It’s going to get a lot worse

Climate change is going to affect those nations of the world that are least able to contend with it. The people of those nations will be beleaguered by rising temperatures, extended droughts, rising sea levels, and ever more powerful storms.

In the United States, most of the state of Florida will eventually be submerged. At present rates, and with the present lack of concern about the future, the ocean’s waters are expected to rise four to eight feet by the end of the century. The highest point in Miami is about seven feet above sea level. So the likelihood is that most of Miami will be submerged by the end of this century. That means that trillions of dollars of real estate equity will be wiped out. The homeowners who lose their properties will become refugees. The United States has the resources, though not necessarily the will, to absorb many millions of climate change refugees.

But similar catastrophes will play out in slow motion all around the world, but the developing countries where they will strike with greatest severity won’t have the resources to absorb millions of displaced refugees. And where will those refugees go? They will head for the richest countries in hopes of gaining entry to a better life.

The refugees that fled the Syrian civil war inundated Europe and precipitated a massive wave of anti-immigrant fervor. In the United States Donald Trump fueled anti-immigrant sentiment with a torrent of hateful and misleading rhetoric. The people of Central and South America who left their homes and headed toward the United States were fleeing violence in their home countries.

But the Syrian civil war was partially fueled by a drought that was the worst in 900 years ( And the violence in Central America follows a drought that created massive food shortages across the region (

These problems are all going to get worse. Climate change assures that. The nations of the world could make herculean efforts to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than another degree Centigrade or so. But at present the world’s leaders are not demonstrating the necessary resolve.

More and longer lasting droughts will mean more refugees. More flooding will mean more refugees. More refugees will fuel more anti-immigrant sentiment. All of this will inexorably lead to more calls for limits on immigration, for tighter and more expensive border security, and for limits to the rights of asylum seekers.

Climate change assures us that refugees will flee poorer countries in ever greater numbers. And where will they go? They will naturally gravitate to the rich nations. And those rich nations will do everything they can to protect themselves from a massive influx of poor, homeless foreigners.

These are the conditions that paved the way for Donald Trump to win the U.S. presidency, for Bolsonario to become president of Brazil, and for Boris Johnson to become the Prime Minister of Great Britain. But climate change assures us that this problem will be far worse in the future. The natural impulse of world leaders will be to protect national interests and to defend against the incursions of refugees. And the simplest and easiest way to accomplish those objectives is by invoking martial law.

President Trump has shown future despots the way. Inflame nationalist fears. Warn of the ill intent of refugees. Denounce them as immoral and depraved. Declare a national emergency– or several. Divert funds to defending border security. Do everything you can to limit or remove the civil rights of immigrants, migrants, and asylum seekers. Accuse anyone who stands in your way of disloyalty. And inundate the electorate with an avalanche of lies and obfuscation.

There is only one possible defense against such an attack on democracy, and that is vigilant resistance. It means calling out the lies of our leaders and retorting with the truth. It means standing up for the rights of climate refugees, and for people made homeless by war and famine. It means telling the public again and again that it was our own lassitude that brought us to this extreme and that we only have ourselves to blame. And above all it means not giving up. The problem of climate change can be solved. Yes, it’s too late now to prevent the loss of large regions of human habitation. But the problem of human caused climate change is self-limiting, to an extent. When the numbers of human beings to succumb to the ill effects of climate change are so great that only a few humans remain on earth, those who remain will be less able to produce the greenhouse gasses that make climate change the great terror of our time. Humanity will survive, though many millions are sure to be ruined, financially, physically, or spiritually by the depredations of climate change.

Written 2019-09-29.

Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.

Orderly Abandonment

The world is on track for a four to eight foot rise in sea levels by the end of this century. (The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, pg. 59.) The highest point in the Miami city limits is about seven feet above sea level. The Mayor of Miami recently had huge pumps installed to push water out of downtown during days of high tides. But that won’t save the city in the long run. The land on which Miami is situated is resting on a bed of limestone– which is porous to water. Miami could never build a seawall high enough to keep the oceans out.

The average elevation of New Orleans is one to two feet below sea level. When Katrina hit the storm surge inundated the Ninth Ward to such a depth that most houses were covered to their rooftops. And these are only two of the coastal cities in the United States that are destined to become uninhabitable when the waters rise.

We all know that American political and business leaders are too selfish and cowardly to call for the prevention of climate catastrophe. Some have argued that snowfall is proof that the world’s climate isn’t getting hotter; others that the climate has changed many times in the past and that therefore it’s not a human problem to solve; others that even if the climate is warming and humans are responsible for some portion of it, global warming is a problem that humans cannot solve because it would cost too much.

These various arguments all have an element of truth, but they are all completely wrong in the broader context of the present scale of climate change. Yes, it does indeed continue to snow in many parts of the world today– but that’s an example of weather, not of climate. Yes, the climate has warmed dramatically many times in the past, and often due to massive increases of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gasses) being injected into the atmosphere. What’s different today is that the carbon that is being spewed into the atmosphere is for the first time being produced by processes that are under human control. Yes, the costs of addressing the changing climate are likely to be immense. But the costs of doing nothing will certainly be even more immense. The loss of massive regions of human habitation will inevitably result in the liquidation of trillions of dollars of real estate value. That will inevitably result in the impoverishment of millions of property owners all around the world. The vast majority of those property owners will become refugees who will be forced to flee to more habitable regions of the planet, thereby creating what is certain to be history’s largest and most violent mass migration.

The time to have saved Miami and New Orleans– and the many other low lying great cities of the world– would have been 40 years ago. There would have been ample time then to develop long term plans that could have minimized the effects of climate change. But we are well past that point now. We are now at a point where it is too late to save low lying cities like Miami, or sweltering regions of the world like sub-Saharan Africa. Our best option at this point is to plan for the orderly abandonment of the regions we know cannot survive rising sea levels and burning heat. Step one of such a plan would be to halt all new construction and refurbishment of existing structures in these regions– immediately. Step two would be to disallow the resale of any existing buildings that rising waters or excess heat have rendered unusable. And step three would be to sell off buildings for scrap as they become unusable. These steps at least offer the possibility of limiting the scope of financial ruin that will inevitably engulf those who own property in hazardous regions. Such a policy may seem cruel, but at least it would be more honest than to hope for a salvation that has virtually no likelihood of materializing.

Written 2020-02-02.

Copyright (c) 2020 David S. Moore. All rights reserved.


NASA is currently developing plans for sending manned missions to Mars.  There has even been talk of establishing permanent colonies on Mars and even of terraforming the planet.  Imagine a Mars of the future with oceans, lakes, and rivers– teeming with life, and enjoying a temperate climate.  Mars could be the first experiment of the terraformation of planets throughout the galaxy which our species may one day inhabit.

But before we get too ambitious perhaps we should try our hand at terraforming some of the currently uninhabitable lands of our own planet.  About twenty percent of all terrestrial land is desert, most of which is uninhabited. Why don’t we demonstrate our terraforming prowess on a vast terrestrial wasteland such as the Sahara before we attempt to transform another planet?

The Sahara is about 3.6 million square miles, about the same area as the United States.  It has the highest sand dunes in the world– some as much as 590 feet high. The Sahara receives less than 4 inches of rain a year, and a large portion receives less than an inch.

Transforming the Sahara into lush, arable land may seem daunting, but why would anyone think that terraforming Mars will be less difficult?  The Sahara is inhospitable, arid, and hot. Mars is inhospitable, arid, and cold. If we can demonstrate that it is possible to tame the Sahara then there might be reason to believe that we could one day do the same for Mars.

Think of the challenges.  The winds of the Sahara can blow at hurricane force.  When the rains come they are torrential. Dunes drift across the landscape like waves on the surface of the sea.  And there are neither flora nor fauna in vast regions of the deep desert. How can humans improve such an immense wasteland?

The most feasible approach would be to begin at the periphery and transform sand to soil mile by mile.  Water can be extracted from atmospheric humidity. Solar power is available year round. Resources are available and can be exploited, should anyone think it worth doing.  Why do we think it is more noble to terraform Mars than to make the Sahara habitable? Millions of people could benefit today from the transformation of the Sahara. Any benefits the terraformation of Mars might return would only be realized in future generations.

Of course there are national borders to consider.  The bulk of the Sahara exists within the bounds of a number of African nations known for instability and civil war.  Perhaps the venture is just too risky to pursue.

But will it be different on Mars?  Once humans begin to colonize Mars– or any other planet– claims to national sovereignty will be made, borders will be claimed, and battles over those claims will likely be fought.  Anyone who thinks that Mars will provide a clean slate from which to build a pristine paradise simply hasn’t thought deeply about human nature.

There are a great many technologies that can be developed and tested today, here, on planet Earth for the terraformation of inhospitable lands.  We don’t need to travel to another planet to prove them out– we can do that here, now. And millions of people could benefit immediately from such a bold vision today.

Copyright (c) 2020, David S. Moore

All rights reserved