Get Ready, Everything’s going to change

By Nicholas Asheshov

How greenhouse warming is going to hit Peru’s deserts, the mountains, the jungle and even Lima is becoming a hot topic.

Here’s the first thing you need to know: No one has a clue what’s going to happen here nor when.

But, Tom Schelling tells me, the second is that make no mistake, “It’s serious” and that everyone has to get together to prepare for it. For a start, “the environmentalists might want to stop talking about future generations and start talking about the poor today.”

Tom is the one-man think tank who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005 and he and Alice, his wife, were staying with us on their way to and from Machu Picchu.

He has also been taking part this week in a conference on climate change run by Richard Webb’s cutting-edge Instituto del Peru at the Universidad San Martin de Porres.

Preparing for the conference, Richard tried to make a list of the different predictions from computers and scientists about what’s going to happen in Peru. But he drew a blank. There have been two or three recent studies, one on the Mantaro valley and another on the Coast and Sierra from Ecuador down to Bolivia, measuring temperature change.

“But it amounts to very little, and little seems to have been discovered about how Peru´s geography will produce either more or less warming than the world average in each region, or how warming will translate into rainfall.”

Pablo Lagos, Peru’s Numero Uno El Niño scientist, at the Instituto Geofisico del Peru, tells me that they have put electronic buoys out into the sea off the North Coast “but the fishermen steal them”.

Here’s a scare story from the past. The most productive epoch of the Moche culture was brought to a vicious end between 536 and 594 by a devastating sequence of 30 years of rain followed by 30 years of drought.

If it happened once it can happen again.

The precision of the dates comes from core samples taken from Andean glaciers.

These same core samples say, too, that today’s mess is speeding up.

Prof. Lonnie Thompson, a leading glaciologist, of Ohio State University, has told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the Qori Kalis glacier, the main compenent of the Quelccaya icecap in the Cordillera Oriental beyond Lake Titicaca, will have disappeared by 2012. Quelccaya is really high, at an average 5,470 ms a.s.l., and is the biggest glacier in the tropics.

Thompson has been drilling into Quelccaya since the 1960s and the cores date back to the time of Christ. But the disappearance of the ice has speeded up exponentially in the past few years.

“Tropical glaciers are the canaries in the coalmine for our global climate system [they combine] temperature, precipitation, cloudiness, humidity and radiation,” Thompson says.

Tom Schelling is quiet and good-humoured but from Harvard, Yale, the White House and elsewhere his steely mind has been slicing left, right and centre through the verbiage of the public issues great and small of the past half-century, wars, nuclear arms, abortion, drugs, China, Game Theory, race and a score more.

He is professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy and arms control at the University of Maryland. His The Strategy of Conflict pioneered the study of bargaining and strategic behaviour and has been one of the most influential books of the past half-century.

He warns today of insect-born disease, food shortages and among others, a rise in the sea level of maybe six metres. Don’t think just beach house.

Tom doesn’t like Bush any more than the rest of us but he too is, famously, against the Kyoto Agreement (1990) because, he says, it’s unenforceable, therefore meaningless. “I told Al Gore he was lucky to lose the election (in 2000) because he would never have got it past the Congress.”

He says that until the United States gets together on a serious plan nothing much is going to happen. “We can’t help or push the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians and the Brazilians if we’re not leading things ourselves.”

He talks of rocketing sulphur into the stratosphere to help block the sun from over-heating the planet. “They don’t want us to know about this because they don’t want us to stop cutting emissions.”

When Tom, who was born in 1921, and Alice returned from Machu Picchu, I asked him how he’d enjoyed himself:

“It was one of the most wonderful days of my life.”

FIN

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