Fifty million “environmental refugees” will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended here Monday.
“In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
“When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate,” she continued, outlining with the other speakers how climate change is impacting both food security and food safety, or the amount of food available and the healthfulness of that food.
Southern Europe is already seeing a sharp increase in what has long been a slow but steady flow of migrants from Africa, many of whom risk their lives to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain from Morocco or sail in makeshift vessels to Italy from Libya and Tunisia.
The flow recently grew to a flood after a month of protests in Tunisia, set off by food shortages and widespread unemployment and poverty, brought down the government of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said Michigan State University professor Ewen Todd, who predicted there will be more of the same.
“What we saw in Tunisia — a change in government and suddenly there are a whole lot of people going to Italy — this is going to be the pattern,” Todd told AFP.
“Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the Mediterranean region, but we’re going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in. And it was food shortages that put the people of Tunisia and Egypt over the top.
“In many Middle Eastern and North African countries,” he continued, “you have a cocktail of politics, religion and other things, but often it’s just poor people saying ‘I’ve got to survive, I’ve got to eat, I’ve got to feed my family’ that ignites things.”
Environmental refugees were described in 2001 by Norman Myers of Oxford University as “a new phenomenon” created by climate change.
“These are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with the associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty,” Myers wrote in a journal of Britain’s Royal Society in 2001.
“In their desperation, these people feel they have no alternative but to seek sanctuary elsewhere, however hazardous the attempt.”
Monday’s panel cited ways in which climate change has impacted food security and safety.
Warmer winters allow pests that carry plant diseases to survive over the cold months and attack crops in the spring, soil physicist Ray Knighton of the US Department of Agriculture said.
Increased rainfall — another result of climate change — when coupled with more fungal pathogens can “dramatically impact crop yield and quality,” said Knighton, adding that greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollutants have changed plant structures and reduced crops’ defenses to pests and pathogens.
For decades, high installation costs put solar energy out of most homeowners’ reach. Now a California company is offering a way to make solar panels affordable by leasing them. But there’s a catch: Consumers won’t get to take advantage of the offer unless their home state provides incentives for clean energy.
SolarCity, a four-year-old company, leases solar panels to its customers, so they don’t have to shell out a lot of money up front to buy them. Customers often pay less for the leases and their electric bills than they used to pay for their electric bills alone.
The company is quickly spreading to more states, but only ones that are subsidizing renewable energy.
“A key thing for us when we move into a market is can we save a business or homeowner money, and if there’s no local incentive you can’t do it,” says SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.
That explains why Maryland, which offers incentives, is among the 10 states served by SolarCity, but neighboring Virginia is not.
Environmental and public health groups aim to hold House Republicans accountable next week for voting to defund a series of key environmental initiatives.
The groups plan to dispatch staffers across the country during the Presidents Day recess week to hold rallies and press conferences in key Republican districts. The goal is to lay out what the groups see as the wide-ranging environmental and public health effects of blocking or limiting major air pollution regulations.
“There are members of the House who are OK with exposing their constituents to potentially life-threatening pollution,” said Peter Iwanowicz of the American Lung Association. “Lawmakers are totally out of step with where the voters are.”
The House approved a measure Saturday to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year that cuts current spending by $61 billion. A slew of amendments were added to the package that would block funding for key environmental regulations.
Environmental and public health groups railed against the spending bill, focusing much of their ire on an amendment sponsored by Texas Republicans Ted Poe, Joe Barton and John Carter that would block funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rules until the end of September.
House Republicans led a charge late into the night Friday against Obama administration decisions to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, block mountaintop removal mining and allow increased use of ethanol in gasoline.
The continuing resolution faces an uphill climb in the Senate and a veto threat from President Barack Obama, but the myriad votes against the administration’s energy and environmental initiatives this week will likely not be the last.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the Interior-EPA Appropriations subpanel, said the strong support for riders blocking the Environmental Protection Agency will build momentum for future attempts to pass more permanent pushbacks on the agency’s regulations.
“The same thing that you see on the floor with all the people offering amendments [on EPA] is the same thing I hear out in my district,” Simpson told POLITICO. “If the issue of the EPA comes up, it dominates the rest of the conversation, and the EPA needs to know that.”
The entire debate – covering hundreds of amendments over several days – was largely anticlimactic as well-worn partisan differences ruled the day. Democrats didn’t even bother to offer amendments aimed at stripping out the Republican language trumping EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Baby dolphins, some barely three feet in length, are washing up along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines at 10 times the normal rate of stillborn and infant deaths, researchers are finding.
The Sun Herald has learned that 17 young dolphins, either aborted before they reached maturity or dead soon after birth, have been collected along the shorelines.
The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies is doing necropsies, animal autopsies, on two of the babies now.
Moby Solangi, director of the institute, called the numbers an anomaly and told the Sun Herald that they are significant, especially in light of the BP oil spill throughout the spring and summer last year. Millions of barrels of crude oil containing toxins and carcinogens spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil worked its way into the Mississippi and Chandeleur sounds and other bays and shallow waters where dolphins breed and give birth.
This is the first birthing season for dolphins since the spill.
A legally binding accord to combat climate change “is not on the cards” at a December summit, because developing countries such as China, Brazil and India won’t commit to it, according to U.S. negotiator Todd Stern.
With developing countries unlikely to commit to reducing greenhouse gases by set targets, the U.S. will push for non- binding agreements to slow global warming, which will eventually result in a comprehensive and binding deal, Stern, President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, told reporters in Johannesburg today.
The U.S. would be “perfectly comfortable with a legal agreement provided it’s legally binding with respect to all the major players and that includes China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia etc,” Stern said. “Our pretty strong impression is that it’s not on the cards yet. China, India and others are not prepared to take on that legally binding agreement yet.”
In the Mojave Desert just off Interstate 15 on the way to Las Vegas, workers are digging for dirt that may be worth far more than a casino full of chips.
The massive hole is about to get even bigger. Molycorp Inc., which owns the open mine, plans to dig out about 40,000 tons of dirt a year by 2014, up 1,200% from the current rate of about 3,000 tons.
The Colorado company is boosting production to meet an insatiable global appetite for rare earth elements “” minerals that have become a hot commodity because they’re used in all kinds of electronics, including smart phone touch screens, wind turbines and fuel cells.
The U.S. clean-tech industry, which relies heavily on the minerals, is elated by the stepped-up production rate, but some believe it is not coming soon enough. In recent months the industry has been in a bit of a panic as China, which produces 97% of the world’s supply of rare earths, slashed its exports to a trickle to feed its growing domestic needs.
Many experts agree that for the world to rein in rising greenhouse gas emissions, the galloping economies of China and India would have to figure out how to base their future economic expansion on technologies and fuels that are “cleaner” than the fossil fuels the United States and Europe used in their own industrial revolutions long ago.
We hear a lot about how China and India are becoming world leaders in clean technology, producing and installing solar factories and wind farms at a breakneck pace. Problem solved? Well, no.
A couple of developments this week underscored why we should not sleep easy: burgeoning economic growth in China and India requires tons of energy in whatever form it is available. So, yes, while China and India have become bold pioneers in clean technology, they are also enthusiastically developing new sources of the oldest, most polluting fuels. The investments in the latter often dwarf the new clean-tech commitments in terms of dollars and ambition.
The Financial Times reported this week that China and Colombia are discussing a plan to build a rail link across Colombia that could serve as an alternative to the Panama Canal. One major reason that China is pursuing the project, the newspaper notes, is that China has become a major importer of Colombian coal, and a rail link carrying it from the eastern coast to the western coast for export to Asia would remove a logistical barrier.