Rattling the Echo Chamber

Several weeks ago in Washington D.C., I met with a scholar whose work I find fascinating. My interview with Ed Carr, an archaeologist-turned geographer, is now up at Yale Environment 360. Here’s an excerpt:

e360: Over the summer various commentators talking about the famine in Somalia and the drought in the Horn of Africa were making a connection to global warming. You criticized this as simplistic.

Carr: What you’re referring to is my argument that drought does not equal famine, and it doesn’t. Famine is a situation of extreme food insecurity, and there’s a very technical definition for it. Drought is a meteorological event: Does it rain or does it not rain? How much under the norm does it not rain? How much water is not available? The problem is that the correlation between weather and famine is actually pretty low, historically. The correlation between markets and things like food prices and famine is actually extraordinarily high.

So the problem is, when we start looking at a situation anywhere in the world where we see famine kicking off, people immediately start pointing to the weather. But that’s one of many things that have to come together to get us to that situation. In almost every case that I’ve ever seen, the weather is a trigger, another stressor on top of a set of stressors. That was my concern there, not to oversimplify a very complex situation.


In addition to asking for more rigor on climate attribution, Carr is someone who challenges conventional wisdom on globalization and development. For more on this, go over and read the whole interview. Lastly, my headline of this post is a play off of Ed’s excellent blog, called Open the Echo Chamber.

3 Responses to “Rattling the Echo Chamber”

  1. Jarmo says:

    What Carr says about food production adaptation in Africa has also been mentioned by studies that the IPCC quoted in AR4. Of course, the IPCC only mentioned potential losses caused by global warming. They left out the stuff about adaptation, probably because it conflicted with their idea of the Cause…

  2. Alex says:

    Well let’s just take a quick look through AR4 WGII, under the section 7.4.1 – General effects.

    “Not all implications of possible climate change are negative. For instance, along with possible carbon fertilisation effects and a longer growing season (Chapter 5), many mid- and upper-latitude areas see quality-of-life benefits from winter warming, and some areas welcome changes in precipitation patterns, although such changes could have other social consequences.”

    That doesn’t really help the Cause does it? I wonder why the editors didn’t catch that part and delete it. They also didn’t delete Chapter 18 – Inter-Relationships Between Adaptation and Mitigation, 32 pages. Or Chapter 17 – Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity, 26 pages. If the Cause or the Team or whoever is responsible wanted to eliminate all mentions of adaptation, devoting two whole chapters to it seems counter-productive.

  3. Eli Rabett says:

    Assumes transportation over long distances and into dangerous places, which is not always available

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