Tip of the Iceberg

by Ken Melvin (reader Ken Melvin offers more on climate change)

Tip of the Iceberg

Around the world, the poorest live on marginal land. Land where, whether due the shortness of the growing season, frequent flooding, lack of moisture, poor quality of the soil, temperatures, altitude …, it is difficult for them, even in the good times, to eke out a living. (The history of how is it that they come to live on these lands is the stuff of anthropology.) These marginal areas may cover large portions of a nation, whole nations, parts of several nations, … Due to lack of rainfall, much of the land mass of Asia is marginal at best. The same is true of much of the North America’s west/southwestern and Africa’s northern regions. In these regions, the scant populace gathers around what water is to be found.

A marginal land area lacking normal rainfall might know years, years in a row, of above normal rainfall and see its inhabitants prosper. Such years would encourage them to hang on and keep trying in the dry years. With the advent of Climate Change, many of these areas have seen ever less rainfall. For them, it is no longer possible to eke out a living, to hang on. Cliven Bundy’s 160 acres next to a water source in Nevada wasn’t big enough to run cattle. For ranching, he rented tens of thousands of acres of nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land; land where each cow might need graze as many as 35 acres in order to eke out a living. Disputing with the government agency; Bundy refused to pay the rent, didn’t even bother to remove his cattle.

These BLM lands, marginal at best, had long been overgrazed (the Great Salt Lake Basin was grassland before it was overgrazed into a dessert by the early Mormon settlers. Even with historical amounts of rainfall, their restoration would have required years of restricted access. Restriction meant no ranch for ‘ranchers’ like Bundy. Global warming and associated Climate Change hit the BLM areas of America’s west and southwest hard. Increased temperatures, and decreased rain and snowfalls were evident by 1950; 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade of record with more forest, brush, and grass fires. The ‘Marginal’ BLM grazing lands were no longer marginal; cattle, having to walk too far to get enough to eat, could no longer even survive on these lands. These lands were now overpopulated with cattle.

Climate Change and drought played a major role in the Syrian uprising of 2011. Much of Syria’s lands were marginal. The 2005-2011 drought was a result of changing rainfall/seasonal patterns. The prolonged drought, much attributable to Climate Change, brought increased focus on government policies.

As mentioned, much of North Africa is marginal land. No accident that these areas, along with Syria, experiencing extended worst droughts in 900 years are the source of Europe’s current immigration crisis. There is no longer any doubt that the droughts are Climate Change related.

In northern Asia, Mongolia, an always marginal land, is seeing decreased pastures from Climate Change induced drought. How will the traditional nomadic herdsmen adapt? What of their neighbors to the East with similar lands and lifestyles? Historically sparsely populated but in balance with the land; resultant Climate Change, Mongolia is now overpopulated.

Some 3 million people inhabit Mongolia. 1.5 billion people inhabit the deltas of the Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, Mekong, and Red Rivers of Asia; rivers directly or indirectly fed by the snow pack of the Himalayas. Long considered rich growing areas, these areas, already marginal due to overpopulation, could be more like Mongolia if Climate Change changes/reduces the rain and snow fall on the Himalayas; which it almost certainly will. Where will these billion emigrants go?

Overpopulation can cause a land to be marginal in that it can no longer provide enough food for the populace. This is an all too common problem in Central and Latin America. Countries like El Salvador and Haiti, and the US territory of Puerto Rico are marginal because of overpopulation. There is no way for El Salvador to support its people.

Now, this area, these same countries, are seeing disrupted patterns of rainfall due to Climate Change. It rains at the wrong times for planting and harvesting, and doesn’t rain when the crops need rain to grow. They can no longer be sure of even making a crop.

For people facing near certain starvation, assault or murder of themselves or their children, …, any other option appeals; risking one’s life is an easy decision. How do you stop people willing to risk drowning, torture, … death?

As Europe soon discovered, the onrush of immigrants was but the tip of the iceberg; taking them in was a positive feedback loop. Society needs think again how best to deal with these desperate souls. The US spent $Billions to help Columbia stem the flow of cocaine. Why not spent a few $Billions to alleviate the poverty and social unrest produced by Climate change in El Salvador? Why not spend a few $Trillion to slow, then reverse Climate Change?

Marginal lands may be paired with a marginal government; governments marginal because of the economics of the nation, of corruption, of ineptness, …; governments that might collapse if stressed. Should the UN play a role; temporarily replace failed, corrupt, inhumane, inept,… regimes?

In 2018, more than 22 million were displaced by climate change.