Friday, June 20, 2008

Help, I'm a 21st Century Refugee

0013729e451809c5ae7c24 This week many parts of the world will 'discuss' National Refugee Week. Recent estimates indicate that there are over 37 million people living as refugees around the world. Refugee Week is therefore also a time for reflection and action on future climate refugees.

Reflection on the 200 million people,  over 6 times more refugees that we have today, that could be displaced by sea level rise in the next 40 years.

Affirmative Action to reverse the build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Sea level rise is happening today as illustrated by those two experiences in the Pacific:

1. Two villages in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati have been evacuated since 2000 as a result of sea level rise;

2. The people of the Carteret Islands, a group of tiny atolls 85 kilometres north-east of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, are now trying to secure funding to enable them to evacuate to Bougainville as rising sea levels will soon make their island homes uninhabitable.

Some islanders have relocated to high ground, others have resorted to raising their houses or placing sandbags around their bedrooms.

Whilst we are nicely sleeping in our heated homes, millions of desperate islanders sleep with one eye open - will I be next?

Have a Miserable Refugee Week.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jason 2 on the search of Sea Level Rise

8522182_BG5Tomorrow the US will launch another state-of-the-art satellite, JASON-2 to measure any changes in global sea level and collect data to better predict hurricanes and global climate change.

The USD 433 million satellite will join its older brother, the Jason-1, which has been in orbit since 2001. The satellite which has been developed under both US and European research cooperation agreements is designed to support the global user community and advance our understanding of global climate change and sea level rise.

The satellite will undertake 95% sweeps of the world's oceans every ten days, and hopefully this will cover the small islands spread all over the world. The lack of high resolution sea level change data for coastlines in small islands currently presents a challenge to local islanders who want to know how fast sea level is rising, which areas would be affected and when to evacuate. The data collected should also be made available in a manageable format to meteorological services stations in those remote islands to better predict extreme wave conditions and storms.

Both the US and the European countries need to be congratulated for this important step forward, we now need to see how these data can be converted into appropriate products for use in climate change adaptation in small islands, and also in building up their early warning systems.


Watch the Video Announcement.

Track the launch (Vanderberg Airforce Base):

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where is James Bond?

When the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the Bond Island of Ko Khao Phing Kan (situated north of Phuket island in Thailand), a destination attracting millions of tourists, little did we know that it is in fact the ocean that has been the primary cause of the world's periodic mass extinctions over the past 500 million years.

This announcement was made earlier this week by Shanan Peters, assistant professor of geology and geophysics of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (US). According to his research published in the scientific journal, Nature, he suggests that changes in ocean environments related to sea level exert a driving influence on rates of species extinction, in which animals and plants survive or vanish, and generally determine the composition of life in the oceans.

Although we are talking in term of long geological timelines here, these observations hold some important findings on the relevance of climate change to mass extinctions. We know that throughout the geological history of the planet, the oceans have expanded and contracted as part of continental plate movements and changes in the climate. Similarly sea levels have changed as a result of these planetary changes explaining why in some parts of the world we can find coral remnants far inland. Whilst evidence gathered over many years show that a number of ocean species became extinct as a result of these dramatic changes, to date such a link between the ocean and mass extinctions were not clearly understood. Peters provided such evidence throwing doubt on the role of asteroids and super-volcanoes in mass extinctions.

Whilst it is those same sea level changes that allowed many islands and continents to be colonised, changes in our present climate driven by human influence may eventually contribute to such disastrous tipping points: mass extinctions. The point here to not to advocate present climate change as a mass extinction phenomenon but as a signal to human civilisation that nature indeed cannot be pushed to its limits - the rebound can be disastrous.

Upsetting the natural balance of the oceans, such as too much fresh water as a result of the melting ice caps has already triggered sea level rise, if we do something about it sound enough, we may avert another global catastrophe - mass migrations of coastal and island peoples.

'I hope you can swim, Goodnight'  (Quote from Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974).


Further reading:

Video interview:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The future of rice

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is testing a new variety of rice which grows in saline (seawater) conditions. This is in response to the threat of sea level rise and seawater intrusion as most of Bangladesh is located at or just above sea level.

"With the sea level rising and underground water level declining, salinity is going to be a major problem. Taking notice of it at this very moment, we need to find alternatives because farmers are not being able to grow traditional crops anymore," Dr Rahman Atiq said during a workshop on rice, in Bangladesh.

Rice is so important to Bangladesh that intensive research is ongoing to develop this new variety. This is in addition to the 37 varieties already in production. Since the domestication of rice in the flood plains of Bangladesh almost 7,000 years ago, the Bangladeshi is the highest consumer  of rice in the world. With over 140 million Bangladeshi depending on rice to survive, the threat of climate change will not only cause displacement from their homes but a dilapidating nutrition crisis in a nation which today is self-sufficient in rice. In Bangladesh, it is the small scale farmers that grow rice, and thus cheap imports and EU import tariffs are also eroding their ability to continue to farm. Recent natural disasters such as those from increased severity and frequency of cyclones has also affected output.

One of the most significant linkages to the food crisis is climate change. With sea level rise large areas of cultivated land will be lost to the sea and whilst millions will be displaced, even more will go hungry. Climate change must be reversed if we believe in the basic human right to food.

Figure: White, yellow and orange shades show rice growing areas. (author:Armanaziz)