The victims of climate change

Thousands of Syrian refugees march from Budapest, Hungary towards the Austrian border. Photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters.
Thousands of Syrian refugees march from Budapest, Hungary towards the Austrian border. Photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters.
By Anders Lorenzen
 
Much has been written, broadcast and talked about in recent weeks during the current European immigration crisis. Much of the debate has focused on whether we should open our borders to what, UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described as a swarm of immigrants. But very little has been debated about what is really at the heart of this – our changing climate.
 
And when the debate has centered on the cause, very little has focused on climate change – with some exceptions. The Guardian columnist, Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes that the refugee crisis has been driven by food shortages, which is driven by climate change. The Guardian’s environmental journalist John Vidal, looks at a new World Resources Institute report, which says that the Middle East will face water shortages for the next 25 years, which will affect millions, and increase conflicts in the region. And a report by the Grantham Institute, Climate and Environment department repeats some of those claims, saying  climate change will exacerbate heat waves, droughts, water shortage, flooding. But it stops short of declaring that the situation is being driven by climate change, citing that more research is needed.
 
They all have a point. The devastating impact of the Syrian civil war and resulting chaos means thousands and thousands are having to flee the country. We have put this down to the dictatorship of President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and to the growth of opposing groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and more recently to the terror group ISIS, whose barbaric methods thousands of Syrians are now fleeing from.
 
We can’t for sure say this is caused by climate change, but we can say that a changing climate has driven it. And failure to address climate change will make it much worse in years and decades to come. This is also echoed by the author, Adam Mann, who recently wrote that inaction on climate change will make the risk of a third world war more likely. Maybe this is an extreme view, but climate change is no doubt having an impact in the creation of conflicts.
 
But let us go back to Syria and the escalation of the Civil War there. Many commentators, including scientists, are now pointing to the fact that the war could in fact have been started by climate change. It was first brought to my attention by the American journalist and author, Thomas Friedman, who for the US TV series, The Years of Living Dangerously, reported from Syria and made the link to climate change following a four- year drought.  And of course corruption and the way Assad and his government dealt it with has had an impact too. But we cannot avoid the impact water scarcity has in the escalation of conflicts. Many are predicting that water scarcity will increase in already conflict vulnerable areas with fast growing populations. And so will the threat and risks of conflicts and even wars also increase. Thus, more people with more pressure on resources and with corrupt governments in charge. And, yes, you can do the maths yourself.
 
We in the western world, I believe, have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from terror and climate impacts. First the scientific argument:
 
A recent New Scientist report stated that there is now  mounting evidence that the world has reached an average warming of 1 degree C, a landmark record but an unwelcome one. World leaders believe that to stop runaway climate change we need to keep warming below 2 degree C. At the moment we’re on track for at least 3-4 degree C warming. But even though we miraculously manage to stay within 2 degree C, there is still an awful lot more warming to come. This means more drought, heat waves, floods, storms which will result in crop failures and water shortages and as the world population continues to rapidly expand this spell trouble.
 
Then the moral argument:
 
We in the West, have contributed the most to climate change through the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore we have a moral obligation to help people fleeing from the impacts of climate change. And it should not only be the EU which should shoulder this burden. It is a global problem, so everyone has to do their share. Who knows, we might be the ones that need help in the future, because in the West we are not immune to climate change. Look at the climate impacts in the US; from Hurricane Sandy to the ongoing drought in western US states – all have happened in recent years. Look at both drought and flooding in Australia. It is a list that will only increase as climate change increases.

But, unfortunately, many people seem to think, that we should turn people away,and build stronger borders so these people can’t enter. This is also an agenda being proposed by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, against Mexican migrants entering in the US. He recommends a giant wall. Will that really deal with the problem at hand? No, it will only increase it, as the tension will increase. And if we in Europe are becoming more hostile to refugees, tension could flare here too. But we should help them, welcome them with open arms, listen to their stories, their tragic situations, and what is needed. Then maybe, we might have a chance, combating the evil of terrorism, dictatorship and climate change all together. Because those issues are more interlinked than you might think.

Originally published on A greener life, a greener world.

Anders Lorenzen is an environmentalist, political activist and blogger.

Water, water, everywhere…

20150913_083225
Dove Stone Reservoir, near Oldham, which provides some of our water in Greater Manchester

Following my previous article on Climate Change, conflict and a growing refugee crisis, we continue our exploration into the effects of climate change, as Dave Sanderson writes about our water use in Greater Manchester and how our increasing usage can be better managed as the climate warms and our weather becomes more unpredictable…

How much water do you use each day, on average? A gallon? Don’t forget flushing the loo and your share of the washing machine. 5 gallons? How does 32 gallons or 150 litres sound? Surely not! But it’s true. Even more amazing is that when you count the water used to grow and prepare your food and to produce all the other things you use (such as the textiles for your clothes), this figure increases enormously to 747 gallons, according to Waterwise. Does this matter?

Everyone says it rains a lot around here. Oldham typically gets 43 inches of rain a year, Greater Manchester 32 inches. Greater Manchester has an area of 493 square miles; if you imagine all of that covered by over a yard of water you’d think we would have plenty. But wait a minute; there are 2.7 million of us. What is more, much of the rainfall soaks into the ground, evaporates or drains down the rivers.

In fact, neither Oldham nor Greater Manchester can manage on the water that falls on their land area, simply because they are so densely populated. Greater Manchester uses roughly twice as much, importing half of what it uses from the Lake District and the River Dee. Is this sustainable or desirable? Probably not though there is an overlooked benefit. The extra flow out of our waste pipes not only makes up 92% of the flow of the Irwell and 50% of the Mersey, it is helping bring back salmon and otters into our rivers…proof it is very clean.

If you assume nothing is ever going to go wrong, the current reliance on imported water is just fine. It has worked well so far so why worry? But life’s not like that. Ever had a hose pipe ban? Seen the floods on the TV? Rainfall is becoming more unpredictable and extreme as the climate changes. If by planting more trees and maintaining wetlands we could hold back more water during storms, it would be available to us later, solving both the flood and drought problems. That implies close collaboration between many organisations and individuals, not just farmers, naturalists and water companies.

Water use has been increasing by 1% per year since 1930. Why? It’s largely a cultural thing, as people become more concerned about their health and cleanliness. Water matters for childcare and plays a part in leisure activities. But clearly our use cannot keep increasing forever. Water also costs a lot. Who likes paying their water rates? Any sign of them going down? I thought not. There is also an equality issue too; the little old lady living alone pays the same as the family who power shower twice a day and pressure wash the SUV regularly.

So let’s suppose we wanted to reduce water consumption by decreasing water wasted rather than by restricting use. Could it be done? The 25% of water that is lost through leaks should be reduced (but urban street trees might die!) but zero leakage would not be cost-effective. If we all had water meters, those who use most would pay more. That’s fair and would reduce waste. We don’t need expensive drinking quality water for flushing loos, cooling machinery in factories or watering the garden, so if more buildings captured the rain that falls on their roofs and used it for these tasks, costs to users would fall. More lakes and water features would cool our urban areas and houses in this warming world. So we could get a win / win; lower bills and a better environment.

For information on you can help prevent the worst impacts of climate change, visit our guide here.

Climate change, conflict and a growing refugee crisis: the future is here!

Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan
Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan

Published on the 38 Degrees Manchester blog, in The News Hub  and on A greener life, a greener world blog.

Climate change is one of the 4 main threats to human survival and is already having far-reaching effects. Climate scientists are predicting that 2015 will be the hottest year on record “by a mile”. A surge in ocean temperatures in particular now makes it almost inevitable that this year will turn out to be the hottest year globally since instruments were first used to gather readings more than 130 years ago.

It will mean that the three warmest years since records began in 1880 – 2015, 2014 and 2010 – happened in the past five years, and nine out of the 10 warmest years have all occurred in the 21st century.

The direct effects of human-driven climate change

We are now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical notion. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies.

In  2014, a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a three year joint effort by more than 300 scientists, concluded that climate change was already having significant effects – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and other natural disasters.

Climate change has already cut into the global food supply. Global crop yields are declining – especially wheat – raising serious doubts as to whether production can keep up with population growth. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by between 40% and 60%.

The longer term impacts will be devastating. NASA has been measuring sea levels for the last 23 years and they predict sea levels to rise by an average of 3 feet by the year 2100; with some scientists predicting as much as 6 feet. It can’t be underestimated how devastating this will be for many island nations and coastal populations in the coming century.

Here’s what Miami, Florida would look like after just a meter of sea level rise, according to a visualization created by Andrew David Thaler, a marine science PhD and ocean-science website editor:

miami-sealevel
Featured image by go_greener-oz on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The cumulative effect

The wider impacts of rising sea levels, extreme weather events and global food shortages can’t be considered in isolation. The impacts will be in tandem with existing problems such as population growth, poverty, inequality, political instability and economic shocks. The Pentagon, has talked about climate change as a “threat multiplier”, increasing the risk of conflict.

In fact, a new study released in March suggested that this is exactly what happened in Syria, following a drought, which started in 2007 and continued until at least 2010, leading to a collapse of farming, followed by the migration of 1.5 million farmers to the cities, and then to poverty and civil unrest. Speaking to The Telegraph, climate scientist Richard Seager at Columbia University, a co-author of the study, said:  

“It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”

The study’s authors do not claim that climate change caused Syria’s civil war. They acknowledge that there were numerous factors involved, including the oppressive Assad regime, an influx of more than 1 million refugees from Iraq and the wave created by the Arab Spring. But the drought was a significant factor. Prof Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University and co-author on the new study, explained:

“We’re not saying drought caused the war. We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

But it’s not just conflicts exacerbated by climate that will create refugees: climate change, in and of itself, is likely to cause mass migration.

Map_of_the_Sahel
The Sahel region: a belt up to 1,000 km (620 miles) wide that spans the 5,400 km in Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea

According to Roger Martin at Population Matters, UN demographers project that by 2100 the Sahel region’s population will grow from 125 million to 650 million, while the IPCC project that the region’s temperature will rise by between 4.5 and 6.5 degrees, making it virtually uninhabitable.

Hundreds of millions will seek to move, either South towards the coast or North towards Europe. But the Mediterranean will also be getting drier as the century moves on, with knock-on negative social and economic impacts. Countries like Spain, Italy and Greece will suffer most, meaning significant numbers of people may migrate north, and of course, displaced people from elsewhere won’t stay in the Mediterranean, they’ll keep travelling north.

One day there could conceivably be Italians and Greeks in camps in Calais as well as millions more from the African continent and the Middle East, as their own countries become even hotter and more arid.

All the current focus is on the refugee crisis in Syria, and quite rightly so. But what we’re seeing now is not an aberration. It’s not a temporary disaster. In short, the current ‘crisis’ is trivial compared to what’s in store, where tragedy on a vast scale seems almost inevitable. Unless we act. 

Time to Act

There is an urgent need to address the current refugee crisis, to bring peace to Syria and to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

I’ve put together a list of things we can do to help tackle the refugee crisis:

Refugee crisis: 4 things you can do to help

This is the start of a list of things we can do to help tackle climate change:

10 things you can do to prevent the worst impacts of Climate Change