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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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Catastrophic Climate Change to Hit Africa and the Middle East within a Decade

A new study just published in Nature Geoscience has found it plausible for the first time that the world’s average surface temperature could rise by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 C.) by 2050, only 38 years from now.

In February, the United Nations warned that the world only has a few years to substantially reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons, if it was to avoid the disasters facing the earth with a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees C. The likelihood that such a rise in temperature can be avoided is now low (emissions were up 6% in 2011).

The study took advantage of extra computing power donated by individuals  via Climateprediction.net.

The likely impact of temperature rise on North America will be much hotter summers and more extreme weather events. But it is Africa that will likely be struck by catastrophe, and within only a decade if we go on like we are. Projections suggest that in:

“Africa: By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent in some regions by 2020; agricultural production, including access to food, may be severely compromised.”

Increased drought and reduced crop yields and malnutrition are also expected in the Middle East over the next few decades as a result of climate change, including in Israel, and the new findings will accelerate the time scale over which these developments will occur. US foresees water wars in the Middle East.

There is also increased likelihood of flooding in parts of Asia, which we perhaps have already started seeing in Pakistan.

Another study, just published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that there is already a strong link between rising temperatures and extreme weather. In 1951-1980, it was only at most 0.2 percent of the globe’s land area that you had extremely hot summers. Now it is ten percent of global land area. And the change will be costly, even in North America. In 2011, the US was struck by 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion each in damages. That just isn’t normal, the paper argues.

Weather, as opposed to climate, is affected by cyclical things such as the el Nino. But those cycles now act out against a backdrop of discernible climate change, so that their effects can be amplified with calamitous results.

Thus, the 7,000 temperature records set or equaled in the United States during this March can probably not be explained only by weather (cyclical or one-time factors), but rather show the amplification effect of climate change (long term trends) caused by human beings dumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The advent of spring in the US has already moved up 3 days, and 5 days in some states. The longer warm weather season has increased pollen and allergies, with the potential for increased childhood asthma.

Monthly Mean CO2 at Mauna Loa
NOAA on atmospheric CO2, 2008-Feb. 2012


The past decade, 2001-2010, is the warmest on record. 2011 should have been cooler because of a La Nina, but the warming trend owing to climate change was so powerful that it produced another record-breaking hot year.

With their unsustainable addiction to oil and gas to power a consumer society, human beings are carrying out a cosmic experiment with life on earth, one that could easily blow up in their faces. Human beings as we now know them are fairly recent, perhaps 120,000 to 200,000 years old, and their entire development has taken place in a relatively cold era. It is not clear whether they can survive a 10 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise over the next century and all the changes it will wreak on animal and plant life, on fresh water availability, and on the health costs of outdoor activity.


Consumers in the US are going to have to sue Big Oil and Gas if we are to get any serious change. As with cigarette smoking causing cancer, there is a tort here that juries and judges can eventually be persuaded to recognize.

By. Professor Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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  • publis2012 on March 26 2012 said:
    Studies show 6C (10.8)F global avg by 2060, which means over 20F in the US and over 25F in Africa. (Royal Society, 2012). None of the studies include tipping points like arctic methane, which are to be expected, and could push this prediction up to the 2030s, based on paleoclimate studies.

    Your heading should be "Catastrophic Climate Change to Hit WORLD within a Decade" ...and we've already passed significant tipping points, so even this is misleading.
  • Mel Tisdale on March 28 2012 said:
    The facts have been out there for a long time, yet a large number of people in positions of influence, collectively called 'deniers': a very few scientists, politicians, many in the media and even a British member of the aristocracy, Viscount Christopher Monckton, have done their best to halt or hinder any attempts to steer our species off the road to disaster. Speak the truth and it is alarmism.

    Looked at from a distance it really is a stupid situation. The Powers that be realise that the climate is changing and take the very responsible decision to set up the IPCC. This is a body formed of the world's leading scientists in fields relevant to climate science, which in turn produces reports confirming that we are in danger and that time is not on our side. They tells us that the longer we delay taking action, the graver will the danger be. They also cite its causes and state what remedial action is necessary. It is worth noting that over 97% of these scientists are in broad agreement on the issue.

    Yet, the aforementioned deniers of climate change have such bloated egos they think that they know better than this body of the world's leading experts. Not only that, a perusal of the various denier sites, such as WUWT, shows they have a large and adoring following.

    Perhaps it is time to take the matter to the courts, and one person in particular should be singled out as a test case. I would like it to be Viscount Christopher Monckton. There is a wealth of material showing him giving his presentations to such important bodies as even the American Congress. This material has been shown to be questionable in terms of its veracity by two people in particular, Professor John Abrahams of Minesota University and Mr Peter Hadfield, a scientist/journalist. Mr Hadfield has gone so far as to take part in a written debate with Viscount Monckton on the WUWT website. Mr Hadfield has shown that a large part of Viscount Monckton's presentation material is in error and it seems that the Viscount has now resigned from the debate instead of defending his position or admitting his errors, citing by way of excuse that he has a heavy speaking tour and cannot spare the time to respond to Mr Hadfield, where no doubt he will regurgitate the material in question. He more that anyone should know the meaning of the term 'Noblesse oblige'

    "there is a tort here that juries and judges can eventually be persuaded to recognize."

    This not only applies to the fossil fuel industry, it applies to those nations that have failed to take the action necessary to combat climate change. Nations whose populations have continued to drive around in SUVs, giving the finger to the rest of the world as they did so. Well, guess what, the rest of the world is going to come demanding recompense.

    It will be no defence that the populations of those nations chose to ignore the experts and listened instead to the deniers, few of whom have any scientific qualifications. You cannot get off a drink-driving charge because your pals said you were o.k. to drive if you only drank five out of a six-pack.

    It might well be too late to do anything other than slow things down a little. We know that temperatures are warming and warmer air is able to hold more water vapour, a potent greenhouse gas. We also know that the permafrost is melting and releasing another potent greenhouse gas, methane. Both are positive feedback mechanisms that have tipping points past which they are impossible to stop. We know that the world is currently losing 150 cubic miles of ice each year, including from many glaciers that are the source of drinking water for millions.

    We know, but don't act and for that we deserve what we get. The tragedy is that the nations most susceptible to climate change are also those least culpable. It is paradoxical that many of the deniers also claim to be Christian, yet the notion of ‘Do unto others as thy would be done by’ is apparently not something in which they believe, no matter how often they cite Genesis as a reason for not acting.
  • Clive L. CARPEL on April 20 2012 said:
    Any biological entity which squanders and burns up resources,pollutes its ecosystem and overbreeds
    is an obvious candidate for ultimate decline and even
    extinction. This unpalatable hypothesis should not deter anyone from slash and burn,upgrading hp.and weight in vehicles,watering luscious gardens, decreasing research budgets,or blocking cleaner energy production.Deteriorating climate can be handled best by turning up the air-conditioning orjetting off to kinder climes...Denudation leads to desertification and CHASES AWAY the rain.How many trees could we plant for just 1% of the world`s arms budget! This would give PLENTY of employment!!!!!!!

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