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Environment

The New Norm

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The indispensable Jeffrey Gettleman has a heart-wrenching dispatch on Dot Earth:

We walked through a camp for displaced people, absorbing the human wreckage all around us. There were stick-skinny children with horrible, rattling coughs that sounded like an old Chevy Nova trying to start up on a cold morning. Emaciated goats snacked on piles of garbage, filling their stretched bellies with nothing more nutritious than black plastic bags. Families of ten packed into sweltering lean-tos made from sticks and cloth, many of them fleeing either war or drought, Somalia's twin killers that have sent more than 20 percent of the country's population on the run.

Gettleman then surveys Somalia's desperately parched conditions and notes that

even the camels are dying, which really frightens people, because camels can plod along for days on just a sip of water. They are the last animals to keel over in the desert and disappear into the sands.

Now here's the passage that makes this latest chronicle of Somalia's seemingly endless tragedy horribly complicated:

True, droughts are cyclical, and various studies suggest that Africa has experienced parched epochs before. But many people here these days believe the extreme dryness may be evidence of climate change and leaders in far-from-industrialized Africa, which produces just a tiny fraction of the world's CO2, are increasingly saying that their countries are paying a high price for greenhouse gases that are raising global temperatures worldwide.

Next, Gettleman quotes Nicholas Wasunna, an aid official in Kenya, who obviously combines these cyclical droughts with greenhouse gas-induced climate change to conclude:

This is the new norm. We're going to be see more of these periods of intense droughts followed by intense rain,

to which, Gettelman then writes, " is the situation predicted for East Africa this year." Okay, right here--this gray zone, where failed states, such as Somalia, collide with natural cycles of drought and the exacerbating factor of anticipated climate change--is where environmental security experts should step up their game and weigh in with policy prescriptions. Yes, we know that this might be a case study of "climate security," the kind that we'll see arising in other politically unstable countries, which the CIA will now be examining more closely for our own national security purposes. But if we know Somalia's misery owes largely to its decades-long failed state status, an enduring human tragedy now compounded by a four-year drought, and perhaps worsening environmental conditions from global warming, well, what's the foreign policy/humanitarian strategy for tackling all these disparate "forcing actions" in a coherent manner? After all, it is presumed that the carbon load already in the atmosphere is going to lead to "irreversible climate change," no matter what happens in the U.S. Congress or in Copenhagen this year. So what's the environmental security game plan for Somalia and other countries like it?

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