Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We Need a "Climate Threat Planning Commission"

An astute observer of the ''polar cities'' concept weighs in with his point of view:

"Initially there may be small migrations into marginal lands to which governments will be indifferent - the survivalist idea. But once governments have recognised the value of the land they will mount much larger schemes and regulate the lesser ones.

Governments with northern lands will try really hard to maintain control - that's what governments do. Polar cities will need food, power, industries, etc. much of which will need new technology development.

This will all have to be done on a war footing - high inflation, massive migration from the tropics, widespread death from starvation and war. etc. [Two of this observer's scenarios address these possibilities.] - Ed.

Effectively we differ over timescale. I'm thinking of the current century. IF we can preserve our technical civilisation to 2100 AND have many fewer people; then orderly migration seems possible over the following 200 years. Its just those conditions that I doubt."

This same astute observer told me in an earlier email:

"Polar cities may be the answer if we can't control warming. My current view is that we will not control it. Mark Lynas has just produced a very pessimistic piece - http://www.marklynas.org/2008/6/13/climate-chaos-is-inevitable-w . This seems consistent with Jim Lovelock's position in his RS lecture.

Have you considered the social and political processes that would be needed to get us to Polar Cities, for a small minority? I strongly suspect that social breakdown will make the transition impossible."

And he also told me:

"I think most of us still hope that we can limit warming enough to keep most of the earth habitable. There are obvious psychological reasons for that and I think optimism is still, just,a defensible position. Even if we can't keep emissions down we may be able to use one of the large-scale bio-engineering schemes.

Given that starting point your stuff about centuries ahead must seem like a distraction and, by admitting defeat, likely to make defeat more likely. Defeat implies many millions of premature deaths. (To finish the century with, say, 2B people rather than the UN's forecast 9M implies (very crudely) at least 7B premature deaths. That's 70M pa for the next century.

The planet needs a Climate Threat Planning Commission which would examine the options for prevention and adaptation. In my view the order of preference should be:

Reduce emissions through improved carbon efficiency, forest conservation, fewer births, etc.
Reduce emissions through reduced activity.
Reduce GHG load by absorption from atmosphere
Other bio-engineering, eg sunshades in space.

Adaptation must go in parallel with these measures since some change is happening and more is inevitable.

Perhaps what you might do is to think about the options for adaptation appropriate to various degrees of warming and international co-operation.

Polar cities will not be needed or even possible at all soon.

I think studying design, still less governance, of polar cities is premature.

Incidentally, I think we can be sure that some of this planning is already happening in secret. (Remember Herman Kahn 'thinking the unthinkable'?) I'd like to see it in public - partly because it would show just how bad these options are. There are university departments who specialise in disaster planning. One of them might be a good starting point."

All his points are well taken. I agree with everything he says.

-- Danny B.

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