bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding

I finally finished The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding although it took me a long time.  I’m not sure why it took me so long.  It’s a very interesting book with a lot to say about the impact of climate change on other aspects of our world.  It’s subtitle is Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.

I have never really understood economics.  I felt like I was beginning to by listening more to NPR, especially Marketplace.  One of the things they always talk about is how many jobs have been added each month.  I always wondered where those jobs were coming from and if they could possibly be permanent jobs.  How many more things are there for people to do that aren’t being done?  It turns out this is a good question and not purely economic ignorance on my part.  Paul Gilding says that to get as close as possible to zero unemployment people need to work less so that more people can work.  This will only work if our economy is no longer based on growth – on everyone having more money to spend it on more things.  This is a growth economy.

Paul Gilding argues that our economy, a growth economy, cannot be sustainable.  The Earth and its resources are finite.  The idea that everyone should earn more and spend more and have more things doesn’t work.  He says we need – and are going to be forced to switch to – a sustainable economy.  The good news is that there is evidence that the richer you are – and the more stuff you have – doesn’t make you happier.  So quality of life may actually improve in a sustainable economy rather than a growth economy.  I found this hard to accept at first.  I think more money will make me happier, but apparently that’s because I haven’t reached the income where I don’t have to worry about making it every month.  Once you’re not concerned about money on a regular basis and are able to spend money on leisure activities, having more money no longer matters to your happiness.

Paul Gilding goes through what he expects will happen as our economy can no longer grow and the climate crisis gets worse.  He thinks that a crisis or catastrophe will occur and suddenly the world will be forced to confront climate change.  We will finally be forced to act.  He titled this chapter The One-Degree War.  This one degree of global warming means the Co2 concentration needs to be about 350 parts per million.  (This number has been advocated by many people, including scientists.)  Gilding claims that although it seems unrealistic now, once the world is mobilized people all over will find ways to make it happen.  Despite what may seem like a doomsday message – our economy is unsustainable and we are headed for a crisis – he remains optimistic mostly because he believes in the creativity and intelligence of people.

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High Tide on Main Street by John Englander

I read this book based on a recommendation of another blogger and I am so glad I did.  One of the best things about it is the amount of charts, graphs and pictures that are used.  It is particularly helpful when he shows graphs of long periods of times and then blows up the more recent past to show the effects that recent greenhouse gas emissions have had.  I realize that I was already a believer, but it does seem to prove that humans are changing the atmosphere and sea level.

This book has a lot of science in it, but it was still incredibly readable.  I am not someone who enjoys reading science textbooks, or even scientific studies.  John Englander has made the science understandable and easy to digest.  There were plenty of things I wasn’t aware of – like the cycle of ice ages and how we are actually due to start the cooling phase heading toward another ice age.  The sea level is at the high point with less water trapped in ice sheets.  It looks like this started to happen in the past centuries but something (humans) changed the course of history.  (Not to sound too dramatic.)

Did you know?  Sharps Island off Maryland sunk into the Chesapeake Bay in 1962?  Apparently due to sea level rise, erosion and sinking land.  Holland Island, also in the Chesapeake, disappeared in 2010.  Or how about this?  “At our current rate of carbon emissions, we will increase carbon dioxide levels… roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 million years.  Temperatures… are now rising about 55 times faster than they did even during the most recent cycle of glacial melting.”

Englander also talks about the impacts of sea level rise.  Here is a website that models sea level rise on the coastline of the U.S.: Climate Central.  The NOAA also has one.  He goes through various cities and talks about what they would face and how much of their population would be effected.  It is worth noting that along with changes in shoreline, the water table will rise with sea level and so many inland areas will also be affected.

Here are a couple more links from the book that I thought were interesting:

climatescoreboard.org

skepticalscience.com


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Zero Carbon Britain

The Center for Alternative Technology in Britain released a report that says Britain could reduce their carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.  It means we don’t need to rely on technology that hasn’t been developed.  I hope it gets good publicity and maybe the U.S. can see what options are really available.

Executive Summary


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Overheated by Andrew Guzman

The subtitle for this book is The Human Cost of Climate Change.  It paints a scary picture of what the world will look like in fifty years and a hundred years.  It also makes a compelling argument for why we can’t afford to ignore what is happening.  The book assumes that there will be a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2100.  This is on the low end of the temperature rise that can be expected.  It’s smart in that it allows the author to avoid being considered too alarmist and it turns out even a 2 degree rise would be horrific.  I think everyone should read this book.  Rather than write a true review, I would like to highlight some of the author’s major points.

I knew that the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of humanity’s love affair with releasing greenhouse gases (GHGs, the most important of which is carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.  What I didn’t realize was that the Earth didn’t start warming immediately.  It wasn’t until the 197os and 80s that it started and it started slowly.  This delay means that even if we stop releasing GHGs entirely right now the Earth would still warm for a while.

One of the major human impacts of climate change will be the displacement of people.  People will be forced out of their homes for a variety of reasons; rising oceans will force people away from the coast, higher temperatures will cause droughts and widening deserts, glaciers melting will cause floods in one season and droughts in another.  Glaciers store water and release it into rivers as they melt.  Melting too fast or disappearing and melting not at all creates floods, droughts and then a lack of water.  Hurricanes and other major weather events will get worse because warm ocean water fuels hurricanes.  These displaced people will live in refugee camps and overcrowded cities that will have poor sanitary conditions and people packed together breed disease.

The politics involved in global warming are complicated to say the least.  But certain things are relatively clear.  Rivers don’t pay attention to political boundaries and the need for water will cause conflict.  For example, Turkey puts a dam on the Euphrates River and Syria and Iraq have a lot less water to work with.  Tens of thousands and maybe millions of people moving to other countries when their countries are no longer habitable will also cause political tension.

What you don’t want to know:  There are island nations, including the Maldives and Tuvalu, who will disappear under the sea even if we start cutting GHG emissions right now.  “The level of GHGs today is higher than at any point in at least 650,000 years and is currently rising more than fifty times as fast as what would be caused by natural fluctuations.”  “The best information we have from still-earlier periods suggests that you would have to go back at least 15 million years to find another time with concentration levels [of CO2] as high as today’s.  During that period, temperatures were much warmer than they are today, sea levels were 20 to 35 meters higher, and no permanent ice cap existed in the Arctic.”  “Every year, a part of Nigeria about the size of Rhode Island turns to desert.  Across the continent, the Sahara is spreading southward at a rate of more than three miles a year.”  “Between the mid-1970s and the year 2000, for example, climate change caused the annual loss of more than 150,000 lives….”