Thursday, November 2, 2017

Death Spiral

This week, the British medical journal, The Lancet, put out their annual assessment on the impact of climate change on human health. The report examines a small number of human health indicators and a much larger slate of human climate intervention measures to arrive at the conclusion that:
Many of the trends show positive change with time, most notably in global investment in zero-carbon energy supply, energy efficiency, new coal-fired electricity capacity, employment in the renewable energy sector, and divestment in fossil fuels. However, the change is relatively slow and must accelerate rapidly to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Just how slow the change has been and how rapidly it must be accelerated is the subject of a report, also issued this week, by financial gurus from Stanford and the Hoover Institute. Both of these reports are a bit too opaque for the general reader, but the Energy 202 clarifies one salient point from the latter, i.e. that 2/3 of all private investment capital would have to go to clean energy projects in order for the world to meet the 2 C upper limit set by the Paris agreement.  Right now, the proportion of investment in this sector is less than 1/5 out of the total $3.4 trillion invested by pension, mutual, and sovereign wealth funds, alongside billionaires. So much for The Lancet report's saving grace, huh?

As we would expect in a report about human health effects, mortality due to weather-related disasters and diseases is reported by The Lancet. The figures appear to be fairly steady over the past ten years - nothing to get excited about. For that, one needs to look at forecasts, rather than statistics.

From Albert Bates at The Great Change
One forecast that includes global death rates is The Limits to Growth. The notional curve portrayed in this World 3 result shows deaths beginning to climb within the next few years as food scarcity kicks in and industry output declines. Sometime before 2050, deaths begin to skyrocket. A forecast curve showing climate-related deaths only, by Sam Carana, shows a similar steep rise in the next few years after being lulled by such steady, predictable death rates over the past half century. 

Point being, that we can't expect to keep seeing a stable death rate, whether due to climate factors or in general. Life is going to become much more precarious. The Lancet understates the severity of our predicament, but deserves the last word for prompting this look at how close we might be to human extinction.
We found that the symptoms of climate change have been clear for a number of years, with the health impacts far worse than previously understood... Climate change has serious implications for our health, wellbeing, livelihoods, and the structure of organised society. Its direct effects result from rising temperatures and changes in the frequency and strength of storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves—with physical and mental health consequences. The impacts of climate change will also be mediated through less direct pathways, including changes in crop yields, the burden and distribution of infectious disease, and in climate-induced population displacement and violent conflict.

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