December 18, 2010
I often get asked the question where should people live, so that’s the question of this week’s open thread.
Trying to understand that question is one of the reasons why I ultimately decided to read Matthew Kahn’s Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future, even though I knew its main thesis was deeply flawed. I don’t think you’ll find any answers in that book, as I’ve written.
You have to start with the science:
- A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice
- Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!
- An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water
But as I’ve noted (see “What year will coastal property values crash?“), coastal property values won’t wait to (permanently) fall until sea levels have actually risen 4 or 5 feet, as they almost certainly will by the end this century on our current CO2 emissions path:
- Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”
- Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
No, coastal property values will crash when a large fraction of the financial community and of opinion-makers — along with a smaller but substantial fraction of the public — realize that it is too late for us to stop 4 to 5 feet of SLR. I tend to think the peak in U.S. coastal property values comes some time in the 2020s.
I wonder, too, when property values will crash in the Southwest (see “U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century — only hotter — this century” and “Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path“).
Let’s assume that, for the foreseeable future, humanity keep doing what it’s been doing to stop human-caused global warming, pretty much nothing, though feel free to spell out what scenario you think will play out, when we ultimately get desperate and seriously try to reduce emissions, by around, say 2025, what I call “planetary purgatory” in my 2006 book, Hell and High Water. Can we stop the amplifying feedbacks from taking us to 1000 ppm? Frankly, most of the studies cited above are for 700 to 800 ppm — and even staying above 450 ppm for any length of time seems suicidal:
- New study of Greenland under “more realistic forcings” concludes “collapse of the ice-sheet was found to occur between 400 and 560 ppm” of CO2
- Science: CO2 levels haven’t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher — “We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.”
You certainly don’t want to be living on the coast, in the Southwest, or in a 100-year 1000-year floodplain. Developing countries seem unlikely to be the place to be, needless to say.
So where would you recommend your children live, in, a quarter century and your grandchildren in a half century?
UPDATE: For those planning to move to Idaho, let’s remember this travel brochure from the National Academy of Sciences 2010 report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia:
Percent increase (relative to 1950-2003) in median annual area burned for ecoprovinces of the West with a 1°C increase in global average temperature.
Yes, that is just from a 1°C warming (by mid-century).