Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Climate Change Adaptation Will Be Limited And Require Competent Policy Changes

More (or less) serious proposals for adapting to climate change have been circulating for at least the past ten years.  Among the more trenchant have been those that actually claim to be techno-solutions to slow it down as proposed by the authors of the book, Super-Freakanomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

One of their pet Rube Goldberg schemes (which obviously could only come from the brains of a pair of economists locked into hubris) is dispersing a fleet of fiberglass boats equipped with cloud-making machines over the oceans. They reason that the clouds would increase albedo and thence, decrease the tendency to trap incoming radiation. Hence, offset warming!

Nowhere did these two stalwarts factor in that a specific type of cloud has to be generated, not just any old cloud! For example, wispy high flying cirrus are semi-transparent to incoming sunlight but block infrared radiation emitted by the Earth, thus CONTRIBUTING to the Greenhouse Effect. Meanwhile, stratus clouds are gray, dense and low flying and have a net COOLING effect since their albedo is relatively high. So how will the authors ensure they generate the second type and not the first. And also, given an average of 3.5 billion cubic meters of cloud will be needed to offset the inputs of CO2 just from the oceans, where will they get the boats? Assuming each fiberglass boat can generate one million cubic meters of cloud (a BIG assumption) that means 35,000 such boats will be needed. One was left to wonder whether either of these geniuses bothered to calculate how much CO2 generating fossil fuel would be attendant on their manufacture. (Especially given they prize themselves as "cold, calculating economists" as opposed to - perhaps, touchy feely physicists?)

Another hare-brained plan entails sucking cold water from the depth of the sea to the surface. This fails because they have no remote idea how to locate such cold water, which emergence depends upon a downwelling wave (so-called because it lowers the thermocline, or temperature gradient). By example, typical downwellings during an El Nino prevent deeper cold water from mixing with warmer water near the surface. It would therefore make more sense to use these "tubes" at that time, since the segregation from warmer water is more assured. But HOW will they do it? They easily toss out these technological fixes, offering no practical means to achieve them, as if the mere spouting of the idea solves their greenhouse gas problem!

Perhaps their ultimate solution is based on the Mount Pinatubo volcano that erupted in the Phillippines in 1992. The volcano sent so much SO2 (sulphur dioxide) into the atmosphere that it resulted in cooler global air temperatures (by about 1.0 F) for about three years. So why not shoot enormous quantities (about four quadrillion tonnes a month) of sulphur dixoide into the atmosphere using an eighteen mile long hose?

First, the hose would have to be - in order for effect comparable to Pinatubo- about a half mile wide. Such a hose even if made of thinnest mylar with maximum ram pressure of the flowing gas -would not remain stable against gravity. Indeed, one can do calculations showing that by the time the mass of SO2 pumped attained a height of 2 miles the "hose" will collapse.

Even if the mechanical problems could be met, it would still be a god-awful idea. For one thing, SO2 in the presence of the catalyst NO2 forms sulphuric acid, H2 SO4, and this can then generate acid rain. Do we really want ten septillion tonnes of acid rain descending on what remaining agriculture growth areas, farms remain in a greenhouse world? Not to mention raining on humans, with concentrations of pH in the range of 2-3? Ever had H2SO4 spill onto your skin in a lab?

Beyond that, SO2 at the given altitude needed for effect can further erode the ozone layer. Beyond a certain threshold, this erosion of protective ozone leads to much higher influx of ultraviolet radiation - more skin cancers, more blindness, etc.

Then there is this: their idiotic SO2 pumping solution would only work IF fossil fuel production at the onset of pumping made no further increases, leading to further CO2 concentration. But this would require really draconian solutions, such as stopping all births (since human population is the base producer of greenhouse gas) and all industrial activity. To use the authors' own dubious words and turn them upon them:

"Wouldn't it be simpler just to control our carbon inputs?"

Interestingly, Raymond J. Perrehumbert - a real climatologist at the University of Chicago, actually sent these two climate bozos a letter some eight years ago. It read in part:

"The problem wasn't necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or to too few of them. The problem is that you failed to do the most elementary thinking".


But all this elicits the question of what, if anything, can be done to adapt once the worst manifestations of global warming erupt. The hard fact is that any solutions may depend specifically on geographical locations. Consider rising sea level and how it will flood nearly one-third of Florida by 2035 (see graphic). The most relevant means of adaptation to such a future would be to start building massive dykes to prevent such flooding, using the technology already employed in places like Holland. These dykes would have to be constructed along the coast lines of all regions at sea level or even below (e.g. New Orleans).

Other adaptations may not be so simple. For example, how will communities adapt to constant power grid breakdowns arising from electricity overuse - say during 2 or 3 week long heat waves? The answer isn't clear apart from utility companies rationing the 'juice'. This may mean doing without electricity for extended periods each day, perhaps up to 12 hours or more. Can Americans adapt to such rationing? I am not sure.

Adapting to worm infestations may be the most straightforward process but require enormous supplies of anti-worm serums, meds such as Ketrax. I recall here my own worm infestation while in Peace Corps - noticed only after being awakened one night by intense itching of my skin, mainly on the inner thighs. As I switched the night light on and spotted definite wriggling movement of the skin, I grew concerned, had it checked out by a dermatologist. Sure enough, a common species of small worm ("beach worm" in the vernacular)  had laid eggs and its hatched offspring invaded me. The cure? Ketrax, prescribed by the spoonful three times a day. After a few bouts of vomiting the vermin out, all the worms had been eliminated. I don't know that people will even be properly diagnosed as multiple worm infestations spread on approaching the cusp of the runaway greenhouse.

Adapting to the soon to be spreading virulent diseases is another matter. How will we tolerate or adapt to much more  tropical diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and even cholera? The assumption currently is there are no problems, but clearly those who believe that haven't read the frightening paper Global Climate and Infectious Disease:The Cholera Paradigm, in Science, Vol. 274, 20 December, 1996, p. 2025.)

How will a basically "captive" (i.e. no emigrating) population adapt to accelerated anti-biotic resistance and the spread of newer, more virulent bacterial infections as the heat ramps up? We don't know but with Trump and the Repukes ready to tear up Obamacare, any sane person ought to shudder at the prospect of millions without adequate health care.

Relevant to all the above is a recent workshop convened in Oslo, Norway by The Center for International Climate and Environmental Research,  which brought together representatives from across scientific disciplines to discuss the challenges of climate change adaptation. See, e.g.


A general consensus emerged that all groups, including environmental economists and statisticians, need distilled climate data to support decisions made by the public and private sector, especially at state and city levels.  In this light, one of the main challenges identified was open access to available data - namely economic and insurance data. For example, compelling results from one pilot study presented at the workshop showed how local insurance loss data obtained from the insurance industry can enable informed decision making which in turn may reduce vulnerability to climate-induced hazards.

This might have served many citizens here in the Springs, three -odd months ago after being pummeled by hail the size of softballs. We  had to have our entire roof repaired, with pits, holes that one roofer compared to as "meteorite craters" - an exaggeration but he got the point over to us. After the roof, we had one entire south siding replaced after it was literally ripped into multiple holes by the hail. According to the insurance company (Hartford) hundreds of homes were affected putting enormous pressure on roofers and others in the area, now forcing wait times of many weeks to complete repairs.

The matter of insurance data (such as acquired during the recent hail storms in CO) is urgent, given how these sort of freak occurrences will soon be regular events as climate change intensifies. Only the utmost fool - having experienced such an event and the size of the hail- would deny the reality of climate change or compare it idiotically to claims of "global cooling" back in the 70s. (Claims, as I noted, which were always subject to revision after global dimming was taken into account).

At the Oslo conference several recommendations emerged including that various data types be coupled to assess climate change effects and the costs of different adaptation options. Specifically, attendees called for new frameworks that can model  the uncertainty of climate risks to society. For example, what is the uncertainty in emergence of cholera in various locations, say compared to worm infestations of the brain?  Given the latter perspective, one can then determine the costs vs. benefits of different adaptation strategies. For example, given the benefits vs. costs, it may be better to establish preventive systems to contain cholera or dengue fever before implementing a widespread worm control template. (The cost benefit ratio for controlling worms is likely less than for controlling cholera or dengue fever.)

The attendees also pointed out that in conjunction with the above, decision support tools must be able to deal with basic uncertainty.  Participants thus discussed  tools that combine real options analysis with a portfolio approach. These sort of strategies are appealing because they allow decision makers to ponder combined adaptation strategies and basically invest in whatever schedule they choose- all while accounting for the uncertain effects of climate change.

Most interesting was the universal appeal to climate scientists to craft "stories" to get the attention of politicians. Storytelling, say setting a scene for a near climate future, could thereby help scientists convey information to policy makers without dozens of graphs and reams of data. It would be especially crucial to convey the near future to Trump and his minions. But what type of story would get their attention, and entice them to do the right thing?

Here's one: On entering the cusp of the runaway greenhouse effect nearly half the U.S. population will already be dealing with one antibiotic resistant disease (MRSA, c. diff.) or other, as well as multiple worm infestations of various organs- including the brain. Most power grids will no longer work 24/7 but have to be shut down because of the lack of capacity as millions try to stay cool -  overtaxing the system. Heat waves, rather than lasting a week or so, will now last months, and reach similar temperatures to Death Valley. Water resources will be at risk, and many communities will be without water, also because of power grid collapse. If you can't get electrical power you can't pump water to homes.

Will Trump and his buffoons process and appreciate that story? I doubt it, because his money making schemes probably mean more to him than the country which provided the opportunity.  It is doubtful in this light the Trumpsters would even do the minimum suggested at the Oslo meet: communicate the costs and benefits of climate change adaptations to the public.

Of course, by the time of the runaway greenhouse all adaptation strategies will be too little, too late anyway!

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