May 2, 2014

A New Normal?

At some point, single events become a trend. The dots on a graph form an arrow when you connect them, an arrow pointing the way towards a new normal. You see that the future really is now.

Climate scientists are reluctant to say that we have reached a new normal, but you don't have to be a scientist to feel that our climate has changed, and not for the better. One of the hallmark predictions of climate change is extreme weather. I think we can safely put that one in the "TRUE" column. Epic rainfalls, massive fires, prolonged droughts, polar vortexes, tropical-intensity heat ... you name it, we've had it.

Suppose I'm right. Suppose this is the new normal. What does that mean? Well, the first thing you need to understand is that the climate isn't going to stop changing any time soon. A few decades from now, these will be the good old days. Today's new normal will give way to another new normal that very likely will be worse ... potentially much worse. Weather records have been falling at well, a record rate. That will continue.

And the costs will keep on rising. First, damage from increasingly intense weather events will continue to mount.  Second, at some point we will begin to actually deal with the problem. Coastal cities will get serious about holding the rising seas back. Governments will finally start forcing serious cutbacks of greenhouse gas emissions. New energy sources will need to be developed.

That's the plan for the developed and emerging nations. The poor nations will just get poorer. Millions of subsistence farmers and fishermen will be displaced. God knows how many people will die from starvation an re-emergent diseases. Populations will be on the move. Local wars over ever-scarcer resources will escalate.

What can we do? Given that it's too late and we haven't even done too little, you'd have to believe that it would take a massive shift in attitudes and resources to forestall complete catastrophe in favor of severe dislocations. Scientists keep telling us there is still time to avoid the worst. I'd like to believe that. But ask yourself, is there any sign that governments and the governed are ready to do what it takes?

Policymakers talk of mitigation and adaptation. The mitigation ship has pretty much sailed. That leaves adaptation. This lede from a 2010 article in The Economist pretty much sums it up: "Global action is not going to stop climate change. The world needs to look harder at how to live with it." I would recommend this article to anyone interested in seeing what it will take on a global and local level to live with climate change. And remember, this was written in 2010. It's not like we didn't see this coming.

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