Is Europe about to experience famine?
Global warming is among the most alarming environmental issues that the world faces today.
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New research shows that we may well be on the edge of a civilization-destroying climate change event. And we must do something about it.
Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, but few could tell you much at all about the much larger planet-wide famine of 1816. But Europeans can tell you all about the "Year Without a Summer," because their news sometimes references it in the context of global climate change. It's one of the deepest fears of many Europeans.
The reason a famine from 200 years ago spooks modern Europeans is because climate change could bring it back, only this time it would be long-lasting rather than just hanging on for one year. As such, it could throw Europe and parts of North America into prolonged famine, disease, depopulation, civil strife, and war" just as climate change has the Mideast in the past decades.
But first, to understand the Year Without a Summer and how it informs us about this new danger, step into the Wayback Machine.
In 1815, Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies erupted, throwing an enormous amount of ash into the upper atmosphere. As this layer of ash circled the globe, it cooled the planet -- for the next year -- by somewhere between .7 degrees and 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
That was enough to throw Europe into the worst famine of the entire 19th or 20th centuries.
"Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in Britain and Ireland. Families in Wales traveled long distances begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oat, and potato harvests. In Germany, the crisis was severe; food prices rose sharply. With the cause of the problems unknown, people demonstrated in front of grain markets and bakeries, and later riots, arson, and looting took place in many European cities. It was the worst famine of 19th-century Europe."
And this was just one single year of less than 1 degrees Celsius of cooling.
Imagine if the cold never ended, but persisted decade after decade, and the cold was far greater than just a one-degree drop. Europe would experience widespread famine and massive political disruption.
Climate change disrupting entire civilizations is not merely hypothetical. Scientists (including political scientists) now know that over the past 30 years global warming pushed the desert south in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, displacing over a million farming families as their farms turned to dust and sand, setting up today's Syrian Civil War (and conflicts from Egypt to Libya to Tunisia).
With just a few years of prolonged crop-unfriendly weather, Europe would be in even worse shape than Syria is today. Chaos, death, famine, and disease would rule the continent, while demand for food would trigger crises across the world.