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MUST WE ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE? August 9, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Global Warming (climate change).
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We could if we wished, but apparently we do not want to, but reality has to be accepted. Now the election campaign is underway the issue of Climate Change has been pushed out of sight. Apparently, other concerns are more important. Can democracy even work?

The opponents of the science of climate change, of reality to the extent that it can be known with a degree of uncertainty, tend to rely on assertions rather than experiment and observation. Perhaps, they have gone through the rigorous process of developing a research proposal, only to have it denied on the basis of the lack of funding. If true that would confirm funding science was less politically efficacious than promoting propaganda.

The opponents of science have scored an extraordinary propaganda coup, which will pull down the society they say they are defending. Let’s do nothing, and we can continue to make lots of money, which as we know, or should know, is the purpose of life. It is just that other forms of life, or more generally nature does not know about this notion, and is indifferent to it.

Apparently, if the public relations, the propaganda, exerts get it right. They win. They create the political reality, what policies can be seen important and relevant. They do so by denying climate science. If the consequences of a 2 degrees Celsius rise in mean global temperatures can be denied then there is no place for policies requiring mitigation, let alone adaptation. In the closing fast short term, the winners of the game are the fossil fuel corporations, their economic consorts and dependents.

Why don’t we just let the relevant scientists settle the issues, and build up an informed consensus. Given the media environment, such a proposal is probably impossible. Why hasn’t there been political leadership on this issue, both here and elsewhere? Lesley Head observes in The Conversation:

Australian political leaders dance around the hard issues of climate change. There are no prizes for national leaders who bring bad news. The diabolical difficulty of turning around a fossil-fuel economy has contributed to five of them (Howard, Nelson, Turnbull, Rudd, Gillard) losing their jobs.

But there is no easy way to do this. The evidence is mounting that we are well past the point where climate change response can be a planned, gradual transition. It is much more likely that profound and unwanted change in the next few years will make a mockery of current policies on climate change and other issues (productivity, health, education).

It is time for both leaders and citizens to stop pretending that we can make the necessary changes without pain – for businesses, for households, for the economy. Yes it will cost jobs, but there will be a need for many different kinds of labour. We will have to do things for ourselves that fossil fuels have been doing for us. Yes it will cost money – it is the price to be paid for the free ecological ride we have been getting for several centuries. The changes needed are huge, and many of them will be forced on us before we are ready.

. . . Australia needs a much more honest conversation about what that pain is going to feel like for different groups in society (including those who will seek to come to our shores), how to share the necessary sacrifices with some semblance of justice and what our society might look like as it goes through a generation or two of transition. One word we’ll need to resurrect is rationing – we’ve shown we’re good at it during drought. People accepted limited water rationing if it was fairly applied and seen to be enforced. Can we start to imagine how society might operate once electricity and petrol need to be rationed?

The leaders for this conversation will be those who can strengthen the social contract between diverse parts of society, encouraging us all to tackle problems together and strengthen networks of support during times of rapid change.

We probably should concentrate on the fact that we are now experiencing Climate Change, and  the hopeful thing to recognize that has human causality. Food production is something that might concern all of us.

The hot summers in the United States provide a singular case study, presumably duplicated in the other important food producing zones of the world. Gary Paul Nabhan discussed, Our Growing Food Crisis, in The New York Times. He observed (temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit):

People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture: roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini. Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers. Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

If these costs are passed on to consumers, we can again expect food prices, especially for beef and lamb, to rise, just as they did in 2012, the hottest year in American history. So extensive was last year’s drought that more than 1,500 counties — about half of all the counties in the country — were declared national drought disaster areas, and 90 percent of those were hit by heat waves as well.

The answer so far has been to help affected farmers with payouts from crop insurance plans. But while we can all sympathize with affected farmers, such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.

There are a number of adaptive measures mentioned that farmers could adopt such as use of compost and better re-use of water, and suggests that encouraging perennial agriculture  – “edible tree crops and perennial grass pastures” is better option than subsidizing biofuel production from annual crops. He points out some issues of which I was unaware:

We also need to address the looming seed crisis. Because of recent episodes of drought, fire and floods, we are facing the largest shortfall in the availability of native grass, forage legume, tree and shrub seeds in American history. Yet current budget-cutting proposals threaten to significantly reduce the number of federal plant material centers, which promote conservation best practices.

If our rangelands, forests and farms are to recover from the devastating heat, drought and wildfires of the last three years, they need to be seeded with appropriate native forage and ground-cover species to heal from the wounds of climatic catastrophes. To that end, the farm bill should direct more money to the underfinanced seed collection and distribution programs.

Finally, the National Plant Germplasm System, the Department of Agriculture’s national reserve of crop seeds, should be charged with evaluating hundreds of thousands of seed collections for drought and heat tolerance, as well as other climatic adaptations — and given the financing to do so. Thousands of heirloom vegetables and heritage grains already in federal and state collections could be rapidly screened and then used by farmers for a fraction of what it costs a biotech firm to develop, patent and market a single “climate-friendly” crop.

Investing in climate-change adaptation will be far more cost-effective than doling out $11.6 billion in crop insurance payments, as the government did last year, for farmers hit with diminished yields or all-out crop failures.

As the payouts from crop insurance rise, the cost of planting crops increase, and I imagine this is a cost borne by the producers, at least at first. And these economic flow ons occur in rich countries, it is likely the effects of climate change will be felt more keenly in poorer parts of the world. People isolated during the recent flooding in India, struggled to keep both themselves and their animals alive.

To some extent the problem is not getting ready to address the immediate problems of climate change, such as the increased frequency and intensity of bush fires, rather than the cultural paradigm change that climate change demands. To behave societal behavior and thinking is very difficult, although perhaps not impossible. So inevitably as the election spews out more of the same in conformity to what is required principally by the mass media propaganda environment, we are not getting the immediate practical measures that have to be undertaken, or the longer term positive vision of possibility.

Furthermore, as Mary Robertson says:

Climate change is an issue of both human rights and fundamental justice. Developing countries’ fossil-fuel consumption is undermining the life chances of very poor people, and, unlike those of us in developed nations, those people are largely helpless in response to the climate shocks of severe droughts, catastrophic storms, and floods. They don’t have insurance, and their governments don’t have the means to provide climate adaptation strategies.

Considering climate change from a human rights and justice perspective compels us to recognize our own responsibility to support poorer populations in their efforts to adapt and become resilient. It lends greater urgency to the need for a true partnership of nations to limit global warming.

Donald Brown reviews Climate Change as an ethical issue:

Could it be that the immediate practical impacts of Climate Change, not including the ethical aspects, will be not be part of the democratic conversation or the decision making in this election? If that is the case, what does it say about us collectively and the society in which we live? Since the political system reflects the cultural assumptions a society holds, the political failure on Climate Change was probably to be expected. So what is to be done?

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