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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Climate change in the Age of Trump: A "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions"

by Gaius Publius

Sometimes I really think people don't know what we're in for...

Notice the massive river deltas (blue dots) and other large low-lying areas (purple), including the North China Plain, the Chinese "breadbasket" (source; click to open at full size in a new tab).

We're about to witness a kind of "perfect storm," perhaps in our lifetime — the confluence of soon-to-be out-of-control climate degradation with the perfect person in the perfect place to make that degradation worse, President Donald Trump.

First, on the effect of Trump on military climate policy, from Scientific American (emphasis mine):
The military and intelligence communities may soon turn a blinder eye toward some climate change-related threats, indicated by President-Elect Donald Trump’s recent choices of climate-change skeptics for  national security jobs, along with his own dismissive comments. But though experts say Trump and his team could roll back some recent initiatives, the momentum of bureaucracy, along with a military need to take the long view, mean climate-related plans are unlikely to be abandoned entirely.

The Department of Defense and the intelligence community have long considered climate change a crucial input into national security planning and policy. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said climate “can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.” The Pentagon calls this a “threat multiplier.”

Yet Trump has tapped retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn to be his national security advisor, and Flynn has ridiculed the idea that climate change poses any particular threat to the country. Congressman Mike Pompeo (R–KS) has been named to head the CIA, and he has questioned the scientific consensus on climate change and has voted for more oil drilling and against any regulation of carbon emissions. Joshua Busby, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied the intersection of climate change and national security, says the appointments mean “some of the gains made by the Pentagon and other executive agencies to prepare for the security consequences of climate change could be undone.”
Anti-climate policy changes at the Pentagon will almost certainly be replicated in NASA via the defunding of its climate science research:
Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.

This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”.
Let's set aside the fact that this and similar moves will make the U.S. a pariah among nations. Set aside the consequences of moving, but not quickly enough, to mitigate (lessen) the climate disaster — a likely outcome under Clinton. Consider instead the consequences of moving as aggressively as possible to increase the problem and magnify the disaster.

That's climate change in the Age of Trump — accelerating over the cliff.

The Coming Climate Refugee Crisis — 200 Million and Counting

It's estimated that in the world today there are more than 36 million refugees from climate and other natural disasters, more than for any other cause, including war. Under any president that number would increase, but certainly under Trump it's set to increase to disastrous proportions. Let's start with what the National Geographic thinks would happen anyway: 
The International Red Cross estimates that there are more environmental refugees than political refugees fleeing from wars and other conflicts. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says 36 million people were displaced by natural disasters in 2009, the last year such a report was taken. Scientists predict this number will rise to at least 50 million by 2050. Some say it could be as high as 200 million.
Two hundred million refugees isn't just a humanitarian crisis; it's a military one as well. This is what Europe looked like when an unchecked mass migration took place in Roman times.

Every border in Europe was politically and ethnically redrawn. 

What you see above took place in roughly 400 years. Imagine a migration of this scale taking place in one tenth the time — in just 30 years, roughly the time between now and the article's mentioned date of 2050.

What If the Estimates Are Too Conservative?

Now consider that no recent reputable climate estimate has been wrong in a conservative direction — wrong because things are moving more slowly than anticipated. Almost nothing in the climate world is moving more slowly than expected. In fact, a great many climate estimates are very wrong in the other direction — because things are moving a whole lot faster than anyone thought they would.

Then consider the Trump Effect, that what would have happened anyway will certainly be made worse by Trump, both by his acceleration of the cause (CO2 and methane emissions) and by his armed and deadly reaction to its results.

With that in mind, let's look again at that perfect refugee storm we've been talking about.

First, consider the population-size estimate. The National Geographic article mentions up to 200 million refugees. The nation of Bangladesh alone holds 158 million people. Most of its land will be quickly under water or be threatened by water under any significant sea level rise (see map above). Where will they go? India is already planning to keep them out. And that's just one small region. The entire world holds a human population of 7.5 billion and many similar low-lying regions and large deltas.

So, what if the estimates above are too conservative? An world environmental refugee population of 200 million in 35 years seems like a lot, but it's really only 2.5% of world population. Climate threatens far more people than that. If 150 million in just Bangladesh are panicked and trying to escape, they alone would account for most of that total.

What if not just 2.5% of world population, but 10% or 20% of world population fell into environmental refugee status? We're now looking at 700 million to 1.5 billion people, not just fleeing, but starving, fighting and dying as well. In other words, utter world chaos of every type imaginable. It would in fact be far worse than the migrations through Europe pictured above, and not just because of the time compression. People didn't mass-migrate into Europe from the east during Roman times because they were dying at home and bringing epidemia with them. The mass migration pictured above involved people who were, in the main, healthy.

Next, consider the time estimate. Nothing says this crisis has to be linear, with a relatively slow and steady ramp-up to the (totally arbitrarily chosen) year of 2050. Donald Trump will be president (one presumes) through 2020. Collapses often happen very quickly. What if the bottom falls out between now and, say, 2024, perhaps while he's still in office, then picks up speed? A world refugee crisis that blows up in the next 10 years compresses the time scale to an impossible-to-deal-with degree, yet anyone still alive in the next ten years or so might watch it. The Trump Effect.

As I said above, climate change in the Age of Trump could be a perfect storm, a disaster in which no way to make it worse goes unexplored.

The One Road Out

Interestingly, from that horrific possibility comes the route away, the one road home. Imagine what would happen, in this pre-revolutionary country, if Trump doubles down on this, in North Dakota?
'People Are Going to Die': Father of Wounded DAPL Activist Sophia Wilansky Speaks Out

Is devastating policy brutality against water protectors in North Dakota a harbinger of what's to come when Donald Trump takes office?

Sunday's brutal police assault against peaceful Dakota Access Pipeline activists left one water protector, Sophia Wilansky, at risk of losing an arm, and her distraught father spoke out Tuesday and Wednesday against the shocking show of force and demanded government action.

Wayne Wilansky, a 61-year-old lawyer and yoga teacher from New York City, spoke to a reporter in a Facebook live feed about his daughter's devastating injury, allegedly caused by a concussion grenade.

"This is the wound of someone who's a warrior, who was sent to fight in a war," Wayne said. "It's not supposed to be a war. She's peacefully trying to get people to not destroy the water supply. And they're trying to kill her."

Most of the muscle tissue between Sophia's left elbow and wrist as well as two major arteries were completely destroyed, Wayne said, and doctors pulled shrapnel out of the wound.

The Morton County Sheriff's Department has denied using concussion grenades or any equipment that could cause an injury like Sophia's, despite witness accounts and the shrapnel recovered by surgeons from Sophia's arm. [Note: There's video of recovered cannisters.]

The police in Morton County, North Dakota are acting with such brutality, Wayne warned, that eventually "people are going to die."
"Eventually, people are going to die." And then what? The murder of more non-violent protesters as people gather in response? Before the 2008 economic crisis, this would not have occurred. But after that crisis, with nearly everyone in the country in revolt (remember, they elected Trump and nearly elected Sanders), I don't see either side standing down.

This is the rolling civil war I talked about, something the nation's leaders seem determined to push people into. It would be a terrible way to settle the nation's economic disputes, but when it comes to racial murder or climate justice for all succeeding generations, I'm not sure I see the alternative, sad as it is to say that.

Stay tuned.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)