Archive for February, 2008
The thing I like best about “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change” is a quote from Thomas C. Schelling:
… a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered looks strange; what looks strange is therefore improbable; what seems improbable need not be considered seriously
“The Ages of Consequences” is a report written by people who are or were advising key politicians in the US, or are in key positions at renowned research institutes. Currently, we do live in the “age of consequences” — bad things are happening and are happening very quickly. More quickly than we like to think. So the goal of this report is not to estimate what is with highest probability going to happen, but to look at the full range of things that seem plausible. Knowing this, it is not a surprise that the scenarios in this report are called expected, severe, and catastrophic. I’ve actually never read the apocalypse part of the bible. But what the catastrophic scenario looks like must come fairly close, which is the thing I like least about this report.
The catastrophic scenario, with average global temperatures increasing by 5.6Â°C by 2100, finds strong and surprising intersections between the two great security threats of the dayâ€”global climate change and international terrorism waged by Islamist extremists.
Further interesting points raised in this report include:
Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people â€”- both inside nations and across existing national borders.
The term â€œglobal climate changeâ€ is misleading in that many of the effects will vary dramatically from region to region.
A few countries may benefit from climate change in the short term, but there will be no â€œwinners.â€
Climate change effects will aggravate existing international crises and problems.
We lack rigorously tested data or reliable modeling to determine with any sense of certainty the ultimate path and pace of temperature increase or sea level rise associated with climate change in the decades ahead [see the post on measuring things].
Focus on Water
There is a rather interesting section focussing on how climate change effects water resources
As noted in the historical survey in the next section of this report, there is a long record of states dealing with scarcity of water. Given that history, itâ€™s not surprising that much has been written on the subject, including the relationship between access to water and conflict. This body of literature is important, both because water scarcity is predicted to be one consequence of global warming and because it affects our understanding of the climate change debate.
The historical record shows that water scarcity has resulted in both conflict and cooperation. The Environmental Change and Security Program at the Smithsonian Institutionâ€™s Woodrow Wilson Center highlighted this dichotomy that environmental challenges such as climate change can threaten or bolster human security. â€œThese factors can contribute to conflict or exacerbate other causes such as poverty, migration, and infectious diseases,â€ the group stated. â€œHowever, managing environmental issues and natural resources can also build confidence and contribute to peace by facilitating cooperation across lines of tension.â€
In 1991, Joyce Starr published a landmark article in Foreign Policy titled â€œWater Wars.â€ The author warned that water shortages threatened conflict throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East. Many related articles and studies about armed clashes and other conflicts surrounding access to water followed. Peter Gleickâ€™s 2000 chronology, for example, identifies water as a factor in at least 42 violent conflicts that have occurred worldwide since the beginning of the last century. However, Gleickâ€™s chronology includes cases in which adversaries have employed water as a means of attack, such as when they bomb dams or poison wells. Other scholars have identified as few as seven cases of acute, water-related, trans-boundary conflictsâ€”with exchanges of fire occurring in only four of them, including two between Israel and Syria.
There are also â€œwater warsâ€ skeptics. One report claimed that the last time parties fought a military conflict expressly over water could be when the Mesopotamian cities of Lagash and Umma battled each other 4,500 years ago. Noting that governments have signed thousands of international agreements regarding water issues, Sandra Postel and Aaron Wolf wrote that, in the case of water, â€œthe history of cooperation, creativity and ingenuity is infinitely more rich than that of acute conflict.â€
Scholars involved with the â€œBasins at Riskâ€ project at Oregon State Universityâ€”which studies developments relating to the Nile, Mekong, Euphrates, Amu Darya, Syr Darya, and Gangesâ€”concluded that water scarcity does not increase the likelihood of interstate conflicts. Nevertheless, they maintain that tensions surrounding shared river basins can characterize relations between nations and undermine cooperation in other areas. As a result, governments may be more likely to turn to unilateral development projects, such as dams, that control water flow across international borders. Under favorable conditions, however, dialogue over water can promote cooperation and prevent conflict. For example, discussions between India and Pakistan over the Indus River led to the resumption of talks over other bilateral concerns. In other cases, trans-boundary water agreements and institutions have proven resilient even in the face of conflicts over other issuesâ€”as shown by the relationship between Israel and Jordan, the Mekong Committee, and the Indus River Commission.
This absence of a clear link between conflict and water may explain why some analysts are reluctant to systematically link environmental issues to national security more broadly.
Quite frequently this report mentions a phrase I learned from a math prof at Waterloo, whose son wrote this interesting little book: “The tipping point“
The US National Academy of Engineering has announced a list of the 14 Engineering’s Grand Challenges. The committee that chose these topics after a one year long decision process include Larry Page, co-founder of google, as well as Craig Venter who was instrumental in mapping the human genome.
According to them, the 14 engineering challenges are:
- Make solar energy affordable.
- Provide energy from fusion.
- Develop carbon sequestration methods.
- Manage the nitrogen cycle.
- Provide access to clean water.
- Restore and improve urban infrastructure.
- Advance health informatics.
- Engineer better medicines.
- Reverse-engineer the brain.
- Prevent nuclear terror.
- Secure cyberspace.
- Enhance virtual reality.
- Advance personalized learning.
- Engineer the tools for scientific discovery.
Currently, providing access to clean water is voted to be the third most important item on this list. Let’s get to it!
Even the US based National Groundwater Association (NGWA) has put a collection of drought related information together. Another piece of evidence that seems to suggest that a) the US-Southwest/Midwest has water problems, and that b) extremes get more and more important.
The US-Southwest is again in the Weired-news. What’s up with those guys? Either there is a real problem, or somebody at Weired is really a Southwesterner… In this latest article, Weird describes how Lake Powell and Lake Mead could run dry really soon. I have been to the Southwest when I was about in grade 10. Still, I looked the locations up in google.earth (click for larger view):
Notice the city of Los Angeles in the very South West of that map. The city of Las Vegas is just to the West of Lake Mead; The yellow line between the two lakes is 300km long.
It is a little while ago when I was in Laughlin, so my memories are a little weak. I do have one vivid memory however: We were driving the whole day through what for me essentially felt like a dessert. Our goal for the day was to reach the back then little town of Laughlin, Nevada, about 150km south of Las Vegas, downstream along the Colorado River. For me this town Laughlin seem to be totally crazy. In the middle of that dessert there were water sprinklers running to water the lush green grass of a golf course. We stayed for really cheap at a fancy hotel, with swimming pool and everything you would expect in say San Francisco. We had dinner, and that was the first moment I saw the Colorado River. A seemingly big, mighty river. Things changed dramatically over night. We had breakfast, and there was no more river. No more. They told us they pump the water out over night for irrigation. That scared me. Now, I’m no expert on the Southwest nor on the water resources there. Putting all my groundwater knowledge that I gained during university, the things I saw back then did not seem right for a dessert. I kind of doubt that water related things (water consumption) improved since then.
Wired has some pictures from Orange County’s (California) latest groundwater replenishment system. For $480M it converts 70M gallons of dirty water (sewage) into drinking water.
Western Water Crisis
Weird has another water story, also on the western parts of the US: Climate change is anticipated to severe the water crisis there.
Irrigation – but what crops
Another Weired story: not only how irrigation is done is important, also the crops play a role (who would have thought).
Food Is the New Crisis
… says the National Post. And food doesn’t grow without water!
How Streams Really Flow
This is something for you Ben, and all the stream morphologists out there! The lesson is for all of us though: Don’t trust anything (obviously). Also, humans have been around for longer than we sometimes think. This one is not so obvious sometimes. There is a scene in “Elizabeth the Golden Age” that reminded me of that: The Spaniards needed lots of lumber for their seriously big fleet. Very similarly, the ancient Greeks needed lots of lumber for their Triremes. The effects of those needs are still quite visible in the landscape around Seville and on the Peloponnese.
Google to Outspend US Government on Environment
This headline from a blogpost by planetsave caught my eye. Well, that’s the purpose of a headline. Planetsave goes on to tell us how many startup-funding google does. How nice. At the bottom of that post they link to three other posts on environment-parts of the US budget (1, 2, 3).