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Climate Misdirection on Somalia

By Keith Kloor
Oct 20, 2011 7:31 AMNov 20, 2019 3:06 AM


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The best that can be said about this is that at least Romm had the decency to include the photo credit this time. Obviously, my comment and post struck a nerve. Why Romm doubles down and insists on associating global warming with the Somalia famine is beyond me. It's like focusing on harsh winter weather for the freezing death of a homeless person. My post acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change could be an exacerbating factor in East Africa's drought. But my point, which Romm conveniently ignores, is that the Somali famine is wholly a man-made tragedy, in which global warming is not a relevant factor. In my post, I provide an array of experts who explain the main causes of the famine. Still, Romm wants to have it both ways, so he talks to USGS drought expert Chris Funk, who gets used like a pawn:

Funk agreed with me that the fact that Somalia is a failed state is a major reason that a brutal drought has turned into a devastating famine: "No doubt, the most important thing, is the mis-government," as he called it. But the point is that a "climate-driven drought set up the conditions where mis-governance could lead to catastrophe."

First of all, "mis-governance" is putting it mildly. Somalia is a basket case. It hasn't had a functioning central government in two decades. Even the latest transitional government, which only (barely) controls Mogadishu is a farce, and would collapse if it wasn't propped up by African Union peacekeepers. I have to wonder if Funk's quote (and, BTW, I have tremendous respect for him) is in the context he intended, because no, the real point is that decades of warlordism and non-governance set up the conditions that have led to catastrophe. If Romm wants to write about Somalia, he ought to talk with the right experts. UPDATE: Putting things in perspective, William Connolley writes:

Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

UPDATE: In his post, Romm quotes from this recent excellent commentary by Chris Funk in Nature. (Oddly, Romm doesn't link to it, even though the piece is not behind a paywall.) As Andy Revkin summarized Funk's column in August:

It describes his research linking a warming Indian Ocean "” when combined with La Niña conditions "” with reductions in crucial rainfall from March to June in East Africa. But more important, it describes the value of the integrated analysis being done by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, organized by the United States Agency for International Development, to try to cut the chances that a drought like the present one could spawn a famine.

Now let me quote from a salient part of Funk's commentary:

So what went wrong? Why weren't the warnings "” before and during the drought "” enough to avert a food crisis that might turn into famine? Much of the problem is tied to political issues, especially in Somalia, but there are also strong climate and agricultural components. The global climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were never intended to provide rainfall trend projections for every region. These models say that East Africa will become wetter, yet observations show substantial declines in spring rainfall in recent years. Despite this, several agencies are building long-term plans on the basis of the forecast of wetter conditions. This could lead to agricultural development and expansion in areas that will become drier. More climate science based on regional observations could be helpful in addressing these challenges.

Lastly, here's something else Funk said in that piece that deserves note:

Emergencies such as the one in East Africa will become more common unless there is a focus on improving agricultural production...Better regional climate-change and forecast models, combined with more effective agriculture in drought-threatened areas will not solve all problems, but they should reduce the need for emergency responses, and make such measures more effective when they are necessary.

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