Climate Change

Climate Change and Art

Here at Just Atonement, we typically consider the battle against climate change (the effort to prevent a critical two degree increase in planetary temperature) in terms of policy and legal action. In our blog, we review statements made by international organizations like the UN, and we discuss actions taken by public and private groups to limit society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels.

We recognize that fighting climate change is a multi-pronged effort, and the largest and most effective moves will likely be made at the highest levels of legal and political influence. For instance, when large municipalities (like New York City or the state of California) fund the exploration of sustainable fuel sources or increase tax shares on gas and oil companies, these moves create a larger impact than an individual person’s decision to recycle, drive a hybrid car, forego meat, or rein in their personal consumption habits.

All of us play a role, and every role matters, even though sometimes some roles seem to matter more than others. And when the impact of our own role seems to disappear in the grand scheme, this can lead to a host of existential frustrations and challenging mental exercises. These exercises, in turn, can push us toward larger questions about our role in the world and the purpose of our existence. If we follow this trail for a while, we find ourselves in a new place: a place of art.

An important intersection has opened up in the overlay between art and climate change. We don’t know what this means or where it will take us—Nobody does! But art, by nature, opens doors for us into new ways of thinking, new forms of action, new perspectives and new ways of looking at the same old world. Art expands us internally, pushing out and shifting the walls that define who we think we are and what we’re supposed to be doing here. And as it changes our inner lives, it also changes what we do, how we live, and how we impact the world outside of ourselves.

Check out this organization called Artists and Climate Change, and review the group’s latest series of interviews with artists who turn their attention to this issue.

Then take a look at this series of 12 contemporary artists who have contributed climate change-related works to this review in the NY Times Style Magazine.

And then of course, consider developing a project of your own that can demonstrate what these larger questions mean to you personally. If you have work to share with us—from photography to painting to writing or dance—please let us know!

Climate Change and the US: Where to Move?

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This article published in the Guardian, while a bit sensational in tone, raises a question that many of us have been contemplating as the climate changes, weather becomes volatile, and policy actions fail to materialize: If certain parts of the United States become uncomfortable or uninhabitable, where will the occupants of those places migrate to? If our region of the country experiences untenable heat waves or flooding that we can’t properly insure our homes against, many of us may decide to move. But when we recognize that it’s time to pack up and go, how will we choose a destination?

For many of us, this remains a simple thought exercise. Our jobs, families and home equity determine our location for us, and we haven’t yet experienced any storms, fires or floods that have the power to permanently drive us out. But for those who live on vulnerable coastlines, the question takes on growing significance every year. And according to the researchers who contributed to the article, the answer can be summed up roughly in two directions: North and west.

Dangers Facing Southern and Coastal Homes

While Florida has experienced a sharp upward curve in population over the past few decades, most of the southern tip of the state will experience rising sea levels, increasing floods and a general increase in water-related damage and threats. Insuring homes in southern Florida will become more difficult and expensive, and most of what we now recognize as the coast will become submerged over the next ten years. The Gulf Coast will also become increasingly subject to flooding and storm damage, and the integrity of the coastline will become increasingly inappropriate for construction with every passing year as sea levels continue to rise. So Florida and Gulf Coast states are due for a population drift northward, in some cases to inland cities and in many cases out of the region altogether.

Why Go West?

Portland University climate change expert Vivak Shandas recommends destinations “above the 42nd parallel”, or the line that divides NY and PA in the east and Oregon and CA in the west. Moving north provides a buffer against blistering heat waves, and heading west can remove the threat of rising seas and property damage from elevated water tables. According to Shandas and also Jesse Kenan, a climate expert at Harvard, plenty of population centers inland and relatively close to the Great Lakes will offer a perfect refuge, especially those that fall east or west of the tornado corridors in the great plains.

Another things to consider: proactive municipal decisions that are likely to protect citizens from personal and financial damage. New York City, for example, appears geographically vulnerable (it’s a small island), but massive investments recently poured into infrastructure and flood protection are likely to minimize dangers over the long term. By contrast, unprepared urban areas will suffer a double impact as unrestrained flooding and storms drive residents away and weaken population and tax bases.

We don’t know what the future holds for population centers around the world, but the decision to move is often deeply personal. When the time comes to relocate, financial resources, family mobility, and destination choices will all play a critical role. Read more here.

Agricultural Challenges in the 21st Century

Several well recognized factors and global trends are pushing the planet closer to a state of precarious food distribution, which could lead to increases in malnutrition, hunger, and unpredictable agricultural commodity markets. These trends have been on the rise for years, and they don’t come as a surprise to those who study agricultural markets and food distribution issues, but some of them appear to be reaching critical tipping points. These include: 1) increasing population concentrations in urban areas 2) increasing populations in general, and 3) the impact of climate change, which we have yet to fully understand. Shifts in planetary temperature can wreak unpredictable havoc on growing patterns, pest and disease ecosystems, rainfall, and our ability to keep food fresh and safely transport it from one place to another.

On Monday, the United Nations agricultural agency chief outlined these issues while announcing the launch of the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) latest publication. This year, the publication will focus on the links between agricultural trade, food security, and climate change.

According to the Director General, in the coming years, the agriculture industry will face intense pressure to provide the world with safe and nutritious food in increasing quantities under increasingly difficult conditions. The industry will be required to feed the world while also preserving the world’s biodiversity and natural resources. This will be no small task, and the challenge will be greatest in lower latitude regions of the world closer to the equator.

Unpredictable fluctuations in rainfall will likely accompany rising temperatures, and arid and semi-arid regions will experience lower crop yields. At the same time, less affected areas at higher latitudes may experience a reduced impact, which can increase an already destabilizing development gap between wealthier and poorer regions of the world.

Even without the backdrop of climate change and shifting growing systems, the global food system will need to produce almost 50 percent more food by 2050 then it did in 2012. Using fewer resources to produce greater yields will be necessary to generate the basic stability we will require during the century ahead.

Are you interested in entering the field of agriculture or agriculture science? Our team can help you find a path into this challenging and vital field. Contact our office! In the meantime, learn more here.

Children are more Vulnerable than Adults to Climate-Related Events

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has taken up a series of initiatives designed to pressure governments to mitigate the impact of climate-related events on younger generations.  

These initiatives encourage governments to recognize that extreme storms, heat waves, wildfires and water management problems will have a two-fold impact on those who are currently children: The short-term effect of these events will cause one category of harm, and the long-term effects will cause another. Children subject to uncontrolled weather events and water distribution issues can face malnutrition, disease, trauma, and involuntary migration, while the same children will face long term impacts that may undermine their ability to make a living and raise children of their own.

Children are among the most vulnerable members of any population, and in the face of hurricanes and floods, they are the most likely to experience injury. According to Director of Programmes Ted Chaiban, “As more extreme weather events increase the number of emergencies and humanitarian crises, it is children who will pay the highest price.”

Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stroke all have a far greater impact on children then adults, and all of these are increased by extreme heat and weather events and unstable or unsanitary water conditions.  

With this in mind, UNICEF has published a report which calls for a strengthening of global health systems in response to climate change.

The fund has also called for increased investment in climate resilient agricultural systems and water sanitation policies, education for young people on issues related to climate change, and a stronger inclusion of children’s concerns in national strategies and climate change action plans.  

As poorer families around the world face potential crop damage and loss of income, the prospect of stable futures for their children become uncertain. Short term concerns like childhood illnesses will eventually give way to concerns about geopolitical stability and the obstacles faced by those who hope to move across national borders or establish livelihoods in a shifting economic landscape.

With its agenda for action on climate change, UNICEF envisions a world in which adaptable, resilient systems for agriculture, water, and energy development provide an environment in which the next generation can find access to stability and prosperity. Read more about the report here.


Soil Science, Hunger, and Climate Change

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Earlier this month, over 2000 scientists gathered in Rio De Janeiro for the World Congress of Soil Science, prepared to discuss this year’s theme:  Soil Science: Beyond Food and Fuel.

Healthy soil—sometimes called the ecstatic skin of the earth—sustains life by feeding the planet. But soil does far more than just grow the plants we eat. Soil cleans our water, stores carbon, mitigates drought and flood risk, and supports the ecosystems that make all life on earth possible. Our ability to keep soil healthy and flourishing may provide a decisive line of defense against climate change, and most developed and developing nations recognize the role their soil health plays in food security and sovereignty.

About 815 million people are currently living with hunger and malnutrition. And while soil degradation amplifies this problem directly, it also amplifies food price volatility, which leads to land abandonment and involuntary migration.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) produced this report, “Status of the World’s Soil Resources” for review and discussion at the conference.

The conclusion: ten major threats to soil function exist today, including erosion, nutrient imbalance, acidification, and contamination (pollution). By combating the ten threats on the list, specifically these four, we can increase the health, nutrient value, and carbon sequestration capacity of soil around the planet.

According to the UN agriculture chief, “Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stock should become a priority.” We also need to prioritize the ability of soil to absorb and retain pollutants and industrial contaminants, since these contaminants flow through soil and remain in the water supply once the soil has reached its retention capacity.

With research and attention, we can make sure that soil remains a vehicle for prosperity and peace, and as a global community, we can come closer to achieving sustainable development goals. Learn more here.