Perhaps you’ve read Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. More likely you’ve looked at the cover photos, grimaced, and turned away. But do take a look at Our Summer Vacation: 20,000 dead wherein Davis ties this past August’s wave of European heat death to the more routine suffering of the poor and the forgotten, and then shares his personal greenhouse nightmare: a positive feedback caused by the now almost inevitable melting of the Arctic ice cap.
Speaking of August, 2003’s was the Northern hemisphere hottest on record, and according to the Earth Policy Institute’s Janet Larson, whose detailed numbers nice supplement Davis’s, it actually accounted for 35,000 deaths.
Speaking of greenhouse body counts, the estimate of 160,000 deaths a year has been in the news lately, thanks to a new report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The majority of these deaths occur in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, where people are more vulnerable to malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea as hotter temperatures settle in and floods and droughts become more common.
This figure demands to be put in perspective. Here’s one place to start: the World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes 1.6 million deaths per year. That’s an even power of ten greater than the greenhouse body count, and this time the situation is crystal clear: the killer here is poverty, pure and simple.
In the small but significant step department, the Presidents of Argentina and Chile have come out for a per capita climate accord. It’s not China, but it’s welcome news in any case!
Think of it: only 30 years from Pinochet to Per capita!
Physics Today has just run an unusually salient history of science article, The Discovery of Rapid Climate Change, which among much else focuses on how rapidly the research community’s perception of the risks of rapid climate change is changing. Got that And note that a longer article, focusing on rapid one-way climate shifts, is available here.
If the WMO press release is too understated for your taste, try the articles that George Monbiot and John Vidal have been publishing in the Guardian recently. Particularly notable are:
* Monbiot’s Shadow of Extinction which presents evidence that the great Permian extinction may have been caused by a mere 6C degrees of climate change. (July 1st)
* Vidal’s Global Warming may be Speeding Up, which evocatively argues that this summer’s global drought/heatwave could indicate that the warming has already begun to accelerate. (Aug 6th)
* Monbiot’s With Eyes Wide Shut, which reviews some of the more terrifying of the recent science, and suggests that we are, perhaps, living in a dream. (Aug 12th) All three of these articles cite a recent workshop where top atmospheric scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and Bert Bolin, former chairman of the IPCC, concluded that the masking effect that aerosols are having on the warming could be far greater than previously thought, and that, therefore, the IPCC’s estimate of the “high end” danger could turn out to be far too low. For more on this, see First, the Bad News in the current issue of Climate Equity Observer.
This Strategic Assessment of the Kyoto-Marrakech System was jointly prepared by an impressive list of European climate policy researchers, gathered together under the “Climate Strategies” umbrella. You’ll definitely want to start with the (mercifully short) synthesis report and then, to drill deeper, download the underlying “modules” (why not just call them papers) from the British Centre for Energy Policy and Technology. All, curiously, except Benito Muller’s “Module 4” on Framing Future Commitments, which isn’t downloadable. Instead you get it (a free PDF) by emailing www.oxfordenergy.org (at firstname.lastname@example.org), and we, actually, recommend that you do. Take a special look at page 68, where Benito lays down his notion of the “twin taboos” (one Northern; one Southern) that underlie the current impasse, and at the appended comments (starting on page 123) by Anju Sharma of India’s Centre for Science and the Environment.
The Myth, of course, is that any serious effort to control emissions is bound to bankrupt us. The reality, as shown, once again, by two authoritative studies of the McCain Lieberman proposal, is far different.
The better known of the two is the Emissions Trading to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States: The McCain-Lieberman Proposal, better known as “The MIT study, which showed that the per-household “welfare loss” would typically be a mere $50 to $175 in 2010, rising to about $100 to $350 per household in 2020. And this, please note, was the original McCain Lieberman proposal, before it was watered down to win more vote.
Still, that would be enough to hurt the poor, so we felt better when the Tellus Institute released its Analysis of the Climate Stewardship Act. Tellus’ analysis, while entirely consistent with the MIT study, also assumed targeted policies designed to promote efficiency and renewables, and concluded that, in fact, net savings to consumers accrue from 2013, and would reach $48 billion annually in 2020.
Keep these studies in mind the next time you hear some blowhard from the Competitive Enterprise Institute sound off about the so-called economic realities.
In this fascinating, accessible presentation, James Hansen, one of our most respected climate scientists, argues that we’re much closer to “dangerous anthropogenic interference” than the IPCC’s work would suggest: “The dominant issue in global warming, in my opinion, is sea level change and the question of how fast ice sheets can disintegrate. A large portion of the world’s people live within a few meters of sea level, with trillions of dollars of infrastructure. The need to preserve global coast lines, I suggest, sets a low ceiling on the level of global warming that would constitute DAI.” The funny thing is the Hansen is still an optimist. Or, rather, he thinks we still have time. Just. This one is a must read.
In the midst of the summer heat wave, the UN World Meteorological Organization issued an unusual press release that clearly ascribed recent extreme weather events to climate change. WMO cited record temperatures of over 40 degrees C in the South of France, a record number of tornadoes in the US, and pre-monsoon heat waves in India that were up to five degrees higher than average.
There’ve been lots of efforts to form a “blue green” labor-environment coalition in the US, but none ever looked as promising as The Apollo Alliance, which just might have legs. Apollo’s focus is on creating jobs and energy independence, two goals that would benefit tremendously from an effective drive for renewables. And Apollo’s time, clearly, is right.
To be sure, there’s almost no attention given, in the Apollo frame, to either global warming or international justice, but that’s because Apollo is shooting for the moon, not the stars. And hey, it’s a first step. For more info, check out Apollo’s media center. Amanda Griscom’s Declaration of Energy Independence, originally from Grist Magazine, is a nice place to start.