24 Jan 2013

More on Adapting to Climate Change

Climate Change 16 Comments

Blackadder was keeping me/us honest in the comments of my previous post on adapting to climate change. In particular, he thought I was being flippant in saying people could just move inward if sea levels started rising. It devolved (among him and other commenters) into an argument about the relatively pace of the increase, leading Blackadder to say:

Take a concrete example: New York City. If sea levels rise by several meters, then potentially much of it could end up under water. Granted, this would happen over the course of decades, but I’m not sure how that helps much. Saying “we’ll just wait for the individual buildings to wear out and then relocate them to Cleveland” is not a workable solution.

Fortunately, the “settled science”–as codified in the IPCC AR4–gives projections about sea level rises under various emissions scenarios, and they are nowhere close to what Blackadder mentioned above. Of course, Blackadder wasn’t saying he was accurately reproducing the best-guess estimates, but it is important I think for people to realize that what we are told is the “consensus” has this to say:

==> In the lowest emission scenario, sea levels in the decade 2090-2099 will be 18cm – 38cm higher than they were in the period 1980-99.

==> In the two middle emission scenarios, sea levels in 2090-99 will be anywhere from 20 – 48 cm higher.

==> In the highest emission scenario, sea level rises in 2090-99 will be anywhere from 26cm – 59cm.

Of course, it’s possible that sea levels will rise by several meters over the course of a few decades. But the latest IPCC report projects that in the middling emission scenario, over the next nine decades sea levels will rise about one-third of a meter.

16 Responses to “More on Adapting to Climate Change”

  1. Stupid guy says:

    Who cares? In the long run, we’re all dead. Right? I don’t think one can be an environmentalist and Keynesian at the same time. One group hates consumption, the other says all we need more and our economic troubles will be over… Did I miss something?

  2. Major_Freedom says:

    Rising sea levels is perhaps THE reason why I eventually want to visit the beautiful Maldives islands before they go underwater. I’ve heard from some that it will be underwater in my lifetime, while others said it won’t happen until after I’m dead. Well, just an excuse to go.

  3. Ken B says:

    Why is a discussion of the costs “devolved”?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Because it was a bunch of hairless apes arguing.

      • Ken B says:

        Jumped up hairless apes please!

        Neither you nor I should introduce the words “hairless”, “plump”, nor “karaoke” into a discussion Bob!

        • Major_Freedom says:

          These bald jokes are getting stale…last year.

  4. Blackadder says:

    Bob is absolutely right about the sea level projections. But my point remains: just because something happens slowly doesn’t mean it won’t be costly to adapt to.

    • Ken B says:

      Can it be LESS costly?

      • Blackadder says:

        Less costly than if it happened really quick? Sure, I guess.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Long term thinking and planning are more costly in a world where property rights are less respected and protected.

        • Ken B says:

          So that’s relevant to the issue as DRH framed it then, right? Say we do have warming, but it’s slow. Then we can adapt in a way that mitigates costs. Right now uit’s presented as “oh flood New York Harbor, imagine the cost. Now multiply by 1000″. But that’s not right if we can “move” the harbour by attrition as it were. It’s really a serious over estimate of the real cost.

          A new steel virus is let loose that rusts cars. We need to build cars out of tungsten steel not the usual stuff. If the virus is fast enough we need to replace the good cars we have now — big cost. If the virus is slow enough we just retire cars 10% early, with new tungsten steel cars instead of new regular steel cars, much much lower cost. The tale we’re told is of a raging out of control fast virus.

          • Blackadder says:

            So that’s relevant to the issue as DRH framed it then, right?

            Not really. Prof. Henderson’s question was whether rising temperatures would be costly. The answer is yes. Saying “yes, it will be costly, but it won’t be really really costly” doesn’t change the answer to that question.

            • Ken B says:

              No, his question was about how confident we should be in the estimates, including the estimated costs, and what adapting could do.

  5. K Sralla says:

    Just for scale: Global sea level has risen 120 meters (400 feet) during the last 18,000 years. During that time, the human population has increased from less than 50 million to 7 billion, and life expectancy has increased from less than 40 to around 70 years.

    In the last 150 years, global sea level has continued to rise at a rate of about 20 cm/100 years, and over the last 30 years that rate of rise has more or less continued unabated (despite the Nature shows constantly baraging us with visual images of retreating glaciers (they have been in retreat for a long time).

    If anyone claims that computer models can calculate how much incremental sea level rise over the next 100 years will be due to the addition of the addition of human greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, please correct them. It just ain’t so. If they tell you to prepare for sea level to continue to rise over the next 100 years, that is a pretty safe bet, but if they are causing you to lay awake worrying that the W. Antarctic ice sheet will slide off into the Southern Ocean in our lifetime, may I please recommend that you worry about some other bogey man.

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