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Posts Tagged ‘treaties and agreements’

First of all – whoa – hi guys.  It’s Friday.  How did that happen?  Where did the week go? Why do I still have 13 things on my to-do list that I cannot cross off?  Should I just cross them off anyway and pretend?

All of these questions have probably crossed your mind, including “where the heck are those spinach kids, anyway?”  Our most sincere apologies for this week.  It appears that we took a petite vacance,as the French would say.  We were actually here:

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South Pacific: Not just a musical about what your grandfather was doing during WWII.

Just kidding.  We were actually just out to lunch.  For three days.

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Om nom nom.

But we’re back! And since we’ve got vacations on the brain, I thought that this would be a good time to talk about my life-long dream #5, which is to take three months off of life at some point and travel around Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the rest of the south Pacific.

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In this canoe.

As it turns out, I might want to bump that dream up a little higher on the list and place it above running the Iditarod and through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  While it’s not exactly imminent (don’t worry, I’m not going to quit my day job and leave tomorrow), some of those island nations are already preparing themselves for the impacts of climate change.  As reported by the Washington Post, the entire Pacific nation of Kiribati is currently preparing contingency plans for what to do if sea level rise makes their island quite literally disappear below those perfect blue-green waters.

In case you’ve never heard of Kiribati before today, or looked for it on a map, this is where you can find it:

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If you get lost on the way, just keep swimming.

But a side-view topographic map should give us a bit more of an idea why they’re so worried about sea level rise.

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Yup – Kiribati is an archipelago, and many of the atolls and small islands that the people live on there could be very quickly underwater with only very minor sea level rise.  Two islands of Kiribati have already been covered due to the impacts of rising sea level, and their leaders are preparing and planning for what to do with their population of 103,000 if it gets worse.

It’s an interesting thing for us to think about, over here in North America, where we think that the impacts of climate change might just mean a few more hurricanes and some strange days where it decides to be 70 degrees in the middle of February.  Now, truth be told, sea level fluctuation is a natural process.  Across the course of geologic time (i.e., the entire history of the Earth), sea level has changed with glacial and interglacial periods – USGS has a great fact sheet summarizing what the impacts of this could be in the modern era.  So, we always have to remember that the Earth we live on is a dynamic system: the continents are moving, mountains are being formed and eroded, tectonic plates are shifting, and our climate is not stable across millions of years.

The problem?  Climate scientists generally agree that anthropogenic climate destabilization is accelerating this process, causing sea levels to rise more quickly than they naturally would have.  We’re not going to talk about that here (as I always say, leave the science to the scientists).  But, this interactive map gives you an idea how this would impact land availability around the world.  Keep in mind that our population has arrived at the 7 billion mark, meaning that we now have decreasing space for an increasing number of people.

Which brings us to the critical question – one which is policy and not scientifically based: what do we do about this?  How will we as a global community respond to the idea of ecological refugees: people who have been displaced from their homeland because of the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, natural disasters, and shifts in land, energy, and water resources.  Where do these people go?

The island of Kiribati is already chewing on this very question, because they are concerned about the future of their younger generations.  The proposed solution currently making headlines is to quite literally move the entire nation to….Fiji.

Doesn't look so bad in this photo, but somehow I don't think they're moving there because the snorkeling is better.

This in theory seems like an interesting solution, but it raises all kinds of questions.  Would the people of Kiribati remain their own nation, or would they become a part of Fiji?  How would they be moved?  Who would pay for the cost of new land?  How do you even place a value on land when it becomes a declining resource; a thing of scarcity in that particular region of the world?  And what impacts would there be on these people as they adapt and build new lives?

The drama of this is probably fairly far down the road, but the questions are very real.  As Kara has pointed out several times, when it comes to climate change adaptation, isn’t it better to think ahead?  The world has a long history of political and social turmoil over natural resources.  Plenty of wars have started because, on a most basic level, somebody had something that somebody else didn’t have and wanted (food, water, land, dare I say it, oil?)  Plenty of other wars have started because of the social issues that arise when a minority population is displaced or takes up residence in a new county.  While outright conflicts may be a good way off, that doesn’t mean the possibility isn’t there and that we shouldn’t be planning and asking these questions.

 International organizations such as the World Bank have already started considering the impact of climate change on small island nations.  Myriad problems are anticipated, including not only the disappearance of land, but profound impacts on groundwater sources, agricultural land, erosion patterns, flooding, changing tidal patterns, and public health impacts related to contamination of food and water sources and changing disease vectors.

I wish I could come up with a snarky caption, but this kind of just makes me sad.

What’s more than a little, depressing when you stop think about it, is the fact that the best solution some American leaders can come up with is….”Drill, Baby, Drill!”  So to make you all feel better, I’ll leave you with a nice romantic picture of a beach in Kiribati.  Maybe that’s something you can keep in mind next time you’re trying to decide whether you should walk to the grocery store or drive.

Things that are sexy: Kara in a bikini, this beach, reading our blog, and reducing your carbon footprint. Dan in a bikini, not so much.

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And it’s “back to reality, back to life…” .  Actually, before we get back to our environmental reality, whatever that may be, let’s take a detour to the Old Line State where the Maryland House of Delegates approved a same-sex marriage bill!  Wahoo!  Finally, a very blue state is coming around to providing equal status under the law.  Let’s make it happen, Governor O’Malley, let’s make it happen. And, we are back to being better than New Jersey.

All right, I’ll leave it at that.  You didn’t come to here to get some yummy rainbow sherbet, you came for green goodness.  So I am here to provide.

And for those of you who took the time to enter into Paul Kingsnorth’s mind, I am here to give you a little lift.  For those of you who slacked and didn’t take the time, I am here to also give you lift (although you will probably be lifted a bit higher than the Kingsnorth clan because you didn’t damper your spirits by immersing into and reflecting on the sad state of environmental affairs). Because let’s face it, whereever you were at the past couple of hours or days, this news will be good news.  That is, unless, you were caught up making sure that you got to keep an extra twenty dollars in your pocket each month between now and the end of the year.  In that case, enjoy your victory and don’t rub it in our faces.  Because we enviros got a little joy of our own this week.

Between the back and forth headline drama about the payroll tax extension (for those of you who read the normal news) or the underneath the latest anti-environmental scandal (see the Heartland Institute—yeah, and you thought Bill Gates was such a saint after Foxconn showed how black the soul of Steve Jobs actually was…), there was a small, but notable headline about a climate change effort that is slowly gaining some steam. 

This week, the United States, through Hillary Clinton and the Department of State, joined a coalition of five other nations to combat some of the short-lived, but high global warming potential, greenhouses gases.  This coalition, called the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, is run by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and includes the countries of Canada (shocking, I know), Mexico, Sweden, Bangladesh, and Ghana.  In joining, nations are committing to curbing non-carbon greenhouse gas emission such as methane, soot, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), also known as “short-lived climate enforcers.”  There are no hard line numbers; this is just a voluntary, five-year commitment.  Instead of targets, the coalition plans fund education projects and joint public-private efforts to reduce emissions nations to “reduce diesel exhaust, stem the burning of agricultural waste, and capture methane from landfills, coal mines, and natural gas wells,” among other policy initiatives.

You might be asking yourself what good will this do, and I’m glad you pondered this.  These three pollutants are believed to account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of the nearly one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures since the beginning of the 20th century.  Furthermore, this voluntary effort has the potential to slow rising temperatures by up to .5 degrees Celsius.  If you read the Washington Post version, that halt could come as early as 2030; if you read the Scientific American version, it may take an additional 20 years.  And, in case that is not enough, WaPo points out that even the notorious climate change skeptic Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok) gets behind reducing soot.  Just when you and Paul Kingsnorth thought all was lost…

At this point, you might be thinking, “Get your head out of the clouds, optimist.  I’ve seen this before—Copehagen, Cancun, Durban… we’ve produced non-binding agreements and unless we hold people’s feet to the fire, nothing will happen.”  You, my eternally pessimistic friend (is that you, Peter Thiel?), might be correct that I am the queen of wishful thinking.  However, it’s worth noting that we did throw in $12 million for this effort (and by we, I don’t mean we here at Spinach.  We save our big dollars for the craps tables in Vegas). So we’ve got our feet within the vicinity of the fire on this effort.

It’s a small accomplishment relative to a national cap-and-trade policy or a carbon tax, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.  So before we get down and think about going out, let’s remember the little things.  Because just like your mother always told you (I know mine did), “Sometimes, it’s the little things that count.”

(Or, for bloggers, it’s the hyperlinks the hyperlinks that count.  And I just rocked the hyperlinks. So show me some love with a comment.)

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