Big Coal and Big Oil Wipe Kiribati off the Face of the Map

The first country to face being wiped off the map by climate change is Kiribati in the South Pacific. Its 100,000 residents live on flat atolls only a few feet above sea level, and they are already beginning to be inundated.

The government is making plans for everyone to emigrate to Fiji. I guess it won’t be necessary for the last one to leave to turn off the lights, since all the electricity will short out as the islands disappear under the waves.

(courtesy Taringa

Fiji is a good choice, since its two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, are mostly at least 150 meters above sea level.

It is only America’s oil billionaires, who have multiple mansions atop hills, who can afford to deny the effects of climate change. They are the ones responsible for the Kiribati migration, and if there were any justice, the residents would be allowed to sue the major petroleum, coal and gas corporations for compensation.

The most conservative estimates are that by the end of this century, sea level will rise about 3 feet or a meter, as a result of surface ice melting under the impact of rising temperatures. The temperature increase is a direct result of humans spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning gasoline, coal and natural gas, and by putting other green house gases such as methane into the atmosphere.

(From NOAA)

The oceans warm up very, very slowly, because of all the deep, cold water that only rarely circulates in great amounts to the surface. So although automobile-driving and coal-heating humans could provoke an average surface temperature rise of 2 to 5 degrees Centrigrade (more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit), and although historically each increase of 1 degree C has resulted in a sea level rise of 10 to 20 meters/ yards, the full catastrophe won’t strike for centuries.

If humans run through all the currently known hydrocarbons, that would provoke the 5 degree C increase, and would over time cause all surface ice to melt, all regions of the earth to become tropical (including Antarctica), and so much increase in sea level that about a third of the world’s land would be inundated. This scenario last played out beginning about 55 million years ago, in the Eocene. It is not clear that the human species, which evolved under much colder conditions, could survive under these circumstances. Certainly climate catastrophes would kill millions.

How unseriously Americans are taking this looming crisis is obvious in that they still keep enormous numbers of neon lights over commercial establishments burning at night. Surely at least that should be illegal, or legal only if they are powered by renewable energy.

13 Responses

  1. Juan really love your commentary on the Middle East, but I have to take you to task for showing a chart of a secondary marker, rising CO2, rather than actually temperature, which has flattened this decade. link to

    • Nathan, surface temperature as Juan stated is not the whole story. The surface sits on top of a huge thermal mass, as he stated, centuries to heat. The volume of that mass is a function of the temperature of that mass, not its surface temperature.
      That by eyeballing surface temperature data from 20-10 years ago there is a clear rise, vs eyeballing 10-0 years ago, it is less so, is not a convincing argument that global warming is not a problem.

    • The Mises Institute is a cult. No one there has the slightest knowledge of science, let alone relevant climate science. The fact that someone links to, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute or the von Mises Institute is a dead giveaway they’re simply a wounded cultist, not actually correcting something wrong with an article that included science. There is always some noise in a trend – always. But the current warming trend is huge and most years the noise doesn’t overcome it. The cultists have depended on flagrant cherrypicking so far, on ignoring any records that included the Arctic, where warming is greatest, and when those didn’t serve, on entirely doctored graphs (The Great Global Warming Swindle, Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth, all Monckton presentations, the Heartland Institute Climate Denial conference, etc.)

    • Nathan,

      If you are correct in your belief that the global is not warming and will not warm, and that therefor the icecaps and glaciers are not melting and will not melt and the ocean is not rising and will not rise . . . you have a tremendous contrarian investing opportunity lying before you at your feet.

      You should borrow all the money you can against all the pledgeable assets you have or will have, and use that money to buy oceanside seafront property in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Gulf Coastal Florida, etc. When the ocean fails to rise just like the wise men at Von Mises assure you it will fail to do; you will have planted the seeds of a vast family fortune for your heirs.

      So what are you waiting for? Buy seaside oceanfront coastal land today!

  2. “The Meaning of Life” was carefully written on paper whilst on the loo.
    Unfortunately it was used it so it was lost forever.

    Human avarice as demonstrated in the Banking business recently and the wars makes it unlikely mankind will find a solution in any hurry; money talks.
    Never mind; Facebook has secured $8 billion ahead of the social network’s eagerly anticipated plan to cure the global warming problem.

    Whilst SCUBA diving around the Pacific I have slept on the beaches of Paradise many times; I wonder if my grandchildren will see and enjoy them too?

  3. If we could point to a few billionaire bad guys as the perpetrators of our carbon pollution, then I would be hopeful that activists can indeed stop the coming environmental train wreck, as your opening paragraphs suggest. But, unfortunately, the causes of climate change permeate the world’s populations from the exceedingly wasteful Americans, to the careless burning of rain forests, to the exploding middle class in China and India and on and on.

    Here in the Bay area of California, every environmental meeting I attend has a parking lot full of over sized cars driven solo by attendees of the meeting. When the subject of transportation to a meeting comes up, everyone has what they consider overwhelming reasons why they had no choice but to drive. (Note that I bike everywhere under 12 miles. If a longer trip is required, I try to use transit. Otherwise, I generally don’t go.)

    Our local transit agency is proposing closing down two lanes of a six lane boulevard to install Bus Rapid Transit and badly needed bike lanes. Even I am surprised by the negative momentum to stop the project in our “liberal” city. Solve climate problems but don’t impact my driving rights is their chant.

    Last night I listened to a story on PBS about Chinese government and business officials buying European luxury cars with super sized engines for social status reasons. China’s leaders have decided that these officials must buy China made cars from now on. The reason, to boost the local economy. No talk about gas mileage and the climate impacts of driving monster vehicles. It wasn’t even mentioned.

    I think our only hope for stopping the worst progression of climate pollution is for a technical miracle which is about as likely as a god showing up to kindly end the world. Especially now in tough economic times when research dollars are not to be found.

    • Good points, Danh. I especially love those who complain bitterly about $4.00-per-gallon gasoline as they sip on their $5.00 cup of Starbucks while filling up their SUV.

  4. And that is not the half of it Juan (if I may). Yet one scarcely knows where to start. Ocean acidification which you posted about the other day means that we will be walking beaches someday soon with no sea-shells. No oysters, no crabs, no lobsters or clams or scallops. This has enormous implications for even moderately sized coastal economies (several years ago the oyster industry in Washington state went into free fall due to increased acidification in the Pacific costing the state enormous losses not only in oyster larvae but in income and revenue and further depressing an already over-stressed, resource depleted region).

    Then there’s a thing called phytoplankton that helps produce a little thing called oxygen. But acidic oceans eat away at their fragile shells – one can only speculate at the implications for our atmosphere; then of course there is the entire oceanic food chain, on which about 1 billion humans and countless forms of life depend. What will life look like when that food source has been so poorly managed and utterly degraded that it is no longer viable? People should look at some videos by Jeremy Jackson, a noted and excellent marine biologist on these issues.

    Then, as you yourself noted, the Arab Spring may have been fueled, in part, by the spike in grain prices after Russia’s horrific summer a couple of years ago. What happens when the major corn, wheat, and rice producers (as is happening in Thailand and as is predicted to happen here), can simply no longer keep up with demand due to extreme weather destroying crops? What will conflicts in the third world look like and become as water sources are lost in Asia and south America and Africa? The mind reels.

    One can scarcely miss the irony here – the people of Kiribati face a genuine Apocolypse, the end of their world as they have known it. We are destined to go the same way – death by 10,000 Apocolypses – Katrina, spring tornados, failed crops in Russia, bread riots. James Hansen has written the new book of Revelation (for a succinct version go to: link to, only it is not a mystic vision, it is very real. Meanwhile know-nothings who cling to their mystic nonsense do all they can to hasten a genuine Dies Irae.

    Protecting the environment and addressing this issue seems as basic as third grade ecology to me. But that is the point – we have regressed to such a state of political infantilism that we cannot even attain to third grade level science in our political discourse. All you can hope for is that the next time consciousness arises on another planet it does a better job of respecting the uniqueness of life.

    • Dear Steve,

      Your analysis of how the American-led global fossil fuel economy may lead to the destruction of global civilization, in the next 20 years, is indeed a clear reading of a looming, very possible future. And that must be a spur to our intelligence.

      Back in the 90’s, political activists in Portland OR organized two annual conferences with dozens of presentations on the theme “End Corporate Dominance.” At the 2nd conference, I was privileged to co-sponsor a presentation with audience participation, on “Avoiding Burn-Out in Political Activism.” So I’m just stating my credentials here, IMHO it is always very necessary to maintain an optimistic frame of mind in the minute-to-minute, day-to-day operations of living one’s life, and the worse the desperation of the fight and the despair of the scientific analysis of the situation, the more necessary the optimistic attitude.

  5. Islands will have to be evacuated well before they disappear, due to salt water contamination of ground water.

  6. if you are not far above sea level, any rise in sea level is threatening, especially since that will accelerate. If there were some settling, the effect of sea level rise would be magnified.

    link to

  7. The cool thing about science is that you can always find some kind of dispassionate, careful, well-documented study to support whatever doctrine you are contending for. (And then contend that the other guy’s studies are Not Real Science.)

    link to

    Ooh! Ooh! Discontinuities! Explain THAT, you Unbelievers!

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