Sunday, April 29, 2007

Proof of Threat

In kidnapping/ransom situations, those negotiating for the release of the hostage will often demand proof of life - some undeniable evidence that the person who being held is still alive. Without that proof, the ransom may be paid for no good reason - the hostage is already dead.

Climate Frog demands proof of threat - convincing evidence of an urgent need to take immediate action to offset damage that is already occuring or that is sure to come. The keyword here is urgency.

One current so-called "green" activity is the movement to use carbon offsets as a way to reduce overall carbon emmissions around the world. An article in the New York Times (registration required) explains the controversy around this practice and why it doesn't exhibit the Climate Froginess required to serve as an example here.

Under the carbon offset program (of which there are many, with varying standards), an airline might allocate a certain amount of its revenues to purchasing "credits" that would pay for some activity (planting trees) that would absorb the amount of carbon being emmitted by its jet engines over a period of time. The carbon would still be pumped into the atmosphere, but at least some action would be taken to deal with that fact. This, to me, seems like the anti-urgent path to carbon responsibility. How long will it take for those tree seedlings to grow to a size where they could actually absorb the carbon from a year's flights?

In Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green? by Andrew Revkin we learn just how controversial carbon offsetting has become in the environmental community.

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”

“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.

Proponents of carbon offsets say that it's better than nothing - that it's the only way that most carbon-produding corporations with shareholders can justify environmental responsibility. I don't buy it. As Auburn Professor Michael Solomon tells the article's author,

“Consumers are always going to gravitate toward a more parsimonious solution that requires less behavioral change,” he said. “We know that new products or ideas are more likely to be adopted if they don’t require us to alter our routines very much.”

In Climate Frog's world, carbon offsets would be like persuading the frog that he can stay longer in the heating water because someone somewhere is making a deal that will eventually slow the gas flow to the burner beneath the pot.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"The Cost of Holding Back the Sea" - EPA, 1991

The Environmental Protection Agency responded to the threat of global sea level rise in 1991 with an analysis of the costs of protecting vulnerable coast-side communities, wetlands, properties and facilities. The report, titled Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise: The Cost of Holding Back the Sea. This report demonstrates that the EPA fully recognized the threats of global warming when George H. W. Bush was still in office. It's full of interesting statistics, charts, tables and drawings. The techniques and technologies it describes haven't changed much in the past 16 years...

Possible responses fall broadly into three categories: erecting walls to hold back the sea; allowing the sea to advance and adapting to it; and raising the land
...though the value of the dollar and the value of property located in coastal areas have certainly changed a lot. The total cost the report projects ($270-475 billion) looks laughably small today. Probably, current satellite mapping allows for a much more accurate assessment today.

From the abstract of the report we get some impressive numbers, which may still hold fairly accurate if corrected for the amount of coastal development that's happened since 1991. (Think of how much dot com money must have gone into building homes on the coastline):
We estimate that if no measures are taken to hold back the sea, a one meter rise in sea level would inundate 14,000 square miles, with wet and dry land each accounting for about half the loss. The 1500 square kilometers (600-700 square miles) of densely developed coastal lowlands could be protected for approximately one to two thousand dollars per year for a typical coastal lot. Given high coastal property values, holding back the sea would probably be cost-effective.

The authors offer some cautions for implementation and the ultimate solution:
The environmental consequences of doing so, however, may not be acceptable. Although the most common engineering solution for protecting the ocean coast• pumping sand• would allow us to keep our beaches, levees and bulkheads along sheltered waters would gradually eliminate most of the nation's wetland shorelines. To ensure the long-term survival of coastal wetlands, federal and state environmental agencies should begin to lay the groundwork for a gradual abandonment of coastal lowlands as sea level rises.
I'll be looking around to see if there's a more up-to-date assessment by the EPA, but in the meanwhile, this report serves as a good overview and intro to the challenge that we face in dealing with even minimal sea level rise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Melting Ice. Can we afford to take our time?

Thanks to the excellentClimate Progress blog for calling my attention to the following.

Though it's not by any means the only serious impact of climate change, rising sea levels are probably the impact most directly linked to that change. Only the most hardened skeptic would refuse to connect global warming with melting ice caps. And only a boob would refuse to admit that those melting ice caps contribute to rising seas and the damage they will cause to human habitation.

Scientists have been following the freezing and thawing of the Arctic ice and lately it's been bothering them a lot because of the seemingly accelerated pace of thawing and the shrinking size of the winter freeze. Until recently, most scientists felt comfortable with a forecast that the ice cap would exist at least until 2040, but doubts have arisen and more money is now being allocated for deeper study.

From now until March 2009, as part of the International Polar Year, 63 nations will funnel $1.7 billion into polar research, aiming to determine which changes in the frozen landscape are natural, which are man-made and which, if any, are preventable. "There's been a rallying cry," says Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado. "We have to figure out how to tell policymakers, and the public, where and when to expect a big change."

So far, the studies don't look good. In mid-March, the journal Science devoted a section to the polar regions that was uniformly depressing: lower latitudes pollute pristine pole, read one headline. Another paper warned that Greenland and Antarctica are shedding 125 gigatons of ice per year, and though the southern continent has picked up some new ice from increased snowfall, it's not enough.
Hopefully, some of that $1.7B will help get scientists the equipment they need to keep up with the changes that are so swiftly happening. Compared to spending for, oh let's say the military, expenditures on the tools for measuring and forecasting worldwide flooding is pitifully small.
Despite the publicity around the IPY, scientists still have limited access to the technology they need. The U.S. Arctic Research Commission recently published a wish list of monitoring equipment, topped by icebreakers (America rents some ships from Russia and Sweden), a better sensor network of buoys and river gauges, and satellites.
And here's a boondoggle: the US did not contribute funding to the launch of the radarsat-2 satellite that will be necessary to analyze the changes in the ice cap in the coming years, and as one scientist claims, he's "not aware that any federal agency has a budget to buy" its data after 2009.

Why do I get the feeling that governments are gonna screw things up again?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Climate Frogs in your own backyard

I live in Marin County, California. Though it's rarely referred to as a peninsula, it could claim that description, with the Pacific Ocean defining its western boundary, the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays defining its eastern boundary and the Golden Gate Bridge crowning its southern end. Western Marin is separated from the rest of the county by a spine of coastal hills and Mt. Tamalpais. Much of the county has been preserved as park land, open space and agricultural trusts, and most of that land makes up West Marin. There is little land there for development and its population is very small. But most of that limited development is either vulnerable to sea level rise or on land that is vulnerable to landslides or forest fires - the byproducts of weather extremes.

East Marin is much more populous, but its residential and business areas are likewise vulnerable to climate change. I've begun to research county planning to find evidence that, in this region of above average education and income, some forward-thinking precautions are being taken. Slides and fires are perennial threats everywhere in California, and all residents have been informed for years about best practices to reduce risk from these threats. But sea level rise has been all but ignored. In fact, this past March marked the first time that the problem has been brought up for public discussion.

March 2007
Hearings before the Planning Commission on the Marin Countywide Plan are currently taking place. The Commission has recommended that the Baylands Corridor be expanded to protect a larger portion of the interior coast. Using Bay Conservation and Development Commission maps on potential sea-level rise, the Commission has recommended removing high-density development potential from areas subject to future oceanic flooding.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

One quarter of humans vulnerable to sea surge

Just to put a rough number on the portion of humanity that might decide to move to higher ground (or build some pretty damn impressive sea walls), a new report from a team at the U.S. Geological Survey reveals that

More than 1 billion people live in low-lying areas where a sudden surge in sea level could prove as disastrous as the 2004 Asian tsunami

Add to that the number of people living less than 100 feet above current sea levels and you get a quarter of the world's population.

But just to provide some perspective to Americans, the article ends with this tidbit from Usery:
A 30-meter surge in Florida would leave the whole state covered except for a little plateau area.
Does this mean that we can expect sea surges and/or tsunamis that rise up to 100 feet? Well, sort of...
The team also found that a 100-foot (30-meter) rise in sea level would cover 3.7 million square miles of land worldwide. A rise of just 16 feet would affect 669 million people and 2 million square miles of land would be lost.

Sea levels are currently rising about 0.04 to 0.08 inches (1 to 2 millimeters) each year, making it unlikely such a scenario would suddenly occur across the globe, Usery [E. Lynn Usery, who led the team] said.

But he said 10,000 years ago sea levels rose 20 meters in 500 years -- a relatively short span -- after the collapse of the continental ice sheets.

"It can happen in a short period of time if we look at the historical data," Usery said.
Using a 500-year example is probably not going to motivate many people at the 50-plus elevation to move. But that billion who are within range of a good-sized tsunami (admittedly not a climate-related event, but becoming more of one as sea levels rise) should seriously be considering a change of scene. The problem for the vast majority of these people is that their livelihoods depend on being at sea level.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"I want to move out. I can't take it after this one"

How many Americans will put up with radically different and damaging weather? How many will pick up and move to what they hope will be safer and more habitable locations?

Lost in all the scientific predictions of major impacts of climate change is the potential of massive relocations based on individual decisions to abandon specific locations that are vulnerable to impacts like flooding and other weather-caused damage. You won't find northern New Jersey near the top of the list of climate change-affected locations, but wherever you find hundred-year floods occuring more than twice in a decade you're likely to find flood victims throwing in the towel and moving out.

The current nor'easter that has settled over most of the northeast U.S. has dumped record amounts of wind-driven rain on New Jersey, prompting one resident to state his frustrations to a CNN reporter:

The Raritan River was more than 10 feet above flood stage in Bound Brook late Monday and was not expected to return to below flood stage before Tuesday afternoon.

The river overran Route 18 in New Brunswick, forcing Rutgers University to cancel Tuesday classes at its New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses.

Dale Johnson said he and his girlfriend fled their second-story apartment through swirling, waist-deep water. They sought shelter at the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook, where more than 100 cots were set up.

"I want to move out. I can't take it after this one," said Johnson, 48, noting that it was his third evacuation. The community also was hard hit by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

And in an article by San Francisco Chronicle environmental writer Jane Kay, the prospects of unhealthy weather changes are considered. If your local weather becomes a constant threat to your health, will you try to adapt to it or will you move to a healthier climate? Will only those who can afford to adapt stay? Or will the adapters consist only of those too poor to relocate?
Higher temperatures over the coming decades are expected to cause more smoggy days and heat waves, contributing to a greater number of illnesses and deaths in the United States, according to international climate scientists.

Severe heat waves -- characterized by stagnant masses of warm air and consecutive nights with high minimum temperatures -- will intensify in the United States and Canada, according to the data on North America released Monday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Southern California, the Southwest and the upper Midwest are already experiencing drought. Late in the century, in Los Angeles, the number of heat wave days is projected to increase from 12 days a year to between 44 and 95 days, the report said. The number of heat wave days in Chicago is expected to increase by 25 percent.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

U.S. Military getting on board?

The WaPo today reports, in Military Sharpens Focus on Climate Change, that 11 senior generals are releasing a report admitting that

global warming "presents significant national security challenges to the United States," which it must address or face serious consequences.
It seems that, based on their study, the military should be highly motivated to support any preventative or mitigating activities related to climate change because they recognize that threats to stability are likely to resolve into threats to the U.S. Drought in poor countries could be expected to "drive a flood of migrants to richer countries."
"Many developing nations do not have the government and social infrastructures in place to cope with the type of stressors that could be brought about by global climate change," the report states. "When a government can no longer deliver services to its people, ensure domestic order, and protect the nation's borders from invasion, conditions are ripe for turmoil, extremism and terrorism to fill the vacuum."
CNN's account of the report includes this quote by General Anthony Zinni:
"We will pay for this one way or another," writes Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command. "We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we'll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll."
Stanford scientist Terry Root, a co-author of the report agreed, in this somewhat awkward statement, that the water-based instability was sure to come eventually.
"We're going to have a war over water," Root said. "There's just not going to be enough water around for us to have for us to need to live with and to provide for the natural environment."

Santa Cruz looks ahead

Santa Cruz, California, located on the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Monterey, is known for its local political activism. It's probably one of the most progressive localities anywhere, so it should come as no surprise that it's ahead of the curve in preparing for a rising sea level.

In this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, we learn some helpful stuff for climate frogs. For instance, someone has been surveying cities and their governments to find evidence of climate impact preparation.

"People are worried, there's a readiness to take action, but hardly anything is being done," said Susanne Moser, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who surveyed 300 planners, public works engineers and other officials from city and county governments.
Santa Cruz is rare, but is not alone as a California city planning mitigation projects. The article points to Sonoma, Berkeley and San Luis Obispo as other cities with global warming plans. But planning is only in its earliest stages, with little practical traction yet.

Those surveyed said it's tough to act due to lack of money and other obligations.

"It's not that they need better information," Moser said, "it's that few have time to think about it. There's too much else on their plate"

And we learn about other bureaucratic obstacles to planning and implementation.

Complicating the problem is that responsibility for coastal management — protecting homes, providing water, preserving natural habitat — is spread over multiple state agencies, state commissions and local governments.

Moser's survey has prompted the writing of new legislation in California to create mandated planning across the state.

Legislation proposed by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, would force cities to better prepare for impacts associated with climate change, such as sea-level rise, by revising local plans and seeking state funding for communities to understand, mitigate and adapt to climate change.

"We're learning quickly how important it is to expand the climate-change discussion to include preparing for future impacts, while also working today to reduce consumption that results in global warming," Laird said in a statement.

It's interesting to note that Santa Cruz is planning for what some consider to be worst-case scenarios - the melting of icecaps on both Greenland and Antarctica.

Most of Santa Cruz will be submerged if Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets calve or melt entirely, a scenario that climate scientists say will play out in anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years if current trends continue.

Mission Street would be the shoreline if glacial melt follows even the more
conservative projections of some researchers, causing sea levels to rise 70 feet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's called "displacement"

Ghoramara is a delta island in India, one of thousands of similar islands called the Sundarbans. It sits at the merging of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal, and like countless other sea-level chunks of land, it is either sinking or being flooded or both at the same time. Since 1969, Ghoramara has lost half of its acreage to the sea.

On the leading edge of climate change vulnerability, the local government has been taking action by displacing the farming and fishing families whose land is disappearing from beneath their feet. In this NY Times story (registration required), we learn:

Hundreds of families have already been forced into a displaced people’s camp on Sagar, a neighboring island, which itself has shrunk by one and a half square miles in the last five years, according to the Jadavpur University study.
It's not like they've got the displacement process figured out. And so far, we're just talking about the effects of what may be "early" climate change, where sea level rise has been slow, large storms still rare.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The IPCC has hit the fan

As expected, the reaction to the release of the report on "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability" ranged from the responsible scientific to the politically expedient. The wording had been modified over the past few days to soothe the fears of those (like the U.S. and China) who feared that people would become so alarmed as to curtail the means of production and wealth generation. We are being told by the more purely scientific sources that the language of the release was watered down.

Nevertheless, the warnings do come across strongly and nations ignore them at their peril. We'll be visiting the particulars of the report over the next few days. There's more press about climate change this week than I've ever seen in such a short period of time. For a while, at least, we can expect to feel the affects of such concentrated attention. But again, we'll be looking for evidence of actual action toward mitigation, not just concern and hand-wringing.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Why this blog focuses on action

I'm convinced that climate change is happening now and will have impacts that force us humans to take action to save our asses. Those actions must be brought into focus as they are taken so that (1) they emphasize the in-your-face reality of the impact and (2) others can learn from the vanguard - the early jumpers - how to organize, plan and collaborate effectively in their own locations.

As much as they are needed, I choose not to report much on efforts to slow climate change or convince people that it's important because I have no patience with silly arguments. In Climate Frog's world, definitive action is the only real news.

IPCC plays the poor role model

For an example of how public servants invent ways to waste time, look at the IPCC itself, on the eve of releasing its highly anticipated second report on climate change. With global motivation at stake, the IPCC has allowed itself to get hung up on language and semantics. Just swell, people. Way to go.

"There is wrangling happening," said Hans Verolme, director of the global climate change programme at WWF, an environmental group that is an observer to the meeting.

"There are some who are questioning the scientific basis ... of some of the summary statements, which is leading the authors to have to go back to the underlying document." The U.N. panel's report is the most authoritative study since 2001 on the regional impact of climate change. Verolme said the fact world leaders would read the report's summary had added pressure for consensus on the wording.

"There is discussion whether something is 'likely' or 'very likely', and my sense is that is because people are aware here that heads of state are paying attention," he said.

"If the text says this is very likely, the response (from governments) has to be very significant."
As Washington Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin explains it:
The draft report makes distinctions between changes it considered significant with "high confidence" -- at least 80 percent certainty -- and those to which it assigned "very high confidence," which means 90 percent certainty. While it says with "very high confidence" that earlier bird migrations and a shift of species toward the poles are results of warmer temperatures, it said satellite data gave it only "high confidence" that "there has been a trend in many regions towards earlier greening of vegetation in the spring and increased net primary production linked to longer growing seasons and increasing atmospheric CO2concentrations."

It's interesting to me that no one previewing the report has mentioned the impacts of dislocation - the social and economic forces that climate change will unleash, even where direct threats to health and life are not present. The secondary and tertiary impacts of disasters and catastrophic breakdowns in already vulnerable places are likely to be more a punch to humanity's gut than the relatively straightforward effects of drought and flood. But maybe that would be considered too alarmist by the least this year.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Scrambling for Agua

The American West has been reading the drought tea leaves for long enough. Its residents can no longer dismiss this trend as a normal cyclical fluctuation in precip. The reservoirs and water tables are not being replenished to make up for the dry years and the upper Colorado River basin pictured here is being asked to provide for more needs than it can keep up with. From now on, every year may just be a "drier than normal" year, and with millions of residents having been added to the region in recent years, it's time to get creative.

In the article An Arid West No Longer Waits for Rain (registration required), NY Times reporters Randal C. Archibald and Kirk Johnson describe some of the projects either newly under way or revived from previous abandonment - some $2.5 billion dollars worth of pipelines, reservoirs and desalination plants.

According to some long-term projections, the mountain snows that feed the Colorado River will melt faster and evaporate in greater amounts with rising global temperatures, providing stress to the waterway even without drought. This year, the spring runoff is expected to be about half its long-term average. In only one year of the last seven, 2005, has the runoff been above average.

Everywhere in the West, along the Colorado and other rivers, as officials search for water to fill current and future needs, tempers are flaring among competing water users, old rivalries are hardening and some states are waging legal fights.
The tug of war over Colorado River water is intensifying as more experts project that it my rarely - if ever - return to the reliable source it once was. Seven states have historically depended on some portion of that water, and as it provides less, each of these states require more for growing needs and environmental purposes.

The source of the satellite photo above - the National Climatic Data Center - noted that, as of a May 2006 study, "The Lees Ferry reconstruction suggests a higher long-term mean than previous reconstructions but strongly supports earlier findings that Colorado River allocations were based on one of the wettest periods in the past 5 centuries and that droughts more severe than any 20th to 21st century event occurred in the past." The implication being that drought may prove to be more normal than the water supplies used as the baseline for distributing the Colorado's water. Oops!

So even under the best of supply scenarios, the exploding population belt in the mountain and sun belts of the West is putting stress on water resources. Utah and Nevada are in the courts, challenging each other's water rights. Water rights lawyers can look forward to full employment.

Ultimately - with climate change and population growth forcing the issues - compromise will end up being the only course to take. California set an example recently for how cities and farmers may have to deal with limitations.
An agreement reached a few years ago between farmers and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the chief supplier of water to that region, is one model. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers would let their fields lie fallow and send water to urban areas in exchange for money to cover the crop losses.

The Supremes allow EPA to Do Something About It

Climate Progress provides a good explanation of the impact the recent Supreme Court ruling will have on states that want to limit auto emmissions.

How does this translate into action? Well, it doesn’t necessarily. It means that states wanting automobile emission standards more strict than those set by the federal government are allowed to pursue them. So it removes an obstacle. They have to receive a waiver from the EPA, but are now more likely to be granted one. States do not have to act, but ones that want to, will (and have).
The ruling removes one roadblock from localities using the EPA to support their own determinations of how their environments can be better protected. As Climate Progress puts it, "Slowly but surely, the climate is finally manuveuring its way through Washington, DC."

Can people be scared out of taking action?

In anticipation of the April 6 release of the IPCC report about the regional impacts of climate change, a Reuters article released today, Global warming happens: but is it "catastrophic"?, begins with this:

OSLO (Reuters) - Likely headlines predicting a global warming "catastrophe", "disaster" or "cataclysm" after a U.N. report due on Friday risk sapping public willingness to act by making the problem seem too big to tackle, some experts say.
Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, is on of those "some experts," and he cites the tendency for journalists and politicians to instill dread by predicting doomsday and then six weeks later describe the fear they created as "hysteria."

A climate frog needs to feel motivated to act. A climate frog needs hope that doing something will make a positive difference in the outcome. But a climate frog also needs to understand the stakes in order to understand the dire need for action and intentional adaptation. If one recognizes a potential outcome as "catastrophic," it shouldn't feel like overreaching to use that term.
"It is legitimate to use those words in specific scenarios," he [Steiner] told Reuters. "But does that mean that the whole climate change debate should be about doom and gloom? No, because we are finding that we can do something about it."
Sometimes - perhaps most of the time - that "something" will prove to be disruptive, painful, expensive, difficult...lot of other negatives. It's hard to frame all of the adaptive and mitigating necessities in an attractive way. Nature can be a terrible master, and the prospect of forced migration will never be framed as an "adventure in human adaptation."

So, no, appropriate action won't be pleasant for most people, but giving up and doing nothing is not an option. The sooner you can recognize the impact of climate change on your local situation, the sooner you can decide what to do about it. Meanwhile, burn less carbon always.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Ski Bummers

The vanguard victims of climate change - the most vulnerable to current conditions - include mountain populations that depend on cold and snowy winters. In the Sierra Nevada, Cascades and Rocky Mountains, winters have been getting less cold with less snow. The ski and snowboard industries are not optimistic. As these aerial shots of a dry winter (top) and a normal winter (bottom) show, the writing is plainly on the wall. But it's not just the winter recreation that will suffer. The reduction in snowfall and rainfall and the shrinking of glaciers will affect water-based recreation during the warmer months, too. And that's not to mention the overall reduction in water supply for a fast-growing population.

The US Global Change Research Program (yes, such a program does exist, supported by our tax dollars) is conducting a US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (whew!), and its Regional Paper: Rocky Mountain/Great Basin Region describes the likely impacts on a climatic region that has been developing steadily for the past century.

Warming conditions ... hold the potential to trigger avalanche conditions that are a risk to skiers, boarders, and hikers and would hasten the retreat of glaciers, a process that has already begun. For example, the area covered by glaciers in Glacier National Park has declined by 70% from the area occupied at Park establishment in the early 1900s. At present warming and recession rates, all glaciers in the Park are expected to disappear over the next 30 years.
But it's really the threat to the winter sports businesses that looms most darkly over the Rockies. There's the hope that shorter winters and longer warm seasons will open up more business opportunities for mountain biking and backpacking, but no one can believe that these activities will replace the revenue that comes from winter lodging, eating, shopping and lift passes.
Also impacted by the effects of climate change on the ski industry would be the many support industries that derive revenue from skiing. Ski equipment and clothing manufacturers and retailers, travel agencies, resort hotels, and local restaurants could all face economic challenges should the RMGB ski industry be compromised. Impacts on property values would also be in this same category. Many of the ski areas that are associated with significant amounts of private land (many areas are built only on national forests) are the locations of major, up-scale, real estate development. Vail and Aspen in Colorado, Deer Valley and Park City in Utah, Sun Valley, Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming are prime examples. Lots and homes are routinely valued in millions of dollars. Ski-area officials are in wide agreement that these property values would plummet if skiing were to disappear, even with allowances for continued use for summer recreational activities.
In its report, the Global Change Research Program does recommend some actions to mitigate damage from climate change, but it's meager recompense.
  • Inform anyone thinking of opening new facilities that it's a bad bet.
  • Develop other activities for visitors to enjoy during warmer winters.
  • And support and facilitate water conservation, because if the water supply disappears, nothing else will work to support existing mountain communities
After a few more warm winters, we'll see how much difference these ideas will make in the lives of Rocky mountain residents.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

"Catastrophes are not democratic"

As we get closer to the release of the IPCC report and some of its findings are leaking out, we find - not surprisingly - that richer countries, who contribute unproportionately to greenhouse gases, are spending increasing amounts of money on mitigating the effects of climate change within their borders, and skimping on support to help poor countries mitigate their local risk.

This NY Times article (registration required) tells us that

...Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies...
Not much justice in those figures.
“Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic,” said Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.”
Africa Takes the Brunt

One of the effects of climate change that's becoming clear even now is that precipitation is increasing toward the poles and decreasing at the equator. Crop yields my increase tremendously in Canada while central Africa suffers drought spreading to areas that are currently covered in jungle. Water shortages in Africa and India won't be relieved by massive desalination plants as are being planned for Texas, California and Australia. Sea level areas like Bangladesh won't have the advantage of engineering design and construction that will help protect the European lowlands.

Technology as Defense

In terms of farming support, the term "resilience" is being used to decribe technologically-driven adaptation to deal with the risk of drought, including new genetic hybrids and new mechanized planting techniques. These kinds of benefits are not being delivered to poor countries who appear to be shit-out-o' luck.
Robert O. Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale focused on climate, said that in the face of warming, it might be necessary to abandon the longstanding notion that all places might someday feed themselves. Poor regions reliant on unpredictable rainfall, he said, should be encouraged to shift people out of farming and into urban areas and import their food from northern countries.
Worry Not for The Rich

Rich countries are just beginning to cop to the reality of the rising risk to their own. And like the upper crust passengers on the Titanic, they're looking to save themselves first. Hopefully, once they (we) feel satisfied that risks have been mitigated sufficiently, they will contribute money and expertise to saving the lives of the countless millions in poor countries. Not that I'd bet on this happening. Like the rich Titanic passengers, wealthy governments may not want to endanger their own safety by letting more people into the lifeboats. It's up to those of us with a conscience to change such attitudes.