Sunday, October 7, 2012

Climate Change Stress Disorder

I wasn't kidding about Climate Change Stress Disorder. Climate change is ruining my life. Just look at my reading list from the last couple of years. Add to that the parade of climate science papers, government reports, and blogs, and it's a wonder I get out of bed in the morning. Every day, I try to engage everyone I meet about climate change. Here's what I tell them, if I get the chance:

Climate change is going to be much worse, much sooner than they think. Believe it or not, there's going to be serious psychological and physical impact on them personally, and especially on their children. My short list of topics includes:

Climate migration: The forecast calls for latitudes close to the equator to become increasingly uninhabitable. People are already pouring out of North Africa and Mexico, testing the limits of rich northern countries. Fortifying borders may buy a little time, but it doesn't solve internal migration. Fast-growing desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas won't be sustainable in the long run. Try telling that to the people who live there.

Coastal property values: It's some of the most valuable real estate, but its future value is zero. Families with vacation homes in Florida love to hear this. Try explaining to people that it was a mistake to rebuild New Orleans. North Carolina's new law that eliminates climate science from real estate assessment is classic avoidance behavior. And then there's Peter Ward's point: we don't have to worry about escaping to exoplanets, because we'll be busy moving our airports.

Suburban life: Instead of developing mass transit, America decided to build a suburban society organized around cars and highways. I work in the suburbs, and the people I meet there drive everywhere, often in SUVs and trucks. For fun they drive to the mall. For vacations they take a plane somewhere. Try explaining to them that the party's over. They don't want to hear it. That's why Obama doesn't talk about it.

China, India and other non-OECD countries plan to increase (NOT decrease) their fossil fuel consumption in order to achieve an OECD standard of living (see previous post), and we're in no position to dissuade them. We are not going to embargo or invade China to enforce carbon rules, and persuasion isn't likely to work either, particularly since 1) a significant portion of their emissions actually belong to us, 2) we owe them vast sums of money, and 3) it's hard to preach austerity convincingly while we're dying of diseases of affluence.

Even climate scientists are frightened and increasingly they're saying so publicly. If they're upset why shouldn't I be? Why isn't it okay to be upset and frightened? It should be obvious to anyone who keeps up with even a modest percentage of climate science that civilization is about to suffer a major setback, far more serious than WWII. States are going to fail, and not only in Africa. I'm traumatized, just by knowing this, and I don't even have children. I was born in Manhattan, and my whole life has revolved around the soft intellectualism of First World civilization, in all of its imperial glory. Mama didn't raise me to be an agriculturalist, or for Mad Max or the zombie apocalypse or whatever is coming. I apologize if my prose lacks the scholarly tone of cautious understatement, but I'm upset from trying to digest vast quantities of terrifying and rapidly changing information.

The future looks impossible

Regarding the alleged majority of voters who care about climate change: even if that's so and Obama is reelected, judging by Obama's performance so far it seems wildly unrealistic to expect him to do a fossil fuel about-face any time soon. But more importantly, I submit that the elusive presidential climate policy is mere distraction, because America is already a sideshow. To wit:

"China's economic growth is projected to continue and to drive increasing energy consumption for several decades (Figure 1). By 2035, China is likely to see a large increase in demand for primary energy, perhaps up by nearly 70% from the present levels (IEA, 2011a). This demand is likely to be met by increasing use of fossil fuels along with other sources, such as nuclear and renewable." [my emphasis]

IEA 2012 - Facing China's Coal Future: Prospects and Challenges for Carbon Capture and Storage, p. 7 PDF here

See also Figure 1 from the same page.

"The IEO2011 Reference case projects about 1 trillion metric tons of additional cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 2009 and 2035 ... In the period from 2021 to 2035, cumulative emissions are 22 percent higher than those in the period from 2006 to 2020 ... Non-OECD Asia is the dominant source of cumulative emissions growth in the 30 years preceding 2035." [my emphasis]

US EIA International Energy Outlook 2011, p. 143 PDF here

See also Figures 115 & 116 from the same page.

There's further corroboration in UNEP's GEO5, and in BP's June 2012 "Statistical Review of World Energy".

Hence my claim to the relevance of Peter Calthorpe's Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction article (@68 & 71). Did anyone read it? His main source seems to be the 2009 McKinsey report "Preparing for China's urban billion" but I can supply plenty more. "China's urban population is projected to grow by 350 million people by 2020, effectively adding today's entire U.S. population to its cities in less than a decade ... the country's vehicle fleet could grow from more than 200 million today to as many as 600 million by 2030."

Since Americans own the largest share of historical emissions, we're in no position to tell the Chinese what to do, as they keep pointedly reminding us. I agree with Prof. Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Climate Center): the future looks impossible. We haven't even finished melting the Arctic and I'm already suffering from CCSD (Climate Change Stress Disorder). Help!