Panama Canal and Climate Change

I returned to the Panama Canal last month after a 20-year absence (my previous trip inspired by reading Path Between the Seas). The Panamanians voted in 2006 to take on $billions in debt to expand the canal (nobody explained to them that proper governance means that $trillions can be borrowed without a vote) and the new locks were finished in 2016. Agua Clara:

The Panamanians like to highlight their environmentalist credentials, noting that using the canal saves our planet by making transportation less energy-intensive (compared to going around Cape Horn). Here are the Italian-made gates (up to 4,200 tons):

The canal, whose operation can yield more than $1 million per ship for the largest container ships, has made Panamanians the world’s only sincere environmentalists. They preserve the rainforest because they believe that cutting down all of the trees will result in reduced rainfall and, therefore, reduced opportunity to operate the canal (each operation of the locks costs fresh water, a limited resource).

I wonder if there is another climate change angle to the Panama Canal. If indeed our beloved Earth is going “full Venus” in 50-100 years due to CO2 we will need geoengineering to reverse the process, perhaps some combination of reducing new CO2 emissions, capturing existing CO2 in the atmosphere, and shading our home from the sun. The climate change alarmists say that the time to act is right now using the money and technology that we have in 2023. The French took this approach in 1881. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the hero of the Suez Canal and the husband of Louise-Hélène Autard de Bragard (43 years his junior), raised money and started digging. They wasted $287 million and 22,000 lives over 8 years before giving up in 1889. The Americans started around 1906 and finished ahead of schedule in 1914. Path Between the Seas attributes most of the Americans’ success to improvements in mining machinery during the intervening 20 years.

Maybe advanced humans will look back from the 2060s and laugh at the puny humans of the 2020s attempting to do geoengineering.

Separately, if we do master geoengineering will we keep cooling the earth until sea level is 10′ below its current level? The most valuable land is in coastal cities. Lowering sea level just a bit would add a tremendous amount of wealth to the world’s richest and most influential people. It would be like Battery Park City in every coastal city all around the world (on the ship that brought us to Panama we met a gal who is fully trained as an attorney, but hasn’t yoked herself to a law firm yet because she is the indirect beneficiary of a 30-year affordable housing contract in which a two-bedroom apartment in Battery Park City with a market value of $5,000/month is leased out for $1,000/month).

14 thoughts on “Panama Canal and Climate Change

  1. Wouldn’t it be more eco-friendly just to build products in the US, rather than importing them from Xhina?

    • But that would require paying decent wages… why bother when the world is full of poor people?

    • Anon: Watch the Oscar-winning documentary if you want to know why we need to depend on Chinese manufacturing. Some excerpts:

      Chairman Cao: “American workers are not efficient and output is low.”

      How to explain the difference in output and quality? An American fluent in Chinese says to a counterpart in China: “Most American workers are there to make money, not to make glass.”

    • @philg – averros sire makes a valid point. Why USA has to bother with manufacturing glass?

      wouldn’t it make sense to focus on high-value stuff – say chip design, quantum computing, and other technical innovation? (Plus it also helps avoid the menace of pollution ..)

      (Perhaps it makes sense for India, China – which has a large population in poverty, wherein manufacturing gives a good no. of jobs while keeping prices low for USA & western markets)

  2. Just noticed the new gates all have lanes for vehicles to drive across. The old gates had narrow paths only accessible by paw.

  3. @philg, your concern of CO2 increase are worrisome. You can move back to MA to save yourself though. #Science expects something to the tune of 2 degrees of Fahrenheit average temperature increase. Southern Florida how has about 85 degrees of Fahrenheit, pristine calm ocean and a few billboards warning against climate change. Here in the north we have snow and sleet. Save yourself, move back to MA.

  4. Glancing at the numbers, the “New Panamax” sure seems worth whatever they paid for it:

    52.5k tons vs 120k tons. One risk to consider: How good does it have to get before Colombia says, “To hell with it” and reconquers it? It’s got to be tempting.

    • Interesting question. Perhaps state actors already have plans to sabotage the canal in that event. It seems to be the new way of problem resolution.

  5. Re climate change China +India coal responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions world-wide. I will get onboard when we start by addressing that… Or the fact that Obama and Gore own oceanfront

Comments are closed.