Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Is This It?

Every day for the last seven I have heard news reports about unusual weather patterns across the globe - dust storms in Australia, droughts in Africa and Iraq, floods in the Philippines. It is tempting to see these as evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

I did a web search on "east Africa drought climate change" and every item on the first page of the search linked climate change to the drought. So the link has been made at a populist level. Will this affect behaviour in the UK and the rest of the world? Probably not. Maybe a drought and apocalyptic dust storms turning day into night in Kansas City, Toronto, London and Paris would make a difference but so often history shows that only when the stormtroopers of crisis are hammering on the door do people wake up and realise "So this affects me too?!" Damn right.

At our conference this weekend we heard expert evidence on what is likely to change behaviour. We considered social norms and peer groups, resonant narratives and market psychology. All good stuff but when you read about the catastrophic change now taking place around the globe it does make you think that really there is only one issue here - survival. Surely that's something anyone can understand and respond to? Well yes, but not while the threat is perceived as "far away and someone else's problem". Its getting nearer everyday my friends. Just how near does it have to get?

For the thoughtful, here is an extract from The Guardian: Many people, in Kenya and elsewhere, cannot understand the scale and speed of what is happening. The east African country is on the equator, and has always experienced severe droughts and scorching temperatures. Nearly 80% of the land is officially classed as arid, and people have adapted over centuries to living with little water.

There are those who think this drought will finish in October with the coming of the long rains and everything will go back to normal.

Well, it may not. What has happened this year, says Leina Mpoke, a Maasai vet who now works as a climate change adviser with Ireland-based charity Concern Worldwide, is the latest of many interwoven ecological disasters which have resulted from deforestation, over-grazing, the extraction of far too much water, and massive population growth.

"In the past we used to have regular 10-year climatic cycles which were always followed by a major drought. In the 1970s we started having droughts every seven years; in the 1980s they came about every five years and in the 1990s we were getting droughts and dry spells almost every two or three years. Since 2000 we have had three major droughts and several dry spells. Now they are coming almost every year, right across the country," said Mpoke.

He reeled off the signs of climate change he and others have observed, all of which are confirmed by the Kenyan meteorological office and local governments. "The frequency of heatwaves is increasing. Temperatures are generally more extreme, water is evaporating faster, and the wells are drying. Larger areas are being affected by droughts, and flooding is now more serious.

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