Monday, July 23, 2012

Climategeddon!

After talking about the weather over the weekend, here's another one - epic torrential downpours in Beijing. It appears the infrastructure was not able to handle the flooding. Too much money spent on empty cities and not enough on basic infrastructure it seems:
Newspapers and netizens asked why drains in the capital could not cope and why more warnings were not given. The storm struck Beijing on Saturday night, with torrential rain continuing for several hours. Roads were flooded and thousands stranded at transport hubs by the bad weather. Hilly areas on the edge of the city were hardest hit.

Several Chinese newspapers criticised the capital's drainage system for failing to cope with the onslaught, in contrast to the centuries-old ditches around the Forbidden City that kept the national monument relatively dry.

Several million comments were left on weibo platforms - China's equivalent of Twitter - with photos of submerged cars and property being shared online. A Tencent Weibo user from Shandong asked how, as an Olympic city, Beijing's drainage system could be so vulnerable. On Sina Weibo, a user from Shaanxi urged people to learn how to swim, calling the government "unreliable".

"Wishing you happy-ever-after in the afterlife, let's hope at least it has better drainage," sad a Sina Weibo user from Jiangsu.
Deadly Beijing floods prompt infrastructure questions

I love this – it turns out that how you actually perceive the weather is determined by your political beliefs! If you believe that unregulated free market capitalism is sacred, you actually convince yourself that it’s really not that warm outside after all. So there is no objective reality – you literally do adjust your perception of something even as fundamental as 90 degree temperatures in order to keep your political beliefs consistent:
Things were completely different for temperatures. In fact, the actual trends in temperatures had nothing to do with how people perceived them. If you graphed the predictive power of people's perceptions against the actual temperatures, the resulting line was flat—it showed no trend at all. In the statistical model, the actual weather had little impact on people's perception of recent temperatures. Education continued to have a positive impact on whether they got it right, but its magnitude was dwarfed by the influences of political affiliation and cultural beliefs.

And those cultural affiliations had about the effect you'd expect. Individualists, who often object to environmental regulations as an infringement on their freedoms, tended to think the temperatures hadn't gone up in their area, regardless of whether they had. Strong egalitarians, in contrast, tended to believe the temperatures had gone up.

The authors conclude that climate change has become perceived as a form of cultural affiliation for most people: their acceptance of it is mostly a way of reinforcing their ties to the political and ideological communities they belong to. And, since temperatures have become the primary thing the public associates with climate change, people now interpret the temperatures through a filter based on their affiliations, a process termed "cultural cognition." In other words, we tend to interpret the temperatures in a way that reinforces our identity, and our connections with others who share similar political persuasions.
Ideology clouds how we perceive the temperatures. Flooding, drought, remain immune to politics. (Ars Technica)

*Sigh*. I'm sure it applies to a lot of other things to. That's probably why every single libertarian I've ever heard from disbelieves anthropocentric climate change - it allows them to maintain their ideological belief system without question. You would think science would be, I don't know, an objective measure of reality, wouldn't you? Paul Krugman puts his finger on why there won't be a solution:
A couple of weeks ago the Northeast was in the grip of a severe heat wave. As I write this, however, it’s a fairly cool day... Weather is like that; it fluctuates. And this banal observation may be what dooms us to climate catastrophe, in two ways. On one side, the variability of temperatures from day to day and year to year makes it easy to miss, ignore or obscure the longer-term upward trend. On the other, even a fairly modest rise in average temperatures translates into a much higher frequency of extreme events — like the devastating drought now gripping America’s heartland — that do vast damage.
Yes indeed. As I've tried to point out, economic devastation from climate change will more than cancel out any "growth" and will in fact pound civilization down to a more sustainable level, like it or not. And our ridiculous economic system will measure the repair of the devastation as "growth", even in an age of dwindling resources.

I like this comment left at the Economists View blog:
My favorite bit of climate skeptic stupidity is the retort that it was hotter in the Medieval warming period, so we don't have to worry! Well, first off, the Medieval warming period may have been an anomaly restricted to one hemisphere only. But the real kicker is the question, "So what were the conditions in the Medieval warming period?"

Well here it is: Basically the western half of the U.S. was a sand-dune desert. From the book Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas: Chapter 1, "One Degree" (i.e., only one degree Celsius hotter than present):

"...between A.D. 1000 and 1300...[when] the old trees in Walker River and Mono Lake were growing. Wildfires had raged in both national parks twice as frequently as before... The area we now call California had in medieval times been hit by a megadrought, lasting at different periods for several decades... ...how geographically widespread was this event? Evidence from another lake, far away on the Great Plains of North Dakota... ...scientists have now reconstructed long-term records...from old lake sediments. ...before A.D. 1200, a series of epic droughts had swept the Great Plains..." (pp. 26-27)

"...the evidence is now overwhelming that what the western United States suffered during this [Medieval] period was not a short-term rainfall deficit but a full-scale mega-drought lasting many decades at least. ...the [Colorado] river lost 15 percent of its water during a major drought during the mid-1100s. For 60 years at a time, the river saw nothing but low flows... ...the remarkable coincidence of dates with evidence from New Mexico suggests that this was the very same drought that finished off the Chaco Canyon Indians." (pp.28-29)

"...an immense system of sand dunes that spread across thousands of miles of the Great Plains, from Texas and Oklahoma in the south, right through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, to as far north as the Canadian prairie states of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These sand dune systems are currently "stabilized": by a protective layer of vegtetation, so not even the strongest winds can shift them. But during the Medieval Warm Period...these deserts came alive... People who remember the 1930's Dust bowl think they have seen the worst drought nature can offer... In a world that is less than a degree warmer overall, the western United States could once again be plagued by perennial droughts... Although heavier irrigation might stave off the worst for a while, many of the largest aquifers of fossil water are already overexploited..." (pp.29-30)
And of course following the Medieval Warm Period in Europe was the Little Ice Age, ushering in the Great Famine and the Black Death, killing a third of Europe's population. I guess that's what the head of Exxon means when he says we'll "adapt" to climate change.

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