C13 of The Great Disruption - Shifting Sands

Gilding says change is coming and we'd better be prepared and resilient. This is true for individuals and institutions - private and public.

He notes four aspects of change to be especially aware of...

1 - Physical impacts of climate change on security and economy

There will be food shortages, supply shocks, price volatility - regardless of our response. Contributing factors include:
  • Industrial agriculture. It depends on nitrogen fixation which depends on carbon which is nonrenewable. It can run out.
  • Integrated, just-in-time food chains. Although efficient - delivering low-cost food across the globe, such systems are also vulnerable. Transportation failures, terrorist attacks, etc. could leave some ends of chain with only four days of food on shelves.
  • Increased competition for food as countries like China and India become more wealthy.
  • Less land available for farming.
  • Competition between crops gown for food and for biofuel and other industrial uses.
Shortages and disruptions will create unrest and instability, especially in poorer countries. (Weathers' note: I think this has already happened - playing a role in Arab Spring. See http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/food-price-threshold/)

2 - Shifts in economic competitiveness

There will be winners and losers as The Great Disruption occurs and countries put their "war plans" in effect. If what Gilding says will happen, happens, the oil producing countries and the oil industry will be losers. So will the coal industry. Generally all those who deliver carbon based energy will suffer. However, those who develop and provide energy from renewable resources (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) will prosper.

Gilding sees the most interesting competition taking place between the US and China. The Great Disruption is closer to happening in China due to the greater environmental damage that has already taken place. Consequently China is closer to implementing it's own war plans. It is hitting the "physical limits of its economic growth model". Gilding quotes Tom Friedman (the Flat Earth guy):

"Yes, China's leaders have decided to grow green - out of necessity because too many of their people can't breathe, can't swim, can't farm and can't drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive business without smokestacks, China will die of its own development."

China is seriously pursing a low-carbon economy. So are India, Brazil and South Korea.

Gilding thinks China might win the competition with the US because it is not wedded to a market-based economy. Further, its government, less burdened by the need to observe Western democratic freedoms, might be more efficient. It might respond faster to the problems.

3 - Loss of moral authority

Countries, systems and economic models that win the economic war started by The Great Disruption will have increased moral authority over those who don't. For the latter two thirds of 20th century that war was won by the West - by the US in particular. This might not be true in the 21st century.

4 - Reaction of "victims"

Some small low-lying countries and some entire regions will cease to exist - disappearing under water or sand. Even if the causes of global warming were ended today, the effects have momentum and will continue for decades. Gilding sees reparations being sought by individuals, groups, regions, countries. Some redress will be pursued in courts of law. Some in the streets.

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