Per Capita Davis: News from the Funny Papers
This column by John Mott-Smith is republished from the Davis Enterprise
The last column was somewhat sobering, so I thought I’d start this one out with news from the funny papers. A recent cartoon pictured a factory, labeled “U.N. Climate Summit,” with smokestacks spewing what appears to be black smoke into the air.
Upon closer inspection, however, the smoke is not smoke at all, instead the cloud consists of hundreds of written “blah, blah, blahs,” the “emissions” from a meeting of leaders of nations not doing anything but talking about climate change. Ha ha.
Now for the news from the not-so-funny pages. The last column was about what might happen when push comes to shove with climate change and we actually confront adverse effects such as rising seas, hotter climates, reduced crop yields and mass dislocation of populations. The column worried that conflict rather than communication or compromise might be the norm.
Along comes a report from the totally nonpolitical, nonpartisan, nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research that compiled results from 55 studies on the relationship between temperature and conflict between individuals as well as groups. The article summarizing the report indicates “a striking conclusion: that climate change most likely is a strong factor in spiking rates of violence of all kinds, ranging from bar fights to wars.”
The report itself states that, “We find contemporaneous temperature has the largest average effect by far, with each one-degree Celsius increase toward warmer temperatures increasing the frequency of contemporaneous interpersonal conflict by 2.4 percent and of intergroup conflict by 11.3 percent.”
One of the authors, a Stanford researcher, perhaps anticipating some raised eyebrows and questions about methodology, defended the accuracy of the report stating that the probability of being wrong was equal to the probability of flipping a coin 24 times and it always coming up heads — less than one in 100 million.
A separate report from Harvard actually calculates the number of additional murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, simple assaults, robberies, burglaries, larceny and vehicle thefts the United States might experience between now and the year 2100.
I admit to some skepticism about reports such as these — in particular the estimates of additional specific crimes — but I find it interesting that very smart people are thinking about this and trying to identify areas where we might reasonably expect there to be trouble in the future. And suggesting that our plans for adapting to climate change take this information into account.
And then the Lord weighed in. No, not that one. This is in reference to Lord Stern, president of the British Academy and author of the “Stern Report” in 1996 that made a seminal argument that acting now to mitigate climate change is far and away the best option economically and the surest road to prosperity and away from disaster.
According to Stern, “Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people, would have to move. If we’ve learned anything from history, that means severe and extended conflict.”
He also argues that once conflict begins, “We couldn’t just turn it off. You can’t make a peace treaty with the planet, you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics.” A stern warning, so to speak.
“We couldn’t just turn it off. You can’t make a peace treaty with the planet, you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics.” Lord Stern
Meanwhile, back at Science Central (my term for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the IPCC issued a new report with several very strong, and dire, statements, including, as reported in the New York Times, “The gathering risks of climate change are so profound they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a runaway pace.”
Further, as summarized by the N.Y. Times, the report, “in the starkest language it has ever used,” warns that “Failure to reduce emissions … could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals,” and it goes on.
What to do? Harking back to the above-referenced cartoon, the upcoming conference of world leaders in Paris in 2015 has to result in more than blah, blah. The cartoon is not funny anymore. The article points out that to meet the goal of confining global temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, lots of coal and oil reserves now in the ground are going to have to be left there. If we follow the current path of consumption, and with further extraction of these fossil fuels,, the world will exceed the 3.6-degree goal before 2050.
Is reaching the goal possible? Practical? The article points out that that is not the direction things seem to be going. Oil and coal companies are reported to be spending more than $600 billion (with a “b”) a year exploring for more oil and coal reserves while about $400 billion is being spend worldwide to reduce emissions and transition to a fossil-free economy — a sum that the article indicates is “smaller than the revenue of a single U.S. oil company: Exxon Mobil.”
The good news is that the recent agreement between the U.S. and China could prod world leaders to do more than talk when they get together in Paris, but more on that in the next column.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis; his column publishes on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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