Climate Lessons from Professor Flannery
One of the more interesting books I’ve read lately is The Weather Makers, by the scientist and environmentalist Tim Flannery. The title refers to the ability of human beings to influence the climate by changing the composition of the atmosphere, and the book’s central message is that we are now weather makers.
The most profound consequence of human influence, of course, is likely to be an increase in average global temperatures owing to emissions of carbon dioxide. Flannery does a good job of presenting the evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and the book contains sufficient ammunition to blast gaping holes in the standard “skeptical” arguments. However, Flannery is at his most interesting when he discusses the probable consequences of global warming.
Two points struck me as particularly relevant for Canadians. First, the effects of climate change will be extremely uneven. Flannery is concerned about his own country, Australia, which is already experiencing droughts that are partly a result of global warming. Canada faces disruption to the Arctic ecosystem, but melting ice may also make Arctic resources and sea routes more accessible. Furthermore, agriculture in both Canada and Russia may actually benefit from warmer conditions. This is not to say we should welcome climate change – many of the effects on Canada will be deleterious, and after all, I like Australia. But we Canadians need to prepare realistically for the specific changes in our local climate that are likely to occur.
The second point that I found particularly thought-provoking was the role of climate change in driving conflict. The Sudan, like Australia, is already getting noticeably drier, to the detriment of local farmers and herders. This is how Flannery links the changing conditions to the fighting in Darfur:
Camel-herding nomads have been forced to drive their herds onto agricultural lands, where they have come into conflict with farmers. Although the herders are characterized as Arabs, and the farmers as Africans, with the exception of their lifestyles they are culturally and physically indistinguishable.
I might want a second opinion from an anthropologist about the differences between the two groups. However, I have no trouble believing that desperation caused by lack of rainfall is part of the problem in Darfur. Situations like this are almost guaranteed to become more common, in many parts of the world, as changing weather disrupts the agricultural activities on which all societies ultimately depend. Canada should be ready.