The Last Straw

Foreign Policy has just released its annual Failed States Index, and with it my article on how climate change can make a bad situation worse.

Hopelessly overcrowded, crippled by poverty, teeming with Islamist militancy, careless with its nukes—it sometimes seems as if Pakistan can’t get any more terrifying. But forget about the Taliban: The country’s troubles today pale compared with what it might face 25 years from now. When it comes to the stability of one of the world’s most volatile regions, it’s the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night.

In the mountainous area of Kashmir along and around Pakistan’s contested border with India lies what might become the epicenter of the problem. Since the separation of the two countries 62 years ago, the argument over whether Kashmir belongs to Muslim Pakistan or secular India has never ceased. Since 1998, when both countries tested nuclear weapons, the conflict has taken on the added risk of escalating into cataclysm. Another increasingly important factor will soon heighten the tension: Ninety percent of Pakistan’s agricultural irrigation depends on rivers that originate in Kashmir. “This water issue between India and Pakistan is the key,” Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, a parliamentarian from Kashmir, told me. “Much more than any other political or religious concern.”

Read the rest.

Australia’s Deadly Inferno

I’m off to Australia in a couple of days, for the publication of Forecast there. The first stop will be Melbourne, scene of last weekend’s bushfires–the deadliest in the country’s history.

AT Global Post today I ask to what extent the disaster should be blamed on our emissions.

It begins:

After its deadliest bushfires ever, Australia is in mourning.

Television reports flicker around the world, depicting walls of flames tearing through suburban towns outside Melbourne in southeastern Australia.

The scenes of destruction are reminiscent of a war zone.

At least 135 people died in the infernos, many of them burned in their homes or overtaken in their cars as they tried to flee. The toll is expected to rise as rescue workers explore the ash-covered devastation.

“This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Australian television. “There are no words to describe it other than mass murder.”

Read more.

[update: the death toll has now reached 171]

For Which it Stands

Check out my contribution to Global Post’s package on America on the eve of a new administration.

It begins:

SAN FRANCISCO — Bangladesh may be the place in the world most threatened by climate change.

A desperately poor population—half the size of the United States’—crams into an area a little smaller than Louisiana. With most of its territory within six yards of sea level, the country is uniquely vulnerable to rising seas and stronger storm surges.

If nothing is done, much of the country could go under water. Millions will be driven from their homes. Yet, the people of Bangladesh are among those least responsible for the greenhouse gases that could one day destroy their way of life. Very few of them drive cars, run air conditioners, or consume many factory-made goods. Many don’t even have access to electricity.

In contrast, the United States is relatively insulated from the early impacts of climate change. Far wealthier, we’re well positioned to absorb shocks in the price of food, to adapt to disruptions in the weather, and to respond when diseases expand their reach. But as one of the most industrialized countries in the world, we’re disproportionally responsible for the warming of the world.

Read the rest here.

Forecast Reviewed

The first reviews of Forecast have been . . . . . very complimentary!

Fred Pearce, writing in Orion Magazine says

Well worth the carbon footprint of its publication … The most perceptive [book] so far about [climate change’s] growing place in our daily lives, our iconography, and, sometimes, our paranoias.

Read the whole thing here.

In the American Prospect, Chris Mooney, author of Storm World, does a good job of laying out what the book is about. On Mooney’s website, he also writes:

Stephan Faris’s Forecast is a journalistic take on global warming, the kind of book I might have liked to write myself with a better travel budget. It’s colorful, writerly, dispatched from the front lines. The key theme: In less stable parts of the world, global warming is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It can tip fragile societies over the edge. And that’s already happening.

Top 10 Places Already Affected by Climate Change

Scientific American has put up a list of the top 10 places already affected by climate change, adapted from Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley.

It starts:

Cities deep underwater, frozen continents, the collapse of global agriculture: so far, much of the discussion about climate change has focused on these distant, catastrophic effects of a superheated world. What’s less talked about is how global warming is making itself felt already. Even the modest temperature rise we’ve already experienced has set in motion fundamental shifts—and the further warming we can expect in the next few decades has the potential to set off dramatic changes.

It’s still difficult to confidently trace any given phenomenon directly to greenhouse gas emissions from our cars, factories and power plants. The computer models used by climate scientists lack resolution and certainty. Yet they do provide an idea of what we can anticipate, and there are places in the world where impacts of the type we can expect have already hit. We don’t have to guess at what it will be like to live in a warming world. As the following examples show, the future of our planet can be found now, on the frontiers of climate change.

Click here to read the rest.

Phenomenon – Ice Free

The New York Times Magazine has just published my article Greenland’s plan to ride global warming into independence.

Greenland’s ice sheet represents one of global warming’s most disturbing threats. The vast expanses of glaciers — massed, on average, 1.6 miles deep — contain enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by 23 feet. Should they melt or otherwise slip into the ocean, they would flood coastal capitals, submerge tropical islands and generally redraw the world’s atlases. The infusion of fresh water could slow or shut down the ocean’s currents, plunging Europe into bitter winter.
Yet for the residents of the frozen island, the early stages of climate change promise more good, in at least one important sense, than bad. A Danish protectorate since 1721, Greenland has long sought to cut its ties with its colonizer. But while proponents of complete independence face little opposition at home or in Copenhagen, they haven’t been able to overcome one crucial calculation: the country depends on Danish assistance for more than 40 percent of its gross domestic product. “The independence wish has always been there,” says Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s minister for finance and foreign affairs. “The reason we have never realized it is because of the economics.”

Read the rest.