Climate Misdirection on Somalia

The best that can be said about this is that at least Romm had the decency to include the photo credit this time. Obviously, my comment and post struck a nerve.

Why Romm doubles down and insists on associating global warming with the Somalia famine is beyond me. It’s like focusing on harsh winter weather for the freezing death of a homeless person. My post acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change could be an exacerbating factor in East Africa’s drought. But my point, which Romm conveniently ignores, is that the Somali famine is wholly a man-made tragedy, in which global warming is not a relevant factor. In my post, I provide an array of experts who explain the main causes of the famine. Still, Romm wants to have it both ways, so he talks to USGS drought expert Chris Funk, who gets used like a pawn:

Funk agreed with me that the fact that Somalia is a failed state is a major reason that a brutal drought has turned into a devastating famine:  “No doubt, the most important thing, is the mis-government,” as he called it.  But the point is that a “climate-driven drought  set up the conditions where mis-governance could lead to catastrophe.”

First of all, “mis-governance” is putting it mildly. Somalia is a basket case. It hasn’t had a functioning central government in two decades. Even the latest transitional government, which only (barely) controls Mogadishu is a farce, and would collapse if it wasn’t propped up by African Union peacekeepers. I have to wonder if Funk’s quote (and, BTW, I have tremendous respect for him) is in the context he intended, because no, the real point is that decades of warlordism and non-governance set up the conditions that have led to catastrophe.

If Romm wants to write about Somalia, he ought to talk with the right experts.

UPDATE: Putting things in perspective, William Connolley writes:

Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

UPDATE: In his post, Romm quotes from this recent excellent commentary by Chris Funk in Nature. (Oddly, Romm doesn’t link to it, even though the piece is not behind a paywall.) As Andy Revkin summarized Funk’s column in August:

It describes his research linking a warming Indian Ocean “” when combined with La Niña conditions “” with reductions in crucial rainfall from March to June in East Africa. But more important, it describes the value of the integrated analysis being done by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, organized by the United States Agency for International Development, to try to cut the chances that a drought like the present one could spawn a famine.

Now let me quote from a salient part of Funk’s commentary:

So what went wrong? Why weren’t the warnings “” before and during the drought “” enough to avert a food crisis that might turn into famine? Much of the problem is tied to political issues, especially in Somalia, but there are also strong climate and agricultural components.

The global climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were never intended to provide rainfall trend projections for every region. These models say that East Africa will become wetter, yet observations show substantial declines in spring rainfall in recent years. Despite this, several agencies are building long-term plans on the basis of the forecast of wetter conditions. This could lead to agricultural development and expansion in areas that will become drier. More climate science based on regional observations could be helpful in addressing these challenges.

Lastly, here’s something else Funk said in that piece that deserves note:

Emergencies such as the one in East Africa will become more common unless there is a focus on improving agricultural production…Better regional climate-change and forecast models, combined with more effective agriculture in drought-threatened areas will not solve all problems, but they should reduce the need for emergency responses, and make such measures more effective when they are necessary.

20 Responses to “Climate Misdirection on Somalia”

  1. Eric Adler says:

    The article is on how AGW will affect the climate of Somalia, providing a description of how weather phenomena which create drought are being exacerbated by AGW.  Romm is a climate blogger. Climate is a perfectly legitimate thing to write about.
    He admits up front that the lack of governance has created the catastrophe. Others have covered that story. There is no need for him to do that.
     

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Eric,

    That’s a mighty charitable interpretation of his post. 

  3. grypo says:

    It’s incredibly important to note that the models predicted East Africa increases in precipitation decades from now.  If the government is making changes now based on the IPCC, then they are misreading the studies. Or perhaps Funk is not aware of why the government is doing what it is doing.  Has Funk said that the governments are misreading the information?  A proper investigation, if not yet done, into what is correct here would give people a better idea ‘what went wrong’.

  4. jeffn says:

    “Through this blog, CAPAF seeks to provide a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies.”
    http://thinkprogress.org/about/
    And now you know why he doubles down. He was hired to advance progressive ideas and policies. Period. Where climate change is useful to that goal, it will be used. Where it is not, it will not. Whether the topic is nukes, drought, tax policy, doesn’t matter. There is one goal. Just one.

  5. Eric Adler says:

    grypo @3,
    Could you provide some source for you statement:
    “It’s incredibly important to note that the models predicted East Africa increases in precipitation decades from now.”
    This statement is incredibly misleading. What is predicted is higher variability – more extreme incidents of drought and flooding, which adversely impact the welfare of the population.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/743.abstract
    “Interannual rainfall variations in equatorial East Africa are tightly linked to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with more rain and flooding during El Niño and droughts in La Niña years, both having severe impacts on human habitation and food security. Here we report evidence from an annually laminated lake sediment record from southeastern Kenya for interannual to centennial-scale changes in ENSO-related rainfall variability during the last three millennia and for reductions in both the mean rate and the variability of rainfall in East Africa during the Last Glacial period. Climate model simulations support forward extrapolation from these lake sediment data that future warming will intensify the interannual variability of East Africa’s rainfall.”
    Here is another paper which says the same thing:
    http://precis.metoffice.com/docs/HCTN_39.pdf

  6. Eric Adler says:

    Grypo,
    Doing a little further research, I think I may  have found the source of your statement about rainfall predictions in East Africa.
    In his article in Nature News :
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110803/full/476007a.html
    Professor Funk says:
    “So what went wrong? Why weren’t the warnings “” before and during the drought “” enough to avert a food crisis that might turn into famine? Much of the problem is tied to political issues, especially in Somalia, but there are also strong climate and agricultural components.
    The global climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were never intended to provide rainfall trend projections for every region. These models say that East Africa will become wetter, yet observations show substantial declines in spring rainfall in recent years. Despite this, several agencies are building long-term plans on the basis of the forecast of wetter conditions. This could lead to agricultural development and expansion in areas that will become drier. More climate science based on regional observations could be helpful in addressing these challenges.”
     
     

  7. Notwithstanding the context indicating theres some previous to this which I haven’t read but it seems to me there’s something of a contradiction in “anthropogenic climate change could be an exacerbating factor in East Africa’s drought ….  the Somali famine is wholly a man-made tragedy, in which global warming is not a relevant factor”

  8. grypo says:

    Eric,
    My point is that the IPCC never predicted increased precipitation for short-term future.  It’s models are based on predictions for at least 80 years out.  So, if Funk is correct, that governments are making plans based on then IPCC  (which he claims) then either he is just completely wrong on what the governments are doing and why, or the governments are flatly misreading the IPCC.  

    Or a third option, the two are mutually exclusive in that there is no reason why you can’t plan for increased rainfall 80 years from now and plan for increased drought due to natural variability in the short term.  This seems unlikely as I doubt East African governments are making irrigation policy decisions based on uncertain modelling studies for 8 decades from now.

    This entire situation needs to be looked into (ie what were the governments actually doing and why) before coming to any conclusions on this.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/figure-11-3.html

    Anomalies are for the future period (2070 to 2099 for the first three models, and 2080 to 2099 for the latter three models) minus a control 30-year period (from Hewitson and Crane, 2006). 

    From:  http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch11s11-2-3-2.html 

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    grypo, you are voicing things that I wondered about right after I read Funk’s commentary in August.

  10. Eric Adler says:

    Hengist,
    The article by Chris Funk in Nature which I linked to i@6, and was quoted by Keith, seems to provide the right perspective on this, and forms the basis of Romm’s blogpost. If you read what Funk wrote, it is clear that Funk was not being used as a pawn by Romm.
    In addition, William Connelly, who was quoted by Keith, recognized that civil conflict, is related to climate change, and added that observation to his post, and provided a link:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10311.html
    “Using data from 1950 to 2004, we show that the probability of new civil conflicts arising throughout the tropics doubles during El Niño years relative to La Niña years. This result, which indicates that ENSO may have had a role in 21% of all civil conflicts since 1950, is the first demonstration that the stability of modern societies relates strongly to the global climate.”
     

  11. Keith Kloor says:

    Eric (10),

    You are being disingenuous. Romm left out some important aspects of Funk’s commentary (which I included in my update).

    Look, it’s just plain “half-baked” (and opportunistic) to talk about global warming in the same sentence as the Somali famine. That’s one of my big complaints, in a nutshell.

    As for that Nature study you cite, one highly regarded expert has vigorously challenged it. 

  12. Alexander Harvey says:

    A trouble with Somalia, and much of Africa, is there is enough truth and fallacy to meet all and any agenda.
    People might be well adviced to forget everything they know about Somalia, which might not take long, and might reduce the collective ignorance.
     
    Almost nothing is really true.
     
    I will list somethings that are also not strictly true but are not totally ignorant of state of play.
     
    Good News: It is raining in the Horn, has been for some months and more is forecast, that is also Bad News given the need for access and the need for shelter.
     
    Good News: Agencies such as the WFP have access to Somalia and have been distributing aid, the Bad News is that the WFP is underfunded and has been rationing the rations.
     
    Good News: China has stepped in with some aid money, Bad News?
     
    Good News: Al Shabaab had an agriculture policy aimed at increasing domestic production by limitting bulk shipments of cheap food into Somalia, the Bad News: this lead to a bust up with the NGOs.
     
    Good News: Al Shabaab withdrew its oppostion to international aid during the summer, organisations such as the Red Crescent have access to most areas that Christian aid cannot reach.. The Bad News, Al Shabaab ceased to be a coherent organisation inside Somalia and now nobody knows who to deal with.
     
    Good News: Al Shabaab ceased to be a coherent organisation inside Somalia. The Bad News: it isn’t only in Somalia.
     
    Good News: contrary to popular suggestion, interantional terrorists require law and order and knowing who is running things. In those terms Somalia isn’t as safe a haven as it was a few months ago. The Bad News: they are set up in the rest of the region. Al Shabaab in Kenya is an emergent threat and is conducting terrorism there.
     
    Good News: Kenya is doing something about Al Shabaab. The Bad News: it has deflected attention from the near enemy by attacking Somalia as opposed to Nairobi and has done so during the rains.
     
    Good News: Somalia has a thriving economy, is perhaps richer in terms of GNI than all of its neighbours except Djibouti. Bad News: it is badly in need of a functioning judicial system, the Worst News: nobody cares what they need, they will get what we give them which is a centralised government largely surplus to requirements.
     
    As I said not much of this is really true, but not much of anything is really true in such times, and regions. Much of what I read concerning Somalia is written with the sort of confidence that has never visited Africa. The pieces Keith has linked to in his first few sentences do contain useful information but I would argue that it is simplified to the point where it is inevitably misleading.
     
    Finally this paper from Isaac Held (2005) is worth a read:
     
    “Simulation of Sahel drought in the 20th and 21st centuries”
     
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1312412/
     
    I noted the topic of sulphates as a co-dirver in the last century. I realise that the conneciton between sulphates and the rapid decline in rainfall from 1960 to 1980 (whole of the Sahel not the Horn) is an untidy apsect, but like Africa and Somalia, how much of what is written about its rainfall is really true either.
     
    Alex

  13. hunter says:

    Eric,
    Romm misled and deceived about the role of climate in this human caused famine.
    Why are you rationalizing for him?

  14. EdG says:

    Keith – Like any religious fundamentalist, Romm cannot admit errors. That would erode his faux certainty, risking a loss of faith in his followers.

    In the meantime, I just see it like Monty Python’s ‘Dead Parrot’ skit.

  15. EdG says:

    Funk wrote:

    “Emergencies such as the one in East Africa will become more common unless there is a focus on improving agricultural production”

    True. No matter what. So take all the cash being squandered on AGW predictions and conferences and devote it to this priority. That will help no matter which way the climate swings – although it can all be easily derailed by other factors, like those we see in the basket case of a country called Somalia. 

  16. NewYorkJ says:

    Keith,

    Funk: And third, research has linked warming in the Indian Ocean as a result of climate change to drying of March-to-June rains in East Africa. This warming has intensified the negative impact of La Niña events; it was the chance that both the autumn and spring rainy seasons could be affected, back to back, that really concerned us.

    This appears to contradict your definitive claim:

    KK:  But man-made climate change is certainly not responsible for Somalia’s current agony.

    Not at all?  If you preceded “responsible” with “solely”, it would be correct, but also a strawman.  I’m actually still uncertain as to where Romm and you really diverge on this matter.  Is it just the use of a photo?

    KK: My post acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change could be an exacerbating factor in East Africa’s drought.

    KK; But my point, which Romm conveniently ignores, is that the Somali famine is wholly a man-made tragedy, in which global warming is not a relevant factor. 

    But if you acknowledge that global warming could be a factor to the drought, the second quote implies you think drought is not a factor in the Somali famine.  Not at all?  Are no other countries in the region being affected adversely?  From the Oxfam link you quoted from:
    Rarely does one overriding factor cause a famine. Usually, a series of circumstances in concert are the trigger. In Somalia, a two-year drought has caused record food inflation, with the price of red sorghum, a grain, rocketing 240 percent higher now than it was this time last year. And the next harvest is expected to be just 50 percent of normal.

    The drought has also killed much of the livestock on which herders in the region depend for food and income. In some areas, up to 90 percent of the animals have died. Without those assets, families have lost a great deal of their purchasing power. And making matters worse is the internal conflict gripping Somalia””a severe discouragement to development.

    Lastly,

    Romm: Funk agreed with me that the fact that Somalia is a failed state is a major reason that a brutal drought has turned into a  devastating famine:  “No doubt, the most important thing, is the mis-government,” as he called it.  But the point is that a “climate-driven drought  set up the conditions where mis-governance could lead to catastrophe.”

    It seems like mentioning global warming as a possible contributing factor to anything is taboo among some realms.

  17. hunter says:

    NewYork J,
    If Kenya was in famine, during this drought, then we could rightly look to climate as a contributing factor.
    since the famine is ending at what passes for the Somali border, it is a strictly manmade famine, as are most famines.

  18. Eric Adler says:

    Keith @ 11,
    Thanks for the link to the critique of the Nature article on conflict and climate problems.  One of the authors of the article has provided a good point by point response to the critique in the comments section.

  19. Eric Adler says:

    Hunter@17,
    Your logic is flawed as usual. There is a shortage of domestically grown food due to drought in both countries.  It is not strictly manmade, although it is possible that global warming due to GHG’s is incrementally involved in the severity of the drought.
    The factor that determines whether people starve to death in this situation is the availability of external food aid. That is the difference between outcomes in Somalia and Kenya. 
    So there are two factors at work here. Without the drought there would be no food shortage, and therefore no famine.

  20. hunter says:

    Eric,
    Having llived on a farm, and having read history, I was already aware of what drought can do to crop production.
    But thanks for revisiting what has been one of the enduring realities of agriculture.
    Another reality is flood- if there is too much rain, crops will also fail.
    Another is temperature- if it is a cold growing season, crops will be puny. If it is too hot, they can be killed by excess heat.
    My logic is just fine.
    You seem to be confusing weather with climate.

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