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Climate Change Indicated in Forced Migration of 1.7 Million from Mekong Delta

Global sea level rise caused by fossil fuel burning is an issue that is creating worsening impacts to cities, nations, and civilization itself. And according to recent reports out of Vietnam, 1.7 million people have migrated from the low-lying Mekong Delta region over the past decade. Primary causes included climate change and poverty.

(Sea level rise now threatens all low-lying regions with increased flooding, loss of crops, and, in some cases, forced migration. Recent reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have already left the Mekong delta as a result.)

Rising oceans have forced Vietnam to erect a system of dykes of up to 4 meters in height in an increasingly complex system of coastal defense barriers. These barriers have saved lands from inundation as the ocean off the low-lying Mekong Delta continues to rise year-after-year. However, the dykes have not prevented salt water from moving further and further up the Mekong River. And during recent years, this salt water has inundated soils used for rice production.

Such salt water inundation has wiped out crops for many farmers. For example, in the Soc Trang region, the farmers of Thang Dong saw their crops completely wiped out during 2013 as salt water seeped into the soil and killed off food-producing plants. In low-lying near coastal regions, the story has been much the same for Mekong farmers. And with less reliable crops come increasing poverty.

(Salt water increases in soils as seas rise. The Mekong Delta is just one of many low-lying regions under threat by human caused climate change and its related sea level rise. Image source: Vietnam Times.)

When crop production is no longer tenable due to climate change impacts, many farming families have been forced to move on. A majority cite poverty as the root cause. But 14.5 percent are more aware — noting that climate change was what ultimately forced them to leave.

The Delta regions of the world are among the most agriculturally productive on Earth. But, as with Mekong, all such regions face ocean flooding and salt water invasion. As a result, a key aspect of global food production is under threat. A factor that has recently weighed in high average global food prices and an increase in the number of under-nourished people by 38 million last year.

 

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How Climate Change is Fueling Iran’s Political Instability

Drought.

Year after year after year for the past 15 years, it’s been the reality for Iran.

As with recent severe droughts in places like Syria, Nigeria, India and in other parts of the world, Iran’s drought impacts have forced farmers to abandon fields and move to the cities. It has enhanced economic and physical desperation — swelling the ranks of the poor and displaced. It has produced both food and water insecurity with many families now living from hand and cup to mouth. And it has served as a catalyst for political unrest, protest, and revolt.

(Iran’s Lake Urmia shrinks to ten percent of its former size following a 15 year long drought. Image source: U.S. Department of the Interior.)

Perhaps the most visible sign of this drought’s epic severity is the drying up of the 5,200 square mile expanse of Lake Urmia. The sixth largest salt water lake in the world and the largest lake in the Middle East, Urmia is now a desiccated shadow of its historical range. Just 10 percent of its former size, it is the casualty of both the drought and the dams that have been built to divert water to Iran’s struggling farmers. But it’s not just the lake that’s drying up. In the interior, individual provinces have seen as many as 1,100, or approximately 1/3 of its springs, run out of water.

Iran is on the eastern fringe of the worst drought to hit parts of the Middle East in 900 years. Ninety six percent of the country has been afflicted by escalating drought conditions over the past seven years. A drought so long and deep-running that it has been triggering unrest since at least 2014. A kind of climate change enhanced instability that has been intensifying over recent years.

(Iran shows long term precipitation deficits over 2016-2017 and 2010-2017 in this analysis provided by Iran’s Meteorological Organization.)

The growing drought-driven unrest has thrust climate change into the Iranian political spotlight even as populist farmer uprisings are on the increase. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has directed government to “manage climate change and environmental threats.” However, with climate harms so long-running and with distrust in government so deep, even positive action by Iran’s leaders may be viewed in a negative light. Hindering impetus for response and generating a ripe field for the revolt or fragmentation.

From the scientific perspective, it appears that the effects of climate change are already enhancing the most recent dry period. Temperatures are rising — which increases evaporation. So more rain has to fall for soils to retain moisture. Complicating this issue is the fact that rains are expected to decline by 10 percent even as drier soils are expected to reduce rainfall and snow melt runoff by 25 percent over the next twelve years. Both are impacts caused by climate change and the predicted warming of Iranian summers by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

(Under business as usual fossil fuel burning scenarios, wet bulb temperatures are expected to periodically exceed the range in which humans can healthily function over portions of the Persian Gulf region before the end of this Century. Video Source: MIT News.)

Moreover, a recent MIT study from 2015 found that major cities in the Persian Gulf region may be driven past the tipping point for human survivability under business as usual fossil fuel burning (Wet Bulb of 35 C +) by climate change before the end of this Century (see video above). This means that during the worst heatwaves under this scenario, it would be impossible for human beings to retain an internal temperature cool enough to support key body functions while outdoors for even moderate periods. This would result in higher incidences of heat injury and heat mortality than we see even during present enhanced heatwaves.

Though it is uncertain whether collapse pressure driven by climate change has reached a tipping point for Iran similar to the events which enabled Syria’s descent into internal and regional conflict, the warning signs are there. The international community would thus be wise to both prepare responses and to broadly acknowledge climate change’s role in the enflaming of this and other geopolitical hot spots.

Climate Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Does it seem to you that the weather is getting worse? Rainfall more intense, droughts drier, longer, more prolific, the strongest storms growing ever stronger? Well, in this case, seeming is all-too-real.

Four decades ago our climate was more placid. Global temperatures were about 0.5 C cooler than they are today. There was less available heat energy to pump up storms. The intensity of evaporation and precipitation was about 4 percent less than it is today and the pace of global warming due to an ongoing fossil fuel emission was slower. Our atmosphere has changed. It has become more dangerous. More capable of producing extreme and disrupting weather events.

Scale of displacement

Nearly 158 million people, or a number equivalent to just under half the population of the United States, were forced from their homes as a result of extreme weather over the past 7 years. It’s a number six times greater than those displaced by earthquakes, volcanoes or other geophysical causes. Individuals living on the Earth today are now at a 60 percent greater risk of being displaced — chiefly due to increases in extreme weather — than they were in 1975. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

And it’s for these reasons that you and I are more vulnerable. More likely to become a casualty of worsening weather. For according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Agency, an agency that tracks the number of displaced persons globally, you and I are 60 percent more likely now to be forced from our homes by a natural disaster than we were in 1975.

The numbers at this point are pretty concerning. On average, over the past 7 years, 26 million people have been displaced by natural disasters in a single year during that period. For 2014, the count was 19.3 million, 17.5 million of which came from extreme weather events — a factor directly related to human-caused climate change. In total, weather disasters resulted in 157.8 million people being forced to flee their homes during the entire period from 2008 to 2014. Extreme weather — not warfare, volcanoes, or tsunami — is now the primary reason human beings are displaced. Droughts, wildfires, floods, powerful hurricanes, superstorms. A litany of self inflicted violence whose impacts we are continuing to worsen.

Displacement by hazard type

From 2008 to 2014, storms and floods resulted in 84% of natural disaster caused displacements. In 2014, storms and floods generated 91% of the total displacement. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The Impacts of Displacement Linger as Worsening Weather, Sea Level Rise Loom

Displacement caused by natural disasters is not an easy problem to fix. Anyone who suffered the loss of a home due to impacts related to Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina can attest to the fact that it often takes a long, long time to become re-established under a secure shelter. For this reason millions of people displaced by extreme weather disasters over the last few years have continued to live as a kind of climate refugee — forced to reside in tent villages or other temporary shelters. Reliant on government assistance because much of what they had, the storms destroyed. Often segregated from larger populations these groups suffer greater risk of falling into permanent poverty and contracting disease even as they are even more vulnerable to subsequent displacement from follow-on events.

As global warming intensifies and the risk of extreme weather events continues to increase, there is also an increasing risk that this expanding number of displaced persons will result in nation-destabilizing stresses in various regions of the world. Currently, the greatest number of displaced persons is centered in the high population density countries of Asia and the Caribbean. But as climate change begins to add another flood stress due to global sea level rise, it is likely that displacement will become ever more ubiquitous.

Even more concerning is the fact that the storms we see now are the early, easy outliers. The ‘small’ climate change weather demons that have already displaced more than 150 million people. Hansen’s Storms of our Grandchildren haven’t yet arrived in full force. And rates of sea level rise are just now starting to ramp up. Would that we had the wit, will, and wisdom to help prevent at least some of this unfolding tragedy. If we do not, there’s no fall back. We’re it.

Links:

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

NOAA Temperature Graph

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Pumps up The Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

The Storms of My Grandchildren

 

 

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