THE BLOG
03/01/2011 01:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Epidemic Strikes Again

We are all becoming Chinese farmers. Gao Jitian, a farmer in eastern China's Shandong Province, is about to lose her entire crop due to drought. Gao lives in Nanyang village of Linyi City in southeastern Shandong, one of China's major grain-growing regions parched by the lingering drought.

"The village has not seen any rain or snow since September and I have not experienced such severe drought in my life," says the 55-year-old Gao.

Gao is just one of 2,000,000 million Chinese farmers currently infected by the climate epidemic. Every day the epidemic claims new victims. The drought is considered the worst in six decades and is rapidly spreading across China. Last week, the dry spell prompted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to issue an alert that the record drought threatens to push world food prices beyond their current high level.

China is thus just the latest victim of the climate epidemic that it is taking its toll around the globe with palpable, often immediate disasters and human suffering. Across the globe we have seen severe weather events and anomalous climate conditions that have damaged the world food production and increased the global food demand. This series of events lead to the world food prices hitting a record high in January with the price of wheat going up with 50-70 percent.

The abnormal weather events have prompted renewed debate about the role of global warming and whether the current food crises are merely a foretaste of things to come. Still more scientists agree that 2010 mark a new trend of accumulating weather disasters: with an increase in the frequency of natural disasters. To date, climate related natural disasters have already climbed from less that 50 a year in the 1950s to 350-400 in the 2000s adding to a serious deterioration of the conditions of world's food production.

This gloomy outlook for our global food supply is further settled by the fact that more than 38 percent of the world's surface are in danger of desertification. At the same time UN projections, there will be around 9 billion people on the Earth by 2050. The gap between food supply and demand is widening.

Thus, we are now only seeing the top of a growing iceberg in relation to the severe damage that the climate epidemic is causing to food production. And yet the world community has not succeeded in finding the necessary and effective antidote.

Conflicts and instability. The climate related crises -- with the current food insecurity as the latest example -- are expected to take its toll on the global system as a whole and possibly merge into greater conflicts. As early as 2009, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned of coming 'climate wars' due to the dramatic political, demographic and economic changes linked to climate changes. This is supported by several reports and studies that link climate change to security issues such as terror, corruption, and geopolitical conflicts. They conclude that climate change act as a threat multiplier for instability in many of the critical parts of the world. This is further outlined by the reality that the poorest and most fragile countries are not only the most acutely affected, but also the most vulnerable to climate changes: many of which are already affected by conflict and instability and are not armed to face the economic, human and social consequences of climate changes.

Today we are seeing the first glimpses of the spillover effect of the climate crisis -- as a driver for political and economic disruption. Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices. And countries around the world are barricading themselves for a severe food crisis: several countries develop shear state grain stores; keep prices artificially low; and prohibit export. All of this leading to global instability and turbulence.

This suggests that we are looking at a future with new failed states, escalation of conflicts and global instability -- dominated by spiraling climate change and conflict. It forces us to rethink climate change -- not only as a risk for the environment and our resources. But also as a great risk for the stability and cohesion of the entire globe.

Reality gap. But as farmers across the globe struggle with climate change and concerns mount over the extreme weather hitting global food systems this year, governments are no closer to forging a pact to fight climate change.

Looking a couple years back, it looked promising. In the midst of the economic crisis several international leaders stated that the crisis opened the door to a new era for economic growth -- with the sustainable society and green growth as the future strategy. Today, only two years after the peak of the economic crisis, emissions of CO2 continue to increase rapidly and the IEA forecasts that the world economy will demand at least 40 per cent more energy by 2030. So at the end of the day, the only thing the crisis ended up saving was a long line of banks.

Instead, the political world is now focusing on creating new profits on growth rates, forgetting the growing shortage of resources. From Davos, where some 2,500 business leaders and politicians were gathered in January, the primary message was optimism for the world economy -- with a focus on growing the economy, not the green solutions. And President Barack Obama spoke widely of economic progress, not even mentioning climate change or global warming in his State of the Union address.

Meanwhile the climate changes are accelerating and world temperatures continue to rise. The U.S. National Climatic Data Center concluded that 2010 was tied with 2005 in being the hottest year on record globally.

The outcome of Davos underlines that there is a tremendous gap between the climate reality and the political reality. We are faced with failed governess with the politicians declining to face facts. But it doesn't change the fact that the climate epidemic is upon us and that the window of opportunity to prevent disaster is closing fast.

Most wanted: A global awareness Looking a little bit ahead it is not only the Chinese farmer, who is severely hit by the climate epidemic. We all stand at risk of being infected. We need to look no further than in the paper, TV or facebook to see that our future, and the future of the next generations, is inextricably linked to the complex challenges of the global climate epidemic. Thus we need to recognize that the current trends in the climate change are already affecting us all.

In order to change this gloomy outlook, we must initiate ambitious counter measures and to ensure a global offensive adaption strategy. But we must give up on the hope of a binding global treaty and forfeit the luxury of leaving it all in the hands of our elected governments, the business and scientific experts to act on our behalf. The history isn't changed by COP processes, not by Davos and not by political governess. WE, the people, are forced to act ourselves.

But we are still not taking action. Instead of dealing with global climate challenges, we are focusing more on national economic challenges. In the latest survey report on the American Public's Priorities, from The Pew Research Center, the American people have strengthening the nation's economy and improving the job situation on the top of the list. Energy, global warming and environmental issues are all low-prioritized issues. So despite years of global campaigns, we have yet to get people on board the climate change train.

Thus, we have to create a new global awareness of the importance and seriousness of the crisis that hangs over us all -- to awaken and mobilize the public. We need the story -- a snapshot of the reality to come -- which will succeed in awakening the people and getting them to act. But we have yet to find the video, the message or the personal story that can help us understand the reality of the climate epidemic: that we are all at some point Chinese farmers.