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An asteroid in a bathtub wrapped in an enigma—is that clear?

Rachel Ilana Block's picture

An asteroid in a bathtub wrapped in an enigma: is that clear?

   Photo © Betsssssy at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Having grown up neither British nor celebrating Christmas—and thus without any firsthand experience of plum pudding—I didn’t find it particularly enlightening to learn, in 8th grade chemistry class, that the turn-of-the-century conception of the atom was akin to this fruited, brandied, yuletide delicacy. Surely this metaphor of bits of dried fruit suspended in crumbly pudding meant something real and tangible to someone, but not me. Yet lessons of science must be communicated thus—through metaphor—because, while plum pudding isn’t rich with meaning for everyone, nobody can see atoms with the naked eye either.

The same holds for climate change. We need to understand it in terms of something we can see, someone we can talk to, somewhere we can stand, or something we can—literally—sink our teeth into. And, as with the atom-as-plum-pudding pedagogical tool, important details can get lost in the process.

A dire situation in Bangladesh

Nate Engle's picture
Photo by Mohon Mondal
Photo: © Mohon Mondal, Local Environment Development and Agricultural Research Society, Bangladesh.

Estimates assessing how many people will be displaced or forced to migrate because of climate change impacts are wide-ranging. But anecdotes of where climate-related migration is already taking place are beginning to crowd newspapers, radio and television programs, and various internet sources. Other than the low-lying islands which could be completely consumed by rising ocean waters, perhaps nowhere else in the world are these stories more pronounced than in Bangladesh.

Blogging for pro-poor climate adaptation: II. Wanted: new ideas for combating vulnerability to Climate Change

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]

In my first blog entry, I mentioned that adaptation to climate change spans a vast range of possible actions and that it can seem a rather abstract concept. Adaptation can range from sea walls to drought-resistant crops to social protection for climate shocks. This big range of possible actions makes it hard to nail down: what does any given country, region, or village really need to do to start adapting? Any two people talking about climate adaptation in poor countries probably carry different mental images of the kind of actions they think will be needed. 

To pretend that we have all the answers—as some of the numerous reports being written on the topic do—is foolish. We are in the pioneer days of gearing up for climate change and no-one knows what actions will ultimately prove most effective.

Not a target, but a desirable goal ...

Marianne Fay's picture

As we talk to people around the world on some of the key findings and views that we're building into the next World Development Report, we encounter some heated debates. One of these much-argued points is our view that the world must aim to keep mean global warming below 2oC, but as one of our advisors says, "be prepared for 4oC".

Here are the reactions. Some (mostly, but not just, in Europe) find it shocking that we can even consider a world with warming above 2oC or with concentrations of CO2 at or above 550 ppm. Others worry that we are setting 2oC as a target, which is very sensitive in the context of the upcoming negotiations. We are not. We are simply agreeing in the light of mounting evidence that the world should try very hard to stay below 2oC, since losses will likely begin to rise rapidly above that temperature and irreversibe impacts may occur - particularly in developing countries. A new version of the "burning ember chart" makes this painfully obvious.

Gathering clouds—climate change or economic recession

Richard Damania's picture
Gathering clouds—climate change or economic recession
   Photo © Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Climate change is not a new phenomenon. It has been around through much of Earth’s history. But what is new is the speed of climate change today and the growing certainty that it is a consequence of human actions. Why should poor and developing countries worry about climate change? Many say that it is a distant threat of uncertain magnitude and scale. With the global financial crisis, is it not more reasonable to address current priorities such as food security, unemployment, growth and burgeoning fiscal deficits?

What happens when your wealth disappears?

Ricardo Fuentes's picture
What happens when your wealth disappears?
   Photo © Ray Witlin/World Bank

The latest data on home prices in the US is pretty dismal. According to the Case–Schiller index, home prices fell by 18.5 % from December 2007 to December 2008 – the largest drop in record. Add the jump in unemployment figures in recent months and we have a bleak outlook.

But what do the housing and labor market in the US have to do with the changing climate? Nothing, at first glance. But the sudden loss in wealth and income is similar to what other asset owners experience in less fortunate parts of the world, where climate change is a threat to well being. Cattle herders and farmers who depend on rainfall often experience a dramatic fall in their assets –typically bullocks or goats- after a drought. The sudden lack of resources when rainfall is low forces them to sell their surviving cattle, pushing their prices down and sending whole communities into destitution.

Blogging for pro-poor climate adaptation series: I. Nailing down pro-poor adaptation

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]

Nailing down pro-poor adaptation
   Photo © Planinternationalty

We hear that climate changes – ongoing and those to come – are hitting the poor the hardest and the soonest. So what can we do about that?

Well, adapting to climate change is such an abstract and wide-reaching concept I find it sometimes hard to nail down. How do you actually adapt, especially if you are poor and struggling to put food on the table and send your children to school? I find myself wondering what are the ideas that can help poor people cope with harsh weather?

How to hold back the ocean?

Sandy Chang's picture

How to hold back the ocean?

    Photo © William Lane/World Bank

Sea-level rise is not a phenomenon of increasing frequency, but rather increasing magnitude in a persistent and continuous way. The effect of climate change is most palpably felt in small, low-lying island states such as Panza Island, the southernmost island off Pemba in Tanzania. Farming and fishing are the main means of livelihood. Significant parts of the island, especially the lower elevation southeastern side, are inundated by seawater bimonthly, during the spring cycles and most prominently during the diurnal flood tides. The local residents report up to four feet of water in some areas, which have only become vulnerable in the past year. Previously agricultural land can no longer be farmed. The area near the local school has been flooding for the past 15 years. Salt water has intruded into all the wells on the island, so drinking water has to now be piped in from a neighboring island.

The National Adaptation Programmes of Action

Arun Agrawal's picture

The National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) are the most prominent national efforts in the least developed countries (LDCs) to identify priority areas for climate change adaptation. Now that most of the NAPAs have been completed (38 out of 48), it is time to ask if they matter. 

The NAPAs were completed at a price tag of near 10 million dollars for preparation and another anticipated 2 billion for implementation. It might appear they are a golden opportunity for the developed world to show that it is serious about supporting adaptation in vulnerable countries. But the NAPA reports continue to sit on the UNFCCC’s website, available to anyone to read but with little prospects of attracting funds for implementation – or so think many who participated in the NAPA process! 

Will the financial crisis slow down climate change work?

Xiaodong Wang's picture

Will the financial crisis slow down climate change work?

   Photo © Dominic Sansoni/World Bank

The world's attention is sharply focused on the financial crisis right now. Even Europe, which has always pushed for climate change, has begun to talk about potentially postponing the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the world leaders can bail out the financial crisis, climate change is a crisis that’s already happening and will not wait. A green energy technology revolution can not only mitigate climate change, but also create jobs and stimulate economies.

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