"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." – James Baldwin
Global warming is realYou may have heard that global warming isn't happening, or that it's a hoax, or that it has "paused" in recent years, or that it's happening but it's not caused by humans.
These rumors are false.
The fact is that global warming is happening, and it's caused by humans. We have many lines of evidence that support this conclusion . The overwhelming majority of climate scientists and scientists in other fields agree .
Nevertheless, some vested interests sow doubt to delay the changes that humans must make to avoid warming Earth too much. Mostly, it's the fossil fuel industries – the coal and oil companies – that resist, because their products release carbon dioxide when burned, and carbon dioxide is what warms Earth’s atmosphere. The fossil fuel industries have a lot of influence in governments around the world, and they have a lot of money to spend on advertising .
What effect does global warming have on Earth?Global warming is heating up Earth's surface by .13°C per decade, on average. Most of the extra heat goes into the oceans and warms them too . Since 1979, land temperatures have increased about twice as fast as ocean temperatures (0.25°C per decade versus 0.13°C per decade) .
|Reconstructed and observed anomaly in global average surface temperature, for the years 0 - 2000 C.E. The abrupt temperature increase is unprecedented in the last 20,000 years. Graph: Klaus Bitterman |
Global warming changes the world's water cycle. Warmer oceans mean that more water evaporates, so there's more rain overall, but warmer land means that the soil is drier. These tendencies combine in a complex way, but the overall effect is for the dry areas to become drier and wet areas to become wetter . Also, droughts tend to be longer and rainfall tends to be more torrential. This pattern of record-breaking droughts punctuated with record-breaking floods is appearing in many places . In the world's great mountain ranges, the warming rate is twice that of the world average, and the highest altitudes are becoming drier .
|Changes in day-to-day rainfall variability, 1984-2007. From 1997 to 2007, rainfall became highly erratic for much of the globe, particularly in tropical areas. Green areas indicate that the day-to-day variability increased so that those areas experienced more days at one extreme or another, either dry or a downpour with little weather variation in-between. Graphic: David Medvigy |
For tropical mountain forests, a warming atmosphere makes previously habitable elevations too hot. Warmer temperatures cause forest ecosystems to adapt by moving upslope to higher, cooler altitudes. Higher altitudes have smaller surface area, so there's less room for habitat, and eventually the ecosystem has nowhere to go .
Water towers of the worldEarth's largest mountain ranges are called the "the water towers of the world," because they retain so much water in the form of snow and ice. The annual melt provides water for agriculture in many places, including Peru. Without this water, some places would be uninhabitable.
Glaciers melt and evaporate a little bit each year, and this process is called ablation. Normally, mass loss from ablation is replaced by winter snowfall. But because high mountains are warming rapidly, and because glaciers are more sensitive to temperature than snowfall, the balance has changed in favor of evaporation and melting . This means that glaciers around the world are shrinking .
|Mean annual mass balance reported for the 30 reference glaciers to the WGMS, and the cumulative annual mass balance for the reference glaciers, 1980-2012 .|
Shrinking glaciers mean reduced water supply . In places where glaciers disappear completely, annual meltwater flows are reduced to a fraction of what they were. In Peru, the Rio Santa, one of the largest rivers flowing out of the high Andes, already has decreasing runoff from glacial melt .
Andes and PeruPeru has 71 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. Glaciers and ice caps in the Andes are shrinking rapidly – in the past three decades, Peru’s glaciers have shrunk by 22 percent  – which means that Peru’s water security is at risk. The effect is widespread, with ice in retreat from the tropical Andes to the sub-tropical Andes . This is ancient ice that hasn't melted for many thousands of years, so it's remarkable that all of the ice is going away in just a few decades.
|Cumulative mass balance of 20 glaciers in the South Cordillera Real, Bolivia. Graphic: Soruco, 2008 via Sicart and Bernard Francou / IRD 2013 |
Places like Switzerland have taken to protecting their glaciers with sheeting to protect them from the increasing temperatures, but this can only slow the process of ablation .
Rising temperatures are driving Peru's mountain ecosystems to higher altitudes in an effort to stay cool. In the Andes, rapid warming is driving tropical trees upslope . Kenneth Feeley, who studies tropical forests at the Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, concludes :
The rates of migration that we have documented for the forests of Costa Rica are remarkably similar to what we found in the Peruvian Andes. The rates are also fairly close to the maximum rates of migration recorded for tropical trees during the warming period that followed the last glacial maximum. As such, it appears that what we are observing is trees moving at their fastest. In the past, this was fast enough; it is not fast enough now and it certainly won't be fast enough in the future. […]
By far the single most important factor is how much warming the species can tolerate. If they can tolerate a significant amount of warming, then our predictions are relatively sanguine. If species are intolerant of warming, then their future will be dependent on migrations and predictions for the tropics become very bleak .
How will Peru adapt to these changes?In recent years, the government of Peru has become aware of the imminent threat of abrupt climate change. In 2009, Peru’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Jose Antonio Garcia Belaiinde, while addressing the global financial crisis at the United Nations General Assembly, promoted a global fund for mitigating the effects of global warming:
Another sensitive issue that has deserved a special debate is climate change and the preservation of the environment in general. Peru suffers in a dramatic way from the effects of global warming, in the accelerated retreat of its tropical glaciers and the subsequent problems for the adequate attention of its population water requirements.
Peru estimates that is indispensable to establish concrete objectives related to cooperation and technological transfer, as well as to the creation of funds that offer financial cooperation, to develop projects that fight directly the effects of climate change in the most affected countries. […]
Peru reiterates its proposal to establish a financial mechanism for the creation of a world fund destined to support measures of mitigation and adaptation to the impacts of climate change in developing countries. It is a matter of application of a duty of $0,5 per oil barrel, while there is a responsibility in the whole production line of the fuel, from its extraction, through its refining, to its direct and indirect uses.
Likewise, Peru proposes to promote the establishment of integrated programs of adaptation to climate change. These programs, that could be financed by the Global Environment Facility and/or the World Bank, have as objective an integral approximation in the sectoral plans of adaptation and, simultaneously, put emphasis on strategies for the reduction of disasters, the protection of health of the affected population, its food security as well as on the protection of the economic infrastructure and biodiversity .
In 2008, Peru’s Ministry of Public Works started a glaciology program with Dirección General de Aguas (DGA), which produced the National Glacier Strategy. The strategy specifies scientific and technical requirements for 5, 10, and 20 years into the future, and it addresses the need to study and monitor Peru’s glaciers continuously .
Also in 2008, the World Bank and the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru started the Adaptation to the Impact of Rapid Glacier Retreat in the Tropical Andes Project (PRAA) “to contribute to strengthening the resilience of local ecosystems and economies to the impacts of glacier retreat in the Tropical Andes, through the implementation of specific pilot adaptation activities that illustrate the costs and benefits of adaptation.” The government of Japan donated a network of eight glacier monitoring stations, located at an elevation of more than 4,000 meters in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru .
Some of the most vulnerable populations live in the rural Andes. Recently, a group named Consorcio para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Ecoregión Angina (CONDESAN) has been studying the effects of global warming on the rural Andes. Their goal is to encourage the adoption of policies that promote sustainable management of natural resources as a way to overcome poverty in the Andes region .
Not enough is known about the movement of water in the Andes to make policies that will help people adapt to the ongoing changes there. CONDESAN says more scientific study of water flows is needed, from the glaciers and ice caps down through the forests, and concluded a recent conference with the following recommendations.
Lessons for community development
1. The watershed unifies and articulates the integrated management of the territory. In this space, farmers live and work their farms.
2. The organized participation of farmers is the foundation and guarantee of success for the sustained development of the community.
3. The portfolio of investment projects should capitalize on the rural economy, generate revenue, and improve farmers' quality of life.
4. The selection and design of projects must recognize knowledge and farming experiences, farmers' participation with their own technical equipment, and their contribution to the financing of the same.
5. A strategic investment is to increase the flow of water to irrigate crops and pastures and ensure their availability throughout the year. For this purpose, government must intervene in the basin in a simultaneous and complementary manner, considering the following actions:
- water settlement in the network of lakes and aquifer recharge; o construction of reservoirs and shortcuts in ravines;
- management of pastures and wetlands;
- reconstruction of agricultural terraces and irrigation;
- massive afforestation [tree planting] in the headwaters of the basin and on the slopes.
6. Strengthening of the organization for the social management of water, in the uptake, storage, distribution, and utilization of pressurized irrigation.
7. Ecological management of diversity - traditional crops, vegetables, fruit, and forage - selection of seeds, organic fertilizers, bio-preparations for the integrated control of pests and diseases, community nursery of native species and biodiversity and custodian of seed plots.
8. Increase the income of peasant economic units with greater productivity of crops and crianzas, lower costs and value added processing of them.
9. Strengthening of the community government as a partner, to coordinate support and advice for state agencies, both private and religious. Manage technical training services, the marketing of products, and the financing of investments.
10. Support to local governments to improve the quality of life in the towns next to peasant dwellings, to improve drinking water and drainage, electrification and communications services. Likewise, substantially improve the quality, relevance, and effectiveness of education services and health and public safety services .The CONDESAN recommendations are still under development, but it's clear that they strongly support government intervention in areas threatened with water insecurity. The CONDESAN policy framework could provide a template for adaptation in high mountain watersheds around the world.
Conflict in PeruAs water supplies decrease in the rural Andes, another case for government intervention centers on fair distribution of water between people and industry. Frequently, environmental activism in Peru is met with strong resistance from vested interests. As water scarcity worsens, conflicts between citizens and private companies are becoming more common. Recent years have seen protesters killed in clashes between mining and timber companies, as resources are directed away from sustainable development toward purely extractive, profit-maximizing plans. Extractive industries, like forestry and mining, are encroaching on local and indigenous communities, often with violent results .
Mining takes enormous volumes of water to process ore, and the waste water is so toxic that it can't be purified. The biggest mines in Peru, like the Conga, are in the high Andes, where there's very little spring and summer rainfall. People who depend on the rare local water sources sometimes come into conflict with mining companies who divert huge amounts of water to the mines. The government deploys police and military forces to defend the mining companies, and bloodshed frequently results . Currently, there are more than 80 social conflicts related to mining in Peru .
In spite of the government’s growing awareness of global warming, policies aren't moving in a direction that favors sustainability. On 11 July 2014, President Ollanta Humala enacted a law that weakens environmental protections and gives tax concessions to the mining industry .
Social protests have been criminalized by the government, including demonstrations by environmental activists who defend indigenous rights. On 31 December 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights observed that "The increasingly systematic and recurring way in which baseless criminal actions are brought against human rights defenders has caused this to gain visibility in the region and to become a problem that merits urgent attention on the part of States." This conclusion is supported by another eight human rights organizations in a 2012 report:
The use of legal instruments to criminalize and repress peaceful social protest in Peru
The adoption of legislative decrees and laws such as 982 and 109510 which amend the penal code and allow for the intervention of the armed forces in social protest demonstrations is one of the trends of criminalization in Peru. Article 1 of Legislative Decree 982 amends Article 20 of the Penal Code, declaring that members of the Armed Forces and National Police are not subject to criminal liability for causing injury or death “in the line of duty and when using their weapons in accordance with regulations”. This legislation generates unprecedented impunity and is totally contrary to the rights to life and physical integrity of citizens and the obligation of the Peruvian state to respect and protect them. It could also lead to abuses of authority or extrajudicial executions. In 2008, this decree was used in the "moqueguazo" when three community leaders were accused of inciting people to take action to reform the distribution of mining royalties. The prosecutor handling the case requested a 35 year prison sentence.
On the other hand, Decree 1095 of September 2010 permits: i) the intervention of armed forces during social protest without prior declaration of a state of emergency; ii) the implementation of exclusively military actions to counteract the activities of “hostile groups” (whose definition is ambiguous enough to encompass peaceful social protest movements); iii) giving military and police forces jurisdiction to judge “unlawful conduct attributable to military personnel as a result of actions taken in the application of this Decree”. Based on the provisions of this decree the intervention of armed forces was authorized during protests against the 'Conga' mining project in November 2011.
Overall, the measures granted in Peru violate rights and principles such as freedom of speech and assembly, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and the principle that public safety should fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian police forces .If humans are to survive the next several centuries of abrupt climate change, we must learn to cooperate and share dwindling resources in an unprecedented way. Peru is experiencing many of the effects of global warming before the rest of the world  and could show the world how to build a social system that is robust and fair in the face the rapid warming. Peru stands at the crossroad: embrace sustainable policies that manage resources fairly, or promote policies that enrich transnational corporations with short-term profit, at the expense of people and the natural world.
About Jim Galasyn
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