Depletion of Earth's Resources Leading to Conflict and Collapse
October 20, 2011
Nina Chestney / Reuters & Planet Ark & Amanda Griscom Little / Salon
According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report, the Earth's natural resources -- including food, water and forests -- are being depleted at an alarming speed, causing hunger, conflict, social unrest and species extinction. And, in a perspective from 2007: the-Presidential candidate Joe Biden explains why failing to address climate change would lead to new wars and a changed US military.
Scarce Resources, Climate Biggest Threats To World Health
Nina Chestney / Reuters & Planet Ark
LONDON (October 18, 2011) -- The Earth's natural resources like food, water and forests are being depleted at an alarming speed, causing hunger, conflict, social unrest and species extinction, experts at a climate and health conference in London warned Monday.
Increased hunger due to food yield changes will lead to malnutrition; water scarcity will deteriorate hygiene; pollution will weaken immune systems; and displacement and social disorder due to conflicts over water and land will increase the spread of infectious diseases, they said.
By 2050, there could be 70 million additional deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone, said Tony McMichael, professor of population health at the Australian National University.
As mosquito species spread due to climate change, the transmission rate of diseases like malaria will increase, engulfing countries like Zimbabwe from 2025 to 2050.
An extra 21 million people in China could be at risk from the infectious disease schistosomiasis as global warming increases floods, enabling disease-carrying water snails to travel to new areas.
"Climate change will progressively weaken the Earth's life support mechanism," McMichael said. "Health is not just collateral damage on the side, the risk is central and represents a denouement of all the other effects of climate change."
The world's population is due to exceed 7 billion this month and is forecast to rise to over 10 billion by 2050, putting even more strain on global resources.
The effects of climate change will only exacerbate the problems, putting the health of ecosystems, animal species and humans in danger, the experts said.
Health effects will not just be felt in Africa or Asia -- Europe will also feel the consequences.
"The problem of over-consumption in high income countries has produced an ecological and financial debt," Ian Roberts, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Reuters.
"The biggest risk to human health is from the rise in fossil fuel use, causing cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer," he added.
Europe will also be at risk from heat waves, floods and more infectious diseases as pests shift to northern latitudes, said Sari Kovats, lead author of the Europe chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report.
"The fact is, there is more evidence that diseases are moving north such as bluetongue," she told Reuters.
The IPCC's next report, which is due out in 2013-2014, will include chapters on human security and livelihoods and poverty for the first time to reflect the new raft of scientific evidence, she added.
Human health is not only at risk. Animal and plant species are also endangered.
"Many species are already facing a raft of pressures and climate change is creating a new range of additional problems," said Paul Pearce-Kelly, senior curator at London's Zoological Society.
Around 15 to 37 percent of over 6,000 species of amphibia are predicted to become extinct by 2100, he said.
In the Earth's history, there have been five mass extinctions, but there is now a 10,000-fold faster extinction rate than at any time on record.
"We are losing three species an hour, and this is before climate change is doing anything," said Hugh Montgomery, director at University College London's institute for human health and performance.
Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
Presidential Candidate Joe Biden: "Face Global Warming or Global Conflict"
The presidential candidate says failing to address climate change would lead to new wars and a changed US military
Amanda Griscom Little / Salon
WASHINGTON (September 17, 2007) -- Joe Biden says his top priority as president would be "energy security." "If I could wave a wand, and the Lord said I could solve one problem, I would solve the energy crisis," he said this spring at a political rally in South Carolina. "That's the single most consequential problem we can solve."
During his 34-year Senate career, Biden, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been known more as a chieftain of foreign policy than a champion of environmental protections (though he has earned a respectable 84 percent lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters).
These days, he's emphasizing how closely geopolitics and environmental stewardship are intertwined. To solve what he sees as the defining challenge of our time, Biden has been pushing for more U.S. involvement in international climate negotiations, more compact fluorescent light bulbs, more-stringent fuel economy regs and a whole lot more biofuels.
How well will Biden be able to balance his energy-independence goals with an ambitious climate agenda? I tracked him down on the campaign trail in Iowa to find out.
For more information on his platform and record, check out this Biden fact sheet.
Why do you consider yourself the strongest candidate on energy and the environment? What sets your platform on these issues apart from the rest?
I would be most capable of getting this country back into an international climate regime, getting us back to the table the fastest and with the most prospect for success, because of my extensive engagement in foreign policy. I'm also in the best position to make it clear to the United States Congress that this is not merely an environmental issue, it is a security issue.
I held hearings this year pointing out that if we do not do something of consequence about global warming, drastically and soon, we literally are going to find ourselves reconfiguring our entire military to deal with occasions for new wars, which are going to be about territory and arable land. You see what's happening in Darfur [Sudan] now — that’s part of the problem.
You've said that your first priority is "energy security." Can you clarify what this goal means and how you’d achieve it?
If the predictions of the scientists are correct, you could see ocean levels rise three feet. If that occurs, you're going to displace over 35 million people just in South Asia, and they're going to physically be looking for a new place to land. Just that, all by itself, is going to initiate major new conflicts relating to war. You're going to have nations fighting over arable land, more border disputes and, as a consequence, a great deal of instability.
How would you achieve energy security? What specifically do we need to do to get there?
To deal with global warming, you have to change the attitude of the world, particularly China and India, the two largest developing nations. But in order to do that, to have any credibility, you have to begin here in the United States by capping emissions, increasing renewable fuels, establishing a national renewable portfolio standard [RPS], requiring better fuel economy for automobiles. I would cap emissions at 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and set a national RPS of 20 percent.
I would announce an executive order that the federal government would not purchase one single automobile for its fleet that gets less than 40 miles to the gallon. And I would not build a single solitary federal project without it being a green project. That would have the effect of getting states to do the same thing, and that would create a pot of somewhere between a third and a half a trillion dollars that would be a lure to every major business in America to go green.
These measures would put us in a position to be able to actually attempt to lead the world. But we have no credibility right now.
How would you bring China and India to the table on a global climate treaty?
By engaging in significant joint ventures with them both on new technologies. You're already having an awakening awareness in China about the consequences of pollution.
Sometimes the goals of achieving energy independence and reducing climate change are at odds. Would you --
Exactly right. You're the first one who’s ever asked me a question that way.
Would you, as president, oppose subsidizing technologies that would worsen global warming, even if they would reduce our reliance on foreign oil?
Yes, I would, because at the end of the day it's a net loser for us.
What role does "clean coal" play in your vision for energy independence and climate security?
I don't think there's much of a role for clean coal in energy independence, but I do think there’s a significant role for clean coal in the bigger picture of climate change. Clean-coal technology is not the route to go in the United States, because we have other, cleaner alternatives. But I would invest a considerable amount of money in research and development of clean-coal and carbon-sequestration technologies for export. China is building one new coal-fired plant per week. That's not going to change unless there's a fundamental change in technology, because they have about 300 years of dirty coal, and they're going to use it....
This article is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.
Amanda Griscom Little is a columnist for Grist Magazine. Her articles on energy, technology and the environment have appeared in publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times Magazine.
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