Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Desertification Affecting Italy

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One of the strongest arguments to take aggressive action regarding our greenhouse forcing is the threat of desertification – the process by which arable land that can be farmed or otherwise productively used by people turns into a desert.

Desertification is another process that would otherwise be natural if people didn’t exist.  With people, desertification can be amplified and dampened.  Due to unsustainable farming and water-use practices, desertification is expected to become amplified in the 21st century, absent the action I and other climate activists call for.

Case in point: Italy.  The deserts of Africa are spreading north and south as freshwater from water tables is being used faster than it can be replenished.  Saltwater takes the opportunity to spread in some of the affected places.

[The] Italian environmental protection group Legambiente warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.

A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Desertification is one process that adds to political instability, as we’ve seen for decades in Africa already.  Due to the developed world’s lack of concern, primarily because they weren’t personally affected by such events, the process has had the opportunity to reach the shores of Europe.  What will happen when millions of Europeans suddenly can’t eat?  As in Africa, it will cause governments to tumble – there’s nothing special about European politics that would insulate them from massive food riots.

The time to act is now.  Desertification is one reason why European countries have been more proactive about their response to climate change.  They understand the implicit threats to their livlihoods – the short-term costs are much smaller than the long-term costs.  Citizens in the U.S. have become increasingly aware of the similar threats to their livlihood.  They have begun to accept the short-term costs as a hedge against those long-term greater costs.  Passing H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) in the House was one good step toward doing something on a national scale.  The Senate now needs to take up and pass similar legislation so President Obama can sign it into law.  As Italy and the Mediterranean show us, this cannot happen soon enough.

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