When President Bush in refuting the Kyoto treaty supported by all the other leading industrial nations declared “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation” he was telling his public what they wanted to hear. It would be wrong to blame him for that, after all it is what politicians do. But really somebody should take the American nation to one side and explain that nature does not negotiate. The Kyoto signatories were not ganging up to force the will of namby – pamby European liberals on the gun – totin’ Humvee drivin’ burger chompin’, god fearin’ folks who seem to congregate between the Appalachians and the Rockies, (OK, I know its not really quite like that but that is the impression given to the world by most of America’s media) they were trying to work out a way to save the planet for all of us and all our grandchildren. In order to do this we must set an example to the rapidly industrialising population giants of the third world in the hope that they do not make cars and air conditioning easily available to their vast numbers of citizens.
The reason for concern among the economic leaders is that climate change, which tame scientists in the pay of the polluting corporations still insist is not happening or at worst is the very gradual result of a natural cycle, is in fact happening at a much faster rate than even the worst pessimists predicted.
The religious right and the corporate community, two groups that seem increasingly indistinguishable, have their academic hirelings to claim that the dire consequences predicted for climate change are just examples of liberal scaremongering. I wonder if any of these ivory tower idiots have been down to Florida and asked around to see how the locals feel about global warming after being hit by four major hurricanes in less than a month last year as they brace themselves for a repeat performance?
Global warming is a misleading phrase of course and it is easy for the pseudo – scientists of the “opinions for sale” mob to dismiss the very genuine concerns of real environmentalists by conjuring up theories that suggest Alaska, Newfoundland and Scandinavia will bask in a climate similar to South California or southern Spain. That is very cosy and attractive of course but utterly wrong. Global warming does not mean we will all get a deep suntan sitting in the back yard in January as everywhere becomes warmer and more pleasant. The ecology is a finely balanced system. A sudden change of only one or two degrees in the yearly average can be catastrophic for food crops and animal life. For example, the mild winter of 2003/4 adversely affected the Blueberry crop in New England to such an extent that many small farmers in New Egland are faced serious financial problems this year. Blueberies are a luxury crop of course (unless your family income depends on the harvest) but the things we depend on for our staple diet will be affected too.
Continental weather systems are very sensitive to variations in climate. If the weather patterns of 2004 became embedded the great plains of the U.S.A. and Canada will start to experience a dustbowl effect like that which devastated the global economy in the nineteen – thirties. A similar situation will be created in central Europe, the wheatfields of Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Poland will not supply the domestic market, there will be no surplus to sell to the world. Crop failures throughout Asia and Africa will make previous famines look like times of plenty. So that is a lot of hungry and displaced people to swell the number of the world’s poor and a lot less food to go around.
As the interior of each continental landmass becomes more arid coastal areas will simultaneously become wetter and experience greater extremes of weather. 200 mph hurricane storms will become run of the mill in Florida and the Caribbean while cities such as New York and Seattle will alternately swelter and freeze as seasonal changes become more intense. New Yorkers might not suffer bad weather though, the city is low lying and the rise in sea levels caused by the melting of polar icecaps will lead to the inundation of the Big Apple along with New Orleans, London, Amsterdam, Calcutta and the historical jewel Venice. Most of the islands in the Gulf of Mexico will go as will the Maldives and a number of Pacific archipelagos. This will not happen in a Biblical flood but over several decades (it has been happening throughout the twentieth century.
“No Worries,” New Yorkers may think, “we can all move to California where the hills rise up sharply from the coast”. Around thirty million Californians think “great, our properties will rocket in value.” Unfortunately it is not that easy. Global warming is not just about parching summers and polar winters, desert creep and rising seas. There is the ice – cap bounce to think of.
If you are not familiar with this term take a child’s rubber ball and compress the top and bottom. As the poles are pushed in see how it bulges somewhere else to compensate. Now take off the pressure and the ball returns to its spherical shape. This is exactly what happens to our planet in an ice age.
We do not really know the extent of the southern ice cap twenty thousand years ago but we do know the in northern hemisphere the glacier was hundreds, in places thousands of feet thick and extended as far south as Minnesota in North America, covered the Alpine mountains reaching almost to the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and extended into northern India. That is a lot of ice pushing the north pole downwards. To complete the pictire, sea levels were nearly 500 feet lower then. That is a lot less water pressing on the equator to help it hold its shape. Planetary crust is not as springy as rubber ball stuff and so the rebound takes thousands of years. Some, but not all, earthquakes we experience today are due to that action. The faster the remaining ice melts the more frequent and violent those quakes will become and areas that are geologically unstable will be most vulnerable. So perhaps California is not a good location on which to base long term plans.
As if all that bad news is not enough to spend a lifetime worrying about there is the effect of warming on the oceans. Remember El Nino a few years ago. As the Pacific Ocean warms that phenomenon will become an annual weather feature while in the Atlantic Ocean the flow of the Gulf Stream that is so important to climatic stability in Europe and North America will slow allowing the Gulf and the Caribbean to get warmer while the North Atlantic cools. These conditions will devastate fish stocks in many nations that depend heavily of fish for food. Most of North America will become what geographers describe as “an area inhospitable to humans.”
The timescale for all this is not centuries as the complacent advocates of free market economics insist, but decades, we have perhaps only one or two decades, five at the most before we reach the tipping point beyond which we will not be able to do anything to arrest the trends towards rapid climate change.
Of course the money men and the God – squad dismiss all of this as liberal scaremongering. If we all say our prayers, concentrate on the serious business of getting rich and put our faith in God and our corporate and political masters everything will be just fine.
Of course everything I have written is informed speculation based on study of trends over fifty years, I can’t actually promise it will all happen but do you seriously want me to be able to promise these things will happen? Bizarrely though, as if some external agency is trying to back up my warnings, in between my starting to draft this article and completing it a report has been released confirming (again) that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising far more quickly than was thought. If anybody still thinks it is safe to ignore the scientific evidence let me give you an analogy to illustrate our predicament.
You have all been to a convention and are in a bus on the way home and I am your driver, we are on a narrow and winding mountain road. Visibility is terrible, the driving rain is turning to snow, high winds batter our vehicle and the road surface is getting slippery. “Don’t worry,” I tell you, “I know the road well, there is some risk but so long as we go very slowly and carefully and allow for the conditions we should all have a good chance of getting home safely if somewhat late.”
“That’s outrageous,” a businessman yells, “time is money and every minute we waste is income lost. We are your customers and have a contract with you to get us home on time, road conditions are not our problem so hit it mister because if we are one minute late I’m going to sue.”
“Quite right” a politician chips in, “why should these people be inconvenienced. By buying a ticket they voted for you Mr. Driver and you have a duty to deliver their expectations. If you could not guarantee a safe and speedy journey then you should not be in business.”
Then a Padre stands, holds up a Bible and pointing at me yells in a voice like cola bottles being crushed “Oh thou of little faith, if it is God’s will that we get home then he will clear the road and guide our bus but if He has decreed it is Our Time then you blaspheme by trying to change destiny.
At that point I seriously think of jumping out of the moving bus, but that would not be fair to the sane majority so I turn to you and ask “what do you want me to do, drive as safely as I can and have a very good chance of getting us all home or drive like an idiot and hope that maybe, if we are lucky, a few of us will survive the inevitable crash?”
Hypothetical maybe, but sooner or later we have to stop and ask ourselves “what is more important, lifestyle options or our childrens’ and grandchildrens’ lives?