Thursday, April 24, 2008
Melting the ice posted by Richard SeymourJust a quick reminder: we could well be finished soon. Yes, the WWF are back with new results that confirm the worst: the arctic ice caps are melting even faster than we thought. As the ice melts and more of the surface is water, the temperatures rises more because the water can absorbe heat that would be reflected by the ice. The climate doesn't change in a linear fashion: it has sudden flips. It can sustain stability, like a canoeist, under immense pressure from different fluctuations. But beyond a certain point, it capsizes. The tipping point as far as arctic ice is concerned is that elusive point when nothing we can do can make any difference at all, and it has just got closer. If the tipping point is reached soon, then the arctic ice is gone for good. It will gradually eliminate many populous islands, of course, but we could handle that. Like most refugees, the residents will be pushed about from country to country and forced to live and die in shit and misery, and hated for the oxygen they waste. And we could presumably live with the destruction of the non-commercial forms of life that thrive in the Queensland Wetlands, the Kilimanjaro and the Amazon basin. And, as the ice melts and the Alps crumble because their sub-zero cohesive has trickled away, we can all expect a hearty laugh as mountaineers and cabin-dwellers are crushed to death under avalanches.
However, we may not be as happy with one third of the planet becoming uninhabitable by 2100. And we may be uncomfortable with hurricanes striking hitherto unprecedented zones, such as the recent one that swept into Brazil. One of the bases for hurricane development is a sea with a surface water temperature of higher than 26.5C, which is why the phenomenon has hitherto been so familiar in the Carribean. Raise global temperatures, increase the total amount of warm water, and you get more hurricanes. The hurricane that barrelled toward Spain only to die out may be the first of a new Mediterranean breed of deadly storm. America will find its fertile crescents turned into dustbowls again, but this time on an unimaginably greater scale. Southern Africa will dry up and, while the Sahel region will get more rainfall, it will come in Monsoons that simply destroy the surface earth and provide little basis for agriculture. You think today's food prices are high? Then, of course, you have to consider the interaction of these scarcities with global markets and the geopolitical structure supporting them. Scarcity and destruction is not only a moneyspinner for a privileged elite that could comfortably fit in a small football stadium. It is a driver of war too. Who, faced with failing crops and desolate land, would not be tempted by Lebensraum? All of that is based on a one degree rise in temperature, the most optimistic scenario, the first circle of hell in Mark Lynas' Six Degrees. Add a couple of degrees, and it gets a lot more grim. This is not about mother earth or the various species of plant and animal life that one may or may not eat. The planet will overcome all this, probably even if we drop the big one. It is our viability as a species that is in question. Perhaps the best solution is to rely on the people who gave us colonialism, the arms race, the arms industry, death squads, aerial bombardment, genocide and nuclear annihilation to come up with a neat market-based solution to our imminent demise. Perhaps we should wait and see if they can develop a technological solution. Bear in mind that, as with pharmaceuticals, they may be more interested in giving us something that can help us live with our horrible condition for a while rather than curing the problem. I don't know if it wouldn't be better to just take over the whole system ourselves and see what we can do about it. If it calls for a reduction in economic output, then I'm sure we can handle it. If Lafargue's 'right to be lazy' becomes a duty, I can't imagine too many complaints. Why not?