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kottke.org posts about global warming

El Nino explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2015

The forecast high temperature for Christmas Eve in New York City is 66°F. What the hell is going on? Climate change? Yes, but mostly the balmy East Coast temps are due to a super-strong El Niño.1 In the video above, Vox explains what El Niño is and how the Pacific weather pattern affects weather around the globe (including the East Coast of the US).

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of atmospheric impacts.

El Niños can be strong or weak. Strong events can temporarily disrupt weather patterns around the world, typically making certain regions wetter (Peru or California, say) and others drier (Southeast Asia). Some countries suffer major damage as a result.

  1. Although the severity of this and future El Niños may be due to greenhouse warming. Complex systems, yo!

How climate change will affect world economies

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2015

Climate change economics map

A new study from scientists and economists at Stanford and Berkeley has taken a stab at determining how climate change will affect the world’s economic activity. As part of their study, they look at which countries might benefit from climate change and which might lose out. As you might expect, countries in the Northern Hemisphere with cooler climates stand to benefit while the rest of the world will not. Here are some of the projected big winners (the Nordic countries) and losers (the Middle East):

Mongolia +1413%
Finland +516%
Iceland +513%
Russia +419%
Estonia +259%

Saudi Arabia -96%
Kuwait -96%
Oman -94%
United Arab Emirates -94%
Iraq -93%

Canada (+247%) is another one of the potential big winners while the US (-36%) stands to lose out…along with all of Africa, South America, India, and China. This quote by one of the study’s lead authors, really grabbed me by the throat:

What climate change is doing is basically devaluing all the real estate south of the United States and making the whole planet less productive. Climate change is essentially a massive transfer of value from the hot parts of the world to the cooler parts of the world. This is like taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Among other many things, anthropogenic climate change is an issue of discrimination.1 Rich, predominantly white countries caused the problem and can do the most to limit the damage, but climate change will disproportionately affect poor countries, poor people (even in rich countries), women, and people of color. The rich need to do something about it so that the poor will not suffer. The problem is, the world’s wealthy have a long history of not being incentivized to help anyone but themselves. I hope this will turn out differently…or, as sometimes happens, the desires of the wealthy and the needs of the poor dovetail into action of joint benefit.

  1. In fact, with no offense to those who rightly rail against causes of discrimination around the world, I would go so far to say that this is by far the largest and most important discriminatory issue the world faces today. Climate change will permanently remake the entire world and its economy, and the poor, women, and people of color stand to lose huge.

Climate change and boiling frogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2015

I made a boiling frogs analogy in my post about coral bleaching this morning.

The oceans are slowly boiling and we’re the frogs who aren’t noticing.

James Fallows has been waging a small war on the use of that analogy for several years now.

You remember our old friend the boiled frog: It’s the staple of any political or business-management speech, used to show that problems that build up slowly can be explained-away or ignored, while ones that happen all of a sudden are more likely to be addressed.

Conservatives use it to talk about the expansion of the socialist state. Liberals use it to talk about climate change. Business managers use it to talk about a slide toward mediocrity. Everyone can use it to talk about something.

And that’s the problem with boiled-frogism. The minor issue is that the metaphor is flat wrong. If you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and gradually heat it up, the frog will stay there — until things get uncomfortably warm, at which point it will climb out. But if you drop a frog into a boil of already-boiling water, the poor creature will be so badly hurt and scalded that it will stay there and die.

I’m going to defend my usage just a little. The ocean is literally water that is getting warmer. But other than that, yeah, guilty as charged. (via @jpiz)

Major global coral bleaching event underway

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2015

Bleached Coral

A persistent underwater heatwave is causing corals worldwide to bleach, and scientists believe up to 5% of the world’s coral will die permanently.

Hoegh-Guldberg said he had personally observed the first signs of bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the past fortnight, months before the warm season begins. He said the warming pattern indicated bleaching this summer would likely affect 50% of the reef, leaving 5-10% of corals dead. Eakin said seeing bleaching on the reef at this time of year was “disturbing”.

Also, no matter how many times I read this, it never gets less scary:

Since the early 1980s the world has lost roughly half of its coral reefs.

The oceans are slowly boiling and we’re the frogs who aren’t noticing. (via @EricHolthaus)

Superstorm Francis descends on the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2015

It’s the Pope’s first time in America and we sent him straight to Congress. That doesn’t exactly seem like we’re putting our best foot forward. In his historic speech to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis addressed climate change, capitalism, the death penalty and immigration. MoJo pulled out the ten most important lines from the speech.

“This Pope often operates through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could.” The New Yorker on Pope Francis and his little Fiat.

Edward Burtynsky, Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2015

With California in the midst of a particularly intense multi-year drought and 2015 looking to be the warmest year on record by a wide margin,1 Edward Burtynsky’s “Water” series of photographs is especially relevant.

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Many of photos in the series are on display in Berkeley through February and are also available in book form.

Update: Burtynsky also collaborated on a documentary about water called Watermark. Here’s a trailer:

The film is available to watch on Amazon Instant and iTunes. (via @steveportigal)

  1. I mean, look at this chart from the NOAA of the warmest years since 1880…2015 is a Lionel Messi-esque outlier. And Eric Holthaus says that with the strong El Niño, 2016 is forecast to be even hotter.

Climate change: we’re past the point of no return

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

In Rolling Stone, Eric Holthaus writes that as far as climate change is concerned, we are already past the point of no return. The things climate scientists have warned against are already beginning to happen…and faster than predicted.

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

You might also like to read Adam Sobel’s reaction to this piece. As I wrote in reaction to James Hansen’s recent paper: “That’s the thing about nonlinear systems like the Earth’s climate: things happen gradually, then suddenly.”

Update: A group of climate scientists at Climate Feedback analyzed Holthaus’ piece at his request for accuracy.

While the information within the article is mostly accurate, the main issue for scientists is the article’s framing of the information. More specifically, the article implicitly attributes many weather events to human-induced climate change, while the influence of human activity on these events is not always supported by science, or is at the frontier of scientific knowledge and still debated.

Sea level may rise much faster than previously predicted

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2015

James Hansen, NASA’s former top climate scientist, is joined by 16 other leading climate scientists in a paper with some alarming conclusions. The gist is that the glaciers in Antartica and Greenland are melting so much faster than previously predicted that the global sea level will rise more than 10 feet in as little as 50 years, rendering many coastal cities uninhabitable. From Eric Holthaus in Slate:

The study — written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields — concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

That’s the thing about nonlinear systems like the Earth’s climate: things happen gradually, then suddenly. This is much more terrifying to me than the Pacific Northwest earthquake. BTW, as a reminder, here’s what NYC and the surrounding area looks like with 10 more feet of water. Goodbye JFK Airport.

Update: The paper is now available online.

Update: In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert provides a bit more explanation and context about Hansen’s paper.

What the new paper does is look back at a previous relatively warm period, known as the Eemian, or, even less melodically, as Marine Isotope Stage 5e, which took place before the last ice age, about a hundred and twenty thousand years ago. During the Eemian, average global temperatures seem to have been only about one degree Celsius above today’s, but sea levels were several metres higher. The explanation for this, the new paper suggests, is that melt from Antarctica is a non-linear process. Its rate accelerates as fresh water spills off the ice sheet, producing a sort of “lid” that keeps heat locked in the ocean and helps to melt more ice from below. From this, the authors conclude that “rapid sea level rise may begin sooner than is generally assumed,” and also that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would put the world well beyond “danger.”

“We conclude that the 2°C global warming ‘guardrail,’ affirmed in the Copenhagen Accord, does not provide safety, as such warming would likely yield sea level rise of several metres along with numerous other severely disruptive consequences for human society and ecosystems,” Hansen and his colleagues wrote.

Superwolves, pizzly bears, emerging hybrid species, and climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2015

Because of climate change and other activities caused by humans (invasive species, habitat loss), hybridization of species is resulting in things like super-sized coyotes, pizzly bears (grizzly/polar bear hybrids), and other animals that may not be ideally suited to survive.

Some scientists and conservationists see the coywolf as a nightmare of the Anthropocene — a poster child of mongrelization as plants and animals reshuffle in response to habitat loss, climate change and invasive species. Golden-winged warblers increasingly cross with blue-winged warblers in the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada. Southern flying squirrels hybridize with northern flying squirrels as the southern species presses northward in Ontario. Polar bears mate with grizzlies in the Canadian Arctic along the Beaufort Sea to produce “pizzly bears.”

All of this interbreeding upsets the conventional notion of species as discrete, inviolable entities. Moreover, some scientists and conservationists warn that hybridization will degrade biodiversity as unusual species are lost to genetic homogenization.

Partly scientists fear hybrids will be less fit than organisms that have evolved in place over eons. And often that is true, but the problem solves itself over time as hybrids lose out in the competitive race for survival.

Climate music for string quartet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2015

University of Minnesota student Daniel Crawford and geography professor Scott St. George have collaborated on a piece of music called Planetary Bands, Warming World. Composed for a string quartet, the piece uses climate change data to determine the musical notes — the pitch of each note is tuned to the average annual temperature, which means as the piece goes on, the musical notes get higher and higher.

(via @riondotnu)

2015 Pulitzer Prize winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2015

Sixth Extinction

Vox has a list of all the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winners. I am especially pleased to see Elizabeth Kolbert win the general nonfiction category for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History…I’ve been reading her writing on climate change and environmental issues in the New Yorker for years now.

The sea of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2015

NY Sea

Jeffrey Linn makes maps that show how extreme sea level increase will impact major cities around the globe. Recently he made a map of NYC showing what it would look like if sea levels rose by 100 feet, which is what would happen if a third of the world’s ice sheets melted. So long, most of Manhattan and Brooklyn; hello Coral Gardens, Prospect Beach, and Sunset Island. Prints are available.

See also Linn’s maps of a drowned London, the bay of LA, and islands of Seattle.

The coming American megadrought of 2050

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2015

Megadrought

A recent paper by three climate scientists concludes there’s a high risk of an unprecedented drought in the Southwest and Midwest United States later this century, even if we manage to get our carbon emissions under control. The scientists say it’ll be drier in the Western US than at any point in the past 1000 years.

In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100-1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.

Eric Holthaus has the layperson’s explanation of the study and its implications.

Smerdon’s study is the first to examine the future risk of “megadrought” in the southwest and central United States in the context of historical episodes of drought in the same regions. Smerdon’s study suggests that the coming years are likely to see droughts worse than the epic dry periods that are thought to have caused profound changes to human settlement in the region over the last millennium.

“They’re ‘mega’ because they are droughts that lasted in these regions for multiple decades,” said Smerdon in an interview with Slate. “We haven’t seen anything like this since at least the 1400s.” In comparison, the current California drought is four years old, though drought has been present in most of the last 15 years somewhere in the West.

Update: This NASA video provides a quick overview of this study and what it means for our climate.

Climate change calculator

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2015

Brad Plumer of Vox plays around with the climate change Global Calculator and discovers, among other things, eating less beef and slowing the world’s population growth would significantly slow global warming.

The IEA scenario I started with assumed that, by mid-century, the average person will be eating 2,330 calories per day, including 220 calories of meat. It also assumes we’ll be eating more beef — that is, about 25 percent of the world’s meat will come from ruminants like cows, up from 22 percent today. Since cows produce a lot of methane, this is significant.

But what if we tweaked those assumptions? I told the calculator to assume that in 2050, the average person was only consuming 152 calories of meat per day — which is the WHO’s target for a healthy diet. I also assumed that the mix of meat stayed similar to what it was today — marginally less beef, more chicken and pork.

The result? Global greenhouse-gas emissions dropped significantly. We’re now on pace for around 2.5°C of global warming, give or take.

2014 is the hottest year on record

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2015

On the off chance you get this before it spontaneously combusts, you should probably know that Earth just experienced its hottest year on record (again). You can blame humans, you blame nature, you can blame Mister Heat Miser. But for most scientists, there is a towering body of evidence to explain this inferno, and the debate over what’s causing the warm-up has already been decided (which is good, because the venue where the debate was being held just melted).

WaPo got reactions to the latest numbers from 21 scientists: “The temperature record is yet another brick in the massive wall of evidence that the climate is warming due to human activity.” Hey, (Science) Teacher, leave them kids alone…

If we’re going down in flames, let’s at least take 5 charts that explain 2014’s record-smashing heat. Or perhaps you’d prefer an animation?

Apparently, human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine planetary boundaries. (In layman’s terms: Uh oh.)

In other news, ocean life faces mass extinction.

Restored forests are fighting climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2014

And now some potential good news about climate change. Efforts to restore the world’s rainforests have gained traction and are having small but definite effects on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Over just a few decades in the mid-20th century, this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica.

Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming.

And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country’s forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen.

In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world’s immense tropical forests — saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow — is the single most promising near-term strategy.

I wish Arbor Day was still a bigger thing. Parts of the US used to be covered by vast forests as well and an effort to encourage the planting of more trees might have an impact not only on our climate but also on the wellbeing of people. It might not seem like much in comparison to the Amazon rain forest, but planting millions of trees each year in the US, if you did it consistently over 20-25 years, would be a wonderful thing. (via @riondotnu)

Update: According to this publication by The Forest History Society, American forests are in better shape today than they’ve been in decades.

Today about one-third of the land area of the U.S. is forested. This is about two-thirds of the forest area that existed in 1600. The area of forestland today is about the same as it was in 1920.

The average volume of wood per acre in U.S. forests today is 50 percent greater than it was in 1953. In the eastern United States, average volume per acre has almost doubled since 1953.

(via @tieguy)

Arctic ice continues to disappear

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2014

The headline from Eric Holthaus’ latest piece is arresting: The Last Time There Was This Little Arctic Ice, Modern Humans Didn’t Exist.

Ice has been a relatively constant feature of the Arctic for most of the past 36 million years, but there have been some gaps. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what happened during the most recent major ice-free period, but it’s often considered an analog to our future, warmer Earth. The only difference is, this time, the gap in Arctic sea ice is being caused by us.

China and US agree to climate change plan

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2014

The US and China, the two largest carbon polluters in the world, have struck an accord on climate change.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.

China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.

Here’s the official statement from the White House. The NY Times calls the agreement “ambitious” and a “landmark”, but Tyler Cowen says:

People, the China emissions “deal” isn’t much more than a press release…

But James Fallows, who has written extensively on China recently, is more positive.

The United States and China have apparently agreed to do what anyone who has thought seriously about climate has been hoping for, for years. As the No. 1 (now China) and No. 2 carbon emitters in the world, and as the No. 1 (still the U.S.) and No. 2 economies, they’ve agreed to new carbon-reduction targets that are more ambitious than most people would have expected.

The Phoenix Effect of corals

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2014

In a rare bit of good news about climate change, it appears that some types of coral have the ability to recover more quickly from trauma caused by rising ocean temperatures (archive).

At Palau in the western Pacific, a survey completed just three years after the 1998 bleaching event showed more coral had recovered on reefs within protected bays and on deep slopes.

Scientists suggest this is because heat and light serve as a double-whammy to coral health and corals that hang out in shady zones will escape the scorching combination, upping the chances that remnants will survive.

Seven years after the bleaching event, some reefs had regained nearly 40 per cent of their corals, with two species of plate-like acroporid coral, A. digitifera and A. hyacinthus, particularly prevalent. “We sampled plating coral colonies there a few years ago and found them to be pool-table size,” says Stephen Palumbi, Director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, in Pacific Grove, California, US.

Miami, the 51st US state?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2014

Given what we know now about how anthropogenic climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, Miami will be one of the first major American cities to find itself completely under water in the next century.

Miami Underwater

That inevitability is fueling a fledgling secessionist movement. And it’s not some crackpot grassroots effort either…the mayor and city commission of South Miami passed a resolution earlier this month that South Florida should break away and form the nation’s 51st state.

Whereas, South Florida’s situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now very significant safety issues; and

Whereas, presently, in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69 percent of the state’s revenue and contains 67 percent of the state’s population; and

Whereas, the creation of the 51st state, South Florida, is a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of the current state of Florida.

Look for more of this type of thing in the years to come. The fight over fossil fuels has already shaped a great deal of the modern global political structure and the coming shifts in climate will almost certainly do the same.

The gondoliers of Boston?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2014

You know how the old saying goes: When life hands you rising sea levels due to anthropogenic climate change, build canals. The city of Boston is considering such a scenario.

By 2100, climate scientists predict, sea levels around Boston will rise as much as 7.5 feet; in just a few decades water levels will be 2.5 feet higher than they are today. That could mean significant flooding not only during big storms but twice daily during high tides, as well as at times of normal rainfall.

The precise amount of sea-level rise is uncertain, but state and municipal leaders say they are taking the threat seriously, even if they are not yet at the stage of redesigning whole neighborhoods.

“We’re not going to start digging the canals tomorrow,” said Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of energy, environment, and open space. “But the report makes the important point that you can’t solve 6 feet of sea level rise simply by building a bigger dam on the Charles River.”

Greenland’s alarming black ice

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2014

Greenland has been covered in dark ice this summer. Why is that such a problem? Because dark things absorb more heat than lighter colored things, causing the dark ice to melt faster than white ice would. Eric Hotlhaus explains.

There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming. Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: “In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption.”

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

The future of the American bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2014

Swallow Tailed Hawk

The Climate Report from the National Audubon Society makes for sobering reading. Due to shifting climates, over 300 species of US birds are in danger of losing their habitats or even extinction within the next century. Here are the primary findings:

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The NY Times has a piece on the Audubon Society’s findings.

“Common sense will tell you that with these kinds of findings, it’s hard to believe we won’t lose some species to extinction,” said David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society. “How many? We honestly don’t know. We don’t know which ones are going to prove heroically resilient.”

Can the birds just move? “Some can and some will,” Mr. Yarnold said. “But what happens to a yellow-billed magpie in California that depends on scrub oak habitat? What happens as that bird keeps moving higher and higher and farther north and runs out of oak trees? Trees don’t fly. Birds do.”

California drought photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2014

Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan recently captured some photos of lakes in California showing the extent of the drought there. For me, this is the craziest one, of Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville:

Cali Drought After

And this is what it normally looks like:

Cali Drought Before

The weather taketh away

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2014

From Matter, a list of things to enjoy now before climate change takes them away or makes them more difficult to procure. Like Joshua trees:

The Joshua trees of Joshua Tree National Park need periods of cold temperatures before they can flower. Young trees are now rare in the park.

And chocolate:

Steep projected declines in yields of maize, sorghum, and other staples portend a coming food crisis for parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But here’s what will probably get everyone’s attention in the developed world: Studies suggest cacao production will begin to decline in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the source of half of the world’s chocolate, by 2030.

And cherries:

Eighty percent of tart cherries come from a single five-county area in Michigan, all of which is threatened.

But as noted previously, we’ve got plenty of time to enjoy jellyfish:

Important cold-water fish species, including cod, pollock, and Atlantic Salmon, face a growing threat of population collapse as the oceans heat up. Studies suggest a radical fix: Eat lots of jellyfish, which will thrive in our new climate.

Also, The Kennedy Space Center, Havana, Coney Island, the Easter Island statues, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa will all be underwater sooner than you think.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2014

From a pair of science historians, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, comes The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a book of science fiction about the consequences of climate change.

The year is 2393, and a senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.

Update: In the same vein is Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming.

Richly imagined, dark, and darkly comic, the stories follow the narrator over three decades as he tries to survive in a world that is becoming increasingly savage as cataclysmic events unfold one after another. In the first story, “What We Know Now” — set in the eve of the millennium, when the world as we know it is still recognizable — we meet the then-nine-year-old narrator fleeing the city with his parents, just ahead of a Y2K breakdown. The remaining stories capture the strange — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes funny — circumstances he encounters in the no-longer-simple act of survival; trying to protect squatters against floods in a place where the rain never stops, being harassed (and possibly infected) by a man sick with a virulent flu, enduring a job interview with an unstable assessor who has access to all his thoughts, taking the gravely ill on adventure tours.

(thx, matty)

Prestige TV in the time of climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2014

Television is in the midst of a protracted golden age. Anthropogenic climate change is beginning to affect the planet’s weather. Sarah Miller puts these two ideas together in a short piece of humor writing.

About half an hour later, a Boston Whaler was cruising down Ninth Avenue, and a man stood on the bow with a megaphone, shouting, “Please leave your buildings. Make your way to the nearest rooftop” in English, then in Spanish, then in Chinese. By this point, the water had risen to the top of the first floor. An emergency siren came on and stayed on. Irritated, Marci turned on the closed captioning. Then she wrote a short post about how watching “House of Cards” with subtitles revealed that, in domestic situations, people with less power spoke more words than those with more power but, in professional situations, it was the reverse. She posted it to her Tumblr. “This is so exactly what I was thinking about right now,” someone commented.

What is Mother Earth worth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2014

A group led by Dr. Robert Costanza has calculated the value of the world’s ecosystems…the group’s most recent estimate puts the yearly value at $142.7 trillion.

“I think this is a very important piece of science,” said Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s particularly high praise coming from Dr. McCauley, who has been a scathing critic of Dr. Costanza’s attempt to put price tags on ecosystem services.

“This paper reads to me like an annual financial report for Planet Earth,” Dr. McCauley said. “We learn whether the dollar value of Earth’s major assets have gone up or down.”

The group last calculated this value back in 1997 and it rose sharply over the past 17 years, even as those natural habitats are disappearing. This line from the article stunned me:

Dr. Costanza and his colleagues estimate that the world’s reefs shrank from 240,000 square miles in 1997 to 108,000 in 2011.

Coral reefs shrank by more than half over the past 17 years…I had no idea the reef situation was that bad. Jesus.

Climate change? More like climate changed.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2014

According to the National Climate Assessment, climate change has already affected the US in significant ways. This map from the NY Times shows the change in temperatures from around the country, specifically the “1991-2012 average temperature compared with 1901-1960 average”.

Climate change US temps

Among the report’s findings? As I’ve noted before, weather is getting weirder and more bursty, not just hotter.

One of the report’s most striking findings concerned the rising frequency of torrential rains. Scientists have expected this effect for decades because more water is evaporating from a warming ocean surface, and the warmer atmosphere is able to hold the excess vapor, which then falls as rain or snow. But even the leading experts have been surprised by the scope of the change.

The report found that the eastern half of the country is receiving more precipitation in general. And over the past half-century, the proportion of precipitation that is falling in very heavy rain events has jumped by 71 percent in the Northeast, by 37 percent in the Midwest and by 27 percent in the South, the report found.

Nonlinear systems, man.

Years of Living Dangerously

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2014

Years of Living Dangerously is a 9-part documentary series on climate change which features celebrity correspondents like Harrison Ford, Oliva Munn, Jessica Alba, and Matt Damon reporting from around the world on different aspects of our changing climate.

The series combines the blockbuster storytelling styles of Hollywood’s top movie makers, including James Cameron and Jerry Weintraub, with the investigative skills of 60 Minutes veterans Joel Bach and David Gelber and a team of leading national news journalists and scientists.

Each YEARS correspondent — including top Hollywood stars recognized for their commitment to spotlighting and acting on the biggest issues of our time — delves into a different impact of climate change. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the tri-state area to political upheaval caused by droughts in the Middle East to the dangerous level of carbon emissions resulting from deforestation, the series takes the viewer on a journey to understand the current and intensifying effects of climate change through vivid stories of heartbreak, hope and heroism.

The show starts airing on Showtime on April 13, but the entire first episode is available on YouTube right now:

The show is getting great reviews so far; I hope it helps move the needle. (thx, tobin)