Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Bigger Problem with Air Travel

It was almost four years ago that Nature, a highly reputable peer-reviewed science journal, published a paper that suggests that climate change is going to affect us sooner rather than later. We will stop our more destructive habits like air travel, mass consumerism, factory farming..., but by choice or necessity is yet to be seen.

According to the research paper, globally, if we do nothing, we'll be in "a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability" by 2047. "These results are sobering indicators of the pace of climate change if one considers that the timing of climate departure will occur sooner if 'pristine' climate conditions are used to set historical climate bounds," indicating change in the year 2033 or 2051 depending on the models used. It will hit the tropics first, and over a billion people currently live in areas that climate change could render inhabitable in 35 years at the latest.  "This suggests that any progress to decrease the rate of ongoing climate change will require a bigger commitment from developed countries to decrease their emissions but will also require more extensive funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries to minimize the impacts of climate change."

Then there's this bit from Climate Central:
It's possible that warming already in the pipeline has ensured parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet face unstoppable melt. That would raise sea levels up to 13 feet and threaten coastal communities around the world.

More recent news suggest that "Australia now faces a closing window to save the reef by taking decisive action on climate change." Bleaching events are happening too rapidly to allow for recovery time. And then this line,

"Some reef scientists are now becoming despondent. . . . We've given up. . . . we've failed."

The reef is in a "terminal stage" and measures to improve the situation were failing. But some are more forcefully optimistic: "Every moment we waste, and every dollar we waste, isn't helping the issue. We've been denying it for so long, and now we're starting to accept it. But we're spending insufficient amounts addressing the problem."


The Mound of Sound said...

"if we do nothing" - now there's a loaded phrase, unfortunately a bit threadbare at this point. I'm not sure that's even relevant any longer.

My constant complaint about these climate scientists is the narrowness of their view. They see climate change and its associated phenomena as some sort of stand alone issue. It sucks the oxygen out of the room and leaves us unable to see climate change for what it is, one of three tightly connected and each existential threats - climate change, overpopulation and overconsumption.

At the risk of beating a thoroughly dead horse I must point out that when I was born the Earth's population stood at an all-time record of roughly 2.5 billion. In less (a good bit less, I hope) that one lifetime, that number has increased threefold. And, as that number increased, so too has our individual and collective ecological footprint (the combination of greenhouse gas emissions, resource consumption, waste, pollution of every sort, loss of biomass and biodiversity, and more).

We're now using and (here's the kicker) mortally dependent on continuing to use the Earth's resources at 1.7 times their replenishment rate, Earth's carrying capacity. The evidence of our excess is manifest and it's everywhere - deforestation, desertification, the collapse of global fisheries, coastal "dead zones" and algae blooms in our lakes and rivers, the draining of our groundwater resources (aquifers) and so much more. How in hell are we to respond to climate change when we live and intend to continue to live that way?

Why don't we stop? We can't or at least we won't. How do we tell Asia and now, especially, Africa to get their population crisis under control. What persuasive moral high ground do we have when the 100 million citizens America has added since WWII have the same ecological footprint as the billion citizens India added during that same period?

The argument gets gutted as it raises issues of fairness, equity and, ultimately, restraint and sharing. Are we in the developed world, the West, going to trim our standard of living by 40, 50, perhaps even 60% so that the less advantaged can have the promise of somewhat more?

If you were prime minister and you realized these inescapable realities, what would you do? Could you mandate some involuntary reduction in the overall standard of living of your populace? How long do you think you would last before your own caucus threw you out?

The Mound of Sound said...

Part 2 - Climate departure, which is predicted to set in within a decade in certain tropical areas, including part of the Caribbean, will trigger impacts and responses that we will have to accept. It will transform societies as the world divides into the worst and earliest affected and the more advantaged nations, those furthest from the equator.

Last year some parts of India hit or neared the "wet bulb 35" mark - the combination of high temperatures and high humidity that overwhelms human physiology and is "likely to be fatal to even fit and healthy people unclothed, in the shade, next to a fan." The humidity stops the cooling function of perspiration and the heat, combined with the body's own biological processes, essentially cooks the individual. Those unfortunates have two options. They can either find a place in some energy-intensive, air conditioned bubble or they can attempt to migrate to some place with a survivable climate.

Where will these first unfortunates find refuge, places that have both the climate and resources to sustain them? When this starts there'll be no end of dramatic news coverage. Americans, for example, will discover that not only is climate departure coming soon to their heavily populated south, which means they'll have to struggle to cope with their own internally displaced citizens, but they'll also face a migration threat out of the Caribbean and Central America. How welcoming do you imagine they'll be to foreign climate migrants?

"If we do nothing." We've already chosen that path.

Marie Snyder said...

In defence of the researchers, they just said what's likely to happen to the world if we continue as is, I added in some of the things we have to change (population control is in the ellipses!). I was just talking about population control in class today, and how it's always met with revulsion at any potential infringement on reproductive rights. We looked at Alan Weisman's suggestion that we sterilize every woman after she has the opportunity of one live birth (if she wants one at all). That's the stuff of dystopian novels, but it's a significant part of the puzzle that's necessary for us to begin to put together here. We need it spun in a way that's about freedom and civil rights instead of looking at it as a shocking restriction. Like the shows of the 50s encouraged women back home with the kids, now we need ads and sitcoms that promote the bountiful freedom of a childfree life full of adventures instead of shooting characters through the typical hoops of career, marriage, and kids.

Marie Snyder said...

And how long will we be welcoming if the US shifts to the north? We're in a pretty sweet spot that will allow us to manage longer, but that means navigating difficult decisions around mass immigration, water rights... - knowing that closing the door is a death sentence.