I wrote this in a cafe wearing shorts and a t-shirt, at 8 AM, on December 29, 2015. I walked there and did not freeze. Now that its cold and I’m back to work, I’m ready to post this.
I do not remember Christmas ever being this warm, but then again, I have only lived one one hundred millionth the history of life on Earth. Looking into it. I see that Christmas in 1955 was also quite warm. This warmth is not national, but limited to the east coast, As I write this, my coworkers are stranded in the first winter storm of the 2016 snow season. The whole of the US west if Iowa is experiencing wetter and colder than normal winter, while we bake in the Southeast. Last year, comically enough, the winter was hotter than average everywhere except the east coast of the US, where our political class lurks.
At the recently concluded Climate Change Talks in Paris, the most urgent parties to the talks were the most vulnerable. Inhabitants of island and costal nations are seeing their land areas dwindle already, as al it takes to turn some islands from land to sea is a foot of elevation. More and more land will be flooded more often in storm surges and wave action with rising sea level.
But that’s not a concern for most of the US. Right now, what we have is more frequent aberrant weather years.. This winter, comically enough, we see a strong divide between a colder west and a hotter east, centered on a north south line running from Texas to the Dakotas. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I have to admit it felt nice going out in shorts on Christmas Eve. I’m sure this has happened before, but the chances are it will happen again, sooner and sooner.
Strange and sometimes pleasant weather is not going to do anything but cause more crop failures and decrease vacation spending with later frosts and “supra-indian” summers. Crop failures are a very real danger of climate change, as most of the plant species we live on were cultivated since the end of the last ice age. One hopes that agronomists can do enough quickly enough to keep billions from starvation.
To keep this a blog of solutions and not Cassandras, I’d like to contemplate what we can do about this. I whipped to gather the numbers on per capita Purchasing Power Parity $ (PPP $) and CO2 emissions, and found a definite, if weak, positive correlation* and how that varies with wealth. I suspect that it is about the same for wealthy Americans and wealthy Europeans, when we account for imports from less wealthy but more productive export economies. I expect that it is better per capita than it used to be, but larger in toto.
It’s frustrating to merely document what is or might be happening, without forming an understanding of what could be done. It’s even worse to form a notion of what could be done without regarding the needs and motivations of the people who have to live your plans. Always keep their atomic motivations in mind. Don’t mistake your comfortable pronouncements for their comfort, consent, or compliance.
What we care about is the economy, down to the personal level. Specifically, my ability to sit here in Krispy Kreme and write this so you can sit in your living room and read it. This dry, opulent splendor was unimaginable to our great-grandparents, and might be unimaginable to our grandchildren as well. Reading through history, I see that it has never been a paradise. It won’t be a paradise in the future, even without Miami, Norfolk, and Manhattan troubling us.
The best we can do is figure out ways to build, move, and prosper that don’t require burning carbon for every bit of wealth we accumulate. These methods are at hand, but it is naive and feckless to think that what works in Norway, India, or Canada will wok in the US. If the enormous population and economy of the US is a problem for the world, the only solution is in things that improve our prosperity. Austerity is never a long term appeal. The only way out is up.