Drought: the silent elephant of the climate change "debate"

hombredelatierra, Jueves, Febrero 11, 2010 - 20:08

Review: The Great Warming by Brian Fagan, Bloomsbury Press, NY, 2008

Drought is the "silent elephant in the room" of Climate Change Science or why cynics might hope those who pray for warmer winters will have their prayers answered.

Dr. Fagan has done it again in his sequel to "The Little Ice Age". This book is an original, pleasantly readable, contribution to the data base of activists who search for intellectual ammunition in the "Climate Wars" and the "Sustainability Wars".

It's subject matter is the Medieval Optimum, the warm (Europe) period which preceeded the Little Ice Age of the 14th century. This period, being a generally warmer one, is highly relevant to the present Global Warming (GW) "debate" as it provides us with a climatological "analog" to where the world now appears to be heading.

This is a book to confirm the despaining in their desperation and cynicism or a goad to the activist. It reveals the degree to which precipitation - and particularly the lack of it, drought - will probably be the critical issue, not temperature rises, in the next several decades. Fagan, in this well documented text, demonstrates how civilizations rose and fell, prospered or declined with the rains. In drier cycles, like the Medieval Optimum in parts of Asia, Africa, N. and S. America, deserts and arid zones become "pumps" expelling animal and human populations into neighboring regions. Major geopolitical shifts such as the spread of Islam result from these migrations. Other regions, China, the Mayan empire,.. suffered internal stresses and dislocations leading to their collapse and / or reconfiguration in a new human ecological equilibrium with the altered environment.

Fagan's book is a fascinating read and provides much food for thought. He argues that modern industrial societies with their massive and concentrated populations are actually far less resilient than earlier human cultures. Where for example are large numbers of "environmental refugees" going to migrate in the crowded earth of today? Do we have enough arable land left to feed a growing population when GW disrupts traditional agricultural practices and systems? Fagan cannot answer these questions of course but he sheds new light on a public policy (non)debate that too often degenerates to the name slanging infantilism of the ad hominem tirade. Fagan reminds us that we are, in reality, dealing with serious issues..

For me, personally, this book reinforces my belief that we have waited too long to employ "bridging technologies" - cheap oil and natural gas, energy efficiency, simple solar technologies (passive solar, solar thermal..) - to transit smoothly to a green, "business as usual", future. Our heel dragging has assured that the transition to the emerging "New Economy" - Post Peak Petroleum - will be anything but smooth or "business as usual". We better get used to ideas like "economic contraction", "deglobalization", "re-regionalization"..

The Transition Handbook (Transtion Towns / villes en transition) argues, perhaps a bit hopefully, that the transition may be to a better, more humanly fufilling and saner world:

In retrospect, Dr. Fagan's book will likely be seen as one of a growing number of contributions to the emerging paradigm of the "New Economy" (post peak oil).

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