Friday, March 30, 2007

Mitigation and Adaptation agreement in China

The United Nations Development Programme announced the signing of a "memorandum of understanding" between China and Norway "to support a new project focusing on developing and implementing provincial programmes on climate change mitigation and adaptation."

As the UNDP representative in China described it,
“The project will help in particular the poorest and most vulnerable regions and communities in China to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change through developing and implementing provincial strategies and associated actions and measures.”

Norway has contributed US$2 million to get the project started.

Your neighborhood doom predictions

It's one thing to say that climate change is upon us. It's another to say that you can predict the climate that will exist at your address. But that's the new service of Climate Appraisal Services LLC.

Yes, folks, "Climate Appraisal literally 'brings home' address-based, potential environmental risks by putting such scientific data at your fingertips."

I guess there are many people who can't figure out the "potential" climate-related risks that lurk in their future. But I tend think that it's just those people who will never discover the existence of this business.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Shock the Frog

Front stoops, no more houses. Plaquemines Parish, LA.

The way the urban legend went, the temperature of the water in the pot rose so gradually and evenly that the frog never noticed it getting hotter. He adapted as every degree was added and eventually succumbed, not aware that the water was too hot to support his life. We could apply that same model to humanity - that we might adapt to a slow, steady increase in temperature, or in rainfall, or in lack of rainfall, until conditions get so bad that no action will save our sorry asses.

But that's not how we're going to experience climate change. The best explanation I've read so far of how things are likely to unfold is in a report by the Global Business Network titled (what else?) Impacts of Climate Change. Originally written for the Pentagon, it raises some of the possible scenarios that are likely to play out as a result of how climate change manifests itself around the world.

Far from the slow and linear change of the "boiling frog" story, we'll see more climatic excursions from the linear -- record-breaking temperatures, droughts and storms, interspersed with years of relative normality. But the impacts of the intermittent extreme events will be devastaing and will last for years or even for generations. Huge populations may be displaced, tremendous losses of life may take place, witnessed virtually by millions or billions, just as Katrina and the Indonesian tidal wave were. Violent conflicts will break out as millions migrate in desperation across borders.

This is a particularly good paper to read because its authors acknowledge that impact studies about climate change are difficult to do.
...they are not predictable enough to be actionable because the exact nature of the event that will jar the planet in the near- and long-term future -- the wheres, whens and hows of climate change -- remains both unknown and unknowable.
So, the authors took another tack.
Instead of starting with climate change and working out toward impacts, we focus on systems that are already generally vulnerable first, and then consider what the geophysics of climate change may do to them.
It's a low-hanging fruit approach; make the easy predictions -- the ones with the highest level of confidence -- and see where that gets us. In this case, even with the relatively safe probabilities described in the report, there is enough potential damage to life, property, culture, politics and the global mood to guarantee that we'll be challenged on all levels in the decades to come.

This passage, I think, is the most succinct description of how the impact will land:
Finally, the high likelihood of extreme events and nonlinear excursions in global climate intersects with the question of threshold effects. As extreme events -- perhaps compounded by medium-term excursions -- take place, the chance that any given event will exceed the resiliency of a natural or human system rises dramatically. And when such a threshold is passed, the amount of damage also rises steeply.
Katrina was a perfect example.

Future Fingers in the Dike

So, yeah...whatARE the Dutch thinking and doing about the prospect of sea level rise, their being below sea level already? This animation illustrates one scenario of how bad the flooding could get.

The Dutch skeptics say, Do nothing; there's no evidence that the sea is rising at all, much less at an accelerating rate. They believe an investment in improving the sea barrier would be wasted, based on bad science and hysteria.

I ran across these expressions in the comments following an article titled The Dutch experience of sea level rise on the Climate Audit site. As one fellow posted:

One of the features of the proponents of the doomsday is that they heavily underestimate the natural variations of everything. They say that the world is living on the edge, and if you change the sea level by half a meter or the temperature by 1 degree, everything collapses. They have not looked at these graphs - especially the more historical ones. The biosphere was very happy 3 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3 degrees higher...
But a February 7 AP article in the International Herald Tribune, titled Dutch may build offshore breaker islands in response to global warming indicates that some serious scientists and politicians there are thinking hard about the consequences of guessing wrong and being unprepared. Dutch policy.
More than two-thirds of the Netherlands' 16 million population lives below sea level, and Dutch policy makers are counting on a rise in sea level of around 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the coming century regardless of the ongoing scientific debate on the causes and likely impact of global warming.
This is Climate Frog behavior. The Hell with the debate, the risk is too great to be complacent. Let's do something now and start designing a defense.

The Dutch stand as perhaps the greatest cultural example of hard work and intelligent planning in preserving a land base and a way of life. Check out this promotional video of their current defenses against the sea and inland flooding. But even these monumental works will fail when the sea level rises.

Their solution for that eventuality is creative in that it leverages natural processes to do much of the building. By pumping sand into the right place, they can count on the ocean to bulk up the wall of dunes along the coastline. An alternate (or perhaps complementary) plan would build a line of barrier islands off the coast to serve as breakwaters when North Sea storms threaten to send a surge over the dikes.

The Dutch aren't just talking a good game, their government approved an increase of $18.5 billion in spending on water defenses over the next 20 years. Not surprisingly, Hurricane Katrina was seen as a "wake up call" for anyone in the Netherlands who thought that catastrophic flooding could only occur in developing countries.

Yet, not even a raising of the coastal defense levees is counted on for full confidence. There are also plans for evacuation drills and contingency plans for fullblown flooding of the low countries. At some point, many locations around the world had better get on that page.

Inuit Adaptation

If you live, like the Inuit people, near the Arctic Circle, and have for countless generations, global warming threatens every aspect of your life and culture. As winter ice disappears, permafrost melts, wildlife changes and the climate you've known seems to have disappeared, you can bet that it's stressful and disorienting.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development has created a new project called Community Adaptation and Sustainable Livelihoods - a site I'm including in this blog's links section.

A report on a year-long project to examine the adaptation needs of the Inuit describes the new environment:

New species of birds such as barn swallows and robins are arriving on the island. In the nearby waters, salmon have been caught for the first time. On the land, an influx of flies and mosquitoes are making life difficult for humans and animals.
The Inuit are among the vanguard cultures facing up to dramatic change with only the hope that global action can make that change temporary. The outlook isn't good, though. Several generation may have to leave tradition - and maybe location - behind as desperate adaptation measures. Some future generation my have to re-learn the Inuit ways when the ice cap and permafrost are restored. As to the polar bear and the rest of Arctic wildlife...just save that DNA, OK?

Humans: a Drought-Tolerant Species?

One thing about dryness - it preserves the records of human activity and subsequent abandonment of regions. Many a monument lay in ruins as testaments of once-thriving civilizations and cultures that eventually caused - or just happened to be in the path of - longterm drought. Innovation allowed the early Egyptians to take advantage of precipitation cycles far away in the highlands to flood and irrigate their desert-edge crops. But mankind seems to be blind to limits and overuse of resources, leaving ourselves vulnerable to the consequences of our own excesses and Nature's whim.
Phoenix and Las Vegas come to mind when I think of huge human settlement of locations that don't seem to be meant to support such a thing. Vegas, of course, is the most ridiculous example in the world of outright squandering of scarce resources. Gamblers will, of course, support that waste for a while, and the sheer number of residents invested in living in the Valley of the Sun will keep Phoenix going for years. But some less conspicuous locations in the U.S. have been suffering drought for long enough to have their condition labeled extreme by the US Department of Agriculture.

Check out this map. I'll be keeping track of how these conditions impact the farmers, ranchers and residents in these areas as their droughts extend. As history has shown us, people can only tolerate such conditions for so long, even if you believe they're simply part of natural climatic cycles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Who took my microclimate???

The second home has become a mainstream asset over the past 40 years. No longer restricted to the elite, the vacation home - located in a place with a climate that offered relief from wherever your first home happened to be - is now as much of the American lifestyle as boat-owning, the multi-car family and having the latest TV technology. But one of the first social effects of climate change in the U.S. may be the abandonment of the getaway.

Take Summerhaven, Arizona on Mount Lemon, for example, looming 9,000 feet over Tuscon - for years offering cool relief from summer in the city below. People built homes, towns, precious little tourist areas with shops and restaurants. They'd created a permanent community where only ancient native Americans had camped temporarily before. A month-long fire in 2003 - fueled by dead, beetle-infested pines whose fatal arc was started by drought and unusually warm temperatures, took out many of the cabins and commercial buildings.

Now, according to an article in the NY Times (registration required), climate change may be about to convince most of the remaining hardcore residents to abandon their erstwhile paradise.

One resident was quoted: “We used to have four seasons. Now we have two. I love this place dearly, and this is very hard for me to watch.”

“A lot of people think climate change and the ecological repercussions are 50 years away,” said Thomas W. Swetnam, director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “But it’s happening now in the West. The data is telling us that we are in the middle of one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States.”
This blog isn't jumping the gun at all. We're right on time.

How warm does it have to get.....

...before the frog jumps out of the pot? The urban legend has long been disproved that the frog will stay in the gradually warming water until he's been boiled to death. We can now recognize our pot-bound frog with the canary in the coal mine. The frog will make a life-saving move before catastrophe strikes. The frog pre-acts to rising temperature. But how long before? And what kind of move?What this blog is all about is pre-action, noting every instance I can find of humans changing their lifestyles, locations and local infrastructure deliberately as a defense against - or reaction to - impacts of climate change.

The Climate Frog blog is not so concerned with slowing down or preventing climate change. I'm part of the growing segment of humans who assume that conditions in the atmosphere will guarantee us many decades of unsettled weather. I believe what the IPCC scientists project as a future of novel climates and disappearing climates marked by extremes that local populations "ain't never seen in these parts."

As glaciers recede at unprecedented rates on Greenland, the Antarctic and all of the world's snowbound mountains, what will stimulate people to spend what might seem to be speculative money on huge public works? A miles-long dike to protect Santa Barbara? Billions spent on jacking up buildings and moving houses?

What will persuade people that they need to relocate to escape deadly heat, drought, chronic mudslides?

When will whole cultures change their lifestyles completely because the climate that defined them no longer exists anywhere on the planet? What will the Inuit do? The Laplanders?

I'm starting with the simplest of blogs because I can't wait until I've got the time to design the whole enchilada. Things may be a bit slow here in the beginning - nothing spectacular going on so far. But unfortunately, I'm sure that business will pick up soon enough.