -- CO2 VERSUS GLOBAL TEMPERATURE OVER THE PAST 600 MILLION YEARS22
Over the last 2.5 million years, our climate has experienced long ice ages regularly punctuated by brief warm periods called interglacials. These interglacial periods come along
(Paul N. Pearson & Martin R. Palmer, 2000) and (Koerth-Baker, 2009). Temperatures after (Scotese, 2002); CO2 concentrations after (Berner, Robert A. and Zavareth Kothavala, 2001).
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approximately every 100,000 years, the so-called Milankovitch cycle.23 Figure 4 depicts this cycle.
FIGURE 4 – CYCLES OF WARMER AND COLDER TEMPERATURES OVER THE LAST 2.5 MILLION YEARS24
In the 1990’s the classic Vostok ice core studies seemed to indicate that changes in temperature and carbon were essentially simultaneous. See Figure 5. The relationship seemed inescapable. The consensus was that carbon influenced temperature, instead of the reverse, a position that could have been as easily argued and defended, although it was less intuitive at the time. This became the environmentalists and climate change advocate’s mantra, and once adopted, there was no turning back no matter what later empirical data might otherwise suggest. By 2003, however, new data became available and it was clear that carbon lagged behind temperature. See Figure 6. For many, the relationship was reversed and counter-intuitive. For this reason, those on the CO2 Global Warming bandwagon, were unwilling to either accept or endorse the new findings. Their preconception simply would not permit them to accept the most recent empirical findings. They simply did not conform to their current paradigm regarding climate change and Global Warming, and the relationship between atmospheric CO2 and temperature changes. Temperatures appear to control atmospheric and aqueous carbon concentrations. Although there remains the possibility that carbon influences temperature, the ice cores do not seem to support this, however. After temperatures rise, on average it takes 800 years before carbon begins to move. This fact is well accepted by climatologists. Strangely, the fact that temperature leads the temperature-CO2 process does not seem to be at all controversial. Curious.
See (Milankovitch, 1920), (Milankovitch, 1930), and (Milankovitch, 1998 ). (Buchdahl., 2006).
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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CARBON AND GLOBAL TEMPERATURES IS EITHER LITTLE KNOWN OR COMPLETELY IGNORED BY THOSE OUTSIDE CLIMATOLOGY. OR, POSSIBLY MORE ACCURATELY, THESE DATA DO NOT FIT THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS CURRENT CLIMATE CHANGE MINDSET, OR THE PREVAILING POLITICALLY CORRECT PARADIGM AND THEY ARE, THEREFORE, SIMPLY IGNORED!!
Chemists readily acknowledge that cold water is able to contain larger amounts of dissolved CO2. When water is warmed, it will release more and more of this dissolved gas. It is this relationship that the environmentalist are willing to conveniently ignore. They simply refuse to accept the possibility that our current climate change is part of a much larger, recurring natural process. If they did, they would not have any legitimacy. They would be unable to continue their tilting at windmills. Without CO2 and the other greenhouse gasses to blame, i. e., industrialization, most environmental groups would have no raison d'être.
FIGURE 5 -- INITIAL VOSTOK ICE CORE FINDINGS25
This situation begs the question, is all the hoopla over climate change or Global Warming more political and economic in nature than scientific? One need only read the comments of some of some prominent public and academic figures involved in the climate change debate to decide. Among the long list of commenters are:
Graph based on (Petit J.R., et. al., 1999). Modified from original Wiki posting, dust component has been deleted.
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Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, a leading climate and atmospheric science expert from MIT: Researchers pound the global-warming drum because they know there is politics and, therefore, money behind it. . . I've been critical of global warming and am persona non grata.26 Tim Wirth , U.S. Senator from Colorado, after a short stint as United Nations UnderSecretary for Global Affairs, now President, U.N. Foundation: Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing -- in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.27 Christine Stewart, former Minister of the Environment, Canada: No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits.... Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.28
From (Pratt), p. 2. This quotation has been variously attributed to Dr. William Gray (Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University, as well. 27 (The Editors, 2010) 28 Christine Stewart, speaking before editors of the Calgary Herald, 1998. Quoted by Terence Corcoran, “Global Warming: The Real Agenda,” Financial Post, 26 December 1998, from the Calgary Herald, December, 14, 1998. Cited by Fred Singer, page 4.
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FIGURE 6 – VOSTOK ICE CORES OVER 420,000± YEARS29
Note: It is impossible to see a lag of centuries on a graph that covers half a million years. Nova re-graphed the data from her original sources and scaled the graphs so that the lag is visible to the naked eye.30 Figure 6 is her result. This graph demonstrates that rising temperatures cause carbon levels to rise. Carbon may still influence temperatures, but such a relationship cannot be drawn from the ice core data. If both factors caused each other to rise significantly, the effect would be exponential; and we would have seen runaway greenhouse effects throughout history. This simply has not happened. We can only assume that some other factor is equally or more important than carbon dioxide.
(Nova, 2008-2010). Nova’s data drawn from (CDIAC, Historical Isotopic Temperature Record from the Vostok Ice Core, 2000) for temperatures and (CDIAC, 2003) for CO2 concentrations.
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IS THE DEBATE REALLY OVER?
The debate over climate change or global warming has been an academic and political roller coaster, with all its twists and turns, up and downs, and loop-the-loops. The primary tools of the environmentalists have been exaggeration and alarmism. These tactics, time and again, have become the Achilles heel of undisciplined environmentalists, beginning with the ‘ecological movement’ in the late ‘60s, spearheaded by Paul R. Ehrlich, an entomologist by training, but better known for his work on population.31 From then on, every new ecological problem became the cause de celeb for life-as-we-know-it crisises. Soon, after the population explosion came the demise of civilization due to resource depletion, followed by acid rain, ozone depletion . . . ad infinitum.32 Each new problem added another nail in Mankind’s coffin. Environmentalists castigated those who did not march to their drumbeat. If their data did not silence their detractors, they simply shouted them down. In the late 1980s along came global warming. As the National Review editors were to comment, the environmentalist movement: had hit the jackpot — a crisis sufficiently long-range that it could not be falsified and broad enough to justify massive political controls on resource use at a global level.33
Soon, the environmentalists ‘voice of ‘reason’ was heard by the United Nations, and the U. N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded to fight the mother of all environmental problems. It was the Final Crusade. For more than a decade the rhetoric of doom and gloom permitted the global warming alarmists to dominate every media venue. Their final success was the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007. They had ‘proven’ that global warming was caused by human activity and they had a spokesman who toed the party line. They had found the smoking gun. They were armed and dangerous.
(Ehrlich, 1968). (Meadows, Donella H., et. al., 1972). 33 (The Editors, 2010).
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NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATES AL GORE (LEFT) AND R. K. PACHAURI, CHAIRMAN OF THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE (IPCC)
However, there was, as they say, a fly in the ointment. Ironically, shortly after the publication of the IPCC’s landmark reports in 2007, and after Gore and the IPCC received their Nobel Peace Medals, the IPCC seems to have begun backpedalling. They discovered that their assertions were oftentimes based on the faulty or misrepresentation of data by biased researchers, especially those of many environmental advocacy groups. The IPCC Working Group II assessment stated:
Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005).34 When the World Wildlife Fund’s assertion was later examined, it proved to be based on unsubstantiated fact and faulty analysis, yet the IPCC Work Group had accepted it as gospel.
(IPCC, 2007), p. 493.
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The ice caps were going to melt away. However, by its own admission, the Work Group stated: Projections of change agree that the retreat of glaciers will continue across Arctic glaciers, with a consequent impact on global sea level (Meehl et al., 2007). Recent changes in the Greenland ice sheet have, however, been complex. The colder interior has thickened, most probably as a result of recently high precipitation rates, while the coastal zone has been thinning. Thus some studies suggest that overall the ice sheet is growing in thickness (Krabill et al., 2000; Johannessen et al., 2005).35 It cannot be said that the ice caps are shrinking, at least not in terms of the volume of ice. In the Arctic, the territorial extent of the ice cap waxes and wanes over time, thinning and retreating, only to extend itself later. There is evidence that the caps are, in fact, in a phase where the ice sheets are thickening and, thereby increasing their total ice/water volume, and piling up in places.36 In the Antarctic, the Work Group states: The ice sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula is probably alone in showing a clear response to contemporary climate change (see Section15.6.3), while the larger West Antarctic and East Antarctic ice sheets are showing changes whose attribution to climate change are not clear, but cannot be ruled out. In West Antarctica, there is a suggestion that the dramatic recent thinning of the ice sheet throughout the Amundsen Sea sector is the result of recent ocean change (Payne et al., 2004; Shepherd et al., 2004), but as yet there are too few oceanographic measurements to confirm this interpretation.37 When it comes to the Antarctic ice sheet, even the IPCC is equivocal. Changes are not clear. The environmentalists would have us believe that the Brazilian rainforest will soon cease to exist but ironically, the reason the IPCC’s Work Group gives for the reduction in the Amazonian rainforest is not climate change. Instead, it attributes the loss of rainforest to clearing and changes in land use, two very different processes, having nothing to do with climate change.38
35 36 37 38
(Anisimov, O.A., et. al., 2007), Chapter 15, p. 663 (Black, 2005). (Anisimov, O.A., et. al., 2007), Chapter 15, p. 663. (Magrin, 2007), p. 590, passim.
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Then, the IPCC published its Summary for Policymakers, in which it stated: Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations [underlined emphasis, added].39 The irony of this statement lies in the fact that the IPCC, formed in 1988, and after nearly 20 years of ground-breaking research and modeling are only able to say that anthropogenic greenhouse cases are very likely the cause of global warming. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years . . . . 40 It is more likely than not that anthropogenic forcing has increased the risk of heat waves.41 It is very unlikely that climate changes . . . .42 The IPCC assigns a probability of 90% to the term “very likely”. This is a curious use of statistical probability since warming over the last 50 years is either due to anthropogenic emissions, or it isn’t. Probabilities do not apply to past events. However, the IPCC’s graphs show a variety of possible scenarios, even going back in time. Shouldn’t the past be one single trend line? Shouldn’t the IPCC be sure about their statements? Does this mean likely represents something much less certain, say, a 50 to 70 percent confidence level? What do these terms really mean statistically? Should not the IPCC be able to state with almost 100 percent certainty that something is or is not caused by something after twenty years and millions upon millions of dollars spent on research?
ISN’T THE IPCC REALLY SAYING “WE COULD BE WRONG,” WHEN THEY UTILIZE IMPRECISE TERMINOLOGY WHEN THEY USE TERMS SUCH AS: LIKE, VERY LIKELY, MORE LIKELY THAN NOT?
The IPCC’s reliance on research groups ‘with an agenda’ would seem to beg for bias in their findings. After all, these groups’ agendas are geared to proving their argument is valid. They simply cannot be objective. And the IPCC accepts their claims as representative of good empirical science? Shame. Shame. Also, the public is given the image that the IPCC is a large United Nations run think tank, when, in fact, their reports rely upon the unpaid work of thousands of researchers, overseen by a permanent staff of 10 or so. Simply put, the permanent staff is understandably overwhelmed by the nature and complexity of the global issues and research required. Digesting and synthesizing the enormous quantity of data is a monumental task and, as a result, they seem to feel that it is better to overstate the results than understate them, especially in light of the prophesized consequences.
39 40 41 42
(IPCC, 2007), p. 10. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., p. 11.
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THE IPCC’S POSITION: PREPARE FOR THE WORST AND, IF WE ARE WRONG, IT WILL BE A PLEASANT SURPRISE.
If we are to believe the environmentalists’ inflated and skewed interpretation of climate change data, and their consequences, the Earth as we know it would cease to exist. Earth would soon become little more than a burnt out cinder. Recently, however, the IPCC has been the recipient of repeated academic and media beatings. As a consequence of the IPCC’s reliance on unsubstantiated reports of environmental advocacy groups, like the WWF, it has had to begin the process of realistic self-evaluation. In fact, there are rumblings within the ranks of the IPCC about non-specific reforms and changes in the process that will be used to shape its next massive climate report, which is due out in three or four years. The consensus approach has come under fire. What is needed is more ‘down in the trenches’ honest to goodness data collection and analysis – normal science. For now, the debate rages, with no clear-cut winner. This is not to say, however, that we are not in the midst of a major climate change but that change is not necessarily the consequence of human activity. The Earth, or Gaia, has struggled through repeated periods of cooling the warming. We are, in all likelihood, at the beginning of the next warming cycle. Likewise, it is not likely that Mankind, no matter what we do, will be able to stop or reverse the cycle. It is probably irreversible. The natural cycle will continue until it is complete and, then, it will reverse itself, just has it has hundreds, maybe thousands of times throughout geologic history. The question should not be ‘how can we stop climate change?’ Instead, it should be, ‘How can we adapt to it?’ If we do not adapt, we will become part of Raup’s list of the 99.9 percent of life forms that once called Earth home.43
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
If anyone has gotten the impression from the preceding that the intent of this paper is to debunk the idea of climate change, you would be wrong. Despite the fact that the climate data, much like statistics in general, can be made to say almost anything the researcher chooses, the Earth’s climate is in the process of profound change. But, unlike the rabid environmentalists, my contention is that we cannot stop it. Even if we stopped spewing anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, it would simply not change the course of the change that is currently upon us. Life-altering changes have been set in motion but not necessarily by Mankind. In all likelihood, we have contributed to the rate of change but that change was preordained, long, long ago – by a natural, recurring pattern of climate change. One can look at these changes as history repeating itself, just as it has done
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in the past, or one can be more anthropomorphic and ascribe the changes to Gaia – Earth is finally fighting back. It is doubtful that Mankind’s addiction to technological fixes will be successful in turning back the environmental clock. It really does not matter which interpretation one subscribes to. Unless something monumental should stop or reverse the course of climate change, the Earth is going to get warmer, The ice caps and glaciers will shrink or disappear. Sea levels will increase, and with it the threat of coastal flooding. Weather and climatic patterns will be altered. Rainfall will increase in some areas, causing flooding and decrease significantly in others, causing drought. Water availability will change dramatically. Biodiversity will change – some species will disappear and others will proliferate.
The remainder of this paper will be devoted to the environmental consequences of global warming, especially as it applies to the South Asian subcontinent, with special emphasis on Bangladesh. I have elected to use Bangladesh as my regional focus for the reason that, almost nowhere else on the face of the Earth are there so many people, occupying such a small land area, who are as poverty stricken, and who are more susceptible to the most immediate consequences of global warming.
Bangladesh ranks 146th among the 182 countries included in the 2009 Human Development Report.44 It is perceived as one of the poorest, most impoverished countries in the world, and yet, it possesses the highest percentage of arable land to total area of any country in South Asia. See Table 1, below. Agriculture remains the primary source of employment for more than 60 percent of the population. Part of the country’s impoverishment can be explained as a function its environmental problems and agricultural adaptations. Since its creation in 1971, Bangladesh has faced almost every conceivable problem. Among the more important of these, in addition to unrelenting poverty and socio-economic strife, is environmental vulnerability. Much of this vulnerability is the result and combination of its: Geographic location, and Physiography.
(United Nations Human Development Programme (UNDP), 2009), Table H: Human Development Index 2007 and its Components, p. 173.
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Table 1 - Selected Human Development Index Components HDI Rank (Rank by Population) 1 (116) 13 (3) 71 (9) 92 (1) 134 (2) 141 (6) 144 (40) 146 (7) 182 (64) Country Norway United States Russian Fed. China India Pakistan Nepal Bangladesh Niger World Population Human Density Development Per km2 12.625 32.007 8.301 139.25 358.434 210.185 199.285 1,126.55 12.068 45.713 Indix 0.971 0.956 0.817 0.772 0.612 0.572 0.553 0.543 0.340 0.753 Life Expectency Index 0.925 0.968 0.686 0.799 0.639 0.687 0.668 0.678 0.431 0.708 Per Capita GDP rank minus HDI rank 4 -4 -16 10 -6 -9 21 9 -6
Population (millions) 4.863 308.871 141.927 1,336.36 1,178.27 168.980 29.331 162.221 15.290 6,808.513
Life Expectancy 80.5 79.1 66.2 72.9 63.4 66.2 66.3 65.7 50.8 67.5
Literacy Rate 100 100 99.5 93.3 66.0 54.2 56.5 53.5 28.7 83.9
Per Capita GDP in PPP 53,433 45,593 14,690 5,383 2,753 2,496 1,049 1,241 627 9,972
GDP Index 1 1 0.833 0.665 0.553 0.537 0.392 0.42 0.307 0.768
Figures in parentheses represent the ranking of the country based on population size.
Source: (United Nations Human Development Programme (UNDP), 2009), Table H, Human development index 2007 and its components, pp. 171-174; and (Wikipedia, List of countries by population, 2010).
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION Bangladesh is located at the vertex of the landmasses of India, to the west and east, and Myanmar (Burma) to the southeast, and the Himalayas to the north. These landmasses effectively funnel and trap the monsoons and storms originating in the Indian Ocean or the Bay of Bengal. See Map 1.
PHYSIOGRAPHY Bangladesh’s physiography and morphology contribute to its vulnerability to natural hazards. It is, essentially, one gigantic, low-lying river delta with almost no relief. Roughly, 80 percent of the landmass is composed of a fertile alluvial lowland called the Bangladesh
MAP 1 – RELIEF MAP OF BANGLADESH45
Plain. This plain is part of the larger Plain of Bengal, which is sometimes called the Lower Gangetic Plain. Consequently, it has virtually no defense against riverine flooding or tidal surges from the Bay of Bengal. Virtually all of Bangladesh falls below 153 meters above sea
By permission, Maps.com
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level, and much of its southern half is only a few meters above sea level. A full 70 percent of the land area of Bangladesh is just 1 meter above sea level!46 The only exceptions to Bangladesh's low elevations are the Chittagong Hills in the southeast, the Low Hills of Sylhet in the northeast, and highlands in the north and northwest. The Chittagong Hills constitute the only significant hill system in the country and, in effect, are the western fringe of the north-south mountain ranges of Myanmar and eastern India. Part of Bangladesh’s vulnerability, especially as regards flooding, stems from the fact that the country is a lacework of rivers and streams. Map 2 serves to demonstrate the complexity and density of its riverine systems. The lack of local relief, coupled with the density of rivers makes flooding almost a certainty, especially when the rivers are in spate during the monsoons.
NATURAL DISASTERS There is, probably, no country that experiences the range, the number, or frequency of natural disasters than Bangladesh. Disaster planning and preparedness requires governments to set aside significant amounts of scarce capital and resources. Limited capital and resources must be diverted from more positive development projects in anticipation of disaster management, relief, recovery, and preparedness requirements. Consequently, natural hazards and the resulting environmental degradation represents a serious threat to the economic development of an already beleaguered nation. Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but their damage can be mitigated with adequate planning and adaptation. The impacts of natural disasters vary by type and magnitude, and the ability of government(s) to respond in a timely manner with the type and quantity of resources to mitigate their consequences. Bangladesh has been impoverished by a variety of problems coalescing within a very short span of time and in a very limited area. If one looks at the frequency of natural disasters in Bangladesh, it seems that these events are increasing in their severity and frequency. Between 1904 and 1960, there were only 18 ‘reportable’ disaster events. Thereafter, the incidence rate seems to climb, almost exponentially.47 See Figure 7. The increased incidence of natural disasters is not, however, limited to Bangladesh. It appears that, over the last 100 years, the total number of disaster events has been increasing on a worldwide basis. Between 1976 and 1985, approximately 0.6 billion people were affected by natural disasters. Between 1986 and 1995, that number increased to 1.6 billion,
(Magar, 2010). According to EM-DAT, a reportable event must meet one or more of the following criteria: Ten (10) or more people reported killed; One Hundred (100) or more people reported affected; A declaration of a state of emergency; and a call for international assistance. (See http://www.emdat.be/criteria-and-definition).
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MAP 2 – RIVER SYSTEMS OF BANGLADESH
SOURCE: AFTER THE GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH
and between 1996 and 2005, the number jumped to 2.3 billion. The majority of those affected were in developing countries, like Bangladesh. Between 1991 and 2000, a staggering
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211 million people were killed or affected by these disasters; and, of these, 98 percent were from countries with low or medium Human Development Indices.48 See Figure 8.
FIGURE 7 – REPORTABLE DISASTER EVENTS, BANGLADESH 1904-200749
# of Reportable Events
100 80 60 40 20 0 18 21
1904-59 1960-69 1970-79 1980-89 1990-99 2000-07
Source: (EM-DAT, 2009)
CAUSES OF NATURAL DISASTERS It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population – 3.4± billion people – live in areas where at least one environmental hazard could affect them. These areas, the World Bank terms ‘Hotspots.’ Among the most pernicious of these environmental hazards are: Flooding Droughts Cyclones (and other wind related storms) Earthquakes50 Climate change.
(EM-DAT, 2009). A reportable event involves one or more of the following: a) 10+ people killed, b) 100+ people affected, c) a call for international assistance, and/or d) a declaration of emergency. (EM-DAT, 2009). (Dilley, Maxx, et. al., 2005).
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FIGURE 8 – NUMBER OF WORLDWIDE NATURAL DISASTERS REPORTED BY YEAR, 1900-2008
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According to the World Bank’s system of evaluation, Bangladesh falls within the ‘High’ vulnerability category. See Map 3. While Bangladesh is categorized as having a high vulnerability to natural hazards, in reality, it should be in a category all its own – Extremely Vulnerable. Bangladesh is vulnerable to the environmental hazards listed above but, in addition, it is also vulnerable to storm surges, tornadoes, hail and lightning, erosion, and land- and mudslides; all of which occur on a regular basis. Probably, no other nation experiences more weather-related and geologic hazards than Bangladesh. Each natural disaster takes its toll in terms of human lives lost, the destruction of peoples’ possessions, their homes, the resources essential to their livelihoods, or the infrastructure that supports them in terms of economics and communication.
MAP 3 – HOTSPOT COUNTRIES – WITH BANGLADESH CIRCLED51
Note: ‘Hotspot Countries’ have significant levels of vulnerability to two or more natural hazards. Vulnerability is expressed as "High" (when 50% or more of the country’s GDP is at risk), or "Medium" (30% to 50% GDP at risk). Red = High, Gold – Medium natural hazard vulnerability.
RAINFALL AND DROUGHT Rainfall in the adjacent mountains and hills systems contribute to Bangladesh’s disasterprone situation. The anticipated effects of climate change will also have a significant impact on the future disaster scenarios for the country. If, as has been suggested, climate change
(World Bank, n.d.).
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results in increased rainfall, or should it modify the timing of the rains, it will also contribute to or at least alter the rain induced flooding pattern. Flooding is such a common component of the Bangladeshis’ lives that they have developed terminology to describe the character of the floods. These terms are Bonna and Borsha. When the floodwaters damage resources, disrupts communication, and livelihoods, it is called Bonna. Normal, non-destructive flooding is called Borsha. There is seldom the opportunity to use the term Borsha in Bangladesh. Although the country normally has adequate rainfall, droughts follow on the heels of floods and frequently have an impact on the nation’s agricultural economy, resulting in hunger, instability, and food insecurity. Droughts are most common in Bangladesh’s northwest.
CYCLONES Cyclones and storm surges occur frequently and cause significant destruction in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Tornadoes also hit frequently. Tropical cyclones uproot trees, telephone, telegraph, and electric poles, destroy bridges, houses, kill people and domestic animals, all resulting in serious or adverse consequences for the economy and the environment. The question, then, is how do we explain the almost exponential increase in the incidence of natural disasters, as indicated in Figure 8, especially as they have an impact on humanity? The answer to this seemingly simple question is complex. Some of the components of the answer include climate change, population increases, urbanization, changes in land use, and coastal encroachment. Of these, one of the most easily observed cause is recent climate change and its consequences.
THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE Climate change, in this case, planet-wide increases in ambient temperatures, seems to have contributed to both the frequency and intensity of many forms of atmospheric disaster scenarios. The cause or assumed causes of this climate change are essentially immaterial. What is important, however, is that global warming has contributed, in a number of ways, to Bangladesh’s current problems, and its future environmental problems. ICE CAPS, GLACIERS, AND SEA LEVELS In most scenarios, environmentalists have focused on the most sensational and most visible signs of global warming – the apparent retreat of the ice caps and glaciers. If we assume the environmentalists are correct, and the ice caps and glaciers are, in fact, shrinking, it is only logical to believe that the ice melt will result in an increase in sea level. Estimates of the amount of sea level rise vary wildly, depending upon the source. The ranges begin with Page | 29
WHEN THE ICE IS GONE, WHERE DO THE POLAR BEARS GO?
20-30 centimeters (0.2 to 0.3 meters) to as much as 3.6 meters.52 The most common figure reported is somewhere around a 1.0 to 1.3 meters rise, depending upon a combination of timeframe and temperatures. If we accept the much more conservative median figure of 1.15 meters, what impact would this have on our focus area – Bangladesh? First, some facts about Bangladesh: 82 percent of Bangladesh’s population depends on agriculture for its livelihood,53 Agriculture accounts for more than half of Bangladesh’s GDP,54 70 percent of Bangladesh is less than 1-meter above sea level at present.55 67 percent of the country's non-urban land is arable.56
A 1-meter rise in sea level will result in the inundation of as much as 70 percent of the country and with it, virtually all that country’s arable/agricultural land!57 In essence, there are no natural barriers to floodwaters making its way to almost every square centimeter of land below 1-meter, since the country is laced with such an intricate system of rivers and streams and these would provide the conduits for the distribution of the floodwaters. In a country that is already hard pressed to feed itself, climate change, in the form of higher temperatures, resulting in seal level increases, can only mean the destruction of its agricultural base, causing massive hunger and, ultimately, wholesale starvation and death.
53 54 55 56 57
Cited in (Raper, 2010). Exact source of reference – American Geological Institute – was unverifiable, however. Other sources predicted rises of up to 6 meters. A more conservative figure was used here for illustrative purposes. (Worden, 1989 [Updated]) – Structure of Agricultural Production. Ibid. (Magar, 2010). (Worden, 1989 [Updated]). (Ali, 1989).
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Such, potentially permanent flooding, would almost surely turn the bulk of Bangladesh’s population into homeless, jobless, landless refugees. The question, then, is where would all these people go? With 70 percent of the nation under sea water, there would be virtually no place to go. The likelihood of the surrounding countries of India, Myanmar (Burma), or Bhutan providing refuge for 160+ million people – the seventh largest country in terms of population – is an impossibility. Each of these countries already is virtually incapable of taking care of its own population. Already, annual floods, storm surges, and cyclones take, on average, tens of thousands of lives, and these are individual short-term events. If 70 percent of the nation were permanently flooded, the bulk of Bangladesh’s population would perish if they could not escape the floodwaters. If they were able to escape to ‘high ground,’ there would be no logistical way to house and feed them, let alone provide for potable water and those that did not die from drowning would die of famine and disease. Even if the rise of the sea were slow, not like storm surges or flash floods, there still would be no refuge for Bangladesh’s people! Even if all the ice caps and glaciers were to melt away completely, the world would not become a Waterworld, as in the movie, but according to a 2007 IPCC report, the area inundated by 1, 5, and 10-meter rises in sea level and the population affected would be:58
World Asia only
Area Flooded by Sea Level Increase of 1-meter 5-meters 10-meters 2 2 2,223 km 3,667 km 5,223 km2 875 km2 1,548 km2 2,342 km2
Population Affected in millions by 1-meter 5-meters 10-meters 145 268 397 108 200 294
One look at the IPCC figures and one has to ask the question, now can that be? Just within the context of Bangladesh alone, with its land area of 130,168 km2, if 70 percent of the country is only 1-meter above sea level that would mean 91,118 km2 could be at risk. 59 The IPCC reports only 875 km2 would be at risk for the whole of Asia. There is just no way the IPCC’s figures can be correct. They are grossly underestimated. The same holds true for the numbers of people affected. These, too, are grossly underestimated, at least in the short term. CHANGES IN RAINFALL AND FLOODING With increased temperatures, one can expect changes in the hydrological cycle – an increase in evaporation and precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) rates and these will cause changes in local and regional weather and precipitation patterns. It is generally believed
(Nicholls, R.J., et. al., 2007), Table 6.12, p. 346. (Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2010).
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that the places that are wet are going to get wetter, and the places that are dry are going to get drier. 60 These phenomena are already being witnessed in places like Nepal. Advocates of Global warming warned that increased temperatures would be keenly felt in Nepal. They suggested that, in addition to the retreat of the country’s glaciers, there could be increases in glacial lake outbursts, rainfall, longer droughts, landslides, and floods. The advocates seem to have been right. Glacial lake outbursts destroy irrigation and water supply systems, roads, bridges, settlements, and agriculturally productive lands. Likewise, as rainfall increases, the possibility of life-threatening flooding increases. Current indications are that the incidence and severity of flooding, has been increasing, throughout Nepal, northern India, and Bangladesh, due in large measure to increased precipitation in the headwaters of Nepal’s, India’s and Bangladesh’s rivers – much of which falls in Tibet and Nepal. While both rainfall and snowfalls have increased in Nepal, and damaging floods occur, the more devastating effects of flooding are felt in northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal) and Bangladesh. The people of Nepal are largely rural and poor, and dependent upon agriculture for their subsistence. Rainfall is essential to mountain agriculture. 61 Rainfall patterns have begun to change in many areas of Nepal. The once reliable monsoons are becoming increasingly unreliable. For the poorest segments of Nepali society, the deepest felt losses are losses to their crops and housing. Increased temperatures and rainfall has increased the incidence of landslides, erosion, and flash and sheet flooding, all of which destroy crops and habitations. While too much water is a problem for those living in the mountains and hill regions of Nepal, the lack of water is equally serious for the cultivators and residents of the Terai region of Nepal – the southernmost third of the country. See Map 4. Agriculture in the Terai is dependent upon river waters and monsoon precipitation. The timing of snowfall, glacial melt and runoff are crucial to agriculturalists throughout all of Nepal but especially so in the Terai, where the bulk of Nepal’s population lives. In agriculture, timing is everything. There is a time to plant, a time to irrigate, and a time to harvest. For millennia, these activities varied very little from year to year. Now, there is climatic variability. With increased temperatures, the annual runoff begins earlier and has a shorter duration; sometimes arriving before it is required at planting time, and before soil temperatures are optimal for planting and germination. Peak runoff, which usually occurs in September is now coming earlier, as early as July and, at the same time, ending earlier, leaving the dry fall season without available irrigation water. Thus, the threat of drought during the growing season increases.
(NOAA and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), 2007). Mountains and hills make up nearly 83 percent of Nepal’s land area.
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MAP 4 - THE PHYSIOGRAPHIC DIVISIONS OF NEPAL
Rising temperatures also have an effect on the onset of the monsoons. Warming has already caused a shift in the monsoons’ arrival and has changed their intensity and amounts. They are now more intense and heavier. Increased temperatures seemingly delay the onset of the monsoons. The Monsoons typically begin in June and continue into September. The effect of early winter runoff and the delay of the monsoons’ arrival is to increase the chances of drought during the crucial time in most crops’ development – when the new plants are developing their root systems. The amount of soil moisture is critical at this stage of development. Likewise, the delayed arrival of the monsoons seems to intensify the post monsoon dry season. It begins later and extends further into the following spring. Decreased precipitation from November to April has an impact on the winter and spring crops. These shifts in water availability, ultimately, impacts on crop yield. At present, 80 percent of all the water in Nepal is used for agricultural purposes. Nearly 38 percent of agricultural lands is irrigated, mostly in the Terai, and only 17 percent is irrigated yearround.62 Increased temperatures will increase evapotranspiration rates and simultaneously decrease winter precipitation, which could lead inexorably to more droughts in Nepal. In addition, many or Nepal’s rivers could become highly variable with regard to flow patterns due to changing melt and run off patterns. Flow variability, in turn, will have an impact on
(Regmi, Bimal R. and A. Adhikari, 2007), p. 16 and (World Bank, 2008).
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irrigation water availability and the cultivators who depend on them. In all likelihood, per capita and per unit area crop yields would easily decline, among a people who are already hard pressed to feed themselves. As rainfall, runoff, and spring melt-water variability increases, the ability of the Nepalese cultivator to produce more will decline, which will have the effect of increasing the demand for already scare water resources and threaten or exacerbate Nepalese food security issues. WASTED WATER AND FLOODS The situation regarding water is ironical. On the one hand, Nepal has more water than it can deal with and, on the other, that water is simply not available to adequately serve Nepal’s needs. The vast majority of Nepal’s water resources simply flow through and out with dire consequences for those living farther downstream. Nearly every stream and river that runs through Nepal debouches out onto the north Indian Gangetic Plain, especially in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The main rivers of Nepal that enter India are the: Narayani River Karnali River Kosi. Each of these major river systems, and their numerous tributaries, ultimately becomes a tributary of the Ganges River in northern India. After plunging through deep gorges, these rivers deposit their heavy sediments and debris on the Indian plains. Once they reach the Terai Region, they often overflow their banks onto wide floodplains during the summer monsoon season, periodically shifting their courses. Besides providing fertile alluvial soil, the backbone of the agrarian economy, these rivers present great possibilities for hydroelectric and irrigation development but neither has been adequately developed. Further, their deep gorges represent immense obstacles to establishing the development of permanent and reliable transport and communication networks needed to integrate the national economy. As a result, the economy and governance in Nepal has remained fragmented; and due to the high costs of bridge and roadway construction in the mountains and across river gorges, most settlements in the Hill and Mountain regions remain isolated.
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EXAMPLES OF NEPAL’S RIVER GORGES
DURING PEAK PERIODS OF RUN OFF
As a result of earlier melt and runoff, combined with the funneling effects of Nepal’s river courses, the volume of the rivers grow. What starts as one small drop of glacier and snow melt water, by the time it reaches the border between Nepal and India, has grown into rivers of gargantuan proportions, and typically flow into India virtually uncontrolled. See the sequence of photos for the Kosi River, below. Once they encounter the Indian Plain, they begin to spread out, flooding much of eastern Uttar Pradesh and much of modern Bihar.
THE KOSI RIVER IN NEPAL – LOW WATER
THE KOSI RIVER, BIHAR, INDIA – LOW WATER
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THE KOSI RIVER IN BIHAR, INDIA – FULL FLOOD STAGE
Of Bihar’s 38 districts, no fewer than 24 – the northernmost districts – have experienced extensive flooding over the last seven years; and no district in the state can claim it has not experienced flooding at one time or another. In some cases, 80 percent of some districts have been flooded with the waters reaching a depth of 10 feet (3.048 meters). 63 These flooding conditions obtain for much of the monsoon season – June to September – with catastrophic economic and social consequences. Infrastructures are destroyed, as roads, bridges, and railroads are washed away. Homes are destroyed, and often, hundreds of lives are lost each year. Due to the lack of water management in Nepal, Bihar becomes the hapless recipient of Nepal’s water abundance. Consequently, India has sought to engage the Nepalese government in dialogues, which it hoped would lead to a joint venture that would result in the rivers that pour into Bihar being dammed and future flooding, controlled, or at least managed, downstream. After more than 60 years of meetings, nothing concrete has been negotiated between the two governments. Neither side truly sees any genuine advantage to the construction of costly high dams nor the enormous costs associated with their maintenance. The Nepalese have nothing to gain from the construction of dams or barrages for the purposes of flood abatement in India. While the Indians seen a flood abatement benefit, they are unwilling to shoulder the enormous costs associated with the dams. Every river leaving Nepal carries with it a huge burden in the form of silt, sand, gravel, and stone. If dams were constructed, this burden would collect on the upstream side of the dam, necessitating a massive maintenance or
Author’s personal experience in Darbhanga District, Bihar.
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FLOODING IN BIHAR, INDIA
FLOODING IN BANGLADESH
THESE PHOTOS COULD HAVE BEEN AS EASILY TAKEN IN THE TERAI OF NEPAL. ROADWAYS ARE NOW CONSTRUCTED, ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY. ON THE TOPS OF THE LEVEES BUT THIS DOES NOT NECESSARILY INSURE THAT THEY WILL NOT BE BREACHED AND WASHED AWAY.
dredging effort. Without the removal of the burden, the effective lifespan of the dam is reduced markedly. Rather than make a commitment to one another, the Nepalese and Indian governments take the most politically economic course of action – they do nothing; they delay, they beat their chests, and point fingers at one another. These strategies may well be their best overall strategy.64 FLOODING – A MAN-MADE DISASTER: BANGLADESH & BIHAR In both the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, and Bangladesh, flooding, although viewed as a form of natural disaster, is in reality also the result of Man’s attempt to alter his physical environment to his immediate needs, with no thought given to the long-term con64
See (Rorabacher, 2008), p. 49.
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sequences of those actions. Floods, in the absence of human involvement, are just floods, part of a millennia old natural hydrologic process. Whenever humans become involved in floods, either as agents of change or as part of the natural landscape, floods take on anthropomorphic attributes. They become disasters, catastrophes, calamities, or tragedies and often people lose their lives, their possessions, their homes, and their means of livelihood. Bangladesh, as we have already seen, is a flat and low-lying delta. Together with West Bengal, Bangladesh is part of a one-of-a-kind delta. Most deltas are the product of a single river, but the Bengal Delta is the creation of three mighty rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. Both the delta and these rivers are unique and the delta is only one of the unique aspects of this combination. In order to understand the nature of the delta and, therefore, some of the problems it poses for Bangladesh, a few facts are in order: The catchment basins for the three rivers is only about half that of the Mississippi River. The catchment basin involves five different countries – Nepal, India, Bhutan, China, and Bangladesh. Most deltas represent a very small percentage of the countries where they are found. In the case of Bangladesh, it is all delta. The rainfall received by the three rivers’ catchment basins is four times that of the Mississippi. Unlike most river systems, these three rivers receive 86 percent of their rainfall within a four-month rainy season (June – September). Combined, these three rivers carry approximately two billion tons of sediment, in the form of silt, sand, gravel, and stone. This is the highest burden/sediment volume of any other river system in the world. 65 The combined lengths of the rivers is about two times that of the Mississippi (computed).66
TAKEN TOGETHER: BANGLADESH IS THE PRODUCT OF ONE OF THE MIGHTIEST RIVER SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD. THE HYDRAULIC AND DELTA-FORMING PROCESSES THAT ARE AT WORK IN BANGLADESH ARE GARGANTUAN IN THEIR PROPORTIONS, AND ASSOCIATED WITH THESE PROPORTIONS, ARE EQUALLY LARGE PROBLEMS.
Most deltas go through a series of stages in their development, and in its final stages, the delta-building process begins to slow. Today, the Bengal Delta is still growing at a youthful rate. In the later stages of delta building, portions of the river’s floodplain become aban-
(Islam, 1990?). Approximate river lengths: Ganges – 2,510 km, Meghna – 670 km, Brahmaputra – 2,900; and Mississippi – 3,743, based on Wikipedia articles for each river. Islam reports the combined lengths of the three South Asian rivers to be 3 times that of the Mississippi, which would be incorrect.
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doned. These floodplains are seldom subject to further inundation. Little of the Bengal Delta has reached this stage of development. Delta and floodplain building is normally calculated in terms of centuries or thousands of years. Recent evidence suggests that these processes are not slowing for the Bengal Delta, in fact, it is suggested that the rate is quickening. Global Warming is causing the glaciers and snow in the Himalayas to melt more quickly and earlier than in the past. This, combined with temperature driven ocean evaporation, and this increased atmospheric moisture is causing heavier and more intense rainfalls in the mountains. The combination of increased glacial melt, snow runoff, increased precipitation, and changes in the onset of the monsoons, change the peak flows of the rivers that run through Bangladesh. The increased volumes also mean that the rivers can carry more sediment downstream, because of increase water volumes and increased water speed. These forces, when combined with an increased availability of sediment, caused by erosion following deforestation in Nepal and India, means that more and more sediment is being transported downstream and deposited both in the river channels and at the mouths of the rivers. These processes, effectively build up the riverbed and the natural levees along the rivers. Added to this mix is the fact that the sea level is rising. The higher seal level means that upstream flooding is delayed, and lands that once drained quickly after being flooded, are covered with water for a much longer period. The longer the land is flooded, the greater the likelihood that it could become waterlogged and no longer useful for agricultural purposes or habitation.
LEVEES AND EMBANKMENTS No matter where in the world, when flooding occurs, politicians normally either exploit or defend against them, which, in terms of political economy, is essentially the same thing. Politicians are sensitive to their constituents needs, and will endeavor to exploit those needs whenever possible in return for support. History has shown, however, that when politicians become involved in environmental problems, their solutions, more often than not, cause more confusion and exacerbate already difficult situations. This has been the case in Bangladesh and the adjoining states of India, when it comes to floods and flooding. The typical cultivator in Bangladesh or India simply wants protection from the floods. At least initially, these cultivators do not care what the ‘solution’ to their flooding problem is. It is only later that solutions come under scrutiny. For both the cultivator and the politician, their response to floods is more knee-jerk than well thought-out remedies. In the past, when there was much less pressure to make every bit of land as productive as possible, floods in India and Bangladesh were celebrated events. Cultivators understood the floods. They understood when they would arrive, how deep they would be, and how long their lands would be under water. They understood the fertilizing effects of the silt that came with the floods. As a consequence, they were prepared. However, as populations grew, greater and greater demands were made on both the cultivators and the land to produce more food. Once all available cultivable land had been Page | 39
brought into production, the only way to increase food production was to intensify – work the land more intensely. Flooding kept cultivators off the land, oftentimes for months on end. The demand for food meant that these cultivators could not afford to be ‘off the land.’ Soon, the benefits of silt-fertilization was forgotten. It was more important to be on the land, working it. ‘Logic’ tells both cultivators and politicians that, if the waters can be either contained or removed from the land quickly, the cultivators will find the protection they want. Almost invariably, since removing the water is not a practical or realistic alternative, both the cultivators and politicians arrive at the same conclusion. If levees or embankments could be built, they would prevent the floodwaters from encroaching on their fields, and this would ‘protect’ the cultivators and their lands from the ravages of future floods. Although it was not until rapid population growth and the need to feed more and more mouths was felt, that the governments in South Asia became involved in the construction of flood protection levees was begun in earnest. The construction of embankments was not a new idea. The first embankments were probably constructed well before the Moguls by private landowners.67 Later, when the British gained hegemony over much of South Asia, they dabbled with flood control using embankments. Within a span of only fifteen years, the British Raj abandoned all flood-control projects involving levees, and within 50 years, they had removed all their earlier artifacts.68 Following Independence in India, the lure of embankments was revisited in Bihar and parts of West Bengal. Later, following the 1988 flood in Bangladesh, the government there adopted a World Bank sponsored flood protection program, commonly referred to as the FAP (Flood Action Plan). This Plan called for the construction of embankments along the great rivers of the Bangladesh Delta, enormous drains, and compartments on the flood plains to serve as catch basins. Additional embankments were added to the already existing embankments system. Today, there are approximately 5,695 kms of embankments, including 3,433 kms in the coastal areas, 1,695 flood control/regulating structures, and 4,310 kms of drainage canals, all constructed by the Bangladesh Water Development Board over the last several decades.69 History began to repeat itself, as the Government of Bangladesh adopted the World Bank’s program and accepted its money. Again, the effectiveness of embankments came under attack. Such structures have, time and again, been debated and found to be no match for the rivers of eastern India or Bangladesh. A number of studies and numerous journal articles have reported that embankments simply do not and cannot protect cultivators or their lands from flooding. Each has concluded that the total amount of damage to the economy,
67 68 69
Sixteenth through 18th centuries. See the discussion, (Rorabacher, 2010), pp. 237-246, passim. (Khalequzzaman, 2004).
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crops, and infrastructures, due to floods, has steadily increased in spite of all efforts to control them.70 The problems associated with embankments include: The rapid build-up of silt, sand, gravel, and stone in the riverbeds. The scouring of the embankments resulting in catastrophic breaches. The increased height of the mean water levels, caused by sediment build-ups in the embanked river channels. The increased destruction and devastation caused by elevated river waters that cascade from above the floodplain, when the levees breach. Increased waterlogging outside the embankments, caused by floodwaters being trapped with no way to return to the rivers that are now elevated above the surrounding floodplain.
Surprisingly, more land has been lost to embankment-related problems and processes than have ever been lost to over-cultivation. When the natural flows of rivers are modified, and they are not permitted to expand and contract with the seasons, the floodplain and the people suffer. In most cases, agricultural productivity declines. Today, cultivators must leverage their agricultural production. They cannot afford to waste even a slightest advantage. Man-made floods, it would seem, are working against the cultivators in the fields. While the devastating effects of flooding are bad enough – the loss of crops, livestock, homes, possessions, and human lives – there are costs associated with government relief efforts, in both India and Bangladesh. Each year governments, at all levels, must organize and implement a variety of relief plans. Initially, they must save lives. They must provide food, water, shelter, and public health services to combat waterborne diseases and the effects of human waste in makeshift refugee camps. These efforts, while aided by international aid agencies and workers, represents a gigantic, repetitive drain on the scare resources of both India and Bangladesh. In addition, the government must repair or replace damaged infrastructure. Often, bridges, railways, roads, and overland communication systems are devastated by the floods. Years of development work can be undermined and destroyed in a matter of hours, or even minutes. Due to the natural physiography of Bangladesh, transport infrastructures have always been expensive and difficult to construct. Thus, floods only serve to weaken an already enfeebled system. Floods have an ‘across the board’ impact on the people of Bangladesh – economically, socially, and politically. Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult problems confronting the government of Bangladesh is disaster preparedness. Unfortunately, much like large areas in both India and Nepal, the government seems to have no long-term plans in place to deal with repeat disaster situations. Each disaster comes ‘as some kind of surprise’ despite the
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fact that the country is visited by numerous such disasters annually. Likewise, plans for dams, bridges, and drainage systems are poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented. Part of this problem stems from a lack of a system to oversee regional and even local coordination. Part of this lack of coordination extends to water control projects with adjacent nations, particularly Nepal. [In response to a request by the Judiciary of the State of Bihar, the author prepared a position paper dealing with the breach of the Afflux Bund in Nepal that resulted in the flooding of a large area of northern Bihar in August 2008. Many of the comments made in that position paper are applicable to the situation as it prevails in Bangladesh, especially as regards the construction of embankments, their maintenance, and emergency preparedness and response.]71 GLOBAL WARMING AND BIODIVERSITY Biodiversity in human agriculture has, repeatedly, proven to be its redeeming quality. One need only look to the consequences of monocropping to see the benefit of maintaining a broad range of similar yet different genetic crop pools. The impact of the ‘Irish Potato Famine’ was the result of the introduction of a blight, thought to have originated in the Andes, transported to the United States, and then on to Europe in circa 1844.72 A similar catastrophe struck the French vineyards in the late 1860s. An aphid introduced from the New World was brought to France, where it wreaked havoc on the French vineyards.73 Nothing seemed to stop the aphid invasion. Finally, New World grape root-stock was grafted to the French vines, and the French vineyards and wine industry was saved. The same pattern has been repeated numerous times throughout history, with a variety of other food crops.74 Each time, a blight or disease has been eliminated by the introduction of a new plant variety. However, this pattern is changing. The world’s agricultural diversity is shrinking rapidly. See Box 1.
OVER THE LAST QUARTER CENTURY, WE HAVE WITNESSED A RAPID DECLINE IN THE NUMBER OF PLANT VARIETIES AVAILABLE TO CULTIVATORS. APPROXIMATELY 8 PERCENT OF ALL KNOW PLANT FOOD VARIETIES ARE CURRENTLY BEING
(Rorabacher, The August 2008 Breach of the Kosi Afflux Bund and Resulting Flood: An Assessment Paper Prepared for the Bihar Judiciary Enquiry, 2009). This paper became part of the docket for the Judicial Enquiry but was not formally published. A copy of this paper is available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14876270/A-Position-Paper-Prepared-for-the-Bihar-Judicial-Enquiry-into-the2008-Kosi-Breach-and-Floods. 72 Before 1842, there is no hard evidence that the blight, Phytophthora infestans, that destroyed the Irish potato crop had existed anywhere in Europe. See (Donnelly, 2001), p. 41; (Kinealy, 2006); and (Paddock, 1992). 73 See, (Smith, 2005)and (Tobin, 2005), p. 628. 74 Similar situations have been recorded for such crops as maize, rice, wheat, etc., all the main food crops.
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EXPLOITED; AND ONLY 12 PLANT SPECIES AND 5 ANIMAL SPECIES ACCOUNT FOR 75 PERCENT OF THE WORLD’S FOOD SUPPLY! 75
This loss of biodiversity – both plant and animal – has resulted from conscious human decisions regarding the use or non-use of certain plant varieties and animals, and the development of hybrid varieties and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) plant varieties more recently. The consequence of this genetic narrowing of the plant and animal base makes the world’s food supply vulnerable to both disease and climatic changes.76 This ‘genetic erosion’ is the result of the ‘industrialization’ of modern agriculture, especially as it applies to the so-called ‘mega crops’ – wheat, rice, and maize, which are the source of more than 60 percent of Mankind’s food energy.77 This industrialization or commercialization of agriculture has been in response to an increased demand for food as the world’s population has grown at an accelerated rate over the last 65 years, increasing more than three-fold since 1945. Tremendous amounts of human energy, ingenuity, and time have been devoted to the creation of ever more sophisticated and productive plant varieties. However, the creation of these new plant types has compartmentalized the farmers of the world and plant researchers. Farmers and researchers too often work in different realities. Researchers breed plant hybrids in the laboratory. These hybrids are only truly successful under ideal conditions, requiring just the right inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. For most farmers, such conditions simply do not exist. As a consequence, their production does not imitate the results found in the laboratory As our stock of seed varieties narrows, we place ourselves in the position of having to take ever greater risks, especially at a time when the process of climate change is already upon us. Plant varieties have developed and later have been bred to respond to certain environmental conditions. Among these conditions is temperature. Certain crops currently thrive only within a narrow range of temperatures. If temperatures are too cold or too warm, these plants simply do not flourish. Plants are incredibly temperature sensitive and can perceive changes of as little as one degree Celsius. A recent report in the journal Cell, demonstrates how plants not only 'feel' the temperature rise, but can, in some cases, also coordinate an appropriate response -- activating hundreds of genes and deactivating others; it turns out it's all about the way their DNA is packaged.78 Crops such as wheat are particularly vulnerable to very hot and dry summers.79 This decline in production is the direct result of global warming and changes in precipitation and water regimes around the world, a fact recognized by the International Maize and Wheat
(FAO, 1999). (IDRC and CRDI, 2010 [Refreshed]). 77 Ibid. 78 (Cell Press, 2010). 79 Ibid.
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BOX 1 - 100 YEARS OF AGRICULTURAL CHANGE: SOME TTRENDS AND FIGURES RELATING TO AGRO-BIODIVERSITY80
Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, one of the leading wheat and maize research and breeding centers in the world.81 The research announced in Cell deals with a small flowering plant native to Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa, called Arabidopsis thaliana -- thale cress or mouse-ear cress. It is not one of the mega crops that ‘feeds the world,’ and it only suggests what might be possible, and in all likelihood, it will take decades to uncover similar properties in rice, wheat, and maize, and even more time to turn these characteristics into commercially cultivable crops. While plant geneticists work to release each food crop’s native ability to respond to climate changes, or artificially create new crop strains to do this; there will be, at the same time, demands for increased crop yields on the order of 70 to 100 percent over the next 100 years. But as Philip Wigge of the John Innes Centre in the U.K. suggests:
Some 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and "landraces" for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties. 30% of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction; six breeds are lost each month. Today, 75% of the world's food is generated from just 12 plants and five animal species. Of the 4% of the 250 000 to 300 000 known plant species that are edible, only 150 to 200 are used by humans and only three - rice, maize and wheat - contribute nearly 60% of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants. Animals provide some 30% of human requirements for food and agriculture and 12% of the population live almost entirely on products from ruminants.
Under climate change, it will be challenging simply to maintain present yields, let alone increase them.82 In agriculture, almost every improvement is not measured in terms of seasons but in terms of decades, and more often, in terms of generations. For example, in Bangladesh, it was discovered that, due to a diet consisting largely of rice, many people suffer from a Vitamin A deficiency, which results in blindness in children, along with other immune-deficiencies. In 1972 Dr. Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology decided to create a variety of rice that, unlike all other rice varieties, would produce â-carotene, from which the human body can produce Vitamin A. It took 27 years before Dr. Potrykus had his first Golden Rice plants, known as GR-1. The first field testing was begun in 2004. It will not be until
80 81 82
(FAO, 1999). (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 23-25 April 2001). (Cell Press, 2010).
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2011 that it will be finally released. Nearly 40 years will have passed between conception, inception, and final release.83 If catastrophic climate change is, as the environmentalists suggest, already upon us, and our very food sources are already succumbing to the effects of global warming, do we have sufficient time to adapt? The development of new strains of the mega crops that are capable of surviving the effects of increased temperatures, are decades away. Do we have the time needed to see these new crops make their way from the laboratory to the field?
TO CONTINUE TO CHANT THAT WE CAN SOMEHOW REVERSE GLOBAL WARMING, IF ONLY WE STOP PUMPING ANTHROPOGENIC GREENHOUSE GASES INTO THE ATMOSPHERE, IS NOT ONLY SHORTSIGHTED BUT DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS.
We need to change our focus and now!! The world would simply collapse economically if we immediately stopped pumping anthropogenic greenhouse and industrial pollutants into the atmosphere, even if it was possible. Further, we have absolutely no idea how long it would or will take for the damage we are supposed to have done to the atmosphere to rectify itself, assuming that it is even reversible. If the experts are correct, We will require 70 to 100 percent more food to feed ourselves within the next 100 years at current population growth rates. Current crop varieties have nearly all reached their production limits. There are currently no ‘silver bullet’ solutions coming on-line any time soon. The creation of new crop varieties typically takes 40 or more years, from laboratory to commercial field production. The effects of global warming on existing crops is already being felt.
CURRENTLY, WE ARE FOCUSING OUR EFFORTS ON THE WRONG PORTION OF THE CLIMATE CHANGE, GLOBAL WARMING CONTINUUM. IT IS LIKE PREPARING FOR A BATTLE AFTER THE BATTLE IS ALREADY WELL UNDERWAY. IT IS TOO LATE TO WORRY ABOUT STOPPING OR REVERSING CLIMATE CHANGE. WE NEED TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS A NATURAL PROCESS, IT WILL CONTINUE UNTIL IT STOPS, AND NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, WE CANNOT ALTER THE CLIMATIC OUTCOME.
We can begin, however, adapting to the coming change but even that opportunity may have passed us by. We have spent too much valuable time debating if climate change and global warming are real phenomena. We have spent too much time thinking we can stop or reverse the processes.
See, (Mayuga, 2007); (Golden Rice Humitarian Board, 2008); and (Potrykus, n.d.).
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If there are, what some writers have suggested, ‘tilting points,’ in the global warming cycle, we may have already passed them. The trend line for world temperature is rising. There may be oscillations or fluctuations along this line but the climate is changing. If we do not make plans for a very different future, all we will have left is a past. We will be like so many other species that have Come and GONE before us. Mankind is not invincible. We need to seriously consider the fact that, within the next 100 years, Mankind could be well on its way to being extinct. If we do not create new plant varieties now, we could easily starve to death. Worrying about the temperature adaptive qualities of Thale cress, while an interesting undertaking, distracts us from producing heat resistant strains of wheat, rice, and maize – the foods we depend on. If Thale cress can direct us in the right direction, and if every plant has the same genetic capabilities, all well and good, but we need the new heat-resistant crops soon, today is already gone. CLIMATE CHANGE AND PLANT MIGRATION In the absence of climate tolerant or adapted species of the mega cereals, rising temperatures will have the effect of ‘pushing’ grains to higher and higher elevations. Essentially, as average temperatures rise, the primary foodgrains will tend to migrate to areas that match their preferred ecological requirements of temperature and moisture. Since temperatures decline with elevation, the more temperature sensitive grains will move to higher elevations if they are to survive. Otherwise, they will simply become extinct. Those species already adapted to the cooler temperatures, likewise, will move to still higher elevations, pushing less well-adapted species out. Eventually, certain species will simply cease to exist because there is no longer an ecological niche available to them. However, as these species move upward, the land area available to support them also decreases. In the case of food crops, decreased area means total production will decrease as well. If Man were not involved, this plant succession would happen naturally. With the aid of Man, the pace of succession is hastened. In a natural succession sequence, the processes involved would include colonization, establishment, and extinction. Climate can influence succession but does not necessarily cause it. Other factors, such as soil types, nutrients, moisture availability, etc., also play a part in any successful succession sequence.84 This is often termed allogenic succession. Unless new foodgrain types are realized, existing grains will migrate, either naturally or through the agency of Man, or they will become extinct. If they migrate to suitable locales, at higher elevations, the area available for cropping will decrease, with one of two possible outcomes. Either the food supply will decrease and a portion of Mankind will perish; or if the existing plants are unable to adapt and become vestigial, all of Mankind will perish. In
See for example, (Neilson, Ronalf F., et. al., 2005).
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either situation, the number of humans on Earth will be reduced in numbers or, possibly, eliminated. GLOBAL WARMING AND WATER Typically, water is a recyclable resource. It falls on the earth as rainfall or snowfall and returns to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration of plants or evaporation from lakes, rivers, and the oceans. Humans obtain the water they require by diverting a portion of runoff for their various needs. UNESCO reports: Our primary source of water is runoff diverted by humans for use in irrigated agriculture, in industry and in homes (rural and urban); for consumption of various kinds; and for waste disposal. It is the water of evapotranspiration that mainly supports forests, rainfed cultivated and grazing land, and a variety of ecosystems. Despite a withdrawal of only 8 percent of total annual renewable freshwater resources, it has been estimated that 26 percent of annual evapotranspiration and 54 percent of accessible runoff is now appropriated by humans. 85 As population grows, agricultural requirements for water, as well as for industry and manufacturing, and water for drinking and sanitation continue to grow. All these competing needs, until fairly recently, have been operating in a sustainable equilibrium. Today, however, demand is beginning to exceed availability. According to the OECD: One consequence of this rising demand is scarcity. The global per capita availability of freshwater has dropped from 17,000 m3 a year in 1950 to 7,300 m3 in 1995. There are now more people in the world, of course, but there has also been a decline in available uncontaminated freshwater resources. This scarcity is not just on the surface; groundwater abstraction is beginning to exceed replenishment in some locations. Add to this the specter of pollution from industry, mining and farming around the world, including the major cities, and the picture worsens.86 It is estimated that today more than 2 billion people are affected by water shortages; 1.1 billion do not have enough to drink; and 2.4 billion have no provision for sanitation.87 Predictions suggest that by 2025 more than half of all countries will face freshwater stress or
85 86 87
(UNESCO, 2003), p. 10, quoted from (Shiklomanov, 1997). (Clarke, 2003). (UNESCO, 2003), p. 10.
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shortages and by 2050 as much as 75 percent of the world's population could face freshwater scarcity.88 See Map 5. Water scarcity takes two primary forms: Physical Scarcity – Is not necessarily a factor of absolute quantity; it occurs frequently in both dry and moist climates. Rather, it is a relative concept comparing the availability of water to actual use-need. Desert regions, for example, are not classified as water scarce if demand for water is low. However, scarcity may exist in water-abundant areas if there is heavy population pressure, excessive pollution, or unsustainable consumption levels. Together, these forms of physical water scarcity affect every continent and approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. Economic Scarcity -- Economic water scarcity occurs when water resources are abundant relative to water use, but insufficient infrastructure or financial capacity prevents people from accessing the water they need. This situation plagues an additional 1.6 billion people worldwide, predominantly the rural poor and particularly in Africa. The largest area of physical water scarcity is throughout much of non-Russian Asia and across northern Africa, areas typically viewed as arid or desert. Economic scarcity covers a much broader area – most of China and Southeast Asia, Australia, the coastal areas of the India subcontinent, much of sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico, and most of South America. In many areas where economic water scarcity prevails, it is obvious that the actual amount of water – in the form of rivers or rainfall – is much less of a factor that accessibility to it. In physically scarce areas, the consequences of global warming will only exacerbate already difficult conditions. If it were not bad enough that rapid population growth, agricultural demands, along with manufacturing and drinking water and sanitation are making greater and greater demands on existing water resources; the entire scenario is now complicated by global warming. Initially, the effects of global warming were first seen as almost imperceptible changes in the on-set and retreat of the monsoons in South Asia. It appeared that monsoon rainfall was decreasing on a very localized basis. More recently, this phenomenon seems to become more pronounced and even more widespread. In other areas, the rains seem to be more forceful and have intensified. In other areas of the world, for example Africa, rising temperatures are accompanied by quantitatively lower rainfall. This combination of higher temperatures and less rain has
(Hightower, Mike & Suzanne A. Pierce, 2008).
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served to accelerate or increase the land’s vulnerability to a process known as desertification.89 See Map 6. Throughout the world, those areas most vulnerable to desertification arethose immediately adjacent to historic deserts, since this region remains in a delicate balance between desert and semi-arid lands. The equilibrium shifts away from desert conditions as rainfall increases. This pattern is most visibly apparent in Africa, Pakistan, and northwestern India and much of Australia. The process of desertification can be accelerated by man, largely through the process of deforestation. Typically, deforestation precedes the expansion of agriculture and follows an increased need for wood for domestic or commercial uses. Desertification can also follow on the heels of excessive groundwater withdrawals or following long periods of drought, forcing cultivators to abandon agriculture all together in some areas. DROUGHTS Droughts are, when compared to all other natural disasters, the most deadly. The media are always eager to report on the effects of typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Their cameras are at the ready to film the victims – the survivors and the dead – during rescue operations. Once relief begins to pour in, the stories fade from our TV screens and from newspapers and other printed media. Droughts, and the famines typically associated with them, are much less glamorous but no less deadly.
DROUGHTS ARE BY FAR THE MOST WIDESPREAD AND FAR-REACHING NATURAL DISASTERS KNOWN TO MANKIND.
More than 462 million people were affected by drought (including deaths and homelessness) in South Asia, alone, during 2000-2004.90 Guha-Sapir states: . . . between 1974 and 2003 there were 6,367 natural between 1974 and 2003 there were 6,367 natural disasters, not counting epidemics. This resulted in the reported deaths of slightly more than 2 million individuals, about 5.1 billion people being cumulatively affected, 182 million persons made homeless and estimated reported damages of US$1.38 trillion.91 Only in the last decade, 86% of all disaster-related deaths were caused by natural hazards, with just 14% resulting from technological disasters such as transport or industrial accidents. Asia alone suffered 75% of the deaths from natural disasters.
89 90 91
See, (Reich, 2001a) and (Reich, 2001b). (UNESCAP, March 3, 2005), p. 4. It is the author’s, and others’ opinion, as well, that Guha-Sapir’s estimate 2 million killed is possibly a misprint. We believe that the figure should probably have been 2 billion, not 2 million.
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MAP 6 – DESERTIFICATION VULNERABILITY, AFRICA
Source: (Reich, 2001b)
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These figures may seem very high, but they are probably underestimates. For example, droughts reportedly killed 500,367 people in Ethiopia over the last three decades. But some estimate that the number of people who died from the great Ethiopian drought of 1984-1985 alone may have numbered between 600,000 and 1 million. Even worse is the case of economic damages, where not more than a third of reported disasters estimate economic losses. Such large numbers may appear abstract and difficult to conceptualise, but they are a harsh reality for families who have lost loved ones, had their homes reduced to rubble, or have watched their investments destroyed by natural disasters.92 Of the five most devastating natural disasters on record, three are droughts, and most of these occurred in Africa – Ethiopia, Sudan, Sahelia, and Mozambique. The Ethiopian, Sudan, and Sahelian droughts are particularly notable, not just because of the number of people that died, but because their deaths were reported as ‘deaths due to drought.’ Most often, the cause of death is given as infectious diseases but rarely because of malnutrition or ‘drought.’ For government officials, death by infection sounds more politically correct than death due to starvation.
MOTHER AND CHILD DYING OF MALNUTRITION, SUDAN
(Guha-Sapir, 2004), p. 14.
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The other most deadly disasters are those having to do with floods. Of Guha-Sapir’s list of the ten greatest disasters between 1974 and 2003, floods accounted for seven of the ten. He estimates that 1.811 billion people were affected by floods or droughts!93 Asia and Africa bear a disproportionate burden of loss due to disasters. Over the last 30 years, approximately 88 percent of the total number of people reported killed and 96 percent of the people reported affected lived in Asia and Africa. Of the total number of people killed by natural disasters worldwide, over the last decade, more than 75 percent were in Asia and Africa. This figure rises above 98 percent for droughts and famines!94 Floods and droughts are both a function of water. Both are destructive. Floods can cause extensive damage to infrastructure and crops. Their impact on agriculture depends, in part, on timing in relation to the cycle of the crops in the region. The area affected by floods can be immense, depending on topographical features. Floods can develop slowly and be predictable or can occur suddenly. Most of the mortality linked to floods is caused by flash floods, although many die because of subsequent water-borne and sanitation disease problems. Floods may kill fewer people than they affect, but the damage they cause is pervasive and long term. Droughts and famines do not result in infrastructural or shelter damage but they result in heavy crop and livestock losses. They cover large areas and often affect several neighboring regions or countries simultaneously. Famines are much more complex and can be caused by crop failures, food shortages, or lack of access to food, droughts, disasters, such as floods, and armed conflict or political instability. Famines can also lead to mass migrations, which can create crowded conditions with poor sanitation and lead to outbreaks of disease.
HUNGER At present, it is estimated that 17 percent more calories are produced each year per person than 30 years ago.95 This statistic is astonishing in light of the fact that, while world population increased at a break-neck pace, food production has kept ahead of it. World population during this period grew a staggering 70 percent. Second, annually, over a billion people still suffer from malnutrition and 30 million people die of hunger each year, most of whom are children!96 See Illustration 1, below. How does one put these kinds of figures in perspective? One billion people represents approximately 1/7th to 1/6th of the world’s total population. Thirty million deaths each year
94 95 96
(Guha-Sapir, 2004), p. 29. Guha-Sapir provides a table of the ten greatest disasters and the number of people affected. Ibid. (FAO, 2002), p. 9. FAO estimates the number of hungry in the world has increased to 1.02 billion up from its 854 million estimate in 2007. See (FAO, 2009).
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means that, only 39 of the 223 recognized nations in the world have populations larger than the number of people who die of starvation each year! How is this possible?
ILLUSTRATION 1 – FAO ESTIMATES OF WORLD HUNGER97
In general, there is sufficient food, at least in terms of calories being produced by world agriculture. So, the problem is not production but rather: 1) 2) 3) 4) Food is unevenly distributed throughout the world; Existing food is not readily redistributed; Like any commodity, food is not available cost free, and most importantly; Many people are too poor to purchase the food that is available.
Food is almost always available. Famine typically results when the food available is not mobilized and redistributed among the needy. When it is not mobilized, people suffer, go hungry, and even starve to death. The failure of governments to mobilize and respond to crop and economic failure is ultimately the root cause of long-term human suffering in famine areas, according to Amartya Sen, a Nobel Economics Prize laureate.98
(FAO, 2009), p. 11. See also, the FAO Website, http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm See the series of essays and reports produced by Anup Shah at: (Shah, 1998-2010) and (Sen, 1983).
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THE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM IS THAT MANY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD DO NOT HAVE SUFFICIENT LAND TO GROW, OR INCOME TO PURCHASE, ENOUGH FOOD.
In the past, many of the deaths caused by drought, resulting in famine, were the result or consequence of governments failing to act. That problem continues today in many parts of the world. In the future, however, when droughts become permanent features on the human and physical landscape, it may not be due to governance that people starve. It could well be that agriculture will be incapable of producing the calories needed to maintain our population. Changes in climate, the reduction in our food-producing croplands, and the failure of our food plant types and inventories to produce under the evolving weather and climate regime may far exceed governments’ ability to ameliorate our food problems. We will be facing a new world, a new age. We may look back fondly on having only 1.02 billion people going to bed hungry every night. People may well be heard talking about the good old days at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Global warming will increase and intensify rainfall in some areas and decrease it in others. For those areas already suffering from repetitive floods, they will get larger and more deadly. For those areas, where water scarcity is already a problem, droughts will become more frequent, more long lasting, and could become a permanent environmental condition. Since floods and droughts are the most far-reaching and deadly disasters known to Mankind, global warming, in its various guises, can only mean the human race will be placed under greater and greater stress. Our very survival depends on adapting to these environmental changes and challenges. Some areas of the world are better suited to adapting to these environmental problems but some areas, like those in Africa and South Asia, with their already large poor and poverty-stricken populations, will undoubtedly bear the brunt of what nature has in store for us. It does not matter if you subscribe to the idea that: the Earth is some kind of colossal sentient or insentient organism, as humans, we are responsible for the current changes in our environment, or the global warming we are experiencing is simply part of a long-term, cyclic natural process.
Mankind needs to face the new reality:
WE ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE OR STOP GLOBAL WARMING.
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The sooner that humans realize that we are living in a responsive environment and that it is much more forceful than we are and we begin to focus on adapting to the new realities of our environment, the greater the chance for Mankind’s survival. If we continue to tilt at windmills, in the belief we can somehow stop or reverse global warming, as former Vice President Al Gore or the IPCC would have us believe, we will be signing the death warrants for a large portion of the Earth’s population. If Mankind is going to survive the changes we are facing, we must begin to look at the future, not the past or the present. We must begin to adapt to future realities. If we do not begin to reprioritize, and we do not prepare for the future, we, as a species, could join the ranks of those species now extinct. Most of those species could not adapt to their changing environmental conditions. We can. We have the ability, if only we have the foresight. And one of the most important considerations facing us will be out ability to feed ourselves, since most of the crops we currently cultivate exist and flourish within fairly narrow ecological niches, and those niches will become ever more restrictive as our planet heats up. At the current rate of planetary warming, we may run out of time. The race to create new food crops, capable of feeding us, should have begun long ago. The creation of the new food crops we will need will take decades to perfect. Do we have the luxury of decades? We have wasted much valuable time debating whether or not global warming was real or not. Then we deluded ourselves, believing we could change the course of climatic events. How egotistical we are as a species.
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