Climate Apartheid

There are floods in Houston, thanks to Hurricane Harvey‘s making landfall close to the city, dumping about a meter of rain within just a few days. So far, the best explanation I’ve seen about the city’s drainage system is Matt Corbett’s tweetstorm, about how the city keeps building flood control systems but due to population growth they are perpetually five years behind current development. The confirmed death toll so far is 30. There is a connection to climate change: warmer ocean temperatures make tropical storms more likely, and also make it likelier that they will move slowly and dump more rain onto one area; as a result, Harvey is the Houston region’s third 500-year flood in three years, while one neighborhood was hit by three such floods in a decade.

There are floods all over South Asia, thanks to unusually strong summer monsoon rains. Mumbai got about 200 mm of rain in 12 hours yesterday. The worst impact is in more rural areas and smaller cities in the north, including Bangladesh, West Bengal, Nepal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. The confirmed death toll so far is 1,200, of whom only 6 are in Mumbai – Bihar and Nepal seem like the worst-hit areas. There is once again a connection to climate change: the seasonal monsoon rainfall in South Asia is fairly stable, but extreme events dumping more than 100 or 150 mm of rain on one day are happening at increasing frequency, and climate models predict an increase in extreme rainfall events.

It is not my intention to attack American media for undercovering India. Rather, it is my intention to attack American public intellectuals and wonks for proposing adaptation to climate change. This means building flood walls to protect low-lying cities at risk of storm surges like New York, using zoning and public investments to steer development toward higher ground, and building infrastructure to deal with higher future flood risk. This contrasts with reducing the extent of climate change in the first place, called mitigation in environmentalist parlance, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Examples of calls for adaptation, in lieu of or in addition to mitigation, abound:

  • The Obama administration passed a directive requiring flood control standards for federally-funded projects in areas vulnerable to climate change. The Trump administration rescinded this directive, to widespread criticism from liberals in the media, for example in the Guardian.
  • ThinkProgress just published an article calling for both adaptation and mitigation.
  • ProPublica’s investigative reporting about Houston mentions that Fort Lauderdale and Boulder are both addressing adaptation in their long-term city plans, and compares Houston negatively with them.
  • CNN negatively compared US flood control efforts with the Dutch Delta Works. The article does mention American climate change denial, but talks about the Netherlands’ flood control and not about its pro-bike transportation policy, doing its part to mitigate catastrophic climate change.
  • In a personal conversation with ReThinkNYC‘s Jim Venturi about transit-oriented development near Secaucus Station, he said that the area is vulnerable to climate change, at only 2 meters above sea level. I don’t want to blame him, because he might have been channeling the Regional Plan Association or statewide plans, but one of those three (ReThink, RPA, the state) is giving up the United States’ best TOD spot on climate adaptation grounds.

All of these adaptation plans should be prohibited on grounds of climate apartheid. The term climate apartheid is not my own: it comes from Desmond Tutu, who says,

[Link, PDF-p. 181] For most people in rich countries adaptation has so far been a relatively painfree process. Cushioned by heating and cooling systems, they can adapt to extreme weather with the flick of a thermostat. Confronted with the threat of floods, governments can protect the residents of London, Los Angeles and Tokyo with elaborate climate defence systems. In some countries, climate change has even brought benign effects, such as longer growing seasons for farmers.

Now consider what adaptation means for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people—the 2.6 billion living on less than US$2 a day. How does an impoverished woman farmer in Malawi adapt when more frequent droughts and less rainfall cut production? Perhaps by cutting already inadequate household nutrition, or by taking her children out of school. How does a slum dweller living beneath plastic sheets and corrugated tin in a slum in Manila or Port-au-Prince adapt to the threat posed by more intense cyclones? And how are people living in the great deltas of the Ganges and the Mekong supposed to adapt to the inundation of their homes and lands?

There’s a lot of nuance to add on top of Tutu’s admonition. The most important is that Mumbai is not Port-au-Prince or Malawi; it’s not even Bihar. But it’s not New York or the Netherlands either. Catastrophic flooding is still a serious risk, and its urban policy gives the poor a choice between substandard slum housing in flood-prone areas and housing projects in suburbs far from any jobs. And this is the richest city in India, while India is richer than practically every African state between South Africa and the Sahara. The poorest countries in the world, in turn, have very low emissions, even relative to their low GDPs – Bangladesh emits the equivalent of 1 metric ton of CO2 in greenhouse gases per capita annually.

Moreover, we can already know what climate adaptation will really mean. A 1-meter rise in sea level is projected to flood 17.5% of Bangladesh, corresponding at today’s population level to about 25 million people. Now, add the effects of crop failures: David Roberts quotes a paywalled Nature Climate Change article saying that rice yields go down by 10% per degree of nighttime temperature above 26. The minimal scenario would dwarf the Syrian refugee crisis, affecting 5 million people, by an order of magnitude. A more catastrophic scenario, involving flooding in Nigeria and increased droughts in the interior of Africa, could dwarf the Syrian crisis by two orders of magnitude.

The reaction to migration crises has been to militarize the border, to push the refugees away before they can get close and attract local sympathy. The US built a wall along much of the border with Mexico, long before Trump; Europe is stepping up patrols in the Mediterranean, and as we speak France is trying to open detention camps in Libya. This is not just a first-world reaction: India is fencing its border with Bangladesh. Climate adaptation means a little bit of money for flood control schemes, and a lot of money for pushing away refugees on threat of gunning them down, and building an entire apparatus of intermediate detention camps to be able to pretend that it’s not the fault of the US or Europe or Japan that the refugees are dying.

The implication is that, in parallel with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the Cold War, adaptation should be banned throughout the developed world. A country that spends money on trying to avoid the consequences of climate change is unlikely to be interested in avoiding it in the first place – just as a country with ABM protections is unlikely to be interested in avoiding nuclear war. Tackling a global problem like climate change requires ensuring that no single high-emissions country or economic bloc can insulate itself from its consequences.

Far from discouraging development in floodplains, first-world governments should prohibit any consideration of post-2000 temperature rise. If Secaucus is terra firma today, New Jersey should be compelled to treat it as terra firma forever and develop it as the TOD site that it is. If sea levels rise, none of the residents will be as negatively affected as the median Bangladeshi, but the residents might still agitate for future mitigation.

86 comments

  1. Alex B.

    I very much disagree with the framing here. The idea that adaptation is “spend[ing] money on trying to avoid the consequences of climate change” strikes me as completely false. Instead, it is spending money to deal with the consequences of climate change. In many cases, it’s really about spending money to deal with current day problems; the future impacts of climate change are largely irrelevant.

    Second, the idea that mitigation and adaptation are mutually exclusive is also false. Sure, some fringe actors might claim that reducing GHG emissions is pointless, but that is hardly a consensus view nor a median one. Any plausible path forward will require large efforts to both reduce emissions to minimize change and also investments to deal with the impacts that are already baked in.

    • Alon Levy

      Ad the first point: there are cases when it’s used as a cover to justify dealing with current-day problems. In other words, I contend that in some cases local organizations and governments wave adaptation as an excuse to justify decisions they’ve already made for different reasons. I suspect this is the case for Secaucus – the state doesn’t care about TOD, so it isn’t trying to build TOD at Secaucus, and the RPA and ReThink are using adaptation as an excuse to avoid opening the issue. (I emphasize “suspect” – I don’t remember what Jim Venturi told me exactly, and I’m basing my judgment of the RPA on how it reacts to completely different issues. I’m less certain of this than, say, of the theory that Musk only came up with Hyperloop as a way of stealing California HSR’s thunder in the tech press.)

      In cases like this, adaptation is not apartheid, it’s just another excuse for bad governance.

      However, there are cases where it’s more serious, for example the complaints that the 100- and 500-year flood maps should be updated. This is not based on more accurate knowledge of preexisting climate, but on the new climate, caused in no small part by the behavior of American government and society, in which Houston plays a disproportionate role due to its oil industry.

      Ad the second point, both-and is still apartheid. It’s like trying to engage in diplomacy to reduce the risk of war but also build ABM defenses. It’s putting money and political capital into flood defenses that could instead go to demotorization, renewable energy, nuclear power, building insulation, and lower-carbon industrial processes.

      • adirondacker12800

        The state doesn’t build TOD, they use elaborate incentives to get private developers to build it. If I remember correctly Secaucus Junction is planned to have thousand and thousands of cubicles and lots and lots of condos. They haven’t been able to entice a developer.. yet. To beat a dead horse, if ARC was nearing completion attracting one would be easier. Building a flood wall around Manhattan is cheaper and less disruptive than trying to move it all to Scranton. low lying resort communities… stop subsidizing the insurance after the first payout.

        • Alon Levy

          Hey, those trains may be overcrowded if you’re coming in from Summit, but if you have a 13-minute ride from Secaucus and your alternative is the 4 train, they’re not all that bad.

          (I originally wrote 5-minute ride, because I forgot how crawly the New York-Newark segment is. Then I checked the timetable.)

        • adirondacker12800

          If your commute involves the 4 train Secaucus won’t be very attractive until something makes it to Grand Central. To beat the other dead horse, that was proposed to happen by 2025 or so if ARC had been completed close to on time.
          Many of the commuters will be coming from places like Summit, Suffern or Metropark. Their commute isn’t going to get any better until new tunnels are in service. It should have been this year, to beat the dead horse some more. The full blown plan involves involves disentangling stuff to get speeds back up to an average of 40 instead of 30, between Newark and New York. The work was postponed because the tunnels were canceled.

        • Michael James

          adirondacker12800 wrote:

          low lying resort communities… stop subsidizing the insurance after the first payout..

          No. Here’s how it actually works: 80% of all houses flooded in Houston don’t have flood insurance (and I would be sceptical about the quality of the insurance of the others). When they consider getting insurance after rehabilitating their house as best they can, they will find flood insurance policies of two types: 1. real insurance that costs a fortune; 2. fake and misleading insurance that appears to cover floods but actually excludes almost all conceivable “god” events (but also “man-made” which neatly means any flood-mitigation works done since by definition they will have failed; however if those works are by the USACE they are immune to litigation) . Thus most of that 80% will continue to be either totally uninsured or have inadequate insurance that won’t cover them any more than the home insurance they have today.

          I’ve lived thru two floods in my city Brisbane. The one in 1974 was huge (a “one in 30 year” flood; they are in the historical records dating back to foundation in the early 19th century) in which one third of the entire city was flooded; the whole CBD (it’s in a peninsula of the river)–I remember walking across to the centre of the Victoria bridge (something the authorities would never allow today) and awestruck by the raging river below; this was a modern pre-stressed concrete bridge so it became the first Victoria bridge in a whole succession of them (each lasting about 30 years …) to survive. Its southbank flank disappeared into the waters (the whole southbank is now nice public parklands–only because it couldn’t be built on with high-value things so was “available”). Have they continued to allow building on flood plain? Of course they have. But they did build a huge new dam (Wivenhoe) which had a x-metre extra capacity that was to be kept empty and ready for flood mitigation. Well in 2011 we got the next “30 year flood” though the rain wasn’t nearly as much as the 1974 flood (back then we got heroic rain for a solid month, and just like Houston the worst happened days after the rain stopped as all the river valley continued funneling into the downstream flood plains). So the dam did take some estimated 3 metres off the flood which meant only very low-lying areas were flooded; but also very reminiscent of Houston, the Wivenhoe dam flood defenses were mismanaged: despite at least a week’s warning of this event, the authorities hesitated to lower the dam’s level in time. They were reluctant to lower the dam because we had just come out of an 11-year drought. They bet on the rain stopping before they had to do anything, or “waste” a drop. But it didn’t stop, and so then at the height of the flood–just like Houston–they were forced by the engineers’ dire warnings of a dam failure, to open the flood gates. This undid all the good work of the dam to that point and almost certainly a lot more of the city flooded than needed to. The court cases continue to this day …
          And building on flood plain continues as ever (well actually there isn’t much left to build on). And flood insurance remains as useless as it always was and forever will be. (When you calculate the 30-year cost of true insurance, householders are probably correct not to bother.)

          • adirondacker12800

            private insurers in the U.S. don’t write flood insurance, they offer stuff that is subsidized through the various permutations of the Federal Insurance program.

  2. adirondacker12800

    .. I’m not going to spend an afternoon looking up references…

    he city keeps building flood control systems but due to population growth they are perpetually five years behind current development.

    Flood control is Sisyphean. It doesn’t work. The solution is to tell people “you can’t build there, it floods” and if that doesn’t work tell them “go ahead, you can’t get insurance on it, no insurance, no mortgage”. Part anecdotal and part speculation, there used to be small communities along the Passaic River in Morris and Essex county New Jersey, They aren’t there any more. When the flood comes the raccoons in the parkland go to higher ground. Passaic county let people continue to develop and the news reports are filled with people who say things like “it is the third time we have been flooded out in ten years”…move someplace that doesn’t flood.. A few years ago we had a 50-year flood. The locals stood around watching the river water lap at eaves of houses and said things like “we told them it wasn’t a good idea to build things down there”.

    The northern parts of Secaucus are dry.. most of the time. The parts around the station, the tide comes in and goes out around twice a day. You wanna build stuff there it’s gotta be up above the projected floods. Doing that in places not within sight of Empire State Building, the London Eye etc. makes it too expensive. The solution is to not build in flood plains.

    Radical communists at sources like Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Credit Suisse and Blackstone project out conservatively and come up with numbers that predict the fossil fuel markets will collapse in the next few years. Renewables are too cheap, it can’t compete. PV is so cheap that solar thermal, on small scales, can’t compete. I don’t care where my electricity comes from, I care about how cheap it is. Our diesel car has a few years left in it, The next one is going to be electric. A few years ago I did back of the envelope calculations for replacing the boiler with something renewable. The payback period was beyond the expected lifetime of the equipment. The equipment is so much cheaper today I come up with 15 year payback period. the shift to renewable may be much faster than people were expecting. … there are people who predict the last internal combustion engined automobiles will roll off the assembly lines in 2030, earlier if we can ramp up battery production fast enough,.. and there are little things going on that add up. My new refrigerator uses 25 percent of the electricity of the ancient one it replaced. My computer uses one third of the Pentium with a CRT monitor it replaced. The light bulbs over the desk use 20 percent of what incandescents would use. And last 20 times as long. … laundry detergent for use with cold water actually works these days.. The DOE says heat pump clothes dryers don’t make sense… yet.

    • Michael James

      adirondacker12800 wrote:

      The solution is to tell people “you can’t build there, it floods” and if that doesn’t work tell them “go ahead, you can’t get insurance on it, no insurance, no mortgage”.

      Yeah but that doesn’t work either. As I m sure you know. First, city authorities fudge the flood maps. Second, as I wrote earlier, insurance companies provide “fake” flood insurance; the banks providing those mortgages almost certainly have a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” passing knowledge of this subterfuge (half the time the insurers are a subsidiary of the same banks) as this allows them to continue to write mortgage business. Even a lot of householders know this and shrug their shoulders–because the most affordable houses are in these zones.

      Some of this might even be acceptable. However our last flood (2011) revealed a more sinister issue. A lot of the houses flooded this time had been newly built on the most flood-prone areas (which were scrappy light-industrial zones, hence cheapest land) since the previous flood. Classically houses in Australia were not very substantial affairs but they were built of real timber, often Australian hardwoods which makes them more sturdy than one might otherwise think. But today houses are seriously “ticky tacky little boxes” made of lightweight fast-growth pine etc and worse, structural elements are of engineered timber. Not of the hi-strength type that can replace steel in some applications but it turns out the joists of most housing is not rated to survive any kind of “full immersion” wetting; in fact it is explicitly part of its design specs that its strength is automatically derated by 50% in such an event, ie. a flood. This automatically means the building it supports loses its construction and habitability certification. Naturally instead of solid VJ-timber walls that the old houses had, these have plasterboard which turns to wet biscuit so really there is not a whole lot left of such a house after such an event. The hundred+ year “old Queenslander” vernacular housing has stood all the weather and floods that this tough climate can throw at it but one heavy wetting thoroughly kills these new houses.

    • Michael James

      adirondacker12800 wrote:

      private insurers in the U.S. don’t write flood insurance, they offer stuff that is subsidized through the various permutations of the Federal Insurance program.

      That’s interesting. I stand corrected (but am pretty sure there is no equivalent in Australia or anywhere else I am aware of …). I wish I had added to my comment my actual thoughts: that insurance really needs to be a non-profit thing in the modern world, but then I thought to suppress my innate socialist (collectivist) tendencies …. only to find that Uncle Sam got there already! Logically healthcare is heading to the same territory with more and more genetics profiling & diagnosis etc (ie. more and more reasons to exclude). Also this insurance is specifically to cover repayments (of mortgages etc) so the banks should embrace it?
      Interestingly:

      As of April 2010, the program insured about 5.5 million homes, the majority of which were in Texas and Florida.[2]

      and:

      The program was first amended by the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, which made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for the protection of property within SFHAs. (Special Flood Hazard Areas)

      Presumably those areas of Houston with those “80% of uninsured households” (as reported on PBS-Newshour last night) are not in SFHAs?

      Since 1978, the National Flood Insurance Program has paid more than $51 billion in claims (as of year end 2014).[5]

      The scheme has been revenue neutral; it borrows from Treasury in big-payout years but easily repays with insurance premium income in subsequent years. Is climate-change about to wreck this?

      Having said (or found) all that, there is still this (Wiki on Katrina):

      Additionally, some insurance companies have stopped insuring homeowners in the area because of the high costs from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or have raised homeowners’ insurance premiums to cover their risk.[98]

      In rich countries like Australia etc, the government inevitably is the de facto insurer of last recourse in the sense that after any such large-scale disaster they hand out government relief–to rebuild homes etc. But I like your National Flood Insurance Program–especially as it would require proper transparency on flood-prone areas, with appropriate insurance premiums, and perhaps (though I won’t hold my breath) better house construction standards too. All of that would tend to (appropriately) counter the advantage/tendency to build on flood-prone areas. But there you go, there are enough reasons why the developer lobby will never allow this to happen in Oz (where we alternate between decade-long droughts, ferocious bush-fires the size of Connecticut and floods of biblical size (in fact the size of Texas; Lake Eyre floods once a decade from rains about 2000km north-east of it).

      • adirondacker12800

        it sucks, private insurers won’t assume the risk, Congress loves to hand out money. To people who wouldn’t build things in stupid places if they couldn’t get cheap insurance.

        • Michael James

          adirondacker12800 wrote:

          Congress loves to hand out money. To people who wouldn’t build things in stupid places if they couldn’t get cheap insurance.

          No, I think the Australian example (and for that matter Houston) shows that you don’t need any such scheme for people to build things in stupid places. This government scheme can offset the cost and perhaps (with my intervening socialist tendencies again) guide where stuff gets built … Of course Texas (or Florida) won’t allow any feds to tell them where they can or can’t build … Those pinko-socialist Europeans don’t have the same extreme weather so we can’t really tell if they would run things better (though using healthcare as an related business ….). We’ll see how the Chinese go; Three Gorges Dam is supposed to have profound effect on those massive Yangtse floods that impact hundreds of millions of people and have killed hundreds of thousands over time. There are Japanese cities with massive flood defenses including vast storage chambers–I’m not aware of them being used in anger, yet.

          And it is not handing out money as it is revenue neutral. And is designed to reduce the cost of disaster aid. Private insurers cannot assume such horrendous scale risks as it would be inviable; only a collective over a lot of people and amortized over long timescales and not obsessed with (outsized) profit, can do that.

          • Alon Levy

            The Netherlands’ median altitude above sea level is 1 meter, if I remember correctly. Hence the investments in flood defenses – in Holland proper the maritime flood defenses are designed around the 10,000-year flood and the riparian defenses around the 1,250-year flood.

          • adirondacker12800

            Reinsurance and then reinsurance on the reinsurance. Insurance companies have these wondrous machines called computers that can ingest huge amounts of numbers, which they have going back decades if not centuries. The government started underwriting because insurance with premiums that covered the risk was too expensive. Then the incentives were watered down, not enforced or generally fudged. Those above the 100 year or 1000 year flood have to …buy the idiots out. rebuilding and then rerebuilding and rererebuilding costs too much,

  3. Benjamin Turon

    From what I read in the NY Times and other reputable sources on Global Warming, a lot of damage is already built in and will occur even if CO2 emmissions are dramatically reduced right now. To do nothing to prepare for this is utterly foolish, its like going on a hunger strike till everyone has an enough to eat, its a noble idea that will result in your death (or at least hospitalization!).

    I can understand why people in the poorer half are mad at people in the richer part but the idea of doing nothing to address severe weather or a rise in sea level in advance economies is utterly unworkable and foolish. Politically no one will go for it. Its like nations with weak militaries asking those with powerful arm forces to disarm. Its never going to happen. Look, we will continue to burn fossil fuels, the global temperatures will rise, everything will get worse, we will just have to deal with it the best we can. Its human nature. Maybe in the long-term we will move to a low carbon economy and arrest further rise in global temperatures but right now Florida will be going under water. Maybe disaster upon disaster will eventually create political action, but right now… just look who is president of the US!

    I would ask Mr. Levy if he would willingly put his family in the face of danger in the name of solidarity with those who can not escape danger? Which of the three little pigs would you want to be if you had a choice, if you had the resources? The one with the straw house, the stick house, or the brick house?

    • Benjamin Turon

      I would seriously question if the United States is actually capable of “adopting” to Climate Change. People in Bangladesh live in danger because they have no choice. Americans willingly live in danger because they stupid, lazy, and greedy. Because they have short-term thinking and are unwilling to think that trouble may just be over the horizon. They think… “It won’t happen to me, to my town, this year”.

      If I was you Mr Levy I wouldn’t worry to much, Americans will suffer plenty in the future, and Houston is proof of this. Look there was Katrina, Sandy, floods in previous years in Houston… and look how prepared they were. Of course the US will have the ability to carry on while other nations will likely be utterly devastated at great human cost… but America too will pay a price in not just treasure but also blood. Take some comfort in that truth.

      I support doing much more to reduce carbon emissions, to prepare for a changing climate, to aid other countries (my family mails school supplies to Africa out of our own pocket), and I support robust immigration into my country, I support higher taxes, even on myself! I’m a bleeding heart liberal. But I voted for Al Gore in 2000 and he lost, and in the last election my candidate also lost again. I will continue to hope for the best but will prepare for the worse. That is common sense.

      • Ian Mitchell

        Quit that.

        You know for a fact that Americans, like most people, everywhere, don’t assume disasters are the norm.
        Look at a population map of earth. Then look at the pacific ring of fire.
        How many multi-million population Pompeiis have been built in Asia in the last 50 years?
        That’s not the poor countries. Bengladeshis may be poor, singaporeans aren’t.

        Houston is a place in America where you can get a well-paying job and affordable housing, not either/or.
        That’s not a lot of the country. People do their household calculus based on what they can earn, what it costs to live, safety and opportunity for their children. The city is more diverse than New York, LA, Miami or any other city in the country.

        You call them “stupid, lazy, and greedy’.

        Knock it off.

        • Benjamin Turon

          I’m not talking about Houston but Americans in general, and I speak as an American. Its not much different in other part of the country. Building in flood plains is dumb, true in Texas or Upstate NY. Yes, Japan as a lot of people living in very dangerous areas, but they do seem to be more ready to regonize that and plan, build, and drill accordingly. The recent 3-11 Great Northeast Earthquake and Tsunami was devastation, but the death toll would have been even much higher if building standards where less stringent and citizens didn’t evacuate to high ground after the quake and tsunami warnings went out.

          An excellent example of American complacency is Washington State where despite warnings from officials and specialists a seas side community built a new elementary school in a Tsunami Zone where there would be no escape with the likely warning after a mega quake. They could have listen to the experts, consider what just occurred in Japan, and built on the high ground. They choose not to… and that decision could doom their children if and when the next big quake comes. The story about the school is at the end of this article from the New Yorker…

          The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
          http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

          I mean not ill will towards the poor souls in Texas. I full support rebuilding the city and surrounding communities, I just think it should be done smarter to minimize as much as possible the effects of future disasters. My prayers are with them, I made a small donation today thru the disaster relief fund drive of my local public radio station, WMAC Northeast Public Radio. Look, a century ago Galveston suffered a devastating hurricane and rebuild smarter. Its a lesson that yes, Texas and the rest of the USA can do the right thing if we put our minds to it.

  4. Untangled

    Speaking of South Asia, I thought that the past few monsoon seasons were less than spectacular and just before I left living in India earlier this year, the winter was unusually warm or at least that’s what I was told. It didn’t seem that there would be a good monsoon this year, so the rains are a bit of a surprise. Everyone was I knew was blaming the warm winter climate change.

    As for saying that climate adaptation should be banned because it favors the rich world leaving the poor to suffer, I don’t see adaptation vs mitigation as a zero-sum game as you propose. We shouldn’t divert money for clean energy to adaptation but that doesn’t mean that adaptation should be ruled out, especially if we can afford still it. It may well indirectly create a climate apartheid, but the root of that apartheid has nothing to do the climate, it’s more a wealth apartheid, we shouldn’t stop doing expensive stuff simply because there are people and nations poorer than us, but that’s another discussion.

  5. Eric

    On average, people in South Asia are much better off now than they were several decades ago, before significant climate change. This does not mean that climate change is good, of course. It means that the effect of climate change is significantly outweighed by other effects, specifically economic development and everything that follows from it in the social and health realms.

    I used to think climate change should essentially be ignored, thinking that economic development depends on cheap energy, and any significant progress against climate change would come at the cost of much higher energy prices and worse human conditions overall. My mind has been changed by the growth of cheap solar and wind energy, which promise to relieve carbon emissions while not significantly increasing the cost of energy. But still I think the focus has to be on economic development in poor countries.

    In the last few decades, poor societies have grown significantly in income and development, while (except for a small number of rich people) income has stagnated in the US and other Western countries. This is the opposite of apartheid.

    • Alon Levy

      The problem is that as extreme weather events get more common, they start dragging down growth in the most vulnerable countries. This is divided into two distinct trends:

      1. Reduced agricultural fertility in warm agrarian countries reduces their ability to produce food. This cover much of Africa, where unlike in Asia economic growth hasn’t been very fast. Branko Milanovic warns that the trend of global income convergence since the late 1980s may reverse itself in the coming decades, because a) as China overtakes the global mean income, its fast growth raises global inequality rather than reducing it, and b) population growth in slower-growing Sub-Saharan Africa increases its demographic weight in the world relative to that of fast-growing Asia. African economic growth has improved, but slow growth remains the rule of large swaths of the continent, such as Central Africa and the Sahel. The fastest-growing parts happen to be in cooler highland areas, like East Africa and Ethiopia – it’s a coincidence, but it does mean the most vulnerable agrarian countries are likely to remain agrarian.

      2. In the countries where flooding is the biggest risk, led by Bangladesh, climate refugees are likely to end up in the main city – Dhaka is safely a few meters above ground, built on purpose to be outside the riparian floodplain. (In contrast, Lagos is more at risk, and on top of preexisting risk it’s building Eko Atlantic on reclaimed land.) Dhaka doesn’t have either jobs or housing for this many climate refugees. Neither does Lagos. It would destabilize the existing industrial economies of those cities – instead of having subsistence agriculture as a workfare program they’d have to find urban jobs for the refugees (those don’t exist) or give them some sort of unemployment aid (poor countries don’t have the tax capacity for a welfare system).

      Both of these issues could be ameliorated if developed countries committed to taking in 0.5-1% of their national populations per year in humanitarian migration – that was the Swedish rate in 2013-4, before things exploded in 2015 – which would provide space for 5-10 million people per year in countries that do have shortages of unskilled labor. But Sweden and Germany aim to send refugees to the areas with the fewest jobs (because housing is cheap), and everyone else just doesn’t let refugees in.

      • Benjamin Turon

        The NY Times and other sources I read state that a lot of the desperate migration out of Africa is driven by climate change as farmland drys out and the desert expands. Also that current ongoing wars in the Middle East were in part triggered by problems caused by hotter dryer weather, and shortages of water. The conflict in Syria is often cited as being caused at least in part by a drought and the resulting social disruption.

        Numerous news articles state that the Pentagon sees Global Warming as a major strategic threat, including at home due to the loss of major naval bases due to sea level rise, some dry docks and other infrastructure still in use today is from WWII to before the Civil War, it would cost countless billions to replace. Its too bad that “the generals” have failed to impress this fierce urgency of addressing climate change now on the Republicans who so often support a hawkish policy concerning the military and foreign policy. Robust diplomacy and increase aid from advance nations to developing nations is needed and it seemed like slowly we may have been moving in the right direction, likely not fast enough to advert real harm but at least we were moving.

        Hopefully Houston will change some minds. Including about our foreign policy and global warming. Other wise its as General Douglas MacArthur said to Washington in 1946 about his overnight of the Occupation of Japan… “Send me food or send me more bullets”.

        • Alon Levy

          I really wouldn’t connect Syria with climate change. The water shortages that led to migration from rural areas to some peripheral cities, like Daraa, were more about decades of failed agricultural and conservation policies. This was compounded by Bashar Assad’s move toward privatization (to companies owned by family members and allies, not to anything resembling a free market), which dispossessed farmers. Then came the Arab Spring.

      • adirondacker12800

        The Dutch had a plan for Bangladesh that required baskets and lots of strong backs. Not unlike what they did before World War II.

      • Ian Mitchell

        “Dhaka doesn’t have either jobs or housing for this many climate refugees”
        Did Chicago, Boston, and New York for those affected by the potato famine? Did Los Angeles and Houston have the jobs and housing for the mexican farmworkers whose livelihood disappeared because of NAFTA and effective dumping of Corn by the US?

        Has migration of displaced agricultural workers to urban areas, AT ANY TIME OR PLACE in history, happened when there were adequate jobs and housing at their destination?

        I’m pretty sure not. The average quality of housing as experienced by the typical resident will worsen. The informal sector will dominate, with a high dependency ratio and formal employment being lowest-quality. Survival, not great prosperity, but survival, will continue, especially if food and energy prices (which are global) do not rise sharply.

        • Alon Levy

          Did Chicago, Boston, and New York for those affected by the potato famine?

          Yes. Yes, they did. 19th-century American cities were at the global frontier of average wages, on a par with industrializing British cities. They had a shortage of labor, even with fast population growth, since the US had such a huge surplus of land. They were desperately investing in labor-saving technology like an increasingly intricate factory system, because American wages were really high.

          Has migration of displaced agricultural workers to urban areas, AT ANY TIME OR PLACE in history, happened when there were adequate jobs and housing at their destination?

          Jobs yes, housing not so much – but these are opposed factors. Pretty much any mass migration aims at the areas with the jobs. That’s why Syrian refugees are passing through countries with affordable housing like Italy and heading to countries with jobs, like Germany, where if they can help it they settle in expensive Western cities where there’s work.

          The problem with third-world megacities is that due to sheer scale, they manage to lack housing (they’re too big for their current transportation networks) and jobs (they have work but only if business owners underinvest in already-existing labor saving technology).

      • johndmuller

        Alon Levy says: “…Branko Milanovic warns that the trend of global income convergence since the late 1980s may reverse itself in the coming decades, because a) as China overtakes the global mean income, its fast growth raises global inequality rather than reducing it…”

        When you talk about such a huge population as China’s closing the income gap, its bound to more than counterbalance any stagnation or opposing trend on the part of the African nations. India shows some possibilities of adding its own huge population to the gap closers’ weighting as well. Of course, should China become part of the distribution mass significantly above the mean it would all but guarantee increasing the gap. It is nevertheless hard to view the prospect of China’s billions of people living in improved circumstances as a negative, all things considered.

        There are not a lot of landlocked countries, and none that I can think of with major political and economic power. Of the coastal countries, nearly all of them have large cities on the coast or in estuaries, both vulnerable to sea level rise. It seems practically inevitable that many of these cities will have to be written off or left to their own devices, even in the richest countries (this need for internal migration will make it all the harder to provide for external refugees’ relocation). Nevertheless, I find it hard to imagine almost any of these cities voluntarily throwing in the towel, no matter how extravagant or unwieldy the defensive measures or “adaptations” might be. I can imagine ridiculous lengths, like building a dike from the tip of Long Island to Rhode Island or Massachusetts, and/or building floodgates and a thirty foot high seawall all along the entire strip of barrier islands on the east coast (perhaps Trump will get Mexico to pay for that one). The trouble is that the extent of the problem will only gradually reveal itself and the nay-sayers will keep on keeping on in denial until the bitter end.

        • Alon Levy

          Of course China’s growth is positive. But the point Milanovic makes is that in the last 40 years, fast Chinese growth has reduced global inequality since China started out at subsistence and has since grown to be slightly richer than the world average. In the future, as it goes from world average to (hopefully) catching up with the first world, its effect on the global income distribution will be to raise income inequality – just as the combination of growth in the now-industrialized world and stagnation in the third world from 1800 to 1950 raised global inequality. Today the main engine of global inequality reduction is indeed India, which is growing fast and is at about half the global average income. But then you have some African countries with very fast population growth and horrendous economic growth, like the few Sahelian countries for which Macron’s complaints about birthrates were correct…

          • Ian Mitchell

            Contraceptive aid would be as appropriate for folks living in an area with a permanent and worsening dust bowl as food aid.

            Then again, I’m someone who believes that contraception is a higher priority for governments to provide than vaccinations, clean water, or transportation infrastructure. So I believe that of foreign aid.

          • Alon Levy

            Is the problem in the Sahel really physical access to contraception? As opposed to, say, women not being empowered enough to demand men use contraceptives?

          • adirondacker12800

            Condoms have a dismal success rate.
            Melissa Gates says consistent access to birth control is the problem/solution.

          • Ian Mitchell

            Contraception at the female level is depressingly unavailable.

            Male contraception solutions don’t work well in general (men are intransigent in general), but the more patriarchal the culture, the worse a solution they are.

            Education and development are longer-term solutions, granting female-operated access in family planning is the current-term concern.

          • Nathanael

            Condoms have a near-100% success rate *when men are actually willing to use them*.

            The key is giving *women* enough power to demand / force contraceptive use.

    • Michael James

      Eric wrote:

      I used to think climate change should essentially be ignored, thinking that economic development depends on cheap energy, and any significant progress against climate change would come at the cost of much higher energy prices and worse human conditions overall. My mind has been changed by the growth of cheap solar and wind energy, which promise to relieve carbon emissions while not significantly increasing the cost of energy. But still I think the focus has to be on economic development in poor countries.

      The dismaying thing about that is the decades lost to this kind of “thinking”. President Carter (trained in nuclear power physics) put solar energy on the roof of the White House and only a few yeas later, Maggie Thatcher (elected as PM 1979) had accepted anthropomorphic climate change. As hardline neo-conservative as she was, she was also a trained chemist which meant she instantly understood when it was explained to her why global warming was inevitable, and that we needed to act.

      Just think if the US had kept up clean energy research–say at the rate of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry–and realize how much further advanced we would be. Technology develops in proportion to the research funds invested and scale of manufacture so just like mobile phones have become affordable by almost everyone in the developing world, renewable energy would have too.

      But also, it seems you think in black and white, all-or-none. Higher cost energy doesn’t mean development comes to a crashing halt, not least in the developing world where renewable energy will be more accessible and more impactful in places without big central (fossil fuel) generators and the necessary very expensive transmission infrastructure. It may not have supported “big” industrialisation but as in India today, solar energy can help education (via LED lighting at night, and internet/television) and health/nutrition (via refrigeration, water purification etc). Some other comments fall into this same trap, of an inability to think outside of old or existing paradigms which is clearly wrong. Think again of the telcoms example: according to the old thinking you’d have spent a fortune on landlines and all their nodes and wire interchanges and it would have taken forever to roll out in poor countries; mobile technology destroyed the old paradigm and the poorer world went straight to mobile.

      • adirondacker12800

        PV is so cheap that it is cheaper than kerosene lamps, for people who don’t have electricity. It’s getting realllllly reallllly cheap and very soon will be the cheapest option other than already existing hydro.

        • Ian Mitchell

          Natural gas, especially where it would otherwise escape and warm the atmosphere further would be another exception.

      • Eric

        I am always frustrated by government investment in basic research being too low. This is the case regarding cancer research and, in retrospect, it is the case regarding alternative energy. (At the time, I was unaware that solar and wind energy could possibly get this cheap so I did not think about investing in them, and advocated investing in nuclear instead – also carbon free.)

        Of course, now the same principle demands that we invest in developing effective geoengineering. But I hear no discussion of this from anyone. The right (in the US) refuses to admit the world is warming at all, while the left thinks carbon emission plus geoengineering is somehow unacceptably immoral…

        • Nathanael

          It is imposssible to stop ocean acidification, which is the REAL threat from CO2 emissions, with geoengineering.

          It’s very simple.
          (1) All burning of fossil fuels must stop.
          (2) We must aggressively push carbon fixation: processes which remove CO2 from the air and water and turn it into solid carbon which can be buried or built with.

          Period. Reputable scientists agree that there is no geoengineering solution possible for ocean acidification; we just have to get the carbonic acid out of the ocean. Period.

  6. Benjamin Turon

    Oppose to an international treaty banning advanced nations from taking any measures to migrate the effects of climate change which should obviously be seen as completely politically unworkable, a far less but still seemingly quixotic policy could be in my mind a global tax on carbon with some redistribution (25%?) from rich to poor countries to combat the effects of climate change from building renewable energy sources, improving water supplies, or moving communities to better locations. Think of it as the cross-border funding seen under the EU. Or how in the US money from wealthy states goes to poorer states thru social and infrastructure programs. Politically this is a non-starter in the USA, at least right now, but it seems more realistically palatable then saying… you can do nothing to protect your family, your people, your nation from rising seas and sever weather.

  7. Dave Perlmutter

    I’m not sure I understand your premise. You’re suggesting we should ignore climate change impacts when we develop in vulnerable locations? Lots of relatively poor communities in the rich countries you (correctly) blame for climate inaction are just as vulnerable as the poor communities you cite of the Global South. Sure, they might have running water and health services (for now), but many do not have adequate heating/AC or disaster insurance, and all of these systems will be wiped out in the wake of a climate disaster. Why exactly are these poor communities, say in NYC or elsewhere, not worthy of government investments to proactively protect them and their livelihoods from future impacts? Why should we continue to build without adaptation, out of some vague moral hazard argument, when by doing so we are setting communities up for untold misery in the near-future?

    • Alon Levy

      I disagree with you on two levels.

      1. There are vast differences between first-world poor and third-world poor: flood insurance, Medicaid, the presence of shelters (even if some clerics need to be shamed for them), existing drainage systems.

      2. Second and more fundamentally, American adaptation efforts are not actually focused on protecting low-income Americans. None of the examples in this post is about protecting domestic poor people. They’re about infrastructure, and development in middle- and high-income areas (Fort Lauderdale and Boulder, respectively). Secaucus TOD is unlikely to be affordable to poor people without subsidies, because of the regional housing shortage; some affordable housing mandates are likely, but the bulk of residents are likely to be pretty rich. Within New York, there’s some correlation between vulnerability to flooding and income, but it’s far from perfect: Lower Manhattan is directly vulnerable, and judging by Sandy, the least vulnerable infrastructure heads north from Midtown, covering the Upper East and West Sides but also Harlem and the South Bronx.

  8. Daniel Hartig

    This post is amazingly misguided. Please keep in mind that rich countries do not release more emissions because they are rich; they are rich because they cause such emissions. The ability to harness chemical energy from fossil fuels is what drove the great divergence between rich and poor countries.

    Without generating energy, those poor countries are going to stay poor. And that is a far worse consequence than climate change. Climate change will cause some struggles, to be sure, but will climate change reduce an American’s life expectancy by 30 years to African levels, or reduce an American’s income level by a factor of 100 to an African’s income level? The answer to that question is no. If climate change can half your income and take 10 years off your life (debatable) it will still be better than being stuck in the Congo or Ethiopia or wherever.

    Climate change is an unfortunate side effect of improving the human condition. Hundreds of millions of Chinese entered the middle class as China started to burn more fossil fuels (and contribute more to climate change). Would you deny that progress to the billions of impoverished Indians and Africans?

    Climate change is an inevitable side effect of the increase in living standards for the poorer half of the world. Any mitigation only proposal that precludes adaptation is morally repugnant in that it assumes that the poor will stay poor indefinitely.

    • MaxUtil

      I understand your argument that the short term good effects of industrialization outweigh the bad effects of GCC. But you have some big assumptions built into that as well. First off that the only road to development is through fossil fuel intensive development. That simply isn’t true. A few decades back you could have argued that coal/oil/gas was the fastest and cheapest ways for developing economies to meet the energy demands. That is not true anymore. Secondly, one of the issues with GCC is that its effects could directly impact those development efforts. Modernizing, growing economies require stable food, water, and political supplies. Those are all directly threatened by GCC. Fighting climate change and promoting development are not in direct opposition.

      • Daniel Hartig

        There isn’t a clear path to introducing energy to a local economy that doesn’t involve fossil fuels. That is as true now as it was a few decades ago. That may change in the future, but it hasn’t now.

        First off, the things that third world countries need the most are tractors and trucks. They need mechanical power to allow them to increase their agricultural potential so they are not starving/dependent on foreign aid, and so that more people can get off the farm and into more productive areas of the economy. The second thing they need is good transportation of goods to the world market, so that the things they produce (which are often farm products: coffee, cotton, tropical fruits, sugar etc) can be sold for money and so that the things the want to buy with this money (off-season food, medical supplies, tools, etc) can be transported in. Along with the tractors/trucks, you should also consider the construction vehicles needed to efficiently build farm buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. There is no path to providing tractors and trucks to remote and poor regions that does not involve fossil fuels. To the best of my knowledge, no one is selling battery powered farm and construction equipment; trucking is not nearly as far along as automobiles in electric vehicle viability. Electric trains (a competitor/replacement for trucks) are viable in some cases, but freight hauling in sparsely populated areas is not one of those cases.

        Second off, the concept of building an electric grid without fossil fuels is a non-starter. Electricity is the second most important thing that third world countries need. Electricity a. provides light to extend productivity inside buildings and beyond daylight hours b. powers many labor saving devices in the home (washing machines being one of the most significant) c. allows for the replacement of wood burning as a source of cooking heat, which can alleviate pressure on trees, often the most significant source of environmental degradation. There is no such thing as an electric grid without fossil fuels. Solar power varies by time of day; hydro power by season, especially in the wet-dry tropics, wind power somewhat randomly. The only way to guarantee that you can have electricity on when you want it is fossil fuels (or nuclear, I suppose, but that is not viable for most third world countries). Poorer countries do not have the engineering expertise and capital to invest in inventing a whole new kind of electrical grid that can be run primarily on renewables. A poor country’s path to reliable electricity runs through fossil fuels.

        As technology currently exists, there is no substitute for fossil fuels in improving a country’s income. I agree that fighting climate change is a worth goal. It is incumbent on us, the rich countries of the world, to reduce our greenhouse emissions as other countries increase theirs, to mitigate the ultimate magnitude of climate change. But climate change of some magnitude is inevitable.

        • Michael James

          Yet another commenter who can only think in black & white terms. Using fossil fuels for farm equipment may need fossil fuels for years to come but that doesn’t mean the entire energy infrastructure needs to be fossil fuels! I see you’ve got your mind stuck in the frame of “giant electric grids” even as you talk about “provides light to extend productivity inside buildings and beyond daylight hours”. Today’s lighting (LED) requires a fraction of old-gen lighting that unnecessarily consumes/wastes power; it is something perfect for early solar-power adoption (obviously in combination with batteries, but because power consumption is so low this is perfectly practical as Indian villages–not on the grid–are showing). In fact in the poorest parts of the world it is the reliable unreliability of the grid that makes life miserable (because people have adopted energy-hungry appliances).

          It is wearisome to read such negativity and frankly, ignorance and stubbornness, like your comment. Of course cities in developing countries will need “big energy” infrastructure but a large fraction of their populace still lives outside the cities–and if a few simple things like comms & education (& lighting) can be provided to improve their immediate lives and their children’s future, then they’d be better remaining out of the shanty towns in those ever-growing big cities.

          You’ve also completely ignored the balance-of-payments issues for many such countries who will have to import those fossil fuels (and tractors and fertilizers etc). Also the kind of hi-energy farming you advocate inevitably means synthetic (oil-based) and intensive fertilizers and pesticides that will further indebt them and lock them into being merely customers of big multinationals. As the rich western world is switching off its expensive diesel generators in its island and isolated outposts, you want to switch the developing world back into that vicious circle of dependence. If you took proper (national) accounting of all these additional costs of a fossil-fuel dependency there is little doubt that renewables are already winning in some areas, and not to long into the future in even “big energy” too.

          • Daniel Hartig

            1. The unreliability of the grid is a function of poverty, not the other way around. Once a country has the income to demand proper governing institutions, the grid becomes much more reliable. See: China.

            2. Solar and batteries are not practical for a developing society. The energy demands for cooking, heating/cooling (often necessary for health reasons), labor-saving appliances, electric tools, etc will quickly overwhelm the capabilities of solar power. What if you want to run an electric range top, the washing machine, and your lights at night? How long will your battery last? Plus, how affordable are big batteries to a poor village anyways? Your plan for poor villages does not allow for those villages to increase in wealth.

            3. Saying that most people live outside of cities is a fact of the current situation, not the future. As a country gets rich, there will be a massive migration from countryside to city. See: China. As you admit, you will need an electric grid to power such cities. By saying solar and batteries are the solution, you are not allowing for a nation to increase in wealth and move its citizens towards more productive cities.

            4. Balance of payments issues are moot. First, mechanized farming is only possible where it is paid for by the produce. The great exemplar here is Brazil. Brazil has the highest productivity in a wide variety of tropical crops, furthermore, it has enough mass to have its own big agro companies. Fertilizantes Heringer is a big fertilizer companies and large farming interests include SLC Agricola, Fiagril, and Amaggi, not to mention Fortune 500 meat processor JBS S.A., and food processing companies like BRF S.A., Marfrig, Copcacol, and of course Anbeuser-Busch InBev. Brazil is not ‘customer of big multinationals’ it is the source of big multinationals, and even a purchaser of big American multinationals. There is no reason that Nigeria or the East African Union, both with a population comparable to Brazil, won’t be able to have the same kind of agricultural-industrial clout. Brazil isn’t stuck in a vicious cycle of dependence, and if these countries invest in high productivity farming, they won’t either.

            5. You are proposing that poor nations abandon the strategies that have brought many other nations before them out of poverty. Middle income counties like China, Turkey, and Brazil have embraced modern industrial and agricultural methods, which are largely fossil fuel dependent, and have significantly reduced the great divergence gap for their citizens. China is the world’s second largest oil importer; Turkey and Brazil are at 24 and 27. There is a proven path to success. Why don’t you want the wretched poor of the world to follow it?

          • adirondacker12800

            I know what my electricity, oil and propane bills are. A 10kW array and 40kW of storage should get me through anything but the coldest windiest nights. May not need 40kW of storage because there will 100kW or so sitting in the cars in the driveway.
            About half of that is heating load when it’s friggin’ ball freezing cold out. most of the third world doesn’t have that problem.
            It’s not 2005 anymore, things are surprising cheap and getting cheaper.

        • Untangled

          there is no substitute for fossil fuels in improving a country’s income

          This is very much the old economy, it was true for China. But the price of non-fossil fuel energy has drastically fallen in recent years and energy storage solutions for renewables are increasingly attractive, like battery or pumped hydro or anything that stores energy for later consumption, be it wind, solar or whatever. There’s one with autonomous locomotives that goes uphill and then back down with regenerative braking to generate electricity for the grid. Transport is tricky but I think the key for long haul and heavy vehicles is hydrogen fuel cell and prices.

          Although a good place to start in India will be to get more efficient trucks, a lot of the trucks I saw on the highway when I lived there for a while looked like it was semi-jugaad and was limited to 40km/h. Not do with climate change or emissions but the most annoying part of the 40km/h trucks was it said “Horn Please” at the back.

          Look at India, it’s roughly 13 years behind China (China liberalised in 1978 vs India in 1991) but in that extra 13 years, a lot of advances has been made in non-fossil fuel energy so much so that India’s projected energy future will be so much cleaner than China’s at their economic equivalent stage 13 years ago. India won’t be fully getting rid of fossil fuels anything soon but a lot of the energy that will fuel India’s economy will come from renewables in contrast to coal China used at their equivalent stage, so yes fossil fuels are being substituted and they are almost capable of doing it without hurting growth in developing countries.

        • adirondacker12800

          Poor countries realize it’s not 2005 any more. they may decide to skip over the the part with huge central power stations

        • Nathanael

          You’re just wrong. Communities which never had electricity are *right now* getting energy through solar panels and batteries — no fossil fuels required. Happening in Outer Mongolia. Happening EVERYWHERE.

          • Nathanael

            Bluntly, look up the Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy analyses. Solar and wind are far cheaper than any new-build fossil plant. Batteries are getting there fast. It’s insanity to build a new fossil-burning facility now.

  9. Pingback: The Week Observed, September 1, 2017 | City Observatory
  10. Benjamin Turon

    Back to the original post about an international treaty forbidding first-world governments from any consideration of post-2000 temperature rise, it’s an idea that is completely insane and it’s hard to believe it comes from the mind of a serious person. Who would support it? How would you define what counts as an accommodation of climate change and sea level rise? And how and who would enforce it?

    Does Mr. Levy know any world leaders who would gladly sign on to such a treaty? Angela Merkel? Emmanuel Macron? Donald Tusk? Shinzō Abe? Justin Trudeau? Paolo Gentiloni? Malcolm Turnbull? Donald Trump? In UK do you think that either Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, or Nicola Sturgeon would do so? What about regional leaders like London Mayor Sadiq Khan or California Governor Jerry Brown? And what about the OPEC and BRICS nations? Would Xi Jinping support such a treaty… if it included China as the world’s largest industrial nation emitting the most CO2? What about Spain, Israel, South Korea, Norway, Turkey, Singapore, or Ireland? Who politically would support it???

    Look, imagine you’re the mayor of a riverside small city of 25,000 people which has just suffered a severe flood event in August, unprecedented. It’s also not the first major flood, the last decade saw two far minor but still serious inundations. Downtown flooded and Main Street had four feet of water on it. The hospital flooded and two patients died. The high school too also flooded. You’re the leader of your community and you have big decisions to make on the rebuilding.

    A science team from the local state university tell you climate change from global warming is undoubtedly to blame for the size and frequency of the recent flood events. Locally in the region there has been an overall increase in temperature and rain fall. Snowpack as fallen but the number of severe downpours has increased. They predict that while the valley has since the days of early European settlement seen periodically big flood events (mostly from a sudden spring thaw and ice jams on the river) that such events will become more common in the future.

    The municipality owns a large parcel land uphill from downtown and you could build a new hospital and high school there. In a future emergency, they could serve as a shelter, command, and staging area. A combination of insurance, state, federal money, local fund raising, and a generous donation from a local grandee could make it happen? What would you do, if you were the mayor?

    Under Mr. Levy’s international treaty regime, the mayor would be forbidden to do undertake the logical, rational, sensible, prudent, and prescience action of moving vital public facilities and services to higher ground because: (1) his country had not done enough to limit its carbon emissions (2) other cities in poor nations are unable to raise the money to move their schools and hospital to higher and safer ground.

    How does this make sense?

    This idea about such a unworkable treaty is dumb on several levels, but primarily I can’t think of any first world nation that would sign on to such a treaty. To do so would be to see Global Warming as a major threat, and if you see climate change as such a threat then you’re likely to move to reduce your emissions and also build defenses to the damage which is already baked into the cake from decades of emissions, and the reality that even with major action emissions are likely to only slowly decline in the best scenario. You can’t eliminate damage but you can reduce it by: (1) reducing greenhouse gases emissions to reduce temperature increase (2) building communities and infrastructure to be more robust so to withstand rising seas and sever weather events.

    I understand the moral outrage behind Mr. Levy’s proposal, I just don’t see how he thinks it’s a pragmatic idea. As a transportation consultant would Mr. Levy advise a client against taking in account the effects of climate change? Would he tell NJ Transit to parking their rollingstock on the low ground during the next hurricane? For the MTA not to buy inflatable barriers to close off the subway tunnels from storm surge?

    I mean really???

    • Benjamin Turon

      Actually, in the USA Republicans are actually trying to do just what Mr. Levy proposes to do in his treaty… to completely ignore the effects of sea level rise and climate change. If I was him and took this idea of climate retribution seriously I would make a big donation to the GOP and to Koch Brother funded think tanks and super-pacs. Under Republican leadership much of America does nothing to reduce its emissions, but also does nothing to address the fallout from a warming world. So, no treaty needed!

      The State That ‘Outlawed Climate Change’ Accepts Latest Sea-Level Rise Report
      http://wunc.org/post/state-outlawed-climate-change-accepts-latest-sea-level-rise-report#stream/0

      Trump Can Say Whatever He Likes: He’s Made Rebuilding a Safe Houston Much, Much Harder: He weakened an important federal standard 10 days before the storm.
      http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/08/trump-can-say-whatever-he-likes-hes-made-rebuilding-a-safe-houston-much-much-harder/

      Trump Administration Delays Publication of Climate Science Special Report
      http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2017/08/31/administration-delays-publication-of-climate-science-special-report/

      • Alon Levy

        Yes, I saw – I included the administration’s canceling the flood rules in the main post. I saw a lot of Americans on Twitter denounce the administration’s changes for denialism, and never thought much of this. The ultimate problem is that not even the Democrats engage in any serious mitigation action. California’s cap-and-trade program is just $13 per t-CO2. The failed Kerry-Lieberman bill from 2010 was of similar magnitude and even then drew opposition from APTA, which hitched a ride with the car industry and demanded that all carbon fees raised from fuel be deeded to the construction of roads and transit. So Trump can’t cancel a carbon tax the way Tony Abbott did, because there’s no carbon tax, or any serious American climate action, to go after. Hence, symbolic stuff like the EPA’s research division or the adaptation rules.

    • Alon Levy

      Who would politically support it: Abe and the major European leaders probably would, as a way of getting the US to behave. It’s exactly the sort of thing Merkel and Macron would want. Nobody in the US would want such an imposition, but global action on climate change is going to have to be enforced on the US from outside – even the liberals in the US at best propose tenth- and twentieth-measures (calling California cap-and-trade a half-measure would be too charitable). Industrial exporters well-placed to take advantage of the boom in green technology might also like the idea, and China has been investing in this as industrial policy.

      My perception of China on climate change is pretty neutral, actually. It has an insanely high CO2/GHG ratio – and before Daniel Hartig sees a causal link with its fast growth, let me point out that nearly all former communist countries have high CO2/GHG ratios. But it’s also itself very vulnerable to coastal flooding, and the most at-risk regions include Shanghai, whereas the rural poor are safer. With the first world and third world, there’s an unambiguous direction of damage: economic activity in the US, and to a lesser extent Europe and Japan, is destroying sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. With China, it’s pretty neutral – it’s mostly destroying itself. The other issue with China is that it has high population density and dry winters, making it more vulnerable to air pollution, so it has an entirely domestic incentive to reduce coal use, independently of climate change, as does India. It’s not like the US, where the cars and coal and natural gas plants are spread so wide they don’t poison entire regions, just specific low-income areas like Bakersfield.

      • Benjamin Turon

        I don’t see any First World leader supporting it, you say the USA is not doing enough but what about Canada with its tar sands? Germany shut down its nuclear plants and coal plants took up the slack. Japan’s reactors are largely down, natural gas is replacing them from what NHK World reports, Japanese government wants to make big deals with US for gas. Norway is a major exporter of oil. Scotland wants to fund its independence with oil. Its not just the big bad USA screwing the world, all first world counties live in glass houses and I would throw in the BRICS and OPEC nations too.

        You seem to have a naive and highly opportunistic view of domestic and global politics. Just getting both political parties in the USA to acknowledge the problem and taking meaningful action to do something would be a big start. I don’t see the international community in the near term doing enough to halt global warming, the best I think we can hope for and actually work for is slowing the warming and limiting the damage. Perhaps by the latter half of the century things will change with better technology and more political demand for major action.

        • Benjamin Turon

          Justin Trudeau will sign our treaty… LOL!

          The Guardian: Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet
          https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/17/stop-swooning-justin-trudeau-man-disaster-planet

          EXCERPT: Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it’s hard to look away – especially now that he’s discovered bombs. But precisely because everyone’s staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don’t believe me? Look one country north, at Justin Trudeau. Look all you want, in fact – he sure is cute, the planet’s only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he’s mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over. But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in Washington.

          Trudeau says he ‘misspoke’ about phasing out oil sands
          https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/trudeau-says-he-misspoke-about-phasing-out-oil-sands/article33748712/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

          Justin Trudeau A ‘Stunning Hypocrite,’ Top Environmentalist Says
          http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/04/17/trudeau-oilsands-bill-mckibben_n_16061738.html

          ‘No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them’: Justin Trudeau gets a standing ovation at an energy conference in Texas
          http://www.businessinsider.com/trudeau-gets-a-standing-ovation-at-energy-industry-conference-oil-gas-2017-3

          • Benjamin Turon

            Exclusive: Japan considers buying more U.S. energy as Abe prepares to meet Trump
            http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-japan-lng-exclusive/exclusive-japan-considers-buying-more-u-s-energy-as-abe-prepares-to-meet-trump-idUSKBN15H0NJ

            EXCERPT: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering increasing energy imports from the United States, two sources familiar with the plan told Reuters, as he prepares to meet President Donald Trump, who has complained about Japan’s trade surplus. Japan is putting together a package of plans for Japanese companies to invest in infrastructure and job-creation projects in the United States for Abe to take to the Feb. 10 meeting with Trump in Washington. Another idea is to offer to increase liquid natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States, a source in the ruling coalition told Reuters. Another option, if Abe determines that Trump is most concerned about the trade gap, is to increase imports of U.S. shale oil or gas on top of the investment package, according to a top executive at a major Japanese corporation who is close to Abe.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Germany’s long goodbye to coal despite Merkel’s green push
            https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-coal-election/germanys-long-goodbye-to-coal-despite-merkels-green-push-idUSKBN1AI1HF

            Burning coal for power looks set to remain the backbone of Germany’s energy supply for decades yet, an apparent contrast to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ambitions for Europe’s biggest economy to be a role model in tackling climate change. Merkel is avoiding the sensitive subject of phasing out coal, which could hit tens of thousands of jobs, in the campaign for the Sept. 24 election, in which she hopes to win a fourth term. Although well over 20 billion euros are spent each year to boost Germany’s green energy sector, coal still accounts for 40 percent of energy generation, down just 10 points from 2000. To avoid disruption in the power and manufacturing sectors, coal imports and mines must keep running, say industry lobbies, despite the switch to fossil-free energy.

          • Alon Levy

            Trudeau is indeed a soft-denialist. He also runs a much more carbon-intensive economy than anything in Europe. In Canada the main way to reduce carbon emissions is to attack the points of production, by fighting the few ways oil can move from northern Alberta to consumers – not a lot of useful pipeline routes or railroads.

        • Alon Levy

          Germany is producing 30% of its electricity from renewables nowadays, which figure is rapidly rising and expected to get to 80% by midcentury. The problem really is specific to the US (and Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand as a special case because of beef exports). Norway, Europe’s answer to the UAE, emits about 10 metric tons of CO2-equivalent of GHG per capita annually, whereas the US emits 21. Germany is at 11 – the nuclear phaseout led to a temporary spike in coal use that has since receded, due to the growth of renewable energy. As of 2012-3, France (pro-nuclear, industrial importer) is at 7.5, whereas Sweden and Switzerland (industrial exporters but high hydro power share and high public transit usage) are at 6. Japan, which has high transit usage but is an industrial exporter and has more heating + cooling need than Europe (or the US), is at 11.

          Much of the international community is already trying to fix the problem, via investments in non-car transportation, building insulation (esp. Scandinavia and Germany), and renewable energy. In the US, nobody does that – even the liberal areas are choked with pro-car NIMBYs, and look askance at people who commute to professional jobs by bike.

          Naivete and opportunism are usually opposing forces in politics. I’m not interested in having Americans make solemn acknowledgements. Obama did that, while doing less to curb actual GHG emissions than most soft-denialist European center-right parties. I’m interested in actual steps reducing GHG emissions.

          • adirondacker12800

            Have the electric cars suck up the excess wind and hydro in the dead of night. Canadians drive a lot. …it’s not 2005 anymore, electric cars, right now, are cheaper to own than internal combustion cars, if you glance at total cost of ownership numbers. The restraint on how fast we transition to electric cars is going to be how fast production can ramp up.

    • adirondacker12800

      The Federal government has moved whole towns to higher ground. Small ones but it has been done.

      • Benjamin Turon

        Well the US is actually making some progress; greenhouse emissions have decreased 14% from 2005…

        CARBON BRIEF: Analysis: Why US carbon emissions have fallen 14% since 2005
        15 August 2017
        https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-why-us-carbon-emissions-have-fallen-14-since-2005

        Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that in 2016…

        – Overall, CO2 emissions were around 18% lower than they would have been, if underlying factors had not changed, and 14% lower than their 2005 peak.

        – Coal-to-gas switching in the power sector is the largest driver, accounting for 33% of the emissions reduction in 2016.

        – Wind generation was responsible for 19% of the emissions reduction.

        – Solar power was responsible for 3%.

        – Reduced electricity use – mostly in the industrial sector – was responsible for 18%. Without these changes, electricity sector CO2 emissions would have been 46% higher than they are today.

        – Reduced fuel consumption in homes and industry was responsible for an additional 12% of the overall emissions reductions.

        – Changes in transport emissions from fewer miles per-capita, more efficient vehicles, and less air travel emissions per-capita account for the final 15%.

        Lots of new rail transit systems have been built in the last two decades in places like Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City. Wind turbines are popping up all over, most notably in many deep red states like Wyoming and Texas. My cousin is an iron worker who has worked on many such projects. Driving home this summer from Utica I could see all the distant turbines from the NYS Thruway.

        As has been quoted much in the press there ae now far more people installing solar panels than mining coal. I myself have been very surprise by the number of solar panels popping up in my travels, my neighbor’s house across the street, the local lumber store, an airport in Vermont, they seem to grow like mushrooms in Vermont.

        Yes, we still drive gas powered cars but they are more efficient, and the Obama Administration had mandated that they become more efficient. Had Obama been followed by Hillary Clinton I think further progress would have been made, during the campaign she did say that she would “put many coal miners out of work” and her following clarification from the media firestorm that the off-the-cuff comment created noted that she would have to find them “new jobs” not that coal jobs would remain under her administration.

        There is a lot more the US could and should do, I think more support for nuclear power is one step. We can’t just switch from coal to natural gas, replacing nuclear with gas is counterproductive. The US Navy has a robust program of nuclear propulsion that has a very good safety record, replacing aging reactors with new onsite navy reactors I think would be a pretty straightforward project. Its existing technology, existing infrastructure and manufacturing with and a large pool of trained operators. A few miles from my house in West Milton NY there are two inland navy reactors used for training.

        FROM Wikipedia: “The new Bechtel A1B reactor for the Ford-class is smaller and simpler, requires fewer crew, and yet is far more powerful than the Nimitz-class A4W reactor. Two reactors will be installed on each Ford-class carrier, each one capable of producing 300 MW of electricity, triple the 100 MW of each A4W.”

        The small and compact navy reactors designed for installation in moving warships would be easier to base isolate, fortified, shelter, and contain than the massive civilian reactors like those at Fukushima. And they could be built next to existing reactors either active or decommissioned. Longer term there is technology like proposed fission-fusion hybrid reactors that could run on nuclear waste, creating an end waste product far less toxic then the current waste. Its radiation would decay to a safe level in thousands, opposed to millions of years!

        NY Times: A Nuclear Third Way

        Next is transportation. Electrifying America’s railroads should likewise be straightforward at least in terms of technology. It would require extensive federal financing due to the cost, in US railroad history large scale electrification projects led to serious financial problems at the New Haven, New York Central, and Milwaukie Road due to the costs of borrowing money. The Pennsy electrified its section of the NEC in the Great Depression with federal loans.

        But “motor” vehicles are where the big reduction could come from. While increase transit use and more transit-orient development could reduce emissions, large parts of America will remain into the far future suburban and car dominated. Look, despite much greater transit use even in other First World nations the car remains the dominant form of local everyday transport.

        I think the way to go is with replacing standard gasoline cars with series-hybrids. I watch a lot of programing on NHK World including the auto show “Samurai Wheels” and I was very much impressed by the Nissan Note e-Power. Now that is a car I would love to own, and it would fit my needs because most of the time in my daily commute I would run all-electric, charging my car at night from home, but for my longer trips including across Upstate NY and New England for rail photography it wouldn’t have any range anxiety. I read a review in the NY Times that a reporter was able to drive the GM Chevy Volt across Long Island all weeklong on battery power alone, recharging between trips. Getting Americans to adopt in mass this technology should significantly cut emissions in the transport sector.

        FORBES: Nissan’s Note E-Power: A Glimpse At The Hybrid Car Of The Future?
        https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterlyon/2017/01/31/nissans-note-e-power-a-glimpse-at-the-hybrid-car-of-the-future/#71ccf50f7797

        YouTube: Samurai Wheels-2017 Nissan Note e-Power

        NY Times: Chevy Volt Impresses With Tech, Design and Driving Pleasure

        • Benjamin Turon

          Going back to my hypothetical example of the mayor and the flooded town, besides moving important public facilities to higher ground which is an adoption to climate change, he could see that they are designed so that they use passive heating, cooling, and lighting; and that solar arrays can be built on the roofs, over the parking lots, or other places onsite. Besides being sustainable it would further aid in an emergency to have these facilities be able to run from onsite power generation.

          There also is the matter of vehicle fleets, the municipality likely as a sizable fleet, he could see to it that most vehicles bought were practical are fuel efficient, be they hybrids or pure-electric vehicles. This could also help in event of an emergency, if you could charge electric vehicles from the grid, solar panels, or other generators or electric storage units. In America historically selling big public projects and programs on the merits of future emergencies and defense as been a key selling point, look at our system of “defense highways”… LOL!

          P.S. I think that your naïve and “optimistic” about international and domestic politics, not “opportunistic”… my bad I’m not a good speller. I hope a silver lining from the ongoing disaster in Texas is more people and organizations awaking to the series challenge of climate change, even in First World nations. We will make out better than less fortunate people in poorer nations, but it still will be a growing hell on earth. I for one don’t want to lose my climate and landscape of Upstate NY for that of North Carolina… adding fire, floods, and invasive pests to that!

          • Benjamin Turon

            The mayor could also make his community more walkable (sidewalks and crosswalks!) and expand transit and transit-oriented development with a greater mix and density of housing, with shared use with office and commercial development.

  11. Benjamin Turon

    On Houston, I am wondering what people’s opinions would be on the effect that the proposed Texas Central Railway would have had if it existed today concerning evacuation and disaster relief in Houston. As I understand it the Shinkansen style system would be completely elevated, so that puts it high above the flood waters unlike many of the interstates and other highways. You can move a lot of people out of the city by train, and supplies and relief workers into the city.

    You couldn’t evacuate the entire city, but if you had a disaster plan that in 24 hours could move vulnerable populations from flood prone areas, to move people without vehicles or money, you could have transit buses pick them up and take them to the station, and then out of the city to Dallas. Pre-planning I think would be key, but even with no planning today if Houston had such a high-speed rail link, I do think they would be better off, they could move refuges from the convention center in Houston to Dallas.

    Just a thought!

    • Alon Levy

      HSR would be pretty much irrelevant to evacuation. You might be able to evacuate 3% of the metro area every day if you got a fleet sized for the Tokaido Shinkansen’s travel demand: 16 hours of useful service per day, 12-14 trains per hour, a thousand passengers per train, close to but not quite 100% occupancy. But Texas Central is going to get a fleet sized for ordinary Dallas-Houston travel demand rather than for Tokyo-Osaka, so the likely capacity for evacuation is going to be measured in fractions of one percent. I toyed with the idea of using a strong passenger rail network to evacuate Miami in the event of a flood, and the assumptions required to make it work are kind of lolzy.

      Elevated trains are indeed less vulnerable to floods. In cities with hurricanes and high water tables like Houston and Miami there’s no chance to build a subway; Miami’s rapid transit line is entirely elevated because of water table issues. But rapid transit would be even less useful for evacuation than intercity rail, since it has no reason to get out of the metro area, or to meander to connect the bayou floodplains with high ground within the region.

      • Benjamin Turon

        I thought of the “elevated” Texas Central after seeing so many still images and videos of Houston’s flooded expressways. Some parts of the highways are elevated, the USCG and National Guard were using them for helicopter operations. You obviously couldn’t evacuate an entire city, but it would be one more transport link that could in the thousands a day move out refugees now piling up at the convention center and move supplies and personal into the city. Its not a main reason, but it should be a good reason why the project should be built. From my understanding their having trouble getting supplies into the city because of flooded interstates, and problems at the airports.

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  13. scrane

    Your proposal is so bizarre that I don’t really know where to begin. I guess the first thing to say would be that it’s politically impossible – no local leaders would go for forcing people to develop in lands that are increasingly in danger of flooding, national leaders generally don’t have the power to do that, and wouldn’t end their careers in order to try, and even if the UN somehow got this treaty enacted, it’s not like they have the power to enforce it. And even if some militarized world dictatorship had the authority to enact and enforce this policy, how could they do it? Shoot everyone who tries to move away from a floodplain or drought-stricken region?

    The other point is that refusing climate adaptation is no longer an option. Even if every nation on Earth took the heroic measures necessary to completely stop emitting CO2 immediately, things would still continue getting worse than they are now, and they’re already much worse than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Never mind adapting to prospective climate change, much of the populated Earth has a lot of work to do just to adapt to the global climate as it is now. Of course, preferably mitigation will be improved, and adaptation won’t be so desperately urgent as it seems like it soon will be. But adaptation itself is not optional.

    Suggesting that we should force people to live in flood plains to increase their commitment to mitigation policy is like saying that we should deliberately spread diseases to increase people’s commitment to funding medical research. There are many diseases that plague undeveloped countries whose treatment could be improved by the committed resources of a hundred million wealthy citizens of developed countries, newly infected and willing to pay for a cure. It’s still a twisted and insane idea.

      • adirondacker12800

        The ABM treaty was an agreement to not spend stupid amounts of money on something that wouldn’t work.

      • scrane

        1. It’s easy to recognize when a nation breaks the ABM treaty – they start building and testing anti-ballistic missiles. Your treaty proposal governs a massive number of varied behaviors that make up “adaptation”, many of which are completely unnoticeable, unrecognizable, or indistinguishable from normal activity.
        2. The treaty is enforceable by the national government – it doesn’t require the cooperation private citizens, local governments, and businesses, since none of those entities have the capability to develop anti-ballistic missiles. Your treaty would require cooperation at every level of society, including people willingly subjecting themselves to increased suffering and risk of death for no personal benefit.
        3. The situation was much simpler, with only two single nations party to the agreement. Neither of them wanted the other to have anti-ballistic missiles, and each was willing to give up their own anti-ballistic missiles in order to achieve that goal. Your treaty involves a classic unsolvable free-rider problem involving every country on Earth, with asymmetric impacts, costs, and benefits.
        4. The ABM treaty involved willingly giving up missile defense systems that are incredibly expensive and do not work. Your treaty will involve nations sacrificing time-tested measures that can cost-effectively save lives, in favor of coercing their populations to put themselves in much higher risk of death and injury.

        Just stop bringing up the ABM treaty. It’s a completely different situation. The differences are obvious and substantial, and you should know that.

        • Alon Levy

          The big-ticket adaptation items satisfy every criterion you give for why ABM was different. They’re conspicuous, they’re expensive, they’re not obviously reliable, they’re so big that investment has to involve national funding. This is why local efforts at adaptation for the most part use adaptation as a veneer for policy that’s being decided for other reasons: they don’t have the tax capacity to build flood walls around New York or Miami. A Delta Works-scale project has to be done by a national government.

          As for the number of parties, to a good approximation there are four parties to any anti-apartheid treaty: the US, the EU, Japan, maybe China, maybe the UK separately from the EU (so far nobody’s willing to take responsibility for Brexit). The remaining developed countries aren’t vulnerable enough to matter for this, just as the UK, France, and China didn’t matter for ABM. And developing countries other than China are a combination of not huge emitters and not vulnerable enough to invest in adaptation.

          • Benjamin Turon

            I have to agree that this post and the proposal made within it is completely bizarre, as previously discussed (TOD in NJ) it could result in local zoning codes and other municipal decision making being subjected to an international treaty. For example, Houston might not be allowed to take in account the current flood in its planning for rebuilding. It be like the hurricane never happen, just rebuilt in the same place in the same way, take no account of the flood or other treaty members will pass sanctions. I know that a lot of international treaties and other agreements are maddingly complex like various free trade deals, but still, I don’t see how anyone would support such an idea in an advance economy. Especially since deciding who is and is not doing enough to address Global Warming could be very subject.

            Consider that while the US still remains one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and overall, it also is the nation which has cut its carbon emissions the most. Trump did pull out of the Paris Accord, but what if economic and technological change keeps pushing emissions down in the US? Do you still punish the US? And what about developing nations with rapidly rising emissions who are still building coal fire power plants, like India? True, it would be incredibly unfair for Indians and other third world people to remain impoverished… but you can’t simply have India replace the US if you want to make a serious dent in reducing the rising global temperatures. Everyone must make the technological leap to a low-carbon future.

            Finally, the idea that America’s allies will turn on it is laughable, showing it would seem ignorance of geopolitics and current events. Shinzo Abe race to meet with Trump at Trump Tower, beating Theresa May. It seems from NHK World that PM Abe is always chatting with Trump. Emmanuel Macron invited Trump to Bastille Day parade. And Justin Trudeau came down for a White House visit, alone with many other world leaders. They will likely pragmatically figure that Trump won’t be in office forever, and will seek to muddle through the next four years (more or less) until he is succeeded in office by a more conventional president.

            I do understand the moral sentiment behind the idea of a treaty punishing advance economies from doing little to control their emissions while taking steps to minimize the risk (from sea level rise, floods, droughts, fires, and other “natural” disasters) but in the end, it seems to be more like the extremist policy position adopted by an eco-terrorist group in a Michael Crichton or Clive Cussler novel. In righteous retribution, they attack flood walls and other defenses in advance economies.

            FORBES: The U.S. Leads All Countries In Lowering Carbon Dioxide Emissions
            https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2016/06/19/the-u-s-leads-all-countries-in-lowering-carbon-dioxide-emissions/#1b18fddc5f48

          • Alon Levy

            Abe, Macron, Trudeau, etc. are all being nice to Trump personally. Meanwhile, Trudeau is most likely bribing Trump to be nicer to Canada, and Macron is trying to get American climate scientists to emigrate to France.

            The article you’re linking to is giving absolute numbers, which is really stupid. In 5 years, US emissions fell by 270 million tons, per the article. UK emissions fell by 93 million tons, which is nearly twice the US rate per capita, and four times the US rate relative to emissions, since UK emissions are already about half as high. It’s instructive to look at the World Bank’s data, showing the trend since 1990.

          • adirondacker12800

            the Aritic ice sheets don’t give a flying leap where the reduction happened, who did or what it worked out to on a per capita basis.

  14. Benjamin Turon

    Well at least the US is moving in the right direction. But your treaty idea is really insane. Perhaps you should write an op-ed to a newspaper and see how they respond to your proposal.

  15. Jardinero1

    I live in Houston and this was a garden variety tropical storm that hits the area about every five to ten years. The storm dropped about 45 inches of rain over three days, or about 15 inches a day. There is nothing extraordinary about 15 inches of rain per day from a tropical storm. Tropical storms can easily drop 30 or more inches per day. What made this one different, this time, was that the storm stalled along a frontal boundary and dropped 15 to 20 inches of rain, per day, over the exact same spot, for three days straight. Normally, a storm would pass through before it could drop 45 inches of rain over a single place. Unless a stalled storm is because of climate change, this flooding had nothing to do with climate change. Unless you can hold up one city in America that can take 45 inches of rain, all at once, and not flood, then you can’t really say that mitigation would have helped.

    • Alon Levy

      There was an argument mentioned in one of my links (I think the BBC) saying that stalled storms are in fact more likely as a result of climate change. Something to do with a reduced heat gradient between the tropics and the poles making tropical storms move slower on average.

      • Benjamin Turon

        It has to due to a weaker Jet Stream due to a warmer Arctic, how the “stalling” effect could be a cause of Global Warming has been featured in several media stories, scientists quoted are not sure about this process and its link to global warming, if any

        How Climate Change Likely Heightened Harvey’s Fury
        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/hurricane-harvey-climate-change-global-warming-weather/

        “It’s possible, and even expected by some scientists, that climate change ultimately could drive steering currents to be even weaker. That could potentially compound the effect, allowing storms to stick around even longer. But so far there just isn’t any evidence of that. Put another way, Wehner says, “if there is a climate signal, it’s one that’s so weak we haven’t been able to detect it.” What he meant was: The circulation patterns that steer storms like Harvey have been weak in recent years, but that change has come on very quickly. That leads scientists to doubt it is connected to climate change.”

        • Benjamin Turon

          From my local paper…

          Cornell researcher: Melting Arctic helped make monster Houston hurricane
          http://www.timesunion.com/allnews/article/Melting-Arctic-helped-fuel-Houston-hurricane-12164938.php

          EXCERPT” While the Arctic is a long way from Houston, the continuing loss of polar ice from man-made climate change likely helped make Hurricane Harvey into a record-setting killer that dumped trillions of gallons of rain, according to a researcher from Cornell University.

          “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Charles Greene, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. He said the loss of Arctic sea ice is weakening high-altitude jet stream winds, which makes it more likely that powerful storms like Harvey can “stall” in place.

          Greene also studied Superstorm Sandy, which in 2012 slammed New York and the Northeast in 2012, and found that storm lingered after being blocked by a stalled weather system in the northern Atlantic. Sandy was the second-costliest storm in U.S. history.

          “Arctic warming likely played an important role in making Hurricane Harvey such an extreme killer storm. With sea ice loss and Arctic amplification of greenhouse warming, the jet stream slows down, meanders more, and frequently results in stalled weather systems,” he said.

          “This week, we are seeing the effects of another stalled weather system,” said Greene. “Houston would have suffered much less damage if the storm had just crashed through the city and petered out in west Texas. But instead, the storm system stalled in place and continued to dump record amounts of rainfall from the Gulf of Mexico on the city.”

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