Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My turn: Alaska must face scenario of 'climate change refugees' - Juneau Empire in Alaska runs opinion piece about "polar cities" in a future Alaska, 500 years from now... first time a print newspaper in USA broached these subjects and issues

Bill McKibbben, 350.org
My turn: Alaska must face scenario of 'climate change refugees' in 500 years time or less!

By Dan E. Bloom
published in the print edition fo the Juneau Empire , Juneau Alaska, USA, December 16, 3009

In two recent international news articles about climate change ("How much more proof is needed for people to act" and "Ignoring the future - the psychology of denial"), the importance of facing major issues that will confront the future of the human species were emphasized.

Climate change is indeed an issue that is on everyone's mind today, and while Juneau seems to be far removed from the experts who recently made their way to Copenhagen to try to hammer our blueprints to prevent global warming from having a doomsday impact on humankind, Alaska will be on the front line of these issues.

Despite most observers thinking that solutions lie in mitigation ideas, there are a growing number of climatologists and scientists who believe that the A-word - adaptation - must be confronted head-on, too. The fact is, despite the head-in-the-sand protestations of climate denialists such as Marc Morano in Washington, D.C., or former Gov. Sarah Palin, we cannot stop climate change or global warming.

The Earth's atmosphere has already passed the tipping point, and in the next 500 years, temperatures will rise considerably, sea levels will rise considerably and millions, even billions, of people from the tropical and temperate zones of the Earth will be forced to migrate north in search of food, fuel and shelter. This is where Alaska, and Alaskans, will play a central role.

By the year 2500, Alaska could be home to millions of climate refugees from the Lower 48 and Central and South America who will have migrated north, seeking safe harbor from the devastating impact of global warming in those future times.

Many parts of the Alaska coastline will be under water, and Juneau will find itself home to new kinds of visitors from the Lower 48 and beyond. They won't be coming on cruise ships or airplanes, since there will be no fuel for such services. They will be coming by road, on foot and bicycle. Prepare yourselves.

Alaska must be prepared for the worst-case scenario. By 2500, millions, billions of people will have been forced to leave their home countries in the tropical and temperate zones and migrate north en masse to faraway northern regions to find shelter in United Nations-funded climate refuges in places such as Alaska, Russia and Canada. People from India, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines will make their way to Juneau and further north to Anchorage and Fairbanks. It won't be a pretty picture.

When I asked acclaimed British scientist James Lovelock if such a scenario for Alaska was likely, he said in an e-mail: "It may very well happen, yes."

Humans cannot engineer our way out of global warming, although scientists who believe in geo-engineering have offered their theories on how to do it. There are no easy fixes. Humankind has put too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the result of the industrial revolution that gave us trains, plans and automobiles - and much more to live comfortable and trendy lives - and now there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the Earth cannot recover.

Forget trying to be more "green" in our daily lives. Alaska, like the rest of the world, is now doomed to a very bleak future. There will be millions of climate refugees seeking shelter in Alaska and Canada (and in far south places such as New Zealand, Tasmania and Antarctica as well.)

Meetings in Copenhagen and Rio de Janiero and at the U.N. building in Manhattan will not stop global warming. What we need to focus on now is preparing future generations for what our world will become in the next 500 years and how best to survive it. The Alaska Legislature needs to start thinking about these issues, too. There is a very strong possibility that the Northern White House will be located in Juneau, perhaps taking over the Governor's Mansion.

For the next 100 years or so, life will go on as normal in Juneau, so don't worry too much. There is nothing to worry about now. For the next 100 years, the local department stores will continue to hawk their trendy items, international computer firms will continue to launch their latest cell phones and tech gadgets, and airline companies will continue to offer passengers quick passage here and there for business and for pleasure.

But in the next 500 years, according to Lovelock and otther scientists who are not afraid to think outside the box, things are going to get bad. Unspeakably bad.

Those of us who are alive today won't suffer, and the next few generations of humans will be fine, too. The big troubles will probably start around 2200 - Lovelock says sooner - and last for some 300 years or so. By 2500, Alaska will be home to the U.S. Congress, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, and the Lower 48 will be uninhabited, as will most of the countries in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.

We are entering uncharted waters, and as the waters rise and the temperatures go up as well, future generations will have some important choices to make: where to live, how to live, how to grow food, how to power their climate refugee settlements, how to plan and how to pray. Alaska will be on the front lines of this new world. The question is: will Alaska be ready?

• Dan E. Bloom is a former editor of the Capital City Weekly who has been living in Asia since 1991. He can be reached at bikolang@gmail.com.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

And thanks for the links. Too bad Copenhagen's not doing too well.

Too bad we have different countries. And too bad we make babies.

Especially the latter.

Every day I eat from my reusable container with my reusable chopsticks.

But I'm the only one here at the office who does this, as evidenced by
the fact that my reusable container and reusable chopsticks are always
the only ones in the drying rack next to the sink in the lunch room.

Every day I take public transportation to the city. Train times aren't
necessarily all that convenient, but I've adapted my working hours to
the train schedules. I even forego a lot of social events, but I simply
refuse to put another vehicle on the road. I can read books and give the
scenery my undivided attention from the train, and I find the ride so
enjoyable I rarely feel happy about getting off at my stop.

But I seem to be the only one who earnestly enjoys it. Most people,
going by facial expressions and body language anyway, seem to be
dreaming: "If I only had a bit more money I could buy a car and ditch
this train experience altogether!"

I recycle rigorously, and I even find places in the bush to bury things
like broccoli stocks and asparagus butts. (Credit where credit's due: my
neighbor Bill Allen inspired me to do this; also, I see a lot of
Taiwanese recycling meticulously when the garbage truck comes around and
separating their kitchen waste from their regular garbage.)

Still, everything that's done by my neighbors and me adds up to little
more than a soothing massage for a patient whose cancerous cells are
multiplying out of control. The cancerous cells I'm talking about are

The more I think about our poor Earth's population disease, the more I
feel population control can be the only answer. I can talk to people
until I'm blue in the face about what I'm doing that's environmentally
appropriate, and about what they should be doing to make this whole
thing we call "life of Earth" sustainable, but they'll still leave the
lights on every time they leave any room in any house.

China achieved a great deal of success, for good and for ill, in its
initiative to control the population by stemming its number of births.
You may say it's a violation of human rights to limit the number of
children people are allowed to have, but isn't it also a violation of
human rights to have babies who will contribute for an entire lifetime
to the deterioration of humanity's habitat? I hesitate to say "Think of
your children!"

Barring asteroid, nuclear war or explosion from deep under Indonesia, a
zero global human birth rate (okay, lump in the cows), for only a few
decades, would save this planet.

The case for safe sex has never been more monstrously underappreciated.


Anonymous said...

Update from Copenhagen.

Dec 16, 2009 at 5:03 PM

Quick hello. Political leaders are arriving which means police barricade streets and hotels, quite unnecessarily to this point. More than 1000 people have been arrested simply because police thought they might cause trouble. New law here allows 12 hr detentions on that basis. Hundreds were forced to sit on the sidewalks for 6 hours in +1C weather on weekend. Most damage I've seen after extensive travel and attending number of protests is a few broken windows of govt buildings.

At that rate things could get messy tomorrow given anger brewing over the cancellation of most of civil society (NGOs) accreditations to facilitate political leaders and their enormous entourages -- Canada's will be huge in stark contrast to its smallest ever negotiating team. And Canada is getting a lot of heat for refusing to agree to emissions cuts that the science says is necessary to avoid calamity. Sadly it's all about protecting the fossil fuel industry and tar sands it seems.

Green wishes,


Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine has a stent, does tai-chi, plays golf and feels good -- so, my Chanukah wish is for you to keep burning on all eight candles for many years to come.



Anonymous said...

These comments do not represent the Juneau Empire's views.

Posted by: ggcrackers at Dec. 15,

Well this is a very neat projection--for years our state leaders have complained about the brain drain--young people leaving the state and not coming back; climate change will solve that and more!


Posted by: bfluetsch
Dear Dan, FYI, the Future is all uncharted waters. [TRUE!]
Dan, exactly what makes you so sure humans cannot engineer our way out of this or even if we need too? Dr. Lovelock said so? {JUST A HUNCH. I MIGHT BE WRONG. I HOPE I AM WRONG!]

StillBob at Dec. 15

500 years is a long time, Dan. A lot of things will change, along with our climate. [TRUE]

Look back 500 years. In 1,500 AD, humanity was just starting to figure out that the Earth was round (well, most were...a few on this forum haven't figured it out yet). Look back 100 years ago. 20 years even. At the pace of technological advance, it's pretty much impossible to predict what problems we'll be facing, or what solutions will be available to us.

Myself, I'm just worried about what to get my wife for Christmas. [UNDERSTAND! ME TOO! CHANUKAH AT OUR HOUSE!]

Posted by: sapolsky at Dec. 15,

hmmmm...does Dan E. Bloom belong to Sarah Palin's church, [HEAVEN FORBID, SAPOLSKY, DAN IS JEWISH!] the one whose Pastor Kalnins says such things as:

"I believe Alaska is one of the refuge states in the last days, and hundreds of thousands of people are going to come to the state to seek refuge and the church has to be ready to minister to them."


Posted by: lvmykyk at Dec. 15,

"may very well" "likely" "climate refugees" And folks there is nothing that can be done about it. Sounds more like a street corner prophet than actual facts.
[YES A MERE STREET CORNER VISIONARY. HOPE I AM WRONG. I WANT TO BE WRONG.] Written by the former editor of the weekly free paper...... I am so much more confident that the world is ending now. [LOL]

Posted by: LouSkannen at Dec. 15,
ROFL! [LOL- dan]


andy revkin says:


COPENHAGEN — If you scan the most recent drafts of the climate agreement that delegates here are trying to complete, you’ll have a hard time finding the word population. I’m quite sure it’s not there. (Please let me know if you find it.) This is politically unsurprising, given how discussions of population growth inflame those fearing control measures, those with religious concerns about contraception and sometimes those seeing underpopulation where others see a problem. (There are other interesting reactions when the intersection of climate and population is explored.)

The importance of population size in gauging emissions trends was raised by Chinese officials here, who noted that their one-child policies reduced births by 400 million and emissions of carbon dioxide by some 18 million tons a year. In the first week of the meeting, Zhao Baige, vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said the policies had some mixed consequences, with the country now aging and facing a paucity of girls. “I’m not saying that what we have done is 100 percent right, but I’m sure we are going in the right direction and now 1.3 billion people have benefited,” she said.

Overall, it’s clear that in a world heading toward +/- 9 billion people seeking decent lives, both numbers and habits matter enormously.