Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ten Dangers of Global Warming

By Sam Carana

Let's have a look at the many concerns and dangers associated with global warming and the resulting changes in climate around the world. I've tentatively grouped them into ten points.

1. Flooding.
We've all seen the pictures of disappearing glaciers and the predictions of rising sea levels. Most people live close to the sea, but many are in denial about the impact of global warming. They falsely believe that the only change that will affect them will be a few centimeter rise of sea level over many decades. Without government action to move them away into newly-built cities, they will continue to live on land most prone to flooding and most exposed to hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms, until a disaster hits them like we've seen happen in New Orleans. The task ahead is many scales larger than the evacuation of New Orleans, which after all occurred in the richest nation on earth while all other infrastructure in the US was in good working order. Ironically, global warming comes with increased risks not only of flooding, but also of shortage of water.

2. Shortage of water.

Many areas could be hit by droughts, especially once glaciers that previously fed rivers have disappeared. As the weather becomes more turbulent, we can expect more extreme droughts, while the occasional heavy storm wouldn't give much relief, but instead cause landslides and run-off of top-soil. Shortage of potable water causes dehydration in people and livestock, making them more vulnerable to diseases. Lack of irrigation results in loss of stock and crop in many areas. As people and animals move to more fertile grounds, overgrazing of land and clearing land of trees could cause desertification there as well. All this, combined with the increased risk of flooding should increase concerns for famine and disease.

3. Famine and disease.

Higher temperatures will increase the risk of tropical diseases, such as malaria, in previously temperate zones. Starvation is one of the biggest unconscious human fears that may well become a reality that is daily displayed on TV. The most fertile land is typically located just above sea level, where rivers enter the sea. Due to climate change, many areas will need to switch to other crops. This will take time, further contributing to transitionary if not permanent shortages of food everywhere. Food storage and distribution will be hit by rising cost of cooling, while stored food will become exposed to pests and diseases in the face of increased humidity and in the absence of adequate refridgeration. Cost of transport will rise, while many roads may become inaccessable due to flooding and storm damage.

4. Migration and refugees.

Migration will stress the infrastructure of many cities, even if they weren't affected much directly by climate change in terms of famine, droughts, epidemics, flooding or storm damage. Apart from this, people will also be driven away from many areas by pollution, heat, pests, diseases, shortages of water and supplies, and collapse of infrastructure, medical care and security. Many people will seek new habitats, while at the same time many countries will seek to stop refugees from crossing borders. Refugee camps are notorious for the outbreak of epidemics, such as cholera. Without proper planning and action, this could result in human tragedy at unprecedented scale, while refugee camps could become breeding grounds for new diseases like avian influenza.

5. Collapse of the financial system.

The value of money used to be linked to gold, but now is based on economic growth, value of real estate and the value of stock (company shares) and the like. As such factors become increasingly exposed to the the above points, the entire global financial system risks collapse. Instead, a carbon-based system of currency may take over to some extent. Uncertainty about this increases the risk that governments will simply become more dictatorial. In the absence of market forces to guide developments, there will be increased risks that such dictatorial governments take actions that make things worse, resulting in total economic collapse.

6. Economic collapse.

Many countries face uncertain futures, as they are dependent on income from oil, coal, tourism or a single crop that cannot survive climate change. As an example, air travel could become too expense for tourists, taking away the single biggest revenue stream for many small countries. Entire industries, such as manufacturing of cars and airplanes, may collapse. Globalisation has made many industries dependent on access to resources and products that come from halfway around the world, while the cost of transport is likely to go up. Again, such economic collapse may set the scene for dictatorship in many areas, increasing the risk of war and of wrong decisions being taken in general.

7. War and civil unrest.

The above points should increase our concerns about the risk of wars and civil unrest. Production of weapons is one of the biggest industries worldwide, with the clout to influence governments. The oil industry is often regarded as the most powerful influence of global politics. Some countries will want quick and dramatic changes, while other countries may resist all calls for change or may want entirely different changes, setting up confrontation at a global scale and setting the scene for World War III. Within most countries, there will also be opposing groups. The smartest people, who we now need more than ever, may be killed, may end up in prison or may otherwise be silenced, while dictators seek to grab power without any intention of solving the problems.

8. Pollution, in particular as a result of nuclear war, fallout and waste.

As concerns about emissions of carbon and methane increase, industry may seek to abandon pollution standards in order to avoid emission of greenhouse gasses. The nuclear industry may present itself as a "green" alternative, but nuclear fallout and waste should count as one of the biggest dangers in this regard. As concerns about carbon emissions sink in, more countries are considering using nuclear power for electricity, which comes with increased risk of fallout and concerns about the care of and disposal of nuclear waste. Furthermore, many countries are seeking to develop nuclear weapons in response to increased risk of war in the light of the above points. The secrecy under which such development takes place gives cause to concern about global safety and security.

9. Tipping points.

One of the biggest dangers is that, without dramatic action, the atmosphere will reach certain tipping points beyond which sudden dramatic and catastrophic changes take place that are irreversable in the short term. Droughts and more turbulent wheather may cause earthquakes and associated tsunamis, which not only come with loss of lives, infrastructure and fertile land, but which will also make the greenhouse effect worse. So, instead of facing gradual changes that can be mitigated by planned action, we may suddenly face a future in which many if not most people will have little or no access to food, water, medicines, electricity and shelter, while diseases go rampant and gangs and warlords loot and devastate the few liveable areas left. Human beings as a species will face the risk of total extinction, particularly if many species of animals and plants that humans depend on will disappear.

10. Panic.

While each of the above points gives reason to be concerned, many people are still in denial about the severity of the problem of global warmimg. Once they do get the message, though, there's a risk of over-reaction edging into panic. This may result in people buying up all the food they can get hold of, trying to get their hands on weapons, etc. Unscrupulous companies may exploit the situation by deliberately creating scarcity of medicines, etc. This is another reason to be open about these concerns and to come up with planning that makes sense.

1 comment:

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