This just in: a weather update for the planet Earth for the next fifty to sixty years. Famine, flooding, fires, and drought are all predicted to be on the increase unless we do something to change our current levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, things are at such a state right now that even if we began to curb emissions today, the planet won't start receiving the benefits from it until 2040.
Now I know, when have you ever been able to trust the weatherman before? Well in this case it's not a moron reading a teleprompter. No: this is a 1572 page report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Some of the highlights of the report: yields in rice crops in China and Bangladesh could drop by up to ten per cent in Bangladesh, and twelve in China. Bangladesh also faces a drop of 1/3 in the yield from their wheat crop by 2050. Of course it won't just all of a sudden cut off that year, it will be a gradual decrease over the years between now and then, slowly increasing the numbers of people in those areas of the world at risk of starvation.
The drops in yield, combined with anticipated population increases, could put an extra 50 million people at risk from hunger as soon as 2020, with the numbers pretty much doubling every thirty years: 132 million in 2050 and 266 million people in 2080. In just over seventy years' time roughly an equivalent number of people to that as currently live in the United States will be at risk from starvation in one small corner of the world.
But according to people like Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and American President George Bush our economies are more important than reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by businesses and cars. Far be it that the people who paid for them being elected have to do anything that will hurt business. Anyway, it's only a bunch of folk on the other side of the world who are going to suffer right away, we're okay for a while.
If it gets too hot here we'll just turn up our air-conditioning, we grow plenty of our own wheat, and be real, how many people really like rice anyway? Who ever heard of having rice with your Sunday side of beef; meat and potatoes are what every right thinking person eats anyway.
So what if water shortages will be felt in India because of glaciers melting in the Himalayan Mountains? I can't see why they're complaining about water shortages anyway when over a 100 million of them are going to be facing flooding problems from the rises in sea levels.
Africa is a lost cause anyway. We keep trying to help them out by "developing" their natural resources for them, but they get all up-tight about wanting to actually retain ownership of the product. With increased flooding and dependency on our aid to survive maybe they'll be a little more reasonable about letting us in on the oil and mineral development.
Does that sound like an overly cynical assessment of the two biggest economies in North America? The thing is that Canada and the United States are continually vying with each other for the position of who is the most wasteful consumer of non-renewable resources in the world. Along with the other developed countries of the world, we are responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions.
We may not consciously make policy that takes advantage of other people's misfortune, although if you judge by the manner in which the Bush administration has sold off or is in the process selling off Iraq's natural resources to private corporations in the United States, you have to wonder. But the countries that are suffering the most from green house gas emissions are those who actually generate the least.
The majority of the fallout, so to speak, from climate change is being felt in the developing world – specifically the continent of Africa. While the Indian sub-continent, central Asia and China are headed for hard times; it looks mild compared to what could happen in Africa if we continue at the rate we are going.
The rise of sea levels off the coast of East Africa could reduce Gross National Product (GNP) by 10% across the board. Wheat could actually be extinct as a crop across the whole continent by 2080, meaning that they will be completely dependant on foreign sources for one of the basic staples of human existence; the ability to make bread.
Even the developed world will take a hit, as the Mediterranean is close enough to Africa to get some fall out. Due to the delicate nature of the ecosystems in the area, the amount of damage will be substantial. The result would be that by 2070 as many as 44 million Europeans will be facing water shortages.
In the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand face temperature increases that will lead to heat waves, forest fires, droughts and landslides. While across the rest of the region it will create conditions that will see a rise in storms like the tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands prior to the Easter weekend.
While Australia and New Zealand can probably adapt to the changes, the smaller islands will be devastated because of intense infrastructure damage. They just don't have the capacity to recover from that amount of damage on their own, especially since so much of what would be damaged are the facilities they depend on for sources of income.
The report has two very blunt recommendations: first, while it's already too late to do anything about what's going to happen between now and 2040 we can still offset the majority of future disasters by getting serious about controlling greenhouse gas emissions right now. The second recommendation is that steps be taken now to mitigate repercussions by ensuring that public food distribution, health care, and disaster preparation are improved in those areas that will be hardest hit.
If we increase the chances of people surviving and rebuilding after the disasters that occur between now and when the effects of reduced emissions start to be felt, they will be in a better position to take advantage of the improved conditions.
It seems that nowadays you can't open a paper without seeing some politician in North America talking about how they are going to make the environment a priority and they have a plan for reducing greenhouse gasses. They talk about tax incentives for people using public transit, but mass transit in Canada is seriously under funded and expensive to use.
Years of government neglect of mass transit systems across the country have left them with insufficient facilities to handle even the minimal demands put on it now. If people were to start using it in significant enough numbers to make a difference it would require the government to spend money it shows no signs of wanting to.
They've been far too busy giving away budget surpluses as tax breaks to the rich, corporations, and the middle class to ensure their re-election to be able to spend money on frills like maintaining mass transit, let alone upgrading it to the levels it needs to be at.
What the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear is that we have run out of time to prevent some disasters from occurring, but if we act quickly we can still stave off the worst damage. But we don't just need to work on controlling greenhouse gases; this panel has only looked at one symptom of a far more deep seated problem, and more then just reducing green house gases is needed for Africa.
We need to provide proper sustainable development assistance to the countries that need it, so that they can become independent. We need to work with them to help curtail the spread of sexually transmitted diseases that are decimating their populations and destroying their economies, and finally we need to work with people and governments to bring populations under control. The world cannot continue to sustain the ever-increasing number of people on the planet.
If we do not work in all three areas at once then we are deluding ourselves that we are accomplishing anything that will assist us in leaving future generations a planet similar to the one we were given at birth. In the last fifty years we have done more harm to the planet then was meted out to her by our ancestors in the length of time our species has existed.
Let's take the next fifty years to correct the mistakes we've made and redress the balance. It's the least we can do.