ADAPTING TO CHANGING CLIMATES
LEARN FROM THE PAST TO BE READY FOR THE FUTURE.
One of the biggest political hot-button issues today revolves around climate change—a topic that literally gets people on all sides of the issue hot under the collar.
The fact is, the climate does change; it has done so before and throughout human history. Since man first built cities and plowed the fields, humankind has altered the environment and, with it, changed the climate … at least in small ways.
The question shouldn’t be whether it is happening but how to prepare for it. Aside from focusing efforts on lower-emission cars, more-efficient light bulbs and lessening one’s “carbon footprint,” the smart money is on adapting. Human history is filled with cases where humans either adapted to climate change or died.
WATER IS A FINITE RESOURCE, SO ANY CLIMATE CHANGE PREPARATION SHOULD REVOLVE AROUND SUSTAINABILITY OF THIS MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE.
ADAPT OR DIE
It is possible to prepare for climate change—not by moving as the Vikings or Mongols did (see the sidebar on the right)—but by preparing for the changing conditions. On the simplest level, this means adequately ensuring your shelter will keep you warm in the winter and relatively cool in the summer. While heat in the summer can be uncomfortable, cold in the winter is a far bigger problem.
There is the argument that you can always put on more clothing to stay warm, because the brutal truth is that cold actually kills far more people each year than extreme heat. For any very cold outdoor excursions, several layers are required for comfort and safety. This can present problems, not only in maintaining and cleaning what you wear, but also in replacing it if commercial production of apparel and textiles has ceased.
Therefore, the best advice might be to move to a temperate climate (but, again, the danger of climate change is that what is ideal now may be far less so in the future). Instead, it is necessary to prepare adequate and appropriate clothing for a long, cold winter and come up with a way to stay cool during long, hot summers. Shade helps in the summer, and wooded areas obviously provide materials for burning wood in the colder weather. But how long will that last?
Because climate change is relatively slow and gradual, shelter is actually a small part of adequate preparation, because most building materials are designed to accommodate heating/ cooling needs and can be supplemented as needed over time. Rather, the bigger issue is one of ensuring you have enough food and, more importantly, water. Where there is the latter, there is life.
“We humans are infinitely adaptable to environmental change, to climatic events short- and long-term,” says
THE FACT IS, THE CLIMATE DOES CHANGE; IT HAS DONE SO BEFORE AND THROUGHOUT HUMAN HISTORY.
Brian Fagan, world historian and author of The Little Ice Age: How Climate Change Made History 1300-1850. “What makes everything much more complex today is the multi-million people cities on the coasts and in semi-arid lands that rely on imported food. The future looks bleak unless we take climate change and both water and food shortages seriously.”
WATER, WATER—NOT EVERYWHERE
Clean water is a finite resource, so any climate change preparation should revolve around sustainability of this most precious resource.
On a large scale, access to clean water could be what tips society over the brink in the coming decades. Right now, efforts to prepare on the large scale are falling short.
“The strategies have to be diverse—desalination, water reuse and recycling, conservation, and planning for cycles in rainfall and drought,” Fagan adds. “The silent elephants in the room are, of course, growing urban populations, as well as industrial, water-hungry agriculture.”
On a smaller scale, people can prepare by ensuring they have enough water. Key to water storage is having the right container. While water can be purchased in easy-to-store plastic bottles by the caseload, these aren’t ideal for long-term storage. Plastic may not be biodegradable for the most part, but plastic water bottles are photodegradable and will break down quickly if exposed to sunlight.
More importantly with plastics, it is crucial that water is stored in plastic that is truly food-grade safe, so look at the numbers: Food grades are 1, 2, 4 and 5, as well as some bio-plastics that are marked with a 7. Likewise, not all glass is food grade and shouldn’t be used for long-term storage—especially because glass can break and crack as a result of changes in temperature.
The best method for long-term water storage is actually a stainless steel tank, because these have up to a 40-year life span. When adequately sealed, the water can be stored without fear of contamination. If possible, water should be stored in a dark room and should generally be rotated, because it can have small amounts of contaminants that can compound over time.
“WE HUMANS ARE INFINITELY ADAPTABLE TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, TO CLIMATIC EVENTS SHORT- AND LONG-TERM … ”
After water, food is the most basic key to long-term survival, and access to it has resulted in some of the greatest mass migrations in history. The Vikings didn’t so much abandon Greenland because of climate change; it was because of the lack of food from that change. And the Huns and other Eastern tribes didn’t migrate to the lands of the Roman Empire because of a desire to have baths and travel on roads. It occurred because the lands to the east weren’t sustaining the population.
“Food drives history, from migration to innovation,” says food historian and expert Frederick Kaufman, “[the] most recent example being the soaring food prices that lay behind the world-changing chaos of the Arab Spring. Food riots topple governments … The shortest path to regime change is food inflation.
“Food and money have gone together since time immemorial,” Kaufman added. “The first contracts on cuneiform tablets were about who owed whom how much wheat going forward. Ever since the Old Testament’s Jacob made his fortune as the price of wheat went through the roof, the ‘money people’ have been waiting around, waiting for the next scarcity.”
The irony is that despite the often-repeated message that kids in Africa or Asia are starving, the world already produces a great deal more food than is needed.
“The problem is that most of the food and water goes to feed cattle, and one part of this is our addiction to meat,” adds Kaufman.
Even on a small scale, producing meat isn’t sustainable for a farmer. The land needed to raise enough cattle to feed a family could be better used to raise other foods, such as potatoes. Therefore, chickens are a more-practical option, because they can provide eggs; and a small chicken coop can allow you to store a live chicken in the yard instead of a dead one in a freezer.
Some chickens can lay up to 300 eggs per year, and each egg can provide about 74 calories, 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein.
Chickens also provide pest control for the rest of the garden. In addition, they are actually a tick’s worst enemy. A few chickens can reduce the tick population in a small area and keep it under control. These feathered friends will also eat fleas, beetles and ants —all pests that like to feast on your vegetable garden.
BECAUSE CLIMATE CHANGE IS RELATIVELY SLOW AND GRADUAL, SHELTER IS ACTUALLY A SMALL PART OF ADEQUATE PREPARATION …
Above: Chickens are easy to raise, and they provide eggs, as well as meat.
A reconstructed Viking settlement in L’anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. The Vikings traveled across the Atlantic during the Medieval Warm Period and, had it continued, they might have set up permanent settlements.
An example of adapting to climate change. This vineyard at Wyken Hall in Wales was planted in 1988 and is recognized for producing some of the best British wines. The British wine industry has been helped by warmer summers.
Right: The bed of the Jacarei River during a drought affecting São Paulo State, Brazil, in late 2014. São Paulo’s Cantareira reservoir system supplies water to 9 million people in the São Paulo region. Some reservoirs were down to 3 or 5 percent of capacity. But by June 14, 2017, capacity was up to 97.27 percent. Below: Desperate families clutch their belongings after being uprooted by river erosion in Bangladesh after the Padma River closed in on their homes. Erosion is endemic in Bangladesh, with millions affected as farmland, crops and villages are destroyed.
Left: A 16th-century engraving by Jost Amman of a German-style brewery. Thanks to the Little Ice Age, there was a shift from wine production to beer production in Europe. (Photo: Public Domain)
Right: An Egyptian Fayoumi is a good egg-layer that can adapt to hot climates.
Left: People waiting for famine relief in Bangalore, 1877 (From the Illustrated London News, 1877. Photo: Public Domain)
Water can be transported in a variety of ways, but glass isn’t recommended. While water is sold in lightweight plastic bottles, they aren’t very rugged. There are also athletic plastic water bottles. But for longterm storage, a stainless steel bottle is recommended.
During the latter part of the Little Ice Age, northern Europe had long, cold winters. Artist Bartholomeus Johannes van Hove offered this view of winter skating on the main canal of Pompenburg, Rotterdam, in 1825.
Today, London has a rather cool and damp climate, but the Thames rarely freezes over. However, during the Little Ice Age, the Thames would often freeze solid, as noted in Abraham Hondius’ painting, The Frozen Thames. Right: The Battle of Oroijalatu in 1755 between the Qing and Oirat armies—one of the final battles involving the Mongols
Far right: A 1747 map by Emanuel Bowen based on Egede’s descriptions of North America. It shows how far Norse travelers were able to venture during the Medieval Warm Period. (Photo: Public Domain/ David Rumsey Collection)