Famine: impacts and adaption

Never blog when pissed [*] they said…

So, Kloor and Romm are having a dust up over stuff, and if you care you can read the details or even take sides (I’m with Kloor, you won’t be surprised to learn). But we can take a step back and consider a more generalised problem, in the context of Doctors Warn Climate Change is “Greatest Threat to Public Health”: suppose we care about famine in the third world (in the sense of wanting to do something about it, rather than in the sense of finding it interesting material to blog about it): what might we do?

* stop climate change (reduce impacts)
* improve their governance (adaption)

Obviously the two are not exclusive, but more importantly it is likely that one factor is more significant than the other. Which might it be? I’ve been pretty skeptical about the chances of future famine in the past (pardon?) and I’m still skeptical, so my vote goes to choice 2: their big problem is governance. Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

So temporarily ignoring the problem that “improve their governance” doesn’t have a glorious recent past (Afghanistan and Iraq being our most recent disaster areas; but we could look to Sierra Leone, or possibly Libya as better examples) I’d say option 2 is distinctly a better bet. Plus the associated externalities are positive too (not only do they not starve to death, they don’t get shot either).

[*] In the English sense, which is to say, when drunk.

[Update: AG reminds me that I really ought to have mentioned Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate. And you can read his \blog on it, too.]

Comments

  1. #1 Eli Rabett
    2011/10/19

    And

  2. #2 andrewt
    2011/10/19

    I remember being told when visiting Uganda about 20 years ago that even during the worst chaos of the Amin years people didn’t go hungry because the country was so fertile that large numbers of people could easily retreat into rural subsistence – not so Somalia in drought.

    [But what motto do you draw from that? That Somali is different from Uganda? That Amin wasn't as bad as the current non-government of Somalia? Or What? -W]

  3. #3 Vinny Burgoo
    2011/10/19

    Never blog when pissed [*] they said< \i>

    The depth of the sediment in your wheat beer is what matters, not the pissedness of … oh, hang on. I’m almost out of booze.

  4. #4 andrewt
    2011/10/19

    The moral I drew was abysmal government isn’t sufficient for famine. But maybe bad governance is the most tractable (least intractable) thing to fix as long as you are prepared to take decades to tackle it – but of course there is no reason why we need address only 1 factor anyway.

  5. #5 MMM
    2011/10/19

    So, for any one given climate impact, the answer is almost always that adaptation to the impact is easier, cheaper, and more effective than mitigation.

    Famine in Uganda? Better governance. Sea level rise in New Orleans? Better dykes, or moving people out of vulnerable areas, or appropriate insurance market pricing. Increasing heat waves? More air conditioning. Etc. etc.

    But, with climate mitigation you ameliorate all the negative impacts all over the world at the same time… so, which is more cost effective? Mitigation or global adaptation? (to paraphrase Schneider out of context, I hope the answer is both…)

    [But if you're trying to answer the question in terms of economics, it is unlikely that the answer will be both, even if you decide to do both for other reasons. And, of course, you do need to attempt to answer that question. Romm's Doctors have answered it to their satisfaction, and Romm claims that Doctors Warn Climate Change is “Greatest Threat to Public Health”. I don't think that is plausible -W]

    (I’ll also note that impacts on ecosystems are harder to deal with: perhaps more land conservation and open corridors and such can at least deal with some terrestrial ecosystem adaptation issues, but how will we address ocean acidification? Yes, preventing coral bleaching through reducing fishing and dumping impacts is important, but under a BAU scenario, I’m not convinced that even best practices will save the coral. Similarly, Arctic ice retreat or Amazonian drought would be very difficult to address without mitigation, absent major, dangerous geoengineering)

    [Agreed -W]

    (but in sympathy with the post: there are some problems that mitigation will do little to solve, and Somali famine might very well be one of them. Whether or not Indian Ocean warming is a contributing factor to the Somali drought, it would be entirely possible for there to be famine even in a good rainfall year if the society is anarchic enough)

  6. #6 Dan Moutal
    2011/10/19

    I fear that this is a little too simplistic a view. Climate change can de-stabilize governments (or in Pentagon speak act as a threat multiplier) so both options are intertwined. (which is a common theme when discussing adaptation vs mitigation)

    [It can. It might even have given the Somali "government" another push. But it wasn't what caused their mess in the first place -W]

    The other thing to consider is that you can run into trouble when looking too narrowly at the benefits of mitigation (Lomborg is an expert at this). Improving governance of say somalia, will do wonders for Somali’s and their neighbours, climate mitigation can do a great deal of good for the whole planet. If you only look at eastern Africa then you are missing many of the benefits of climate mitigation

    [Well, where else is there famine? N Korea. What would they most benefit from? Mitigation, or a change in government? The answer is obvious. I agree with your point that mitigation has global impacts. But improving governance has impacts all across a society (and probably in neighbours too, as you rightly say. I'm not trying to sell it as the ultimate solution to GW, though) -W]

    Still I suspect (aka I am guessing) that you are right. Currently the biggest factor in the Somali famine is the lack of a Somali government, not a changing climate.

  7. #7 keith kloor
    2011/10/19

    Romm Doubles down:
    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2011/10/19/climate-misdirection-on-somalia/

    [He cannot bear to speak your name, you win :-) -W]

  8. #8 Aslak Grinsted
    2011/10/20

    What about the recently reported link between climate & war? Perhaps your climate change mitigation will lead to improved governance?

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10311.html

    (disclaimer: I’ve not actually read the paper, only heard a podcast report on it.)

    [Good point, which I really ought to have included. That is worth a post of its own sometime -W]

  9. #9 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    Some extra reading.

    * Climate Change and Conflict. [German] Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (2002). PDF.
    * A brief history of climate change and conflict. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2009).
    * Climate change, ill health, and conflict. British Medical Journal (2011)
    * Climate Change and Conflict. International Crisis Group (?)
    * Influence of the intertropical convergence zone on the East Asian monsoon. Yancheva et al (2007). PDF.

    “The role of climate and environmental change in the success or failure of societies is a matter of intense debate 4,5,28,29 . It would be simplistic to imagine that all episodes of societal change are driven by climatic events, especially in an advanced and complex society such as dynastic China. Nevertheless, we note that, on the basis of our new Huguang Maar data, major changes in Chinese dynasties 30 occurred when the winter monsoon was strong (Fig. 3). The anti-correlation between winter and summer monsoon strength indicated by comparison of the Huguang Maar data with the cave records would suggest that dynastic transitions tended to occur when the summer monsoon was weak and rainfall was reduced. Dynastic changes in China often involved popular uprisings during phases of crop failure and famine, consistent with a linkage to reduced rainfall. The Tang dynasty has been described as a high point in Chinese civilization 30 ,a golden age of literature and art. The power of the dynasty began to ebb in the eighth century, starting with a defeat by the Arab army in AD 751. Rebellions further weakened the Tang empire, and it fully collapsed in AD 907 (ref. 30).

    It is intriguing that the rise and collapse of the Classic Maya 4,5 coincided with the golden age and decline of the Tang dynasty in China 30. Comparison of the Ti records from Lake Huguang Maar and the Cariaco basin reveals similarities, including both a general shift towards drier climate at about AD 750 and a series of three multi-year rainfall minima within that generally dry period (Fig. 3), the last of which coincides with the final stage of Maya collapse as well as the end of the Tang dynasty. Given these results, it seems possible that major circum-Pacific shifts in ITCZ position catalysed simultaneous events in civilizations on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean.”

    With up to a third of the world’s population relying on marine food sources for their staple diets, ocean acidification concerns me most.

    [I've only heard of coral reefs keeling over from acidification. I've not seen owt about fishies caring.

    As for the historical examples: those were all agrarian societies. There isn't much to learn from them that is of any use; our entire path nowadays is moving away from that. You could argue that what they teach is that being such a society is dangerous and that the modern industrialisation / urbanisation is better. No-one starves in the rich world (except by choice) and it isn't because we're stealing food fro the poor world -W]

  10. #10 Collin
    2011/10/20

    Sharon Astyk says there’s a link between war and food prices. Ideally — if politics would allow it — we should be air-dropping free food on Somalia.

  11. #11 Magnus W
    2011/10/20

    IMHO this is just stupid, it is possible to work on both and both will affect each other. And one of the reasons why climate have been lifted as an important question by Hans Rosling http://roslingsblogger.blogspot.com/ is its possibly really bad affects on some of the progress that has been made on e.g. cultivating the land. etc… And also it depends on how stupid we are… If we really try to burn it all parts of africa are in for a real treat…. which also reminds me how dumb it is to just talk about africa and not the specific countries. http://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling.html

    And as you state a state that “change” the government in another country is not something that has helped much in the world… might start to look into what some bad corporations are doing instead… that would not please many though.

  12. #12 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    “I’ve only heard of coral reefs keeling over from acidification. I’ve not seen owt about fishies caring.”

    Fish need to eat.

    * Global phytoplankton decline over the past century. Boyce et al (2010)
    * Researchers Defend Study Finding Plankton Decline
    * Atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide observations from two European coastal stations 2000–2005: continental influence, trend changes and APO climatology. Sirignano et al (2010).

    [Could be. But again, the major source of fish stock decline is not climate or phytoplankton - it is overfishing -W]

    “As for the historical examples: those were all agrarian societies. There isn’t much to learn from them that is of any use; our entire path nowadays is moving away from that.”

    But surely it’s worse than during past history? We, the West, rely much more heavily on food imports than in the past, and much of that sourced from the world’s poorer and more agrarian economies.

    [Are you sure of that? I was under the impression that the US and the EU at least were exporters. See for example http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=47 -W]

    Richer economies feel it, too, as in the cases of when Russia’s crops burn and almost overnight they cut off export to meet their own domestic demand (which, IIRC, was the start of another ding-dong between Kloor and Romm – food riots, and how much that Russian cutoff compelled Egyptians into their uprising).

    [That seems to prove my point: in the olde dayes, which you (just above) think was much better, that would have caused starvation in Russia. It didn't this time -W]

  13. #13 Nick
    2011/10/20

    “…their big problem is governance.”

    Is this what this is about–relative attribution? Because what’s really annoying me is when Kloor writes that “the Somali famine is wholly a man-made tragedy, in which global warming is not a relevant factor.” This completely ignores the exposure element of the equation (i.e., drought, perhaps induced in part by anthropogenic warming), which is where Romm’s focus lies. You change the exposure, you change the vulnerability, all governance variables held constant.

    Considering climate change as a contributing factor to drought and food scarcity in the Horn does not somehow shield policy people from the governance problem or how sociopolitical factors can transform a scarcity problem into full-blown famine. Anyone giving five minutes to this disaster can see that Shabaab and the weak “recognized” government are huge problems. But do they become bigger problems, from a food access/entitlement perspective, if/when droughts become more frequent and/or severe due to warming? Why is this a dumb question? How does deliberating on this question not inform adaptation planning in the HOA?

    Why is this a dust-up, again? Mitigation v. adaptation?

    [It is a dust-up mostly because Kloor and Romm really don't like each other. Kllor's assertion that this is "wholly" a man-made tragedy is only just defensible: there is, obviously, a climate component to the lack of rainfall. But if that same scale of drought struck the UK, causing total crop failure, no-one here would starve or even go hungry -W]

  14. #14 Nick
    2011/10/20

    “..if that same scale of drought struck the UK, causing total crop failure, no-one here would starve or even go hungry.” Absolutely. I really find the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity framework very useful in exploring differential vulnerability.

  15. #15 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    “Are you sure of that? I was under the impression that the US and the EU at least were exporters. See for example http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=47

    They’re definitely exporters, but that’s net export dollar value, not export weight, and I’d have to check to see if farmers in richer countries get more money more for the crop, net, than those in poorer countries. I vaguely recall that temporary export bans to feed domestic supply during bad years can skew the figures quite a bit.

    (OT: Looks like Gaddafi’s dead.)

  16. #16 Eli Rabett
    2011/10/20

    > Could be. But again, the major source of fish stock decline is not climate or phytoplankton – it is overfishing -W

    Overfishing in a stressed environment where the stresses come from all directions, climate change, pollution, ocean acidification on the one hand, and on the other are all associated with people.

    You and Keith really have problems with AND as in each thing is necessary but not sufficient by itself, but drought and poor governance does wonders for famine while neither by themselves are enough.

    [No, I don’t buy that. Overwhelmingly (at least around Europe, but elsewhere too) the stress on fishstock is overfishing. Overfishing most certainly is sufficient by itself to run stocks down. GW is such a minor influence, at present, that it would only be a distraction from the real problem. GW is a big enough problem already – there is no need to invent spurious extra ramifications.

    Incidentally, just quoting me by [William -W] is going to confuse people, because you can’t tell it from my replies. I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting as “> William” instead. My inlines are just text, after all -W]

  17. #17 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    How does overfishing affect phytoplankton? I’d have thought overfishing would cause an increase, not a marked decrease.

    [Sounds reasonable. But we don't eat it. I was talking about overfishing affecting fish stocks -W]

  18. #18 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    “Sounds reasonable. But we don’t eat it.”

    Although we don’t cast our nets for it, unless fish are now growing broccoli and carrots then I suspect we most certainly do :)

    The Office of Science’s Foresight Group have a new report out on migration and environmental impacts.

    * Direct link.
    * Grauniad’s take on it.

    [I think we're talking past each other. I'm asserting that the decline in world fish stocks is overwhelmingly due to overfishing, not lack of plankton or any GW or CO2-related effect. Do you believe otherwise? -W]

  19. #19 J Bowers
    2011/10/20

    I think we’re talking past each other. I’m asserting that the decline in world fish stocks is overwhelmingly due to overfishing, not lack of plankton or any GW or CO2-related effect. Do you believe otherwise”

    Yes.

    Requiem for the sea: State of the Seas report concludes “negative changes” to the oceans exceed IPCCs worst case scenarios.

    ” …The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.

    …The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood Interactions between different impacts can be negatively synergistic (negative impact greater than sum of individual stressors) or they can be antagonistic (lowering the effects of individual impacts). Examples of such interactions include: combinations of overfishing, physical disturbance, climate change effects, nutrient runoff and introductions of non-native species leading to explosions of these invasive species, including harmful algal blooms, and dead zones

    http://www.stateoftheocean.org/ipso-2011-workshop-summary.cfm

  20. #20 deconvoluter
    2011/10/21


    the chief culprit, according to Davis, was not the weather, but European empires, with Japan and the US.

    Their imposition of free-market economics on the colonial world was tantamount to a ‘cultural genocide’.

    That also applied to the Irish potato famine. What would have been the point of attributing fractional contributions to potato blight and free-market policies when they were both necessary causes?

    That was then, but even now, there are other factors apart from bad governance.

  21. #21 Andy Revkin
    2011/10/21

    Perhaps needless to say, but I’m with you, too: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/?s=somalia+famine

    [The Funk stuff is interesting. It hadn't occured to me that anyone would use the IPCC AR4 projections for planning the immeadiate future. They certainly should not be so used. And they aren't reliable no the regional scale anyway -W]

  22. #22 Steve Bloom
    2011/10/22

    So per the logic of the post, apparently Thailand has just suffered an abrupt decline of governance. Or does the reasoning only apply to dry disasters?

  23. #23 Steve Bloom
    2011/10/22

    And now we see via Jeff Masters that El Salvador has experienced a deluge of poor governance… [Snip. No, don't. This isn't WUWT -W]

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