By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Yesterday was one of those days that I learned far more from the commentariat in their comments on my post about climate change and the Oregon wildfire crisis than I conveyed in my text, More than 500,000 People in Oregon Flee Wildfires.
A half a million people have been displaced so far by the wildfire crisis in Oregon alone.
Now, one thing the commentariat emphasised is that wildfires in the Pacific northwest are not a new phenomenon. But prevailing forest management policies have certainly worsened the problem, as has relentless dynamics of climate change.
This is an ongoing crisis in some of the most affluent parts of the country that is supposed to be the richest in the world. This year Oregon and Washington have been caught up in the crisis, as has California, for which wildfires are now an annual scourge.
I juxtaposed this crisis against some reading today in the Guardian, reporting on a study done by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), that concluded that more than 1.2 billion people living in 31 countries are not sufficiently resilient to withstand ecological threats, and could find themselves as involuntary migrants by 2050, according to Climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050, report warns.
Wealthier, more developed regions in Europe and North America face fewer ecological threats and would be better able to cope with them, but most “will not be immune from wider impacts”. The report said 16 countries, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Iceland, faced no threat.
Tell that to the people of the Pacific northwest at the moment.
Alas, ecological catastrophe may prove to be much more devastating to poorer countries, according to the IEP’s Ecological Threat Register, which notes that “19 countries with the highest number of ecological threats are among the world’s 40 least peaceful countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan.”
Over to the Guardian again:
Many of the countries most at risk from ecological threats, including Nigeria, Angola, Burkina Faso and Uganda, are also predicted to experience significant population increases, the report noted, further driving mass displacements.
“This will have huge social and political impacts, not just in the developing world, but also in the developed, as mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries,” Steve Killelea, the institute’s founder, said.
“Ecological threats pose serious challenges to global peace. Over the next 30 years, lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation. In the absence of action, civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase.”
Withstanding Ecological Threats
The study evaluates the exposure of 157 countries to to eight ecological threats, then analyzes their relative resilience to withstand the threat. By 2050, 141 countries will face at least one ecological threat , with the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa those most exposed to the greatest number of threats.
According to the IEP:
- By 2040, a total of 5.4 billion people – more than half of the world’s projected population – will live in the 59 countries experiencing high or extreme water stress, including India and China.
- 5 billion people could suffer from food insecurity by 2050; which is an increase of 1.5 billion people from today.
- The lack of resilience in countries covered in the ETR will lead to worsening food insecurity and competition over resources, increasing civil unrest and mass displacement, exposing developed countries to increased influxes of refugees.
Methodology: Ecological Threat Register
The IEP is trying to predict some of the political consequences that will follow from ecological threats in part caused by climate change:
The Ecological Threat Register analyses risk from population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cyclones, rising temperatures and sea levels. Over the next 30 years, the report finds that 141 countries are exposed to at least one ecological threat by 2050. The 19 countries with the highest number of threats have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, which is around 25 per cent of the world’s total population.
The ETR analyses the levels of societal resilience within countries to determine whether they have the necessary coping capacities to deal with future ecological shocks. The report finds that more than one billion people live in countries that are unlikely to have the ability to mitigate and adapt to new ecological threats, creating conditions for mass displacement by 2050.
The country with the largest number of people at risk of mass displacements is Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia and Iran. Haiti faces the highest threat in Central America. In these countries, even small ecological threats and natural disasters could result in mass population displacement, affecting regional and global security.
Resource Stress Leads to Political Unrest
I point out that these resource threats are already leading to political unrest. India and Pakistan don’t need yet another issue to fight over, as they have gone to war more than once since Partition, with the latest skirmishes occurring just last year.Now, they have been squabbling over the waters of the Indus for a very long time. Water disputes will no doubt continue and indeed accelerate.
Nor do China and India need additional areas to dispute- with stress between the countries exacerbating in recent months. leading to bloodshed. And it comes as no news that China is tying up the waters that flow through the Tibetan plateau, as well as other rivers, such as the Mekong.
The countries judged to be the most vulnerable are the least able to withstand these ecological threats.
I encourage readers to click on the following link, to see which countries the IEP deems the most vulnerable, Overall ETR Score.
Now no surprises among the weakest countries, which include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and India. and other Middle Eastern, and Sub-saharan Africa states.
What stood out, however, was that the United States squarely among the next group of countries. Just as the rest of the world averts its eyes rather than examine closely our COVID-19 record, the wildfire crisis produces a similar response. I point out that such a reaction is not just to the unique US situation. It wasn’t so long ago that the world’s eyes were trained on the Australian wildfire crisis. And Australia is also listed in the same group as the U.S. on the Ecological Threat Register. As are Russia, China, and the Netherlands.
Whereas the next group included Canada, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Spain, and Italy.. As someone who was quite peripatetic in the pre-CoVID-19 universe, this really comes as no shock to me. Whenever I find myself in the US, I am often stunned to see how much the infrastructure has declined. Or rather, how much the rest of the world has caught up.
I would have reproduced the complete list, except to do so includes the flags of each country, making the complete list of around 150 bulky and unwieldy. So I encourage interested readers to go to the link, which includes the full list, as well as an interactive map.
And what we are seeing in Oregon is, from what you have told me, is a combination of a natural historical cycle. Exacerbated by climate change. Made worse by our appetite for living in the wilderness – which may be a consequence of zoning ourselves out of city living space. And made much, much worse by infrastructural decline, and poor forest management.
Yves has mentioned in another context that because the United States is so relatively rich, it’s been able to tolerate high levels of political corruption, and our overpriced, less-than-universal health care system.
COVID-19 has pointed out the flaws in that model.
And, similarly, climate change is testing our infrastructure policies.
The question I think is how seriously wanting it will find us.
Letter ‘v’ is missing from the beginning of the link to the Overall ETR score.
Fixed it – thanks for pointing out my omission.
As my dad was so fond of saying
Woulda – Coulda – Shoulda
I would hope that we could play down the “forestry mismanagement” meme as most of it has been debunked by true conservationest, and environmental scientist.
First off there is supposed to be lots of dead wood on the forest floor. Second, it is not a job that has not been done to go out into wild forest and “clean it up”. Forest management is mostly talking about areas where people are ever present, active, and extractive, and yes those areas are poorly managed but not for the reasons everyone is talking about.
Humans will not and can not manage the exponential increase of damage that AGW is having on the biosphere. It is pure hubris to even talk that way. First of all the job is too big…it is everywhere! Secondly it does nothing to address the cause and in fact implies that we might not have to as long as we develop some new tech that addresses the symptoms…oh, and makes someone really rich at the same time.
There is not a single thing that we can do that actually works that makes money, makes a profit, and since TPTB have made sure that TINA to the profit motive we are collectively Screwed!
Native peoples tended the wilderness with much less tech than we have now for millenia before Europeans came. They also complained bitterly as early as the 1910s to the forest service that what the foresters were doing was harming the forest, not helping.
We’ve always had the tech, and some groups among us have always had the know-how. We must just seek out the wisdom if our media doesn’t broadcast it to us… which of course, normally it does not.
And of course, a meaningful large-scale response to climate change is possible: a guaranteed jobs program restoring steams (see recent post), tearing down dams, planting trees and teaching everyone not just the skills of gardening, but how to love the soil with an open heart and develop a mutual relationship with it. You’re right that this contradicts many people’s gravy trains and even more peoples’ comforts. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
So how did the forests and grasslands possibly “manage” all that time they had to wait for homosapiens to come along?
The problems that plague humanity all stem from the belief that we can “manage” nature and indeed it is our duty to do so in order to continue exponential growth.
Not competent to comment on other countries, but the data looks incomplete for New Zealand, leading to the zero threat level assigned. Among other things, it says no threat of floods or other natural disasters, which is decidedly countered by the recent increase in extreme storms and flooding.
New Zealand has a long history of vulnerability to geological forces which we saw with the Christchurch earthquake for example. And I would be prepared to argue that ecological disasters are downstream of natural disasters. Fukushima comes to mind here. I would even say that natural disaster events are trigger events for ecological disasters.
Human history in NZ is pretty short sided, the Maoris only showing up around the time of the Magna Carta, otherwise it was pretty much a bird world country for almost 20 million years with just a few mammals that long ago went extinct otherwise.
Luckily there were no billionaires or lesser humans when the Taupo Eruption happened around the time of Emperor Caracalla.
How big was it?
The Pink & White Terraces blew up real good in 1886, in European times.
I haven’t seen a link between earthquake risk and climate change, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the mantle responded to widespread temperature increase.
My perhaps poorly made point was that the analysis in this report says new zealand would experience no increase in natural disasters as a result of climate change. We already are seeing an increase, so the data is wrong.
Other measures for nz also say zero, resulting an overall risk of zero for the country. The multiple zeros lead me to believe they have incomplete data rather than incorrect data necessarily.
NZ is not what you want to look at in terms of a sustainable model, it’s right in your bailiwick where the Aboriginals managed to eke out a living for (pick a number) say 50,000 years. No other culture has ever come even close to that sort sustainability.
The Maoris on the other hand lucked into landing in a place that was paradise, and not long after became warlike, which is what all cultures that become rich, seem to do on this orb.
I thought that after they finished eating the big birds, they started eating each other. The big tongue display in the Haka dance meaning exactly that, I am going to eat you…
Morioris from Chatham Islands were from the same stock as the Maoris, and arrived there around the same time as the latter went to NZ, but the islands weren’t all that in terms of supplying them with sustenance as it had limited resources, and they were pacifists.
This is what happened to them:
It’s a matter of when the Alpine Fault goes, not if. And it will be a biggie.
And it’s overdue.
The water crisis predicted in India and Pakistan in the 2030’s will displace hundreds of millions easily. Will the first world countries be willing and able to absorb so many new people? I think a more liberal stance on immigration will prove to be very unpopular and fuel right-wing extremism. This will be a dark century indeed.
Wealthier, more developed regions in Europe and North America face fewer ecological threats and would be better able to cope with them, but most “will not be immune from wider impacts”
Actually I believe the developed world is less likely to survive than the under developed world.
Take , for example, the Basuto living in the mountains of Lesotho. While the lack “modern conveniences” they are close to nature than nearly all in the developed world. The same is true of the Congolese living in their forests.
Nature is beautiful, but she is also moody and heartless. Being close to her for extended periods is not always a good thing. There are reasons why people moved away except for the occasional visit.
Jared Diamond related that New Guineans wouldn’t camp near the possibility of trees falling on them, as they had learned the hard way of living too close in their embrace.
Trees that died 5 to 7 years ago of the drought and bark beetles are now coming down on the Sierra, and you’ll hear one in the far distance a few hundred yards or more away, going horizontal on occasion.
We had around 1,000 dead ones cut down this summer within 100 yards of all cabins, to lessen fire and falling risks.
The only thing I remember from a jared diamond book (Forgive me, I can’t even remember the title) was his confession that he had never seen, in all his well funded and equally earnest endeavors, a bad private sector intervention in developing countries, only public ones.
It was very early in the book, so obviously placed to catch the superficial reader*
While human costs and human tragedy is more severe an implication it’s not as if financial ruination is a barrel of laughs either.
I was amazed when I heard people in the US mention the phrase “Florida basement” — shorthand for an uninsurable part of your property which is almost certain in a commercial timeframe be liable to flooding, probably groundwater flooding in FL. It was the nonchalance of the entire concept: yes, we’re pretty much guaranteed to suffer a catastrophic loss which no-one will cover, but hey, what the heck, never mind, we’ll sort it out if or when it happens. And it’s in many people’s minds much more of an “if” than a “when”.
Of course, no-one thinks it will happen to them. It’s one thing to suffer a property loss and be insured. It’s another thing entirely to suffer a property loss and be financially wiped out. What if insurers (including government-backed reinsurance) end up deciding to deny cover to the whole of the state, certainly the coastal parts of it?
If western Washington were to experience a Cascadia Subduction Zone ‘shift’ .. say a 9.0 or greater .. you can forget Big Insurance putting out for ANY claims submitted! Economically, the U. S. (assuming at the time there still WAS a cohesive U.S.) not just the state, would see major repercussions from such a catastrophe .. not to mention any ecological damages resulting from the certain ruin of any human infrastructural thereof.
Any climate-related issues would be as icing on the cake, as it were ..
The wildfire “crisis” in the West is a direct consequence of poor management and large population growth. I’m pretty sure I’ve been around far longer than you and remember well the annual fires and mudslides in California, and the annual fires in Spain, Portugal and South of France. Not only do people now live in areas once populated by wildlife but those same areas did not have the buildup of tinder that they do now. Massive population growth in marginal nations is the primary cause of famine and distress in those nations. Climate changes and massive populations are far less able to cope with those change than smaller, more mobile populations.
Buildup of people and infrastructure in these areas means they need to be “protected” which prevents the small burns and other natural mechanisms that Mother Nature uses to manage these areas. So things are protected until they can not be.
This is similar to the levee wars where people keep raising levees, further reducing floodplain storage for floods, so when things do fail the consequences are massive becasue people have built up infrastructure in the “protected” areas while eliminating many of the natural benefits of flooding (e.g. re-sedimenting floodplains providing freash soil for plants). In places like Houston, there was no planning and many areas that would natural hold and absorbed rainwater got paved over and now shed water. So flooding in tropical rainstorms becomes bigger, impacting more people.
Some of this is being played out with the Michigan dam breaks where property owners came to rely on the impounded lakes for their recreational and property value with boat docks, boating, bass fishing etc. Now they are back to their original river pattern with the water hundreds of feet away from the docks. Reconstructing the dams will cost $100s of millions and it is unclear how this would be paid for by those proeprty owners through property taxes in special assessments. So there will likely be pressure on the Michigan State legislature to gt federal funding and reconstruct these on the taxpayers’ nickel to restore the lakes.https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/07/restoration-of-failed-mid-michigan-dams-could-cost-340m-or-more-says-nonprofit-seeking-ownership.html
I agree with keeping large amounts of land “pristine” and concentrating development in walkable centers. This will require zoning changes and probably increased building height.
I say only probably, because the transformation has got to be systemic: the very concepts of work, investment, and housing ownership have to change first, not just building heights or occupancy density. Otherwise it’s like merely switching to renewables without striking at financialization and the profit imperative: addressing the stench instead of the rot, as said somewhere here today.
If we allow deregulation now, capitalist imperatives will overbuild out of proportion to the “true” needs of a social well-being economy. Even in capitalist society, construction often lags demand, not to mention the phenomenon of vacant skyscraper condos with absentee owners, which urges redefinition of “demand.”
In a social well-being economy, with declining poverty, birth rates will presumably decrease. Why allow a glut of concrete jungles now, polluting our air and waterways? Construction embodies not only the heavy environmental costs in cement, but also plastics. Rehabilitate old structures. Zone the vulnerable landscapes out of human development or habitation. Change the metabolic mandate of the system.
Even worse than the infrastructure, the decline in American politics has been horrible. Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, was on NewsHour last night. She is no Tom McCall. The governor when I lived in Oregon during the first Oil Crisis. She had no idea of the cause or plans on how to end the Portland riots and prevent future infernos.
Many of the towns burned in Oregon were in long developed valley floors not only towns up in mountain forest lands. Like California, low cost sprawl has spread into fire danger zones which are spreading and increasing due to long hot dry weather. Only spending money on fireproofing homes, cutting firebreaks, controlled burns, and clearing brush will make the West safe.
I really think both the Global Elite and the US Managerial Class have given up. The two major President candidates are old and incompetent, not up to the job. President Paul von Hindenburg can’t help to come to mind.
The USA has become a smash and grab nation. Unless good government is restored, everyone is at danger.
Tom McCall was one of a kind. She’s doing well under trying circumstances. So far as I know, there’s not been fed help or acknowledgement of the disaster; it’s a democratic state. Ending Portland riots and preventing future infernos is a tall order.
I’m one of those people living in the woods in a high fire zone pretty much on top of the San Andreas fault. I do it because I find “city”* conditions to be soul crushing, particularly the endless concrete, SUV road warriors, and far too many people. If hell is other people, you’ll find it down in the valley. I’d really rather have rabbits, foxes, skunks and deer for neighbors. They keep to themselves, are quiet, have predictable and generally unsinister motives and don’t make a mess of the place. I’d probably be happy in Montana somewhere, but the money is exceptional here, and the politics more to my liking.
Personally, I find the “inconvenience” of the fire season to be worth it for the joy of the rest of the year, and while nobody likes to have to leave their home, I’m sure all the people currently displaced will tell you the same thing. There is no spring more lovely than the California spring, and it lasts from Jan-May! Better a couple months of hell in fire season than full time in the valley, so I’m not convinced the problem of some mountain folk losing their homes to wildfire is one in need of fixing, any more than the problem of people getting flooded out frequently near the Mississippi or the Gulf coast, or snowed in in upstate New York, or living around the smoldering moral hazard of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Probably what I need to do is get a second home in VT or similar and stay there from July – Nov. The kids’ schooling is mostly what holds that back. Apart from that, If we lose a home, we lose a home. My family was burned out when I was a kid. As long as everyone is safe, the real harm is finding yourself homeless with a ton of extra work to do. A second home would do almost all the work of blunting the trauma. After that, it’s just unwelcome work.
That said, it is not a nice thing when the sun is blotted out for weeks and the air is foul. Most of the screaming online is really from city dwellers who find themselves in a (more) apocalyptic landscape. It is 20-40 years past time to do something about global warming. We can start by making a pledge to stop electing climate deniers to office. We will all benefit.
It is past time for good government, that adopts policies because they work, and not because they fit in a sound byte, line a donors pocket, or fit some rigid ideology.
*here I define city as suburbs or greater.
I contrast good government vs. cheap government, which is what we’ve been trying for the last 40 years. Cheap government, driven by the neoliberal agenda, underinvests, allows infrastructure to crumble and its citizenry to decay. It doesn’t try to do anything good because that would be too expensive, so we get the cheap as a poor substitute. It squeezes every last penny out of prior investment without putting in any new investment to replace it. It emphasizes cost savings over revenue growth. The lack of investment doesn’t free up money for the rest of us, it impoverishes the rest of us.
If we believe in the fundamentals of MMT, then it must hold that in order for the public to become wealthy, all other things being equal, the government must spend, run a deficit, and otherwise not be a cheap bastard. Only through spending more than it taxes is money transferred to the private sector. This should be done with sensible public infrastructure projects which not only spend money into private hands, but also produce a return on investment that the public at large benefits from. Highways and blue sky research are a fine example. This certainly would include the green parts of the green new deal. It might also include some stimulus programs like UBI.
Giving money to rich people doesn’t serve a purpose. It just prints money to be stuffed into a hole in the ground. The wealthy are excessive savers, by definition. Poor people will spend it to the benefit of all. When poor people have money, the rich will turn to them for income, which means the rich will be looking for ways to make a buck by servicing the needs of ordinary people. This role suits the wealthy well, and is a far sight better than impoverishing the poor to the point of irrelevancy, such that the well to do start to wish them dead rather than have to deal with them. There has been a little too much of that lately.
…..but the money is exceptional here….
As someone once so wisely said, the economy is a fully owned subsidiary of the environment.
Sounds like living in Boulder CO back in the 90s as a Calif refugee.
Then the money came ….
Ian Ollman, I’d say may you just enjoy your privilege.
If we truly believe in human rights, the most basic is likely freedom of movement. However we have nicely blocked this with the invention of borders.
Climate change is going to push people across borders in numbers that will make those on the other side unwilling to keep borders open.
Climate change is a result of environmental degradation caused by a combination of excessive resource use in the developed world and rapid population growth in the ROTW.
For humans to survive without trashing the planet we need a global population policy (one child policy for 40 years – with UBI paid for by the developed world??).
It is actually in the developed world’s long term best interest to pay people not to have children. The drag on developed economies from paying these bribes will serve to restrict economic growth and lessen resource use. It will also redistribute wealth globally.
To those who argue that poorer folks don’t have the same impact on the planet as rich folks – think about the following example. Couple 1 in the USA – no kids, nice house, fly around a lot. In 40 years their consumption ends. Yes they used a lot, but it has a finite cap. Then take a family in Nigeria with 6 kids. The 6 kids get married and have 4 kids each. The 4 kids get married and have 3 kids each. Yes each person uses a lot less in resources, but in 2 generations you have at least 72 consumers … and they will have kids and so on.
We need urgent action on population. Ignoring population makes all other efforts ultimately futile.
There is a study on that and one more child end up increasing global warming by orders of magnitude more than cars trucks AC and everything else.
“Climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050, report warns.”
I’m kind of surprised. Without drastic actions starting immediately – does anyone really think the world will be even remotely habitable by 2050? That famous-infamous IPCC report came out almost 2 years ago and nothing has changed except “awareness”. Those in power are really failing this moment.
I haven’t read the IPCC report. What does the report contain which leads you to conclude the world will not be habitable by 2050?
Human societal inertia – That’s what’s at play here, which is why the ones who adapt, whether by choice and/or circumstance, will win out where species survival is concerned. Most likely, many will die – due to climate ‘irregularities’, degregation in janky human-based infrastructures, ecological changes/destruction … or any combination thereof .. but some people will survive and live on, evolving as they go … as hominids have done for eons.
BTW – a great children’s book is mandatory reading regarding the impacts of climate change. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was written in 1978 before man-made global warming became a thing. But the allegory of “normal” weather undergoing severe change that made the land unlivable is a metaphor for today in many areas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloudy_with_a_Chance_of_Meatballs
We are seeing the same things today where people got habituated to things being a certain way, and once change started with bad things happening, their was no robustness and resliency in the system. I suspect there are many areas in the US subject to hurricanes, flooding, and wildfire that are going to have to look seriously at major changes over the next 30 years. The changes are coming. They can be planned for or simply allowed to play out in total chaos and random destruction. It is our choice.
The film “Planet of the Humans” lightly touched on overpopulation as an issue:
“The line of attack that may have gained the most traction in progressive circles portrayed a convoluted section of the film on the dangers of population growth and overconsumption as Malthusian, and even racist. Zehner told me he considered the attacks opportunistic, but “from a public relations standpoint, they were effective. What we were trying to do was highlight the dangers of a consumption-based economic model.”
‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary, Max Blumenthal, September 7, 2020 [https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/07/green-billionaires-planet-of-the-humans]
I wouldn’t be “bullish” on massive population growth.
I find it peculiar that this article cites two problems, namely climate crisis and population growth. The first is a worldwide issue that is difficult to solve, and any solution will take many decades to show results. The second is easy to solve at a national level, namely through birth control, and initial results should be visible within a few months.
Nonetheless when predicting future events, the only solution envisaged is migration. The terms fertility, birth, control, family and planning do not appear. Thus population growth is treated like an inexorable phenomenon, much like global warming, and “mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries”.
Moreover “19 countries with the highest number of ecological threats are among the world’s 40 least peaceful countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan.” I recently read that parts of Afghanistan that used to be thickly forested have become deserts, since constant wars have forced the population to cut down the forests. Of the 6 countries listed, four, namely Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad and Pakistan, have some of the highest birth rates in the world.
Sometimes I wonder if these experts might perhaps be pursuing some political agenda.