What is our legacy on climate change? Where should our grandchildren live?

Midwest superstorm

The image is a satellite photo of the US superstorm taken on October 26, 2010. At the time, Bigfork, Minnesota reported the lowest pressure ever recorded in a U.S. non-coastal storm, 955 mb. It was just one of the many records broken in 2010 when the weather seemed to go a bit crazy.

If the paleoclimate record is anything to go by, our legacy for current levels of CO2 will be 2-3C temperature rise and 25metres, plus or minus five, of sea level rise. Remember that during the last glacial maximum the temperature was 5-6C lower and the sea level about 120 metres lower. On that record we should count ourselves lucky to get away with only 25 metres.

But the full effect of that would take centuries or even millenia. In another post at Climate Progress Joe Romm asks where would be the best place to live in 2035 or 2060? In other words, what is our legacy for our children and grandchildren?

In the first linked post above, those who are in a position to know tell us that the weather is likely to be considerably crazier. Meteorologist and former NOAA Hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters:

In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability. Natural variability probably did play a significant role in the wild weather of 2010, and 2011 will likely not be nearly as extreme. However, I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame. We’ve bequeathed to our children a future with a radically changed climate that will regularly bring unprecedented weather events–many of them extremely destructive–to every corner of the globe. This year’s wild ride was just the beginning. (Emphasis mine)

Climate scientists are reframing the question of attribution. James Hansen:

Would recent extreme “events have occurred if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?” The “appropriate answer” is “almost certainly not”.

Kevin Trenberth:

“It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”

Romm thinks that sea level rise is going to impact seriously on coastal real estate prices in the 2020s in the US. Most responsible scientists are now reckoning on about 1.2 metres by the end of the century with 2 metres the likely maximum. Storm surges will be a big worry and within 50 years there might be movement of people and a premium on areas that are seen as safer. From memory (the information is in a comment in an old post not yet up on our present site) with 30cm of sea level rise, likely by 2060, a 100-year storm surge event becomes a one in three-year event.

Regional climate predictions are trickier. Some things are reasonably clear’ like the progressive melting of mountain glaciers and an expansion of the tropics, giving drier conditions in what are now some of the world’s prime grain producing belts. But who can tell you what the pattern of future of El Niño and La Niña events will be?

The really startling aspect for me in comments at Climate Progress was the common assumption that there would be social breakdown, that you would have to grow most of your own food and be prepared to defend your patch with a gun.

Does this represent the excesses of US individualism? At comment 80 bill mckibben said:

What’s going to be important in the future are strong, intact communities. Fossil fuel made us the first people on earth with no practical need of our neighbors, and as a result our communities have withered. But when times are tough, neighbors are what get you through. So settle in, go to church or synagogue or mosque or whatever, support your local food growers and other businesses, volunteer at the nursing home, be a useful part of a place. That will pay you more dividends (psychic and practical) than stockpiling food and oiling your guns.

Three comments later a commenter said “what utter tripe” and before JR snipped it, said kumbaya is not going to do it.

I’m with mckibben.

So what do you think? What will the world be like in 2035 and 2060? If you were buying real estate for you progeny, where would you buy?

One clue might be that the temperature will not rise as much in the tropics as it will in higher latitudes. And if you look for elevation, that makes it cooler than the coast. Atherton Tablelands, anyone?

If you want to see which coastal areas are going to go squishy you could try this flood map.

PS: I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post it. people may be more motivated to think about other places given how the weather has treated them in recent weeks!

54 thoughts on “What is our legacy on climate change? Where should our grandchildren live?”

  1. The hills behind the Huon Valley are the place I’ve often thought of. On the edge of the western wilderness where you can hide, heaps of fresh water, and steep hillsides that can easily take many metres of water rising.

  2. Im with NZ – though check the sea rise maps first.

    Thanks Brian – yet more compelling evidence that inaction on climate change is pure economic (let alone ecological) recklessness.

  3. It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both

    That’s fair but not very useful. The reality is that we are never going to be able to say with absolute certainty that this or that extreme weather event would not have happened but for radiative forcing of global climate.

    That it seems to me is neither here nor there. An unknown (but probably quite large) number of them and an unknown (but probably quite large) portion of their severity will absolutely be the consequence of radiative forcing. If it isn’t this one, then it’s the next one, and if this suffering isn’t attributable, it’s this other one. The general point stands and we migh as well respond as if this particular one was indeed an instantiation of the general trend.

    Note 1: David Karoly yesterday argued cogently that AGW was at least in part a predisposing factor in the severity of the QLD floods. There’s a post on BNC as well.

    Note 2: If sea levels by 2100 are only 70cm higher as a result of deglaciation and thermal expansion, every storm surge event is to that extent more severe.

    Note 3: I’m not sure I can ethically answer where my children should live. Plainly, not everyone can live in all the best places and I’m an egalitarian. The Earth is just one boat, metaphorcially speaking, and we have to make sure that there aren’t maniacs at the helm and the boat is maintained for the benefit of all.

  4. New Zealand isn’t specific enough for me. I looked at around Christchurch, where I think you can get high enough (I’d say at least about 15 metres for the next century or two). The rainfall seems a bit marginal to be growing your own stuff, if that’s important, considering I think it’s supposed to get drier.

    I thought of further south, near Invercargill, but they have some low land there.

    I think Greenland is too accessible to the large NH populations who might like to move, and not convinced it would be a good place in that short a time frame.

  5. Brian, I don’t know if this has been officially recognized or not but I noticed that in 2010 Japan seemed to experience no serious typhoons. It also had an exceptionally long and hot summer, and I think they might be linked. If temperature patterns in the oceans change so that the typhoons stop coming, maybe there will be some places that suffer less extreme storm events – even as they suffer more extreme heat events.

    But I agree, strong communities are the key, not survivalism. In fact a little while back on my blog I started a very very small version of that argument, when I observed that the key skills for surviving a zombie apocalypse are adaptability and leadership, not the ability to hunt and shoot.

    And obviously everything you need to know about surviving catastrophes can be determined by reference to zombiepocalypse.

  6. I’m quoting from an e-mail a friend of mine in Armidale sent to me yesterday. I’m sure she won’t mind.
    “Aren’t the floods full on! Nice to live on the watershed of the dividing range, another plus for living in Armidale”
    I agree with her.
    Though when the crunch comes, whenever it is, one has to worry. Beyond the plains on the other side of the range, is, if I haven’t got my geography wrong, an awful lot of desert. And as I understand it CC is really going to mess up our present food-bowls., It really is too depressing to think about much.

  7. Fran, I can’t see the ethical problem in trying to do the best for your progeny as a plan B. If one has the means, and for this exercise I’m assuming one does.

  8. Increasingly chaotic weather leading to a gutted economy –
    Parts of South Gippsland in Victoria have reliable rainfall, fertile soil and standing timber, find something with a northerly aspect and avoid the commercial / tourist centres

  9. I’m looking at parts of [redacted] because they’re good farming country with reasonable transport access and excellent communications. I agree that community will be critical – you want a population of at least 5000 locally and access to a city of at least 50,000, just to make living above a subsistence level possible. From experience I’d rather support the farmers than be a farmer, but I have skills for both. The idea of living somewhere with a local community electricity supply appeals – in Australia that really means wind or the as-yet unbuilt CSP. Or Tasmania.
    I really don’t think we’re going to get widespread loss of community except perhaps at the lowest level, where the dancing monkeys in charge of the US/China/Europe could easily lose what vague grasp of relatity they still have. Don’t be surprised to see the US “take an interest in” food production rather than just oil, for example, by invading one of the foodbowl African nations (Zimbabwae springs to mind).

  10. Brian said:

    Fran, I can’t see the ethical problem in trying to do the best for your progeny as a plan B. If one has the means, and for this exercise I’m assuming one does.

    I totally get that, but I’m uncomfortable nonetheless. It’s like the air raid shelter problem. If you have an air raid shelter, whom do you allow in, during an air raid, and on what basis, given that the resource is limited? You can’t let everyone in, and indeed you can’t even let in all the people you care about more than strangers. You might have to exclude members of your own family or start doing some pretty disturbing calculus.

    In a more general sense, there’s a distrubing slippery slope here. If one indulges the view that one can (albeit as a Plan B) secure the people one cares about against serious degradation of the biosphere, what does one do as one begins to become despondent at the possibility of a general solution?

    Finally, the more general problem is that if there is a serious degradation of the biosphere, so much so that there is a contest for the best ground, one can scarcely imagine that those who’ve missed out will simply accept their fate, on the basis that their ancestors missed the chance to lock in a title. One will be forced to yield it, or defend it by force. In any event, a world in which much of the best agricultural land were inundated, in which industrial and transport systems were persistently disrupted would not yeield a lot of benefit to the fortunate few within the laager.

    What we humans have been forced to confront over the last 13,000 years or so, is that we need each other. Sure good land and adequate clean water is better than he alternative but it’s human collaboration which is the source of maintainable wealth. Ecosystem services as a whole underpin that and we cannot let them go. There is no “Plan B” to deploy if we cock up the ecosystem. What we will have is chaos and misery on a grand scale with all of us dwelling in an ethical as well as physical wasteland.

  11. It’s clear to me that NZ and/or Tassie represent the best locations for Australians. New Guinea highlands would be perfect if the country wasn’t such a basket case.

    Mind you I’m not into this US apocalyptic “doomsteading” view; I think it’s naive, egocentric fairytale stuff. People all over the world are no strangers to marginal land – we in Australia should know that – and as per usual, the poorer, disenfranchised etc will end up in marginal areas, as they often are now.

    So I think it’s more about lifestyle choice, and also in terms of investment. My mother’s new beach house at Tin Can Bay looks like a great property investment now, but by 2030 I think a lot of the shine will have come off.

  12. “Isn’t South Gippsland fire prone?”

    Parts of it are but given another prolonged drought the same could be said for any area, including the Atherton Tablelands.

    I’m currently in Foster and this town was not affected by the recent drought and fires, there are many small towns like this and most have a strong community spirit.

    The hardest part is finding an income but I’m getting there,
    Bill McKibbens’ advice is spot on re fitting in and being usefull to the community – I would add that sorting wants from needs is an important first step, as are veggie gardens, fruit trees and cute edible critters.

  13. @LeftyE Given the return time on that fault in Chch is ~100ka, I think you’d be pretty safe. Safer (in terms of earthquake risk) than most other parts of NZ anyway.

    In terms of sea level rise, the best places to be might be the west coast (there’ll still be plenty of water over there) Southland or Horowhenua might be ok too. Even my hometown of Dunedin should be ok, although you’re right in noting that South Dunedin is likely to be under water.

    The North Island and the east side of the country are already drying up – they’ve had ‘drought’ conditions for the last couple of years in the summer in the Waikato, although that really means that the dairy farmers can’t get the same amount of milk off their herds as normal, rather than any major lack of water per se.

  14. Rob W @ 18:”…the same could be said for any area, including the Atherton Tablelands.”

    While I have seen it relatively dry up here, about 10 years ago, I rather sit a drought out up in the Wet Tropics than down South. However, you have to be able to cope with the terrible forces of cyclonic winds and monsoonal deluges. Just a few hours ago a tropical low sprung up near Willis Island, to go against all the weather models. We probably will be on cyclone watch by tomorrow morning. Just yesterday my neighbour told me, how extraordinary well the community in Ravenshoe has treated her husband on Christmas day. He had to work on that day to reestablish power lines that had been brought down by Cyclone Tasha. She commented that’s why she prefers to live out here rather than in the suburbs. Been without power and phone for days after a good blow. Also the Kuranda Range road down to Cairns is notorious for landslides in the wet. The railway had been out for months on that stretch.

    And Rob is spot on in his last para.

  15. Fran,

    “There is no “Plan B” to deploy if we cock up the ecosystem. What we will have is chaos and misery on a grand scale with all of us dwelling in an ethical as well as physical wasteland”

    It is too late. We have already done the damage. We are now into population overshoot and there is nothing that can be done to prevent full on climate change. The population will rise to 9 billion by 2050 and in the so doing accelerate the problem. It is not that we cannot create a turnaround, it is that we will not achieve it. As NASA’s Dr Jonathan Trent in his Omega presentation says, “if the population is to rise to 9 billion and the sustainable population is 4 billion, how do we nicely suggest to 5 billion people that they should cease to be” (or words to that effect). The fact is that nature will take its course.

    There are 2 sides to this post. Where to be is one thought. The other is very much where not to be as the environmental penny drops. How do we avoid an early demise. There is more that we can do about this if we stop to think about it, and it is the simple things that wil have the greatest effect.

    Simple things to do

    1. Cover up. Malarial mosquitos are becoming very wide spread, along with the mosquitoes that carry Ross River fever and Denge fever.

    2. Learn what your local climate change vulnerabilities are and start to prepare.

    3. If you are a young couple and are talking romantically about a large family, rethink that plan.

    4. Having rethought the family plan, rethink the McMansion. Consider your building preferences in the light of your local Climate Change vulnerabilities.

    5. Seriously consider an electric vehicle, and buy robust bicycles.

    6. Look for work much closer to your preferred living zone. If it does not exist consider creating it.

    7. Research sustainable careers. Retrain if necessary. A sustainable career is one that requires the least consumption of physical resources.

    8. Learn how to grow basic food crops such as beans, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, herbs, oil palms, flax. Train yourself to water plants regularly and reliably.

    9. Become more community connected. Buy more locally produced goods. Produce more goods locally.

    10. Learn how to make simple clothes. Develop your practical maintenance skills.

    11. Pester the hell out of your local MP about why they are sitting on their hands on global warming.

  16. Brian, the higher ground in Tassie near the Huon (fresh seafood) and the hills around Dunedin appeal because climate scientists propose that it will still rain in those regions as CC/GW tightens its grip on our biosphere. You posted a chart about it last year.

    As Fran, Rob and others point out, prevailing social and political realities will also be very important where ever our progeny set up house 2050. Makes the above locations more appealing. Buffered so, GenNext and their eye twinkles would not be immediately embroiled in the chaos as the basics of life become relatively and in some regions permanently scarce.

    The way things are going long term though, Gaia’s goose looks pretty well cooked. Somehow we just don’t seem to be getting through to the people who make The Big Calls that bear upon our biosphere’s future.

  17. Bilb

    Your spot on, except 11. No point.
    Also , Teach yourself not to waste ANYTHING!
    And talk to the oldest people you can, the knowledge they have took nearly a century to obtain . Its valuable.

  18. Craigy, your comment about old folks jogged my memory about a thing I thunk the other day, when considering hand-me-down food recipes.

    The knowledge, wisdom and skills of our grandparents are especially valuable because thev’ye not been filtered through the selfish stupidity of our parents.

    [mine excepted of course – hi Mum and Dad!]

  19. sg @8 You know about community resilience I guess?

    Intersting article, one question tho.

    Do you think advanced skills in group dynamics, planning, and getting shit done really just belong in the urban world tho.

    Surely its this sort of thing that basically gets everything done, everywhere and when done.

    The modern urban world does seem to demand more of those skills simply cos of the rate of change, sure.

    Isn’t that just increasing our exposure to the very stresses that brought humans to this point – modern urban living? Does that mean that in some ways its better to encourage your kids to live in a modern urban environment than prepare for a future in a climate changed world? Because ultimately thats what’ll best equip them to survive?

    Anyway just got me wondering.

    If thats in the context then the communities are going to need lots of resilience cos urban environments … well look at Brisbane at the moment. Its kind of easier to deal with a proportionally similar flood in a place like Kyogle. There’s so many people, so much resource that has to moved around for the place to function.

    The entire population of Australia can’t move from cities either. (Can they?) Is there anywhere in Australia that the weather isn’t capable of going totally ballistic and tearing up whatever human infrastructure is there? Especially in a warmer world than this.

  20. FDB 24
    My old man hates waste,probably because he was so poor. He’s so tight, he’d have trouble passing a strawberry seed.

  21. The Family Seat concept may well be a winning strategy. The family gathers to the most survivable location.

    For me that should be Christchurch, but on Manchester street there is a building wih a plaque at chest height which is enscribed that the line across its middle is 21 feet above sea level. I doesn’t sound high enough. So my place will be on the Port Hills somewhere, or further out on the Akaroa peninsula. It is going to be a really beautiful sub tropical island some day. Plenty of farmland, 2 harbours, beautiful bays, a few pubs, loads of history, a castle and a vintage cheese factory.

  22. I’m with you nearly all the way BilB but isn’t Akaroa an otherwise extinct volcano, from the look of it sticking out wart-like into the South Pacific. I think I’ll opt for further south, Timaru has a nice ring to it and then there’s Oamaru with all that nice builders stone for my bolthole.

  23. As McKibben says in his book Eaarth, the future world’s an uncompromising place.

    But in terms of buying real estate, that option’s lost to me and I haven’t bred yet thankfully.

  24. Never seen it, just heard about it. There’s another one in NSW. The dam near that one ISN’T gonna happen.

  25. Thanks Jess. Id probably go Dunedin anyway, cos I just like it, actually. Christchurch felt like Canberra to me, only less exciting – which is quite an achievement if you know Canberra at all. cheers to your hometown!

  26. If what I heard about climate a couple of years ago still holds true we won’t have issues until 70 odd years into the future. The rainfall patterns will change so we will have wetter summers and more floods but less of the spring rains that cropping farmers rely on. The types of cereals and plants grown will change due to an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere which favours particular types of plants. Cattle will get smaller as smaller breeds cope with fluctuations in temperature more easily. So my prospective grandchildren who may be born in say 30 years will be in their 40’s before the crunch really begins. Their children will be another matter entirely. After the 70 odd year mark rainfall is reduced and temperatures continue to rise. that’s when the fun really starts. So the big question is how do you set your family up so that one of them in the future doesn’t fritter it all way when you are long gone?

  27. Christchurch does have low rainfall, but the Canterbury Plains are irrigated by the several rivers fed by melting snow on the Alps, so no worries… um, oops.

    Looking on the bright side, a 2 metre rise will achieve what people have fruitlessly complained about for years: moving the airport. Planes won’t be able to land at the present one at high tide and it is a little impractical to build tall walls around the runways.

  28. Lovelock spoke about the issue of where the future may be habitable in his latest book Vanishing Face of Gaia. One of the problems is predicting localised weather patterns as ocean surface temperatures, currents, the macro impact of ocean climate mechanics are changing.

    I’d be looking for uplands that experience onshore winds above deep cold ocean currents. Though somehow I suspect it might get a bit willing fitting in all 7 billion of us.

  29. We’ve already made our move, guided in no small part by likely future climate change. Foothills of the great divide in Gippsland, on (long term average) 1000 mm. Even a 50% reduction in precipitation can be managed there. Not too isolated, not too close in. Good sense of community. Fertile soils.

  30. Lefty E @ 35 – yep Dunners is a lot nicer than Chch. You’re right about Chch being like Canberra (I’ve been living in Canberra for the last three years).

    Pablo @ 29 The Canterbury Peninsula (including Akaroa) is part of an old shield volcano complex which is pretty old – about 8 million years since it last erupted (off the top of my head). The Otago peninsula is a similar sort of volcano – just a bit older (erupted between 16-12 million years ago). Interestingly one of your other places (Timaru) has the most recent volcanics in the South Island (abut 2 million years old). There’s even a kimberlite (the sort of volcanism that brings up diamonds) just south of Oamaru, it’s called the Kakanui Mineral Breccia.

    Completely OT, but the interesting thing is what controls the formation of these volcanos, cause they appear to be completely unrelated to the current plate boundary. There are other shield volcanos making up most of NZ’s sub-antartic islands (have a look at the Auckland Is on Google Earth – the circular shape of the southern shield volcano is really obvious). Current theories include delamination of a thickened lithosphere (which formed when NZ broke away from Australia and Antarctica) and subsequent melting as the aesthenosphere rushed in to replace it. They’re pretty cool volcanos anyway, with rather unusual chemistry since their melts formed relatively deep in the mantle, and highly unlikely (read: never) to erupt again (ok, volcanologist rant over now).

    Anyway, you’re more likely to run foul of an earthquake rather than a volcano in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s actually pretty safe from a geohazards point of view.

  31. JESS

    Are areas that use geothermal to produce electricity more prone to earthquakes or eruptions,historically?
    Greenland (i think) and South NZ?

  32. CRAIGY, the areas that use geothermal have done so because the heat is close to the surface. There is a strong correlation between this and being on a fault line, which is where most of the eruptions and earthquakes happen.

    So short answer, yes.

  33. CRAIGY @43

    There’s really no geothermal activity to speak of in the South of NZ apart from some minor hot springs along the Alpine Fault where hot rock is being lifted up along the place boundary, and I suppose also at Hanmer, just north of Christchurch.

    Geothermal production mostly takes place in the North Island of NZ, and all our active volcanoes are on that side of the Cook Strait too. I’m personally hanging out for Lake Taupo’s next big eruption – the last one was recorded in China, it was so big. 🙂

  34. Wouldn’t be here then,consider this for a 5 year bout’06 half the Grampians ablaze, ’08 the tenth year of the worst drought since white settlement, ’09 Black Saturday, ’10 three days during the last month of Spring above 47degrees celsius and ’11 tropical downpours all the way down to Tasmania blow previous records apart and cause massive flooding on a scale unseen before by white Australians. denial is still the main game with the MSM, the COALition, the Farmers Federation and too many people of my generation. Sigh! One can only hope like hell the constant barrage of extreme weather events will finally sink in with people and allow them to tackle those big money denialists.

  35. MikeM @39,

    Christchurch town water is mostly artesian water which takes 100 years to flow through ancient gravel beds from the alps to the sea. This is the most delightful water to drink. I miss it so much, here in Sydney.

  36. Oh Brian, Brian, Brian,
    One must really ask why you persist with the high level of doom and gloom. Yes the climate is changing, but you continue to make it look much worse than it actually is, by selecting the worst examples of media coverage out there.
    I’ll give you just one example of how you are doing it.
    The “flood map” you refer too starts at +1 metre.
    Unfortunatley the IPCC AR4/WG1 Section 5 FAQ 5.1 Figure 1 estimates that the sea level rise in 2100 will be between 0.35 and 0.65 metres higher that it was in 1870. What is the point of the “flod map” reference?
    This is not the only example in your posts.
    Come on, get some balance in your articles.

  37. John, thankyou for your paternalistic concern. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that the IPCC didn’t take into account the decay of the ice sheets, because the models at the time gave them no guidance.

    Most scientists working in the area reckon about 1.1 or 1.2m by 2100, and that’s if ice sheets don’t go non-linear.

    James Hansen says 2m, and points out that more is possible if the past is any guide.

    I’m reflecting the science, not media coverage, to the best of my ability. ‘Balance’ doesn’t come into it.

  38. Well done Brian,
    It’s really good to sea that Hansen can predict that the Antartic will be melted by 2100. I assume thats how he gets two metres odd.
    Were is the scientific data that predicts the date of the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet; is it 2100? Hadn’t read that anywhere.
    There probably is a good reason why the IPCC left it out:-
    1) it isn’t possible to quantify it currently.
    2) reports indicate a current increase in ice down there!
    However it must good to scare people with web sites that start at 1 metre and go up from there!!

  39. John, your gentle supercilious sneer and wilful ignorance is starting to piss me off.

    I have to go out and work now but watch this blog over the next few days.

  40. BTW no-one is predicting the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet by 2100. If it did melt we would have 70 metres or so of SLR.

    You persist in confusing Antarctic sea ice with continental ice loss. This has been addressed so many times it is part of an evident wilful ignorance if not an overt desire to confuse.

    Catch you later.

  41. John M, the best estimates indicate that Antarctica was significantly involved in SLR during the Eemian, probably to the same extent as Greenland.

    Have you heard of the Andrill project? An article in the New Scientist states that the West Antarctic ice sheet has significantly collapsed and regrown over 60 times in the past few million years and reports on a new technique studying how such events occurred.

    There’s more on sea level rise in Climate clippings 13. Plenty for you to chew on if in fact you have any taste for it.

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