Mongolia has a problem, partly due to our increased demand for cashmere and partly due to climate change. Since it became a democracy in 1990 the number of cashmere producing goats has soared from 9000 in 1999 to 27,000 in 2020. These goats need grazing and certain climactic conditions have affected how much land there is to graze on to the point where 70% of the land is now overgrazed. The goats are taken care of by 1.2 million nomadic herders which make up 40% of the nation’s population and not only is their livelihood in danger as a result so is the economy of the country. Mongolia is the world’s second producer of cashmere after China, representing a fifth of global supply and it is the country’s third largest export after copper and gold. Now as the world’s demand for cashmere keeps rising, climate change is accelerating the need for more land to graze on. Temperatures in Mongolia have risen 2 degrees Celsius, more than the world’s average, turning a quarter of the country’s lands into desert, obviously exacerbating the problem with grazing .
What touches me about this story is how our actions,
our needs, our preferences, have an effect on the nomadic herders of
Mongolia. You can say it’s oblique,
indirect, that other factors may be more
relevant, marketing, or modern transportation systems, to name but two, but it still comes down to our penchant for
the softness of cashmere. And as I think about it, it reminds me of the
interconnectedness of the human family and the oneness of humanity. I hope it
will for you too.
In 1954 the US conducted nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, 67 tests in fact. Before leaving they took the radioactive materials and plutonium and buried them under a dome on a low lying atoll. But climate change has come to the Marshall Islands, and the rising seas are a threat to that dome and may destroy it because rising seas could unseal the toxic bomb inside the dome. But nothing is being done. Meanwhile the Marshallese are experiencing a much higher level of thyroid cancer. Many families are and have been affected. It is safe to say the conditions have created a crisis for them. Climate change is affecting the whole of the islands, no more pristine coral reefs, high water temperatures, as high as 96 degrees, are killing thousands of black angelfish, pufferfish and other marine life, and the rising sea threatens inundations. The government is planning to build sea walls, but how long they will last is not known, nor how long before another nuclear disaster occurs. Several countries now have nuclear weapons besides the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, France, several are on their way like Iran and North Korea, or are now trying to obtain them like Saudi Arabia, not to speak of non-state entities like terrorist groups. While the Marshall Islands is an example of the consequences of what the pursuit of those weapons and the accompanying testing inevitably entails, they also stand for what happens when the unforeseen happens, when those consequences intersect with climate change and the problems it brings. Hopefully the whole situation and the dangers it poses will be a reminder of how dangerous nuclear weapons are for the world, for the survivors, for the countries involved and for how unpredictable disposing of radioactive materials can be. And perhaps in an oblique way it will also be a reminder of how imperative addressing climate change now is.
As part of their Polluters Project, The Guardian published a list of 20 of the world’s largest companies responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. Some are state owned, some are investor owned, and almost all are familiar names. Perhaps you’ve heard of the list, even so it’s too important not to reiterate. In order of how much carbon dioxide they have contributed since 1965:
Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gasprom, Exxon Mobil, National
Iranian Oil Co, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Coal India, Pemex, Petroleos de
Venezuela, PetroChina, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips, Abu Dhabi National Oil
Co, Kuwait Petroleum Corp, Iraq National Oil Co, Total SA, Sonatrach, BHP
A leading climate change scientist,
Michael Mann, succinctly puts the problem this way, “The great tragedy of the
climate crisis is that seven and half billion people must pay the price-so that
a couple of dozens polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It
is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to
happen.” Moral failing is so apt. Some
are calling on politicians at a climate change conference in Chile in December to
take urgent measures to rein in polluters. It’s far from certain they will act,
or will act in a meaningful way. Meanwhile the list is a reminder that climate
change is a moral imperative we must each live with. If we drive and car
pollution is a big culprit, it may be difficult to avoid these companies, still
by being vigilant and holding the issue in our awareness, we may collectively
continue to be the catalysts for needed action.
When Paul Ehrlich published his The Population Bomb in 1968 it made a huge difference in our awareness of the harm over population could do. We’ve since forgotten how crucial this issue is, and now climate change is a powerful reminder along with an annual report from the UN Population Division. More people means the need for food production, one of the very thing affected by climate change. And the areas where population growth is slated to be the highest, will be those areas more affected. Niger, Pakistan and Nigeria are on the list. Besides more food more population means more schools, more health care, something difficult for poor countries. So people migrate. And we’ve seen what that creates, not only on the US border but on other continents as well. Family planning used to be on the agenda of many, but political agendas as well as religious groups have attacked it. It is now 1% (one) of overseas development aid although according to the founders of OASIS (Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel) as well as several UN agencies family planning is the most cost effective form of foreign aid. They say family planning is an investment and they suggest increasing it to 2%. The difference it would make in terms of population growth would be enormous and enough they believe to keep us from a catastrophe. In 1968, the population was 3.8 billion and grew at about 2% this meant that every year there was 60 million more birth than death. Today our population is 7.7 billion although population growth is only 1% there are 80 million more births than death every year—that is the equivalent of adding a country such as Germany every year. We shall be 9.7 billion by 2050 and 15.6 billion by 2099.
Population control is
even more of a time bomb now than it was in Ehrlich’s time. Voluntary family
planning can and will make a huge difference, and we need to remind our
decision makers that it needs to be on the foreign aid agenda.