In contrast to the previous chapter this one was rough reading as we returned to the doomsday predictions.
One of the more audacious parts was “For instance, a landmark 2009 study by a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the effects of climate change will be twice as severe as those they projected as recently as six years ago.” (pg 58) Dire, indeed, but ultimately meaningless without context. What will be twice as severe? Will the planet warm 0.07 degrees Celsius instead of 0.035? Will the oceans rise 0.5 cm instead of 0.25? Those are bad, yes, but not doomsday-level doubling. On the other hand, if100 million hectares of crop land fail instead of 50 million that could be catastrophic. Doubling is a relative term and you need context for it to mean anything.
Another alarmist part that made me laugh a little was “If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would raise sea level 23 feet.” (pg 61) No doubt that would be calamitous. But is that a realistic outcome? Brown goes on to say that the Arctic is warming faster than any other part of the planet, but provides no follow-up on how much of the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt or what conditions would likely have to be met for it to melt completely. Without either of those that statement is essentially a fun fact that boils down to “There is a lot of ice in Greenland.”
A musk ox enjoying the cold of the artic.
As the chapter continued I thought it got a lot better and I thought the part about the plant pollination process was particularly interesting. “The most vulnerable part of a plant’s life cycle is the pollination period. Of the world’s three food staples – rice, wheat, and corn – corn is particularly vulnerable. In order for corn to reproduce, pollen must fall from the tassel to the strands of silk that emerge from the end of each ear of corn. […] When temperatures are uncommonly high, the silk strands quickly dry out and turn brown, unable to play their role in the fertilization process.” (pg 70) I think this is a major effect of rising temperatures that ought to get more attention. We always hear about the ice melting and super hurricanes or whatever but if staple crops are starting to fail to be pollinated that has much more immediate and dire consequences for us as a species and our planet as a whole. Between the increased difficulty in pollinating, the water wars described in a previous chapter, and inefficient irrigation methods he will describe later in the book it seems to me that our food supply is the weak link that will cause us harm long before rising sea levels and such does.