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From Green to Brown


Did you read my article on “water wars‘”? I entreat you to do so if you have not done that yet, it is important as this is the concluding part to the other side of the story.

If the recent past is any guide, things could only turn ugly in the future. Why am I saying this? In recent times there have been records of abnormal weather conditions (warm temperatures) in colder countries and colder temperatures being recorded in warmer or hotter countries. If you can recall, there was an incidence of heat wave in Texas which according to records was 20 times more likely than it would 60 years ago. In contrast, warmer countries such as Algeria, Egypt (Alexandra), Yemen, Eritrea and only recently South Africa (Johannesburg and South Cape) all witnessed rare incidence of snow and cold temperatures. Should we be quick to blame Mother Nature for being confused or rather, should we put the blame on human induced activity caused by global warming?

Most people are still skeptical about global warming and the changes in weather patterns such as tsunamis, typhoons and drought that it brings with it. For a fact, we can expect not just more bad years of extreme heat, drought, cold temperatures, tsunamis or floods, but worse years of hotter, drier and severe winters not just in the United States or Britain, but globally for the indefinite future. For Europe, recording warm temperatures would not have come as something unusual if this were singularly attributed to atmospheric flow system without any long-term warming. Similarly, the drought in the Horn of Africa would not have been attributed to the failure of La Nina (counterpart of El Nino) bringing rains but instead is believed to be caused by the warming of the Western Pacific- Indian Ocean.

When we think about climate change (i.e. if you even think about it at all), we imagine rising sea levels, rising temperatures, severe storms, agonizing wild forest fires and prolonged droughts. Among other things, this write-up will focus on climate change and the impact of drought.

Calculating how the odds of extreme weather events have changed certain parameters should provide us an insight into how climate change has an influence on drought. Drought disasters most fundamentally, results in diminished food supplies which has rippling effects not only globally but locally as well. To a larger extent, droughts (famine) provoke catastrophes not only physically but socially as well.

If history is any guide, rising food prices would also lead to social unrest and conflicts.

Now, let’s travel down memory lane, first to North Africa and the Middle East to see how that is true. Anger over sky rocketing food prices caused a massive social unrest in these two countries. Catapulted by the high fuel prices combined with the long-standing resentment of their governments sparked off what became known as the Arab Spring. The point I want to drive home is the fact that the remote causes of these chaos in these countries were traceable to the high price of a loaf of bread and other basic food staples.

If we do a quick analysis of the situation, breadbasket regions of countries (Russia, China, Australia) growing wheat were severely hit by extreme weather related effects in 2010 and 2011. These natural disasters immediately sent world wheat prices soaring by more than 50 percent and staple food prices by more than thirty-two percent. Once food that is affordable for human survival is “taken away”, people become desperate, anxious, upset and violent. It therefore, came as no surprise that violent conflicts were sparked off. In a similar fashion, Haiti’s government was ousted by a “food riot” from its angry citizenry for failure to address the issue of high prices of food items in that country in 2007.

The current drought of 2012 is just marking the beginning of what is yet to come. We know for sure the consequences will be severe. Food prices would once again be heightened both globally and domestically causing misery to farmers and more hardships for the poor. One sad reality is that countries that rely heavily on imported foods such as grains from US and China will feel the “economic heat” the more. What happens next is of course possible to predict. This could add to the discontent already being experienced in depressed economies characterized by massive un-employment which would subsequently result into other forms of social unrest.

Pressed by natural disasters (rising sea levels, droughts and floods), there is a high correlation that a countless number of populations will migrate to other countries aggravating further hostilities for whatever little sustenance remains there.

If history be our guide, the pattern of droughts is not a one-off occurrence in any one country at a particular time. Rather it is as a result of an inevitable consequence of global warming which is only going to intensify. Rising food prices would also lead to social unrest and conflicts, state collapse and massive starvation. This should offer us a sign as to what is going to happen next in the future in a world of persistent drought, repetitive food shortages, rising sea levels and temperatures and a dependable consumer driven/famine stricken populations –  HUNGER WAR!



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