Monday, 19 October 2015

Climate schizophrenia

The USA is a mighty strange place. It produces some of the world's best scientists and most effective technology entrepreneurs. It also produces a political culture dominated by money and fiercely hostile to anything that challenges the power of the ruling elite.

Only in the USA do we see so many powerful politicians in simple denial of the facts that world temperatures are rising and will continue to rise unless we active decisively. It's not because the USA is magically exempt from the consequences of climate change. Quite the contrary:

Overheating:  A study by US scientists showed that US residents' exposure to temperatures over 35 degrees will increase 4 to 6 fold within 30 years. The increase is due to both climate change and population growth.

Sea-level rise:  A recent study by Princeton scientists has confirmed predictions that sea-level will rise 1 metre by 2100 and continue to rise thereafter. The land on which 30 million Americans live will ultimately be lost to the sea. Threatened cities include Boston, New York, Miami, New Orleans Long Beach and even Sacramento.

But all that's decades, even centuries, in the future. Is the problem a kind of short-sightedness?  Well not really. Here's what's under their noses.

Drought.  California is in the fourth year of a severe drought, the worst in its history. This has produced forest fires that have killed six people and destroyed 1,000 homes (New Scientist, 26/9/15, p5). The effect of climate change is easy to understand here. Apart from just drying out the vegetation it makes precipitation fall as rain, which runs off, not snow, which would replenish the underground aquifers.

Or is the USA still so obsessed with the Middle East that nothing else registers? Again no.

War.  Syria's civil war began with protests in cities like Homs and Hama in 2011. Conditions in these cities had been exacerbated by Syrians seeking refuge from the 2007-11 drought, the most severe on record. And the severity of that drought was due to - have you guessed? - climate change. Actually Syria's rainfall has been declining for about fifty years whilst its population has risen four or five fold in that same period.

Of course, it's never just climate change. Population growth, rising consumer demand, religious extremism, government policies - or the lack of them - and just bad luck are all part of the causal chain.

It's just that so many US leaders refuse to see the obvious for fear that they'd be obliged to support policies of restraint that would threaten their comfort and the profits of their corporate sponsors.

But you knew that, didn't you?