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.

February 28, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)
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Managing the Risks Associated with Climate Change

Recently, UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres linked current unrest in areas like the Middle East and North Africa to the effects of climate change, such as drought, short water supplies and decreased crop yields. Ms. Figueres stated, “It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water. In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.” Ms. Figueres emphasized the need for the global community to take urgent action on climate change. Factors such as more frequent and severe natural disasters, heat waves and drought, widespread disease and rising sea levels, among others, will mean that “climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergency, spread and longevity of conflict.”

Research supports Ms. Figueres’ argument regarding the increased risks associated with climate change. For instance, cholera was believed to be a human-driven disease but was recently linked to environmental changes as well. By examining this deadly disease from a new angle, it may be possible to “help minimize cholera’s damage,” even potentially leading to an early warning system for cholera.

Climate change also has consequences on food supply- driving at the very nature of human survival. In Guyana, the government and rice farmers are preparing themselves for the future by examining the food security issues. By cultivating different varieties of rice and moving rice fields, Guyana is trying to stay ahead of the climate change curve.

Given the complex effects of climate change, and large amount of uncertainty regarding the future challenges, there is wisdown in planning ahead. The PEW Research Center released a new report that makes this very argument. In Degrees of Risk: Defining Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, the report recommends using “a risk management approach to break logjams and tackle climate change.” This risk management approach has been valuable for national security and the military and easily applies to the effects of climate change. “Risk management provides a systematic way to consider threats and vulnerabilities, ‘knowns and unknowns’ and to take steps to minimize risk.”

Although we may not know the exact effects that will be coming as a result of changing climate, we can prepare for the worst, as well as work to reverse the changes. Jay Gulledge and Nick Mabey put it this way:

“When it comes to climate change, uncertainty must not be a barrier to action. Uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing; just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold in a given place at a given time. But we have a good handle on what the risks of climate change look like. Will the oceans rise by two feet or six? Will global average temperatures rise by two degrees, or five? Other weighty public policy decisions– from military procurement to interest rates to financial system regulation – are taken under far higher uncertainty than exists when it comes to climate change science.”

Preparation is a necessary and vital response to changing climate. Human security may prove to depend upon the plans and actions that societies take now.

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