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Waking up to Climate Change

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From Tahrir Square to the streets of New York, citizens worldwide are protesting the status quo. In a world where the gap between rich and poor is widening, where corporate influence carries disproportionate weight, and where we are rapidly spending down nature's capital, the public is saying "Enough!" Is this a passing fad, or long-term trend? The realities of climate change and rising CO2 emissions suggest we're in for a bumpy ride ahead.

Consider these facts:

Ocean acidification, warming and hypoxia are damaging life at the base of the ocean food chain. This, combined with the decreased resilience of marine ecosystems as a result of overfishing, marine pollution, resource extraction and other stresses, means that the 3.5 billion people who depend on the oceans for food increasingly will go hungry.

Those who rely on land-based sources of food are not likely to fare much better. According to a report by the FAO, "An increasing number of countries are reaching alarming levels of water scarcity and 1.4 billion people live in areas with sinking ground water levels. Water scarcity is particularly pronounced in the Near East/North Africa and the South Asia regions and is likely to worsen as a result of climate change in many regions." At the same time, the report notes, "Satisfying the expected food and feed demand will require a substantial increase of global food production of 70 percent by 2050." This projection does not include the increasing demand for food crops used in biofuel production, which will only make matters worse. Studies show that climate change is already impacting food production, and is responsible for price increases of around 20 percent in recent decades.

Remembering the riots which erupted in Egypt, Bangladesh and Haiti in 2008 when food prices reached their all-time high, the potential for increasing social unrest is substantial.

Clearly, any way you look at it, climate change represents a threat to global security. Not just in 2050, but right here, right now.

Read the full version of this essay in the 2012 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Observer Yearbook. Read the full piece here.

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