We must face the new truth of global warming

Earlier on this blog I’ve talked about the evidence that the Syrian civil war needs to be understood in the context of a devastating drought, and the government’s inability to respond effectively. What is chilling, however, is what global warming entails for the entire Middle East and northern Africa. The recent Washington Post article by Hugh Naylor, “An epic Middle East heat wave could be global warming’s hellish curtain-raiser,” is a thought-provoking look at what this future might entail. In some respects, the future is already here in that nations in the region are experiencing record high temperatures, and a heat index that has reach 140 degrees in the UAE and Iran. Unfortunately, I no longer think that we can talk about preventing the worst aspects of global warming. It’s too late. The reality is that not only is global warming taking place, but also that the global community has waited too long to respond. The world is committed to a long course of climate change and sea level rise that will endure for centuries. Some of the arguments in Naylor’s piece are chilling: “A study published by the journal Nature Climate Change in October predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival toward the end of the century.” Of course, this will entail the massive migration of people from this region to Europe and Asia. Still, it would be a mistake to focus only on this region in isolation. Climate migration will be a key social, political and economic factor in global affairs not only for the lifetime of everyone who reads this piece, but also for their grandchildren. The impact will be particularly devastating in some areas, such as the cities of the Chinese coast, many of which (like Shanghai) will be largely flooded. In the United States, Zillo is trying to calculate impact the economic impact of rising seas to Florida.

In general, in the “Introduction to International Studies” course, I don’t like a problem-based approach. If we focus too much on global problems, it tends to overwhelm students; even when dealing with difficult issues I try to focus on solutions, innovation and inspiring leaders. At the same time, I think that intellectual honesty also entails conveying to students what our future will look like, as climate change fundamentally remakes the human geography of coastal regions on a global scale. In this context, I think that climate migration and adaption will become key issues in these classes sooner than we might expect. I also recommend Dr. Ricky Rood’s posts on this topic, “Should We Just Adapt to Climate Change?” and “Where Do We Go from Here?” These two blog posts make the point that we need to move beyond only focusing on stopping global warming. That’s important, but it’s too late to prevent massive change. Instead, we need to think about how global societies will respond to unprecedented challenges.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Line plot of global mean land-ocean surface temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The black line is the annual mean and the red line is the five-year running mean. By NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Line plot of global mean land-ocean surface temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The black line is the annual mean and the red line is the five-year running mean. By NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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