"Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future [Not!]"
Books you don’t have to read past the title, Part 2
UPDATE2: This is not a full review, but a debunking of the primary thesis of the book on the basis of information anyone can access online. I have now read the book and can say with full confidence that what is online is not entirely representative of the book: It is even worse than I describe here, with, for instance, some egregious numerical errors and inconsistencies, as I’ll discuss in later posts. In the meantime, you can read this detailed review, “A Fantasy Future,” at the American Scientist by a leading expert on the impact of climate change on cities, who concludes the book “fails on the most important criterion: a good knowledge of the topic under discussion.”
UPDATE1: The author comments here and I reply. The author has yet more comments below, including a morbid bet that I reject.
So many bad climate books, so little time. How thoughtful, then, of an author to save everybody time with a title that lets you know whether or not you should read it.
Of course, the champion of books you don’t have to read past the title is Fred Singer’s lame anti-science treatist, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. As I noted in “Unstoppable disinformation every 15 minutes from Fred Singer,” the most absurd thing about the book is that the Earth wasn’t actually in a warm trend “” unstoppable or otherwise “” 1500 years ago! Doh. [Yes, during the Medieval Warm Period, parts of the earth were a bit warmer, but that peaked (below current temperatures) 1,000 years ago.]
And now we have another time-saving title, from UCLA environmental economist Matthew Kahn, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. Uhh, no — see “Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery.”
A key “thesis” of this book is that people will just move to northern cities and be fine. To see how poorly thought out this notion is just start searching the book on Amazon for northern cities. Yes, the obvious first choice is Moscow, where you will learn on page 7 … wait for it … “Moscow is unlikely to suffer from extreme heat waves.” Talk about your badly timed books (see Media wakes up to Hell and High Water: Moscow’s 1000-year heat wave and “Pakistan’s Katrina”).
On page 75 he says “Moscow scores high on my list.” He just seems to miss the point that climate change means extreme weather events on top of a moving average. But then he has done precious little actual research into the science.
You can read an interview with Kahn on Grist, “Don’t like the climate? Move to Fargo, says author of ‘Climatopolis’.” I actually thought this was one of Grist’s jokey headlines, but you can search the book for “Fargo.” On page 51 you’ll learn:
The current residents of North Dakota’s cities, such as Fargo, might not be too happy about having loud-mouthed New Yorkers moves [sic] in by the millions….
As Brad Johnson noted last year:
North Dakota’s climate is beginning to spiral out of control. In the last twenty years, Red River floods expected to occur at Fargo only once every ten years have happened every two to three years. 2009’s unprecedented flooding made it the third year in a row with at least a “ten-year flood.”
In fact, 2009 was the eighth “ten-year flood” of Fargo since 1989. They just don’t make 10-year floods like they used to.
So I’m skeptical that millions of New Yorkers will be rushing to the likes of Fargo, with its metropolitan population of 200,000.
On page 33, Kahn calls Salt Lake City, Utah a “climate safe city.” The southwestern city appears to be one of Kahn’s favorites. “Salt Lake City cannot flood” he writes. No, I don’t think too much water is going to be the problem.
In a terrific March presentation, Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what staying on the business as usual emissions path (A1F1 or 1000 ppm) would mean (derived from the NOAA-led report):
Hey, looks to me like the greater Salt Lake City would only be above 100F for most of the summer. Let’s move there!
I’m sure the rest of the year would be climate safe … although in fairness to would-be eco-immigrants, the travel brochure should probably include this chart from the National Academy of Sciences 2010 report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia:
Percent increase (relative to 1950-2003) in median annual area burned for ecoprovinces of the West with a 1°C increase in global average temperature.
Yes, that is just from a 1°C warming (by mid-century). We’re facing a lot more of thatby century’s end if we listen to the likes of Kahn (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F).9
Sure there might be a few hundred percent increase in median annual burn area around Salt Lake City, but surely the burn season won’t last more than six months out of the year, eight tops, so I’m sure Salt Lake City will be climate safe a few months of the year.
UPDATE: I see on Grist that Kahn tells Grist of another ‘winning’ city: “I think that Seattle will compete much better in the hotter future.” Really? See “Impacts of sea level rise on Seattle, WA” from last December and click on figure to enlarge:
Sure, Seattle is a great city to live in now, and wouldn’t be utterly devastated by the first three feet of sea level rise. But assuming we listen to Pollyannas like Kahn and don’t take strong action to sharply reduce emissions, then I hardly think a lot of people will be rushing to move into Seattle in the second half of this century, when everybody knows what is coming, what can’t be stopped, and what they risk under the worst-case scenario:
- Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
- West Antarctic ice sheet collapse even more catastrophic for U.S. coasts
- New study of Greenland under “more realistic forcings” concludes “collapse of the ice-sheet was found to occur between 400 and 560 ppm” of CO2
As you can tell, Kahn’s book is almost devoid of actual science. The notes are stuffed with citations to newspaper pieces and articles by economists, but only a few references to actual, peer-reviewed climate science studies.
Given that over a year ago, the US Global Change Research Program published an exhaustive multi-agency analysis of Global Climate Change Impacts in United States — see Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year, and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!) — you’d think that the book would contain extensive references to it, but I couldn’t find any.
I know what you’re thinking. Kahn must be assuming a lot of mitigation for cities like Salt Lake City and Moscow to thrive. You think wrong!
Kahn is not a mitigation guy. Indeed, he knows about as much about energy as he does about climate science. He writes on page 5:
I see no credible signs global emissions will decline in the near or medium future. Although the carbon mitigation agenda — the plan to reduce our emissions — is a worthy goal, we are unlikely to invent a magical new clean technology that allows us to live well without producing greenhouse gases.
Where is Harry Potter when you need him to solve the climate crisis? If only there were some technologies in existence today (see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution“).
No, Kahn’s “vision” is “That we will save ourselves by adapting to our ever-changing circumstances.”
In short, good luck, billions of poor people post 2040. No need to push hard for magical mitigation. Just buck up and walk it off … all the way to Moscow and Salt Lake City! I’m sure you will be welcomed with open arms. Or at least arms.