Towards a Tipping Point in Responding to Change: Rising Costs, Fewer Options for Arctic and Global Societies
- 482 Downloads
Climate change incurs costs, but government adaptation budgets are limited. Beyond a certain point, individuals must bear the costs or adapt to new circumstances, creating political-economic tipping points that we explore in three examples. First, many Alaska Native villages are threatened by erosion, but relocation is expensive. To date, critically threatened villages have not yet been relocated, suggesting that we may already have reached a political-economic tipping point. Second, forest fires shape landscape and ecological characteristics in interior Alaska. Climate-driven changes in fire regime require increased fire-fighting resources to maintain current patterns of vegetation and land use, but these resources appear to be less and less available, indicating an approaching tipping point. Third, rapid sea level rise, for example from accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet, will create a choice between protection and abandonment for coastal regions throughout the world, a potential global tipping point comparable to those now faced by Arctic communities. The examples illustrate the basic idea that if costs of response increase more quickly than available resources, then society has fewer and fewer options as time passes.
KeywordsClimate change costs Prevention Response Politics Economics Village relocation Forest fires Sea level rise Arctic
We thank the Pew Environment Group/Oceans North for funding the initial research that led to this paper, and Arctic Frontiers and Paul Wassmann in particular for encouraging us to explore the topics discussed herein. We are also grateful for the constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers.
- Case, D.S. 1984. Alaska Natives and American laws. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.Google Scholar
- Climate Progress. 2011. Australia to cut, delay $500 million of clean-energy funding. Seriously! Climate Progress, 27 January 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://climateprogress.org/2011/01/27/australia-cut-delay-clean-energy-funding-after-record-warming-floods/.
- Diamond, J. 2005. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
- Freudenburg, W., R. Gramling, S. Laska, and K. Erikson. 2009. Catastrophe in the making: the engineering of Katrina and the disasters of tomorrow. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
- GAO. 2003. Alaska Native villages: most are affected by flooding and erosion, but few qualify for federal assistance. Report to Congressional Committees GAO-04-142. Washington, DC: United States General Accounting Office. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04142.pdf.
- Goldsmith, S., and E. Larson. 2003. Federal spending and revenues in Alaska. Anchorage, Alaska: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/federalspendingak.pdf.
- Goodstein, E., H.P. Huntington, and E. Euskirchen. 2010. An initial estimate of the cost of lost climate regulation services due to changes in the Arctic cryosphere. Washington, D.C.: Pew Environment Group. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://www.oceansnorth.org/arctic-treasure.
- Gray, S. 2011. Vanishing city: the story behind Detroit’s shocking population decline. Time NewsFeed, 24 March 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/24/vanishing-city-the-story-behind-detroit%E2%80%99s-shocking-population-decline/.
- Greene, D.F., S.E. Macdonald, S. Haeussler, S. Domenicano, J. Noel, K. Jayen, I. Charron, S. Gauthier, et al. 2007. The reduction of organic-layer depth by wildfire in the North American boreal forest and its effect on tree recruitment by seed. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 37: 1012–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hamilton, L.C., B.C. Brown, and R.O. Rasmussen. 2003. West Greenland’s cod-to-shrimp transition: local dimensions of climatic change. Arctic 56: 271–282.Google Scholar
- Huntington, H.P., and S. Fox. 2005. The changing Arctic: Indigenous perspectives. In Arctic climate impact assessment, ACIA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 61–98.Google Scholar
- Kavanagh, J. 2011. 2011: Year of billion-dollar disasters. CNN Online, 20 August 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011, from http://articles.cnn.com/2011-08-20/us/weather.disasters_1_tornadoes-southern-states-weather-disasters?_s=PM:US.
- Nicholls, R.J., S. Hanson, C. Herweijer, N. Patmore, S. Hallegatte, J. Corfee-Morlot, J. Château, and R. Muir-Wood. 2008. Ranking port cities with high exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes: Exposure estimates. OECD Environment Working Paper 1. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
- New York Times. 2011. Population decline in New Orleans. New York Times, 3 Feb 2011. Retrieved 23 Aug 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/03/us/0203-nat-census-orleans.html.
- Stern, N. 2007. The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar