Bringing climate change down to earth

Livestock graze on an island in the Niger

The New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman addresses an interesting ‘disconnect’ in America in his column this week (Want the good news first?, 27 July 2010).

”The [US] Senate’s failure to act [on climate change] is a result of many factors, but one is that the climate-energy policy debate got disconnected from average people. We need less talk about “climate” and more about how conservation saves money, renewable energy creates jobs, restoring the gulf’s marshes sustains fishermen and preserving the rainforest helps poor people. Said Glenn Prickett, vice president at the Nature Conservancy: “We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth and show how it matters in people’s everyday lives.”

Some of those working to help farmers and herders in poor countries build sustainable agricultural systems and adapt to climate change have a similar message.

Funding for climate change research in developing countries, which are expected to be hit hardest by global warming, has increased dramatically in recent years, while funding for much traditional agricultural research for development has remained stagnant. Even so, scientists working at the cross-section of agricultural development and climate change say that there is not a lot in their research portfolios that is new because of the injection of new climate change funding. Rather, much of the new funding is allowing them to expand and refine decades of research on sustainable development of smallholder agriculture.

The two billion small-scale farmers and herders these agricultural scientists serve are, after all, already among the world’s foremost experts in climate change. They and their farming ancestors have managed to wrest food and livelihoods from changing tropical landscapes since the dawn of agriculture. No one has to tell them how climate change ‘matters in people’s everyday lives’.

Conserving rainforests, wetlands and other natural resources; restoring rangelands and farmlands into productive use; exploiting renewable energy, saving money and creating jobs; helping people build livelihoods that are sustainable over the long term–these are not new ideas. People have been working in these areas for decades. The hope of many agricultural research-for-development scientists is that the intellectual as well as financial spillovers from the current world focus interest on climate change will allow them to pursue these topics more vigorously; to connect to more, and more diverse, experts; to get more refined data on developing-countries; to make faster advances in their disciplines; and to help more people escape poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.

More . . . (New York TimesWant the good news first?, 27 July 2010)

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