Everything can be connected to everything nowadays but the connection between the world news of the moment (for good reasons) the coronavirus and one of the biggest challenges we have as society; climate change are indirect. Anyway it already has some headlines. The information and its treatment goes very fast nowadays.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I though about writing about it too. I have written seldomly in this blog the last month but I read and connect everything to climate change somehow. In this case, my toughs were related more to the societal feedbacks of climate change. The basic idea could be that maybe the lack of consumption due to some kind of cataclysm harms economy and reduces emissions. The kind of feedback can be considered a control mechanism. If we go to far in climate change many aspects of our civilization will suffer so they will be stopped or reduced and this will cause emission reduction and reduction of climate change. I think this will happen to some extent as it will be difficult to adapt human society and economy to the consequences of climate change and maintain a prosperous society. The problem is that this feedback can come late, too late. And after a lot of suffering, earlier mitigation will surely be much better for must of human beings (and other living forms) and it is the sensible thing to do.
By the way, the effects of cataclisms in the long term can be complex. For example it would seem that the reduction of traveling emissions due to coronavirus should be clear but it isn’t. In any case, it would be wonderful if we could avoid this global problem that is not closellye related with climate change, and the ones that clearly are, instead of suffering them and discussing the consequences.
Photo from Perito Moreno Glazier in Argentina
I have recently finished High tide in the Main Street book, by John Englander, both Oceanographer and great blogger. It is the perfect opportunity to talk about one of the most evident and important consequences of climate change: Sea Level Rise. In this post I am not going to review the book, the short summary is that I liked it because it is clear, short and well explained. So, highly recommended. Instead of talking about the book itself I prefer to make a short list of ideas/data about sea level rise, some are from the book but the list is like a personal compilation. So let’s go:
- Sea Level Rise is one of the most clear and stronger consequences of climate change.
- The reason for sea level rise is mostly the melting of land ice. The ice over water does not change seal level. So the places to watch are, in strict order, Antartica, Greenland and Glaziers around the world. The water thermal expansion is a small effect in comparison.
- Meters (the key factor and the most difficult):
- The total range of melting is quite impressive. If all that ice is melted the sea level can rise mode than 60 m. In the ice ages the sea level was almost 200 m lower than today. A rule of thumb from historical records is 10 m with a temperature 2ºC more than now.
- Greenland ice alone is 7 m of sea level rise.
- In this moment the measurements are in order of mm or cm.
- The projections for this century are a bit uncertain and depend on what we do but are in the range of 0.5 m to 1 m.
- Those meters are in vertical. The translation in area lost in the cost strongly depends on the particular case, but it can be much more in flat lands.
- Sea level rise needs some time, the melting is not immediate but lasts for a long time and it can not be stopped.
- There are important tipping points difficult to predict. When some parts of Greenland or Antartica start to melt they will go fast to the sea and sea level will accelerate. It is difficult to say at which temperature will occur and this adds a lot of uncertainty.
- Most problems start before too much rising: Stronger storms, coastal flooding, high tides, freshwater salinization,…
- Economical consequences will be huge and will start in the moment we get convinced of sea level rise.
- Many beautiful and expensive coastal areas will loose their property value.
- The most extreme case are the islands that will become inhabitable. Some countries will disappear. How do we value them?
- Some coastal zones will be protected with dams or other means but that is quite expensive too and the grade of protection will depend on the amount of sea level rise.
- Only countries or regions with enough money and vision will be able to prepare protection measurements.
- Some zones just cannot be protected due to soil structure.
- Many specific infrastructures will have to be adapted many times
- We have developed our civilization with a stable sea level and many infrastructures like harbours are built very precisely for a sea level.
- Our civilization is concentrated in the coastal areas, for many reasons. Their change will have a deep effect.
Climate change is not only about the polar bear or arctic ice. The consequences will be and are just over the corner and they are getting expensive. Some experts are using this argument convincingly. This was also the clearest message in Tony Blair‘s decided climate change action. Insurance companies are repeatedly showing their opinion about climate change risk assessment. And the consequences in some sectors are starting to be economically noticeable as last California’s water crisis affecting beer production. Or two from las winter: winter sports and destructive storms.
There will be more and more, attributions will grow at the same pace and some will realize that the economic cost of a low carbon economy (real, no doubt, in my opinion) is small compared to the cost of inaction. The problem is that the first one is short term and measurable, the former medium-long-term and more difficult to measure precisely. It is not again about environment and economy it is about short term and long term, and mainly about the well being of our descendants in one, two or three generations and so on.
Of course these kind of consequences will be secondary compared to sea level rise, extreme weather food security triangle. Yet, they are important for many people, and many jobs. In this case the effects are getting visible even now and reflect the huge economic effect climate change will have in many sectors. For example in the regions living from winter sports, are they conscious enough? I don’t think so, with climate change many times happens that we are somehow aware of it but not to the extent of thinking about the possible consequences or implications, it is like a nightmare we expect to wake of.
The problem is that it will not disapear alone, the good news is that we can do a lot to reduce it.
Photo from Aizkorri beach close to Bilbao
One of the fastest consequences of climate change are the strong storms. The equation is simple: the more heat in the ocean the stronger the storms, helped by the small but noticeable increase of sea level rise. In fact, the first news of the sea level rise,
The beginning of the year has been particularly violent in the cost around here with many strong storms and one really impressive. This link
provides some pictures from the beautiful city of San Sebastian. The damage of last storm was important (even more in some other towns/cities) and economic impact is greater than direct repairing works in a city getting high income from tourism.
The media have not been extensive in the comments regarding climate change link, though it was mentioned in some cases. But I was quite happy to hear some clear words from some colleagues not involved in these discussions.
Of course, it is important to be cautious with attribution as climate and weather are not the same thing and being too emotional can enforce the type of discussion that helps skeptics. I think that wise comments accompanied by account of economic effects are much better in the crucial discussion of what is more expensive? To start carbon emission decrease (mitigation)? Or pay the effects?
Three months ago I finished my first Cousera course. I was new to this learning platform and even to the concept itself (the MOOCs), nevertheless my experience was great, sometimes more demanding than I previously thought but at the same time very satisfactory. In fact there were many courses in Coursera about or around climate change and this is a significant data itself and perfect subject for another post. Concretely, the one I did was Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change by David Archer.
The basic data about the course: It is 8 weeks long, with quizzes, activities, (small problems), optional number crunchers (longer and more numeric problems) and a term project (not long, not determinant in the final grade and interesting). A good part of the problems was related with several web models about aspects of climate change that allowed a lot of play from the students. And the temperature data for the term project are really interesting. But the most important thing for me were the lectures, they were short, clear and well focused. So, this course offered me a good overview of the climate change problem, starting for the science of the whole carbon cycle and arriving to the consequences depending on several emission scenarios.
As an extremely short summary three paragraphs (not literal):
- In the long term the deep earth carbon cycle (a geological cycle) will stabilize the CO2 and the climate again. But it will need a million years so we cannot wait for it. In the short term there are many uncertainties but we are facing the alternative of reducing our emissions clearly to approach a 2ºC warming or continuing in the business as usual scenario towards the 4ºC or more.
- The important parameter is how much carbon we burn, the total amount and we have burnt half of what is considered “safe”. (David Archer has some doubts about the complete safety of the 2ºC target). All fossil fuels are important and even land use but Coal is the most dangerous because is cheap and there is a lot to burn.
- As the total carbon budget is the key the earlier we start reducing the smaller the effort. If we start too late we will be at risk of arriving to unknown scenarios.
- The consequences are not crystal clear but it is clear that can be very dangerous in the long-term for more than 2ºC. Sea level rise, water scarcity, extreme weathers among others can make our life difficult and our societies unstable.
Next month a new edition will start, very advisable for anyone with interest in this important subject, more considering the flexibility of MOOCs, you can participate actively or just watch some lectures to learn about particular aspects.
This year I am enjoying my summer holidays in this beautiful coastal place called Sukarrieta. The summer up to date has been better than usual, and here this is definitively positive but I don’t intend to start a weather description typical of any skeptical blog. I just imagine for short periods of time how it will be the summer period for the people living or just spending holidays here.
And I imagine that many actions and enjoyments that are part of the everyday summer life here will have to adapt or disappear, as the small boat trips, the funny children swimming competition, the small or big beaches that form with the tides,…
Certainly, this town should have the potential to adapt to climate change. Maybe the whole wonderful area of Urdaibai will loose a lot of charm and biodiversity, and some more unpredictable things. Is everyone more or less conscious of this? I don’t think so.
However other places that live more from the weather based turism, and or that will become hardly enjoyable in summer will suffer much more and are as conscious.
Carbon Bubble concept is a very interesting one, clearly supported by most climate hawks but somehow questioned too in other cases as: “Carbon Bubbles — Who’s Kidding Who?“. The concept is a translation from financial or housing bubbles. Bubbles are wonderful, the grow and grow until they explode, it is a very well-known concept in the south of Europe recently and in many other places along history.
So, what would be a carbon bubble? It is simple, even if the estimations of fossil fuel reserves are correct a great part of them should not be used if we do not want to enter in a really catastrophic climate change, so they should be useless and the companies that own them not so worthy.
Yet, this idea is not mainstream in any stock market or society and the oil or gas deposit continue to be considered as valuable as ever or more. This is a contradiction for many as climate change is widely recognized (even for oil companies) as a threat, the question is that most uf us in OCDE theoretically recognise climate change as a scientific fact but do not go further to consider it a vital challenge of our generation, and this is the problem. While this problem persists the carbon bubble will remain wandering harmless and several people will have to insist in the need of urgent action..
This study published in Nature is very interesting because makes numbers about emission targets, the peak emission year and the consequences up to 2100. The study recognizes the great grade of uncertainty in some aspects as the absolute amount of consequences and this in my opinion gives it more credibility.
On the other hand it states clearly than the date and the amount of the peak of emission is more important than the later reduction rate. It says that even if it very difficult to know what will happen exactly the proportion of it will be much lower if we peak our emissions fast.
I find this result interesting, important and encouraging at the same time. Because it would not be so difficult to peak world emissions:
- Most European nations and maybe the USA have done so
- The BRICS, concretely China and India had better add new power by renewables than coal, it makes sense in many aspects.
- The poorest countries do not have much influence in the decisions nor in the emissions, but for them too renewables with help of richer countries make more sense.
Going further to the 80% reduction from current emissions as the final target seems much more difficult but this study finds we have some extra time for that. So let’s start with the first step: the world emissions peak.
Many people in the maritime transport industry is thinking about the possibilities of using the shorter northern passage to go and come from Asia. Even the north pole could be reachable by 2050 with a small icebreaker. This can be considered a positive consequence? I think so, as it will make easier, shorter, cheaper and less carbon intensive to transport many goods in the northern hemisphere.For climate change itself the negative impact is much bigger than the positive as the albedo, or reflectiveness of the ice is greater so more sun energy will be absorbed.
But above all, in my opinion, it is agreat prove that something really important is changing in our planet in spite of all skeptics comments, because the ice shells are a first order displays of the heat content in our planet surface. The averages of the temperatures measured in many weather stations over the world are not so easy to see but a clear ocean in the north pole is something very very expressive. What will skeptics invent then? Will they still be skeptics then?