Thursday, August 03, 2017

Waking Up To The Existential Threats Of Climate Change ... by gimleteye

It took our Miami Herald a long time -- and several publishers -- to come around to putting climate change on the front page and the editorial section, but the Herald finally did. An editorial in this morning's paper, apropos of recent tropical deluge, called the public response to climate change "a long slog". Maybe not so long.

A recent Pew Trust poll found that public concern around the world for climate change was second only to the threat of ISIS. What the report, "Globally, people point to ISIS and climate change as leading security threats", also makes clear is that public views in the United States continue to be slogged by the Fox News effect.

Fox is the FAKE NEWS channel favored by President Trump that routinely bashes environmental and especially climate change concerns, suppressing science and misleading the public with conspiracy theories.

Paradoxically, the themes of the "long slog ahead", conspiracy theories and existential threats of climate change merged in a fascinating, recent podcast by NPR Fresh Air, "Inside The Global Seed Vault, Where The History And Future Of Agriculture Is Stored".

The seed vault, conceived and implemented by Fresh Air guest Carrie Fowler, is built into the side of a Norwegian mountain, seven hundred miles south of the North Pole. It is intended to protect the world's biodiversity from doomsday scenarios like climate change.

Fowler, bemused by Alt-right megaphones who imagine a corporate conspiracy at work, is far more concerned about the impacts of climate change on agriculture. He points to supermarket shelves filled with food and basic staples of our diet that require a low carbon atmosphere to thrive.

If you can't listen to the whole podcast, I urge you to scroll in and listen at minute 33.

... in my family, we really regarded farmers as public servants and people to be esteemed. And so I was always favorably inclined, if you will, towards farmers. And to make the story a bit shorter, I was working on a book many years ago about agriculture and came across the writings of a man named Jack Harlan, who I discovered was probably the most eminent scientist in the field.

And he was talking in very dramatic terms about what it would mean if we lost this genetic diversity in agriculture. And he said that we were facing cataclysmic starvation on a scale we can not imagine. And what he was referring to was that, you know, evolution is always ongoing in the fields. And pests and diseases are constantly mutating and mounting better attacks against our food crops. And the reason that you and I don't have to worry about that too much and the reason that our grocery stores are pretty well stocked is that plant breeders have kept up with these diseases and pests by taking genes, by taking traits from older varieties and crossbreeding it with modern varieties and creating better, newer, more resistant varieties that can cope with environmental stresses and pests and diseases.

But if we lose those traits, if we don't have sense enough to conserve them - and conserving them is very simple and it's very cheap - but if we don't have the sense enough to do that nationally and globally, then we may very well put ourselves in a situation where the trait that we need to give resistance to a particular crop just isn't there anymore. And we have had a number of close calls. And we're having some now even. Again, it's not something that makes the front page of the newspaper, but it's something to be concerned about.

... So when we look at the future and we realize that the hottest years of the past, where we had, by the way, big crop production problems, will in the future be the coldest years. Then we can begin to understand that we're going to really face a lot of trouble. It's projected that by mid-century, half of the cropland of more than than half of the countries in Africa will be in a climate regime that has never before been experienced by agriculture. So we're headed towards climates that are pre-wheat, pre-rice, pre-corn, even pre-agriculture. And I think that, you know, what that's going to do is it's going to put together new assemblages of species where species are already on the move.

So we're going to be growing crops surrounded by new pests and diseases in New climate conditions with different soil microorganisms, different rainfall patterns. And this is going to, I think, create a lot of uncertainty and surprises and heightened risk in agricultural systems and an increased vulnerability among people who are already food insecure. And the take-home message is that our crops don't come pre-adapted to new conditions. They are domesticated crops. Think about that word, domesticated. They've entered the domicile. Their evolution is in our hands.

Here is a point for the Herald editorial board and for others to consider: that we may be dealing with the impact of sea level rise in the future, requiring massive expenditure of tax dollars, at the same time as food insecurity -- as a result of climate change -- creates instant emergencies and civil disorder. As Fowler, and many other observers have noted, climate change has already played a major factor in the wars in Syria, other drought-impacted regions of the Mideast and Africa. Civil disorder driven by climate change is already in our domicile.

We are all living on borrowed time, but as climate change reality emerges, we begin to see the amount we borrowed could break the collective bank.

With global warming, civilization is skating on the edge of bankruptcy. It doesn't seem so, today. Our supermarkets aisles are flush with food and choices, but anxieties are not misplaced: it is the reason climate change has risen to the top of global worries ... just not yet in the wealthiest nation on earth, the United States, where voters continue to be mislead by FAKE NEWS Fox and carefully planned strategies of the world's most powerful polluters, their "think tanks" and false idols.

Time for voters to wake up? Yes. Let's hope the awakening starts in Florida. That would be rough justice.

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