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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
gratory songbirds, such as black-throated blue warblers, in both north temperate breeding grounds and tropical winter quarters are shown to vary with fluctuations in ENSO (Sillett et al., 2000). In 1999, warmer waters resulting from El Niño were more deadly to coral reefs (showing a 16 percent loss) than for losses in previous years due to pollution (estimated as a 11 percent loss) (Brown et al., 2000).
The loss in capital value therefore depends on factors such as the lifetime of the capital stocks, the mobility of the capital, the abruptness and predictability of the climate change, as well as the extent to which the capital is managed or unmanaged. For very short-lived produced capital, such as computers or health-care facilities, climate change occurring over two or three decades would have little impact. On the other hand, for dwellings and infrastructure, which have lifetimes of 50 to 100 years, or for slowly adapting and unmanaged ecological systems, such as mature forests, migratory birds, and coral reefs, abrupt climate change could reduce the capital value significantly. The most vulnerable stocks are probably unmanaged ecosystems with long lifetimes (“natural capital”). These capital stocks include forests and similar ecosystems whose lifetimes are on geological time scales, species, and interacting biological systems whose lifetimes are on the biological scale of evolutionary time.
The vulnerability of capital stocks to climate change (measured as the percent of the value destroyed by an abrupt event) is a function of the warning time and the lifetime of the capital stock (Figure 5.6).4 Suppose, for example, that the owner of capital stock has warning that an abrupt event will occur and it will render the capital completely obsolete. For example, there might be a 20-year warning about shoreline erosion. Under the extreme assumption that the owner can take no remedying measures (such as cost to move the house or abandon the farm), 82 percent of the initial value will be lost for the relatively long-lived capital of 100 years. For capital with relatively short lifetime of 10 years, only 14 percent of the value remains at the end of 20 years, so the vulnerability is relatively low (Figure 5.6).
A detailed simulation of the market value of land and structures of developed coastal properties in the United States on 500 meter by 500-meter samples has been developed to show the dynamics of capital-stock depreciation under different climate-change scenarios (Yohe and
Typical lifetimes of capital stocks are 2-3 years for computers, 5-10 years for equipment, 40-80 years for structures, and more than 100 years for some infrastructure (Herman, 2000).