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Global Warming has a salty taste?

May 9th, 2007 · No Comments

“As sea levels rise, salt in the ground water is slowly transforming Bangladesh’s breadbasket into a vast shrimp farm. Yet what may be good for the farmers is bad for everyone else. A visit to the front lines of climate change.”

So begins SpiegelOnline International’s article The Salty Taste of Global Warming.

The article begins with a 28-year old farmer who no longer has fresh drinking water and has seen his rice crops disappear over the years as the water salinity has increased. 

This article discusses what many have predicted would be an opening wave of Global Warming implications that could be measured and directly associated with rising sea levels. Forget disappearing islands and new ones causing redrawing of maps,

What Mondal sees as an unavoidable twist of fate is actually what researchers have identified as the first consequences of global warming. Gradually rising sea levels are forcing saltwater from the Bay of Bengal into the lowland, delta region of south-western Bangladesh, and into the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, an area crisscrossed by countless rivers and canals. Salt from the sea is slowly seeping into the groundwater, contaminating drinking water and fields, steadily working its way farther and farther north.

Bit-by-bit, this water infiltration is undermining the ability of the land to support the millions who eke a living out from it. 

“Global warming is already a reality here,” says Mohon Mondal, a local environmentalist. “You can taste the sea salt even though we are far away from the coast.”

Adaptation to change is occurring, with farmers moving from rice to shrimp production. (Note: the article discusses how “the average Bengladeshi produces just 178 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year — a mere drop in the bucket compared to the 21 tons per capita released annually by Americans.” Question: how does methane from rice production fit into the equation?)  This shrimp farming is fostering  a booming business in exports to the US and Europe. (Which I saw in my grocery store just this week with Bengali crab meat.)

And, well, there are interesting implications from this adaptation — for example, labor requirements have nose-dived, with shrimp requiring just a few percent of the labor imput of Bengladeshi rice farming.  And, the southwest used to feed Bangladesh, now it is an export hub. 

Many observers see this as a dangerous development. “Climate change means that the poor get poorer and food supplies become more limited,” says climate researcher Atiq Rahman from the capital Dhaka.

While we battle over whether to measure water rise in the coming decades in inches, feet, or even meters, for Bangladesh millimeters mater. 

Only centimeters above mean sea level lies the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, with its extensive network of tidal waterways.

Mangrove forests have tremendous value in the world’s ecosystem … but here lies one of those poster child animals that could, maybe, get the attention that threatened Bangladeshis are unlikely to receive from many. 

This vast and impenetrable woodland covers an estimated 17,000 square kilometers. Here, deep in the jungle, live the last 200 Bengali tigers — the pride of the nation.

SpiegelOnline has had some excellent coverage, articles frequently worth reading, related to Global Warming and energy issues.  The previous article in the series, On the Front Lines of Climate Change, starts

Many people in southern Bangladesh have never even heard of climate change. Yet should ocean levels rise even slightly, their existence would be imperiled.

While the US public is ignorant in no small part due to deliberate disinformation campaigns and efforts to confuse, we should not lose sight that literally 100s of millions (if not billions) of people who are going to suffer from Global Warming’s impacts have no understanding of what is coming down the pike … nor why.

The word climate change is one that Shahidul — who has no electricity, no television, and can’t read — has never heard before. 

And, at the end of the day, have little responsibility for the suffering that they will go through.

There are economic issues and reasons to confront Global Warming (Lloyd’s has issued yet another warning for the insurance industry, the Rapid Climate Change Report), but there are also moral and ethical ones.

What, if any, responsibility do we have for Shahidul and his future?

Tags: Bangladesh · Global Warming

0 responses so far ↓

  • 1 George // May 9, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    “While the US public is ignorant in no small part due to deliberate disinformation campaigns and efforts to confuse, ”

    You don’t get away with this comment so easily. The amount of information available supporting global warming outstrips the info against it. The American public remains uninformed because they are unwilling to make any personal sacrifice. It’s all about ’somebody stop me’ solutions.

  • 2 A Siegel // May 9, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Yet, the fact remains that a large percentage of newspaper and other news reports suggest scientific doubt, where that doubt does not seem to exist. The political leadership (read White House) is not calling this an important issue and drives government publications to foster doubt and leverages for downplaying IPCC conclusions.

    The American public, in my opinion, is ready to be lead … by a leader …

    Now, there is so much that can be done within your context of ‘unwilling to make any personal sacrifice’ … average Americans don’t know about vampire power … or about the extent to which coal plants pollute … or … Energy illiteracy is not to be underexaggerated.

    And, well, neither is Global Warming / climate / general science illiteracy. Perhaps people don’t understand because they don’t want to … or because they are unable to judge the material … or because of the confusion that skeptics help foster.

  • 3 George // May 10, 2007 at 3:04 am

    I’m sure that we agree even if it doesn’t sound that way. Because I know that you would also agree that steps can be taken even if a person is a skeptic. Such as: combining trips, use CFL’s, turn off lights when not in use, drive a (more) fuel efficient vehicle or use other means of transport. These don’t require leadership. And when a poll comes out saying 65% of the American public wants someone else to do something about global warming I’m not convinced they are being misled.

  • 4 Helen Seidler // May 10, 2007 at 11:37 am

    The tigers will surely draw attention to the issue of salt water infilatration, but retelling the story of the Bangladeshi farmer is also very powerful. So good job, Adam. Nicholas Kristof in today’s NYT alsowrites about the need to communicate how this is all affecting individual people, something he has done very effectively on a number of issues.

    Your closing question is the right one to ask - what responsibility do we have? The first one, in my view, is to get our own national house in order, and by doing that we will be easing the situation for others. And then, of course, there is a lot more this country and its citizens can and must do to blunt the sharp edge of climate change for the many who do not have the resources to respond.

  • 5 Bangladesh is underwater as I write … « Energy Smart // Nov 16, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    [...] this is the immediacy of the problem of in Bangladesh. But, in addition, there are the long-term threats related to Global Warming in Bangladesh which, among other things, increase the vulnerability of this country to cyclones (which Global [...]

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