Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE = EXTREME WEATHER DISRUPTION

Extreme weather from the great climate disruption will rule our lives. I cover current heat waves in Australia, California, Brazil/Argentina, Alaska and Siberia, plus the UK floods.

Then author/activist Deborah Frieze on book & movement to "Walk Out, Walk On", and Dr. Jochen Hinkel on the huge cost of rising seas.

Normally on Radio Ecoshock, my expert guests do the talking, while I listen and learn along with you. But this week there are major developments here on Earth that are not coming through to you clearly, or not reported at all.

See the detailed note below, and by all means, listen to this program, to get the big picture.

Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

WALK OUT WALK ON - AUTHOR DEBORAH FRIEZE



Maybe you see our way of living is in big trouble, starting to self destruct it's economy, and even the whole world ecosystem. You don't want to be part of that, but what can you do?

Maybe you should Walk Out and Walk On. That's the title of a book, and a movement, co-authored by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. The web site linked above is more than a book promo. It's also central to a world-wide movement, with lots of inspiring examples and resources.

Part of the reason I called Deborah is the future of climate change and extreme weather events. It looks like millions, maybe billions of people will find themselves in an environment that is no longer liveable. Climate refugees may be in coastal cities that flood over, in valleys where hill-sides collapse or burn.. Others will be hit by persistent long-term drought that kills off agriculture. Many of us will have to judge when it is time to just walk out.

In the meantime, Deborah's book is really helpful at the personal level. It offers guidance and examples of people who have left the untenable to find lives that really matter. That works for those of us in the developed world who have choices. But the idea actually came from India, where the example of high school dropouts was found to be people who went on to form whole new lives.

I ask Deborah how this movement differs from the counter-culture of the late 1960's, when Timothy Leary advised us to "Turn on, tune in, and drop out"? She says the days of protest are not what she's talking about. Almost like David Holmgren on Radio Ecoshock a couple of weeks ago, our guest suggest withdrawal from a deadly system, to create a living and sustainable one instead. Perhaps "play" is a better answer than protest, she suggests. I'm not so sure.

Deb herself dropped out of the high tech industry in 2001, to become an alternative lifestyle teacher, then head of the Berkana Institute for some years. Now living in Boston, Deborah is deeply involved in forming local community there, and supporting other resilient community efforts around the world. Find her web site here.

Walk Out Walk On was written with Margaret (Meg) Wheatley. I wrote to Meg, but found she is on a two month retreat of silence, completely withdrawn from the world.

Listen to/download this interview with Deborah Frieze (25 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

And please pass those links on to anyone you think would be interested. All links posted in this blog are permanent. People download these interviews for years.

THE COMING SUPER COST OF RISING SEAS - DR. JOCHEN HINKEL

As great storms pound the British coast, after other massive storms washed over the Philippines and New York City, we can only wonder what the costs and damage from sea-born flooding will be, as this century goes on. A new paper published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal tries to calculate just that.

The paper is titled "Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise". This global projection was created by a team of scientists from Germany, several from British Universities and the Tyndall Center, with more from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria.

The Press Release for this report is here in English

and here in German

From the Berlin offices of the Global Climate Forum, I'm pleased to welcome the lead author of that paper, Dr. Jochen Hinkel.



We discuss the critical problem of estimating sea level rise. The paper suggests a big range of possibilities by the year 2100, from 23 centimeters, say 10 inches, all the way to 123 cm, or four feet. Why such a big difference in projections? Mainly because no one is certain how fast the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers and ice sheets will melt.

We also know the sea is not level. For various reasons, water tends to pile up in some regions, and not others. Dr. Hinkel agrees.

The problem of rising seas has two major dimensions: 1. the seas will rise due to climate change and 2. hundreds of millions more humans are moving toward the sea coast (and so becoming more exposed to things like high storm surges as sea levels go up).

We may think that European or American countries, or at least major cities, will defend themselves from sea flooding for several decades. But if Asian cities, that have become the factories of the world, don't make it, we still all suffer the economic consequences. Does this global problem of sea flooding force us to into some sort of global response?

The paper estimates sea level rise will cause 100 trillion dollars damage EVERY YEAR by the end of this century. Rising seas, the authors find, could be the most costly aspect of climate change.

Hinkel warns: "if we do not reduce greenhouse gases swiftly and substantially, some regions will have to seriously consider relocating significant numbers of people in the longer run."

That can be reduced if countries take some action now to build things like big protective dikes, and tide gates for major cities. Dr. Hinkel and the Global Climate Forum are pushing governments to take such adaptive actions.

Is there a point where the costs of defense, like tide gates or maintaining sea dikes - coupled with the impacts of some storm damage - will be too great to maintain major cities near the sea? Can we try to project such a tipping point?

All this makes me wonder, could a major and long-lasting economic depression come out of this problem alone? We don't get that deep, but you can find out more from this new scientific paper.

Web link for this paper on rising seas.

The full text of this PNAS article is here.

Listen to/download this 15 minute interview with Dr. Jochen Hinkel in CD Quality (only)

ALEX - THE MEANING OF GLOBAL EXTREME WEATHER

We humans were not made to comprehend the whole globe. Our DNA interprets the forest or plains around us. Lately, the Brits must think we are drowning, the Aussies are burning with heat, and Americans feel like the Ice Age has returned.

Buried in all that, and in the places major media ignores, is a very serious development. It's simply this: climate disruption has arrived much sooner than anyone, including the gloomiest scientists, and the doomiest doomers thought possible. The beast is here, now.

We must expect a bumpy ride. So called normal years may return to some places for a year or three, but we are entering a period of severe climate disruption that may extend for the rest of your life, and that of your children.

The ultimate destination may be a much hotter world, where the Arctic sea is tropical, and the skies placid, but we have a long road before that comes. It is the great disruption.

Before we consider what that means, I'd like to tie up some reporting from parts of the world that big television networks and newspapers ignore, or bury in the back pages.

To start with, if anyone tries to sell you on the myth of global cooling, just because of snow-storms on the East Coast, or relentless cold in Wisconsin or Winnipeg, the planet is much too hot in other places. I'm not going to cover the big storms hitting the North east. Major American media have flooded the world with that stuff, or you lived it personally, so you know. I do cover a bit about the amazing heat wave in California this winter.

DEATHS IN AUSTRALIAN HEAT WAVE

In past weeks, I've told you about Australia. Day after day over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 38 degrees Celsius. Nights that don't get much cooler. The resulting bushfires spread became so big they created their own weather systems complete with dry lightening storms, causing more fires - a positive feedback effect of the worst kind.

Newspapers admit at least 400 people have died from this recent heat wave, with more to come. Heat is now a leading cause of death in Australia. That this could happen in a developed country should be no surprise. Estimates for the number of people killed in the European heat wave of 2003 range from 40,000 to 60,000 dead.

There are two lessons there.

1. Climate change will kill a lot of us directly.

2. Yes those most vulnerable, kids, the elderly, and people with existing medical conditions die first. But before that comforts you remember that sooner or later that will include you.

Before we leave Australia, there's one bit of good news. Despite that country digging in to flood the world with coal, solar power is really picking up in Australia's sunny south. A new report by the Australian Energy Market Operator says the power from roof-top mounted solar panels saved residents from the blackouts that usually accompany a gush of air-conditioner use. In 2009, Australia had those blackouts. But just four years later, there was enough solar power to shift the peak demand, and save the system.

It just makes common sense to install solar in a hot, sunny country. Why isn't Arizona listening?

RECORD HEAT IN ARGENTINA AND BRAZIL

But let's move on to a heat wave that is hardly reported. I'm talking about the monster heat striking southern Brazil and Argentina during December 2013 and January 2014.

It's a pathetic commentary on the news machine that when I searched Google news for reports on the South American heat wave, most of the reporting was about how it would affect the price of your coffee. It's all about markets for us, isn't it?

You have reason to be jittery about the cost of coffee I suppose. The drought in Brazil has already raised wholesale prices. The other major supplier, Indonesia, has the opposite problem. They are drowning in near record rain.

Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo experienced its warmest January on record with a daily average maximum of 31.9 °C (or 89.4 °F) . Normal is about 28 degrees C for that time of year. Then it got hotter in Feburary, around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 degrees C every single day for the first week. That's before you figure in the high humidity which made it all unbearable.

In Buenos Aires, it was above 30 degrees C, at least 86 degrees Fahrenheit, every day of December, and most days of January. With the humidity, it felt like the mid-40's, or 113. In late January the temperature adjusted for the humidex reading was 47 degrees, or 116.

Only Al Jazeera TV got right down into Buenos Aires Argentina to document what it's been like for people there.

Al Jazeera clip

Here is a short video on this heat wave from BBC.

It isn't pretty. Listen to grandmothers liking on the 15th floor, after the electricity went out for a couple of weeks during big spikes of demand for air-conditioning. Her elevator isn't working, so climb all the way with groceries and water.

For me, that's an important lesson for the future. How will you cope with heat when the power goes out? Just a few solar panels could at least keep the fans running that could save your life.

Of course whether you are in a hot zone, or prone to ice storms, don't live higher than you can climb with groceries and supplies. James Howard Kunstler figures that is the seventh floor for most people, lower for seniors. If you live higher than that now, you may want to consider moving, preparing for the coming disruptions to our energy grid.

And finally from South America, the well known fact that over-heated humans get grumpy and socially unstable. Just look at the violent riots in Rio de Janairo over a hike in transit fares. Sure South America has a reputation for some riots. But I think we can presume the heat stokes emotions and discontent even higher.

If we experience a relatively sudden jolt in temperatures, and in a few minutes I'll explain how that could happen, you should expect social unrest as a consequence.

SIBERIA, THE ARCTIC AND ALASKA

Now we'll travel to the least expected, least reported places experiencing record high heat. If the temperature is below zero, can we call it a heat wave? We can if we are talking about the Arctic circle in winter.

You probably heard it was warmer in Homer Alaska one day in January than it was almost anywhere in the lower 48 states. The same Polar Vortex that brought snow storm after storm to the central and eastern part of North America - kept a big sweep of Hawaiian air running over Alaska.

World-known dog sled races were cancelled or shoved somewhere else. Forget about snow-mobiling in Alaska. A series of avalanches - that's melting unstable snow in January - closed down major highways. Places like Nome, Seward, and Homer hit all-time record highs. Kids all over Alaska were out in shorts. Backyard barbecue parties returned. That's nutty stuff that could only happen during climate change.

That was all part of the same weather system that delivered the drought to California, and oh yeah, another series of record high temperatures there. San Francisco was more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a normal January. On the 15th and 16th, the temperature rose to 73 degrees, 22 C. Sacramento set more record highs in January 2014 than at any time in it's history.

It was the same in January on the other side of the world.

For this I thank Christopher C. Burt, weather historian for the wunderground blog, posted February 12, 2014.

"All-time-record monthly warm temperatures have been observed at many sites in the Siberian states of Yakutia and Kamchatka. In what is normally the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth, Oymyakon (various spellings) saw its temperature rise to a February record high of -12.5 °C (9.5 °F) on February 9th."

On Feburary 7th, Oymyakon rose to 2.9 degrees C, or 37 degrees F - the "first time this site has ever risen above freezing during the month of February." That is mind-blowing. Put that in your mental calendar. Consider what that may mean for extra permafrost melting, and even more methane into the Arctic atmosphere, if this kind of weather action continues.

Christopher Burt goes on:

"The normal high temperature at this time of the year should be around -48 °C (-55 °F). Oymyakon also holds the world record (along with Verkhoyansk) for the coldest temperature ever measured on earth at an inhabited site: - 67.7 °C (-90 °F) set on February 6, 1933 (almost exactly 80 years ago)."

This is the key to whatever nasty weather you have been experiencing. The world has not warmed by much, as a global average. But the poles have warmed way more than anywhere else. When there is a smaller difference between the poles and the equator, there is less to drive the Jet stream from West to East.

Instead the Jet Stream takes huge bends, almost blowing north to south. It gets stuck in those bends. Depending on which side of the stream you are, your weather gets stuck in a pattern which could be record warmth and drought, or record cold and snow. Lucky you, but it's all due to climate change, no matter what Rush Limbaugh or any net idiots tell you.

GREAT BRITAIN

Before I wrap up with my main point, we can't leave this extreme record report without talking about Great Britain. I've seen satellite photos that make my jaw drop. One huge single storm just swept over the whole of the islands, burying England, Scotland and Ireland in a wild pool of grey. Another satellite photo shows a series of giant lakes where the southern English countryside used to be. Then that system connected with the whole giant storm in Eastern North America, making a half-global, intercontinental storm. I warned about that several years ago.

You can imagine, or if you live there don't need to imagine, the mental costs to the average person. Day after day of gray wet skies, the worry of floods, the reality of floods. It must affect the economy as well.

Right now I'd like to point out a single aspect. The intense storms, with high winds and record-setting storm surges, are changing the British Coast line forever. Just a couple of weeks ago, an amateur fossil hound uncovered the remains of 200 year-old diosaurs, formerly embedded in a sea side cliff.

It was just last year evidence was found on the coast of humans living in Britain at least 800,000 years ago. Two weeks later, after those footprints were collected, the rising tides swept even that away.

The interesting sidelight on that discovery is the ancient climate was quite different as well. At 800,000 plus, it would have been quite cold, begging the question whether humans that early had managed to capture fire. But at the 700,000 year mark, people there would have experienced a climate hot like the Mediterranean. In my mind, that discounts theories raised lately that humans will go extinct soon. It may be possible we'll experience a major die-off, especially due to our overpopulated dependence on fragile global food supplies. But humans have and will adapt to big changes in the climate. It would be awful, but not necessarily extinction.

I'll have more to say about the coastal damage in future shows.

The British coasts are tumbling into the sea as these storms track into Britain, as they have done for the last half dozen years. Winter storms, and soggy summers, may be the new future of England all during the long period of climate disruption.

Everyone from Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist for the UK Met office, to economy whiz Lord Stern acknowledges Britian's turn toward awful weather is driven by climate change. Lord Stern warns such destabilization applied to the whole world may well lead to military conflict.

In another amazing development, the British government has thrown in the towel, admitting that no government can cope with such massive storm damage. They apprently propose to abandon parts of the coast and inland to flooding, and will spend what little money they have protecting major cities like London. That's a song you will hear in many parts of the world.

Our whole landscape could change. River floodplains may expand. Other lakes could disappear due to lack of water. Major cities will go underwater. The Canadian and Russian north have already seen major geologic-level changes as permafrost melts.

NEW SCIENCE AND THE COMING HEAT

All this disruption of the weather and human lives is before the major change which scientists expect.

I know a couple of weeks ago I worried out loud that lower sunspot activity could mask the heat until a new period of high solar storms. Since then I've been advised by listeners that the sun is not so quiet as the mainstream media has been reporting. Anyway, I went back and listened to a couple of previous Ecoshock interviews to remind myself that the amount of solar activity is not the primary driver of what happens here on Earth. Our emissions are.

This week I came across two new scientific studies which show that we may very well be setting ourselves up for not just a gradual increase in global temperatures, but for a series of heat waves around the world.

No doubt you've heard some climate scientists have been puzzled why Earth isn't hotter already, considering the physics of the gigatones of greenhouse gase we've stuffed into the atmosphere, at an ever-increasing rate. We should be hotter than we are.

What caused this so-called "haitus"? - as dangerous as our current levels are, as we've just seen.

From sweltering Australia, and the University of New South Wales Climate Research Centre, scientist Matthew England just published a study that explains a lot. Dr. England was a Radio Ecoshock guest in 2011.

It boils down to this. The Trade winds blow across the Pacific Ocean, from East to West. These winds have been stronger than usual in the last decade. They have roiled the ocean surface, burying more carbon than we expected into the ocean.

The Trade Winds rise up now and then, it's just a natural cycle. But then they quiet down. When they do, all that heat energy buried in the upper Pacific waters will rise up, possibly in a period as short as a year, or a few years. We'll taste all the warming our emissions really add up to. More people will suffer and die. I'll have a lot to report on.

Here is Professor Matthew England, a guest on Radio Ecoshock in January 2011, talking about his new work:

[England video, audio in the show]

Professor England's study has been tested against climate models, and indeed just the trade winds could account for the missing heat. When those winds go quiet, you better have your living situation ready, if you can. It's going to get even wilder.

Finally, the tipping point for me this week was a fairly quiet release of another scientific paper from Germany. Armin Bunde and colleagues of Justus Liebig University predict 2014 could be a record-hot year, again. How do they know? It comes down to whether we have an El Nino or not. The Eastern Pacific ocean has an oscillation between the cooler La Nina, which we had for the past few years, and the heat-generating El Nino, which brought the last record setting heat monster of 1997-98.

Until very recently, no one could predict when an El Nino would come. It's an important thing to know. By studying weather and ocean patterns, the German researchers and their Chinese counterparts realized it all hinges on the connection of two regions in the eastern Pacific. If connections are made, and the atmosphere behaves in a certain way, there is a 75% chance an El Nino will come.

The scientists say we crossed that threshold in September 2013. That gives us a 75% change, pretty high in science terms, that 2014 will see an El Nino.

That paper is titled "Increasing frequency of extreme El NiƱo events due to greenhouse warming" published in the journal Nature Climate Change in January 2014.

And if the trade winds go quiet in the same year, Earth and it's inhabitants of all kinds could experience a jolt of heat from all our past emissions. We don't know what the trade winds will do this year. There is a 25% chance El Nino won't come.

But sooner or later, these and other boogies like melting methane clathrates and a whole series of positive feedback loops, could bring on the big warming jolt, decades before those predictions made just a few years ago by the IPCC scientists. Scientists are already suggesting 2014 will be the hottest year ever.

Hang on to your hats for that.

THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

I'm Alex. Please support this program at our web site ecoshock.org - and download all our past programs as free mp3s.

Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock.

1 comment:

geonomist said...

Since humans have taken most of the buried carbon (fossil fuel) and stuck it into the atmosphere, something had to give. How could anyone think that altering the composition of the atmosphere would have zero effect? That’s what’s caused global climate change before, over the past hundreds of millions of years.

The good news is, what humans have broken they may be able to fix. How? It’s not relying on techno-fixes like solar panels and fuel cells. It’s relying on social justice, specifically economic justice, meaning a just distribution of the economy’s output. Don’t tax the wages of labor. Don’t subsidize the operations of capital. And do recover and share the value of land.

When owners must pay Land Dues or land taxes, they take less and use what they take more wisely. When residents receive a rent share or Citizen’s Dividend, they’re enabled to invest their talents in discovering new efficient machines and new waste-free lifestyles of more play and stronger human ties. Geonomics is not widely known yet but these blinding snow-storms could open more eyes. More at progress.org.