Let us recognize that life at the cusp of the runaway greenhouse will not be "sweet bread" to use Bajan parlance. For those alive in 2035 and going forward, they will need every bit of resourcefulness and mettle to cope with the tidal wave of changes to descend on them. In this post I want to examine some of them with the underlying subtext: Are we remotely ready to deal with them?
As shown in the accompanying graphic, some of the most profound changes will occur in sea level states such as Florida as projected sea level rise affects over 3 million in that state alone, as well as more than 560 million worldwide. Already Miami experiences severe flooding with heavy rains and pumps are often needed to eliminate the water. But this is batting on a 'losing wicket' that will only postpone the inevitable.
Island states like Barbados and Kiribati are particularly affected. A recent visit to Barbados (last May) reminded us of the extent to which the island is at risk of losing its precious beaches. With each passing year more coastal land is reclaimed due to the inexorably rising sea and now- unlike thirty years ago - you won't find one single climate change skeptic. As for Kiribati, see e.g.
Unaddressed are also the following effects which will creep into the lives of those living near the first "year of no seasons" - the first signal of the imminent runaway:
- Hotter and hotter night time temperatures
Up until relatively recently, the bane of heat waves has been broken by the fact they usually don't last overly long, e.g. a week or ten days, and when they are finished night time temperatures get significantly cooler than day time -providing needed relief. By the cusp of the runaway all that will change. Not only will heat waves be prolonged (lasting 2-3 months or longer) but will be severe, with highs in the 100-110F range. These conditions will be life - threatening for millions especially as the night time temperatures will scarcely be much lower.
Already, night time minimums have been rising more rapidly than daytime highs, even as the length of summer (and spring) stretches beyond their astronomical definitions. The natural response in developed nations will be to amp up the a/c but this will clearly lead to more blackouts as power grids are strained beyond their capacity.
Extended heat waves, encroaching into what was spring and "winter" will also force school systems to install more air conditioning, at great expense. Will public school systems already scratching for money be able to afford it? They had better, or else they will have to cut the school year dramatically. (Or let kids mostly self-educate on their home computers, assuming electricity is available.)
- Water limits will see mass rationing for most communities
By which I mean water access, if at available at all, will be limited to specific intervals of the day. A major reason is that our water infrastructure was created for a 20th century climate. Indeed, many water systems originated in the 19th century especially in major cities like New York, Chicago. These systems will not be able to withstand the withering heat from prolonged heat waves and so an already dire water situation will become manifestly worse. In western states, water may not be available at all, as it's being delimited by prolonged drought but also by the fracking craze. Some estimates indicate Colorado, for example, may run out of potable fresh water by the middle of the next decade if the fracking insanity isn't halted.
All this implies that if there is water, it will become immensely costly. We are talking of rates as high as $300 a month or more just for recycled toilet water. How will people, especially the poorest, be able to afford that if they can barely afford food now? It is clear any government at the time may have to provide water stamps as well as food stamps.
True, the planned expansion of the Gross Reservoir near Denver makes sense. But even that will only provide a limited solution as the state's population continues to grow, and the frackers show no signs of relenting in their yearly plunder of hundreds of millions of gallons for frack wells.
- Fire potential will soar nationwide, worldwide:
While raging fires in the West have become commonplace, e.g.
They will also be common throughout the nation at the cusp of the runaway greenhouse. The reasons for the coming "fire age" were clearly explained in a Washington Post article three years ago:
"Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the
This means that every state will need to have provisions ready for massive fire -fighting, and that means budgets to support it as much (in fact more) than they now support snow removal. (By the first estimated 'year of no seasons', 2040 (according to David Suzuki) there will, of course, be no more snow so all budgets will have to redirect to fire fighting.
- Heat Compromise of General Infrastructure :
While the effect on water delivery systems will be bad enough, the immense heat projected by 2035-37 will also wreak havoc on roads, bridges and even airports. Current road materials exhibit a limited range of heat tolerance and road buckling occurs with sustained temperatures above 90F - exactly the conditions that will emerge at the cusp of the runaway greenhouse.
Bridges are especially vulnerable to high temperatures, which stress bridge integrity. Already, thanks to lack of maintenance, nearly 70 percent of U.S. bridges are compromised in some way and it is these bridges most likely to be affected first as the temperatures ramp up. Like it or not, taxes may have to be increased exponentially to pay for all this. (The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates a cost of $1.6 trillion just to achieve a moderate state of maintenance. Redesign for the "heat era" may require 2 or 3 times that.)
Airports will also be affected. DIA or Denver International Airport has the world's longest runway, but may need to extend it even further. The much higher temperatures at the cusp will make it much harder to attain lift (from the Bernoulli effect). Thus, much warmer air will be less dense (when a gas is heated it expands so its density or mass/ volume decreases), reducing the mass of air flowing over the air foils (wings) to create lift. This will necessitate more runway length for takeoff. Already, in Colorado, the runways serving Aspen and Vail have been lengthened by 1,000 ft. to accommodate such changes during the summer months. We can expect similar modifications to be made nation wide as we approach the cusp of the runaway.
- Spread of Tropical Diseases:
We already know that West Nile Fever and Dengue fever will spread to most of the nation by the first year of no seasons, but other viral and parasitic infections will also abound. Two of these are illustrated below:
Thus, worm infestations, especially of the brain (above left) will proliferate as well as elephantiasis, from filariasis which will occur throughout the U.S. by 2040. Right now, there are in excess of 9 BILLION worm parasites inhabiting the vertebrates of our world, according to the author of Parasite REX. The human population alone may carry within it up to 2 billion worm parasites, including: hook worm, one of 5,000 forms of tape worm, round worm, trypanosomes, schistosomiasis-causing flukes and the protozoan that causes Toxoplasma (which over 1 billion may carry, mostly in their brains.).
With the stimulative effects of runaway cusp warming these numbers can expect to double or triple, especially amongst the human denizens of the planet. For an excellent insight into what we're in for and how bad it will be consult the paper: Global Climate and Infectious Disease:The Cholera Paradigm, in Science, Vol. 274, 20 December, 1996, p. 2025.
Do you really want to live to 100?