Given this reality, we’ll almost certainly need some kind of devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy. That’s the key lesson of the recent financial crisis: when powerful special interests have convinced much of the public that what they’re doing isn’t dangerous, only a disaster that discredits those interests will provide an opportunity for comprehensive policy change like the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
It is possible that the changes I’m seeing from the ship deck are the beginning of the climate shock that will awaken us to the danger we face. Scientists aren’t sure what will happen when a significant portion of the Arctic Ocean changes from white, sunlight-reflecting ice to dark, sunlight-absorbing open water. But most aren’t sanguine.
Disaster at the Top of the World
The author goes on the recommend we plan for this crisis now. While that'd be a good thing to do, our inability to predict with any degree of certainty exactly what will happen where, it's pretty ambitious.
He references one such attempt, written in 2009:
Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes.
With this in mind, we suggest three categories of response options for mitigating a broad range of mega-catastrophe risks. These are: (1) deep and very rapid cuts in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, (2) development and subsequent application of geoengineering, and (3) global-scale adaptation targeted toward reducing the impact of a climate change mega-catastrophe should one occur
OMG... that's tantamount to saying "then a miracle happened" not to mention that the geoengineering stuff is sooooo scary.
As we are using the term, mega-catastrophes from climate change have the following basic characteristics:
- They would cause extremely severe impacts for a large number of people across broad geographic regions, if not the entire world. They are likely to affect people in developing countries more severely than those in rich countries, as judged by percentage reduction in their standard of living.
- The impacts would be extremely difficult to reverse over policy-relevant time-frames.
- They are fairly-to-extremely unlikely, but it is highly probable that the risk grows as greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulate in the atmosphere.
- There is not only uncertainty about their likelihood of occurrence, but also “ignorance” about specific consequences (Zeckhauser 1991).
Pakistan is 20% underwater. The flooded region is the size of Italy! Twenty million have been affected! Does this not qualify as a mega-catastrophe? No it doesn't. The definitions the authors have for mega-catastrophe are
- sudden sea level rise
- disruptions of ocean circulation
- very large-scale ecosystem disruptions
- Cascading-event catastrophes
OK, now I'm going to argue with the authors here. Except for sudden sea level rise, the above scenarios happen slowly. You might as well equate any of them to "the potential consequences of climate change". They will not get anybody's attention until it's too late. I don't know what the mechanism would be for sudden sea level rise except if some very large glacier in Antarctica slid into the ocean. No, I think we're already seeing the kinds of mega-catastrophes climate change delivers. This year, 2010, has been a slug fest for Mother Nature. Last year Australia was on fire. None of this seems to have sunk in.
So I'll speculate what the crisis needs to look like in order to wake up Americans:
prolonged drought in Mexico creates millions of refugees. That's it.
The most likely near term crisis to occur will be:
Millions starving in Asia. American's would donate $25 and look the other way... like we have in Darfur. The price of wheat and corn could double, and few Americans would do anything but gripe.
Water wars in Africa. This has been happening for years and will get worse. Again the Darfur response.
The richest nation in the world will not engage until it is forced to. That's something to be ashamed of... and until then?
This island Earth is on a collision course with mega-catastrophes.
Pakistan: 6 million homeless! Try getting your arms around that.
Floods in northern China force over 250,000 to evacuate
There's this medical condition called Anton�Babinski syndrome where someone has had brain damage that causes blindness, but they don't know it.
"Anton�Babinski syndrome is a rare symptom of brain damage occurring in the occipital lobe. People who suffer from it are "cortically blind", but affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing. Failure to see is dismissed by the sufferer through confabulation. It is named after Gabriel Anton and Joseph Babinski."
I think this sounds a lot like the problems some AGW denialists have.