The Collaborative Institute

Building Connections

June 30, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Food Security and Climate Change

At CIOCS we are working to make connections between climate change, human security and the world’s oceans. Recently, there’s been plenty of news about our warming planet and the impact this has on food security, which relates directly to human security. As Justin Gillis shows in this NY Times article from early June, consumption of basic food items is increasing while production is stagnant or even decreasing. This difference leads to higher food prices, which has a direct impact on social conditions and can lead to volatile situations, as seen in recent years. As Gillis articulates, science has helped show that climate change is helping to destabilize the food system. As climate changes, so do weather patterns. Changing “norms” mean that agriculture has to adapt, while extreme weather and natural disasters disrupt production altogether. All of these changes have put an increased strain on water supplies and on the farmers themselves. The article demonstrates how agricultural production has changed in past decades, often in response to changing technology and demands. As agricultural demands and climate change, people worldwide may experience more unstable social conditions, such as poverty, food or water shortages, or even violence.

Thomas Friedman’s recent Op-Ed piece helps put this increased strain in another light. He breaks down a recent book by Paul Gilding, a veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, called The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. Gilding’s work shows that currently humans are using about 1.5 earths at the current global growth rates. However, we only have one planet. Essentially, we’re working at 150% of our sustainable capacity. Gilding helps show how changes are connected:

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

In a follow-up article, Gillis poses the question, based on all the information given in the first article: “What do we need to do?” He provides a run-down of ongoing research and projects that are helping to determine answers to that very question. Specifically, he mentions the Beddington Report which examines the need for increased intensive agricultural, but with respect to economically and environmentally sustainable practices. Science and agriculture are working to determine how things are changing and what can be done to adapt or possibly turn things around.

As all of these articles demonstrate, the changing climate has a direct impact on human life and security, by impacting food supplies and the ability to sustain life through agriculture. Just as importantly, these changes impact oceans on earth, as well. 53% of the United States population lives in coastal areas, and many of those residents depend directly on the oceans for their livelihood and personal consumption. Even those who do not live near the coast depend on the oceans for food and other needs. The effects of climate change on weather patterns, the oceans, and, subsequently, human life can be seen in recent events. These events have many lessons to offer regarding preparation and adaptation for human and food security.

June 15, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council Releases New Report

The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council has released a new report that calls upon leaders to support implementation of the National Ocean Policy. America’s Ocean Future: Ensuring Healthy Oceans to Support a Vibrant Economy identifies four fundamental components that will ensure effective implementation:

  • Coordination of federal agency policies and activities with state, regional, tribal and local entities for collaborative reform and efficient decision-making in a transparent manner
  • Increased availability and improved collection of high-quality science and information to local, state, regional, and national entities for informed decision-making
  • Implementation of policies that allow for “protection and enhancement of sustainable economic benefits from ocean, coastal, and Great Lake resources”
  • Investment in implementing the National Ocean Policy and strategies to ensure consistent funding for “ocean and coastal science, management, and restoration, including development of a dedicated ocean investment fund”

The report offers recommendations based upon these four overarching components, which will allow the Joint Initiative to complete an assessment in the future on implementation and efficacy of the policies, investment and information made available as a result. The Joint Initiative recognizes the economic austerity the United States is currently experiencing, but acknowledges the long-term economic benefits of increased investment and acting now to implement the National Ocean Policy. Investing in education, research and policy implementation now will result in better economic circumstances and quality of life later. The report calls for a collaborative effort at all levels of government to “ensure the health of the critical ocean resources on which so many Americans depend for their livelihoods and quality of life.”

To view the Join Ocean Commission Report, visit their website at www.jointoceancommission.org.

April 11, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Climate Change and Public Health

Recently CIOCS explored ideas about Managing the Risks Associated with Climate Change. The American Medical Association has recently released a statement about their recent research and meetings discussing the impacts of climate change on public health. In the report, they state:

“Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The American Medical Association is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them.”

The AMA uses examples from Florida and Maine to describe how human populations will be affected as conditions change. To help drive home this emphasis, Florida and Maine have both played host to the AMA meetings about these issues. Read the full statement for how the AMA sees climate change and public health interacting in Florida and Maine.

The AMA is encouraging physicians to work with state and local health departments “to improve the systems’ anticipation and awareness of climate-related health issues.” For tips and resources, the AMA recommends that physicians look to the AMA Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, and the Climate and Health Literacy Consortium.

Other public health groups have taken notice of the effects of climate change on public health.  In September 2010, 120 of America’s top public health experts and organizations submitted a joint letter to Congress, urging Congress to allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “move ahead with urgently needed new rules to curb global warming pollution.” Organizations such as the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Lung Association lent their support to a letter stating that:

“As public health professionals, we are writing to urge you to recognize the threat to public health posed by climate change and to support measures that will reduce these risks and strengthen the ability of our local, state and federal public health agencies to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change.  In order to prepare for changes already under way, it is essential to strengthen our public health system so it is able to protect our communities from the health effects of heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, infectious diseases, and other events. But we must also address the root of the problem, which means reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting the public’s health from climate change, and we urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling its responsibilities. We also urge opposition to any efforts to weaken, delay or block the EPA from protecting the public’s health from these risks.”

Public health is just one of the many risks associated with climate change. As the CHLC notes, “Clinicians will be on the front lines of all climate-related health impacts, whether those result from catastrophic disasters such as floods, heat waves or other temperature extremes, or indirect effects like increases in emergency room visits over time due to decreasing air quality.” The CHLC also states that because the “healthcare industry will experience the climate crisis in its own operations, characterized by increasing energy costs, projected instability in the electric service provision grid, and intensified stressors placed on community health services, especially in times of disaster,” it is necessary for the sector to develop a “strong, unified voice to reduce both the environmental and public health impacts of climate change.” Risk management can help physicians and the healthcare sector prepare for the serious, immediate and long-term impacts of climate change.

April 1, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Learning from the Tsunami in Japan

While the recent earthquake off the coast of Japan and subsequent tsunami cannot be linked directly to climate change, the aftermath provides important lessons for the countries worldwide regarding climate-induced disasters.

As Christopher Mims at Grist points out:

“Melting ice masses change the pressures on the underlying earth, which can lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, but that’s just the beginning. Rising seas also change the balance of mass across earth’s surface, putting new strain on old earthquake faults.” As ice caps melt and oceans rise, we could see many more earthquakes as fault lines become more stressed.

As Bill McGuire states:

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the loading and unloading of the Earth’s crust by ice or water can trigger seismic and volcanic activity and even landslides. Dumping the weight of a kilometer-thick ice sheet onto a continent or removing a deep column of water from the ocean floor will inevitably affect the stresses and strains on the underlying rock. …[While] not every volcanic eruption and earthquake in the years to come will have a climate-change link… [As] the century progresses we should not be surprised by more geological disasters as a direct and indirect result of dramatic changes to our environment.”

Following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration released an article warning all members of coastal communities to be prepared for tsunamis, as well as be knowledgeable about the warning signs and warning systems already in place.* March 20-26, 2011 was declared Tsunami Awareness Week and the NOAA generated a website dedicated to Tsunami Awareness.

Watch following video on Tsunami Awareness, from NOAA:

Tsunami Awareness | NOAA

To learn more about Japan and its history of earthquakes and tsunamis, especially in the region recently affected, check out this interview between Yale e360 and Geophysicist Lori Dengler.

Interested in disaster relief efforts in Japan? Google.org offers “Google Crisis Response,” aggregating a variety of information such as donation opportunities and alerts into accessible location. The Google page can be found here.

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