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Jun
28

Who’ll Stop the Rain?


You are all welcome for the Creedence Clearwater Revival reference in the title.. I thought for a long time about which song titles would also work for blog titles about climate change in Africa… it was either that, or Rock Me Like A Hurricane by Scorpions.  Or even better… a Toto reference ;) :

But the chosen titles are especially appropriate since we are in the middle of the rainy season here in Benin, and our roads are quickly becoming quite lake-like.

 

Photo by Shalom Konstantino

Last week when I walked into work, I had an email waiting for me in my inbox requesting I attend a meeting on climate change, I secretly rolled my eyes feeling like I already knew what they were going to say.. we need to conserve, the detriments of human impact on the world… yada, yada. (No offense, I know it’s important, but haven’t we heard it all?)

Two hours later, I left the meeting with so many new questions and insights, realizing how little I really knew about the real problems and impacts, especially about the relationship between climate change and the developing world.

Before I talk about that part , though, let’s do a quick recap of the impacts climate change on our lovely little planet:

1. Increasing Average Temperatures:  Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions affect temperature because they trap heat in our atmosphere. While 77% of GHG Emissions are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and and methane are more powerful GHG’s that trap more heat.

2. Rising Sea Levels : Sea levels are rising due to the melting of polar ice and thermal expansion (warmer water takes up more space).

3. More extreme weather events: This includes stronger storms, hurricanes, etc. Higher temperatures provide more energy for storms.

4. More erratic precipitation patterns: Droughts and floods are more common.

5. Glacial Melting: Rise in temperatures make ice melt… self explanatory I know. This impacts the rising sea levels mentioned above.

6. Ocean Acidicifation: Oceans are becoming more acidic since carbon dioxide becomes an acid when it dissolves in ocean water, lowering the ph, a common indicator of acidity.  This effects the delicate balance of marine life.

This fancy graph above (courtesy of Andre Mershon of the USAID Global Climate Change Team) shows how the Industrial Revolution spurred a increase in GHG that cannot and will not be reversed.  The red line represents the increase in temperature and the yellow and pink lines show the increase in GHG over time. As you can see from the chart, the increase started slowly in the 1800′s with a sharper spike in the early 1900′s. And of course there is a direct correlation to the production of the Ford Model T (1908–1927) along with growth in cities and manufacturers among other things.

Carbon dioxide alone lasts  100 years in the atmosphere   Let that fun fact sink in… the carbon emissions from the car you may have driven to work today will be around long after you are gone.

Climate Change in the Developing World…

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but will be felt differently in different places. There may be significant variations in local impacts. Some regions may see few impacts, while others will see devastating impacts. Developing nations are particularly vulnerable to these effects. The biggest reason for this is because they depend directly on climate related activities (like farming, hearding, fishing etc.) and lack the resources to adapt. To be more specific, here is a list of how climate change specifically effects developing countries like Benin:

1. Alters water availability: Changing water availability impacts agricultural production, as well as water for sanitation, industry, energy, environment, undermining economic growth and human security.

2. Disrupts food production: Changing seasons and more droughts and floods reduce crop production, impacting agriculture and food security.

3. Issues in Global Health:  Changing temperature and precipitation patterns will lead to diseases in places they didn’t exist before and increased overall disease burdens, adding an additional challenge to public health work.

4. Infrastructure: Climate change impacts, such as extreme weather events, could overwhelm infrastructure undermining economic growth, trade, and health.

5. Enviromental Issues: Warmer temperatures could put additional pressures on animal and plant species, harming biodiversity conservation efforts.

6.Migration: People affected by more severe natural disaster are likely to migrate, increasing the chance of humanitarian problems.

7.Democracy and governance: Insecure livelihoods, diminished access to food and water, and depressed economic growth will exacerbate governance problems and increase potential for conflict, undermining D&G efforts.

A local example of this  enviromental impact is the 2010 floods here in Benin, where 56 people were killed and over 680000 people were effected, according to the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. For more information in the floods, click here –> (link to Benin Floods)

Bottom line is…

 Climate change is not just an environmental problem, but a human problem with direct implications for hunger, poverty, conflict, water scarcity, infrastructure integrity, sanitation, disease, and survival. 

This was brought to our attention here at USAID as it has become more of a priority since the connection to our work in health and other development initiatives. Hopefully our future projects can have an emphasis on climate change so we can start to educate and invest in this imperative global issue.

Ok kids, that’s my lesson of the day, I know my scientist father would be grinning with delight at my much delayed interest in the environment!

2 comments

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  1. Erik Axelsson says:

    Reminds me of a t-shirt I saw a couple of years ago. There was an image of a generic coniferous tree on the front side. Beneath the tree in quotation marks was the question: “Daddy, what did trees smell like?”

  2. Doug says:

    Hi, Sy:
    Of course your dad would appreciate the fact that you are becoming biologically aware. As you note, methane is a major problem, which translates into cow farts! Seriously, this is a humongous problem. Bags on cow butts to recycle and burn the methane? No one knows for sure, but the ongoing rise of both feedlot cows and the dairy industry are one of the dark underbellies of global warming.
    For more info. on the ocean pH problem, talk to Laurel and her soon-to-be husband, Brian–they are totally on top of this one (working for NOAA helps!).
    Love,
    Doug

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