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.
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.
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.)