Coming soon to a planet near you…

The blue marble… chaos.

The dissenting voices in the Climate Change Debate are fading. Now that even renowned intellectual George Dubbya has bowed to the inevitable, the scientific community is near unanimous in their overall acceptance. There are enormous problems ahead. Even if global warming wasn’t being caused by our profligate ways, it still exists and the problems will still arise.

If we started tomorrow doing everything right, the warming trend will continue for decades anyway, just not as quickly. We aren’t going to do everything right. The global economy, economic growth in newly emerging economies and population growth have so much momentum that the root causes are just going to keep on growing. Nobody understands that continual growth is not an option.

Here’s where it gets nasty

The scientific community have been hiding their lamps under bushels. The IPCC report played down a lot of the bad news under political pressure and because there was no hard evidence for some of the positive feedback mechanisms that could lead to an imminent tipping point and to more rapid growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Examples:

  • The ice caps are high albedo areas, i.e. reflective, they reflect a high proportion of solar radiation straight back into space. As the ice caps shrink, and they’re doing just that much more quickly than predicted, the exposed dark sea water and land is much more absorbent of heat.
  • The same applies to snow lines.
  • As the permafrost melts in Siberia and elsewhere, methane starts to be produced in the resulting bogs and enters the atmosphere. Methane is about 25 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
  • Methane release is already happening.

The upshot?

As warming continues, the amount of water evaporation will lead to more water vapour in the atmosphere. Sadly, water vapour is also a greenhouse gas. There will be more rainfall. Sadly again, it won’t be in the same places as it is now. It won’t be right places. The current bread baskets of the world will be drier. The North American mid-West and Canadian prairies, the ex Soviet Republics, the Mediterranean basin, southern Africa and Australia where it’s already started and the mid-latitudes of South America. The world’s food producing areas will move towards the poles. In some cases and for some crops this will be a good thing, overall however we will produce less food.

A lot less. The population is increasing. You work it out.

When there isn’t enough food to go around, those of us sitting in productive and low population density areas like New Zealand will have reason to feel very nervous. If you’re starving in Bangladesh or Indonesia and there’s a big chunk of productive land down south with a tiny population and no significant defences what are you going to do?

There will be hundreds of millions of refugees. It’s time for Australia and New Zealand to do a bit of co-operative planning. It’s time for New Zealand to reverse our short sighted, stupid, selfish attitude to defence spending.

What happens when the snow melt in the big mountain ranges is drastically reduced? What effect will reduced flow in the Ganges have on India, Bangladesh and Pakistan? The Yellow River? The Mekong? the Yangtse?

Bit of a worry.

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