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As many who follow global warming know, Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the potential meteorological consequences of global warming.  There are several good reasons why, which I detail below.

This diary serves to give a detailed profile of Bangladesh and what might happen if some of the events projected by climatologists due to global warming come true.  Having spent a month in Bangladesh a few years ago, having experienced the genuine kindness and hospitality of many Bangladeshis, and having several friends there now, global warming's threat to the country is somewhat personal for me.

Three major rivers -- the Ganges (known locally as the Padma), the Jamuna, and the Meghna -- course through Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.  Composed of, for the most part, the collective delta of these three rivers, the country's terrain (with small highland exceptions in the north and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the southeast panhandle) is mostly flat alluvial plain (i.e. low and wet).  It has one of the lowest average elevations of any country. (Elevation map)

These geographical conditions place Bangladesh on the edge of the cliff.  If the climate model results reported in the New Scientist in 2003 come even close to being true, the land will be pushed over the edge:

Flooding in the country is set to increase by up to 40 per cent this century as global temperatures rise, the latest climate models suggest.

[snip]

...heavier rainfall triggered by global warming will swamp Bangladesh's riverbanks, a previously unforeseen effect, flooding between 20 and 40 per cent more land than today, says Monirul Qader Mirza, a Bangladeshi water resources expert now at the Adaptation and Impacts Research Group at the University of Toronto.

...People can grow crops on land regularly fertilised by nutrient-laden silt from the rivers [see photo below]. But extreme floods cause considerable hardship and loss of life: in 1988 and 1998 over two-thirds of the country was under water at some point.

Granted, the 40 percent figure is the worst case scenario, but even

[i]f temperatures rose by just 2 °C, two of the models showed that the mean flow of the Meghna and Brahmaputra rivers would increase by 20 per cent. (New Scientist Article)

What will it take to give ourselves a good chance of (but not ensure) avoiding a 2 °C raise and increase the likelihood of sparing Bangladeshis great hardship?  According to this seminal article by George Monbiot (related to his new book), it will take a 60% global reduction of greenhouse gases, a 90% average cut by rich countries, and a 94% cut by the U.S by 2030.  If this reasoning is even close to the mark, things look really bad for Bangladesh.

The threat to Bangladeshis of a sea-level rise and increased river flooding is exacerbated by its population density, the highest in the world of any sizable country.  Imagine half the US population living in Iowa; that's Bangladesh's population density.

When I visited, it was not the monsoon season, when one-third of the country is under water (CIA World Factbook).  But even in the dry season, the amount of land available for farming can be scarce in some areas.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(Brudaimonia)

This is a view from the Bangabandhu Jamuna Bridge, a massive and modern bridge named after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's founding father. (His nickname was "Bangabandhu," or "Friend of Bengal" in Bengali.)  The small dots near the sand chars in the middle of the river are farmers in boats.  This is a telling example of the shortage of land in Bangladesh: farmers take advantage of any piece of arable land they can get, even if it bears a high risk of flooding and destroying their crops.

A significant rise in sea level may tighten the land crunch beyond repair.  According to my Lonely Planet book, "A 1m rise in the Bay of Bengal would result in a loss of 12% to 18% of the country's land" (p. 35).

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(Rice nurseries near water's edge - Brudaimonia)

Another threat of rising sea levels is infiltration of salt water in fresh water bodies and aquifers.  This is especially troubling in a region where half of the tubewells are already contaminated with arsenic.

Already Bangladesh is experiencing an increase in urbanization as the rural poor and environmental refugees flock to Dhaka and other large cities.

Masuma's home is a bamboo and polythene shack in one of the hundreds of slums colonising every square metre of unbuilt land in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Masuma is an environmental refugee, fleeing from the floods which have always beset her homeland but which are predicted to strike more severely with climate change.

A third of Dhaka's population lives in slums (Source).  While there, I learned that future increases in the city's slum population will help make it the world's second-most populous city by 2020.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
(Brudaimonia)

The grey roofs you see in the foreground all make up one large slum.  You can see how it stretches to the edges of the lake, even if the ground doesn't provide a solid foundation.  If the migration into Dhaka increases according to projections, where will all these new people live?  What will they eat and what water will they drink?  These are huge problems that Bangladesh would have to deal with no matter what happens to the earth's climate, but global warming threatens to make them much worse.

Bangladeshis are used to flooding and natural disasters.  Besides the normal monsoon flooding every year, they have been hit on occasion by excpetionally bad floods.  This happened in 1999, 2002, and 2003, to name just three recent years.  In 1991, a cyclone killed over 130,000 people.  In 1970, the Bhola cyclone killed at least 500,000 people, the deadliest tropical cyclone of all time.

In the wake of all these disasters, Bangladesh has improved its response system and disaster planning.  But no amount of planning may prepare them for the potential consequences, and ripple effects, of a significant average global temperature rise.

I have been reading parts of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac lately, and have been marveling at how ahead of its time it is, given that it was published in 1949.  In "The Land Ethic," Leopold argues that our ethical systems must evolve to take into account the entire community of life, not just other individuals or human society in general.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.  It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

For global warming, we have to fight our subconscious tendency to only pay attention to localized problems, and consider the effect on the global community.  We have to treat a threat to people halfway around the world as a threat to our neighbor or ourselves, because that's what we would want people halfway around the world to do if the threat was to us or our neighbor, especially if we knew that our actions influenced this threat.

We don't have to wait for the government to do anything.  We don't have to wait for CAFE standards to be raised or for Wal-Mart to sell a bunch of CFLs.  We don't have to wait for utilities to add more renewable energy.  We can adopt (or cultivate) our own Land Ethic, within ourselves.  And if enough of us do this, we might find that we have saved Bangladesh -- not to mention Ethiopia, the Gulf Coast, or anywhere else in the land-community -- from the worst consequences of global warming.

Originally posted to Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:15 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  put out jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    epppie, Carib and Ting

    great pics and summary.

    We don't have time for short-term thinking.

    by Compound F on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:20:39 PM PST

  •  Sundarbans and the Bengal Tiger (18+ / 0-)

    We have heard recently about the disappearing island in the Sundarbans, small mangrove islands at the southern end of Bangladesh and south of Calcutta in India.

    The Sundarbans are home to the Bengal Tiger, whose habitat, like polar bears, is threatened by global warming.

    broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

    by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:20:45 PM PST

    •  The above message can be my tip jar - n/t (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mogolori, retrograde, A Siegel, Nulwee, epppie

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:22:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sneaky way to get double mojo ;^] (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brudaimonia, A Siegel, Nulwee

        Superb and sobering diary.  In my Western haze, I reflexively think of island nations and well-diked first-world lowlands when I think of nations susceptible to rising oceans.  Bangladesh gets it from the Indian Ocean and Himalayan run-off both.  With 150 million people living there, we're almost certain to see massive calamity and massive migration, even if we check up our carbon output by 2020.  (2020 is like tomorrow; 13 years ago, Clinton was battling Gingrich, and that seems like yesterday.)

        You may be interested by tomorrow's Washington Post story on Pelosi's push to get Democrats out ahead of Republicans on mandatory carbon emission reductions.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

        "No man should have to clean up after another man's dog." --President Gerald R. Ford

        by Mogolori on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:56:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Looks like a tougher fight than I thought (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mogolori, roses, A Siegel, Nulwee

          Needless to say, I'm on Pelosi's side.  John Dingell needs to realize that the planet's concerns take precedence over John Dingell's political status.

          I'm glad Pelosi has allies like Inslee and Markey, but this article is a good reminder that we have to keep the pressure up.

          broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

          by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 09:45:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  RE Dingell / et al ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            roses, Brudaimonia

            We have, in part, a massive task in front of us re "framing".

            We need to shift the entire discussion in the United States ... from the $.99 Wal-mart "cost to buy" to a more holistic conception of energy issues and the "Cost to Buy".

            Those who are argue that Global Warming mitigation and the move to Energize America will "cost" are focusing on the cost to buy things and the cost to 'purchase' energy, rather than the 'cost to own' an energy system-of-systems.  

            The Cost to Buy crowd are "industrial age" thinkers, who can't move past the stove-piped implications for one specific industry or one specific sector of the economy. They also focus on "GDP" as a holy grail, ignoring the fact that wasteful activity (such as needlessly burning energy that could be avoided through better design/usage practices) "contributes" to GDP. That there are many ways to improve real economic performance even while 'reducing' traditional GDP measures. (E.g., another way in which the measuring misleads.)  Within these GDP measures, as a way of thinking, wind energy provides a bump when the physical infrastructure is built but it could be said to lower GDP in out years because there is not the mining of coal for the electricity that it displaces.

            We need to think about how we switch the discussion to COST TO OWN. How much will it cost, through its lifecycle not just to buy the home, but how much will it cost to operate it? We see this on the front door of refrigerators or on water heaters, with estimates of energy use, estimated cost of that energy, and comparing this to similar products energy use.  But, not when seeing TVs.  Not when buying a home. Not when buying incandescent bulbs (though to a certain extent on CFLs -- and with more information provided, for example, at Walmart to its shoppers). When "Cost to Own" information is provided, consumers tend to move toward more energy-efficient solutions -- which are more cost efficient solutions as well.

            And, this translates into infrastructure, as we still build far too many buildings poorly. Too many school systems don't make efficiency a true priority, as it "would cost too much" -- which is simply a focus on COST TO BUY rather than COST TO OWN (see discussion re LEED building). Walmart is investing $500 million per year, according to an executive's public lecture last week, on energy efficiency/renewable energy/sustainability with an average payback period of two years -- TWO YEARS, or something like 45% payback per year.  Wal-Mart executives, unlike the rest of the nation, really seem to understand the issue of COST TO OWN.  What does this suggest?

            The United States, as an economy, has incredible money to be made through efficiency if we can move from COST TO BUY to COST TO OWN thinking.

            For example, after a recent talk at the Center for American Progress (Joe Romm speaking about Hell and High Water -- e.g., Global Warming), Carol Browner (EPA Administrator under Bill Clinton) was asked by someone "What should I do? How can I start?"  Browner opened with replacing incandescents with CFLs.  As she spoke, she said "well, of course the compact fluorescents cost more ..."  Not being the shy type, I had to interrupt and make the point that while CFLs COST MORE TO BUY, they are COST LESS TO OWN ... as a matter of fact, they are far cheaper to buy.  She acknowledged my point -- I think -- but seemed more frustrated that someone would not simply be nodding their heads in agreement with her.  But, here is someone who should know -- but clearly doesn't -- how to to frame this issue correctly.

            The Energy Conversation: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

            by A Siegel on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 07:49:17 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Double mojo merited ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          roses

          I've now reread a couple times ...

          This is a wonderfully meaningful discussion ...

          I return to a problemmatic consideration ... the best result will be 35 years from now, we have averted the horrid disasters, people will claim that we were lunatics for calling for action to change the world re CO2.  

          Sadly, I think that 35 years from now, looking back will be anger at not forceful enough action for the past couple decades and now ...

          The Energy Conversation: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

          by A Siegel on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 08:28:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's bizarre to think (0+ / 0-)

      that the Cincinnati Bengals (the sports team) are named after an endangered species...

      reduce, reuse, recycle

      by Cassiodorus on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 08:40:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bangaladesh is New Orleans on a Global Scale (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mogolori, epppie

    Thanks for the absolutely stunning diary. Kudos!

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 08:21:20 PM PST

  •  Guyana (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, ybruti, Brudaimonia, Nulwee

    Guyana is another low lying country. Next door to Venezuela. A former UK colony, British Guiana.

     http://www.guyana.org/

    Guyana can be divided into four natural regions: a narrow and fertile marshy plain along the Atlantic {Low Coastal Plain} coast where most of the population lives, <snip>

    Guyana is the only country in South America that is part of the West Indies (CARICOM).

     Wikipedia entry

      I've employed Guyanese and they have educated me about their home country, in terms of raising sea levels and Global warming.

  •  asdf (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roses, pico, B12love

    I have just about given up on reading the recommended diaries, or at least reading them first. This diary is stupendous. It's beautiful visually, and beautifully written. Kudos.

  •  Elephant in the room (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, roses, Brudaimonia

    Bangladesh is undeniably in trouble.

    Bangladesh's population growth rate in 2006 was 2.09% per annum. At that pace, via the power of compounding, they will double their population before 2040.

    They can't do anything locally about global warming. What they could be doing -- and visibly are not -- is helping to mitigate the local impact by ensuring that their already desperately overcrowded country does not get any more overcrowded.

    China has too many people relative to its resource base. But China is taking tough, effective action to address that.

  •  Terrific diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, peace voter, B12love

    Glad I caught it via the rescued diaries, but sorry I'm too late to recommend it.

    By the way, I met you at the Stratosphere party at Yearly Kos last year. I've managed to catch a few of your diaries, and they are very well done. Thanks for taking the time to write them and share them with us.

  •  But you see... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, pico, Brudaimonia

    they could just build dikes, levees and a massive sea wall like the Netherlands and New Orleans.  All it would take is billions of dollars - but Bangladesh is worth it.

    Obviously we can't combat rising sea levels by building dikes, levees and sea walls around every threatened coastal city, island, estuary and delta.  It's just logistically and economically impossible.  So why protect one place and not another?  How do we decide?  Who does the deciding?

    We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

    by Fabian on Wed Jan 24, 2007 at 04:22:18 AM PST

    •  Important questions (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian, pico

      And there's no silver bullet answer (man, I've got to stop with the gun analogies!).

      The problem with building many levees in Bangladesh is that they would affect the normal, good flooding that happens every year during the monsoon season.  The huge challenge is to keep the good flooding but prevent against the really bad floods.  Maybe part of the answer is in a series of natural reservoirs that can store the flooded water and absorb the blow of disastrous flooding.  There would still remain the problem of clean, potable water supply, however.  Before a massive tubewell building program, Bangladeshis were drinking from surface water that was often contaminated with bacteria and other agents.  Then, they turned to tubewells, and half of those have now been found to be contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic.  So you can see that it is a treacherous road ahead for the country.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Wed Jan 24, 2007 at 08:21:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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