photo: Oxfam East Africa/Creative Commons
With half of the United States under heat advisories, 22 people dead (and counting) from the extreme weather, the Horn of Africa experiencing the strongest drought in over half a century and famine conditions across parts of Somalia, how many more times can we comfortably repeat the mantra "though no single weather event can be linked directly to climate change, these sort of events are consistent with what climate models predict will happen" before more and more people die and we begin taking climate change seriously?The UN Security Council just issued a timidly worded statement (dilluted by objections from Russia and China, who were worried that climate change doesn't properly fall under the Security Council mandate) that climate change has "possible security implications".
But UNEP executive director Achim Steiner stated the situation more bluntly--and was more in line with what the military in the United States has said and the militaries of several European nations have also said on the threat from climate change, it's worth noting.
Steiner said that climate change will "exponentially" increase the scale of natural disasters, the BBC reported.
The current situation in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia is already "proving a challenge" to our collective abilities to handle such events, "particularly if they occur simultaneously and start affecting, for instance, global food markets, regional food security issues, displacing people, creating refugees across borders."
Already 11.3 million people in the region have been affected by the drought and conditions continue to worsen. 3.7 million people are facing starvation. 500 million of those people are children at risk of death from malnutrition and simply lack of food resulting from the worst famine in the past two decades.
Failure to Act On Climate A 'Dereliction of Duty': US Official
Perhaps surprisingly and certainly ironically, considering the supremely weak US position in international climate negotiations and the head-in-the-sand domestic stance on climate policy, US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice was particularly forthright in stating the situation regarding climate change:
We have dozens of countries in this body and this very room whose very existence is threatened. They have asked this Council to demostrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying by its silence, in effect, tough luck. This is more than disappointing, it's pathetic, it's short-sighted, and frankly it is a dereliction of duty.
Leave aside for the moment the dereliction of duty on the part of the US in terms of taking meaningful action on climate and energy policy (held up no doubt by Tea Party and big polluter obstructionism but let's not forget that the Obama administration climate proposals over the past two years have been pathetically short of satisfying scientific recommendations).
Aid To Africa Falls Well Short
In the immediate, as Democracy Now! has been pointing out for several days now, the repsonse to what the UN has described as the greatest humanitarian disaster of 2011 so far has fallen well short of what is required.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said $1.6 billion is needed for Somalia, with $300 million needed in the next two months to alleviate the famine conditions. To deal with ongoing humanitarian crises in Africa the UN says $3.6 billion has been given so far, but that an additional $4.3 billion is required.
Oxfam has said that the richest nations of the world have practiced "willful neglect" in ignoring warnings over the past few months as to the fragile food security situation.
US-Islamist Proxy Wars Don't Help At All
Tangling up the situation further: Until just a few weeks ago the Islamist militants controlling some of the areas of Somalia worst affected by drought and famine had prohibited international aid from entering the region. And even if they had let it in, US policy of aiding groups it classifies as terrorist prohibited aid going there anyway on the grounds that it would be materially supporting those groups. All at the same time the CIA wages a covert and not-so-covert war against them. Oh, and then there's the effect on that whole kerfuffle of organized crime dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia, one of the factors driving poor fishermen to piracy.
The point: Whether the UN Security Council admits it or not climate-related disasters, and environmental issues more broadly, are already major security concerns in Africa--and will only increase to be so across the wider world.
If We Wait To Act Until These Summer Heatwaves Are Commonplace, It'll Be Too Late For All Of Us
The collective global response, taking the lead of nations on the Security Council no doubt, has been obviously been inadequate, even as donor nations themselves are not in the middle of their own climate-induced crises (the current US heatwave notwithstanding). I cannot realistically imagine that changing much in the future, despite the genuine and earnest pleas from aid organizations.
At the risk of understatement, there seems little will to plan for the future or take into account the fate of the worst affected, environmentally speaking.
If we continue to wait until Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Kentucky have more summers of humidity-adjusted temperatures topping 120°F and even 130°F--accompanied for a while in the winter by increasing snows, until average temperatures are too warm for regular snows--it will simply be too late.
These conditions will not be exceptional events at all, as will the sort of drought-conditions turning into famine across Africa.