09 Junio 2017 14:52
Goodbye Spain. Goodbye Mexico. Farewell, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Hello vast, empty deserts.
‘This is the climate change map for those who don’t believe in climate change.’
This was how Parag Khanna, a researcher on globalisation at the Kuan Yew School, defined the controversial map that shows what the world would be like if it were 4ºC warmer. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it would seem showing excessively catastrophic results isn't enough to convince the deniers. This map, however, gives us something new and positive: besides the areas affected by the tragedy, it also shows possible solutions for inhabiting our new, warmer planet.
Here are some of the conclusions outlined on the map:
- Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil have been turned to desert.
-West Antarctica, Siberia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Greenland, North Russia and New Zealand will be the countries hosting most climate-change refugees and where crops can still be grown.
-The Arctic will be fully green after the ice has melted. It will be a navigable trade route throughout the year linking Canada and Russia.
-Southern Europe: Spain, half of France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and other cities in southern Europe have turned to desert, apt only for harnessing solar and geothermal energy. Cities like Barcelona, Venice and Istanbul have been flooded.
So what was right about this map, published in 2009 in New Scientist?
According to more recent studies, the map was too optimistic. In fact, a mere 0.5ºC rise in temperatures would have a fatal impact on the planet. Climate change, it would seem, drives a hard bargain.
This is what three climate experts have confirmed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL): a half degree averaged out over the globe would mean a far greater increase in certain places during certain times of the year.
They talked about the 2015 Paris Agreement, and its aims to limit the increase to 1.5ºC, which is lower than what was shown on the map, but equally dangerous according to these scientists.
'Most of that temperature change may occur during a small fraction of the year, when it actually represents conditions that could be 5 or 10 degrees warmer than pre-industrial temperatures,' said Dave Schimel, who supervises JPL’s Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems group.
He also adds that there are places in the world that are already at the maximum temperatures that basic food crops can tolerate, and that temperature increase studies often overlook the fact that plagues and pathogens spread at greater speed at higher temperatures.
It's possible the 2009 map has had a negative effect on people’s awareness, making them feel more at ease than they should. Since, according to Schimel, ‘If we aim for 2 degrees, we might hit 3 degrees.’ Felix Landerer, who studies sea and ice levels in the same laboratory puts it another way: ‘At two degrees of temperature increase you might have crossed a threshold. (...) Even if we are able to stabilise air temperatures, we’ll have already committed to sea-level rise over multiple centuries. So it’s good to stay away from two degrees. That’s an experiment you don’t want to run. Because that experiment would potentially wipe Florida off the map.’
Michelle Gierach, from JPL, concludes with a poignant reflection on an attitude that's all too prevalent in our society: ‘We want to see instant results. That’s not something that’s going to happen with climate change. You need to just keep pursuing it and know that generations down the road will reap the benefits.’