An early victim of climate change? Aleppo, 29th January 2014. Photo: Freedom House via Flickr.com.
The melting Arctic, and revolutions to come
Robert & Jack Hunziker
26th April 2014
The world is facing the imminent threat of severe climate disruption from the warming Arctic, write Robert & Jack Hunziker, leading to a global crisis. But the response of the powerful is only to increase fossil fuel exploitation - and damn the consequences.
Imagine the backlash in the country if food shortages hit America because of the failure of the government to set policies to convert fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
The 'warming of the Arctic' could become one of the greatest catastrophes in human history, even exceeding the notoriety of Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan.
Likely, it will impact more people than the combined effect of those brutal leaders. In fact, global warming may eventually be categorized as the greatest threat of all time, even greater than the Black Death's 75-to-200 million dead, circa 1350.
The integrity of Arctic sea ice is essential to prevent the risks of (1) methane outbreak and / or (2) fierce, damaging weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Arctic sea ice continues its decline
According to the NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO), "Average ice extent for March 2014 was the fifth lowest for the month in the satellite record. Through 2014, the linear rate of decline for March ice extent is 2.6% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average."
Extreme weather events, as a consequence of the warming Arctic, will likely wreak havoc over the entire Northern Hemisphere, causing severe droughts, freezing cold spells, and widespread flooding. Some early evidence of this is already at hand.
These combinations of extreme weather events have the potential to rival the damage of the great mythical floods. Already, Eastern Europe had a taste of extreme climate change in 2013 when a once-in-500-year flood hit hard, wiping out vast swathes of cropland.
In the future, when shortages of food and water become more commonplace because of extreme climactic change, it is probable that desperate groups of roughnecks will battle for food and water, similar to the dystopia depicted in Mad Max (Warner Bros. 1979) the story of a breakdown of society where bandit tribes battle over the last remaining droplets of petroleum.
Over time, climate change is setting the stage for worldwide wars over food and water.
Origin of food & water wars
Research conducted by Jennifer Francis, PhD, Rutgers University - Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, shows that Arctic sea ice loss, with its consequent warming, impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation, radically distorting jet streams above 30,000 feet, which adversely affects weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere
(Source: Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus, Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 39, L06801, 17 March 2012.)
"Gradual warming of the globe may not be noticed by most, but everyone - either directly or indirectly - will be affected to some degree by changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as green-house gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere." (Ibid.)
Scientists are already cognizant of how badly a warming Arctic impacts subsistence, for example, according to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:
"The weather extremes ... are causing real problems for farmers ... World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue." (Source: Arctic Methane Emergency Group).
The Syrian connection
"The nexus between climate change, human migration, and instability constitutes ... a transcendent challenge", wrote Michael Werz and Max Hofman in 'Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict, The Arab Spring and Climate Change' (Climate and Security Correlations Series, Feb. 2013).
"The conjunction of these undercurrents was most recently visible during the Arab Spring, where food availability, increasing food prices, drought, and poor access to water, as well as urbanization and international migration contributed to the pressures that underpinned the political upheaval."
As for example, Syria suffered from devastating droughts in the decade leading up to its rebellion as the country's total water resources cut in half between 2002 and 2008. As a result, the drier winters hit Syria, which, at the time, was the top wheat-growing region of the eastern Mediterranean, thereby exacerbating its crisis.
In 2009 the UN and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported that more than 800,000 Syrians lost their entire means of livelihood because of drought. (Robert F. Worth, Earth is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived, New York Times, Oct. 13, 2010.)
The phenomenon is global
In the recent past, ferocious weather conditions have struck all across the planet, for example:
- a once every 500-year flood in Eastern Europe,
- a once in 50-year drought in the US Midwest,
- the worst drought in 200 years in China, affecting more people than the entire population of North America;
- the worst flooding in Pakistan in 100 years (a continuous deluge lasting for over a month);
- the most costly flash flood damage in Canada's modern history;
- Syria's drought has been classified as the worst in the history of the Fertile Crescent;
- Brazil is experiencing it's worst drought in decades.
The list goes on, and on, and on. Merciless weather is lashing out with torrential storms and embedded droughts like never before. No other period of time in modern history comes close.
The reason behind the weather dilemma has everything to do with global warming in the Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet.
In turn, the Arctic, which serves as the thermostat for the entire Northern Hemisphere, is disrupting the jet streams, which, as a result, influences weather patterns throughout the hemisphere.
This is causing droughts and torrential storms to become "embedded or stalled" for long duration, e.g., Colorado's torrential downpour and massive flooding in 2013, which was as fierce as superabundant coastal tropical storms but not at all like mid-latitude, middle America storms.
Once food and water shortages become widespread as a result of a more extreme and unpredictable climate behavior, it is highly probable that people all across the planet will become so disgusted and distraught that they'll be looking for blood.
In that regard, history shows that, during such times, desperation overrides prudence. Therefore, hiding behind security gates and armed troops won't make a difference, similar to the late 18th century French Revolution when masses of citizens used pitchforks, stones, and sticks to overwhelm the king's formidable armed forces.
At the time, France was one of the mightiest forces in the world, but like toy soldiers, its army fell at the hands of its own citizens. In the end, civilizations cannot, and have not, survived the forces of desperation born of starvation.
In the case of Paris, two years of poor grain harvests because of bad weather conditions set the stage for revolution. On June 21, 1791 the king, queen, and their attendants fled their Paris residences, whisked away in carriages, as masses of enraged, starving protestors swarmed the city streets.
The forewarnings had been there years beforehand. On August 20, 1986 Finance Minister Calonne informed King Louis XVI that the royal finances were insolvent (because of costly foreign wars - like the US today).
Hard times hit - also similar to US today. Six months later the First Assembly of Notables met, resisting imposition of taxes and fiscal reforms - similar to the US right wing today.
It was nearly three years later April 27th, 1789 when the Reveillon Riot in Paris, caused by low wages (like US wages today, Wal-Mart, McDonalds) and food shortages (not in US yet), led to 25 deaths by troops.
A week without food, and civilization is over
Thereafter, the public's anger grew to a fever pitch. On July the 14th rioters stormed the most notorious jail for political prisoners in all of France, the Bastille. By July 17th the 'Great Fear' had begun to taken command of the streets as the peasantry revolted against their socio-economic system.
One of their prime targets was Queen Marie Antoinette, the Dauphin of the world's most powerful monarchy, whose last spoken words were delivered to Henri Sanson, her executioner, as she accidentally stepped on his foot upon climbing the steps of the scaffold: "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose", before losing her head in front of tens of thousands of cheering Parisians, screaming "Vive la Nation!"
Flash forward in time into the future, and imagine the backlash in the country if food shortages hit America because of the failure of the government to set policies to convert fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
As such, the US could have led the entire world to conversion to renewable sources of energy. As things stand, it is a 'missed opportunity'.
In stark contrast to America's reluctance, Scotland's energy sources are already 40% renewables and will be 100% by 2020.
Food prices and revolution
According to a landmark study, "Food insecurity is both cause and a consequence of political violence." (Henk-Jan Brinkman and Cullen S. Hendrix, Food Insecurity and Conflict, The World Development Report 2011.)
The link between high grain prices and riots is well established. For example, according to The Economist magazine (December 2007), when high grain prices sparked riots in 48 countries, the magazine's food-price index was at its highest point since originating in 1845.
As for a more current situation, the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 brought political and economic issues to the forefront, but behind the scenes, climate stress played a big role.
According to Marco Lagif of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) in Technology Review, MIT, August 2011, the single factor that triggers riots around the world is the price of food.
The evidence comes from data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called Food Price Index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
On December 13, 2011, four days before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, sparking the Arab Spring riots, NECSI contacted the US government, warning that global food prices were about to cross the tipping point when almost anything can trigger riots.
Accordingly, the NECSI study was presented, by invitation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos and was featured as one of the top ten discoveries in science in 2011 by Wired magazine.
The Arab Spring - an artefact of hunger
"Definitely, it is one of the causes of the Arab Spring", says Shenggen Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. As well, it is increasingly clear that the climate models that predicted the countries surrounding the Mediterranean would start to dry out are correct.
(Source: "Human-Caused Climate Change Already a Major Factor in more Frequent Mediterranean Droughts," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, October 27, 2011.)
As for Syria, it is a prime example of the drama of changing climatic conditions and the consequences. The country's farmlands north and east of the Euphrates River constitute the breadbasket of the Middle East. Unfortunately, up to 60% of Syria's land experienced one of the worst droughts on record from 2006-11.
In Syria's northeast and the south, nearly 75% suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost 85% of their livestock. According to the UN, 800,000 Syrians had their livelihoods totally wiped out, moving to the cities to find work or to refugee camps, similar to what happened in Paris in the late 18th century.
Furthermore, the drought pushed three million Syrians into extreme poverty. According to Abeer Etefa of the World Food Program, "Food inflation in Syria remains the main issue for citizens" - eerily similar to what occurred in France in the late 18th century just prior to it's revolution.
The French Revolution redux, in America?
As countries like the United States hastily continue their pursuit of policies dedicated to 'energy independence' by fracking, using extreme pressure to force toxic chemicals underground to suck up every last remnant of oil and gas, the warming of the Arctic is elevated, and the jet streams become more distorted, resulting in extremely harsh, deadly and unpredictable weather systems, pummeling the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Eventually, the outcome leads to shortages of food, and like a flashback of 18th century France, people starve or fight.
Post Script: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana (1863-1952), Spanish / American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist.
Robert and Jack Hunziker live in Los Angeles and can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was originally published on CounterPunch.
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