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CLIMATE: Drought in US and Bad News from Around the World

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By Farooque Chowdhury

After the news of drought in the US the climate crisis is continuing with all the bad news from around the world, from the Southern Ocean to food to Kiribati. At the same time, a climate crisis skeptic scientist now admits: he was wrong. The developments in the realm of science are pushing back capital from its climate crisis denial gamble as capital is taking toll from the entire Earth.

Scientists now know the way huge quantity of carbon is sucked and locked deep into the Southern Ocean. This knowledge puts them in “a much better situation” to identify impact of climate crisis. Citing a study by British and Australian scientists, news agencies report the latest finding. The Southern Ocean study has been published in the Nature Geoscience journal. (“Scientists unlock ocean CO2 secrets key to climate: study”, Reuters and “Scientists find CO2-sucking funnels in Southern Ocean”, AFP)

Oceans absorb carbon dioxide emissions – about a quarter of the CO2 on Earth – and the oceans thus curb the pace of climate crisis. However, scientists are now worried that global warming could disrupt this natural process by changing wind patterns and ocean currents. “Climate change will definitely interact with this process and modulate it”, Matear of Australia’s state-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation told Reuters.

The Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica is the largest of ocean carbon sinks s its share of “consumption” is about 40% of mankind’s CO2 absorbed by the seas. Its “in take” is equivalent of 1.5 billion tones of CO2 a year, which is more than Japan’s annual GHG emissions. At a depth of about 1,000 meters carbon can be locked away for hundreds to thousands of years. But till the study, scientists were not sure the way CO2 gets there after dissolving into surface waters.

The scientists, according to the news agency reports, found that a combination of winds, currents and eddies – big whirlpool-like phenomena about 100 kilometers in diameter on average – work together to create carbon-sucking funnels that create conditions for carbon to be drawn down deep into the ocean to be locked in. A few of these funnels, at different locations and not uniformly distributed, are 1,000 km wide. In the Southern Ocean there are five such funnels. The wind is the main force that pool down surface water deep into the ocean while eddies counterbalance a different effect of strong winds that of releasing stored carbon by violent mixing of the sea. As part of a natural cycle these currents in areas also send back carbon to the atmosphere.

The findings put scientists to further vital questions. One of the scientists involved with the study put the questions: The finding “does seem to be good news, but the thing is what will be the impact of climate change on eddies? Will they stop, will they intensify? We have no idea.”

Assumptions being made, according to the agency reports, are as climate crisis is affecting the nature and changing ocean currents, intensifying winds or stark temperature spikes would effect the Southern Ocean eddies.

Then, the US-drought-news is annoying.

Scientists have made a dismal forecast, Beverly Law writes citing Nature Geoscience, for the coming century: The chronic drought conditions that hit the western US in the 2000-2004 period, the strongest in 800 years, will become normal conditions. As withering vegetation released CO2 into the atmosphere and was also unable to store carbon as it would if it were healthy the 2000-2004 drought period reduced carbon storage by an average of 51% across the western US, Canada, and Mexico. The vegetation in North America normally is able to absorb about 30% of the carbon emitted across the region.

Science Daily said: Areas in the US west, already dry, are to turn drier with more extreme periods causing damage to ecosystem to be followed by climate-induced mortality of forests. Areas of forest may turn into shrublands or grasslands. Extreme drought will adversely affect water availability and vegetation, and will make serious impact on carbon sequestration.

News on food follows the drought-report.

Increasing grain prices have again put the world’s poorest people at risk. The price jump could have long-term detrimental impact for years.

A severe drought, as a Reuters report said, in the US Midwest has cut projected grain yields dramatically. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are experiencing dry conditions while Europe has already gone through an excessive wet weather and India has seen a below average start to the monsoon. These have created worries over world crop yield. Wheat prices have jumped more than 50% and corn prices more than 45% since mid-June. Prices for soybeans also have increased almost 30% over the past two months and nearly 60% since the end of last year.

Citing Marc Sadler, head of agriculture risk management at the World Bank, the Reuters report said the situation is “more complicated” than in 2008. With increased planting in 2009, the increased rice and wheat prices fell sharply at that period.

The WB on July 30, 2012 said: The bank is monitoring the situation closely so it can help governments. “We cannot allow short-term food-price spikes to have damaging long-term consequences for the world’s most poor and vulnerable”, Jim Yong Kim, the bank president, said in a statement. He spoke of measures including school feeding programs, conditional cash transfers, and food-for-work programs. As medium- to long-term measures, Kim said: “[T]he world needs strong and stable policies and sustained investments in agriculture in poor countries.”

However, the WB officials stressed there is no indication of any major grain shortages resulting from the reduced harvests this year. The bank is keeping its hopes on lower prices for oil, fertilizer and shipping than in 2008, which, they hope, will ease the cost of importing food and planting next year’s crop.

The bank’s planned support will include policy advice, increased agriculture and agriculture-related investment, fast-track financing, risk management products and work with the UN and private voluntary groups.

But, the WB president probably has missed the power-play capital engaged in speculation is going to make in the food market, the plunder lumpen lackeys of world capital is going to make in the crisis ridden respective home markets, the hostile role private capital is going to play with food speculation, the wars and civil wars capital has instigated in countries is going to play in the scarcity-market. And, there is politics of private capital that shape state policies all the time. Moreover, private capital, its parts competing with each other, doesn’t allow stable policy and proper implementation of the policies. However, it sounds nice as there is a virtual admission: Intervention, school feeding and FFW programs, is needed; everything can’t be left away to private capital all the time.

News from a geographically tiny land is also annoying:

A number of ground water sources in Kiribati, the low-lying country of 32 coral atolls over 1.35 million square miles of the Pacific and struggling climate crisis and sea level rise, has got contaminated. Around 100,000 inhabitants of Kiribati are facing water shortage problem, which is creating poor hygiene and sanitation, and this in turn is increasing child mortality rate. Citing Catarina de Albuquerque, UN special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, AFP reported. (“Child deaths soar in Kiribati due to lack of water”, July 26, 2012)

The UN envoy noted that rising sea levels had contaminated some sources of ground water.

In a statement issued during a trip to the island-country, Catarina said: The child mortality rate in Kiribati is the highest in the Pacific. The international community, particularly the countries most responsible for climate change, has obligation to help Kiribati address its water issues.

Along with these news of annoyance there is news of confession:

Richard Muller, climate crisis skeptic physicist, writes in the New York Times: “Call me a converted skeptic... humans are almost entirely the cause.” He continued: “My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project... Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” He writes: “These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change […] that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.”

Muller co-founded the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project three years ago to debunk global warming findings. There was $150,000 grant from the arch-reactionary Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation for his work.

It’s now clear that money power is losing ground to scientific facts. The money capital spent over the last decades for denying climate crisis is enormous. The pool of scientists and lobbyist it engaged in the corridors of political power is unimaginable. The brain it engaged for designing propaganda material and mind-manipulating tools is beyond imagination. Resources to fight poverty, lack of safe water, diseases like AIDS, cancer, etc. often appeared peanut compared to resources and intellectual energy capital engaged to deny climate crisis. But, now, capital is losing ground to scientific facts. It’s failing to make science totally subservient. It shows limitations of capital’s destructive and conspiratorial power.

Questions like how, what, when, why, who, where to the incidents mentioned above will lead any inquisitive mind to the answer: Capitalism at the root of all these (mis)incidents and (mis)developments. For example, how has the Southern Ocean gone disturbed? What are the reasons that created the disturbance? When it began? Why the activities that have created the disturbance were initiated and who initiated? Similarly, the same questions can be put forth in cases of the US-drought, the precarious condition of the Kiribati people, the current world food market. And, the vital question should be raised: Is there any connection between the incidents spread over a wide area of the world, from the southern corner to the north? A careful, well-informed mind will find the answer: Capitalism.

Developments in the areas of climate crisis and science show capital has:

1. Disturbed and distorted every sphere and every corner of the world taking all living entity in the entire planet to the brink of extinction.
2. Tied all corners of the world with the bondage of crisis, one affecting, influencing, aggravating the others, and thus has created a complex web of crises.
3. Made adverse impact, which is the cause of all sorts of instability in areas ranging from ocean floor to food to politics. Even, capital can’t secure its class rule, which is gradually getting rejected by the peoples, losing acceptability, facing questions and mistrust, which in turn takes away all sorts of logic and rationale for the system.
4. No single technical, mechanical, isolated approach can save the planet from the threat of extinction the planet is facing.

Facts from broader life and facts related to capital’s character will gradually unfold before the eyes of peoples in all lands. People in all lands are learning from their experiences in daily life.

Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based free lancer.


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