Welcome to the new world order

Sean Paul Kelley writes that he visited 20 countries this year.  And in all but two (Singapore and Vietnam) people complained “about massively altered traditional weather patterns” and how that affected their daily life.   In a beautiful post he continues:  

But here’s the whole point of my anecdotes, from an interview of Jared Diamond:

“The average per-person consumption rate in the first world of metal and oil and natural resources is 32 times that of the developing world,” says Diamond. “That means that one American is consuming like 32 Kenyans.” The problem is not the number of Kenyans, the problem is when Kenyans or, more pressingly, big developing countries such as China, gain the ability to consume like Americans.

Can’t humans simply increase the supply of resources as they have done before? “We can change the supply of some things if there is only one limiting resource. If it is food, then we can have a green revolution and produce more crops,” he says. “Unfortunately, we need lots of resources. We need food, we need water. We are already using something like 70 or 80 per cent of the world’s fresh water. So you say, ‘Alright, we’ll get around water by desalinating sea water.’ But then there’s the energy ceiling, and so on.”

That’s the big question. The question no one is willing to voice. Am I, a member of the advanced world willing to forgo some of my standard of living for those in the developing world? And if I do so, do I have the moral and ethical standing to ask those of the developing world to forgo some of their wants?

I don’t have an answer.

I can promise you one thing: we cannot have it all. The Chinese cannot live like Americans and the Americans cannot continue to live as they are. Something will break.

I would argue that we are already begininning to see evidence of that fracture in the form of “climate refugees.”  Indeed, so dire is this issue that the country’s premier refugee focused NGO,  Refugees International, had decided to open an entire new center for the study of climate displaced.    Here is how RI describes the problem:

The most immediate threats from climate change are in the form of storms of increasing intensity, such as Cyclone Nargis in Burma; greater incidence of drought and floods that make traditional livelihoods unsustainable; and increased conflicts over access to limited resources. The war in Darfur derives, in part, from conflict over scarce resources as the desert expands. Other dramatic impacts are also predicted in the long term, such as the disappearance of island states like the Maldives. Estimates of the numbers of people expected to be displaced by climate change range from 50 million to 1 billion over the next 50 years. By comparison, there are currently 41.2 million people displaced by conflict.  [emphasis mine].

It is truly chilling to imagine a world where one in seven people is a climate refugee. But if we do nothing to mitigate and adapt to climate change, that kind of dystopic future will arrive sooner than we think.