Desertification Is the End of Being

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June 27, 2007 OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet

A new study by United Nations University suggests climate change is making desertification [more] "the greatest environmental challenge of our times". They report that some 50 million people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification [search], and that ultimately some one-third of the Planet's population is threatened by expanding deserts. The process of desertification is the ultimate end result of all poor environmental stewardship, a synthesis of climate change and land clearing, that quite literally makes the Earth a burning hell. They are not making much new land, so just exactly where will the natural resources, food and water come from to care for an increasingly urban world. Hello?! Is anyone home? Is there anybody in there? How many more reports on looming environmental catastrophe can be ignored without major loss of life and a severe decline in the complexity and habitability of the Earth? Are we so into our ipods and Paris Hilton that we can not see the Earth is dying? Climate change, water scarcity, over-fished oceans and desertification; to say nothing of AIDs, terrorism, militarism and poverty; threaten our very being. Yours. Your childrens. It is essential that policy and strategy to fight global threats are integrative, and willing to propose and implement actions that are up to the task of reversing monumental adverse trends. Fifty million people, driven from their land, because we refuse to stop wantonly procreating and consuming. I am stunned, shocked, dismayed (and yes deeply hurt) to read dispassionate accounts of the ecological foundation of being dismantled tree by tree, SUV by SUV. We shall learn to live differently with the Earth or we shall not live at all. Please forgive the emotions as I mourn the looming end of being, Eden turned to dust, by ignorance and vanity.


To comment:


ITEM #1 Title: Likely Spread of Deserts to Fertile Land Requires Quick Response, U.N. Report Says Source: Copyright 2007, New York Times Date: June 28, 2007 Byline: Elisabeth Rosenthal

Enough fertile land could turn into desert within the next generation to create an “environmental crisis of global proportions,” large-scale migrations and political instability in parts of Africa and Central Asia unless current trends are quickly stemmed, a new United Nations report concludes.

“The costs of desertification are large,” said Zafar Adeel of the United Nations University, who is based in Canada and is an author of the report, to be released Thursday.

“Already at the moment there are tens of millions of people on the move,” Dr. Adeel said in an interview. “There’s internal displacement. There’s international migration. There are a number of causes. But by and large, in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia this movement is triggered by degradation of land.”

The report’s authors say individual nations and international groups must collaborate to solve what has so far been an underrecognized crisis in the making, caused mainly by climate change. Water resources are overexploited because the poor have no other options, and climate change has exacerbated the cycle. Governments and wealthier countries must aid these populations to develop more sustainable livelihoods or suffer the consequences, the report says.

“Today, those migrants who are escaping dry lands are mostly moving around far from the developed world,” Janos Bogardi of the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany, a technical adviser on the report, said in an interview. “Those who end up on boats to Europe are the tip of an iceberg.”

Far more people move within their homeland, or to adjacent countries. Case studies have shown that up to 20 percent of Malians move to Ivory Coast in search of agricultural work during years of drought, for example. But as temperatures rise and desertification increases, such safer places may be overwhelmed.

“The numbers we now find alarming may explode in an uncontrollable way,” Dr. Bogardi said. “Because if you look at land use now and dry land, there is the potential that we are nearing a tipping point.”

The United Nations report estimates that 50 million people are at risk of displacement in the next 10 years if desertification is not checked. The report is a result of a United Nations- sponsored conference last December of 150 experts from 40 countries.

Experts say climate shifts are one of several converging stresses creating the raised vulnerability in dry areas. Others include population growth, diversion of rivers for irrigation and a lack of ability to store water from flooding rains to use when dry times come.

The report’s authors suggest that dry lands can be partly restored with vegetation that can be used to absorb some of the developed world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Developed countries might invest in programs to prevent conversion of dry land to desert to compensate for automobile and factory emissions, through emissions trading schemes like those in Europe, for example.

“The surface area is so large that even a bit of improved vegetation is going to make a significant contribution,” Dr. Adeel said. “So you’re addressing climate change and also creating a livelihood for people who are poor, so it’s a win-win situation.”

A recent study by Christian Aid, a charity based in Britain, found that 155 million people are currently displaced by conflicts, natural disasters and development. By 2050, an additional billion people may be forced to leave their homes because of climate change, said John Davison, the author of that report.

“All of our concerns here in Europe about immigration bypass the huge crisis that is already occurring in the developing world, which is already bad,” he said. “If you add climate change to the mix, there’s a danger of it spinning out of control.”

ITEM #2 Title: UN issues desertification warning Source: Copyright 2007, BBC Date: June 28, 2007 Byline: Matt McGrath

Tens of millions of people could be driven from their homes by encroaching deserts, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, a report says.

The study by the United Nations University suggests climate change is making desertification "the greatest environmental challenge of our times".

If action is not taken, the report warns that some 50 million people could be displaced within the next 10 years.

The study was produced by more than 200 experts from 25 countries.

Scarce resources

This report does not pull any punches - desertification is an environmental crisis of global proportions, it says, and one third of the Earth's population are potential victims of its creeping effect.

It says that the over-exploitation of land and unsustainable irrigation practices are making matters worse. Climate change was also a major factor degrading the soil.

The UN report suggests that new farming practices, such as encouraging forests in dry land areas, were simple measures that could remove more carbon from the atmosphere and also prevent the spread of deserts.

Zafar Adeel, the lead author of the report, said: "It says to dry land dwellers we need to provide alternative livelihoods - not the traditional cropping based on irrigation, cattle farming, etcetera - but rather introduce more innovative livelihoods which don't put pressure on the natural resources.

"Things like ecotourism or using solar energy to create other activities."

Some countries like China have embarked on tree planting programmes to stem the advance of deserts - but according to the author, in some cases the trees being planted needed large amounts of water, putting even more pressure on scarce resources.

ITEM #3 Title: Burgeoning cities face catastrophe, says UN Urban dwellers to outstrip rural population next year; Big rise in poverty, slums and pollution feared Source: Copyright 2007, Guardian Date: June 28, 2007 Byline: John Vidal

Humanity will make the historic transition from a rural to an urban species some time in the next year, according to the latest UN population figures. The shift will be led by Africa and Asia, which are expected to add 1.6 billion people to their cities over the next 25 years.

The speed and scale of inevitable global urbanisation is so great most countries will not be remotely prepared for the impact it will have, Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the UN Population Fund, says. "In human history we have never seen urban growth like this. It is unprecedented."

Ms Obaid added: "In 2008, half of the world's population will be in urban areas. The shift from rural to urban changes a balance that has lasted for millennia. Within one generation, five billion people, or 60% of humanity, will live in cities. The urban population of Africa and Asia is set to double in this time." She said that each week the numbers living in cities grew by nearly a million.

"Most cities [in developing countries] already have pressing concerns, including crime, lack of clean water and sanitation, and sprawling slums. But these problems pale in comparison with those that could be raised by future growth. If we do not plan ahead it will be a catastrophe. The changes are too fast to allow planners simply to react. If governments wait, it will be too late to [gain] advantages for the coming growth."

According to the State of the World Population Report, which Ms Obaid launched yesterday in London, large-scale population growth will take place in the cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It suggests the largest transition to cities will occur in Asia, where the number of urbanites will almost double to 2.6 billion in 2030. Africa is expected to add 440 million to its cities in the same period, and Latin America and the Caribbean nearly 200 million. Rural populations are expected to decrease worldwide by 28 million people.

But urbanisation can be positive. "No country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanisation, said Ms Obaid. "Cities concentrate poverty but they present poor people's best hope of escaping it ... The potential benefits of urbanisation, which include easier access to health centres and education, far outweigh the disadvantages."

The report warns, however, that if unaddressed the growth of urbanisation will mean growth in slums and poverty, as well as a rise in attempted migration away from poor regions. "Today one billion people live in slums, 90% of whom are in developing countries. The battle to cut extreme poverty ... will be waged in the slums. To win it, politicians need to be proactive and start working with the urban poor. The only way to defeat urban poverty is head on," said Ms Obaid.

Climate is expected to increasingly shape and be shaped by cities. In a vicious circle, climate change will increase energy demand for air conditioning in cities, which will add to greenhouse gas emissions. It could also make some cities unlivable, adding to the "heat island" effect, which can lift temperatures in urban areas by 2-6C. "Heat, pollution, smog and ground-level ozone [from cities] affect surrounding areas, reducing agricultural yields, increasing health risks and spawning tornadoes and thunderstorms. The impacts of climate change on urban water supplies are expected to be dramatic," the report says. Cities like New Delhi, in the drier areas, will be particularly hard hit.

What is taking place today, says the UN, is a second great wave of global urbanisation. The first, in Europe, from 1750-1950, boosted the numbers living in cities to about 420 million, but the second is expected to increase urbanisation levels close to those found in Europe (72%) and the US (81%) today.

However, developing countries are at a great disadvantage when they start to urbanise. "Mortality has fallen rapidly in the last 50 years, achieving in one or two decades what developed countries accomplished in two centuries. The speed and scale of urbanisation today is far greater than in the past. In the first wave of urbanisation, overseas migrations [to the US or Australia] relieved the pressures on European cities. Many migrants settled in new agricultural lands. Restrictions on international migration today makes this almost impossible. They will also have to build faster than any rich country has ever done. It will require houses, power, water, sanitation and roads."

The report also spells the end for growth of existing mega- cities. "Only Dhaka in Bangladesh, and Lagos in Nigeria, of the world's 20 mega-cities, are expected to grow more than 3% a year in the next decade ... most growth will be in smaller cities, of under 500,000 people. The good news is these cities are more flexible [in expansion]; the bad is they are under-served in housing, water, and waste disposal."

Ms Obaid said: "It concerns everyone, not just developing countries. If we plan ahead we will create conditions for a stable world. If we do not, and do not find education, jobs, and houses for people in cities, then these populations will become destructive, to themselves and others."


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