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Warm, and getting warmer: New NASA data show just how quickly the climate is changing. What can we do now?

Brad DeLong, professor of economics | April 30, 2010

It is about time to panic.

According to the NASA data, we have just experienced the hottest 12-month period in more than 100 years, which means that the past 12 months have been the hottest in at least the past 1,000 years.

What does this mean? Well, if global temperatures continue to rise at the rate that they have risen for the past generation, then the world of 2100 will see a world 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the world of the 1970s. New York will get the climate of Washington. Los Angeles will get the climate of Tijuana.

But global warming might accelerate, especially if China, India and other industrializing powers continue to increase the amount of carbon dioxide they pour out. Perhaps the world by 2100 will be 9 degrees hotter than the world of the 1970s. That would give Washington the climate of Miami and Los Angeles the climate of Cabo San Lucas.

And we might get lucky. We might learn that the climate is in fact immensely stable on the upside. Even though past ice ages have ended quickly with very rapid warming, perhaps there are factors in the Earth’s biosphere that allow it to soak up excess carbon dioxide quickly, like a sponge, and perhaps the world of 2100 will not be much warmer than the world of today. Or perhaps we will discover magical new energy technologies that are actually cheaper than our current technologies and will be rapidly adopted without the governments of the world lifting a finger to take action.

But that is not the prudent way to bet. The prudent thing to do is to plan, and to hedge: to plan for the most likely case, and to hedge by taking precautions — insurance — against the worst case. The world was supposed to plan how to deal with our global warming future at Kyoto. And then the world was supposed to plan for how to deal with our global warming future at Copenhagen. It did not do so.

So what do we do now?

Let us start with our global institutions. It is a fact that global warming is not likely to be a total human catastrophe here in California during the next 100 years. We will mourn the losses of our glaciers and our snowpack. We will lament the extinction of the polar bear, the coral reefs and the giant sequoias. We will be distressed at the transformation of California’s Central Valley into the north Mojave Desert. But many San Franciscans really won’t mind having the climate of Los Angeles. And many Angelenos will not be greatly distressed to have the climate of Tijuana. We will probably move a few miles north and relocate economic activity to get out of the paths of hurricanes and droughts. We will turn down our heaters and turn up our air conditioners. We will live our lives. It will be expensive for us to simply adapt, and it would be cheaper over the next century to deal with the problem. But here in California, there’s little question we will be able to adapt without immediate human catastrophe for the next century.

That’s not the case for Asia. China, India and their neighbors will soon have 3 billion peasants farming in the great river valleys of Asia. They depend on regular monsoon rains in the valleys and water flows down the channels of the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers. Global climate change means that there will either be more precipitation in the valleys and feeding the rivers — or much less. If there is more, millions will die in floods, and the dwelling and working places of hundreds of millions will simply be washed away. The 3 billion are not rich enough to abandon their land and move away. They are also not rich enough to protect themselves. If there is much less water, hundreds of millions will die in famine and drought. Again, the peasant farming populations of Asia are not rich enough to abandon their land and move away. And they are also not rich enough to bring icebergs up from the Antarctic and pipe the water uphill from the sea to their farms.

The peasant farming populations are not rich enough to simply adapt. So the first thing we need to do is to beg the rulers of China and India to understand their nations’ long-term interest.

But even if China and India understand and join the North Atlantic and the island nations of the Pacific in understanding the immensity of the long-run problem, that will not be enough. In the current international forum, China and India are simply two out of a 150 nations, and consensus is required. That is just too big a body with too many conflicting interests.

So the second thing we need to do is change the forum. We need a climate council made up of the seven governments that have the biggest power to influence the climate and the most at stake: the United States and the European Union, along with Japan, China, India, Indonesia and Brazil. Once the council has agreed to a treaty, it should be enorced by using aggressive and substantial trade sanctions against outsider countries that do not want to come up to the mark.

Utopian? Yes. Impractical? Probably. But what is the practical and realistic alternative that it would be better to push for?

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times

Comments to “Warm, and getting warmer: New NASA data show just how quickly the climate is changing. What can we do now?

  1. Brad, “What can we do now?” is the most important question today, a question that really is:
    What MUST we do today?

    A most inconvenient truth is that it has been half a century since Charles Keeling created his Keeling Curve to warn us and today acceptable quality of life for all future generations depends on our implementing the correct answers immediately, or calamity will most certainly become an inevitable consequence because of the political and intellectual culture of arrogance, indolence and ignorance that still fails the people of California and Humanity today.

    A most tragic fact of life is that politicians and scholars have allowed the legacy of the Greatest Generation to be destroyed, instead of producing the highest quality of life in history, with worldwide peace and prosperity that was entirely possible after the most heroic sacrifices of WWII.

    And a worst-case scenario failure was that UC and Edward Teller’s LLNL had the best chance to protect and preserve humanity by creating controlled fusion, but they failed because the power of money dominated their culture to produce holocaust bombs instead.

    Sadly, marginalization of inconvenient truth by the powers that be continue today with their refusal to make some excellent papers produced by passionate, committed, brilliant UC professors and students at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2006 , including the following papers emphasizing the unacceptable consequences devastating quality of life in California today:

    Extreme science by Michael Zielenziger
    Global Warning Map
    Flower power: a profile of John Harte by Peter Alsop
    California at risk: Map by the Geographic Information Science Center
    Can we adapt in time? By Sandy Tolan

    We MUST educate the general population on global warming because of the increasingly unacceptable consequences of continuing failures to address the disasters we are already experiencing in California, so that the vast majority of voters will immediately demand political actions with the required sense of urgency to protect and preserve an acceptable quality of life for future generations of Californians and Humanity.

    Thus, another question that must be answered before your question Brad is:

    Do enough scholars at UC really care to make the right things happen with the required sense of urgency, because most obviously not enough people have heard and understood you yet?

  2. In 1961, President Eisenhower presented his Farewell Address to the Nation where he warned us:

    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”

    Far too many of our political and academic powers that be chose to marginalize that warning to our grave peril.

    We can add many other highly respected warnings that have also been marginalized at our peril during the 20th century from UC’s Charles Keeling to Nature’s Sir John Maddox, yet here we are in 2010 still accelerating past “350 or Bust” failing to avoid far too many tipping points.

    The worst fact of life is that the future of the human race is controlled by far too many PTBs who are arrogant, indolent, greedy, immoral and ignorant with no recovery in sight.

  3. To O’Connell,

    I’m not much on simplistic analogies, and that also have emotional tinges too them.
    NASA’s Drew Shindell obtained a B.A., 1988, from The University of California, Berkeley. He is a ozone specialist and climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His study is actually difficult to understand unless you dis-associate yourself from the emotional body of climate change ( Formally global warming, previously global cooling, and previously before that it was global warming and previously before that it was again global cooling) and have a sound intellectual capacity to analysis statical charts in chemistry and political corollaries. His mentor, from working on a post-doc at Princeton, actually founded the global climate change movement back in the late 1980s. However, they differ now because of different scientific findings. What NASA says is actually what U.C. Berkeley in general says to the public because of political funding. Without climate ‘scare!’ the U.C. Congress will not fund the U.C. systems or promote them — thus defunding of climate change studies. It’s a catch -22. That is a large problem in history, which is my major. When the state and universities merge in history, and they actually have done this even in the pre- science revolutionary ages, they ideologically ban- together regardless or facts or truth.
    A larger problem at this time is the overpopulation on planet Earth, the continual ethnic competition for resources and the extreme expensiveness of alternative energies. We can run our cars on corn-oil, but it is not possible to produce those quantities at the current rate of global usage. We need less hatred, less global scaring ‘pay-me-more-money’ tactics, and more focuses on alternative energy and less racial- ethnic posturing in a global sense. Until then, the safety of our planet will not matter as war will come and chose for us our fate! Perhaps, that is what some secret global governments want an elimination of a large mass of humans from our planet.

    If you read NASA’s Drew Shindell ‘s study it shows that clean-air regulations actually cause global warming. Pollution is a different topic all together. It is a fact that before the EPA begun under Nixon and continued that acid rain actually was coming down on different environments all around the planet. But at that time climate scare academia was screaming the planet was going to freeze to death, so better give them all your money or you will die.

    Michael

    As far as pollution, in the bay area we get China’s pollution as it comes across the Pacific. Good chance in trying to get them to stop their industrialization. Good luck. I have a feeling they will not listen to anyone in America — even the President.

  4. In writing about the risks of climate change DeLong takes a horizon of 90 years, reaching to 2100 in anticipating the likelihood of a 4-9 F temperature increase but seems to assume there will be no development – economic development – in southeast Asia in this time.

    It is extremely unlikely that in 2100 or even in 2060 there will be three billion Asian peasants. At China’s current growth rate in 2060 its per capita wealth will be about 16-20 times higher than now. The same goes for India, which at present lags behind Thailand and other ASEAN countries. By 2060 all will be developed countries if current trends continue. Then, as in Europe and North America, under 3% of the population will be directly involved in food production, and these people will not be peasants.

    Neither flooding nor drought pose the major risk that Delong describes. He seems completely unaware that all mentioned rivers are already dammed and more dams are planned: The Three-Gorges dam on the Yangtze as good as makes the risk of flood a thing of the past. The Yellow river is so dammed and so much water taken out for irrigation that long stretches of the lower reaches of the Yellow now run dry. China plans seven dams on the upper Mekong. The story is similar for the Indus and Ganges: they are already dammed and more will be built.

    In considering such a long period, population changes must be taken into effect. If current demographic trends continue in China the population will peak around 2050-2060 and then decline – decline in an amazing fashion from 1300 million to around 750 million people. This will of course reduce the need for water and the number of people who might live in former flood zones. One can say similar things about India and the ASEAN countries.

  5. The problem is that the negotiation at Copenhagen was a dysfunction relationship. As one Chinese official put it, “So let me get this straight. You want us to pay for the sins of your grandfathers?” He’s referring to the fact that most of the CO2 in the atmosphere right now came from the industrialization of the now developed countries. China and the U.S. are speaking a different language and that makes it complicated to try to tell them what to do.

  6. Actually for the last 15 years, the global temperature has been decreasing. Once China and India ( Mainly China ) Fired up their industrial complex of coal factories to power their industrialization, a correlation of global cooling has been observed. NASA’s Drew Shindell of the Goddard Institute on 9 April 2009 released in the Los Angeles Times his study that Clean=Air-regs, not CO2 are actually melting the Ice Caps. This was a 26 year study and can be found at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1167404 ;Internet. Also, since ClimateGate 9 ref. Hockystick gragh, most Americans and many Europeans now do not believe in man made global warming. They understand that academia from all over the world is being funded by their Parliaments or by their Congresses and to keep this funding coming in they have too keep the lie going — thus the faking of graphs and studies by academia.

    In fact, it was found out that all the weather monitoring stations in the cold-regions of the world were taken off-line (many years ago!) so that the hot weather monitoring stations could be the only datas for collection. This was apparently to keep the skewing of the global temperature — e.g. to keep the funding flowing into academia. Most, if not all , geologists understand that climate change is cyclical occurance and our current ‘scare’ & ‘fear-mongering’ by these special interest groups are nothing but devices for global control. For example, China believes that signing on to the global warming measures would prevent them from finishing their industrialization. So we have competing and perhaps, hostile global interests in the international scene.

    Geologists know that when a massive eruption by historical volcanic activity takes place in history, the earth goes through either years, or decades of global cooling. Today global warming fearmongering academics say this is a lie. There is no difference in the CO2 exhibited by humans or volcanos. Also, no one can measure the inferred radiation that escapes the earth == so one cannot measure global warming by this method which is the most important method to gain an accurate reading. Thus, this is a ploy for continuing funding when in fact, financial funding of Universities are being hit by the global economic crisis.

    SEARCH:* Image results for Hockey Stick graph global warming .

    This fraud is still going on today. It is a shame that truth cannot be promulgated. Greenland was named in the medieval age because, alas, it was Green! and people grew food there! It is in the prime sources too! Today, it is mostly ice. The people of the world are laughing at Academia today, and understand the lies. They are not against Green technology, they are however, against the controls of the governments who want them to suffer. China, India and other emerging industrial nations are also understanding the Gore and the global warmist fearmongers are really all about shutting down their state ascendancy.

    • Michael-
      I was a smoker. My son, then 13, asked me how I could have even started smoking and begged me to quit. To excuse my addiction, I explained that in the early 60s, the dangers of smoking were not known and I therefore began smoking without the knowledge of its dangers. It had unfortunately become an addiction and difficult to stop. My son’s response is one I’ll never forget and made me feel like such a fool. “Mom, it doesn’t take any scientific study to get that smoking is inhaling pollutants and it’s obviously going to hurt you.” In the 60s, there actually were many scientific studies to confirm what my son had instinctively understood – smoking kills. But the public (and I) chose instead to read and accept other so-called studies which disparaged scientific data. Why is that?
      This is a simple analogy which I believe a good response to your comments.

      There is much discussion of global warming. This is not the term that correctly expresses the danger of human overindulgence on things that destroy our planet. Climate change is but one consequence to chosen human ignorance.

      Our earth is a living, breathing, and natural body. It cannot continue to filter out the enormous amount of pollutants human technology has managed to create. Even a 13 year old gets that reality. False data? I think not.

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