Global Warming: Even More Bad Consequences Than You Thought

This is not good news at all. “Ninety percent of Pakistan’s agricultural irrigation depends on rivers that originate in Kashmir.” There is a treaty in place dividing Kashmir’s waters between Pakistan and India, and it “has survived three wars and nearly 50 years.” But guess what:

“The treaty’s success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms. Traditionally, Kashmir’s waters have been naturally regulated by the glaciers in the Himalayas. Precipitation freezes during the coldest months and then melts during the agricultural season. But if global warming continues at its current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, the glaciers could be mostly gone from the mountains by 2035. Water that once flowed for the planting will flush away in winter floods.

Research by the global NGO ActionAid has found that the effects are already starting to be felt within Kashmir. In the valley, snow rarely falls and almost never sticks. The summertime levels of streams, rivers, springs, and ponds have dropped. In February 2007, melting snow combined with unseasonably heavy rainfall to undermine the mountain slopes; landslides buried the national highway — the region’s only land connection with the rest of India — for 12 days. (…)

Water is already undermining Pakistan’s stability. In recent years, recurring shortages have led to grain shortfalls. In 2008, flour became so scarce it turned into an election issue; the government deployed thousands of troops to guard its wheat stores. As the glaciers melt and the rivers dry, this issue will only become more critical. Pakistan — unstable, facing dramatic drops in water supplies, caged in by India’s vastly superior conventional forces — will be forced to make one of three choices. It can let its people starve. It can cooperate with India in building dams and reservoirs, handing over control of its waters to the country it regards as the enemy. Or it can ramp up support for the insurgency, gambling that violence can bleed India’s resolve without degenerating into full-fledged war. “The idea of ceding territory to India is anathema,” says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University. “Suffering, particularly for the elite, is unacceptable. So what’s the other option? Escalate.”

“It’s very bad news,” he adds, referring to the melting glaciers. “It’s extremely grim.”

Bear in mind that Pakistan is fairly poor, and its population is increasing fairly rapidly. It badly needs serious economic development, but the combination of corruption, official lack of interest, and the burden of its army make that difficult. Moreover, while it seems obvious to an outside observer like me that Pakistan ought to find some way of making peace with India, and while a lot of Pakistanis seem to agree, the conflict with India is part of the raison d’etre of the army, which will not easily give up one of its main justifications for getting lots of money from the government, and holding a lot of political and economic power. That makes a sane resolution to this problem a lot less likely than it would be otherwise.

As I said: bad news — and one more reason to try to get serious about dealing with global warming.


Special Pakistan bonus: a video about their amazing decorated trucks and buses. Watch it. The trucks and buses really are that marvelous, and almost all, in Karachi at least, are decorated like this. (h/t)