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By Hannah Foster, TCCPI Intern, August 2011; updated by Aurora Namnum, CCETC Intern, June 2016
to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
Indeed, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) ccontends that the humanitarian crises that could be triggered by the effects of climate change have been vastly underestimated, with natural disasters and environmental degradation resulting in geopolitical instability, mmillions of refugees, and violent conflict over diminishing essential resources such as water, land, and food. "Climate change is already undermining the livelihoods and security of many people," the U.N. agency observed in a 2009 report, "exacerbating income differentials and deepening inequalities." Nine out of every ten natural disasters today, it concluded, are climate-related. [xiii]
In particular, climate change has prompted serious concerns about food scarcity. Unfavorable conditions for growing crops such as drought and excessive rainfall and extreme weather events such as flooding and tornadoes are expected to get worse. This would be a huge problem even if our population was expected to hold steady, but in fact there will be an estimated two billion more mouths to feed by 2050. The FAO estimates that harvest yields will need to increase by 70% by 2050 in order to feed those people, with a needed annual increase in rice and wheat yields of 1.2 to 1.4%. Growth rates in annual yields of rice and wheat have been faltering at 0.6 and 0.7%, however, which clearly will not be enough to meet predicted demand in forty years.[xiv] Oxfam predicts that this future mismatch between supply and demand will result in a doubling of food prices by the year 2030, as well as millions of more people not having enough to eat.[xv]
We are at a crucial juncture in human history and the stakes for human survival have never been higher. Ignoringclimate change and waiting for a “more convenient” time to deal with it will not make it go away. Moreover, it will only be more difficult and expensive to effectively mitigate the consequences of climate change in the future. Local governments must lead the way forward in the face of continued federal inaction. Tompkins County has committed itself to reducing its emissions 80% by 2050, but it will take a sustained effort on the part of citizens and their leaders to achieve this goal. Bringing global emissions down to a safe level for humanity will require all hands on deck if we are to alter our trajectory for the better. Failure is not an option.