Swiss Re

The largest reinsurance company has just produced a documentary
Global Warming: The Signs and the Science for the US (temperatures are in Fahrenheit). I just watched it on PBS.

The documentary is along the same lines of other documentaries on the subject with some minor differences. Social equity is emphasized: when we see a couple in China buying their first car, we are told the Chinese want what YOU already have. (The number of people in the world who use Fahrenheit and rely primarily on public transit/muscle is fairly small.)

Social justice is also emphasized. Black Americans will suffer disproportionately from climate change. Because blacks are more often poor, more susceptible to asthma (ragweed pollen may increase by more than half if atmospheric carbon levels double), more unable to afford huge air conditioning bills. A Central American town was devastated after it got 25 years of rain in 3 months in a strong El Nino year — El Ninos appear to be occurring more frequently as the climate changes. In Colorado, the drought is almost a decade old, and it’s driving particularly the older ranchers out of business. It isn’t just a decrease in precipitation, but a change in when it occurs, so there isn’t the water to feed cattle in the summer.

Rice, 30% of the calories humans consume, will be 10% less productive with a 1 C increase. With a 1 C increase, the soil in England, everywhere, will be dryer, and 10% more rain will be needed just to keep the soil from becoming dryer.

Some scientists speak. Martin Parry, co-chair of IPCC Working Group 2 (the impacts), says that we will need 10 to 20 times the Kyoto level reductions to keep climate change from being a problem. Kyoto was intended to be just a modest first step.

Stephen Schneider doesn’t look happy. “It took 100 million years of co-evolution of climate and life to give the distribution and kind of species we have. In one generation, or two generations, one species, us, so clawing over one another to get richer faster that we didn’t stop to think about what kind of damage we could do to tens of percent of the rest of the creatures. I think people in the future will look back on our generation and ask, ‘What was wrong with their values?'”

There is some emphasis on changing our behavior — students in a New Jersey and a Beijing school paying attention to turning lights off, etc. The discussion of technology, biodiesel, Nebraska farmers, and wind and solar, is both overly optimistic and realistic — we can only slow climate change. Definitely check out the Montreal green housing — the neighbors have to be jealous of the yearly $50 utility bill.

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