Bolivia: Where adaptation equals abandonment

El Alto, city of rural migrants whose crops failed when the climate changed

Rural Bolivians migrate to El Alto when their crops fail because of droughts, erratic rainfall, heatwaves, frosts and floods. Climate change — and Pachamama — are driving them into the city

The UK Guardian’s John Vidal has doing a series of pieces on Bolivia and climate change. It really drives home the point that for most people in the developing world, “adapting” to human-caused climate change is simply going to mean abandoning their homes:

Hundreds of thousands of people have flooded in from the countryside to find work and opportunity, but increasingly the reason they give for moving is that frequent droughts, erratic rainfall, heatwaves, unseasonal frosts and floods have made conditions too hard to grow crops. Bolivia has had five major droughts or heatwaves, as well as floods and major mudslides in the past decade. Few people in El Alto could be classed entirely as “climate refugees”, but the changing physical environment is clearly one of the new drivers of people to this burgeoning city.

I had previously written that Bolivia’s 18,000 year-old Chacaltaya glacier is gone.

Vidal has a video of what is happening to this poor country:

As the video notes, Bolivia is at risk of becoming a desert if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path.

Here is one grim projection from last year’s review and analysis of the drought literature by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (see “Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path” ):

Note that Bolivia is not currently, a “dry” country as measured by the “the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which assigns positive numbers when conditions are unusually wet for a particular region, and negative numbers when conditions are unusually dry. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought.”


But look what happens just on the IPCC’s “moderate” A1B scenario “” atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100 (We’re currently on the A1FI pathway, which would takes us to 1000 ppm by century’s end):

The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here). So the numbers projected for much if not most of Bolivia even by mid-century are nothing less than Dust-Bowlification.

Again, the likeliest form of adaptation will be abandonment.

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