Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Matter of Degree

Another African nation is in the news lately. Somalia is enduring what has been called the worst famine in a generation, and millions are at risk. Drought is the primary cause, although there are contributing factors. There is little likelihood that sufficient aid will reach those in need quickly enough and in sufficient quantity to save many.

What relevance is this to us in affluent North America, you may ask. After all, what do we have in common with a war torn impoverished country in perpetually crisis ridden Africa? As it turns out, we have plenty. We just aren’t seeing the extremes….yet.

First up is climate change. I really don’t care if you think it is anthropogenic or a natural turn of earth’s climate. Perhaps it is both. The undeniable fact is that unless you are deliberately obtuse, we are facing changes in climate. A quick example is the fact that previously, you might see two or three +20C nights on the prairies, now there are roughly 20 per year, which means there is that much more energy for violent thunderstorms and other extreme weather events.

We have seen two very difficult, wet spring planting seasons on the prairies, and now we are gripped in a heat wave. Much of the southern USA is in a long and extreme drought. While we haven’t seen extreme crop failures as yet, growing conditions are changing, which bring new challenges to farmers.

Somalis are without significant government aid on any level. Here in North America, we have seen the inadequacy of resources available to deal with Katrina, and elsewhere with New Zealand and Japan. Compounding that, we are seeing governments at many levels trimming services to balance budgets which may leave what services there are stretched too thin too be of any real use.

So far, we don’t have the civil wars that plague Somalia. That could change if and when conditions worsen, either here or in the US. There is already a de facto movement to create a group of US states that would be a ‘redoubt’ against hard times, and a half serious idea has been floated to have counties of California secede and create a new state (one that incidentally would vote overwhelmingly Republican, but I digress). I doubt any American government will allow the first, and the second civil war would be on. Note also that warfare doesn’t need to involve governments. The escalation of gang warfare in many large cities can be as dangerous as any regular war.

Inflation is a problem in Somalia. Food prices have risen 270 percent in a short time. Worldwide, food prices have already been on the rise, and if we have a financial event of the right magnitude, it might well spark an inflationary spiral in the more developed nations.

Not that I’m saying that we have the trials that the Somalis are facing, far from it. I just want to point out that what they have in the extreme, we already possess the seeds of in some small way, and while things are pretty dang good over all, things can go from good to bad in a short period of time.

Take a minute to be thankful we live in a rich country that provides us the opportunity to put back supplies and equipment for hard times. Then get busy doing it.

We aren’t immune.

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