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Climate Change 

October 8, 2007


roop_pict0023Legend has it that during the Great Fire of Rome (C.E. 64), the Emperor Nero “fiddled”, singing the Sack of Ilium while the city burned. It seems, in fact, that the Emperor was not in Rome at the time of the fire, and in reality organized tremendous relief efforts upon his immediate return (oh, and the fiddle had not yet been invented). Therefore, current accusations that world leaders are fiddling today as the world approaches the climate crisis are inaccurate. Oh, don’t get me wrong; they are indeed fiddling, but I don’t see the tremendous efforts of relief anywhere in sight.

A recent meeting of the top 16 polluting countries in the world saw the United States Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and then the President, George Bush, perform a tag-team effort. First, Rice admitted that the U.S. is indeed one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters globally, and is not above the rest of the international community in this issue. Thank you for the insight Miss Rice. Second, the president several days later re-affirmed his government’s opposition to mandatory international cuts and controls, and instead voiced support for voluntary control. The main reason – protecting economies. Now, I am no economist, and I am not a Yaleite, and I must confess that I found the apparent logic to be a bit puzzling at first. But I think that I’ve figured it out. Mitigating the onset and effects of climate change will cost a lot of money. On the other hand, if we just let the thing run its course, we could be in for no changes, or…an economic boom! Let’s see how this works. Some of the major predicted consequences of climate change this century include: (1) changes in rainfall patterns. No worries, water is a minor component of global agricultural production and stability. It’s really more about subsidies and ethanol. (2) Increasingly intense summer heat waves. Okay, I get this one. The need for air conditioning will also increase, thereby spurring increased manufacturing output and keeping our power plants in business. (3) Sea level rise. I thought initially that this was bad, because of coastal flooding, reduced living spaces, flooding of entire nations, and so on, but I missed the big point. There will in fact be more sea surface area for increased shipping! (4) Loss of polar ice. This one really used to worry me, what with ice’s role in global ocean circulation, polar ecosystems, etc. But now I hear that the Northwest Passage is finally open! What more could we ask for? Here we are celebrating Columbus Day today in the U.S. (okay, only some are celebrating), not realizing how momentous it is that we can now sail from Europe to India without all those Americas getting in the way.still_seaIce2007_0914.0730_web.png

And so we come to the coup de grace, the kernel of globalized anastomosis. China and India, the world’s hottest (no pun intended!) economies, have welcomed Bush’s comments. I thought it was because they are also among the world’s biggest emitters. Silly me. It’s actually about tea and spices, and easy, ice-free sailing. (I trust the Canadians to take their fair share of the profits and not get in the way of global commerce.) Wow, brilliant. Fiddle on dear sirs, fiddle on.

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Filed under: Climate Change — Peter @ 10:36 am


  1. I don’t see climate change as a crisis. Mitigation efforts will cost a lot of money and will have no discernable benefit. It makes more sense to spend the money on adapting. We really don’t have much choice anyway.

    RAINFALL: Theoretically, global warming should mean more precipitation. But more rain is good for life. The National Climatic Data Center shows that from 1948-2006 there was no trend in winter precipitation, but spring, summer and fall showed an increase. Also extreme rain did not increasing more than total rain. There may be some evidence of increasing extreme rain but not an unusual upward trend in the frequency. See: Davis, S and K.J.E. Walsh. 2008. Southeast Australian thunderstorms: Are they increasing in frequency? Australian Meteorological Magazine, 57, 1-11. Ntegeka, V. and P. Willems. 2008. Trends and multidecadal oscillations in rainfall extremes, based on a more than 100 years time series of 10 minutes rainfall intensities at Uccle, Belgium. Water Resources Research. Regarding warm versus cold, in China, cold periods had floods, droughts, dust storms, famines and plagues. Warm periods brought relief. See: Huang, C.C., J. Pang, X. Zha, H. Su, Y. Jia, and Y. Zhu. 2007. Impact of monsoonal climatic change on Holocene overbank flooding along Sushui River, middle reach of the Yellow River, China. Quaternary Science Reviews, 26, 2247–2264.

    HEAT WAVES: Cold waves are much more dangerous than heat waves so warming is better than cooling. It is logical to assume the heat waves will increase with global warming but there is not much evidence that global warming has caused heat waves at northern latitudes. A Canadian study found that extreme temperatures have shown no significant trend over the course of the 20th century in spite of the increase in mean annual temperature. Khaliq, M.N., P. Gachon, A. St-Hilaire, T.B.M.J. Ouarda, and B. Bobeé, 2007. Southern Quebec (Canada) summer-season heat spells over the 1941–2000 period: an assessment of observed changes. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 88, 83–101. But even if global warming causes more heat waves we can adapt. See: Davis, R.E., et al., 2003. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712-1718. It also seems the French were able to adapt to recent heat waves, see: Fouillet, A., G. Rey, V. Wagner, K. Laadi, P. Empereur-Bissonet, A Le Tetre, P. Frayssinet, P. Bessemoulin, F. Laurent, P. De Crouy-Chanel, E. Jougla, and D. Hémon, 2008. Has the impact of heat waves on mortality changed in France since the European heat wave of summer 2003? A study of the 2006 heat wave. International Journal of Epidmiology, doi:10.1093/ije/dym253.

    SEA LEVEL: If the warming we have experienced in the past 300 years or even the past 15,000 years continues we can adapt to any sea level rise. The sea level has risen 400 feet in the past 10,000 years but the rate has not increased. IPCC 2001: “No significant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise during the 20th century has been detected.” IPCC “Global average sea level in the last interglacial period (about 125,000 years ago) was likely 4 to 6 m higher than during the 20th century, mainly due to the retreat of polar ice.” Also regarding rate and rise, see: Berge-Nguyen, M., A. Cazenave, A. Lombard, W. Llovel, J. Viarre, and J.F. Cretaux. 2008. Reconstruction of past decades sea level using thermosteric sea level, tide gauge, satellite altimetry and ocean reanalysis data. Global and Planetary Change, 62, 1–13. Wöppelmann, G., B. Martin Miguez, M.-N. Bouin, and Z. Altamimi. 2007. Geocentric sea-level trend estimates from GPS analyses at relevant tide gauges world-wide. Global and Planetary Change, 57, 396–406.

    POLAR ICE: Don’t get your hopes up that the ice will disappear. It seems to be recovering. NSIDC indicates a dramatic increased in Arctic sea ice so I guess the polar bears are saved. Also that Kayaker is already stuck in the ice at 80.52397 degrees N. There have been observations of the Arctic for 400 years but accurate data for only the past 30 years. But nearly ice free must have happened before in the 1800’s, 1930’s and 1950’s. According to Greenland Ice Cores it was warmer in the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period, and Minoan Warm Period.

    Comment by Don — September 3, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  2. Thanks again for your interest Don, but I will have to deconstruct your very shaky arguments, and I hope that you will learn something in the process. Keep the questions coming.

    The notion that mitigation will cost too much, will not work, and that adaptation will be cheaper is without foundation. What are the proposed mechanisms for adaptation? Air condition the planet? Build dykes and levies along and across all populated shorelines? Add Tums to the oceans? It is far far too easy to armchair these opinions, but everyone knows that on gameday, it’s the players on the field who count.

    More rain is good for life? Really? Ecosystems and the organisms within them are generally adapted to the conditions under which they live. More rain in east Africa could be a welcome thing, but it is hardly an encouraging prediction for hundreds of millions of humans living in low-lying and flood-prone regions.

    Cold waves are more dangerous than heat waves? Really?! Have you compiled the mortality data? I would guess not.

    The IPCC was conservative in its assessment of sea level rise, and rightfully so, since there were insufficient data. Very very recent reports, though, confirm that sea level rise is accelerating. We should expect levels to be between 0.5-1 m higher by the end of this century. And yes, sea level has been rising since the end of the glacial interval, but no, we have not adapted to it. Relative timescales are very important here, and it’s one thing to talk about human civilizations and sea level rise on the scale of millenia, but it’s an entirely different ball of wax when we’re talking about decades and centuries.

    As for the polar ice, what can I say? The predictions that the ice is alive and well were greatly exaggerated. The Arctic is once again open this year. And, and, and, if you think that this is simply wishful thinking by scientists of the Illuminati, think again. There are very good reasons for the sudden interest in the Arctic by Canada, Russia, Denmark, and of course, the United States.

    Comment by peter — September 7, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  3. Nice post u have here :D Added to my RSS reader

    Comment by RYErnest — November 29, 2008 @ 3:03 am

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