Sunday, May 12, 2013
On the Cusp of Mankind's Century of Mass Migration
There's nothing magical in reaching a record 400 ppm concentration of atmospheric CO2 but it's not symbolic either. It's a benchmark of how far we've come and where we're headed. It allows us to examine the changes in our environment, to our biosphere, for example that have occurred since we hit the 350 mark or the 300 mark that existed in our pre-industrial days. It also allows us to get a reasonably good idea of what is coming in the near future as greenhouse gas accumulations rapidly increase.
The near future is what occupies the minds at the London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute. Now brace yourself because the future they foresee is not even close to what you're going to hear about from your own leadership, government or opposition. From The Guardian:
Massive movements of people are likely to occur over the rest of the century because global temperatures are likely to rise to by up to 5C because carbon dioxide levels have risen unabated for 50 years, said Stern, who is head of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.
"When temperatures rise to that level, we will have disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts," he said. "Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth."
The news that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached 400ppm has been seized on by experts because that level brings the world close to the point where it becomes inevitable that it will experience a catastrophic rise in temperatures. Scientists have warned for decades of the danger of allowing industrial outputs of carbon dioxide to rise unchecked.
Instead, these outputs have accelerated. In the 1960s, carbon dioxide levels rose at a rate of 0.7ppm a year. Today, they rise at 2.1ppm, as more nations become industrialised and increase outputs from their factories and power plants. The last time the Earth's atmosphere had 400ppm carbon dioxide, the Arctic was ice-free and sea levels were 40 metres higher.
This is a deservedly stark warning. A few years ago Gwynne Dyer wrote Climate Wars in which he outlined military responses already in planning that mirror Lord Stern's warning. Dyer wrote of the Americans basically gunning down climate refugees fleeing out of Central America because the U.S. will have no other choice save to be overrun. By that time, he points out, the United States will already be struggling to cope with tens of millions of internally displaced Americans driven from the coasts by sea level rise, severe weather events, storm surges and salination of freshwater supplies and out of the south by persistent drought and the collapse of groundwater resources.
When the U.S. arrives at this situation notions of a border between Canada and the U.S. will become somewhat irrelevant. It's the sort of thing we should be having an adult conversation about but that is seemingly taboo for Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats alike. Our political classes, it seems, would prefer to wait until talking and planning and action are too late.
Europe is already confronted by a major and growing climate refugee problem coming out of Africa and that's going to worsen. Indeed northern Europe is now beginning to see southern Europe as a potential migration challenge in the not distant future.
Oh well, it's not as though we haven't been warned, repeatedly, for years, even decades and the changes we're already seeing are confirming those warnings. Are we really going to support political leadership that would sooner just shove their heads (and our kids' future) into the sand?