Saturday, March 29, 2008

The best position on Global Warming- the "Radical Middle"

This story from The Press Association sums up the best policy on Global Warming in the first three paragraphs:

"It would be cheaper and more effective for the world to adapt to global warming rather than fight it, scientists have said.

The scientists - including Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia - accept the scientific consensus on the causes and effects of climate change, but differ on what to do about it.

Their view, which has caused them to be labelled "the new pariahs of global warming", is that the world should work to reduce hunger, storm damage and disease, rather than spending trillions of pounds trying to stabilise carbon dioxide levels across the planet."

These thnigs should be mankind's goal with or without Global Warming! What are the fears from Global Warming? Drought? Drought is not a function of weather; it's a function of bad water management and bad planning- heck, most of the third world doesn't have reliable water supplies now. It's one of mankind's greatest shames that there are billions of people without potable water. If we built the aqueducts, viaducts, canals, and where necessary, desalinization plants to serve the people who need it today, a one or two degree average temperature change would not be able to overwhelm the system.

What else? Famine? As I noted
previously , the United Nations says enough food exists to end hunger today- not in some wistful future, today. All we need do is build the political trust and the distribution systems. Once such systems were in place, food would be routinely routed from places having bumper crops to places having bad crops. Once again, with such systems in place, Global Warming could not overwhelm it.

What else? Disease? It boggles the mind that the world tolerates millions dying from easily controlable diseases even without Global Warming. We have hot years now- in 2003 there was a heat wave that caused tens of thousands of deaths by heat stroke in Europe- but there were no malaria or encephalitis epidemics. We know how to control these things, and controling the CO2 in the atmosphere isn't the method.

If we cared about our fellow man today, we could worry less about Global Warming tomorrow.


UURepublican said...

Excellent post. Thank you for doing your part in bringing sense to this issue.

Steve Caldwell said...

I would like to hope that these scientists are right.

However, there's a good possibility that the increases in severe hurricanes, droughts, etc will be trivial in comparison to the anoxic ocean chemistry that the earth experienced at the Permian-Triassic boundary.

Some paleo-climate folks are concerned that the warming will disrupt ocean currents and ocean chemistry.

The paleontologist Peter Ward's book Under a Green Sky describes what happened during an earlier period of increased atmospheric CO2, global warming, and anoxic oceans chock full of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria:

"Waves slowly lap on the quiet shore, slow-motion waves with the consistency of gelatin. Most of the shoreline is encrusted with rotting organic matter, silk-like swathes of bacterial slick now putrefying under the blazing sun ... [W]e look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple color -- a vast, flat, oily purple. No fish break its surface, no birds or any other kind of flying creatures dip down looking for food. The purple color comes from vast concentrations of floating bacteria, for the oceans of Earth have all become covered with a hundred-foot thick veneer of purple and green bacterial soup. ...There is one final surprise. We look upward, to the sky. ... We are under a pale green sky, and it has the smell of death and poison. We have gone to Nevada of 200 million years ago only to arrive under the transparent atmospheric glass of a greenhouse extinction event, and it is poison, heat and mass death that are found in this greenhouse.

Obviously, we don't know about the risk of an ocean anoxic event happening due to increased CO2 and warming. But the consequences if this happens make the Hollywood climate disaster The Day After Tomorrow look like a walk in the park.

Joel Monka said...

It is conceivable that these things will happen, although not this century or the next. But millions will die needlessly this year either directly from starvation, or because malnourishment causes minor illnesses to become fatal. Millions will die this year directly from dehydration or from drinking contaminated water. Millions will die this year from easily preventable diseases. The resources exist to cure these things today- but not if the economies of the G-8 nations are crippled trying to meet CO2 limits (which won't reduce total CO2 production anyway, as China has already announced it will not comply)

Yes, it's a gamble... on one side, millions dying needlessly every year, versus possible disaster in centuries to come. I say the future is unknowable- in the next hundred years we may all be wiped out by a meteorite, or science may come up with ways to treat the CO2 problem, or whatever... but we KNOW people are dying TODAY. If a patient has a bleeding gunshot wound and also a slow growing cancer, you treat the gunshot wound first.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Joel here. And I also think taking care of human life and human problems now may be essential to the survival of earth in the future. Nature is what it is, an unpredictable system of processes that do not always listen to the needs of mankind, or life in general.