Friday, October 22, 2010

Delusional Thinking

Imagine if the crew of the Titanic actually knew their ship was speeding on a course for an imminent impact with a massive iceberg but simply went on with business as usual.  Can you imagine the captain giving a shrug and muttering, "Oh well, not much we can do about it.  Maybe later, we'll see."   That would be preposterous, wouldn't it?  But is that really not the attitude we're showing to the impacts of climate change that are rapidly arriving on our doorstep?

Most of the people I talk to aren't unduly concerned about it.  They're still working out the details of their next holiday abroad or weighing the merits of one mega-pickup truck versus another.  Even on all these progressive and liberal blogs, climate change as an issue doesn't hold a candle to squabbles over long-gun registries and long-form census or crime and punishment or just about any other issue of the day.   And, as for our politicians - well the captain of the ship has barricaded himself inside his cabin with a case of pusser rum.  You can count him out.

The U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research released a study this week that revealed drought will be the dominant climate event globally this century.   Drought far more severe than any we've ever known even in sub-Saharan Africa.   Drought that will be multi-generational, possibly permanent in duration.   The drought map for 2060 speaks volumes.   Here it is again.   Click on it for a larger version.

Look at it.   There's your iceberg.   This is where we're heading and we're going full bore to get there.   This is where those same people who believe we should expand Tar Sand production five fold are steering us.  This is the world that Harper and Ignatieff want to leave for our kids and grandchildren.  Oh yeah, but what about that long-form census anyway.  That bastard, Harper!   Grrr.

Oh but that drought is just a "projection" isn't it?  Maybe the science isn't right.  Maybe they've got their numbers in a bunch to get us all whipped up.   Even if that is right, we'll find some technology to fix it in plenty of time, right? 

Well, not quite.   The drought depicted is already here and it's been going on for several years as close to home as the southern and western U.S. and into the vast, Great Plains region.  We've been reacting to it.  One way we've adapted is through increased irrigation from surface reservoirs and once mighty aquifers.  In effect, nature is burning the drought candle at one end and we're burning it from the other.

So what about fixes?   Well the fact is there really aren't many, not nearly enough anyway.  Take California.  If you never thought farmfields could be an awesome sight, you've never driven through California's great agricultural valleys.  They were like nothing else on the planet.  They allowed California to become the supplier of something close to 75% of America's market garden vegetables, fruits and nuts.   But drought and warming has already hammered California agriculture.  "Winter Chill" which is a vital trigger for many tree crops (fruits and nuts) has already declined by 30% and is projected to reach 50% which effectively ends that form of agriculture in California unless new varieties, capable of adapting, can be found and planted in time but it does take a good while to grow a functioning orchard.

But the double whammy is the water supply.   California agriculture has always been heavily dependent on irrigation.  One key source was the Colorado River.  Farmers were allocated quotas of river water they could draw for irrigation.   But that supply is in distress now too.   Some farmers are simply bulldozing their orchards and selling their water quotas to water short cities nearby.   If you go to a Canadian grocery store, the shelves are packed with produce from California and Mexico but for how long?

The Great Plains, North America's breadbasket, are also under water stress.  Mega-drought is, in fact, an historical feature of this region.   We arrived to settle during an unduly wet century and a half.   It didn't dawn on us from the very fact that these were grasslands instead of forest that protracted drought wasn't unusual.   However, during this "wet window" we were able to establish that region as an incredibly productive source of staple grains and livestock.  How are we going to cope when that fizzles out?

Look, just take that NCAR drought map for the simple proposition that this problem, that we're already feeling, isn't going away.  It's with us for at least the rest of this century and it will worsen from where it is today.   How much worse is partly up to us.  So, do you really think this is any time to be grinding our teeth over gun registries and census forms?  Do you really?  Isn't that delusional thinking?

I studied this very sort of thing decades ago while doing my undergrad in the States.  We examined the native villagers of the Andes mountains.   Their settlements are particularly prone to devastating mudslides and earthquakes.   That has imbued them with an amazing degree of fatalism.   Instead of migrating to safer areas they simply accept the real possibility that at any time they'll be buried in rubble or mud, their lives and their children's lives snuffed out.   Is that going to become our coping mechanism too?  Is that the best we can do?   But wait, what about that census form?  We can't let the bastards get away with that.

Now go back and take another look at the 2060 drought map.  Just look at Latin and North America.   What you're seeing in the mauve to orange sectors are areas that will most likely become uninhabitable.   Now what do you think is going to happen to all the people in those densely populated regions?   Think they're going to lay down and die and become naturally mummified so we can examine them really carefully centuries from now?  Or do you think they're going to pack their things and migrate?  Look at the map.  If you lived in one of those dark red to mauve areas, where would you be headed?  Norte, amigo, norte.   We'll need really good census forms then, no?

The way I figure it, we have to start paying attention to this.  We have to figure out what's coming, how much of that we can prevent, and how we'll adapt to what we can't prevent.  That's a challenge on a scale beyond anything we've dealt with, even war.   The longer we put it off, the bigger the challenge, the harder the fixes.   But there's only one group that can really harness the resources and the people of the country to meet this challenge and that's our political leadership.   We give them the reins of power specifically to deal with this sort of thing.   Their first responsibility is our welfare, protecting our future, not how to ramp up the production of bitumen or bitch-slapping each other over gun registries and census forms.

That's their fundamental responsibility, their key priority, but, judging by their behaviour, they don't get it.   They're barricaded in their cabins guzzling the pusser rum.   And why not?   They won't make it their priority until you do.   You have to show them that it's your priority.   You have to show them that it's time to put down the bottles and sober up.   Put away their infantile fantasies of great windfall riches, stop the delusional thinking.  We're all screwed if they don't.


LMA said...

So how come, MoS, you live out there along the west coast of B.C. on top of an earthquake fault line? Probably because there is no place on earth that is truly "safe" from the mighty forces of nature, so a little denial, delusional thinking and fatalism sometimes helps us cope with the inevitability of our demise.

I'm not suggesting that we should make matters worse by tempting fate. There is no excuse for us to continue to burn fossil fuels, or to pollute the earth when we know we are destroying the very ecosystems that have given us life however brief it may be. We should all be screaming bloody murder about the way humans are destroying the environment and biodiversity that it took nature 400 million years to create.

The Mound of Sound said...

Believe it or not, LMA, I have taken the "Big One" into account. I live on the tsunami sheltered or lee side of the island. My home is perched atop a granite plateau about 80 feet above sea level. The bungalow is built to the latest earthquake standards so it should be able to survive an immense amount of shaking. There are just a few pieces of furniture that would even be capable of falling over. I have laid in a goodly supply of earthquake supplies - food, medicine, bandages, water, batteries, hand tools etc. I am not one for fatalism.

So many of my neighbours, however, do have the Andean disease. They see themselves as powerless to affect any outcome so they conform to a standard of resignation. Yet if we understood that our strength lies in our collective power to demand change, action, then it would be ours for the asking. It is when we sit mute and resigned that our political leadership can safely become indifferent to our needs and actually pursue things like the Tar Sands.

LMA said...

I guess we all make our own risk/reward assessments. Hope you never get the chance to test the strength of your little fortress. Me, I wouldn't live on an earthquake fault line under any circumstances, nor on the side of a volcano as some do, but I happily lived on the edge of an eroding cliff on the north shore of Lake Erie for many years. Probably was in denial, delusional, or even fatalistic, but it sure was worth it.

As you've said many times MoS, the thing about climate change is that our denial and apathy has global consequences. It's one thing for us to decide as a nation to develop the Tar Sands for profit, but the GHG's we pump into the atmosphere will have world wide consequences. That's just plain wrong.