Faster than Expected Climate Change means drought, war, famine for Middle East, Africa

A new study just published in Nature Geoscience has found it plausible for the first time that the world’s average surface temperature could rise by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 C.) by 2050, only 38 years from now.

In February, the United Nations warned that the world only has a few years to substantially reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons, if it was to avoid the disasters facing the earth with a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees C. The likelihood that such a rise in temperature can be avoided is now low (emissions were up 6% in 2011).

The study took advantage of extra computing power donated by individuals via Climateprediction.net.

The likely impact of temperature rise on North America will be much hotter summers and more extreme weather events. But it is Africa that will likely be struck by catastrophe, and within only a decade if we go on like we are. Projections suggest that in:

“Africa: By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent in some regions by 2020; agricultural production, including access to food, may be severely compromised.”

Increased drought and reduced crop yields and malnutrition are also expected in the Middle East over the next few decades as a result of climate change, including in Israel, and the new findings will accelerate the time scale over which these developments will occur. US foresees water wars in the Middle East.

There is also increased likelihood of flooding in parts of Asia, which we perhaps have already started seeing in Pakistan.

Another study, just published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that there is already a strong link between rising temperatures and extreme weather. In 1951-1980, it was only at most 0.2 percent of the globe’s land area that you had extremely hot summers. Now it is ten percent of global land area. And the change will be costly, even in North America. In 2011, the US was struck by 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion each in damages. That just isn’t normal, the paper argues.

Weather, as opposed to climate, is affected by cyclical things such as the el Nino. But those cycles now act out against a backdrop of discernible climate change, so that their effects can be amplified with calamitous results.

Thus, the 7,000 temperature records set or equaled in the United States during this March can probably not be explained only by weather (cyclical or one-time factors), but rather show the amplification effect of climate change (long term trends) caused by human beings dumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The advent of spring in the US has already moved up 3 days, and 5 days in some states. The longer warm weather season has increased pollen and allergies, with the potential for increased childhood asthma.

NOAA on atmospheric CO2, 2008-Feb. 2012

From NOAA

The past decade, 2001-2010, is the warmest on record. 2011 should have been cooler because of a La Nina, but the warming trend owing to climate change was so powerful that it produced another record-breaking hot year.

With their unsustainable addiction to oil and gas to power a consumer society, human beings are carrying out a cosmic experiment with life on earth, one that could easily blow up in their faces. Human beings as we now know them are fairly recent, perhaps 120,000 to 200,000 years old, and their entire development has taken place in a relatively cold era. It is not clear whether they can survive a 10 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise over the next century and all the changes it will wreak on animal and plant life, on fresh water availability, and on the health costs of outdoor activity.

Consumers in the US are going to have to sue Big Oil and Gas if we are to get any serious change. As with cigarette smoking causing cancer, there is a tort here that juries and judges can eventually be persuaded to recognize.

12 Responses

  1. And we shouldn’t forget that carbon dioxide is not the whole story, bad as it is. Methane is more powerful a radiation trapper on a per molecule basis, and it is going to go up as well as rising temperatures release it from trapping hydrates in the tundra, accidental releases from fracking, etc. Dust and soot falling on snow cause the snow to absorb more solar energy and contribute to warming, too.

  2. British scientist, James Lovelock, said, it’s too late to do anything might as well enjoy life before it’s too late (may be he has no children and grandchildren).

  3. Here is a comparison on the time scale to the year 2050

    New Fighter Plane will cost 1 trillion dollars to develop, manufacture and support 2,500 fighter planes by 2050

    What if America spent $1 trillion right now on the right things like reducing carbon and reducing military spending?

    These days it only takes a single fact compared with what is predicted to see the collapse not only of the American empire, but the earth.

    link to propublica.org

    Time to sign up for the national climate day of action on 5/5/12 at Bill McKibben’s web site.

    link to 350.org

  4. “Consumers in the US are going to have to sue Big Oil and Gas if we are to get any serious change.”

    Sue energy companies for what? For keeping thier houses/schools/churches warm in the winter or for delivering cheap energy so they can afford to be something other than hunter/gatherers?

    This web page sure delivers the goods on providing an independent and informed perspective on American politics alright, deeply left wing American politics.

    • If they limited themselves to competing in the energy market place, Big Oil and Gas wouldn’t be as blameworthy; but they are actively attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible marks like you, which is a tort.

    • But Klem, we weren’t hunter-gatherers in, say, the 1960s, when we still used a lot less energy per person than we do now, despite our vast technological improvements since then. Our wages haven’t gone up much either. Furthermore, other comparably wealthy countries use far less energy per person today.

      So it’s a false choice between crowning Dick Cheney, Lee Raymond and the other robber barons as our absolute monarchs, and going back to paleolithic times.

      Can you imagine that 100 years ago the US government, under a Republican president, actually had the balls to break up Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire? To modern Americans that seems like blasphemy.

  5. It is amazing to me that the GOP is all upset over gays getting married and the use of contraception, and yet this looming human crisis does not even seem to register with them as a moral issue. Things that make you go HMMMMM.

  6. 2011 was not actually a “record breaking year” but was the 11th warmest year on record. 1998 holds the record, with 2010 in second place. There were several years in the early 2000′s that were warmer, globally, than 2011. In 2012, while the Midwest and Eastern US were setting heat records, Interstate 8 in San Diego County was closed due to snow and ice.

    There are many valid pieces of evidence pointing to a changing Earth; ocean acidification, rising sea levels, melting ice packs, etc. When we shoot from the hip and use arguments which turn out to be in error we give ammunition to the idiots who are trying to debunk that our planet is in trouble. We need to be more careful.

  7. “Consumers in the US are going to have to sue Big Oil and Gas if we are to get any serious change.”

    I think the plan by Big Oil all along has been to force US consumers to take their side or face bankruptcy.

    The tobacco companies knew all along. The asbestos companies knew all along. The energy companies have an interest in knowing what’s coming and vast resources to find out.

    Meanwhile, the conservative movement with which energy companies have been aligned has pushed for lower wages, financial deregulation, and thus the creation of a synthetic economy with abnormal increases in energy consumption and debt. Thus citizen/consumers are programmed with an innate need for continued consumption growth, always hoping that giving in to big business will bring that big wage turnaround we’ve been waiting for since 1980 so that we can catch up on what we think we deserve.

    This is why energy companies knew that any awareness of a connection between said lifestyle and environmental degradation would create a visceral denial among the citizenry. To admit anything would be to open not just oil companies, but the entire USA, to liability for environmental catastrophes overseas, which would ruin us like reparations ruined Weimar. The longer our masters can hold out, the bigger the reparations must be.

    At some point, therefore, we will prefer to go to war against the entire rest of the world rather than pay up. Note that we spend as much on our military as the entire rest of the world, and we have more nukes than they.

    If growth-hungry US creditor China takes our side, which it might if greedy and short-sighted enough, then it becomes an armed standoff until civilization collapses.

  8. James Hanson in his book “Storms of my grandchildren” makes a plausible case that climate change induced by CO2 increases is not a linear process, but is instead subject to non linearity caused by feedback processes and may indeed result in runaway warming. He suggests decreased reflectivity resulting from earlier snow melt and reduced sea ice coverage among other things may lead to a cascade effect bringing very rapid warming in excess of earlier predictions and that we may be in the early stages of that cascade. If he’s right and this happens, we can look for rapid ice sheet attrition which may bring sea level rises exceeding a foot per decade, all of which would raise havoc in coastal communities. Stopping to consider the expense of massive infrastructure for harbor works, etc. and the reality that you can’t really just keep stepping back from rising water, much of our operating infrastructure’s utility is all predicated on the stable sea levels we’ve enjoyed during our race’s brief ascendancy to cultural and economic complexity…

  9. Watch how fast denial swings into action.

    Can’t see “water wars” myself. Just slow misery and local competition – already happening, as you note, on the West Bank.

  10. In one of his recent interviews energy specialist Dr. Tom Murphy argued that we should be more concerned about resource depletion than climate change. I also subscribe to this view but for me the problem is not just about oil and coal but it also concerns many other natural resources we are gradually running out of and little attention has been paid to it thus far. I was surprised when I read about these resources which are not so well known but whose depletion would pose a serious problem for some industry sectors especially for the world of information technology. I am really concerned about whether the scientists will be able to find an effective solution to this problem other than the devastation of one of Earth’s most valuable natural resources – the ocean as suggested in the article.

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