December 23, 2006
What is the climate like in your home town?
Last week the Radio Ecoshock internet station went down for two days, while we shivered in the dark with no electricity, along with a quarter million other Vancouver area residents. Trees more than three hundred years old were knocked down, whole parks flattened. But the local newspaper managed to find one climate expert who says that’s just weather. Nothing to do with climate change, just move along folks.
A typhoon strength storm swept across the entire North West of the United States as well, causing deaths, massive power outages, and plenty of property damage.
Meanwhile, the American East Coast was basking in summer weather. Seventy six degrees in the American capital, people playing tennis in shorts in New York City. Still the major news networks managed to find spokespeople to deny any connection to global warming.
In Europe, the Alps don’t have any snow on the famous ski hills. They are offering hiking tours instead. Roses are blooming in England. The Oak trees have sprouted new leaves – right along side the yellow leaves of Fall. In Moscow, the grizzly bear in the Zoo won’t go into hibernation – it’s too hot.
Here is my opinion. You can line up every scientist Exxon/Mobil ever paid, in a grand chorus of denial – but most people know darn well we’ve screwed up the climate. Scientists have predicted more severe storms, and warmer winters, as key signs of climate change. Why is everyone afraid to come out and say it?
Sure, every year will have some different weather. We didn’t have a big hurricane season in North America this year, as some had predicted. That doesn’t mean the ten year picture for hurricanes isn’t awful, with some more strong monsters like Rita, Wilma, and Katrina on their way.
Yes, we have seen a Green Christmas before. But the Canadian weather service says the chance of having a white Christmas has dropped from about 80% in the 1970’s, to 30% now. Scientists expected a gradual transition toward warmer winters – but the last few years show that climate change is developing much more rapidly than anyone thought possible – mainly due to positive feedback loops left out of earlier models. The natural systems are less stable than we thought.
Predictably, lots of people tired of winter – shoveling snow, shivering inside heavy clothing – secretly love the new weather. There are lots of blogs showing up saying “I love global warming!” No doubt this will become a chic movement. [news clip – “I love global warming’] You can already order that on a button.
A cheerleader for climate change has already been appointed. Myron Ebell wrote an op-ed published in Forbes magazine, December 8th, titled “What’s wrong with mild winters, anyway?” Lots of people die in winter storms he says, and anyway, people are moving to the Southern United States because they like heat. Myron Ebell is director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It’s only co-incidence that this Institute received one million, three hundred and eighty thousand dollars from oil giant Exxon/Mobil – the largest single donation to any of the pro-energy, anti-environment groups Exxon funds.
We should ask the thousands of displaced people from New Orleans if they’re bullish on climate change. Or the hundreds of millions of people who will be flooded out, starved, or just plain killed by heat, in tropical countries. Not to mention all the species that will die, like the polar bears, because they can’t adapt to rapid climate change.
We’re in the early days of an epic struggle to survive the disaster of fossil fuels. The war against the climate, and the natural world, has already been declared, but like Europe in 1939, the major invasions haven’t started. The politicians haven’t started either. No real action to save the climate, and we’re all shopping like there’s no tomorrow. We’re in the “Phony War” stage.
Here’s a little friendly advice from the storm zone:
Find a home that can withstand high heat and wind. Is your house or condo already too hot in the summer – without air conditioning? Time to think of relocating, because the power to run air-conditioning might not be there, and you may experience 50 degree heat. Basements are good. Think low-energy swamp coolers hitched up to solar panels. Or, as Gaia scientist James Lovelock suggests, if you are young, consider moving North now.
Within the lifetime of children, the American South may become uninhabitable due to high heat, water shortages, and storms stronger than anything yet seen. In a November 28th speech to the Institution of Chemical Engineers, Lovelock again suggested the polar regions may be the only place left habitable for humans by the year 2100, due to runaway climate change. One of his slides is the most frightening map I have ever seen.
All of Africa, all of South America – except for the southern most tip, most of Asia (including India and China), Australia, and all of Southern Europe are shown as desert-like uninhabitable regions. Humans, and most life forms, would be forced to northern Canada, Scandinavia, and Northern Russia.
Even most of the ocean would become a severely reduced life-form area, basically deserts, due to overheating. Most of us picture tropical waters as rich with life, like the coral reefs we see in films. In fact, these reefs, and some underwater mountain tops, are the exception. The really rich ocean life zones are in cooler waters, further North and South. The oceans soak up our excess carbon and our excess heat. As they do so, they will begin to die off in the middle, while those species that can adapt will move further and further north. This is already happening. The coral reefs are dying, and tropical species are being caught in northern fishing nets for the first time.
You can see this map of doom at: www.icheme.org. Look for their December 1st press release on Lovelock, and then click on Figure Three.
Here is the link as a .pdf file:
Here is an .rtf file (Microsoft Word of Notepad) which can be viewed or downloaded:
(For your convenience, I’ve posted a version of what the world will look like if the global temperature goes up just 5 degrees, at: www.ecoshock.org/Lovelockmap.rtf.)
If humans are unable to stop building coal plants, and driving polluting cars – that is, if we continue with the fossil fuel economy – you need to get out a map book and learn the names of towns in the upper latitudes. If you are in your twenties or younger, you may spend your last years in Northern Canada, Europe, or Russia.
Meanwhile, we all need to do what we can. Personally, I developed my own climate plan a couple of years ago. First of all, I used to go to Mexico for a month or two every winter. It was great. Then I calculated that each trip added one ton of carbon to the atmosphere. I pictured a large bundle of carbon, lasting at least a hundred years, up there with my name on it. I didn’t like what I saw. So… winter trips to the South are out for me.
Next, I learned to use public transit. Sure I have a car, but again, I’m killing the planet with it. My target was to use public transit for 90% of my trips, and so far it has been no inconvenience at all. In fact, it has improved my mental health, because I avoid all that anger and fear that driving on congested, dangerous roads added to my life.
Looking in the longer term, I knew that our current parade of waste and energy gluttony cannot go on. I need a place with energy self-sufficiency, in a community close to local food production. My wife and I have purchased a property in a fruit and grain growing region that will remain habitable for our lifetimes. We are plotting our escape, and planning our energy self-sufficient house. Of course it will have to withstand terrible wind storms, and fires.
As the place heats up, and dries out, fires will be a fact of life for city dwellers and country folk alike. Many parts of North America have already experienced dangerous fires. Just last month, Los Angeles was threatened by several brushfires. And as you know, the Southern part of Australia, and Tasmania, are in flames. Record-breaking fires are turning long-standing trees and bush into carbon. Borneo was also burning this year, swamping Malaysia with smog. The Congo rainforest is burning, the Amazon is still burning, forests of the Rocky Mountains still suffer record fires. Even parks in well-known cities are not immune to fires, as global warming develops.
James Lovelock predicts that billions of humans will die due to climate change. The food system will break down as the ecosystem breaks down. And the oil-fuelled agribusiness will become unsustainable as energy runs out, plus government pressure, or bans, on fossil fuel products.
Most of us, we’ll adapt in this generation, and migrate in the next. But I fear for all the animals and plants who won’t make it. Many are already weakening and disappearing. The rich bounty of life has been irreparably damaged. Now we must act together to save what we can, including ourselves, from the tarry magic treasure we found under the Earth, and burned into the Sky.
That’s my wish for the New Year. You and I will meet in public places, change, and demand action from ourselves and our leaders. Eastern Europeans escaped the trap of Communism by simply showing up, night after night, by the millions, in public squares. Our urgent demand for action needs to be seen. What is more important – saving the climate, or watching your favorite television shows? Will we sail into disaster on our couches?
We can stop that 5 degree change from happening. One of the best plans comes from the British journalist George Monbiot. I urge you to listen to his speeches, posted on the Ecoshock website. It’s free. No one will sell you anything. Just download or listen to Monbiot’s speech in London, or Vancouver. He has a plan that can work with the technology we have now. Find that and more solutions and science at www.ecoshock.org.
Let’s turn this Death Ship around – before it sails over the edge of the World.
That’s it from Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock.