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Groundbreaking UN Report Warns Climate Change a Threat to Global Security and Mankind
While climate change reports are far from a new phenomenon, an international study released Monday morning should be enough to give any human being reason to act and/or demand action from legislators and the energy industry around them.
For the first time, a United Nations panel has concluded that the list of widely known climate change impacts—including extreme weather and warming—could soon grow to include increased strains on water and food supplies, leading to civil resource wars, migration and international conflict.
That's on top of assertions that the effects of climate change are already seen on every continent and oceans on the planet, and that we're "ill-prepared" for them.
“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Working Group II, which compiled the report. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”
By all accounts, the report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability is the most comprehensive report on climate change released on a global scale. A total of 309 authors and editors from 70 countries were selected to produce the report. Additionally, 436 contributors and nearly 1,800 experts and government reviewers provided input. The report's impending release led to a flurry of responses and interpretations over the weekend that all agree that fossil fuel divestment needs to end now.
"Oil rigs and coal power plants are weapons of mass destruction, loading the atmosphere with destructive carbon emissions that don't respect national borders," Jen Maman, peace adviser at Greenpeace International, said. "To protect our peace and security, we must disarm them and accelerate the transition to clean and safe renewable energy that’s already started."
Chris Field, another IPCC co-chair, told The Guardian that the group that compiled the report realized it was high time to move beyond weather and energy related impacts when discussing the risks of a changing climate.
"If we want to take a smart approach to the future, we need to consider a full range of possible outcomes and that means not only the more likely outcomes, but also outcomes for truly catastrophic impacts, even if those are lower probability," Field said.
Michael Mann, a climate scientist, author, professor and director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, said the report shows that "increased competition for diminishing resources among a growing global population is unfortunately a perfect prescription for increased conflict." In the IPCC's view, it's most striking that these effects on our agriculture, health, livelihood and ecosystems are taking place "from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest."
That means the potential for mass migrations and competition is just as widespread. Mann adds that it will have an extreme impact on biodiversity.
"The Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world and a home to much ocean biodiversity, is being hit with a double whammy—increased coral bleaching because of hotter waters and the increased acidity of the ocean water as growing atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to penetrate into the upper ocean," Mann said. "In fact, scientists conclude that this combination of factors will kill off the Great Barrier Reef and nearly all the world's coral reefs in a matter of decades if we continue with the course that we’re on."
Hoda Baraka of 350.org says keeping coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground is the best way to minimize that course.
To those who are concerned about the potential financial cost of adapting to the demands of climate change, Amalie Obsuan, a Greenpeace campaigner for Southeast Asia, suggests examining the true cost of warming.
"Let’s not get distracted by limited economic models or be blinded by global [gross domestic product]," she said. "What value can you put on the lives of 8,000 people left dead or missing by typhoon Haiyan? Or what is the cost of the trauma of children being torn from their mother's arms due to storm surges?
"That is the true cost of climate change that should define the urgency of the action we take."
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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