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Thursday, November 1, 2007

We Fought a War on Climate Change and Climate Change Won

posted by on November 1 at 17:00 PM


It’s done. We’ve made our half-hearted efforts; they failed. The climate is fucked. If we don’t start preparing now, we’re fucked too.

Not convinced? Let’s read the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report together, shall we? “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” [PDF] should be a good place to start. Section ‘B’ makes nice, comforting, reading. Let’s just focus on things likely to affect Western Washington:

Based on growing evidence, there is high confidence that the following effects on hydrological systems are occurring:
* increased runoff and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers [1.3];
* warming of lakes and rivers in many regions, with effects on thermal structure and water quality [1.3].

…recent warming is strongly affecting terrestrial biological systems, including such changes as:
* earlier timing of spring events, such as leaf-unfolding, bird migration and egg-laying [1.3];
* poleward and upward shifts in ranges in plant and animal species [1.3, 8.2, 14.2].

…observed changes in marine and freshwater biological systems are associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation [1.3]. These include:
• shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance in high-latitude oceans[1.3];
• increases in algal and zooplankton abundance in high-latitude and high-altitude lakes [1.3];
range changes and earlier migrations of fish in rivers [1.3].

…The uptake of anthropogenic carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic, with an average decrease in pH of 0.1 units [IPCC Working Group I Fourth Assessment]. However, the effects of observed ocean acidification on the marine biosphere are as yet undocumented [1.3].

(Emphasis added.)
“Are occurring.” These aren’t speculative, possible consequences. These are happening now. What will the world be like in ten, twenty or fifty years? Fucked.

Why not listen to the climatologists? By a few good mathematical estimates, there is about a 1/5 chance that current atmospheric carbon levels “will result in dangerous interference to climate system.” The most aggressive proposals, involving so far impossible to muster levels of cooperation and sacrifice, have the goal of merely doubling the pre-industrial carbon level in the atmosphere—estimated to have a 50:50 chance of still resulting in massive damage to the global climate. Fucked.

The Kyoto Accord, the most successful agreement thus far, merely attempts to hold us to 1990’s levels of emissions. It omits the largest areas of growth in emissions (in the developing world, particularly India and China.) To top it off, even the most progressive of countries are failing to meet these modest goals. Fucked.

What about the developing world? China—the fastest growing economy in the world, the one virtually certain to overtake ours in the coming decades—is almost exclusively fueled with the dirtiest coal-fueled power plants imaginable. This is a country that cannot prevent deadly infant formula from being distributed, keep antifreeze out of toothpaste, or keep lead out of children’s toys. What are the odds of a strongly enforced and highly effective carbon tax or cap being implemented? Fucked.

What will climate change do to us? What should we be doing now to prepare? Damn good questions to ask. Rather than endlessly debating if climate change exists, or how to prevent it, we should start thinking and talking now about what we need to do. Changing building codes, securing water supplies, preparing public health measures, building buffering infrastructure are all good places to start. Let’s avoid the trap we’ve fallen into with the Iraq war, of endlessly autopsy of past failures rather than dealing with the problems of the present. By being ready, through good local policy, we can avoid panicked responses later, and even create a competitive advantage for ourselves.

My first step: I’m buying some rum.

RSS icon Comments


First thing I'm going to do, is vote for my light rail.

Posted by Greg | November 1, 2007 5:16 PM

Good post! Not the content, obviously, coz of the scary apocalypticness of it...but it is good to post it.

Did anyone else have 50 Simple things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth when they were young? I remember reading it over and over again - I loved it; I loved knowing that I could make a difference by fixing drippy sinks and sorting the recycling.

Everyone should read this book (most of it is on Google).,M1

Posted by brinsonian | November 1, 2007 5:26 PM

First thing I did I voted against RTID/ST2 since that makes it worse.

But, looking forward to my retirement years in sunny Canada.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 1, 2007 5:29 PM

I'm watching Ugly Betty. You totally took the fun out of it now. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Oh wait, it's back on!

Posted by Michigan Matt | November 1, 2007 5:30 PM

Yeah, so let's starve ourselves from the trasnit we need because of a possible 300,000 ton a year increase in emissions, while china bleches out an increased 850,000 tons each day!

Every single day china pollutes 850,000 tons more than the previous, and we should vote no on prop. 1 because we'll increase a grand total of 300,000 a year after 50 years?

Am I missing something?

Posted by Andrew | November 1, 2007 5:35 PM

The one that worries me is the acidity and reduced oxygen in the ocean. There's some really weird stuff going on in there, and no one really knows what it is yet, or what it all means. But it's not good. There's a possibility that the ability of the ocean to support life could change radically very soon -- radically, meaning, say, a 90% disappearance -- which would quickly lead to the starvation of a billion or so people, depending on how quickly they are able to convert their entire economy to growing toxic chicken instead.

Posted by Fnarf | November 1, 2007 5:36 PM

oh fuck that. i'm not denying that we need to do more to change the climate but a hugely pessimistic outlook isn't going to inspire anyone to change anything. people will just give up. you say we're fucked? you aren't helping.

Posted by molly | November 1, 2007 5:38 PM

Clearly, the ocean just needs some Tums.

Posted by tsm | November 1, 2007 5:40 PM

When I was studying global warming and its predicted effects a decade ago I wrote some papers, tried to tell my riends how bad things are going to get and convince people to vote, write their representatives and consume less. People laughed at me and told me I was pessimistic and that I had no faith in the ability of technology to solve the problems of humanity.

Things are going to be really really really really fucked. The rich are building compounds and the poor will soon be introduced to third world living conditions right here in the US of A. Skyrocketing fuel prices are just the beginning. Food prices are already seeing tremendous increases as ethanol and biofuel futures surge. We are completely fucked. After the oil wars, we will be fighting over water, as precipitation patterns shift, arable land will become the next source of conflict.

The urban archipelego is the only mechanism for mitigating the problems we face, but unfortunately we'll need regional and local leaders who are much more forward thinking than the ones we have now. We need mass transit yesterday, we don't need new roads. We need every new building in Seattle to incorporate rooftop gardens, grey water recycling, strict energy standards and we should institute incentive programs for upgrades to existing structures. Aside from driving, the biggest issue is consumption, stop buying so much crap people. How much of what you purchase each month comes in plastic packaging or was produced overseas? Buy local, by used or recycled products, reduce your carbon footprint. You know the drill. Do it.

Posted by morgan | November 1, 2007 5:49 PM

molly: From what I've seen, people don't do anything until they perceive a serious threat. Not the potential of a serious threat some day, but an actual impending threat. When people thought Hitler was going to take over the world if they didn't do something, they were willing to engage in conservation programs far more radical than any we've seen in our lifetime.

So maybe scaring the shit out of people is the only possibility for meaningful action.

Posted by flamingbanjo | November 1, 2007 5:51 PM

@ #6

Fnarf - The oceans are already seeing 40-60% declines for most fisheries, the plankton populations in the Pacific are crashing (ie base of the food chain). Eat your sushi while you can get it, we won't be able to afford fish not grown in test tubes in 20 years. Populations who depend on fishing are already feeling the crunch. The acid rain coming from China is completely altering the water chemistry off the coast, pollution from rivers is creating massive dead zones at the outflow of almost every major river worldwide. Its really really bad man.

Posted by morgan | November 1, 2007 5:57 PM

No me gusta world's end.

Posted by Amelia | November 1, 2007 6:36 PM

"the rich are building compounds" - Soon cities will be over run by CHUDS. Many already are.

Posted by mikeblanco | November 1, 2007 6:40 PM

Andrew @ 5....what you may be missing is that our silly little pissing match over prop 1, might well be the equivalent of fiddling while earth burns.

Notice I say may and might. But I've stayed out of the argument so far largely because I've come to believe it's utterly irrelevant. Doesn't matter one way or another. Opposing or supporting it on the basis of the possible impact on climate change is about as silly as you can get. It will NO EFFECT at all either way. We are too far gone.

Posted by gnossos | November 1, 2007 6:42 PM

argh... will *have* no effect...

Posted by gnossos | November 1, 2007 6:44 PM

So are you suggesting we should put the money into stocking liquor?

Posted by whatever | November 1, 2007 6:52 PM

#1, you are not voting for light rail. You are voting for light rail (which has no guarantee of being built) plus 150 miles of highway expansion and some $11 billion in funding for highway expansion (adding in what is needed for 520).

Vote no and they will come back with a better plan -- the same way light rail got approved the first time.

Voting yes = more highways = more global warming, CO2 and sprawl = less ice shelf = fewer polar bears.

"Green" Seattle?

How could you?

Posted by Polar Bears Against Prop. 1 | November 1, 2007 6:59 PM

Maybe they will come up with great drugs with schitzofrenics with no side effects ....

jking ...

The sad truth of the matter is that this is not really an issue if there weren't as many people here. But we are ALL here, and we all like our ipods, our computers, our transportation, the ability to traverse the globe, satelite TV.

We aren't giving up any of these anytime soon, and the rest of the world is going to want it ... ie China. We need more energy, we need more RENEWABLE energy. Innovative, renewable, energy ... We need research, we need some HARD engineering. And for the love of god tell the fucking religious wackos to STOP FUCKING BREEDING.

Posted by OR Matt | November 1, 2007 7:03 PM

It would seem that you should come out against P1 since it doesn't DO any of the things you suggest before the rum idea. If we are to do anything, we can't spend billions building things that don't start "changing building codes, securing water supplies, preparing public health measures, building buffering infrastructure."

Posted by whatever | November 1, 2007 7:05 PM

Dear Science,

Can you provide a brief explanation of why the majority of the global warming happening right now isn't simply the normal cycle of the earth, long-term?

I really want to know, but I don't really want to research it myself.

Posted by leek | November 1, 2007 8:32 PM

The phrase "global warming" is rather unfortunate, because it gives boobs like leek here the impression that it's just being a little warmer. Like going to Mexico, right?

But it's not. The changes in the oceans -- the acidity, the freakish deep upwellings -- are as far as we know unprecedented.

It's true, though: the earth doesn't give a shit. Time will continue whether there are people around to change their watch batteries or not. A hundred billion years from now, no one will be able to tell whether earthlings burned oil or not. How comforting.

Posted by Fnarf | November 1, 2007 8:37 PM

Funny. I think the latest from the Heritage Foundation is also that it's too late to do anything about it.

You're a clever young smart alec, but Al Gore is Al Gore, and I believe him more than I believe you. It is too late when Al Gore says it is too late, not a minute sooner.

Posted by elenchos | November 1, 2007 8:38 PM

One thing the County has done, that of course no one know about, is create a county wide flood control district. This will enable us to repair and maintain our levees to better deal with flooding from runoff and increased rain.

Things are being done, just not in a coordinated manner.

Posted by Giffy | November 1, 2007 8:45 PM

Wow, thanks, Fnarf. I guess it's easier to become a boob around here than I ever knew.

Posted by leek | November 1, 2007 9:05 PM

Also, I fail to see where I implied that the problem isn't serious or substantial--unless you're taking the fact that I don't want to research the entire thing myself when there are smarter people who've already done the work to equal "warming? But I *heart* the beach, so that's perfect!"


Posted by leek | November 1, 2007 9:07 PM

Leek, I thought it was a sincere question, but you must not have been paying attention to the debate at all for the past three years, because you asked it in the exact same manner some passive-aggressive idiot would ask it, because they think that proves their point that Global Warming is a myth.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | November 1, 2007 10:16 PM

@leek. I'm not sure I can summarize an answer to your question, but here is one piece: The rate of change, how quickly temperatures have been increasing, in some ways is even more important than the magnitude. So long as the change is slow enough, lifeforms can adapt. We've modified the climate more quickly than ever before.

Another piece: We've used up most of the buffering capacity in the system--the acidification of the ocean is a good hint at that. The weather is likely to become more extreme and less predicable--very bad things for human society.

@Fnarf. I dislike the term "global warming" as well. And the acidification of the ocean terrifies me. The sheer massiveness of a 0.1 change in pH in the ocean (it *is* a logarithmic scale and we're talking about a huge volume of water) is disquieting. And we've only started...

@elenchos. Give me my "Network" moment. You try reading the UN reports that have been coming out--not the summaries I've been linking to, but the full things--and keep some optimism. I'm all in favor of trying to do each of our individual best. At this point I just don't think that any great global effort will succeed in preventing destructive climate change fro occuring. Al Gore, and the scientists, deserved their Nobel for trying. If Nickels counts as visionary leader on this issue, I win.

Humanity could barely do something about the ozone hole, and the effort required there was tiny, the benefits clear. All I want is for us to start planning for the predicable concequences of failure on climate change. Practical, right?

Posted by Jonathan Golob | November 1, 2007 11:13 PM

I've already got my plan:

I'm going to have as much as I can in the next few years. I'm going to travel, enjoy casual sex, try some new drugs, spend some money, eat, drink(I guess I should enjoy some fish, eh?), and be merry.

Then, when everything goes to shit, I'm going to put a bullet in my head.

You enjoy your third world USofA.

Posted by mutter | November 2, 2007 12:00 AM

Giving up is a form of hubris. You do as well as you can with the hand you're dealt. (Sometimes it's lousy, sure, but compared to most we americans got a decent one, really) and you never know what'll turn up.

That said, I agree that there are some pretty amazing risks floating out there right now.

How bout we tie emissions caps into trade agreements?

And no, I'm not voting for soppy half-measures for awhile (that means *you* prop 1). I wanna see how fast folks start *appreciating* the train barrelling down the tracks at them and their kids.

We're entering uncharted waters. Nobody really knows what an internet-fueled population is going to do in respond to this sort of nightmare descending. Will be interesting to watch.

Posted by bakfiets | November 2, 2007 12:43 AM

@mutter: "I'm going to travel"

Just remember that every mile you file in an airplane produces as much GHG emissions as driving the same distance in a hummer.

Posted by Andrew | November 2, 2007 7:34 AM

SARS! Bird Flu! Drug resistant Super Bacteria!

Geologically speaking, climate change is nothing new. We survived the ice age, we'll survive this. Yes it will be a monumental pain in the ass, but it is not the end of the world.

Posted by Rotten666 | November 2, 2007 7:35 AM

@17: That's right. By voting for Prop. 1, I'm voting for light rail expansions to Northgate, Lynnwood, Bellevue, Overlake, and Tacoma, as well as highway improvements for the Eastside and south end, AND money for the much-needed 520 replacement. Wow. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

And as a bonus, I'll also get fewer whiny polar bears pretending to know shit about transportation planning. Shouldn't you save your energy for swimming, and your ire for China?

Posted by Greg | November 2, 2007 9:53 AM

30. Except that belies the point that at this point, it doesn't even matter. The chain of global warming events has begun and will happen regardless of what he does.

Posted by Gomez | November 2, 2007 10:26 AM

If global warming ends up 'controlling' the human population, which admittedly is growing out of control, then it will have done its job, and either the world's species will adapt or temperatures will normalize.

Yes, I realize we're talking the deaths of billions, but this is how the world has worked since the dawn of time.

Posted by Gomez | November 2, 2007 10:28 AM

Actually, the oceans becoming more acidic is a lot more worrisome. They calculated that adding calcium (tums) would not help, so that's a no go.

The only thing that works is reducing global warming gas emissions. We always have excuses for why others have to do it instead of ourselves - but the action has to come from us.

Wake up. Do something now. Stop whining about the fact that life ain't easy for you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 2, 2007 11:30 AM

Correct correct correct. I am laughing at how the oceans are going to be rising 20 feet and people are still buying housing below that level!! Man people - WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN IT HAPPENS? I don't beleive that the effects are off 100 years from now... They are happening now and we just have not bothered to figure out the impact. We are silly. We won't do anything until millions are dying in the street. Look at how we handled Louisiana. Watch out for yourself - do not count on the government when things go 'south'!!

Posted by subwlf | November 2, 2007 11:35 AM

Golob, I ask again for you to step up and say we need to get ready for CC and build the infrastructure you indicate we need now. That means we shouldn't be spending $18 billion or more on P1 that won't stop CC or get us ready for it.

Either step up or shut up (only used that for the alliteration) but really this is a huge tax bite and should be used for really good things if not the perfect.

Posted by whatever | November 2, 2007 11:37 AM

Thanks Golob. I admittedly haven't been paying as much attention as I should, given that I bus to work every day and don't own a car and figure that I personally am already doing my wee part for the globe.

Posted by leek | November 2, 2007 5:01 PM

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