Bad Climate News and the Need for a Predator

CaribouOver at Vox this morning Brad Plumer reports, São Paulo Is the 7th Largest City in the World. And It’s About to Run Out of Water. It is experiencing “the worst drought in eight decades.” It really is bad: the city’s reservoirs are down to 5% of their capacity and there have been intermittent and widespread water outages. The proximate cause is that the region has received only 40% of the rainfall it normally does and the water utility had refused to implement water rationing, preferring anemic “free market” measures.

As for the more substantive reasons for the drought, Climate Central points to global warming and deforestation, which of course are related. Right now, here in California, we are in a similar situation. And in our case, it seems to be all global warming. Historical correlations between temperature in precipitation in the vast majority of the United States is negative — and it is particularly so here in California.

My concerns about global warming has always been focused on rainfall. The evil irony is that a warmer world will produce more rain, but it does so primarily over the oceans. So there are potentially devastating effects on agriculture, and those effects are going to harm the United States a lot. As for California, I won’t be surprised at all if in a hundred years, it is a ghost state because we just don’t have the water to support 38 million people. But I’m surprised that São Paulo is being so affected. It is on the edge of a forest and close to the coast. But that’s the thing about all the carbon we’ve pumped into the atmosphere — it is an experiment we are conducting on the planet, and we have little idea just how it is going to work out in its specifics.

CaribouMeanwhile, Andrea Thompson at Climate Central reported, Hot News: 2014 On Track to Become Warmest Year. It follows from an announcement by the National Climatic Data Center that following September being the warmest on record that we are “likely” to see 2014 be the warmest year. Even if the last three months are just as warm as the average of the years 2000 – 2013, it will tie with the warmest year.

But it is madness that we are even talking about this. Forget 2014. The warmest year on record: 2010. Second warmest: 2005. Third warmest: 1998. This last one is the only non-21st century year on the list of the ten warmest years on record. I’m again reminded of the caribou. The lack of wolves caused the species to get over-populated in Newfoundland. The caribou were so successful that they were destroying their habitat and starving, so wolves had to be reintroduced.

We need some wolves, but not to keep our population in check. We need wolves to keep our global capitalism in check. I’m not saying that we need to harm the economy. We are not turning a blind eye to global warming because the people or even the capitalists generally want that. We are doing it because there is one industry that has a huge incentive to stop us from doing anything about global warming: the fossil fuel industry. And they have enormous resources to create doubt. So yes, we are destroying the planet because about ten thousand people all over the world want to hang onto their current profits, which are almost all dependent upon externalities.

Any individual human would behave better. The current conservative line on global warming would be seen as irrational in an individual. Consider a man who said, “Unless you can prove to me that I’m going to die before my children are grown, I’m not going to buy any life insurance!” And the same conservatives who say we can’t do anything about global warming unless we know, also say that they must be allowed to carry a gun with them at all times just in case. I understand the philosophical thread: conservatives don’t believe in collective action. But the fact remains that we all have far more to worry about regarding global warming than we do lone gunmen. (Or black helicopters!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *