Climate And Society

Water Freedom System

Survive Global Water Shortages

Get Instant Access

MICHAEL H. GLANTZ

At the turn of the twentieth century, scholars who wrote about the interplay berw^.. climate and society did so based on their perceptions of climate as a boundary constraint for the development prospects of a society. Perceptions of climate were used as an excuse to dominate societies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As a result, climate-society studies soon became viewed as a colonial ploy to control populations in developing areas in the tropics. Perhaps the most cited book in this regard was written by Ellsworth Huntington, Climate and Civilization, published in 1915. In his view, inhabitants of the tropics were destined to accept lower levels of economic and social development because their climate setting was not conducive to lively (i.e., productive) human activity or an aggressive work ethic. According to Huntington, tropical climate was the main culprit causing people in the tropics to be less productive than people in temperate regions. Huntington argued that the temperate climate has an energizing effect on humans. With the growing belief that such an argument was racist in intent, Huntington's work was challenged, and discussion of the various ways in which climate might influence human behavior was stifled for decades, notwithstanding a few notable exceptions. One such exception is entitled Climate and the Energy of Nations (Markham, 1944) in which Markham referred to the "air-conditioning revolution," a revolution based on the development and spread of a new technology into the tropical areas. Markham asserted that technology brings islands of temperate-zone climate into the tropics, thereby generating a more aggressive work ethic.

Following the end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War between Soviet-style communism and Western capitalism and democracy, attention of governments turned to Cold War conflicts, avoidance of nuclear war, searches for allies, and decolonization. The major Cold War nations were in a competition to show that their approach to economic development was the only way for the newly indepen-

Handbook of Weather, Climate, and Water: Atmospheric Chemistry, Hydrology, and Societal Impacts, Edited by Thomas D. Potter and Bradley R. Colman. ISBN 0-471-21489-2 © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

dent countries to follow. A main stated objective was their intent to assist these countries to become food secure based on the nation's resources. Consideration of climate was making its way back into the discussions of economic development in developing countries. Once again interest was raised with regard to climatic constraints to economic development in tropical countries.

In the 1950s and 1960s, attention focused on decolonization and political development of the newly independent states (e.g., Pye, 1966). In the mid-1970s, a World Bank report about the economic prospects for developing countries—The Tropics and Economic Development: A Provocative Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations— hinted at the economic, social, and political problems caused by climate variability from one year to the next. Its author (Kamarck, 1976) noted that recurrent droughts in northeast Brazil are a chronic constraint on the region's economic development prospects. His reference to interannual climate variability was brief and unelabo-rated. However, climate as a boundary constraint was starting to give way to climate as something that societies might be able to forecast and cope with, at least in its extremes.

In the 1970s, attention focused on how the vagaries of weather exposed hundreds of millions of people to hunger and, depending on the socioeconomic situation in a particular country, to famine as well (e.g., Glantz, 1976; Sen, 1981). Thus, there was a growing number of examples of the notion that climate was not really a boundary constraint to the level of development that a people or culture could expect to attain. This notion began to give way to the belief that variability in climate, from one year to the next or one decade to the next, could be coped with so as to soften the impacts of climate variability and weather extremes on agriculture and livestock and, more generally, on the productivity of the land's surface (e.g., Glantz, 1977; Hare, 1977).

Recall that the 1970s was a disruptive decade with respect to climate: 5 years of drought in the West African Sahel (Glantz, 1976); failure of the Soviet harvest and subsequent large-scale, low-cost grain purchases by the Soviet Union in the early 1970s (Trager, 1975); the global food crisis (Brown and Eckholm, 1974); talk of a possible return to an ice age (e.g., Ponte, 1976; Weather Conspiracy, 1974); the Ethiopian famine (Wolde Mariam, 1988); drought-related coups in sub-Saharan Africa; drought in the wheat-producing Canadian prairie provinces (Glantz, 1977); the first drop in global fish catches since the end of World War II (Brown and Eckholm, 1974), and so forth.

A devastating 5-year drought from 1968 to 1973 in the West African Sahel and its associated death and environmental destruction in the region drew attention to the impacts on household and village responses to prolonged, multiyear droughts. Widespread droughts around the globe in 1972-1973, famines in West Africa and Ethiopia, blamed for the most part on an El Nino event, along with the drop in fish landings, prompted the U.N. Secretary General to convene a series of UN-sponsored world conferences on food (1974), population (1974), human settlements (1976), water (1977), desertification (1977), climate (1979) and technology (1979).

Thus, toward the middle of the 1970s, at least five new major climate-related scientific issues emerged: the effect of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the ozone layer in the stratosphere, talk of an impending Ice Age suddenly shifted to talk of a human-induced global warming, acid rain, desertification, and El Niño. Each of these issues raised interest in climate-society interactions to higher levels among researchers in different disciplines, government agencies, economic sectors, the media, and the public. Societies around the globe responded (and continue to respond) in different ways to each of these climate-related issues. For example, desertification is an environmental issue that is of great concern to African countries.

North Americans, however, refused to accept the view that desertification could occur in the U.S. West as a result of mismanagement of the land's surface, while noting that desertification was the plight of poor developing countries in Africa. The term desertification first appeared in a report on the destruction of dry forests in central Africa by a French forester (Aubreville, 1949). Since then, the concept of desertification has been expanded to include such land degradation processes as soil erosion, wind deflation, soil salinization, water logging, livestock overgrazing, and soil trampling. While many of these processes were exposed during the prolonged drought in the West African Sahel and then labeled as desertification, it is not difficult to show that similar processes also take place in the U.S. West.

The acid rain issue was addressed in the United States with the implementation by the U.S. Congress of a decade-long national assessment called NAPAP (National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program). Stratospheric ozone depletion was addressed globally in the 1980s with the development of international legal instruments culminating in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 and, later, amendments to it (Benedick, 1998).

It was in the early 1970s, 1972-1973 to be exact, that an El Niño event (defined briefly as an invasion of warm water from the Western Pacific into the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean) attracted global attention. An event in 1982-1983, the biggest in a century until that time, captured the full attention of the scientific community and various governments as a natural phenomenon that spawned hazards around the globe. Such hazards included, but were not limited to, droughts, floods, frosts, fires and food shortages, famine, and disease. Ever since the mid-1970s, research funding of El Niño related research has been growing along with international interest in the phenomenon and its societal and environmental impacts. The extraordinary El Niño event of 1997-1998 helped to make El Niño and its cold counterpart, La Niña, household words throughout much of the world. Only at the end of the twentieth century did La Niña events become of serious interest to the El Niño research and forecasting communities (Glantz, 2002). This belated interest is even more surprising given the scientific observation that tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin and in the Gulf of Mexico tend to increase in number during La Niña events and drop in number during El Niño events.

Global warming is an environmental issue that arose out of discussions and governmental and scientific concerns about the possibility of a global cooling. It was first suggested in 1896 by Swedish chemist Arrhenius (1896, 1908) that the burning of coal by human societies would add enough extra carbon dioxide into the air to eventually heat up Earth's atmosphere by a few degrees Celsius. This issue was revisited in the 1930s by Callendar (1938), who thought that a human-induced global warming of the atmosphere could stave off the imminent recurrence of an ice age. The issue was again revisited in the 1950s when global warming was looked at in neutral terms, as an experiment that societies were performing on the chemistry of the atmosphere, for which the outcome is unknown (Revelle and Suess, 1957).

It was not until the mid-1970s that human-induced global warming began to be viewed as an adverse event for future generations of human societies and ecosystems that might not be able to adapt to the rate of warming expected to occur. The cause of the warming was attributed to the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases (C02, CFCs, CH4, NOv, collectively referred to as GHGs) being emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. Carbon dioxide is a product of the burning of fossil fuels, and its amount in the atmosphere has been rising since the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s. Tropical deforestation also contributes carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Tropical forests have served as sinks for carbon dioxide, pulling it out of the air and storing it. When trees are felled, decompose or burned, the stored carbon is emitted into the air.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a greenhouse gas as well as a stratospheric "ozone eater," are man-made chemicals first discovered in the 1920s for use as a refrigerant. Methane resulting from livestock rearing (e.g., cattle, pigs) and from the increasing number of landfills is another greenhouse gas. Nitrous oxides are used by farmers in fertilizers and have been widely applied to agricultural lands around the globe in increasing amounts since the end of World War II. Of these major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is seen at the main culprit in the global warming debate.

Current scientific research suggests that the level of climate change that might be expected (at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions) is on the order of 1.5 to 4.5°C by the end of the twenty-first century (IPCC, 1990, 1996, 2001). Concerned with the prospects of a changing global climate, many nations have come together to call for a technical assessment of the state of the science through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The degree of warming, however, is dependent on numerous factors: the rate at which GHGs continue to be emitted into the atmosphere, the shift by societies to alternative energy sources, the rate of tropical deforestation, the residence time of GHGs in the atmosphere (several of these gases will remain in the atmosphere for decades to centuries), the development of methods to sequester carbon (i.e., taking it from the atmosphere and binding it in some way in Earth's land surface, vegetation, or oceans), and so forth. Some degree of global warming is inevitable, given the residence time of the GHGs already emitted into the atmosphere. This means that societies around the globe, from local to national, must attempt to ascertain how a warmer global climate regime might affect regional and local climates. Will there be more extreme climate events (such as droughts, floods, frosts, fires) or fewer? These societies must also seriously consider nationally, as well as collectively in cooperation with other countries, the most effective way(s) to cope with the potentially adverse impacts of some degree of human-induced global warming.

Coping mechanisms for climate change likely to occur decades in the future can be divided into three categories: preventive, mitigative and adaptive measures. Preventive measures are designed to prevent the increased buildup of GHGs in the atmosphere. Mitigative measures depend on an improved understanding of how global warming might affect local climates worldwide and are designed to improve societies' ability to respond to changes, some of which can be anticipated with some degree of reliability. Adaptive measures are used to refer to society pursuing a "business as usual" strategy, not seeking to control GHG emissions, allowing global warming to occur, and responding to any of the impacts of climate change as they might appear. Today, adaptation now encompasses mitigation as well (Smith et al., 1996).

As we enter a new millennium, it appears that national governments have shifted their concern from global climate change to local and regional climate impacts, and from climate change alone to climate change AND climate variability on various time scales, from the seasons to years to decades. Reinforcing this interest has been the fact that climate-related disasters in the 1990s have been the most costly since records have been kept.

More specifically, the climate-related events of the 1990s merit special attention. Devastating hurricanes, such as Hurricane Andrew (1992), Hurricanes Mitch and Georges (1998), Hurricane Floyd (1999), floods in Europe (1993 and 1995), floods in Bangladesh (1998), devastating floods in China (1998), flash flooding and mud slides in Venezuela (1999), droughts in southern Africa (1991-1992), a prolonged El Niño event (1991-1995), the destructive ice storm in northeastern North America (1998), and a second El Niño of the century (1997-1998), drought and famine in Ethiopia (2000), among many other climate-related problems, have heightened public, media, and policymaking interest in climate to levels never before seen. While several of these events might have been expected to occur, they were for the most part surprising in their timing or intensity.

As a result of this new-found international concern, there has been an increasing number of studies on climate-related impacts and on how societies have been affccted by (or coped with) those impacts. There has also been an apparent realization that an improved understanding of climate variability and climate extremes can help societies to better cope with climate change several decades in the future.

Recent hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, and intense El Niño events have proven that all countries, regardless of their level of economic development or type of political system, are subject to the adverse effects of climate variability. Despite programs designed to "droughtproof" or "floodproof" a country, recent studies have shown that industrialized countries are no more immune to the impacts of climate from one year to the next than are developing countries. A major difference, however, is that in the industrialized countries, governments are in a relatively better position (economically) than developing ones to address those impacts and their long-term implications for economic development prospects.

Climate modelers and other climate researchers have come to realize that there are likely to be more surprises with regard to the behavior of the global climate system. While there are aspects of the system that are somewhat predictable, other aspects are not. A climate-related surprise can be defined as a gap between one's expectations about climate's behavior and what the climate system actually does.

Climate-related surprise is not a black-and-white condition. People are hardly ever either totally surprised or never surprised. There are shades of surprise with regard to human responses to the same climate-related event. They can be hardly surprised, mildly surprised, somewhat surprised, very surprised, extremely surprised or totally surprised (NB: each of these examples was taken from the scientific literature). Myers (1995, p. 358) introduced the interesting notion of "semisurprised." Thus, surprise may best be described in "fuzzy" terms with the degree of surprise dependent on several intervening variables such as personal experience, core beliefs, expectations, or knowledge about a phenomenon or about a geographic location.

One could argue that there are knowable as well as unknowable surprises (Streets and Glantz, 2000). Knowable refers to the fact that some climate surprises can be anticipated (Myers, 1995). For example, certain parts of the globe are drought prone. It is known that drought will likely recur. What is not known is exactly when it will take place, how long it will last, how intense it will be, or where its most devastating impacts are likely to occur. El Niño is in this category. While we have now come to expect these events to recur, we do not know when that will happen or what it will be like. The uncertainty then cascades down the "impacts chain," and as we speculate about likely impacts of an El Niño, the degree of uncertainty will increase.

Take, for example, the 1997-1998 El Niño. Even with the best monitoring and observing system in the world focused on minute changes in various aspects of the tropical Pacific Ocean, forecasters and modelers were unable to predict the onset of one of the biggest El Niño events in the past 100 years. Nor were they able to predict the course of development of that event. They were better than in earlier times, however, at predicting some of its impacts on societies in certain parts of the globe, especially those where the influences of changes in the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific are known to be strong.

Societies (and their scientists) are on a learning curve with regard to the various ways that climate variability and climate change might affect climate-related human activities. They must avoid becoming complacent as a result of a belief that they fully understand atmospheric processes or their impacts. They must accept that there will be climate surprises in the future, even if the global climate does not change. They must learn from past experiences on how best to cope with the vagaries of climate (Glantz, 1988).

Many countries now realize that climate-related problems do not stop at international boundaries. There are many transboundary issues that demand regional (if not international) cooperation, given that countries share river basins, inland seas, airsheds, the global atmosphere as well as the onslaught and impacts of extreme meteorological events such as droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

While climate-related anomalies cannot be prevented, societal preparation for, and response to, their adverse impacts can be improved through better knowledge of the direct and indirect ways in which atmospheric processes interact with human activities and ecological processes. The enhancement of such knowledge will lead to better forecasts as well as better computer modeling of the interactions among land, sea, and air. A society forewarned of climate-related hazards is forearmed to cope with those hazards more effectively.

Arrhenius, S., Worlds in the Making, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1908.

Arrhenius, S., On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, Philos. Mag., 41, 237276, 1896.

Aubreville, A., Climate, Forests and Desertification in Tropical Africa, Société d'Editions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales, 1949.

Benedick, R.E., Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Enlarged Edition, 1998.

Brown, L., and E.P. Eckholm, By Bread Alone, Praeger Press, New York, 1974.

Callendar, G.S., The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperatures, Q. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc., 64, 223237, 1938.

Glantz, M.H. (ed.), La Niña and Its Impacts: Facts and Speculation. United Nations University Press, Tokyo, Japan, 2002.

Glantz, M.H. (ed.), Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change: Forecasting by Analogy, Westview Special Study, Boulder, Colorado, 1988.

Glantz, M.H. (ed.), Desertification: Environmental Degradation in and around Arid Lands, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1977.

Glantz, M.H. (ed.), The Politics of Natural Disaster: The Case of the Sahel Drought, Praeger Press, New York, 1976.

Hare, K., Connections between climate and desertification, Environ. Conserv., 4 (2), 82, 1977.

Huntington, E., Civilization and Climate, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1915, rev, ed. 1924, reprinted by University Press of the Pacific, 2001.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to Third Assessment Report, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2001.

IPCC, Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group I to Second Assessment Report, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1996.

IPCC, Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990.

Kamarck, A.M., The Tropics and Economic Development: A Provocative Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1976.

Markham, S.F., Climate and the Energy of Nations, Oxford University Press, London, 1944.

Myers, N., Environmental unknowns, Science, 269, 358360, 1995.

Ponte, L., The Cooling, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1976.

Pye, L., Aspects of Political Development, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, Massachusetts, 1966.

Revelle, R.R., and H.E. Suess, Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric C02 during the past decades, Tellus, 9, 1827, 1957.

Sen, A., Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1981.

Smith, J.B., N. Bhatti, G. Menzhulin, R. Benioff, M.I. Bodyko, M. Campos, B. Jallow, and F. Rijsberman (eds.), Adapting to Climate Change: An International Perspective, SpringerVerlag, New York, 1996.

Streets, D.G., and M.H. Glantz, Exploring the concept of climate surprise, Global Environ.

Chang., 10, 97107,2000. Weather Conspiracy: The Coming of the New Ice Age, Ballentine Books, New York, compiled by The Impact Team, 1977. Wolde Mariam, M., Rural Vulnerability to Famine in Ethiopia, 195777, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1984.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment