Friday, September 27, 2013


Leaving no doubt; clear; unambiguous.   The latest IPCC report concludes that mankind's influence in driving climate change is beyond doubt, clear and unambiguous.   Anthropogenic global warming is here, it's here to stay and, unless we want a better future enough to change our ways, it's going to get a hell of a lot worse in our grandkids' future, our kids' future and even in our own.

For, you see, it's already having major impacts.   Those floods in Calgary, the floods in Toronto, the floods in Colorado, the floods in Europe and across Asia?   Welcome to the new normal.   The droughts in central and southern U.S., southern Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East?   Welcome to the new normal.

High Arctic Oil Rig
What did we expect?  We've already warmed the Arctic twice as much as anywhere else.   Did we think that wasn't going to matter?  We heated the Arctic ocean and the atmosphere above it.   A warmer atmosphere has more energy and it holds more water vapour.   You probably learned that in high school.

Polar Jet
And now that we've got this warmer, wetter and more energized atmosphere in the Arctic, we've unleashed a very powerful Polar Jet Stream that changes the way precipitation moves through the northern hemisphere.   Instead of the gently undulating ribbon of air currents that move steadily west to east - the sort that gave us such agricultural bounty - we now have these Rossby Waves that look like an oscilloscope cranked up, that go way up north and plunge way down south, and tend to stall as they move west to east.  They can plunge Venice into a deep freeze, turning the canals solid, or bring mid-90 degree temperatures to an Alaska village in early June.  That's serious stuff.   They can also park right over places like Calgary or Colorado where they dropped a year's worth of rain in a matter of days.   Meanwhile states near Colorado remain in the grip of drought.   Go figure.

There are a lot of places in Canada, heavily populated centres, where people can write it off and say, "well it's getting a little bit warmer, so what?"   Those are places where the impacts of climate change are more subtle or even obscured by the urban habitat.  Yet there are far more but much less populated places in our country where climate change is already much more obvious, the impacts inescapable.

One of the big giveaways is species migration.  In our hemisphere plants and animals have already begun the trek north.   Marine life is coming into the north Pacific that was formerly seen only to the south.   Imagine pelicans in Victoria.  Or Humboldt squid in their hundreds washing ashore on the beaches of Tofino.

Mosquito-borne Dengue fever is beginning to enter the United States.  Some of our old pests are finding global warming to their liking.  The Lodgepole or Mountain Pine beetle population no longer has to endure the massive winter kill-off, enabling it to multiply and destroy vast swathes of our forests and they've now crossed the Rockies into Alberta.

So, we're seeing all these things already and we're only just getting started with this global warming business.  It's been said countless times before but I'll say it again - even if we stopped our greenhouse gas emissions today, existing atmospheric carbon levels will ensure we continue to warm for at least a century.   So you can count on it being worse for your kids and your grandchildren.

One thing the IPCC hasn't touched on in much depth is mankind's resilience to climate change.   How much can we take - as individuals, as communities, as nations?   That's a really tough one to answer because every individual is different.   There's great disparities in our wealth, our resources and our circumstances that come into play in answering these questions.

England's New Normal

Climate change is going to be tough on everyone but it's going to be a real bitch on poor people.   Here's one example - flooding.  Canadians can't get flood insurance.  If water comes in through your doors or your windows, you're on your own - at least until the government arrives to bail you out.   In the U.S., where flooding is a chronic problem, the federal government operates an insurance programme but they just had to jack up premiums.  One lady used to pay $1,700 and will soon have to pay $15,000 a year.  That, she predicts, will drop the resale value of her house by half.  That's a pretty big hit, especially if you're not rich, if that's your main or sole asset.   That's an enormous hit if you're already struggling with a hefty mortgage.

Let's put it this way, a lot of people around the world are currently occupying very devalued homes even if they don't realize it.   Maybe the Bitumen Barons of Athabasca will help out.  Nah, forget it, they're mainly foreign companies.   Maybe Ottawa will use its bitumen bounty to extend flood relief into the future.   No, that money, if it exists at all, is long gone already.   Ditto for Alberta.

But we are really, really well off.   Canada, when it comes to these things, is rich.   It's the poor countries and the poor societies that populate them that are going to take it in the neck.

...average land and sea temperatures are expected to continue rising throughout this century, possibly reaching 4C above present levels – enough to devastate crops and make life in many cities unbearably hot.

As temperatures climb and oceans warm, tropical and subtropical regions will face sharp changes in annual rainfall...

East Africa can expect to experience increased short rains, while west Africa should expect heavier monsoons. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones; elsewhere in southern Asia, heavier summer rains are anticipated. Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but the coastal regions around the south China Sea and Gulf of Thailand can expect increased rainfall extremes when cyclones hit land.

Okay, sucks to be them eh?  But it also sucks to be Australian where the people have just elected the denialist government of Tony Abbott. 

Tony Abbott's Australia

Australia is expected to experience a 6C average temperature rise on its hottest days and lose many reptile, bird and mammal species as well as the renowned wetlands of Kakadu by the end of the century..

IPCC figures show that Australia will experience an average overall increase of 2C by 2065, with that figure slightly lower at the coast. Beyond that, the temperature is expected to rise another 3C-4C by 2100.  

Rainfall patterns are set to change, with annual precipitation, humidity and cloud cover predicted to decrease over most of Australia. But for north Australia and many agricultural areas, rainfall is predicted to get heavier. Soil moisture will decrease, mostly in the south of the country.

In Australia, an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves is expected to lead to more heat-related deaths, while warmer temperatures, changing rainfall and an influx of pests will "negatively impact" many temperate crops, such as fruit and nuts.

Yet we magnify our risks if we consider AGW climate change in isolation.   It's a huge, multi-faceted problem that poses a host of challenges yet it is compounded and in turn magnifies a variety of other pressing problems that we're also going to have to confront with our sapped strength.  We have to factor in challenges such as deforestation and desertification (the exhaustion of farmland and its transformation into sterile desert); resource depletion and exhaustion, particularly global groundwater reserves and global fisheries; overpopulation and population migration; and a host of gathering security problems including food insecurity, inequality, resource wars, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.   That list is by no means exhaustive nor does it play much role in the IPCC warnings.   Yet if we're to avoid becoming a civilization of Easter Islanders, we have no choice but to deal with global warming and all of these associated problems.

Here's the thing.   If we can't rally to act effectively on climate change our chances of being able to confront all these other challenges on our own terms are slim to nil.  That, too, is unequivocal.


crf said...

Keep an open mind. Abbott is an idiot on Climate change, amongst other things. But Vaclav Klaus was also an idiot about climate change (but a pretty smart guy otherwise), and the Czech emissions per capita declined during his time:

czech emissions.

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris, I'm always prepared to be surprised but Abbott seems to be rushing to dismantle his country's entire climate change apparatus.