Climate Change: Winners/Losers

As we approach the end of another year, one fraught with difficulties, bad decisions and indecision, it is worth looking at what might lie ahead. In the US we are facing the so-called “fiscal cliff” which is less of a cliff than a return to the Clinton years (in which the US ran a surplus). Despite all the tearing of hair and cries of imminent disaster the economy is likely to muddle through. So that’s not good, but not-so-bad news.

Then there is the brontosaurus in the corner: climate change. The deniers to the contrary, climate change is not only meeting but exceeding the dire predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In mid-December this year’s negotiations on expanding the Kyoto treaty on climate change basically came to nothing. Outside the discussion chambers in Doha news came that the Arctic ice pack was melting even faster than last year; the glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica also were accelerating their rate of melt; the oceans are rising faster than forecast in the 1990s, they are growing more acid because of the increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and they are likely to cause the demise in the next few decades of much of the world’s coral reefs. But all these supposed dangers are remote, right? Why should we worry?

As it turns out some of the side effects of climate change are becoming apparent even to the developed countries. Yet there are likely to be winners as well as losers in the rest of the century. Here are some of each [there are many more but I’m trying to conserve space]:

  • Flooding. An article by David Pilling in the 13 December 2012 edition of the Financial Times discussed one of these regions – the Philippines. While the Doha talks were going on Typhoon Bopha, a Category 5 supertyphoon killed more than 700 people, with more than 800 still missing by the time the article was published. The article continues that an OECD study found that 15 of the top 20 megacities at risk from floods were in Asia. All of the top eight of these cities were in that region. As a consequence tens of millions of people are in danger of being flooded out of their homes and businesses as climate change accelerates.
  • Drought. In the US this year many areas of the Midwest and West suffered drought conditions. Reports are coming in that even the Amazon rain forest is experiencing below normal rainfall. In the 20/27 December issue of Nature is an article titled Fruity with a hint of drought focusing on the effects of climate change on the traditional wine grape growing regions of western Europe. It seems that the best wine growing areas maybe even moving North in Europe or to other countries altogether. These include many in the southern hemisphere – Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa.
  • Cooling. While much of the concern in the media is about global warming, regional cooling turns out to be a side effect of climate change of growing importance. Hurricane Sandy meets a Nor’easter and the recent blizzard conditions in the Midwest and Eastern US may be further symptoms of this as the jet stream moves south during winter months. The great wine growing region of the Napa Valley in California seems to be experiencing colder weather, possibly for the same reason. When we start to see excellent wines coming from coastal Alaska we’ll know we’re in trouble.
  • Economies. Clearly, the problems just listed will cause economic difficulties for many people, particularly those in developing countries. Yet even developed countries may be running into trouble. Europe, for example, is likely to have a series of economic problems not just from the troubles of the financial industry but also from diminishing yield from the North Sea oil and gas reserves. The US, on the other hand, is likely to experience greater energy independence because of the recent and growing boom in fracking and similar means of extracting oil and gas from previously inaccessible strata. Of course, that also means that the US may continue to produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide from gas, thus increasing its contribution to global warming. Yet the US might also reduce its consumption of coal—an even greater producer of CO2. Who knows?

So here is wishing you all a Happy New Year and reminding you to keep both your bathing suit and a warm coat handy. Also let’s all hope that the human race makes more intelligent decisions in 2013 than it has to date.

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