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Africa may survive climate change better than expected

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Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

(Read caption) People walk near power-generating wind turbines at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) station in Ngong hills, about 22 km (14 miles) southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, September 8, 2010. Kenya's KenGen will add 20.4 megawatts of electricity from wind turbines at a single site in a move to add renewable power sources to help stabilise supplies by 2013, its energy minister said.

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The fierce debate over the extent of climate change should not obscure the severe differences of opinion over how much adaptive skills of humans will influence the adverse effects of climate change. Especially in the sub-Saharan, where the severity of warming is expected to be among the greatest in the world and where the fragility of the environment is already high in some significant sub-regions. A concensus seems to be emerging that improved governance could significantly reduce the pain of climate change for ordinary Africans. Here’s the superb Andrew Revkin on this important perspective:

“Many scientists believe that sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly vulnerable in the coming decades to climate-related dangers like heat waves and flash flooding. But global warming is the murkiest of factors increasing the risks there. Persistent poverty, a lack of governance and high rates of population growth have left African countries with scant capacity to manage ….”

Revkin makes an excellent point that climate change isn’t a scourge in itself; rather, how humans adapt to changing weather is crucial. We might place his perspective in an emerging perspective that priviledges the “social construction of climate change.” Across a wide spectrum of challenges posed by climate change, the short-term response could well be to alter “patterns of development,” as Daniel Sarewitz, my visionary colleague at Arizona State University has so eloquently and persuasively argued in many formats in recent years, notably an Atlantic piece from 2000 that remains prescient today.


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