Written By: Emma Websdale
The topic of climate change has become a new focus of the 21st century. Becoming commonplace in tweets, research questions and news headlines, its devastating and destructive impacts are endlessly presented to us. The repetitive scientific findings we hear as to climate change and its grave threats have now brought us to become quite familiar with the entire topic. Unfortunately, familiarity can often leave us feeling comfortable about facts that should rationally, cause us great discomfort and even compel us to take action.
Desensitizing familiarity with climate change is a dangerous pitfall that we should avoid. As global warming continues to push change at an unprecedented rate, failure of adaptation in both species and communities will inevitably lead to suffering. The results are painful: millions of climate refugees, decreased water availability, damage to our energy infrastructures, loss of wildlife, destructive weather patterns and increased illness and disease – all factors that when built up across the globe could explode into a mass of conflict.
Climate driven violence and conflict is not just a prediction, it has already happened. Take hotter temperatures for example –with increased heat comes intensified wild fires, droughts, desertification and heat stress, all factors that deliver intense resource competitive and, fear across many communities, which are known triggers for aggression. One case in point is Nigeria, where the occurrence of fighting accelerates before rain eventually relieves drought and intense heat. India and Pakistan are others -crime is significantly higher when temperatures are extremely hot. Even the New York Times has reported that, “New York becomes a more lethal place” in the summer months when temperatures are at their hottest.
A more recent example is that of the Syrian War. The link between climate change and this devastating conflict may not have been obvious to begin with, but the facts now strongly suggest that climate change can be a major factor in triggering war. From 2006 to 2011, 60% of Syria’s land experienced one of the worst long-term droughts and severe set of crop failures. A NOAA study published in October 2011, showed a strong link between these conditions and climate change. The drought resulted in 85% of northeast herders losing their livestock, while 75% of farmers suffered total crop failure. Overall, 1.3 million Syrians were effected, resulting in the displacement of millions, all trekking into urban areas, hungry, thirsty, economically insecure and stressed –all factors to heighten conflict.
The link between climate change and human conflict has generated increasing interest and research in the topic. Among these, include researchers from Princeton University who recently analyzed scientific literature to investigate trends in climate change and aggressive human behavior. Ranging from studies that covered the Middle East, China, Colombia and Somalia, the results portrayed a strong relationship between unusually warm weather and increased aggression and conflict. The report, published in the journal Science, entitled, Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict suggested that an increase in heat by just one degree in some parts of equatorial Africa, could increase the risk of conflict between groups by up to 14%.
So with the impacts of climate change becoming more prevalent in our daily lives, what does it mean for the potential escalation of conflict in the coming years?
The same report has predicted that if we continue to burn and release carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at our current rate, we will be burdened with a 3-4 Celsius (C) increase in global temperatures as early as mid-century –suggesting that if we do not reduce our emissions, conflict will become prominent in the near future.
Syria is one example to fall under this category. The International Food Policy Research Institute have projected that if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions continue, yields of rain-fed crops in Syria could decline between 29 – 57% between 2010 and 2050, further exaggerating displacement and stress across urban areas –both contributors to the unrest in Syria.
Darfur is another. A 2007 UN report stated that the main drivers of conflict in Darfur of western Sudan was both climate and environment. The report suggested that continued climate change could likely trigger a succession of new wars across Africa if nothing is done to tackle the growing problem. With a 30% reduction in rainfall over the past 40 years, coupled with the Sahara desert taking over pasture land by the mile each year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing resources and drying water holes threaten to reignite the five-year war between north and south Sudan which previously resulted in 200,000 to 500,000 deaths.
Meanwhile, a new analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that climate change poses a significant impact on the sustainability of water supplies in the coming decades. Examining the effects of global warming on water supply demands of the US, the study found that 1,100 counties could face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century, with more than 400 of these facing extremely high risks of water shortages.
Moreover, a report from the office of the US Director of National Intelligence estimated that the risk of conflict would grow as water demand is set to outstrip sustainable current supplies by 40% by 2030. In response to the report, former US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said, “These threats are real and they do raise serious national security concerns”.
With climate change continuing to make vulnerable parts of the world more susceptible to weather-related problems, the risks of conflict between communities attempting to escape from afflicted areas are likely to elevate.
The good news and cause for optimism is this: the major contributor towards climate change -carbon dioxide, derived from burning fossil fuels, is something that we can take control of and change. With extraordinary companies now commercializing proven technologies and solutions that divert us away from burning fossil fuels, the decision and action to create a more peaceful, sustainable future is within our reach.
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is one of these solutions. By tapping into our most abundant resource -our oceans, OTEC can allow us to meet energy and water demands sustainably by utilizing temperature differences between warm ocean surface water and cold deep water, all without the use of fossil fuels.
OTEC’s ability to tackle climate change by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is impressive. Just one 10 MegaWatt (MW) OTEC plant has been estimated to save the burning of 50,000 barrels of oil and release of 80,000 tons of CO2 per annum in comparison to fossil fuel based electricity. Moreover, with OTEC having hundreds of favorable worldwide plant locations in the tropics and sub-tropics, where 3 billion people live, the aggregate potential of CO2 reduction is staggering.
Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTE) is one company that is utilizing this OTEC technology to shape our future. Among its numerous global projects for both OTEC and Sea Water Air-Conditioning (SWAC), OTE has a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a major African utility company to develop multiple OTEC facilities with a focus on potable water production. In an area of the world that is particularly susceptible to drought and resource-based conflicts, OTEC’s African arrival is most encouraging in regards to water and conflict relief.
By generating two of humanity’s most fundamental needs—clean drinking water and renewable baseload (24/7) energy– without dependence on fossil fuels, OTEC really can achieve a sustainable and safe future. This is not just an ambition or dream. The remarkable breakthrough has already been proven to work in Hawaii, USA, where the deep ocean cold water pipes at the pilot land-based OTEC plant, constructed in the 1990’s at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) still today provide a steady large supply of nutrient rich, pathogen ocean water used to produce large volumes of fresh drinking water.
If you are passionate about reducing conflicts and alleviating the effects of climate change, then you can also be part of creating a sustainable future. It is simple – all you need to do is to spread the word of OTE’s core mission and educate others on how OTEC and SWAC can tackle climate change by sending a tweet or email to your friends, family and followers.
Let’s start turning down the heat on our planet. After all, it is our home and our future.