Well, I was reading the Financial Times because I wanted to see Martin Rees try to justify using a low discount rate for calculating climate damages. (He couldn’t, but he tried manfully.)
But I got distracted by his rather insane attempt to draw a comparison. Read what he writes: “Suppose astronomers had tracked an asteroid and calculated that it would hit Earth in 2080, 65 years from now — not with certainty, but with, say, 10 per cent probability. Would we relax, seeing it as a problem to be set on one side for 50 years? I do not think we would. There would surely be a consensus that we do our damnedest to find ways to deflect it, or to mitigate its effects.”
I’m sure there would be a consensus and that we would do our damnedest to find ways to deflect it. I’ve seen both movies and I prefer this one:
Rees continues, “By contrast, our governments respond with torpor to the climate threat, as concerns about future generations slip down the agenda.”
I guess we’ll see about that in Paris. But more to the point, the world–not just governments–is not treating global warming in the same way as it would a date with an asteroid.
There’s a reason why. It’s because the two are not similar in nature, not similar in impact and not similar in the response required of us.
Global warming is not expected to destroy the Earth. It is expected to be expensive, to cause loss of life due to more intense storms, to be disruptive to both industry and agriculture and to hinder development of the poorer nations of the world. These impacts are expected to kick in starting around the middle of the century. They certainly haven’t shown up yet.
The asteroid would blow up the planet and kill all of us. Do you see the difference?
Maybe there will be a movie sequel:
Time and again the Klimate Krazies tell us that climate change will be the end of us. When confronted, they often back away from their hyperbole. They don’t realize that telling us the sky is falling has a predictable result.
When the World Bank commissioned a report on the impacts of 4C of warming (done by the Potsdam Institute) the report came in at 106 pages. Part of the World Bank’s ‘Turn Down the Heat‘ campaign, the report was titled “Why a 4C Warmer World Must Be Avoided.”
The Forward of the report says, “This report spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes. The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems. And most importantly, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.”
The Executive Summary echoes the language of the Forward: “A 4°C world would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on ecosystems and associated services.”
Before we look at the main body of the report, let’s look at what has been described here. It looks like a serious problem that will make other problems worse.
But nowhere–nowhere–does it hint at the Fall of Civilization. Nowhere does it describe the End of Days. It is not an asteroid and we need neither Robert Duvall nor Bruce Willis to save us at the cost of their lives.
Here is what the report says about impacts in general:
“The effects of 4°C warming will not be evenly distributed around the world, nor would the consequences be simply an extension of those felt at 2°C warming. The largest warming will occur over land and range from 4°C to 10°C. Increases of 6°C or more in average monthly summer temperatures would be expected in large regions of the world, including the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States.”
Here is what they say about ocean acidification: “Coral reef growth may stop as CO2 concentration approaches 450 ppm over the coming decades (corresponding to a warming of about 1.4°C in the 2030s). By the time the concentration reaches around 550 ppm (corresponding to a warming of about 2.4°C in the 2060s), it is likely that coral reefs in many areas would start to dissolve. The combination of thermally induced bleaching events, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatens large fractions of coral reefs even at 1.5°C global warming. The regional extinction of entire coral reef ecosystems, which could occur well before 4°C is reached, would have profound consequences for their dependent species and for the people who depend on them for food, income, tourism, and shoreline protection.”
Here is what they write about sea level rise: “Sea-level rise impacts are projected to be asymmetrical even within regions and countries. Of the impacts projected for 31 developing countries, only 10 cities account for two-thirds of the total exposure to extreme floods. Highly vulnerable cities are to be found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.”
Here is what they say about Risks to Human Support Systems: Food, Water, Ecosystems and Human Health: “In a world rapidly warming toward 4°C, the most adverse impacts on water availability are likely to occur in association with growing water demand as the world population increases. Some estimates indicate that a 4°C warming would significantly exacerbate existing water scarcity in many regions, particularly northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, while additional countries in Africa would be newly confronted with water scarcity on a national scale due to population growth.
The risk for disruptions to ecosystems as a result of ecosystem shifts, wildfires, ecosystem transformation, and forest dieback would be significantly higher for 4°C warming as compared to reduced amounts. Increasing vulnerability to heat and drought stress will likely lead to increased mortality and species extinction. Ecosystems will be affected by more frequent extreme weather events, such as forest loss due to droughts and wildfire exacerbated by land use and agricultural expansion. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much as double by 2050 with warming of approximately 1.5°C to 2°C above preindustrial levels. Changes would be expected to be even more severe in a 4°C world.
Maintaining adequate food and agricultural output in the face of increasing population and rising levels of income will be a challenge irrespective of human-induced climate change. The IPCC AR4 projected that global food production would increase for local average temperature rise in the range of 1°C to 3°C, but may decrease beyond these temperatures. New results published since 2007, however, are much less optimistic. These results suggest instead a rapidly rising risk of crop yield reductions as the world warms. Large negative effects have been observed at high and extreme temperatures in several regions including India, Africa, the United States, and Australia. For example, significant nonlinear effects have been observed in the United States for local daily temperatures increasing to 29°C for corn and 30°C for soybeans. These new results and observations indicate a significant risk of high-temperature thresholds being crossed that could substantially undermine food security globally in a 4°C world.
The effects of climate change on agricultural production may exacerbate under-nutrition and malnutrition in many regions—already major contributors to child mortality in developing countries. Whilst economic growth is projected to significantly reduce childhood stunting, climate change is projected to reverse these gains in a number of regions: substantial increases in stunting due to malnutrition are projected to occur with warming of 2°C to 2.5°C, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and this is likely to get worse at 4°C.
The projected impacts on water availability, ecosystems, agriculture, and human health could lead to large-scale displacement of populations and have adverse consequences for human security and economic and trade systems. The full scope of damages in a 4°C world has not been assessed to date.”
Now, never mind that 4C of warming is looking increasingly unlikely. Never mind that the report ignores the extent to which economic development can help us prepare for and adapt to climate change.
The Potsdam Institute was commissioned to describe the impacts of 4C of climate change on the world. They have done so.
They describe a world that will have to cope with extreme temperatures, sea level rise in line with the higher IPCC projections, more intense storms, droughts and floods, the probable loss of many coral reefs and damage to the ecosystems dependent upon them.
But there is no asteroid hidden in the fine print. Like every other organization that has studied climate change, the Potsdam Institute writes plainly that while climate change is a problem (that will vary in severity depending on location), nowhere is it expected to be a planet buster, a civilization destroyer or a sign of the End Times.
Now someone go tell my favorite actress. (It’s weird that my favorite president and favorite actress are so wrong about climate change…)