The Emerging Emergency

Scientists are predicting that 2010 is likely to be the hottest year on record.  The last weeks have seen a series of meteorological catastrophes – including droughts, floods, and hurricanes – rock different regions of the planet.  Officials in Pakistan estimate that approximately 20 million people have been displaced by the flooding of the Indus River valley, the worst mass displacement since the partition of the sub-continent at independence in 1947.  The Russian forests have been burning down wholesale, and a giant iceberg just calved from the northern section of the Greenland ice shelf, suggesting that warming has made the entire continent-size ice mass unstable.

This week climate scientists from around the world will gather in Boulder, Colorado to discuss the creation of an early warning system to predict future meteorological disasters caused by climate change.  The expectation is that the events of this year are a (relatively modest) harbinger of climate change-induced catastrophes to come.  This will be the first full session of Attribution of Climate-Related Events (ACE), an organization set up by the leading meteorological organizations in the US and UK.

Such efforts are laudable.  But mitigation of the devastating human impact of climate change is going to take more than simply more effective meteorological science.  We need sweeping changes in current political systems, which remain very much bound by national paradigms and enmities.  If more effective prediction simply means more efforts to contain displaced people within particular nations, it could play into the hands of the increasingly apparent forces of xenophobia in the over-developed world.  There is still no UN-recognized designation for climate refugees.  This was one of the central demands of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and it remains one of the foremost imperatives for climate justice as we begin to confront the emerging emergency.

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