Monday, May 08, 2006

Gin for warming


When I think of doomsday, when I read of a catastrophe to come, and when I listen to the prophet’s of doom on global warming, I imagine that something really dramatic is going to happen. I lack imagination, so it was with great interest that I started reading Michael Roux's Op Ed in the May 7th edition of The Australian Newspaper here. It boasted the dramatic (if silly) title ‘Heat’s on if we are to avoid the doomsday scenario’, so I’d hoped my starved imagination might get something to digest, if not much to chew on.

So what is the doomsday scenario? According to Michael, it is the: ‘hastened melting of glaciers; violently unpredictable weather as seen in the increased cyclonic activity in the US and the north of Australia and the unprecedented flooding in Europe; and the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica that heightens the risk of skin cancers.’

In the boring stakes, everyone says drying paint is the winner – but you do not see crowds in the Antarctic either. I’ve never watched paint dry the whole way, but I’ve watched it on and off; and I’ve also watched the ice melt as I suck on a G&T: let’s face it, ‘hastened melting of glaciers’ is definitely less exciting than the G&T, and probably down there with drying paint in terms of drama.

The skin Cancer is not so exciting either, but Michael had a stab at linking Hurricane Katrina with the drying paint, and the skin Cancer. So if you will, imagine the doomsday scenario: we are watching the ice melt over a few thousand years (not necessarily with the G&T) reading newspapers about pregnant drugs dealers shooting each other in sports stadiums across the US, while waiting at the clinic for the annual skin cancer checkup.

Katrina was scary, but even the most Green scenarios and stats are boring in their doomsday potential. The hurricane link to global warming is a contentious area for scientists here, but even accepting the most sympathetic view here, and applying the stats used by Roux (a 33% increase in CO2 since the industrial revolution, and a doubling of C02 by 2100) we get a boring effect. According to Thomas R. Knutson, a 120% increase in C02 would lead to a 6% increase in maximum wind speeds; so the 33% increase in CO2 since the industrial revolution might have sped the wind up by, say, 1.6% And if Roux is right about CO2 doubling by 2100, we might see a 5% increase in maximum wind speeds – but only maybe, because no one’s sure about this stuff just yet...

Aware that this is hardly scary stuff, Michael gets out his dog whistle, and warns that we might have to be the Pacific’s solution to the possible refugee crisis. He reports that under a doomsday scenario, the slowly melting glaciers may lead to ‘rising sea levels that could force displacement of the population of the entire Pacific islands, most probably to Australia’. If Australia took every single one of these souls, with the exception of Fiji (which has some pretty high territory), and New Caledonia (which remains French), it’d amount to scarcely a million people; the whole lot is barely 2 million. One or two million would be noticeable, but realistic numbers would be lower than a million, and comparable to the Vietnamese intake Fraser authorized, in terms of a proportion of Australia’s population (anyhow, when did the greens turn against refugees?).

Roux, presumably, is trying not to gild the lily: but his doomsday makes me much more relaxed about doing nothing to combat global warming. Roux want’s a Carbon tax, but I suggest that if you’re worried, you might buy a house on a hill – and some extra gin to keep the heat at bay, and the tropical pests away. Both the high ground, and the gin will make a good investment regardless, and an excellent one if you’re worries are well founded. And maybe it'll even make the paint dry quicker...

4 comments:

Barny Rubble said...

You guys are back!!! Finally!
I've been here watching the grass grow waiting for ya!

Matt Johnson said...

Another boring passtime a warming globe may make more exciting...

Anonymous said...

I've missed you guys sooo much. Too much time to fantasise about the merge right blog boy babes. Now that did generate some heat and I can tell you and that Michael guy they were not boring!

Love Aleyeesha

XXoXX

Matt Canavan said...

Completely agree. And these 'boring' outcomes come attached with a fair amount of uncertainty. Accordingly, any estimate of their future costs should be discounted at quite high rates, reflecting the risk that the doomsday scenario does not eventuate. I can't find the rates that the IPCC uses right now, but from memory they're pretty low: around the 3-5 per cent range. Much too low, I'd guess they should be closer to 10.