Terra Incognita: Plan for, don’t gripe about, climate change

By
April 24, 2017 21:28

You can’t keep back the ocean. Instead of whining and griping about storm surges, why not plan for ocean levels rising several inches?

4 minute read.



Climate change

Climate change is believed by scientists to affect millions of people. (photo credit: REUTERS)

There are over 5,000 km. of ice roads in Canada, according to a recent report in The New York Times. And all is not well on them.

They are melting earlier and freezing later, leaving small communities isolated in the slightly-less-frozen north. Wally Schumann, the minister of infrastructure for the Northwest Territories, told the Times that climate change was to blame. In one case in Canada, the solution to the ice road problem was to build a $225 million all-season road to a small Inuit community.

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This is what happens when you don’t plan for climate change.

Under the new administration of Donald Trump in the US there has been talk of reversing some of the sacred climate cows of the Obama years. There was talk of him walking away from the 2015 Paris Climate Deal. That sounds bad, but what is the climate deal?

According to Vox “the Paris deal, negotiated through the United Nations, does not legally require any emissions cuts.” Apparently, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, a climate treaty from 1997, “it was infeasible to force countries to make sharp cuts.”

So countries “vowed” to do a lot. The US was going to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26%, the EU would cut by 40%, China would let their emissions peak by 2030. Etc.

The deal also involved pledges for wealthy countries to throw some $100 billion at poorer countries by 2020 “to help them invest in clean energy and cope with sea level rise, droughts, floods....”

If you read between the lines, it’s all nonsense.

Has anyone been to the poorer countries that are supposedly receiving billions to create clean energy? Some of these countries barely have roads once you leave their capital cities, so how exactly are they supposed to transition to “clean energy” when they barely have energy?

The whole story about clean energy in poor countries of the global south is basically a massive scam whereby wealthy countries do indeed throw money at fancy- sounding projects, but the money mostly goes to Western contractors driving SUVs who visit a village, put up a windmill and drive off. In short: things are as bad as they were in the poorer countries and they aren’t going to change. They will likely get worse. Most aid for poor countries ends up back in the hands of Westerners who receive the contracts for the “aid work.”

So what can the wealthier countries do? Leaving aside the small group of “climate skeptics” who apparently think global warming is a myth, there is a central problem with how the world discusses climate change. There are those who think climate change is not caused by humans, or that the degree of change is less than predicted.

But there is little doubt that there is climate change causing such things as a reduction of the polar ice caps. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that sea level is rising at a rate of an eighth of an inch per year. The National Geographic says that it is rising at “twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years.”

The problem is that when we talk about sea levels rising or emissions or other things, we and governments tend to talk about how to stop or reduce these phenomena. But this feeds a vicious cycle of “plans” and “pledges” and “vows” that are bound to be hollow.

Remember the Volkswagen emissions scandal? The Environmental Protection Agency found VW cars in the US had software designed to cheat emissions tests. That encapsulates basically how the world approaches climate change. Claim that you’re reducing something and being “clean,” and then find a way around it. Governments also cheat. Governments also make vows they don’t follow through on. This is because we have incentivized reducing climate change, rather than planning for climate change.

Let’s accept the fact there is going to be climate change. Sea levels will rise. Accept it. You can’t keep back the ocean. Instead of whining and griping about storm surges, why not plan for ocean levels rising several inches? In Israel, for instance, the country has been planning for a catastrophic earthquake. Other countries, such as Japan and the Western US, do the same. They plan for tidal waves and earthquakes that may not happen.

Based on only a small chance of immense destruction, they pass all-encompassing building codes. So why not do that with climate change, instead of trying to “defeat” it.

The way people talk about climate change is the way some religious people used to talk about the End of Days. Fire and brimstone, boiling oceans. It reads like a scene from Exodus too. Instead of all the mumbo-jumbo talk about barren polar ice caps and no more polar bears, why not just accept this as a fact.

Maybe there won’t be polar bears, in their present form. That’s unfortunate, but it would be better for states to pump money into planning for climate change, whether it’s ocean levels rising or crops failing (i.e. design new crops) than to keep spitting into the wind. States must balance spending massive sums to maintaining existing infrastructure in places affected by climate, such as people isolated by melting ice roads, and investing in new infrastructure.

Some states must admit that in some places, climate has won. Plan for the future.


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