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Folks, climate change is a big problem, but I don't think most people understand how big. Partly, this is because we are talking about it wrong, focusing on the least important aspects, rather than the most important parts.

Nobody really cares about Polar Bears. I mean, sure, they're cute, and they make for good Coke ads, but exactly who's life is destroyed if they go entirely extinct?

Ocean rise is a bigger problem, but most people can't see it. If they don't live within a few feet of the surf, they think their house is safe, and they aren't sufficiently motivated.

Peak Oil has a better message than global warming: the Era of Cheap Oil is Over. Well, frankly, I think we may be facing a much worse problem: the Era of Cheap Food is Over.

Forget $200/bbl for oil. If we continue on the current path, we'll probably get to $200 for a Big Mac or a Fillet-o-Fish.

Explanation below...

First, let me say that rising sea levels are a potential economic killer: CNN: Sea level rise could cost port cities $28 trillion

A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world's largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

Yea, that's big money, and it could completely devastate our economy. Most every insurance company in the country could fail, or need a multi-trillion dollar bailout. But frankly, that doesn't scare me, much.

And Polar Bears are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the current extinction event. We are going to suffer a massive loss of biodiversity and radical changes in nature. And that's important not just because pretty animals disappear, or because the next cure for cancer is hidden in an Amazonian beetle, but because it causes ecological collapses in currently stable ecosystems. We kick things out of balance, and it takes tens of thousands to millions of years for that balance to restore itself.

ScienceDaily: Global Warming: Tree Deaths Have Doubled Across The Western U.S.

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and involving the University of Colorado at Boulder and Oregon State University as well as other research institutes indicates tree deaths in the West's old-growth forests have more than doubled in recent decades, likely from regional warming and related drought conditions.

So we're facing a massive loss of trees in the western US, a change that could completely change the nature of that half of the country. But frankly, that doesn't scare me, much.


Here's the study that has me really scared:
North Carolina State: U.S. Crop Yields Could Wilt in Heat

Yields of three of the most important crops produced in the United States – corn, soybeans and cotton – are predicted to fall off a cliff if temperatures rise due to climate change.

In a paper published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, North Carolina State University agricultural and resource economist Dr. Michael Roberts and Dr. Wolfram Schlenker, an assistant professor of economics at Columbia University, predict that U.S. crop yields could decrease by 30 to 46 percent over the next century under slow global warming scenarios, and by a devastating 63 to 82 percent under the most rapid global warming scenarios. The warming scenarios used in the study – called Hadley III models – were devised by the United Kingdom’s weather service.

The study shows that crop yields tick up gradually between roughly 10 and 30 degrees Celsius, or about 50 to 86 degrees Farenheit. But when temperature levels go over 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Farenheit) for corn, 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Farenheit) for soybeans and 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Farenheit) for cotton, yields fall steeply.

"While crop yields depend on a variety of factors, extreme heat is the best predictor of yields," Roberts says. "There hasn’t been much research on what happens to crop yields over certain temperature thresholds, but this study shows that temperature extremes are not good."

Did you see that? Let me repeat the important snip again, because it really is that imporant:

U.S. crop yields could decrease by 30 to 46 percent over the next century under slow global warming scenarios, and by a devastating 63 to 82 percent under the most rapid global warming scenarios.

Oh, and just to put a little perspective on that:

Roberts adds that while the study examined only U.S. crop yields under warming scenarios, the crop commodity market’s global reach makes the implications important for the entire world, as the United States produces 41 percent of the world’s corn and 38 percent of the world’s soybeans.

And let's make this a double whammy:
UN: World Population will increase by 2.5 Billion by 2050

The world population continues its path towards population ageing and is on track to surpass 9 billion persons by 2050, as revealed by the newly released 2006 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections.

Folks, this is a disaster brewing. More people, less food. The cheapest solution to that type of problem is usually the AK47 assult rifle. But that's a cheap solution, not a moral one.


Oh, wait a sec, I mentioned the Fillet-o-Fish, didn't I? Sure, most of the beef in this country is fed with grain crops, and warming is going to reduce the productivity of grain crops. So clearly, the cost of most foods, including grain-fed beef, will rise significantly. But that shouldn't have much effect on fish, will it? In fact, rising sea levels should just produce more area for fish to live in, right?

Well, first, don't forget that the oceans are already heavily overfished.
UN: Overfishing: a threat to marine biodiversity

"Overfishing cannot continue," warned Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Johannesburg. "The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people."

Now, greenhouse warming is the first consequence of adding CO2 to the atmosphere, but not all of that CO2 stays in the atmosphere. In fact, most of it is sucked down back into the oceans. But dissolving CO2 in seawater changes the pH of the water, causing ocean acidification.
Science Daily: Global Scientists Draw Attention To Threat Of Ocean Acidification

It is well established among researchers that the uptake of increased amounts of carbon dioxide will make ocean water more acidic as the gas dissolves to create carbonic acid. Ocean chemistry is changing 100 times more rapidly than in the 650,000 years that preceded the modern industrial era and since the late 1980s, researchers at Scripps Oceanography and others have recorded an overall drop in the pH of the oceans from 8.16 to 8.05.

This increased acidity can hamper the ability of a wide variety of marine organisms ranging from coral to abalone to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletonal structures. Researchers believe that at crucial stages in the larval and juvenile stages in the lives of many marine invertebrates, ocean acidification inhibits calcification, and also appears to affect reproduction and growth in some organisms.

But does increasing acidity in the ocean affect the supply of fish?  Yes.
ScienceDaily: Increased Ocean Acidification In Alaska Waters, New Findings Show

"The increasing acidification of Alaska waters could have a destructive effect on all of our commercial fisheries. This is a problem that we have to think about in terms of the next decade instead of the next century," said Mathis.

By the way, anyone know where most of the fish for the Fillet-o-Fish is caught? (Hint: It's mostly Alaskan pollock.)

Originally posted to Ashaman on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 06:21 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  More People. Less Food (19+ / 0-)

    The cheapest solution to that type of problem is usually the AK47 assult rifle. But that's a cheap solution, not a moral one.

    •  My problem is that we are experiencing (0+ / 0-)

      climate change.  We have more and stronger storms, etc, etc, sea levels are rising.  People in Bangladesh, Alaska and the island nations are already acutely aware that sea levels are rising.

      The problem comes in when we don't really know how this is going to play out.  There are several models out there dealing with warming, there are a few dealing with COOLING.

      There is evidence in the past that rising temperatures ultimately stop the ocean conveyor that moves warm water to cooler areas and vice versa.  If the conveyor stops, it would plunge North America into another ice age.  

      So how to proceed?  That is the real problem.  Dealing with CO2 emmisions is a given, although volcanic eruptions in the past have changed climate precipitacely for periods of time.  

      CO2 may be our most obvious target for a variety of reasons, but the elephant in the room is population growth.  Because of religious and other ideologies this subject has become the third-rail of world discussion.  Fifty years ago, birth-control was considered to be the salvation of the world.  How things have changed, and not for the better!  

      What we really need to do is accept that climate change is happening either warming or ultimately cooling and have the top scientists try to draw specific conclusions for a course of action over the next 50-100 years.

      We have had warming and cooling periods in the past that have both helped and plagued(literally) mankind.  Greenland is looking forward to ice melting and exposing minerals that they might be able to cash in on, to being able to grow crops, again.  Coastal areas are looking at innundation.  We need to change the way we build, where we build, what crops we grow, where we grow them and also deal with water problems.  It is a multi-headed Gorgon and we don't know which head needs to come off first.

      What we have to do is agree that there is change happening.  My sense is that the world governments are well-aware of what is going on and the implications of same and are trying to position themselves before the changes really kick in.  This is going to lead to a massive competition between "have" countries and the "have not" countries.  Massive migration and/or massive population extermination are two of the more heinous possibilities.

      We need to stop talking about "warming" and start talking about "change" in all it's possibilities.      

      •  Good points. Think 'Sustainable' living. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think you've got some good points, though I'm not particularly worried about ocean-driven ice ages. I think the more recent models show more moderate warming, rather than actual cooling, if the ocean currents are disrupted.

        My hope is that we start thinking in terms of 'sustainable' living, and that automatically brings population into the picture. With that approach, we become much more resistant to any form of change, even something like unexpected cooling (or even an asteroid hit).

        Keep thinking in terms of cost of inaction, that's the message we need right now.

        •  I read your diary on cost. It is true that a lot (0+ / 0-)

          of the resistance to and denial of climate change has to do with what it will cost entrenched entities to change their ways.  That is what we are dealing with now, although I think the climate bill is pretty much manure.  

          The money brokers can't wait to start trading carbon credits, it is a huge scam.  

          By focusing on developing renewable energy resources, and making fossil fuels more expensive to use, we could break through this road block.  Other countries charge a lot more for gas than we do and have modified behavior.  You can see how quickly things changed here when gas went to $4 a gallon and how quickly they went back to the same old same old when the price fell.   That's how the oil companies have been able to fend off renewables, it's the same trick they pulled in the 70's.  

        •  Sorry, I'm mixing diaries up this morning... (0+ / 0-)

          nevermind the cost comments! That was Colt45.

        •  I practice sustainable living as much as possible (0+ / 0-)

          but then I'm old and come from a long line of frugal people.  I think that local sustainable living groups will make inroads into our spending and throwing away pathology, as will our current economic crisis.  

          Waste not, want not was a way of life before we were encouraged to spend not only everything we made, but to buy it on credit based on future earnings.  There are people today learning a very hard lesson, and they will come out of it with a whole different appreciation for what a dollar will buy.  

          The population problem is made worse by the religious, ideological crowd who refuse to even discuss population control in any form.  How have we gone backward so far?  The conversations when I was young were all about a future where women weren't brood mares and could control the numbers of children they produced.  

  •  Actually, (6+ / 0-)

    "less food" is the solution to "more people."

    But it's not going to be pretty.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 06:29:31 AM PST

  •  Yup. (7+ / 0-)

    We're in BIG trouble and

    Nobody really cares about Polar Bears. I mean, sure, they're cute, and they make for good Coke ads, but exactly who's life is destroyed if they go entirely extinct?

    I stopped bringing this up when discussing climate change with my friends and others because they could give a flying you know what about polar bears.

    But I also have to say that major food shortages as a threat is just the same as rising sea levels.  Too abstract.

    I've come to the conclusion that we're going to have to start seeing the very bad effects of climate change IN OUR FACES before we really do anything about it.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill...America always does the right thing...after its exhausted all other options.

    I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

    by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 06:34:21 AM PST

    •  Human Nature (4+ / 0-)

      I think it's a fundamental flaw in human nature: we can't address a problem early, when the solution is easy. We always wait until it's bad, and 100x more expensive.

      •  Apparently so. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

        by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 06:49:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Arguing about Cost of inaction (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          environmentalist, marykk

          Most of the resistance to action comes in the form of arguments about the cost of action. "Clean energy will add $xxx to your yearly power bill" type of statements. Even if the number is wrong, it's been an effective counter to action.

          I think it's important to start hammering the actual costs of inaction. I like the $28 Trillion price tag on ocean rises, because it immediately trumps virtually any other argument. If the coal companies try to put a price on moving away from coal, all you gotta ask is "is that more or less than $28 Trillion?"

          I'd like to think that some researcher can assemble a similar projection for the cost of food. Even if it's a weak model, with large error bars, I bet the rising costs of food will easily trump the rising costs of energy. And while you can ignore the collapse of insurance companies, everybody buys food almost daily. The problem is that currently, nobody has published such a study (as far as I can tell).

          •  while I agree.... (0+ / 0-)

            Clearly the costs of inaction will be much much higher in lives and treasure that action.  I'm actually one of those nuts who thinks that ACTION will actually help the economy greatly!

            That said, what I hear from people is "bullsh*t".  People dont give a damn about the polar bears, sea level rise and collapse of the food system are too abstract and they think that 28 trillion is simply exagerated BS.  A friend of mine who IS a scientist (not in this field) says "I hate all the fearmongoring you people throw out".  When I sent him the link to Jim Hansens new book he said "see? more fear".

            Denial is a very powerful thing to overcome. I'm not optimistic.

            I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

            by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 07:11:32 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Insurance agency study (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I agree, people tend to just ignore these costs, call them BS. (I also agree that going green is very good for the economy).

              One of the strengths of the $28 Trillion study is that it was done for the insurance industry. They have a strong motivation to use unbiased results, since they go broke if they get the number wrong, either high or low.

              •  True and I think that (0+ / 0-)

                like many business people, the US military and others the insurance industry sees what is going on and will prepare.  So we do have very powerful allies.

                All I'm saying is that trying to convince the idiots is a waste of time and energy.  We need to bulldoze them - even if they are the majority.  Yes, I know how bad that sounds but its the realization I've come to after having argued this since the late 80s and having worked in the conservation field for a very long time.  Its useless.

                I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

                by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 07:25:22 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  and let me add this (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the time of convincing people is over.  its too late and there are too many dumbasses out there.

            In my humble opinion its time to move on and do what we can do...improve individual energy efficiency, work with other like-minded people within our communities on food-security, etc. and start new, green businesses.

            The debate is over and trying to convince people is over and the government is failing us.  Gotta move on.

            I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

            by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 07:15:06 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Going alone isn't enough (0+ / 0-)

              I'm afraid that trying for individual action isn't going to be big enough. If we all (environmentally sane people) buy fuel efficient cars, that just reduces demand and thus price pressure, and guzzlers can afford to burn more.

              In order to generate fairness, we need global action, enforced by laws at the local level. Costs need to be imposed for damaging actions, and those costs need to be shared appropriately.

              •  Well I'm not saying individual action. (0+ / 0-)

                I would agree that we need global action but that action is not going to come from national goverments.  Its going to come from communities and like-minded people.  Think of organizations like the ICLEI.  THats where we have to start.  Wall St. and big business has a stranglehold on our goverment...yes, Obama too.

                I have written an incredible book and YOU should buy it!

                by environmentalist on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 07:28:21 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Bangladesh's finance minister (5+ / 0-)

    is saying that all nations, especially the US and the UK should be ready to accept climate refugees on the same basis as political refugees because:

    "Twenty million people could be displaced [in Bangladesh] by the middle of the century," Abdul Muhith told the Guardian. "We are asking all our development partners to honour the natural right of persons to migrate. We can't accommodate all these people – this is already the densest [populated] country in the world,"

    The crop yields in the UK have been pretty sketchy these last few years due to increased rainfall. Our wheat has had better yields but much less protein content. If the food supply in the US and the UK go down, how will an influx of climate refugees be greeted? Probably not very politely.

    If nothing is very different from you, what is a little different from you is very different from you. Ursula K. Le Guin

    by northsylvania on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 07:07:00 AM PST

    •  Rich will buy food, poor will buy guns (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Rich countries, like the US and UK, will probably have no difficulty maintaining an adequate food supply. We can afford to out-bid virtually any 3rd world country for their resources, even if transportation costs skyrocket.

      Which, of course, will simply increase the motivation of the poor to buy guns. And the poor of the world outnumber the rich by a large margin.

      But doing that type of common sense analysis is probably hysterical alarmism, and we shouldn't go there for now. :)

    •  Not a great idea (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      northsylvania, Ashaman

      If you think there's opposition to Climate Change in the UK at the moment, try linking it to the immigration of 20 million from the Indian Subcontinent.

      I can't imagine quite how badly that would go down in the UK.

      "I, for one, would like to welcome our new Belgian overlords..."

      by Morus on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 08:17:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This diary is exactly why people (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mimi9, akeitz, mircead

    roll their eyes at global warming. Over hype and bs turns people off, and then when you try to discuss facts your audience is gone.  

    •  If you are saying this diary is over hype (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ashaman, dewley notid

      I say you are wrong. I agree with the diarist that the current crop of PR-oriented "effects of global warming" are not anywhere near the true effects (like the food situation described here) that will cause the most actual damage.

      Global warming isn't "warming" exactly, but rather the injection of more energy into the planetary ecosystem, which reappears chaotically. Modern human life is complex, so many areas connected like a house of cards. They are so balanced on each other that even a small change disproportionately rocks the boat.  

      The diarist's point is that you really don't want to be in that boat. I fail to see how anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention can argue with that.

      •  That is a new definition, I totally (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        disagree that the ecosystem is that precariously balanced as you described.  

        •  Read the PNAS study (4+ / 0-)

          Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a very reputable science journal. While this is probably a first attempt at quantifying the loss of productivity for grain crops, it's probably a pretty good one.

          The potential for food shortages is essentially a fact, we just don't know how bad it'll be. The early indications are that it could be worse than you expect.

          But this diary is about messaging and cost. We're not talking about the right costs, so people aren't motivated even if they accept the basic facts.

          •  Blowing them out of proportion does not help. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            The "potential for food shortages is essentially a fact".  That means nothing.  Is it going to be a 1% reduction or a 500% reduction.  Or could be that it actually increases food production.  I have a small greenhouse and guess what I do. I pump CO2 into it as most commercial growers do.  

            •  At what temperature do you keep your greenhouse? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ashaman, dewley notid

              This diary focused on the effects of increased temperature on crop yield, not increased CO2. Turn up the heat and the crops don't do so good. While it's true that greenhouse gases play a major role in turning up the heat, that wasn't the point.

            •  Ignore the study some more (3+ / 0-)

              Sure, just go ahead and ignore the study, I don't mind. But don't complain about facts that you are desperately trying to ignore.

              I don't care what gasses you pump into your greenhouse, that's not what the study primarily addressed. The issue is HEAT.

              The study shows that crop yields tick up gradually between roughly 10 and 30 degrees Celsius, or about 50 to 86 degrees Farenheit. But when temperature levels go over 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Farenheit) for corn, 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Farenheit) for soybeans and 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Farenheit) for cotton, yields fall steeply.

              That's a simple experiment to conduct: raise the temps in your greenhouse above the threshold listed, and watch yields. And notice that you do get increased yields for small temp rises, but things drop off after it gets too high.

              Given a specific amount of temperature rises (provided by the British Hadley model), it's easy to compute where crop productivity will go, once you have a curve for heat/yield effects.

              •  BTW you know what really scares me? (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Ahianne, blindcynic, Ashaman, satanicpanic

                1- The oceans can only absorb a finite amount of greenhouse gases. And when they hit that limit, and our industrial society is still generating CO2 just as fast but now there's no convenient sink for it ... the speed at which the climate changes could make today's effects look like a walk in the park.

                2- The global warming trend is also unfreezing the arctic tundra, in which is trapped a huge amount of methane, which is some 20-odd time more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. When the tundra really starts warming it'll let out all that trapped methane.

                Combined, we have a hockey stick of climate change in our future. If we can't deal with the rate of change confronting us now (and apparently we can't, we're in deep denial) just wait until these effects kick in.

  •  You have made your point. What do we do about it? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The only immediate fix I see is massive reduction in use of energy by everyone living in the USA. This means sleeping in winter coats, driving a whole lot less, not using snowmobiles, etc.

    Or is there something else that can be done to start reducing greenhouse gases this very day? It is obvious that conversion to renewable energy is the long term solution, but it seems like we can't simply continue our current energy useage and wait for the Green Revolution from our government. So, what are we supposed to do?

    I voted with my feet. Good Bye and Good Luck America!!

    by shann on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 09:24:17 AM PST

    •  Basic solution is simple (0+ / 0-)

      The basic approach is pretty well known: put a direct economic cost onto greenhouse pollution, and people will rapidly find cleaner alternatives. That cost in it's simplest form is a carbon tax, but I think a cap and trade policy will work just as well.

      The biggest short term obstacle is getting people to admit that there is a serious problem coming, and to break the inertia for inaction. This diary is really a statement about messaging, about how we communicate the costs of inaction. Once people realize that inaction has massive costs associated, then the correct actions become much easier.

      •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Just as when gasoline hit $5 a gallon around here (NC) summer before last, then the supply dried up completely after hurricane damage to refineries in Texas, people simply stopped driving so much. That hurt our tourism a lot, but then, some of us couldn't get to the nearest city with gas and home again due to purchase limits. So entire towns and all the industries shut down, State Police were commandeering tankers on the Interstate to supply fuel to fire and EMT vehicles. Conservation kicks in at the higher price, and when it's not available at all people do something else with their time.

        Gasoline use dropped by more than 50% at that price and supply. Obviously we need to adjust our taxing structure to KEEP fuel at a high enough price to discourage use. Same is true for electricity, as new coal plants here have been scrapped due to diminished demand. We'll only do something else when we've run out of money to do the same old thing. Government policy can help to accomplish that, probably better than simple greed from corporations.

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