Global Warming Already Wreaking Havoc?


The Huffington Post’s David Roberts has a post up about how the public isn’t scared enough about global warming.   He quotes extensively from Seth Borenstein’s account of the leaked draft of the IPCC WGII report, but the claims he lists don’t all stack up:

A new Gallup poll finds that “most Americans believe it will be a decade or more before the manifestations of global warming begin to wreak havoc.”

Meanwhile, from Seth Borenstein’s account of the leaked draft of the IPCC WGII report (which I wrote about here):

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” the report says, in marked contrast to a 2001 report by the same international group that said the effects of global warming were coming. But that report only mentioned scattered regional effects.

“Things are happening and happening faster than we expected,” said Patricia Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., one of the many co-authors of the new report. 

“We predict things will be worse than we previously predicted”–how predictable! Why then are people living longer and healthier? Why are global GDP and global per capita food production increasing

And here’s some of the magical delights we can look forward to in coming years:

* Hundreds of millions of Africans and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have water will be short of it in less than 20 years. By 2050, more than 1 billion people in Asia could face water shortages. By 2080, water shortages could threaten 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people, depending on the level of greenhouse gases that cars and industry spew into the air.  

This forecast assumes that global warming caused the drying of Africa (desertification) during the past half century. A recent study using the IPCC’s own climate models found that ”greenhouse gas forcing played little or no role in the 1950-99 observed African drying trends,” and forecasts that “natural variability will continue to be the primary driver of [Africa's] low-frequency rainfall variations during the next century.” 

* Death rates for the world’s poor from global warming-related illnesses, such as malnutrition and diarrhea, will rise by 2030. Malaria and dengue fever, as well as illnesses from eating contaminated shellfish, are likely to grow. 

Socio-economic factors typically overwhelm climatic factors in determining people’s risk of exposure to malaria and other diseases. For example, Al Gore claims that Nairobi, Kenya was too cold to have malaria until recent decades. In fact, malaria epidemics were common in Nairobi during the 1920s and 1930s. The recent upsurge of malaria in East Africa is chiefly due to decreased spraying of homes with DDT, anti-malarial drug resistance, and the breakdown of public health systems, not to any ascertainable changes in climate.


 * Europe’s small glaciers will disappear with many of the continent’s large glaciers shrinking dramatically by 2050. And half of Europe’s plant species could be vulnerable, endangered or extinct by 2100. 

If European plants were as climate sensitive as these folks say, then we should already have witnessed tens to hundreds of thousands of extinctions in the 20th century alone. Where are the bodies?

* By 2080, between 200 million and 600 million people could be hungry because of global warming’s effects. 

This is speculative. Many more people could be hungry if global warming policy restricts developing countries’ access to modern forms of energy.

* About 100 million people each year could be flooded by 2080 by rising seas. 

To evaluate this claim, we need to know how many people the IPCC considers to be “flooded” right now, and how many feet of sea-level rise the 100 million figure assumes. Al Gore also warns of 100 million refugees from rising seas in An Inconvenient Truth. But Gore imagines  simultaneous catastrophes in Antarctica and Greenland that raise sea levels by 20 feet. The IPCC WWI Summary estimated only 7 inches to 23 inches of sea level rise in the 21st century. So the 100 million flood victim figure sounds like science fiction to me.   

* Smog in U.S. cities will worsen and “ozone-related deaths from climate (will) increase by approximately 4.5 percent for the mid-2050s, compared with 1990s levels,” turning a small health risk into a substantial one. 

This is silly. With or without global warming, urban air temperatures increase continually as cities growth (the urban heat island effect). But as urban air temperatures have risen, smog levels have significantly declined.  

* Polar bears in the wild and other animals will be pushed to extinction. 

Again, this is speculation. The Arctic was substantially warmer than the present during the Holocene Climate Optimum and warmer still during the Last Interglacial Period. Yet the polar bears (or their remote ancestors) survived.  

* At first, more food will be grown. For example, soybean and rice yields in Latin America will increase starting in a couple of years. Areas outside the tropics, especially the northern latitudes, will see longer growing seasons and healthier forests.  

In other words, we won’t be able to check their doomsday forecasts for a long, long time, because in the foreseeable future, things are going to get better. 



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