Several weeks ago in Washington D.C., I met with a scholar whose work I find fascinating. My interview with Ed Carr, an archaeologist-turned geographer, is now up at Yale Environment 360. Here’s an excerpt:
e360: Over the summer various commentators talking about the famine in Somalia and the drought in the Horn of Africa were making a connection to global warming. You criticized this as simplistic.
Carr: What you’re referring to is my argument that drought does not equal famine, and it doesn’t. Famine is a situation of extreme food insecurity, and there’s a very technical definition for it. Drought is a meteorological event: Does it rain or does it not rain? How much under the norm does it not rain? How much water is not available? The problem is that the correlation between weather and famine is actually pretty low, historically. The correlation between markets and things like food prices and famine is actually extraordinarily high.
So the problem is, when we start looking at a situation anywhere in the world where we see famine kicking off, people immediately start pointing to the weather. But that’s one of many things that have to come together to get us to that situation. In almost every case that I’ve ever seen, the weather is a trigger, another stressor on top of a set of stressors. That was my concern there, not to oversimplify a very complex situation.
In addition to asking for more rigor on climate attribution, Carr is someone who challenges conventional wisdom on globalization and development. For more on this, go over and read the whole interview. Lastly, my headline of this post is a play off of Ed’s excellent blog, called Open the Echo Chamber.