Archive for June 19th, 2007

Elegy in Fragments

Sharon June 19th, 2007

I receive news feeds on various issues from several sources. Every morning I get up and check my email, and see as many as 30 or 40 related news items on climate change, economic policy, energy, international events. I call it my in-box of doom, because so often the news is truly frightening, or achingly sad. And every once in a while, this vast grief of prose turns into poetry. That happened yesterday when Roel sent me this statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

“”The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change,” Ban said in a Washington Post opinion column.
UN statistics showed that rainfall declined some 40 percent over the past two decades, he said, as a rise in Indian Ocean temperatures disrupted monsoons.
“This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming,” the South Korean diplomat wrote.

“It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought,” Ban said in the Washington daily.
When Darfur’s land was rich, he said, black farmers welcomed Arab herders and shared their water, he said.
With the drought, however, farmers fenced in their land to prevent overgrazing.
“For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out,” he said.

A UN peacekeeping force may stop the fighting, he said, and more than two million people may return to rebuilt homes in safe villages.
“But what to do about the essential dilemma: the fact that there’s no longer enough good land to go around?”"


Think about those words. “For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out.”

Think about how mystifying it must be to see the water stop coming and the food run short and know that other people are making this happen. Where does your anger go, except to the person next to you?

I read recently an interview with a Bangladeshi peasant who lost his farm and his land to flooding. He will now live in a slum, and eat and drink what he can get, in a house that is not his, rather than farming the land his grandparents farmed. He said, “I am told that all of this is because of electricity, but I promise you, I have never had even a single light bulb?”

How many lightbulbs have I had? Have you?

Roel appended a prose of statistics to append to his own elegaic observation “What will peacekeepers do in Darfur? Grow food? Make land?”

What indeed? I can grow food. Apparently, we can flick a switch and stop the rain. But I can’t make land, and I cannot make it rain.

Here are some numbers. That the drought in Australia comes with only 10% less rain - but that higher temperatures and increased evaporation mean 70% less water. Rainfall in sub-saharan Africa decreased 40% in 20 years. That 1/3 of all arable land has been rendered unusable or is in immanent danger of doing so from poor agricultural practices. That in the last 50 years, the population of Africa has tripled.

That yesterday, here in America, we made 5 BILLION gallons of ethanol from food people might have eaten. And today we’ll do it again. And again. Energy independence, you know.

That today each one of us will turn on a light switch, throw some clothes in the dryer, toss on a load of laundry, and a man without a lightbulb will wonder if he lost his land because it was his fault.

And when it is our turn to learn what it is like not to have enough food and water, where will the fighting break out?

I once wrote that peak oil and climate change aren’t the end of the world, that life goes on. And it does - for some of us. And for the rest, a small and endless, and desperate series of apocalypses ensues.

We did this. We have to fix it. What will we do?