This is a thought piece, so please be patient while I work through some ideas with you.
The 5th Assessment Review (AR5) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lists the risks posed by climate change, broken out by region. It is here and a previous post I wrote on them can be found here. As I wrote there it is obvious that none of the risks identified by the IPCC rise to the level of existential threat. The IPCC uses phrases like ‘increased risk of flooding,’ ‘increased risk of heat mortality,’ etc. Which is appropriate, especially given that they took a regional approach to analysing the risks of climate change and we don’t really know how individual regions will be impacted. Models don’t resolve to the regional level and we don’t know which direction major climate systems will move in.
Comedian John Oliver just took Donald Trump to task over Trump’s blithe assumptions that he could build a 1,000 mile wall for $4 billion (and get Mexico to pay for it). Oliver consulted some construction experts and came up with a cost of $26 billion for a 30-foot high wall across large swathes of inhospitable territory including the roads to move the materials on site. It’s quite funny, if you haven’t seen it.
After watching that, do you doubt that it is feasible to deal with sea level rise with present day technology at a reasonable price? The Netherlands spends about 2.5 billion Euros a year on flood defenses, about 2% of their GDP. The Great Wall of China was built to keep out another threat, but it’s even longer than Trump’s Folly and was built with considerably less in the way of technology.
So too with rising temperatures. If, finally, droughts and heatwaves actually do increase (predicted to start within the next couple of decades), it will coincide with progress in technology and social structures, bringing air conditioning within reach and moving workers off the farms and into the cities. The Romans and the Hohokam Indians of Arizona built canals to manage water shortages a long time ago–surely we can profit from their example. There is no shortage of fresh water worldwide–we just need to move it where it’s needed.
Exciting news about the development of a vaccine for Dengue fever highlights our ability to combat vector borne diseases, which the IPCC also worries about. This would be most welcome here in Taiwan, which last year saw a marked increase in cases in the southern part of the country.
Long story short, it seems clear that we have the resources and know-how to deal with the physical consequences of climate change. But if that’s so, why are so many so worried about it?
Yesterday I wrote about the U.S. military’s focus on climate change and concluded that climate change would have little effect on either operational capabilities or planning. The major risk to the U.S. defense forces is social–if climate change causes unrest or instability there may be an increased call for their services.
I think we can expand that idea. I suggest that the major risks of climate change are not sea level rise, risk of flooding, increased frequency of drought or heatwaves, etc. We have all the tools to fight those and for the most part have had the solutions available for more than a millenium.
It is the reactions of people that can cause the most problems, if climate change hits them quickly and they haven’t been prepared. And I think this is a real risk. It’s just very different from the risks being promoted by environmental NGOs.
After 30 years of non-stop campaigning on climate change issues, 40% of the world’s population have never heard of it. Instead there has been a drumbeat of ‘messaging’ designed to cow the population of rich countries into acquiescence to largely mistaken policy initiatives. This messaging, ranging from ‘the planet has a fever’ to the No Pressure video of schoolkids being blown up if they don’t accept The Truth about Climate Change, has not only been ineffective. It has sucked the oxygen out of the room for rational dialogue about educating the public.
People who are actually at risk from some of the impacts of climate change need to be told what the potential impacts are, what can be done to address them and what resources are being made available to help them.
Conversations about sea level rise need to be balanced with discussions of subsidence, which is a far greater threat to coastal communities. So too with discussions of biodiversity, where the potential future impact of climate change is currently being promoted to the neglect of far more important factors such as the introduction of invasive species, over-hunting and over-fishing and habitat reduction. Discussions of flooding have to account for construction in floodplains, watercourse management, flood insurance and population growth in vulnerable areas.
These are social issues dealing with man’s other impacts on the planet and many of them are of not only current but historical relevance to communities. They should be approached in a 360 degree fashion, not excluding climate change but integrating it into a broader discussion.
The IPCC quite clearly says that human caused climate change is not an existential threat, just as they say that extreme weather is not yet here, just as they say that the impacts of climate change can be addressed by increasing the resiliency of local populations.
Those pushing the message of catastrophic consequences have done us all a grave disservice, diverting time, attention and resources away from a more balanced approach that would have greater benefits.
It is not our coastlines, riverbeds or arid lands that require immediate attention. It is the social structures of countries that are struggling to get out of poverty while adapting to an ever-changing climate that need to be strengthened.
So at the end of this I am once again arguing for resiliency as our best defense. I suppose that was inevitable, given my preconceptions and my admitted bias. No matter what angle I use to view the issue and no matter which starting point I choose, I keep convincing myself that helping societies get stronger will solve not only climate change but our other environmental challenges as well.
End of sermon.