Author Topic: When and how bad?  (Read 32147 times)

fishmahboi

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When and how bad?
« on: April 03, 2013, 04:10:58 PM »
Seeing as it seems inevitable that recent Climate Change will cause disaster beyond which humanity, at the present population, can adapt to with present agricultural practises.

So the main question is, which would be in the back of people's minds for a long time, when will we see the full extent of the climactic disaster and how bad is it likely to be.

Would it be the same as what is described in the Personal Consequences Thread whereas it ends up with a bleak world similar to that of "The Road" with people struggling for food and eating each other.

One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2013, 07:02:03 PM »
Would it be the same as what is described in the Personal Consequences Thread whereas it ends up with a bleak world similar to that of "The Road" with people struggling for food and eating each other.

One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.

I personally am not sure cannibalism is likely to be widespread. While you'll find historical precedent for it in certain circumstances (Holomodor for instance), I think you'll find more that indicate many (if not most) people starve before they will resort to cannibalism (even eating already dead people has a significant taboo against it).

With respect to how soon things could strike I think it is more helpful to identify key events in the processes at work (given the issues in crystal ball gazing). For example in 2010, following a severe heatwave, Russia stopped exporting certain crops to preserve supplies for the domestic market. Who needed to buy that food? Arab spring countries... look how fast the knock on effect of rising food prices in the importers hit? Accordingly I think countries applying blanket export bans on food is a definite thing to watch for. I feel we dodged a bullet somewhat last year in this respect as despite bad harvests in many regions we didn't see this as I expected (Russia for example also had a heatwave/drought last year). Obviously substantial net food importers feel the sharp end of this particular wedge, and much depends on the resilience of their society at the time (the economic crisis doesn't help - though it is all interrelated).

The risk if you live in a net food exporter is a little different. Whether or not you have a food problem then depends upon your affluence and the government. If big business (backed by government) is happy to sell the food the nation needs to feed itself to other people in other countries with deeper pockets - then you can still end up with hunger at home. As social inequality bites this will cause issues of a more gradual (but just as dangerous long term) nature. I think an informed policy would be to export what one can (as opposed to outright hoarding and blanket export bans) but to make sure national stability is preserved.

Consider key vulnerabilities in the complex globally interdependent world we've constructed (which I personally think is far more fragile than people tend to think). If one failed state (Somalia) can cause so many issues to global trade through piracy - how many failed states next to key trading routes do we think we can handle without wider problems? Will cargo ships still sail unmolested if wars break out in those regions? How much military force is available to try to secure those trade routes (considering the other demands likely to be made of the military)?

Consider the risks posed by social unrest in oil exporting nations (who also wield disproportionate influence through the dependency of importing nations). Energy prices feed heavily into the prices of everything else including food. The collapse of key oil exporting countries is therefore another thing to watch out for, bearing in mind how little spare margin of production now exists (economic crisis notwithstanding - and indeed the persistence of which partly itself relates to the cost of energy!). I know people grasp at the notion of it being good to burn less fossil fuel - but I submit that the operation of modern civilisation inherently depends upon it currently.

There are any number of other key resources produced in specific regions and transported globally. Agricultural inputs for example. As a somewhat flippant example of the sort of knock on effects I think can propagate quite fast:
http://www.firstpost.com/tech/hard-disk-drive-shortage-hits-manufacturers-retailers-and-you-140412.html
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9222522/Impact_of_hard_drive_shortage_to_linger_through_2013

So floods in one region in one year affected the global supply of hard disks for several years? Did you see a rush to construct factories in other nations to reduce dependence? How does that sit with regional extreme weather events plus adversity in trading and further economic decline?

Then there are the giants, whose fall I think will shake the world. Consider the logistics of trying to run China (and what happens to the rest of the world suddenly unable to import their stuff if they fold?). How do you keep juggling all those plates? If the land rush in Africa that has been going on for a number of years now culminates in the failure of large swathes of Africa - will they have to use the military to secure those food production sites? What lengths is the Chinese government prepared to go to to keep the population under control? Is there a danger war can become a convenient focal point in that process - nations often like to externalise their difficulties if they can (blame anyone but the government!).

I don't really expect an all out nuclear war - not that many countries have that many bombs. The two that notably do are large agricultural exporters with favourable population densities and the deterrent value is key there. I'd be a little surprised if nobody used anything nuclear (look how many people have or are trying to get them now...) - but bear in mind they wouldn't be the first nuclear bombs used. The use of biological weaponry feels a bit more likely as you have scope for a lot more plausible deniability (if a pandemic breaks out somewhere, who can say it was caused deliberately?). Even this I think is a fringe possibility (or option of last resort) - biological weapons carry plenty of drawbacks of their own.

I think people also seriously underestimate the human factor. It's easy to look at a single issue - climate change - and conclude that it will take a fair amount of time for impacts to come through. Above and beyond the argument I'm making that people ignore an awful lot of other issues that form part of the overall puzzle - we need to consider people are forward looking.

If you know that a company you have investments in (for those lucky enough to be so rich) is going to go bankrupt - do you wait until it does to offload your investments? What sort of effects do we think will occur sociologically as it dawns upon people in the wider sense that the writing is very clearly on the wall? How will that affect the economy? Will people try to hoard resources and self fulfill a prophecy of violent collapse in competing to do so even before the pressures are so great they would be driven to extreme means of surviving anyway? Isn't panic itself also a thing to be concerned about therefore? Speculation? The futures markets?

For all these sorts of reasons (and more) I think our modern civilisation is a complex fragile tangle of positive feedback waiting to happen. I think the fragility of current civilisation should not however be conflated with the inherent resilience of our species (notwithstanding the severity of the threat).

I am aware that my outlook is a lot bleaker than most people are willing to consider. If people want to say "I think you're wrong", that's fine. What would be even better is if they could hold up a rationally driven debate explaining precisely why they think I'm wrong (ie a bit more than just "I think" or "I hope"). I'm always open to learning new things and I have made some certain key assumptions in all this (for instance in relation to the severity and rate of agricultural problems as the Arctic melts out).

I'm not a professional climatologist, or even academically educated to degree level in anything. Accordingly my opinions can be easily dismissed and arguably deserve no more consideration than the guy muttering into his beer next to you in the pub.

A couple of quotes I find apt:
"the fundamental interconnectedness of all things" - Dirk Gently - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirk_Gently
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2013, 07:14:19 PM »
One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.
Having already thrown so much junk out there, I thought I ought to address this specifically - I don't see much being likely in the next month. Collapse isn't likely to be that fast or dramatic - even serious shortages in supply take time to filter through the system.

In the next year - well, it depends how things unfold. Consider though that agriculture has a significant seasonal element to it - the time of greatest stress is arguably as the next harvest approaches. Get the next harvest in and even if it was an exceptionally bad harvest you likely have food in the system for months. What happens with food prices and supply shortages is the sort of thing I'd be watching. I don't see total failure as likely within the year - increased disruption and interesting events - possibly.

This really isn't something that will sneak up on you and happen suddenly, if you have open eyes as to the trends. That's why I prefer to look for clues/key events as detailed previously.

Within the decade? I'm virtually certain.

ritter

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2013, 07:22:50 PM »
One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.
In the next year - well, it depends how things unfold. Consider though that agriculture has a significant seasonal element to it - the time of greatest stress is arguably as the next harvest approaches. Get the next harvest in and even if it was an exceptionally bad harvest you likely have food in the system for months. What happens with food prices and supply shortages is the sort of thing I'd be watching. I don't see total failure as likely within the year - increased disruption and interesting events - possibly.

This really isn't something that will sneak up on you and happen suddenly, if you have open eyes as to the trends. That's why I prefer to look for clues/key events as detailed previously.

Within the decade? I'm virtually certain.

This is about my summation of what I'm seeing. The impacts of climate change have become quite evident and disruptive since about 2010. If the new weather patterns persist in US, Russia, Australia, etc., (and I think they will, if not worsen as we lose our Arctic ice), agriculture as we know it is in serious trouble. That said, there is a lot of slop in the system and things could stagger on for a good while yet. I'll be very surprised is things are still "normal" by 2020. I expect by then we will be experiencing global famine and much more extreme weather. I sure hope I'm wrong

TerryM

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2013, 08:02:02 PM »
CCG


I for one don't think you're too far from the mark. You mentioned generational inequality a few posts back & I'd be interested in following that thought.


Do you see my generation as the oppressors that are unleashing what's to come, or as benevolent possessors of wisdom only accumulated over time that will be invaluable when things collapse?


My guess is that the former opinion is probably more widespread & that the first consideration of most groups will be to shed themselves of the parasitic cause of their problems. Rather than battles between have's and have not's is it reasonable to expect something similar to the "Never trust anyone over 30." sentiments of the 60's - except with teeth in them.


Terry

crandles

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2013, 08:48:26 PM »
Seeing as it seems inevitable that recent Climate Change will cause disaster beyond which humanity, at the present population, can adapt to with present agricultural practises.

Sorry I just cannot accept 'inevitable'. A small risk several years into the future would be very difficult to show to be impossible. But aren't people getting a bit carried away here?

What proportion of population works in agriculture? Adding lots of small gardens would be inefficient and add lots jobs but there are are plenty of people not working in agriculture and it would increase production. Shortages would also have a huge effect on reducing wastage which is enormous in developed countries. Also a shift towards foods that grow rather than meat has a big effect.

Just what is the problem? If oil was about to run out and artificial fertilisers would no longer be producible then I could understand concern of the extremes expressed here. Similarly if tractors were to be banned without replacement by renewable energy electric vehicles, but such a crazy policy just won't be implemented.

Yes, weather is going to become less benign to agriculture. Yes if countries become 75% submerged by extreme precipitation then there are going to be problems in those regions. While not as rare, such events still seem likely to still be fairly rare. Increased drought is more a matter of increased costs from extra irrigation and extra dam building to make that possible. So I agree that costs will rise and more people will be employed by agriculture making the population as a whole less able to do other things.

Why should anyone in a developed country that isn't prone to becoming 50% submerged think more doom-laden scenarios that agriculture employing more like 20% of population rather than 10%? A 1/9th reduction in what the population as a whole can do other than feed itself does not seem anywhere near civilisation collapse to me.

I am sure it is possible to imagine higher impact scenarios and these might include civilisation collapse but why should such scenarios be considered anything other than a low likelihood possibility?

Surely when the population sees as high a cost as anywhere near 'A 1/9th reduction in what the population as a whole can do other than feed itself' surely then they push their politicians into imposing a carbon tax that ensures a sensible low level of use during a transition to a sustainable carbon free economy?

Why such doom-mongery?

fishmahboi

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2013, 09:58:06 PM »
One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.
Having already thrown so much junk out there, I thought I ought to address this specifically - I don't see much being likely in the next month. Collapse isn't likely to be that fast or dramatic - even serious shortages in supply take time to filter through the system.

In the next year - well, it depends how things unfold. Consider though that agriculture has a significant seasonal element to it - the time of greatest stress is arguably as the next harvest approaches. Get the next harvest in and even if it was an exceptionally bad harvest you likely have food in the system for months. What happens with food prices and supply shortages is the sort of thing I'd be watching. I don't see total failure as likely within the year - increased disruption and interesting events - possibly.

This really isn't something that will sneak up on you and happen suddenly, if you have open eyes as to the trends. That's why I prefer to look for clues/key events as detailed previously.

Within the decade? I'm virtually certain.

I find that opinion strange because your opinion on the Arctic News Blog shows that the end of the world events are certain to happen in the next month or so.

Please note that I am saying this because of the Ice Fracture Event that has occurred in the Arctic and thus I am kind of playing with the statements in the sense that the scenario where the Arctic Ice Melts completely and famine ensues occurs at a far more rapid pace.

Quote:

Quote
2014-15

6. I expect total sea ice loss will occur during summer in either 2014 or 2015. By this time I expect agricultural output to have declined to a point where food supplies are inadequate and famine and conflict are rife. Farmers will not know what to plant or when and even acquiring seed from other climatic regions may be problematic.

7. Social conditions will be comparable to the Holomodor. People will try to eat anything and everything - earthworms, insects, each other - even in some cases their own children. Nation states will fragment and reform into smaller and increasingly violent competitive groups fighting over rapidly diminishing resources. Maintaining the supply chains required for the operation of modern technology including agriculture will be largely impossible.

8. If we see widespread war before nation states fragment there is a possibility of the use of nuclear and genetically enhanced biological weaponry. Whether through war or famine the human population will be in freefall.

Also just out of curiosity I want to point out the new development in the Arctic which is that the area appears to be getting greener and I would like to ask if it is possible to cultivate that land for agricultural purposes.

ritter

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #7 on: April 03, 2013, 10:15:09 PM »
Also just out of curiosity I want to point out the new development in the Arctic which is that the area appears to be getting greener and I would like to ask if it is possible to cultivate that land for agricultural purposes.

Most people are under the misconception that if there's dirt you can stick a seed in it and grow some food. Plants are far more picky than that. You may find some food crops that would grow there, but most require certain temperatures, photoperiod, drainage, soil chemistry, etc. There is a reason why major food crops are grown in the regions they are grown--they are evolved/selectively breed to grow there.

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2013, 10:50:13 PM »
Quote
I find that opinion strange because your opinion on the Arctic News Blog shows that the end of the world events are certain to happen in the next month or so.
See, I thought I outlined a scenario of rapidly increasingly intense problems culminating in overall collapse within half a decade of writing (near extinction potentially in decades to centuries, but that's very speculative) with a year of fudge factor tossed in at the end. If I said "in the next month" please can you let me know which bit says that!?
Quote
Please note that I am saying this because of the Ice Fracture Event that has occurred in the Arctic and thus I am kind of playing with the statements in the sense that the scenario where the Arctic Ice Melts completely and famine ensues occurs at a far more rapid pace.
My opinion - uninformed - is that this cracking is overrated. I have followed Neven's blog with interest for quite some time and will take this opportunity to say I greatly appreciate the intelligence and knowledge of some people participating there, especially in relation to sea ice.

The view I'm going with is that it is just a symptom of an increasingly thin and weak ice pack. I don't see that it signifies anything more than that? Much as a lot of the ice pack was apparently rotten towards the end of last melt season we should expect to see unusual things and I think this is fairly superficial - notwithstanding the dramatic visuals accompanying it.

I think the main issue ought to be the imminence of volume falling to zero and the consequent effects of making such a dramatic change to the earth system (particularly around albedo and energy previously absorbed by melting ice). Didn't the last Wipneus graph show ice free 2013 already "within error bars"? How much worse does one get? Do we really think early fracturing is that big a deal in that context?
Quote
Also just out of curiosity I want to point out the new development in the Arctic which is that the area appears to be getting greener and I would like to ask if it is possible to cultivate that land for agricultural purposes.
Maybe eventually, but note the comments from ritter about some of the issues of relocating agriculture to other regions. I think it would be a brave attempt to try to go in there until the earth system has started to settle down into some new stable regime - if you consider it is currently arguably the most rapidly changing part of the planet!

fishmahboi

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2013, 10:56:38 PM »
Quote
I find that opinion strange because your opinion on the Arctic News Blog shows that the end of the world events are certain to happen in the next month or so.
See, I thought I outlined a scenario of rapidly increasingly intense problems culminating in overall collapse within half a decade of writing (near extinction potentially in decades to centuries, but that's very speculative) with a year of fudge factor tossed in at the end. If I said "in the next month" please can you let me know which bit says that!?

The reason I stated that from your point of view the events were to take place in the next month is because I was taking the view that the Arctic Ice was going to melt in the summer of 2014 or 2015 and just basically changing it to 2013 instead with the events following the melt also occurring at a higher speed.

I made a mistake with regards stating that the events would take place during the next month, perhaps a period somewhat longer than that.


ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2013, 11:27:49 PM »
Do you see my generation as the oppressors that are unleashing what's to come, or as benevolent possessors of wisdom only accumulated over time that will be invaluable when things collapse?
Now there's a loaded question!

The short answer is neither of the above.

I personally am somewhat irritated with older generations, but it's important to identify that a lot of that is personal context not to be extrapolated too heavily onto society. I grew up as the oldest of 8 children in what is best described as grinding poverty and general instability - mostly in various locations in rural Scotland on the margins of UK society. We didn't have a television, toys, new clothes, much meat etc. and accordingly I think I escaped much of the cultural indoctrination British society provides to make model Western citizens out of us.

I have lived almost all my life in the shadow of some sort of adversity (not always simple poverty). I don't want to sound as though I'm whining - it hasn't been a bad life, just a very different one. Disappointed though I may be with my parents and older generations, I'm old enough to recognise I've made a few stupid life choices myself as an adult - and I can't say I harbour aggressive tendencies towards the older. I might confess to occasional envy knowing I am not likely to enjoy anything like the quality or quantity of life they have (both my parents now separately better off than most of their children).

It is my impression that in mainstream British society a lot of children benefit a lot from parental help these days, given how hard it now is to make your way in society as a younger person (the odds are really stacked against you). Their parents help with accommodation, cars, driving lessons, university, even sometimes to get a house. I cannot see such people being resentful - it would truly be a question of biting the hand that feeds.

I think most of the resentment and vitriol will rightly be directed at those with immediate control - the powerful and wealthy (though I hasten to add wealth is very much a question of perspective). I suspect that the socioeconomic elites who really run the show know this too - and accordingly in at least some nations you see the infrastructure of a police state being rapidly assembled. You see the police spying on climate change protestors (and a fair few other nefarious things besides!), expanding CCTV, governments passing "terrorist" legislation, etc.

Rather than attempt to help the situation by ensuring equitable distribution of the basics of life and ensuring some level of social justice and equality, they would appear to want to dig in to fight to hold onto their dominance even as they grind the poor into the dust. That cannot work, they are ultimately numerically insignificant against the poor (and expanding the ranks of the poor by the day!). If we had enlightened leaders working for our best interests (and obviously so) I would give a much more optimistic prognosis on the situation.

Were I an older person my concern would not be organised or systematic discrimination as you suggest - but rather that the weaknesses and frailties of old age make you vulnerable. Easy prey for violent criminals. That is not exclusively the domain of older people - I have known men of a similar age to me who have been victims of violence (albeit they were mostly little guys). I recall when younger I could walk along the street and see the nervousness in older people - simply because I was young and not little (and I suppose can be a bit intimidating but not normally intentionally so!). I think older people should try to work with the young rather than fear them - but there are serious cultural problems in how western society views old people. Rather than value their wisdom and experience, they are too easily marginalised and shunted into indifferent or poor quality nursing homes to die lonely deaths. I feel this reflects the values of capitalism a little too fundamentally.

Women also come under greater risk as law and order deteriorate. That's the problem in any environment where might becomes right (even though "wealth becoming right" is hardly better in the end).

So in summary - yes I think there is a lot of responsibility for all this on previous generations, who took us to this point - but I don't see why it should result in particular vitriol against them? Mostly they can be accused of passively enabling the monkeys at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid, rather than directly causing this.

Regarding invaluable age and wisdom I'm afraid it's limited in this situation. Although if you can show me a person old enough to walk into the hills with empty hands and come back with an iron age axe - I'll be beating a path to their cave!

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2013, 11:34:25 PM »
The reason I stated that from your point of view the events were to take place in the next month is because I was taking the view that the Arctic Ice was going to melt in the summer of 2014 or 2015 and just basically changing it to 2013 instead with the events following the melt also occurring at a higher speed.
I would caution against reading too much into the precise time the Arctic becomes ice free. There isn't some magical switch ensuring instant catastrophe when that happens. The process (to me) is more of a rapidly accelerating slide into increasingly difficult conditions - that already started and won't finish with the first ice free summer.

Nothing absolutely guarantees absence of major problems before the ice entirely melts out - nor conversely that the first total loss during summer is an immediately critical point for civilisation.

Anne

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2013, 12:03:54 AM »
Great post, ccgwebmaster.

Fishmahboi, social instability is more likely to be precipitated by food prices than anything else. Food prices are influenced not just by harvests, but by perceptions of what those prices are going to be.

Keep your eye on commodities futures, and despair of human decency.

Wheat
http://www.agriculture.com/markets/analysis/wheat/bargainhunting-crop-wear-surge-wheat_11-ar30845

Sugar
http://www.agra-net.com/portal2/home.jsp?template=newsarticle&artid=20018035595&pubid=ag044

And the malign effect of the derivatives market generally
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-29/when-eating-is-an-economic-act

gfwellman

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2013, 12:37:14 AM »
I'm with Crandles on this.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2013, 01:32:43 AM »
Fishmahboi, social instability is more likely to be precipitated by food prices than anything else. Food prices are influenced not just by harvests, but by perceptions of what those prices are going to be.


I think this provides illuminating reading:
http://necsi.edu/research/social/food_crises.pdf

Lighter weight material can be found googling phrases such as "graph food prices vs conflict".

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2013, 04:02:09 AM »
Seeing as it seems inevitable that recent Climate Change will cause disaster beyond which humanity, at the present population, can adapt to with present agricultural practises.

So the main question is, which would be in the back of people's minds for a long time, when will we see the full extent of the climactic disaster and how bad is it likely to be.

Would it be the same as what is described in the Personal Consequences Thread whereas it ends up with a bleak world similar to that of "The Road" with people struggling for food and eating each other.

One could also wonder how soon this could strike, would this be something that we would see in a decade or so, or could it be just around the corner in let's say during the next month or so or during the next year at most.

I hate to rain on someone's doomsday, but the premise is wrong. The world's present agricultural practices are designed to meet present demand in the market and aren't near it's potential production. I agree that the most immediate threat of climate change is disruption of a major food producing area, but that doesn't mean the whole world will have it's food production disrupted at the same time, or that a disruption won't prompt solutions. I see the American breadbasket as being vulnerable to drought, but drought has a solution with irrigation. Climate change causes winners and losers and it's still too hard to tell whether the glass will be more half empty or half full. Denialistas claim how great a warmer world will be, but I think it's equally as foolish to claim a risk of disaster is a certainty. In all probability, you will spend the rest of your days on Earth without having to look up those "how to serve man" recipes.

I have hope that in the near future events such as a prolonged drought, another Greenland meltdown or El Nino consequences will motivate governments to take climate change more seriously. I believe mankind is capable of solving our problems by working together and just has to be motivated to do so.

Glenn Tamblyn

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2013, 04:30:05 AM »
I don't see any collapse happening quite as quickly as some have suggested. But I do think it will start sooner than most of the world thinks. Just it will be a longer, more drawn out and terribly messy affair.

And it isn't just the Arctic or global warming. It is declining water tables, whether we can keep producing enough fertilizer cheaply enough when Natural Gas becomes the fuel everyone wants to use (Natural Gas is the main feedstock for making nitrogenous fertilizer).

Maintaining crop yields is a high wire act, with so many things needing to come together. That is one of the frailties of our civilization.

Imagine it like the Great Depression; it really ran for a decade and then needed a World War to bring it to an end. We are more likely to see a decade of decline like the Depression with things getting worse, but with governments and others powers in society seeing each of these things as a 'crisis', to be solved or weathered till it ends - the GFC will 'end' soon won't it.

And governments have a lot of emergency powers they can use to to manage problems - rationing, nationalizing things, price controls etc. A lot depends on the ideological bent they have wrt taking those sort of actions.

Where things get really bad is when a realization sets in that the 'crises' aren't temporary. Then the psyche of many people will take a nose-dive; the good old days are never coming back. At that point the powers that governments rely on to manage things start to crumble; essentially that the systems of society keep on functioning well enough that governments can pull levers and make things happen. When the levers crumble, when they break when the government tries to pull them, that is when things fall apart.

And we are those levers! The cohesion of a society is the central power or tool that a government has to work with. They can't create that if it doesn't already exist.

When they can't guarantee enough supplies of diesel to run the trucks that distribute food. If there is no end in sight to rationing. If supplies of fertilizer for farmers start to be restricted AND WORD OF THAT HITS THE MEDIA.

If drought devastates the corn crop AGAIN and we are already rationing food.

We in the West have forgotten something. Not famine. Fear of famine. We think we are so secure. I really don't know how we will react when that fear returns and takes up residence in our minds.

AndrewP

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2013, 04:39:14 AM »
Most of what has been said in this thread is not supportable by rational argument or peer-reviewed literature. The tendency of posters on this forum to throw peer-reviewed literature out the window because scientists are too "conservative" is unfortunate.

Potential food production on earth is FAR greater than actual food production. Market-based national food-exporting economies will never issue blanket bans on exports. Russia's grain yields that year were not large enough to export grain regardless of the ban. Food is an international commodity. Say a major food exporter, like the U.S. has a bad year. So we export less food than normal. We don't ban exporters unless the yield is so bad that we cannot meet domestic demand (we wouldn't even issue a ban in such a case, market forces would simply lead to zero exports). Breaking things down on a country by country basis is irrelevant. As long as global food production approximately equals global caloric demand in any given year, market forces will distribute the food. Given global food production is not even close to its potential, there is little need for concern. There is unused and under-utilized land. In addition, the use of land for feeding and raising meat is incredibly wasteful calorically. This land will gradually be converted to feeding people directly, as prices rise.

The real issue is that portions of the world (primarily Africa) currently and will likely continue to have economies that are unable of producing enough food to meet domestic demand, or producing enough value to import sufficient quantities of food. This situation may gradually and slightly exacerbated by any negative effects of climate change on global food production.

Glenn Tamblyn

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2013, 04:51:13 AM »
ggelsrinc

Irrigation requires time and resources to put in place and importantly, additional water supplies that can be made available. But many of the worlds agricultural regions are under water shortage threats. They may not be short of water yet, although some are, but they are using up reserves of water that are finite.

India just recorded a bumper rice harvest this year, principally in the Punjab. Which is great. But much of this derives from heavy use of groundwater, subsidized by cheap pumps and cheap electricity; without that they wouldn't be able to grow anything like this much.

But the water tables are dropping hugely. In parts of India they now pump water from a kilometer underground. Those aquifers can't keep supplying at this rate for too much longer - years or maybe a couple of decades. At least three states in China are under similar pressures - much of the Chinese wheat harvest is watered from ground water. The vast Oglallah aquifer in the US mid-west is under significant pressure as well.

At the same time the snow pack in the Rockies/Sierra's is shrinking. More snow melts out quickly in Spring rather than slowly over the Summer. That is the equivalent of loosing a host of dams that could hold water.

There are a lot of pressures on our society that make it fragile. Yes, of course we will act to address the threats. But I have little confidence in either our governments or the people in general to act decisively enough soon enough to ward of many of these dangers. If there is not enough food on the supermarket shelves to feed you, sure you can plant some vegetables. But what will you eat for the 3-6 months while you wait for them to grow. The world doesn't have the food reserves needed to tide us over for some years while we perhaps implement other approaches. Sure we might be able to do all sorts of things to increase production, maybe. But how long will they take to reach fruition? Years? You can starve to death in weeks.

In a world where we could count on the great judgement, intelligence, care, caution and diligence of everyone much might be possible. But we live in a world filled with human beings instead, with all our strengths and weaknesses.

Will human nature shine out in trying to deal with these issues? Yes I think it will.

Will human nature succeed in dealing with these issues? Much less likely because another part of human nature means we leave it too late before we start to shine. Human nobility alone isn't a match for the Laws of Physics. And Agronomy.

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2013, 06:08:56 AM »
Quote
Weapons maker finds cheap way to get clean water

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.


Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/futureoftech/weapons-maker-finds-cheap-way-get-clean-water-1C8835463

Thorium MSRs offer the world a source of energy that doesn't pollute. Wherever there is a problem, there is a solution.

DrTskoul

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2013, 07:12:36 AM »
To understand the full scale of the food production problem one must definitely read "Full Planet, Empty Plates" byLLester Brown
“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts.”
― Richard P. Feynman

John Batteen

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2013, 08:00:42 AM »
I think it will be a difficult transition period, and it's possible people could starve in countries not able to feed themselves, but I don't think it will be extinction-level.  High tunnel gardening is revolutionizing the produce industry.  You can control so much more of the environment and use water more efficiently too.  As ggelsrinc posted, it's not long before cheap desalination is real.  They could make the oil pipelines to the Gulf Coast refineries run backwards with clean water from the desalination plants, solar powered by the bright desert sun.  The developed world will be able to engineer our way out of this.  If we can send a man to space, we can live through a transition to a new climate regime.  It won't be pretty, and it's not what I'd have chosen, but it is what it is.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #22 on: April 04, 2013, 08:04:06 AM »
Potential food production on earth is FAR greater than actual food production. Market-based national food-exporting economies will never issue blanket bans on exports. Russia's grain yields that year were not large enough to export grain regardless of the ban. Food is an international commodity. Say a major food exporter, like the U.S. has a bad year. So we export less food than normal. We don't ban exporters unless the yield is so bad that we cannot meet domestic demand (we wouldn't even issue a ban in such a case, market forces would simply lead to zero exports). Breaking things down on a country by country basis is irrelevant. As long as global food production approximately equals global caloric demand in any given year, market forces will distribute the food. Given global food production is not even close to its potential, there is little need for concern. There is unused and under-utilized land. In addition, the use of land for feeding and raising meat is incredibly wasteful calorically. This land will gradually be converted to feeding people directly, as prices rise.

It seems you place a lot of faith in "market forces" and the ability to arbitrarily raise production (which I think crandles also argued for, albeit by throwing more people at it...)

If there was really so much reserve capacity in the global agricultural system to produce more food - given prices have been rising to historic highs - why isn't that capacity being activated? Why does scientific research appear to suggest food supply is peaking even as demand increases from both rising population and increasing affluence?
http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v3/n12/full/ncomms2296.html

Exactly how do you think market forces alone will stop richer people burning corn in their engines (presumably to offset peak oil - I can't fathom why else this is still happening and increasingly so) while poorer people starve? What will cause the wealthy to stop wasting so much food and to eat less meat? A sudden attack of social conscience that represents a dramatic u-turn from the current state of play? Or do you think governments will all come to together and agree to force the matter? How do you think that would go down in the developed nations?

How do market forces protect poorer countries if richer nations can pay more for the food they produce than their own people? Isn't that the rationale behind export bans - to ensure internal stability?

How do you reconcile the "plenty of available production capacity" argument with the onset of abrupt climate change and likely rapid deterioration in crop growing conditions?

Picking up a bit more on the "developed nations" side of the argument, to pick out part of another comment:
Why should anyone in a developed country that isn't prone to becoming 50% submerged think more doom-laden scenarios that agriculture employing more like 20% of population rather than 10%? A 1/9th reduction in what the population as a whole can do other than feed itself does not seem anywhere near civilisation collapse to me.

If one doesn't care about the impact on those other countries one doesn't class as developed - is there perhaps a danger one is overlooking that the developed world can't stand alone? We consume tremendous amounts of various resources from less developed nations that will be out of play if they collapse. That's before you get into the likely impacts on trade routes I mentioned previously.

Plus I think you'll find even if the developed nations could stand alone the incentives for people to migrate to them from less fortunate nations would be even stronger than they already are...

I don't think the situation lends itself to simplistic silver bullet answers unfortunately. The reality seems to me to be difficult and complicated. In a world that ought to be able to feed everyone currently, around a billion people receive inadequate nutrition. That is a damning indictment against our species and market forces.

I don't see it as doom mongering - I see it as trying to understand the world and form a realistic assessment of where we are at. I welcome intelligent debate against the case - it isn't as though I want to be right!

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #23 on: April 04, 2013, 08:17:46 AM »
I think it will be a difficult transition period, and it's possible people could starve in countries not able to feed themselves, but I don't think it will be extinction-level.  High tunnel gardening is revolutionizing the produce industry.  You can control so much more of the environment and use water more efficiently too.  As ggelsrinc posted, it's not long before cheap desalination is real.  They could make the oil pipelines to the Gulf Coast refineries run backwards with clean water from the desalination plants, solar powered by the bright desert sun.  The developed world will be able to engineer our way out of this.  If we can send a man to space, we can live through a transition to a new climate regime.  It won't be pretty, and it's not what I'd have chosen, but it is what it is.

Is there any figures yet for the economic costs of rolling out said "cheap" desalination, or timescales within which it could be scaled up enough to have a real effect? It sounds as though it's proof of concept stage right now, and I feel I should note that things are moving rather fast in the earth system now. Plus water alone is nowhere near a solution for the problems we're likely to face even if it could be deployed tomorrow.

Unless one can control the weather? Ensure agriculture continues to operate within the parameters it has adapted to over the last ten thousand or so years? Genetically engineer crops to handle the new regime after transition (and the transition decades too)?

I can point at precedents for historical civilisations collapsing under climatic stress much milder than it seems we are likely to face. Can anyone provide precedent for a transition as abrupt and significant as the one unfolding with the loss of Arctic sea ice being survived by a civilisation? (even a highly resilient self sufficient one not globally interdependent).

Oh - while we're on the technological flights of fancy kick - I recently wrote a blog post I was mildly proud of:
http://civilisationcontinuitygroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/the-utopia-that-never-was-the-ccg-vision/

It is not that I am arguing against the basic premise of technology - or problems having solutions. I'm arguing that we don't have time any more and technological hubris seems a dangerous place to put faith to me.

gfwellman

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #24 on: April 04, 2013, 09:16:56 AM »
As I've said upthread, I'm with the more optimistic few on this thread.  There is a high likelihood of significant starvation events in countries that are already poor and net food importers.  But not mass starvation in developed nations unless we really screw the pooch and go to a +6C world.

I'm a little skeptical about that graphene desalination filter - I'll have to do more reading to see how that's really supposed to work, but the news article must have something wrong.   Taken at face value, it's saying that water molecules are smaller than salt ... but salt dissolved in water is separate Na+ and Cl- ions.  I looked up the ionic radii of those and they're 116 and 167 respectively.  Water has a molecular diameter of 275 or 320, depending on how you weight the charge distribution.  (All of those in picometers.)  So while there may be some way for graphene to act as a salt filter, there's more to it than the news article explains.

Anonymouse

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #25 on: April 04, 2013, 09:29:46 AM »
Aren't we already headed for a 4+ world within 100 years?  I am pretty sure that is the current estimate now. Isn't that the point of all of this blather?  Within 100 years.  Within 100 years.  It has taken the industrial revolution more than that long to build up steam (pun intended) to the point we are now. How long will it take to release the pressure that has built up?
« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 09:38:11 AM by Anonymouse »

gfwellman

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #26 on: April 04, 2013, 10:04:59 AM »
If we don't get our political act together, yeah.  It's still conceivable we could make the changes to stop around +3, but I'd put the odds of that around 50-50 and I'm probably being optimistic.  What I meant was that some on this thread are talking like a Cormac McCarthy-ian post-civilizational wasteland will happen inside of a couple of decades, and that just seems crazy to me.  Heck, I think there will still be some functioning advanced nations in a +4C world.  But they'll only be functioning because they take a brutal hard line on climate refugees.  They may be much less democratic than what we're used to, and I'd rather be here than there, but I just think "total collapse" isn't likely.

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #27 on: April 04, 2013, 10:25:44 AM »
Again, there is huge spare capacity. There is unused and underutilized land, food that is fed to raise cattle, and food that is used to make gasoline. We could probably produce 50% more food than we do currently, at little or no change in cost. Again, the issue is income inequality. Poor nations can't grow enough food or produce enough exports of value to buy food. That is the issue. Climate change could exacerbate some existing problems.. but the mass starvation people are talking about simply would not occur because of climate change.

Anne

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #28 on: April 04, 2013, 10:50:34 AM »
AndrewP, I didn't see anyone talking about global starvation. But localised famine is a real threat, and something we have seen all too often in the past. It is not caused by global shortage of food, but by the food being in the wrong place and unaffordable by those who need it. Climate change is going to make that more likely to happen unless there is a massive political change of heart by the rich nations. The Road describes a situation all too familiar to people in the horn of Africa, for example. It's not likely to happen in the USA but it's very likely indeed to happen somewhere, probably even several places at once.

Anonymouse

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #29 on: April 04, 2013, 10:58:09 AM »
gfwellman (#26)
Could you please elaborate on what you envision by "brutal hard line on climate refugees" ?  Would your vision be acceptable to you if you were one? At this point, we have no idea *who* will really be the refugees.  Will Canada take a 'hard line' on refugees from the US midwest?  Will the Scandinavian nations take a 'hard line' on refugees from Switzerland, Lithuania and Italy?  Will Ireland take a 'hard line' on refugees from England?

AndrewP (#27) Does Siberia or Canada have enough sunlight or appropriate soil to accommodate massive agriculture sufficient to support our current population?  Are the volcanic lands available now in Hawaii able to grow wheat, corn, soy, or any other crop?  Greenland might be "greening" over the next few decades, but does that translate into fields of crops or just weeds and scrub brush?
« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 11:30:29 AM by Anonymouse »

John Batteen

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #30 on: April 04, 2013, 06:05:24 PM »
There's certainly no precedent for this type of thing, but we've been making our own unprecedented way since the Industrial Revolution.  There's no precedent for smart phones becoming ubiquitous, yet they have.

I live in rural, agricultural Minnesota, and I grew up on a farm in South Dakota.  I've also traveled across the rural Midwest and West regions of our country.  I can personally attest to lots of spare food production capacity, at least in those areas.  In the last few years, I've seen many previously fallow tracts of land get plowed up for corn.  This is because corn prices are rising dramatically.  There's also been an explosion in high tunnel produce production in the local area, because we can deliver better, cheaper produce than Californian and Mexican imports.  Both examples of production following market demands.  Just because there's a bunch of starving people in Africa doesn't mean food production is going to rise.  They have to have money to buy it.

I'm not sure if you've heard of high tunnels before, but they allow one to have much better control over their environment variables.  Here's a link http://hightunnels.cfans.umn.edu/ to the University of Minnesota page on high tunnels.  For the North at least, they enable production to continue in almost any conditions.  If it's cloudy for months on end, then you've got problems, but otherwise they eliminate so many of the variables of field-grown crops.  They cover the crops so in the event of drenching rains, they can avoid being flooded.  An enterprising grower will be capturing that runoff water and saving it in a tank for the dry weeks ahead.  Irrigation is usually drip irrigation and the crops are often grown under landscaping fabric or poly sheeting, so the water use efficiency is potentially an order of magnitude greater than field grown.  Since the leaves never get wet, fungus or disease problems are far less likely.  It probably won't get Phoenix hot up here in my lifetime, but if your crops are suffering in excessive heat or sunshine, you can put shade cloth over the top.  If it's not warm enough, you can seal up all the edges and even run a heater in there if you want.  Even completely unheated high tunnels have been shown to extend the season by about 8 weeks in spring, when incoming solar energy is high but temps are still cool, and about 4 weeks in the fall,  because the sun is at a lower angle than during the same air temperatures in spring.  Deer can't get into the tunnels, and if you're having problems with insects it's easy to net the tunnels.

I think technology is the only thing that's going to save us.  I can't provide you with a precedent for a technologically advanced society surviving a change in climate regime, but there are countless examples of untechnological societies being wiped out, most of which we will never know because all trace of them is gone.

Anonymouse, I'm not betting on it by any means but I wouldn't be surprised if Canada and Russia alone could grow enough food to feed however many people are around once we've warmed 5C.  They're both already full of farmland and are large grain exporters.  Those two countries actually, I suspect, stand to benefit significantly from climate change.  Due to the advances in high tunnel agriculture, and other methods of controlling environment variables, as long as the sun shines you can grow food.  And boy, does the sun ever shine up there!  They have a short season but the plants grow like crazy under nearly 24 hours of sun.  Their farmland is very productive, and the farmable range is increasing to the north.  They have abundant fresh water.  Not sure where Hawaii came from, but their farmland is very fertile and I know of several people currently living on completely self-sustaining organic farms.  You can go visit them for free if you like, as long as you work on the farm.  Check out wwoof.org.

With regard to a brutal hard line on climate refugees, I agree with gfwellman that the resource-rich northern countries would do better to close their borders in the event of a crisis.  It would suck if I was one of the people they wouldn't let in, but that's life.  Life is brutal.  Survival of the fittest, and those best able to utilize their lucky positions.  Look at it from their perspective.  They have two options.  They can be the nice guys, let everyone in, and possibly die of chaos and starvation, or they can lock the door, toss the key and be guaranteed their survival.  I wouldn't hold it against them.

Interesting conversations.  I'm glad to hear your opinions and any criticisms you may have of mine.

Bruce Steele

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #31 on: April 04, 2013, 06:12:50 PM »
Status quo is unsustainable, we are currently feeding 7 billion people and a lot of pets and livestock. Other than some third world countries most people live in cities and are dependent on agriculture driven by cheap fossil fuels. The fuels will hold out long enough for climate change to wreak havoc on our food crops. The reasons we need to change are clear, the path out of this isn't. There are lots of species on this planet that would be well served by societal collapse sooner rather than later but as I said earlier, fuel isn't in short enough supply to trigger collapse.  I see a lot written about solar, wind, and hi-tech solutions for folks living in cites but changes to how those cites plan on feeding themselves are lacking in the conversation. During my lifetime farms have consolidated and switched to huge equipment to plant, till and harvest. There aren't suppliers for equipment to scale back in technology, small combines is an oxymoron. Has anyone out there tried to harvest and thresh a half acre of grain by hand? I did it with hand shears and a weedwacker but I am a contrary odd fart and if there is a hard way to do something I'll find it.  To avoid the fossil fuel steamroller several things have to change. Distance to markets has to be reduced which means the variety everyone takes for granted at the supermarket is a big issue. Luxury foods ( most restaurant food) excess meat consumption, and crops like wine grapes irrigated from three hundred meter aquifers are all part of what is pushing us to collapse. Those techniques which allow a farmer to farm without fossil fueled inputs, and to  harvest , store and market while staying in business are a high bar to reach for but these issues shouldn't be relegated to some magical time when people realize self sufficiency and stewardship have something to do with survival. I do not think these things possible when such a large portion of the public looks down on pig farmers, dirt farmers or for that matter fishermen.  All the images of farmers I grew up with Arnold ( Green Acres ) Greenjeans (Captain Kangaroo) etc. where derogatory. Farming and stewardship of the land is to some degree a vow of poverty but money is piss and pursuing money will never buy you security. I guess what I am saying in a lot of ways is our society has some damn misplaced standards for success and when those change city people may take up farming or at least value hard work. 

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #32 on: April 04, 2013, 07:18:12 PM »
There's certainly no precedent for this type of thing, but we've been making our own unprecedented way since the Industrial Revolution.  There's no precedent for smart phones becoming ubiquitous, yet they have.

I don't think it pays to underestimate older civilisations or more "primitive" peoples myself. The world was colonised by hominid ancestors with little more than sharp sticks and fire. Some of the ancient civilisations did things we still apparently don't understand today and stood the test of time and whatever conditions came along not just for a century or two (or a few decades for the most modern part of our civilisation) but for milliena. To me, that suggests they must have been doing something right - to last for thousands of years, when we face self inflicted existential crises in mere hundreds.

I'm not sure if you've heard of high tunnels before, but they allow one to have much better control over their environment variables.  Here's a link http://hightunnels.cfans.umn.edu/ to the University of Minnesota page on high tunnels.  For the North at least, they enable production to continue in almost any conditions.  If it's cloudy for months on end, then you've got problems, but otherwise they eliminate so many of the variables of field-grown crops.  They cover the crops so in the event of drenching rains, they can avoid being flooded.  An enterprising grower will be capturing that runoff water and saving it in a tank for the dry weeks ahead.  Irrigation is usually drip irrigation and the crops are often grown under landscaping fabric or poly sheeting, so the water use efficiency is potentially an order of magnitude greater than field grown.  Since the leaves never get wet, fungus or disease problems are far less likely.  It probably won't get Phoenix hot up here in my lifetime, but if your crops are suffering in excessive heat or sunshine, you can put shade cloth over the top.  If it's not warm enough, you can seal up all the edges and even run a heater in there if you want.  Even completely unheated high tunnels have been shown to extend the season by about 8 weeks in spring, when incoming solar energy is high but temps are still cool, and about 4 weeks in the fall,  because the sun is at a lower angle than during the same air temperatures in spring.  Deer can't get into the tunnels, and if you're having problems with insects it's easy to net the tunnels.

Is it feasible to cover the entire agricultural world (massive swatches of land that it is) in these tunnels? As I'm sure you're aware agriculture uses massive amounts of land. I assume the tunnels are also far more labour intensive than current agriculture as you won't get large machinery into them? What sort of extra energy input is needed to power them (especially when you're talking about heating and presumably air conditioning to deal with heat waves)?

With respect to insect problems - what about crops pollinated by insects? Or by the wind? How do you address these issues in closed tunnels? How do you responsibly dispose of all that plastic after UV has degraded it over large areas? (if you rolled it out over massive areas)
I think technology is the only thing that's going to save us.  I can't provide you with a precedent for a technologically advanced society surviving a change in climate regime, but there are countless examples of untechnological societies being wiped out, most of which we will never know because all trace of them is gone.

That's where I'm citing the very long relative durations of some of the ancient civilisations as a counter example. Climate change isn't the only threat we appear to have created using technology! (not that I am against technology per se)
With regard to a brutal hard line on climate refugees, I agree with gfwellman that the resource-rich northern countries would do better to close their borders in the event of a crisis.  It would suck if I was one of the people they wouldn't let in, but that's life.  Life is brutal.  Survival of the fittest, and those best able to utilize their lucky positions.  Look at it from their perspective.  They have two options.  They can be the nice guys, let everyone in, and possibly die of chaos and starvation, or they can lock the door, toss the key and be guaranteed their survival.  I wouldn't hold it against them.

If the developed nations are still standing by that stage in the game, yes, I am sure they will close their borders and use the military to aggressively deal with anyone trying to come in. Some countries are already doing this. Trouble is - how can the "developed nations" stand alone, without resources from the rest of the world? Even America and Russia would need to go on a massive factory building program to replace all that capacity moved to China. I might also note that the USA is now a significant net importer of energy - Russia I think more at threat from the potential for mass migration of people from other regions (how can they possibly secure their borders effectively? The US struggles to secure a small border with Mexico by comparison, despite having 3x the population Russia does).

Interesting conversations.  I'm glad to hear your opinions and any criticisms you may have of mine.

I think it's important to debate these things, rather than simply rushing to accuse people of either doom mongering or inappropriate optimism. As such it's nice to find such productive and rational conversations here, as opposed to the usual comment warfare with denier trolls.

gfwellman

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #33 on: April 04, 2013, 07:33:38 PM »
Anonymouse - John B and ccgwebmaster's thoughts on what sort of border controls are likely is what I had in mind as likely also.  Of course it's an unfair matter of luck who is already a citizen of the more desirable land and who is kept out at gunpoint.  I wouldn't want to be a refugee from the Syrian civil war being refused entry to Turkey right now, or a refugee in any of the similar situations in Africa.

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #34 on: April 04, 2013, 10:52:01 PM »
Status quo is unsustainable, we are currently feeding 7 billion people and a lot of pets and livestock. Other than some third world countries most people live in cities and are dependent on agriculture driven by cheap fossil fuels. The fuels will hold out long enough for climate change to wreak havoc on our food crops. The reasons we need to change are clear, the path out of this isn't. There are lots of species on this planet that would be well served by societal collapse sooner rather than later but as I said earlier, fuel isn't in short enough supply to trigger collapse.  I see a lot written about solar, wind, and hi-tech solutions for folks living in cites but changes to how those cites plan on feeding themselves are lacking in the conversation. During my lifetime farms have consolidated and switched to huge equipment to plant, till and harvest. There aren't suppliers for equipment to scale back in technology, small combines is an oxymoron. Has anyone out there tried to harvest and thresh a half acre of grain by hand? I did it with hand shears and a weedwacker but I am a contrary odd fart and if there is a hard way to do something I'll find it.  To avoid the fossil fuel steamroller several things have to change. Distance to markets has to be reduced which means the variety everyone takes for granted at the supermarket is a big issue. Luxury foods ( most restaurant food) excess meat consumption, and crops like wine grapes irrigated from three hundred meter aquifers are all part of what is pushing us to collapse. Those techniques which allow a farmer to farm without fossil fueled inputs, and to  harvest , store and market while staying in business are a high bar to reach for but these issues shouldn't be relegated to some magical time when people realize self sufficiency and stewardship have something to do with survival. I do not think these things possible when such a large portion of the public looks down on pig farmers, dirt farmers or for that matter fishermen.  All the images of farmers I grew up with Arnold ( Green Acres ) Greenjeans (Captain Kangaroo) etc. where derogatory. Farming and stewardship of the land is to some degree a vow of poverty but money is piss and pursuing money will never buy you security. I guess what I am saying in a lot of ways is our society has some damn misplaced standards for success and when those change city people may take up farming or at least value hard work.

I don't recall anything derogatory about Mr. Greenjeans and Arnold was Fred and Doris Ziffel's pig who they treated like a son. It was Mr. Douglas who gave up a good job as a city lawyer to become a lousy farmer who couldn't grow anything, while all his neighbors could.

I don't see people as the problem and eventually they will be the solution. Developed countries just don't need a large percentage of their population on the farm.

The focus of attention of our present climate change is increased risk of exceptional weather. There just hasn't been enough damage yet to get the people's attention. It will be that way until people notice the change and feel it's a threat to what they care about.   

fishmahboi

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #35 on: April 04, 2013, 10:55:57 PM »
Status quo is unsustainable, we are currently feeding 7 billion people and a lot of pets and livestock. Other than some third world countries most people live in cities and are dependent on agriculture driven by cheap fossil fuels. The fuels will hold out long enough for climate change to wreak havoc on our food crops. The reasons we need to change are clear, the path out of this isn't. There are lots of species on this planet that would be well served by societal collapse sooner rather than later but as I said earlier, fuel isn't in short enough supply to trigger collapse.  I see a lot written about solar, wind, and hi-tech solutions for folks living in cites but changes to how those cites plan on feeding themselves are lacking in the conversation. During my lifetime farms have consolidated and switched to huge equipment to plant, till and harvest. There aren't suppliers for equipment to scale back in technology, small combines is an oxymoron. Has anyone out there tried to harvest and thresh a half acre of grain by hand? I did it with hand shears and a weedwacker but I am a contrary odd fart and if there is a hard way to do something I'll find it.  To avoid the fossil fuel steamroller several things have to change. Distance to markets has to be reduced which means the variety everyone takes for granted at the supermarket is a big issue. Luxury foods ( most restaurant food) excess meat consumption, and crops like wine grapes irrigated from three hundred meter aquifers are all part of what is pushing us to collapse. Those techniques which allow a farmer to farm without fossil fueled inputs, and to  harvest , store and market while staying in business are a high bar to reach for but these issues shouldn't be relegated to some magical time when people realize self sufficiency and stewardship have something to do with survival. I do not think these things possible when such a large portion of the public looks down on pig farmers, dirt farmers or for that matter fishermen.  All the images of farmers I grew up with Arnold ( Green Acres ) Greenjeans (Captain Kangaroo) etc. where derogatory. Farming and stewardship of the land is to some degree a vow of poverty but money is piss and pursuing money will never buy you security. I guess what I am saying in a lot of ways is our society has some damn misplaced standards for success and when those change city people may take up farming or at least value hard work.

I don't recall anything derogatory about Mr. Greenjeans and Arnold was Fred and Doris Ziffel's pig who they treated like a son. It was Mr. Douglas who gave up a good job as a city lawyer to become a lousy farmer who couldn't grow anything, while all his neighbors could.

I don't see people as the problem and eventually they will be the solution. Developed countries just don't need a large percentage of their population on the farm.

The focus of attention of our present climate change is increased risk of exceptional weather. There just hasn't been enough damage yet to get the people's attention. It will be that way until people notice the change and feel it's a threat to what they care about.

But would people not panic and adopt the "every man for himself" mentality as a result of a loss of hope due to the food producing regions tanking and supplies falling steeply?


ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #36 on: April 04, 2013, 11:11:41 PM »
fishmahboi

There is nothing in climate change to suggest the entire world's production of food will be threatened. If southern areas become less productive, northern areas should more than make up the difference. Brazil is becoming a major food exporter and there is plenty of land in the Northern Hemisphere which presently isn't very good for agriculture. I see a risk of having problems and not a disaster.

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #37 on: April 04, 2013, 11:45:25 PM »
A fascinating thread...

When we stop burning fossil fuels, what will we use to grow more food than we produce
today? How will we transport food to population centers? Isolated areas will always
be able to grow food for local inhabitants. But where will the goods and services
those inhabitants need come from? Isolated areas don't have hospitals or heavy industry, either. 

I haven't heard the term "High Tunnels" before but they appear to be similiar
to small greenhouses or large cold frames. Will the locals be able to produce
the plastic required for the tunnels? Or any required metal fixtures?

I've spectulated that humans will be reduced to hunter/gatherer status
in around 200 years. Technology will vanish when the abundant food, energy
and natural resources required to sustain it disappear. By the time people
get around to seriously replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy, it will
be too late to prevent a dystopia.

fishmahboi

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #38 on: April 04, 2013, 11:51:13 PM »
A fascinating thread...

When we stop burning fossil fuels, what will we use to grow more food than we produce
today? How will we transport food to population centers? Isolated areas will always
be able to grow food for local inhabitants. But where will the goods and services
those inhabitants need come from? Isolated areas don't have hospitals or heavy industry, either. 

I haven't heard the term "High Tunnels" before but they appear to be similiar
to small greenhouses or large cold frames. Will the locals be able to produce
the plastic required for the tunnels? Or any required metal fixtures?

I've spectulated that humans will be reduced to hunter/gatherer status
in around 200 years. Technology will vanish when the abundant food, energy
and natural resources required to sustain it disappear. By the time people
get around to seriously replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy, it will
be too late to prevent a dystopia.

That is quite a conservative timescale.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #39 on: April 05, 2013, 12:11:18 AM »
If southern areas become less productive, northern areas should more than make up the difference.
I thought ritter made a comment that addressed that very concisely. The idea that new agricultural regions will open up with suitable timing to compensate for the decline and loss of current day ones is a fantasy in itself - setting aside the multiple problems identified in substantially moving agriculture.

It was originally projected that climate change would result in an increase in yields, with a decrease later in the century - nice tame IPCC stuff. So why is food production already peaking? Where are all the new fertile lands opening up for us to move into? Why isn't increased carbon dioxide helping with a fertilisation effect? (rhetorical questions)

Climate change is already affecting large areas. I am myself slightly surprised at how severely the UK is feeling the impact already, given I have it on my list of climatically viable places longer term (ie when one considers later in the century scenarios that potentially render a majority of the earth's inhabited surface uninhabitable). If a large part of the currently inhabited planet is no longer inhabitable - by virtue of exceeding human limits for heat stress (our crops and animals tend to be far more vulnerable than we are!) - I seriously doubt any new areas opening up will come anywhere near balancing that.

It's like a species falling off the top of a mountain as it warms. The amount of land as you go higher and higher becomes less and less. Eventually you run out of mountain to go up to and fall off the top. The same effect applies with respect to the polar regions - although I grant paleoclimate doesn't give examples to my knowledge that suggest we can totally fall off the top.

I think all we are seeing now is the gentlest of rumbles before the storm breaks. If the climate is an angry beast that we are poking with sharp sticks - it is a tiger that is now but opening one eye. That is my opinion at least, from what I've read about abrupt climate change as studied by paleoclimatologists. The earth system is capable of profound and rapid changes over large regions (if not the whole system) that are far beyond anything we have experienced for at least ten thousand years (and possibly a lot longer than that). Please also consider the amount of farmland and infrastructure that would be lost by the metres of sea level rise we are likely to experience, even if most people were able to survive that long.

We are nowhere near a new stable state. We extrapolate our views of the world from our past experiences and intuitively think in linear process terms. The words that I think are underappreciated in describing so many of these processes?

Positive feedback.

Bruce Steele

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #40 on: April 05, 2013, 12:44:28 AM »
I remembered Arnold was the pig's name while I was out hoeing but figured it wasn't worth an edit which is a handy option for anyone challenged with spelling( or memory). I would like to make my point a little better. I think society needs to massively reduce it's carbon footprint and everything from arctic melting, Greenland, Antarctica, and the carbon cycle all point to staggering changes taking place right now, not somewhere in the future.  We can feed ourselves so long as we throw massive amounts of energy at it, we can keep driving, flying , and pumping water till TSHTF.  But the knowledge, skill, low tech infrastructure and willpower to NOT use fuel is our challenge. At the same time we need to retool our low tech infrastructure we need to change crops, diets, and expectations. These are societal issues but most of us will stay right where we are and adapting means adapting to heat not running from it. Saving the planet or the majority of extant lifeforms will necessitate technological devolution rather than waiting for magic solutions. While we wait we can x species into oblivion , we can only ignore the consequences so long but if the answer is to go back there is little point in waiting.   

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #41 on: April 05, 2013, 04:03:47 AM »
I remembered Arnold was the pig's name while I was out hoeing but figured it wasn't worth an edit which is a handy option for anyone challenged with spelling( or memory). I would like to make my point a little better. I think society needs to massively reduce it's carbon footprint and everything from arctic melting, Greenland, Antarctica, and the carbon cycle all point to staggering changes taking place right now, not somewhere in the future.  We can feed ourselves so long as we throw massive amounts of energy at it, we can keep driving, flying , and pumping water till TSHTF.  But the knowledge, skill, low tech infrastructure and willpower to NOT use fuel is our challenge. At the same time we need to retool our low tech infrastructure we need to change crops, diets, and expectations. These are societal issues but most of us will stay right where we are and adapting means adapting to heat not running from it. Saving the planet or the majority of extant lifeforms will necessitate technological devolution rather than waiting for magic solutions. While we wait we can x species into oblivion , we can only ignore the consequences so long but if the answer is to go back there is little point in waiting.   

They developed the technology for safe nuclear energy when we were babes and never developed it commercially because it isn't good for making nuclear weapons. There is no magic involved, we have the technology to do away with fossil fuels. The huge investment is present technology has kept us from advancing in how we use energy. I remember posting data where Exxon had revenue more than a sixth of the US budget. There are big players in this world who stand to lose fortunes when things are changed. There is a whole industry involved to deny climate change.

ccgwebmaster

You treat us being at peak agricultural production as a fact while our government pays farmers to not produce crops. Production is based on market demand. We make ethanol out of corn, because we can make much more corn than we have market demand. We can make ethanol out of sugar and methanol out of any organic. There are very few things in this world that are scarce resources.

OldLeatherneck

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #42 on: April 05, 2013, 04:09:30 AM »
There are very few things in this world that are scarce resources.

How about potash and phosphate which are essential for agriculture?  How about some of the byproducts of petrochemicals which actually are beneficial to society?  How about fresh water?
"Share Your Knowledge.  It's a Way to Achieve Immortality."  ......the Dalai Lama

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #43 on: April 05, 2013, 04:43:29 AM »
The question of resource scarcity was already addressed.

So what about the massive untapped acres of farmland? If I understand this data correctly - around 10% at best (I can't find 2012 figures yet but did read an article last year saying farmers were taking land out of idle for corn).

http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0857.xls

I'd be interested if anyone can find any more acres of available farmland ready to come into production? Because my impression is that 10% really isn't that much reserve capacity - it might help mitigate some of the milder increasingly extreme weather, but I can't see a fundamental impact from it.

It ought to also be noted there are reasons to idle farmland! It isn't even just about making sure a large surplus isn't produced - it's about recovery from intensive cultivation too to preserve the resource.

Anyway, I think you need substantially more than 10% reserve capacity to even balance the likely imminent yield declines from worsening weather - let alone even contemplate compensating for declining output in other parts of the world. I should note that globally available unused farmland is becoming a very scarce resource - and in many regions agriculture is degrading the soil anyway, even without climate change (someone mentioned in another comment about good reading for more information on the wider agricultural crisis).

I grant that on the face of it, it would take a pretty dramatic collapse in agriculture to put US citizens into starvation directly (assuming the government and richer end of the population will continue with some sort of adequate welfare - an awful lot of Americans are sliding into poverty right now - and at risk of going hungry not due to absolute shortage, but lack of purchasing power...).

But even assuming that the changes to the weather won't be so bad that the agricultural decline alone topples America* - what about dependencies on the rest of the world? Where are you going to get all those resources from if the rest of the world falls? Where will the manufacturing be done? Etc.

No nation - save perhaps a few indigenous tribes remaining - exists in a bubble such that it can continue to operate in splendid isolation from the rest of the planet. Such is the consequence of globalisation and the modern market economy. We are all tied together! Want to let the poor sink? Fine - but it's the same boat in the end...

*I am assuming that megadrought won't revert large chunks of US agricultural farmland (midwest especially) back to desert - as far as I am aware this is a definite possibility at some point...

TerryM

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #44 on: April 05, 2013, 05:19:57 AM »
The last time the US had lots of climate refugees was the dust bowl. I'd recommend a quick read of "The Grapes of Wrath" or the movie version if time is a problem.


The Okies were still treated with the scorn usually reserved for other races or nationalities when I arrived in California in the 60's. If people sharing the same skin color, religion, language and nationality were treated so poorly, what hopes do those without all those pluses have when they descend in mass on areas not already afflicted.


I don't doubt that food will be available (at a price), but rather that it will be delivered to where it's needed. I see our supply routes as vulnerable (think coastal Somalia), our currencies and trade agreements as vulnerable and frankly have little faith that mankind is far removed from the hunter gatherer stage when strangers were seen as the enemy.


When one area is unable to care for it's inhabitants, they will be seen as lazy, shiftless parasites trying to gorge themselves on our generosity. When it's our turn we'll be judged the same way. Ask a former "boat person" how they were treated as they bounced around the world - then multiply the problem by thousands or millions and imagine the compassionate response.


Terry

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #45 on: April 05, 2013, 05:35:13 AM »
There are very few things in this world that are scarce resources.

How about potash and phosphate which are essential for agriculture?  How about some of the byproducts of petrochemicals which actually are beneficial to society?  How about fresh water?

Do you think that algae bloom in Lake Erie found phosphate and fresh water scarce? What possibly could be scarce as a byproduct of petrochemicals, because petrochemicals aren't scarce. They are monopoly controlled markets like diamonds and gold. What makes you think they can't get potash and fresh water from oceans?

When was the last time there wasn't someone claiming the world is unsustainable?

Shared Humanity

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #46 on: April 05, 2013, 05:39:01 AM »
To provide context as to whether the rapid changes we are seeing could result in massive loss of life, near term, due to disruptions in food production, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2010 that there were 925 million hungry people in the world. The definition for hungry is difficult to pin down but it is intended to capture people who are malnourished, showing signs of physical breakdown. This is 13% of the world's population.

We can talk about how the problem is distribution or the use of crops to produce meat when it would be put to better use to feed humans but this is the system we've got and no one should expect the system to suddenly develop a lot of empathy. I would not be surprised to see 1.5 billion people starve to death in the next 20 years.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #47 on: April 05, 2013, 06:03:43 AM »
I think a lot of people are failing to appreciate the possible power of the positive feedback at work. A lot of assumption is being made that the weather might worsen a little - and that will be all. But that's what has already happened - and that appears to be intensifying - before the ice has even wholly melted in the summer (note both albedo loss and loss of energy absorption melting ice at this point).

I ought to note that the first time the ice disappears in the summer isn't the end of the process. It's just a convenient milestone - once the ice has finished disappearing in space, the process continues in time (summer minimum is low insolation compared to earlier in the year...). While I wouldn't stick my neck out as far as to say anything about a totally ice free Arctic in any given timescale - I think one should bear in mind that positive feedbacks run faster and faster until all the fuel is gone (or constrained at least - if anyone has good solid reasoning on why the Arctic will or will not go totally ice free I'd love to hear it).

If one takes the Wadhams estimate that we get to a state where the forcing is almost equivalent to the existing one from carbon dioxide - which I feel is a little extreme (even including retreat of land based snowpack) - that's a really big deal.

Why such a big deal?

Because - to my ignorant man from the street eyes - all that extra energy is being dumped into the system into a specific region for a specific part of the year. It isn't a nice gentle(!) increase in a globally well mixed greenhouse gas as with carbon dioxide. It's a hammer blow.

If this process in the Arctic isn't a fundamental change to the earth system - and a change that might as well put us on another planet in only years (very serious impacts) to decades (for the thermal budget of the planet to start to meaningfully close the gap created by the additional imbalance, assuming no other rapid feedbacks triggered) I'd like to know what is?

Then the the icing on the cake - the loss of the cooling effect of the sulphate aerosols present from industrial pollution as parts of the world collapse. The probability that at some point methane clathrate release escalates (hopefully only to chronic rather than catastrophic proportions). The odds that the Amazon (and many other forest ecosystems around the world) die back or burn. The destabilisation of the permafrost, the greening of the Arctic (the albedo change is a more dominant effect locally than any carbon dioxide absorption effect). And so on...

I know I'm seen as a doom monger - but I haven't stated my worst case scenario, only my "probable worst case" scenario. It seems unsafe to me to rely heavily on the norms one has come to expect in life from recent history and personal experience.

Am I missing something really fundamental and obvious? Or am I justified in pointing out the window and saying "You know, I think the sky might just be falling..."?

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #48 on: April 05, 2013, 07:10:54 AM »
Hi ccgwebmaster (#47),
i think you are pointing out very well the basic issue here...  most of these posters seem to assume a basic environmental "minimum" that just doesn't seem possible, given what we already know about how physics interacts with our world.  We are not talking about a hurricane here or a drought there that will eventually move on, and leave us with the same world we humans have evolved into.  What some of us are talking about is a fundamental shift in earth's processes that will leave us scrambling.  The implications are enormous, and too readily dismissed by those who assume a basic level of stasis in earth's climate, one that we have taken for granted for the last several millenia.  The new paradigm is almost definitely going to be different, and in a very short period of time, which leaves very little room for manuvering.  I believe you are justified.

p.s. METHANE.  so little research completed, so little time to document the real-world effects we are probably going to see before the breakdown of civilization starts to happen. IMHO. lol...?
« Last Edit: April 05, 2013, 07:36:11 AM by Anonymouse »

ggelsrinc

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Re: When and how bad?
« Reply #49 on: April 05, 2013, 07:44:15 AM »
I think a lot of people are failing to appreciate the possible power of the positive feedback at work. A lot of assumption is being made that the weather might worsen a little - and that will be all. But that's what has already happened - and that appears to be intensifying - before the ice has even wholly melted in the summer (note both albedo loss and loss of energy absorption melting ice at this point).

I ought to note that the first time the ice disappears in the summer isn't the end of the process. It's just a convenient milestone - once the ice has finished disappearing in space, the process continues in time (summer minimum is low insolation compared to earlier in the year...). While I wouldn't stick my neck out as far as to say anything about a totally ice free Arctic in any given timescale - I think one should bear in mind that positive feedbacks run faster and faster until all the fuel is gone (or constrained at least - if anyone has good solid reasoning on why the Arctic will or will not go totally ice free I'd love to hear it).

If one takes the Wadhams estimate that we get to a state where the forcing is almost equivalent to the existing one from carbon dioxide - which I feel is a little extreme (even including retreat of land based snowpack) - that's a really big deal.

Why such a big deal?

Because - to my ignorant man from the street eyes - all that extra energy is being dumped into the system into a specific region for a specific part of the year. It isn't a nice gentle(!) increase in a globally well mixed greenhouse gas as with carbon dioxide. It's a hammer blow.

If this process in the Arctic isn't a fundamental change to the earth system - and a change that might as well put us on another planet in only years (very serious impacts) to decades (for the thermal budget of the planet to start to meaningfully close the gap created by the additional imbalance, assuming no other rapid feedbacks triggered) I'd like to know what is?

Then the the icing on the cake - the loss of the cooling effect of the sulphate aerosols present from industrial pollution as parts of the world collapse. The probability that at some point methane clathrate release escalates (hopefully only to chronic rather than catastrophic proportions). The odds that the Amazon (and many other forest ecosystems around the world) die back or burn. The destabilisation of the permafrost, the greening of the Arctic (the albedo change is a more dominant effect locally than any carbon dioxide absorption effect). And so on...

I know I'm seen as a doom monger - but I haven't stated my worst case scenario, only my "probable worst case" scenario. It seems unsafe to me to rely heavily on the norms one has come to expect in life from recent history and personal experience.

Am I missing something really fundamental and obvious? Or am I justified in pointing out the window and saying "You know, I think the sky might just be falling..."?

I find an argument about the risks of climate change reasonable, but I don't find these doomsday arguments reasonable. There is a near perfect model of the Earth called the Earth. Our present Earth is sensitive to Milankovitch Cycles causing ice ages. The evidence suggests that happened when our modern thermohaline circulation started after North and South America joined. With the Atlantic cooling and GIS appearing, I'd say it's reasonable to believe our present Earth can have more atmospheric CO2 than the past world did at the same global temperature. In other words, it would require more atmospheric CO2 to avoid ice ages than that past Earth. I'm not suggesting having more CO2 is a good thing, but pointing out we can look at the past Earth and see it isn't the desolation you claim.

I've seen a diver remove methane clathrate and watched it fizz just by the change in pressure and temperature. Now, let's put that in perspective of what we know about our oceans! Haven't they been rising and falling for many ice age cycles? Wouldn't a fall in sea level destabilize methane clathrates more than a rise in sea level? Since we have had a fall in sea level recently in the geologic past, how much methane clathrate could have formed since then? We have evidence of tree lines being all the way to the Arctic Ocean during the Holocene Climatic Optimum, so how much carbon could have been buried in that permafrost that formed later? Now don't get me wrong, I don't want to find out, but it's easy to use past paleoclimatology data and shoot down a doomsday theory. If it's going to give us a doomsday, why didn't it happen in the past?

The Atlantic and Arctic Oceans are still going to be much colder than they used to be. The warming on Earth is basically at it's surface and it's very cold on the equator if you go three miles up in the atmosphere or three miles down in the ocean.