Thursday, March 2, 2017

On Being a Cassandra: Global Warming

Welcome back. Today we're continuing my more casual "Cassandra" series, where I ramble ineptly about various bad things that I'm worried about.

About a week ago, it was actually very nice outside. High 60s (18-19C), sunny. It reminded me of being back in LA, it was just lovely weather.

It was also the middle of February. Rarely is global warming so obvious. "Climate change" is a far better term, but Global Warming has a lot better branding. I'd also like to sidestep the human causes of climate change, as much as possible. Real quick: yes: the climate is changing, yes: CO2 resulting from human activity contributes, and yes: we've lost the possibility of a normal resolution to climate change (we passed the tipping point sometime during the most recent Bush administration).

Unfortunately, due to co-opting by various left-leaning environmental groups (not to mention the natural tendency of republicans to support business), climate science and science in general has become another casualty in the culture war (at least in the United States). So it goes.

What's more interesting is what's going to happen, assuming any of the predictions hold up. To my conservative and/or skeptic readers, please imagine as merely an outline of the (obviously incorrect and exaggerated) beliefs of the scientific community. Everyone else is strongly encouraged to take the following at face value (as I do).

Let's start with the physics. It will be warmer. Pretty ground breaking revelation, right? Well, kind of. This is a highly imperfect metaphor but imagine a still swimming pool as the atmosphere. As you add energy to it (say, by jumping in it), the pool will wiggle and ripple.

It turns out that the kind of energy doesn't matter as much as you might think. Hurricanes, and other tropical cyclones are created when warm ocean water evaporates (the circular winds come from the angular momentum of the earth's rotation). The warmer the water, the more energy the cyclone has.
This hurricane's name is Fran 
But, back to our swimming pool. Odds are, now that you've jumped in it, the water is moving around in an unpredictable and chaotic manner. And, the more energy added to the pool, the bigger the waves (waves are just energy moving through the medium). But it's fundamentally turbulent, there's plenty of quiet spots, places where the waves bunch together, and all sorts of things. But, as a rule, as you add more energy, the more waves you will get (even if the individual waves cannot be tracked with any accuracy).

So it is with the atmosphere. The more energy is added to it (this time in the form of heat), the more chaotic and turbulent it will become. This means that, though places will be warmer on average, some places will warm quicker, some may cool faster, some may change, and some may remain the same. This is normal for large chaotic systems. So what we're going to see is not just warmer weather (though we will and are seeing that), but more volatile weather. Cold waves, as well as heat waves. Stronger and more energetic storms. Places turning into deserts. Deserts turning into places. Deserts turning into even worse deserts, coral bleaching/loss of rainforest, and so on. Any prediction on the behavior of individual places is likely speculation, but the general behavior of the system (and the root causes) are obvious and knowable.

And that's... kind of bad. Not as bad of a problem as A.I. but still pretty bad. Not ideal, at any rate. But this problem is tiny compared to the problem of rising sea levels. There's a lot of ice on the planet, enough to raise the sea level 60ft (18.2m) or more if it were to melt. But that's hundreds of years out, and it's silly to plan for things hundreds of years in the future (this is sarcasm).

Luckily for people who need shorter term consequences to see the shape of problems, 60 feet sea level rise is not necessary for us to see calamity like we've never seen before (the panic in the Wikipedia article is palpable). A rise in sea level of less than a foot in the Bay of Bengal would be sufficient to create over 7 million climate refugees. Judging by how well we're dealing with the current refugee crisis (as touched on in "On France, Immigration, Islam, and Culture"), I'm not exactly optimistic of us handling another one very well. And this is not the only place impacted, obviously. Even the most wildly unsubstantiated optimistic estimates put the sea level rise at at least a foot (current estimates are somewhere on the order of 3 feet (1m) of sea level rise, though estimates in excess of 5ft are not unheard of). Coupled with the extreme storms from earlier, and you've got a pretty bad situation for any place near the coast.
IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
I'm not able to find good numbers on this (estimates vary wildly and tend to focus on the country running the study), but it's not unreasonable to assume that at least 10 or 20 million people will be effected due to sea level rise and climate change destroying arable land. The numbers could well be significantly higher on all of these estimates, and judging by the rate that scientists are needing to adjust their models (we keep warming faster than the models predict, which is bad), I would not assume the low end of these numbers.

Essentially, we are looking at one of the greatest displacements in human history, and we can expect it to begin within the next handful of decades. Hang on tight folks, because we're in for some chop.

1 comment:

  1. I'm by no means a climate science expert, nor have I even seriously studied it for more than a handful of hours, but your understanding of its threats seems incorrect to me.

    First, climate change is predicted to increase the severity of tropical storms and hurricanes while decreasing their frequency. Altogether that's probably a net bad change, but since you didn't mention it in your post I thought it likely you were unaware of this prediction. I don't have a reference for this offhand, but you can Google it yourself.

    Second, sea level rise is not a major issue of climate change. I do have a good reference for this one!

    The big problems of climate change, that you should actually be concerned about, are water availability and food prices. Refugees are not a serious concern unless you're Al Gore. Storms and weather variability are, but they're lesser concerns.