Monday, January 15, 2007

Our elders tell us that our earth is getting old and needs to be replaced by a new one


[Jerry Wongittilin, Sr., St. Lawrence Island, 2000]. The Arctic is changing rapidly. The combination of sea level rise, ice extent decline, earlier melting and later appearance, warming permafrost and more has begun to destroy the land and the culture of those who live there. If the Arctic is the early warning for the earth, Shishmaref may be the poster child for the Arctic.
This small village on a sandspit facing the Arctic ocean is disappearing to erosion, losing 23 feet of shoreline per year since 2001. The cost of moving the village of ~600 people would approach 200 million. Adaptation is expensive. This is described in Science

While the erosion and structural damage are plainly visible, village elders described how the rising seas are putting their culture at risk, too. The Inupiaq people have lived here for some 4,000 years, subsisting on the bounty of nearby seas, rivers, and fields, but now animal and bird migration patterns are changing. Even the ice is different.
When Mayor Stanley Tocktoo was a boy, the mid-winter ice was mainly blue, which meant it was thick and solid. "Nowadays," he said, "we go out a couple of miles, you have this creamy-looking ice and dark-looking ice, which is very thin and unstable."
While village leaders are working on an ambitious—and expensive—effort to relocate the entire community to the mainland nearby, Shishmaref schoolchildren as young as five are learning about the shift in the climate that will change their lives.
"I don't believe there's an age that they're too young to study climate change," said science teacher Ken Stenek. "These kids are our future. They're our future leaders. And as this community prepares to relocate, these kids are the ones that are going to be a major part of that."
As part of its February 15-19 National Meeting in San Francisco AAAS will feature a session on Communicating and Learning About Global Climate Change for teachers and students on the 18th. A central part of this half day session will be a video describing the situation of this village, its people, the Arctic and Arctic dwelling peoples.

30 comments:

Lab Lemming said...

Who is paying?

Anonymous said...

How can you even put a price on a way of life?

I wonder if this kind of stuff is figured in as a potential cost of global warming.

Doubtful.

More likely that economists merely assume that if such a thing does occur, people will move of their own accord to the cities where they will make more money.

Hence the uproooting will actually benefit society!

Isn't economics fun?

EliRabett said...

Alaska looked at the bill and said Ack! so I assume no one is paying unless they can trade the bridge to nowhere in. Given that it would be about 400K$/person and this is not the only such place, just the first.....

However, the serious point is that there are major costs, they are beginning to appear, and the adapt or die crowd, when it comes to putting up the $ often chooses what is behind door 2.

Also it shows that the combination of high water, tides and high temps are not just an immediate problem in the South Pacific.

Anonymous said...

Even after the fact, it will be difficult if not impossible to attribute any single event (flooding, seashore erosion, etc) to global warming, so economists will use that to dismiss most (if not all) of this stuff.

As we know, an economist only includes in his/her analyisis that which can be definitively proven (the economic advantages of Cold Fusion and pepetual motion, for example)

Nosmo said...

Wouldn't an ecconomist ask what is the cost of not moving the village?
Loss of economic productivity by not moving the village will be minimal, so there is no problem (at least if your rich and white).

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's correct.

The economist would figure that if the village is not moved, people will migrate on their own (naturally) to the city and thereby find "real" jobs (eg, working in the fish packing plants in Anchorage) that will make them be far more "productive" than they could ever have been in their backward, native-American subsistence village.

So, in other words, from an economist's standpoint, it's much better not to do anything to help the villagers out. Let them fend for themselves (#%$&*!@&^ eskimos!)

Mark UK said...

I would guess that the value of the village and those who live there will bemuch higher now than when they move to the city and work in a plant or office.

There will be a significant economic cost. Whether you move the village or just let it crumble you will have to move these people and that's where tax money comes in.

It's just the first one. Then there's all the developing nations that will see increased famine through droughts, increases in armed conflict over resources, etc, etc, etc.

The industrialized west is going to pay big big money later on because of stupidity today.

Belette said...

I don't want to be too Pielke-ian but:

Isn't it a bit odd to put SLR as the first problem? It can't be the cause. Meling permafrost perhaps.

And $400k/person to move seems awefully high. If we're doing this in economic terms, then a house to replace those broken would be $200k, perhaps; which would serve two at least. Where is all the extra cost coming from?

Anonymous said...

I suspect infrastructure would be a chunck of the extra cost. People forget how expensive it can be to do it from scratch.
guthrie

EliRabett said...

Is SLR a problem? Only if you don't have a Hasselbad. More seriously, SLR is beginning to bite in a few places in combination with other things, for example the softening ground and less ice cover in this case. As to the cost, remember that includes new school, new municipal building, graded roads, water system, etc. It all mounts up. Just replacing buildings as they go ain't gonna work because the whole village is on a sand spit (like Southhampton LI with lower land values). This place is in the ass end of nowhere. Doing anything in Alaska costs double. You can't simply drive there, the passes are closed much of the year, etc.

Anonymous said...

"I would guess that the value of the village and those who live there will bemuch higher now than when they move to the city and work in a plant or office."

That depends on what is meant by the word "value".

"Values are value-laden".

Some might "value" the subsistence life -- but not many. Certainly not many economists.

From an economist's vulture's-eye view, people who do nothing of economic value (ie, produce nothing that can be consumed by the rest of society) all year add nothing in the way of economic value.

So, they should get off their lard-laden ass and move to the city where they can be productive, working in a MickeyD's for minimum wage and using every last penny of their wages to buy CD players, hamburgers, new cars and the rest -- in short, "consuming and emitting", living the American Dream.

Mark UK said...

"Some might "value" the subsistence life -- but not many. Certainly not many economists."

That is simply not true. It is accepted practice in economics to calculate AND appreciate the value to a society of subsistence life and traditional methods of fishing, hunting, farming, etc.

This is used all over the world to estimate the impact of aid schemes and economic development programs.

Anonymous said...

"It is accepted practice in economics to calculate AND appreciate the value to a society of subsistence life..

That economists might "calculate the value" of something does not mean they give it the value it deserves. It all depends on what the criteria for calcualting the value are.


Economists can (and do) come up with the criteria for "value" of their choosing, since as I indicated above, "value" is a very subjective term. What an economist values is not necessarily the same as what the average person values.

"This is used all over the world to estimate the impact of aid schemes and economic development programs."

You mean cases like this, for example?

http://www.narmada.org/gcg/gcg.html

Were the economists who dreamed up that project using accepted practice to "appreciate the value to a society of subsistence life"?

Or how about on this project in China?

http://www.probeinternational.org/tgp/index.cfm?DSP=content&ContentID=14558


Was the world bank using "accepted practice"?

According to Grainne Ryder
"The World Bank has given China's second-largest hydro project a satisfactory rating on the resettlement of 46,000 people, despite having no data to assess whether anyone is better or worse off." -- Chinese dam benefits 'impossible to quantify': World Bank


I think your choice of terminology was apt -- aid "schemes" -- because that's what so many of them are: schemes by multinational corporations and others to get rich at the expense of the common good.

It is no secret that many of the officials in charge of overseeing the projects in the countries where these "schemes" are played out are as corrupt as the day is long.

Mark UK said...

We can all find examples. I'm trying to point out that the world is not a B/W place.

Simply claiming that in economics subsistence or traditional living or indeed natural resources such as rainforest do "count" is wrong. They often do.

Anonymous said...

"Simply claiming that in economics subsistence or traditional living or indeed natural resources such as rainforest do "count" is wrong."

I could not agree more. :-)

"We can all find examples".

Yes, we can -- and I did and cited them.

Now, show me your examples.

If subsistence counts for something in the economist's "scheme" of things, show me some specific examples where it does.

You might start by showing me an example where a dam (or other large public works project) was not put in place -- not because of the public outcry after the economists had already decided it was a good idea, but because an economic study showed that it would be of greater value to the community to leave the dam unbuilt.

Mark UK said...

Dams are a great example. I could not agree more on the destructive nature of most dam building projects. I don't know if any dam projects were put on hold or cancelled. I do know that many economists work in this field and that the economic value of subsistence and natural resources is routinely estimated.

Anonymous said...

"I do know that many economists work in this field and that the economic value of subsistence and natural resources is routinely estimated."

So, surely you can provide examples?

Where are they?

Mark UK said...

I can't be bothered. But if you know how to use Google and the obvious key words in this case you can spend the weekend reading up on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Predictable answer...

I already found my examples (and did not use google to find them, by the way).

Perhaps you might look for yours now.

And, for your information, when (or should I say if?) you do your search, there are much better search engines than google. Google bases its ranking largely on number of links to a particular site, so it's ranking is basically a popularity contest. That a site is popular (with lots of links to it) may (probably does?) mean nothing whatsoever about whether it is accurate or even relevant to a particular search.

Google has no "Wisdom" button (their engineers are obviously not smart enough for that), but it does have a "Clueless" button (called "Search").

Mark UK said...

If you just do the search, like I did, you will find many, many links to universities, institutes and world bank reports on this issue. Your rant about google is rather a mystery to me and slightly irrelevant. My point was that the economic value of subsistence and natural resources is a pretty established field in economics. I could post 500 links but really 5 minutes on a search engine would show you.

You could also search through the published scientific data bases...

Not sure why you feel so strongly about this. Just count to ten next time...

Anonymous said...

I don't think you have any examples.


...and you were the one who brought up google, remember?

Mark UK said...

You do realize you are denying the existence of an entire field of economics? The weirdest denial I have ever encountered.

But hey, maybe an economist somewhere will read this and do some research in the subject!

EliRabett said...

Mark, granted that there are economists interested in the area, what is their acceptance among the mainstream?

Mark UK said...

Eli,

I'll have no argument with the point that these considerations are still not taken into account often enough in major policy decisions. Certainly not routinely.

Nevertheless this is just a part of the general field of economics. My guess is that it will become increasingly influential in determining policy. Especially with climate change hitting areas that are still for a very large part subsistence economies.

Anonymous said...

"You do realize you are denying the existence of an entire field of economics?"

You're simply making stuff up.

What I said is that

"Some might "value" the subsistence life -- but not many. Certainly not many economists."

It should have been obvious that I was referring to "mainstream" economists when I said "not many" (It was to Eli, at any rate). After all, they are the ones who make most of the decsions about policy.

I then asked for specific examples of cases in which economists considered subsistence valuable in their assessment...

..and got precisely none.

Mark UK said...

I tell ya, there's a few economists not sleeping tonight. Look, don't believe me. Fine. I just suggest that since you appear to feel strongly about this issue that you look around a bit and read up. There's loads of stuff out there.

Now let's hug and make up...

Anonymous said...

"There's loads of stuff out there."

...and you can't find one measly example.

EliRabett said...

I need ONE thing to read on this issue (with links would be helpful) but we do have bookstores here. Thanks

Mark UK said...

Ecosystem services

Heather Tallis1 and Peter Kareiva2

1Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.
2The Nature Conservancy, 4722 Latona Avenue NE Seattle, Washington 98105, USA.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VRT-4H4THXT-6&_user=10&_coverDate=09%2F20%2F2005&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=c6c1bfdd5499bc871a2b8587ebe77a53

also:

http://www.ci.uri.edu/Projects/PNB/Chafee-HUD/Pacheco%20and%20Tyrrell%20Final.pdf

Just two random articles from many. I remember reading a book by Fred Pearce "when the rivers run dry". I thought he talks about it as well, but not sure about references in there or not.

Anyway, we were taught about this in university ages ago as part of standard economics classes... I'm sure academic book sites should have a fair few titles.

EliRabett said...

thanks