NASA did not say civilization will end soon due to climate change


A widely circulated headline from Policymic says a NASA study concludes we are doomed. The headline is misleading. The report was a NASA-funded study written by Safa Motesharrei, an applied mathematician at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. I bet you never heard of them or him. There’s a good reason for that. SESYNC, a small think tank, has been in existence for just 18 months. Motesharrei, according to SESYNC, is a graduate research assistant. And I can not find his article on their own website.

Look at the screenshot. Motesharrei is reading a book by es-NASA head James Hansen who, most would agree, is an extreme believer in the we’re-all-doomed theory of climate change. How cozy is that?

The real problem here is such gloomy predictions are counterproductive. If you want to rally people to join your cause, you must give them hope. If instead, you say civilization will end soon, they will probably just give up.

The World in 2050 is what we make today

When at the Morgan Hill, CA Library, I normally scan the new books section looking for something interesting. The last time I did this, I discovered The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future a look at the future by Laurence C. Smith, Professor of Geography at UCLA. It is an easy read, but I frequently had to put it aside to think about what I had just read.

Smith set out to write a book about the way climate change affects the extreme northern portions of our planet. But his many conversations, especially with indigenous people of the North, convinced him that he needed to broaden his scope. The result is a sobering anticipation of what this world will be like in 2050.

According to Professor Smith, four primary forces are changing the world for all of us: population growth, resource depletion, climate change and globalization. It makes sense to look at them in that order.

The population of Earth has just reached 7 billion. some are thinking long and hard about how we are going feed all of them. We see drought and famine in the Horn of Africa now and most of us appear to be bystanders to that unfolding tragedy. Many had died. More have take to the road to escape this tragedy. But the facts are that we are adding the population of the United States every 4 years. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people, not 7. We will have added another China and the task of feeding them will be much harder.

Population growth will not be distributed evenly. While most countries will see their populations increase, a few, notably Japan, Russia, Korea, Germany and Italy are projected to experience a population decline. In the case of Japan, perhaps 20%. Almost all of the growth will be urban. In 2008, for the first time, more people lived in an urban rather than a rural setting. Fewer will be providing their own food, but will buy food imported from somewhere near or far.

All of those people will need new urban facilities to be built. New buildings, new transportation infrastructure, new things, perhaps even new parks. What resources will be required and at what cost? We already copper prices so high that people risk death to cut the copper from live electrical facilities. At current usage rates the earth has only a 35 year supply of copper in proven reserves.

Clearly, oil and coal will not be around forever and yet we are continuously exhorted to use it up as quickly as we can. You can not listen even to PBS without hearing an advertisement urging us to drill for more oil, exploit the tar sands of Alberta, hold our breaths waiting for clean coal to become a reality, and all in the hope of generating more jobs.

In California, as well as most urban centers around the world, we will see an increasingly expensive bid to control our water. It is the one thing that we can not live without,

The climate change genie is out of its bottle and there is no apparent desire to stuff it back in. We know that temperatures are warming. We see the results with great regularity as the world is buffeted with a series of deadly storms, each driven to increased intensity by our changing climate. So far in 2011, the US has had 14 weather events costing us over $1 Billion each with the April 25/30 super outbreak of tornadoes costing over $9 Billion.

We are beginning to see the development of a new climate paradigm in the Mediterranean. Greece has experienced 10 years without normal winter rains. Focused on the current financial crisis there, we lose sight of the ecological crisis underway.

Big changes in climate will create climate refugees. We already see this beginning in Africa, where Somalian refugees are flooding into Kenya. Can any country absorb these refugees into its own growing population? The UN expects that there will be over 100 million who need to move, some to escape drought as in Somalia, others to escape sea level rise in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or Bangladesh;

It is still our decision whether we can avert the worst of these problems. It appears that the US is quite willing to do nothing.

(To be published 11/07/11 in Morgan Hill Times)

Climate Change: How bad can it be?

It is easy to become lulled into intellectual somnolence by the seemingly gradual changes we are incurring in our weather. After all, just how bad can a couple of degrees be?

Oh, we wake up every once in a while when our catastrophe leads media reports on some hurricane, flood or tornado, especially if the event is half-a-world away. We all thought that the outbreak of tornadoes that struck the Southeast this spring was bad enough It truly was in Tuscaloosa. Then, we had to live vicariously through Joplin again. I remember May, 1971 tornado that hit Joplin. But we need to pay more attention to the facts of what is happening rather than jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

Heidi Cullen give a good summary of what we know about climate change and tornadoes in this post at Huffington Post and then repeated, with comments, by Joe Romm at Climate Progress I give you that link as Joe’s bracketed comments point to additional information

Still, we need more understanding than that and this Mother Jones summary of a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists does just that, bringing attention to the relationship between climate (temperature), ozone and health. There is a lot to piece together and the collage is not a pretty picture or a wonderful future.

The report, published yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that CO2-induced temperature increases will worsen ground-level ozone concentrations (the kind coming from power plants and exhaust pipes, not the kind that shields the Earth from UV rays). Higher concentrations of ground-level ozone threaten the health of millions of Americans, an impact that could cost the US $5.4 billion in 2020.

As someone who suffered with asthma as a child, and that was long before we had inhalers or corticosteroids to deal with the symptoms. Asthma is not what I would wish on any child but that is what we are doing.

There are two recent takes on the effects of this. One is a post at Climate Progress that recognizes asthma as an environmental justice issue facing, primarily, people of color. The other is a rather straight forward determination that Californians will be the most affected and shows up on the KQED (SF) blog: Climate Watch. They both comment on the same report, just frame it differently.

This is going to be additive to the problems that we already have in California. A 2006 report from CSU Fullerton found that air pollution was costing California’s some $3 billion annually. Included in this finding were:

23,300 asthma attacks
188,000 days of school absences
3,230 cases of acute bronchitis in children

The authors updated and expanded that study in 2008. This time they included the corridor leading away from the port at Long Beach and all that diesel traffic. Now the cost to California was $28 Billion annually and the costs to our children, in terms of health and education were more striking;

Asthma attacks: 141,370
Days of school absence: 1,259,840
Cases of acute bronchitis in children: 16,110
Days of respiratory symptoms in children: 2,078,300

This is the base problem to which we are adding an additional load from increase pollution.
While the current economic conditions will alter the monetary value, the number of events do not change. Even with school funding being cut and cut, those lost school days deprive our education system of what it really needs to do its job as funding formulas use average daily attendance.

If Greens want to work for better education, if we want to lower the cost of health care, if we want a better future for our children, then we had better be spending a lot of time on the battle for a rational climate policy. It is as important as anything else we do, since it deal with everything at once: energy, the economy, health care, education. The economic cost for California would be as high as $1.8 billion / yr by 2020 if we do nothing. The cost to our children can not be so easily calculated.

Cool It. The Movie. A new approach to climate change

In Cool It, Bjoern Lomborg says current climate change initiatives are based on fear and that new approaches are needed.

He says he admires Gore’s documentary since “his movie made us all aware of climate change”. However, “it did so by creating panic, and we need to move on from that”.

I agree. The carrot works better than the stick. We should emphasize how renewable energy makes us less dependent on foreign sources for oil, more self-sufficient, with energy produced locally. And not by screaming we’re all doomed because the ice caps are melting.

Massive storm hitting Illinois, shutting down O’Hare

I hope you’re not flying today. Because when O’Hare shuts down, it corkscrews the entire air transit system. A monster two-day storm is hitting the area with winds up to 60 mph and sustained gusts of 35 mph.

“The storm system will be one of the most powerful we have seen in this part of the country in 70 years,” said Jim Allsopp, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “This is a big deal.”