Friday, September 28, 2007

Bill McKibben says it all

I don't think anyone can improve on what Bill says in this column in the Washington Post.

It's the oldest and most cliched of metaphors, but when it comes to global warming, it's the only one that really works: We're in a desperate race. Politics is chasing reality, and the gap between them isn't closing nearly fast enough.
And, as he pitches at the end of the column, don't forget to get involved with Invite your political representatives. Get real, get answers, get action.

Flood Defenses After the Fact

Here are three examples of "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, ummm.....oh yeah. Shame on ME." (Not that Nature feels any shame about it.)

What to do AFTER the flooding has caught you unprepared.

In Wales, if you can't beat Nature, join it. From the BBC Web site:

Flood damage in Wales costs an average of £70m a year and spending on defences has doubled in the last eight years.

But now the Welsh Assembly Government is working on a new strategy which involves working with nature rather than against it.

This may involve some areas being flooded in order to protect other communities.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson has ordered a fresh look at policy in the wake of flooding this summer.

She has ordered a three-year programme to refresh flooding policy, with the aim of developing a new strategy which involves "working with nature, rather than against it".

"The trigger for it was having the latest evidence which suggests that within the next 100 years sea levels will rise by 1 metre and there will be a 20% increase in flooding risk," she tells BBC Wales' Eye on Wales programme.

She said that one solution would be to look to countries like Malaysia as an example and use playing fields as storage ponds in the event of flooding.

"When we see over the last few years that we're already seeing small increases in flooding risk - every single one of those is a devastation for the community and individual involved," she added.

But she warned: "If we're going to have the kind of sea-level rise that is predicted, we will not be able to build walls high enough to tackle those issues effectively.

"So what we have to do is use the land to our advantage. And it might mean sometimes that we have to allow some areas to flood in order to ensure that bigger communities further down a river don't flood."
While in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, there are questions and a "Well, duh!":
The Brownsville Municipal Authority is trying to figure out why there is flooding in an area that's never had flooding before during heavy rain.

Engineer Bill Johnson said it hasn't happened during every storm, but on several occasions since the new sewer lines were installed, there has been flooding on Water Street between 12th and 16th streets. Johnson said the problem started about a month ago, so it is being caused by something that has occurred since the installation, not because of the installation.

"The flooding is weather-related. We need to find where it's coming from," Johnson said.
Can't stop the weather, so they better look elsewhere for the answers.

And in the Big Apple, the M.T.A. is pulling out all stops to prevent future subway flooding from extreme rain storms.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled plans yesterday for significant and costly changes to subway stations to prevent the shutdown of service that followed last month’s intense flooding.

The proposals include new ways to keep water out of the stations, like raising ventilation grates off the ground and building steps at subway entrances that would require passengers to walk up before descending into stations but would prevent rain from flowing downward.


The authority’s executive director, Elliot G. Sander, said short-term improvements, like raising the grates or installing valves, would cost $30 million. But more extensive projects under consideration, such as increasing sewer or pumping capacity, could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take at least several years. There was no immediate indication of how the authority, which is facing a financial crisis, would find the money for the projects.

Insurance Companies Rewriting the Future

In Spike Lee's heartbreaking retrospective of Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, we hear the angry laments of survivors who were denied insurance benefits for damage because - their carriers claimed - water damage was not covered in their policies.

Katrina was an exceptional event in the universe of risk management that is the domain of insurance companies, and when it comes to compensation, the insurance company is the final interpreter of its own policy language. For an event as huge as Katrina, a policy for protection from hurricane damage may be interpreted as specific to the effects of high wind, excluding the accompanying storm surge or torrential rains. Insurance adjusters on the ground are given their marching orders and scripts, while policy holders are left standing dumfounded and incredulous to deal with the total losses of their homes and property.

As one New Orleans resident put it, "There is a special place in Hell for these insurance adjusters." This is the reality we're looking forward to. You may not be "in good hands" after all. Insurance companies are about showing profit to shareholders; they are not sentimental, nor are they altruistic. As this blog has reported here and here, insurers are reassessing their assessment methods to prevent losses in an increasingly threatening environment. [This is not meant to be an indictment of all insurance adjusters, who, when it comes down to it, have their hands tied by policies from on high. See comments posted to this article.]

A column in the Washington Post describes one upside of the rising alarm among insurance companies - their joining the chorus demanding immediate reduction of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."
Good for them, but meanwhile for all localities with vulnerability to climate change impacts, this stands as a major issue, for as risks rise for damage or destruction from storms, floods, wildfires, drought and sea level rise, we know that insurance companies are making their adjustments in advance. They are taking their place - consistent with their profit-oriented mission - in the vanguard of climate change risk management.

Of course, this means that policy holders and buyers must begin to examine the small print with even more care and scrutiny than before. Insurers understand that a direct hit by a Katrina-like storm on a location like Miami could bankrupt them if every potential claim is filed. This creates even more incentive for property owners to protect themselves proactively and defensively.

So get more involved in local mitigation activities - reduce your local eco-footprint, pressure your local government to take protective measures addressing the threats that apply to your area, and finally, improve your property's survivability in the face of those threats. Don't rely on your insurance policy to save you. And as part of that, start putting together your local adaptation strategy. Reduce your community's risk level wherever you can.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hard Choices for Local Government

If your community or region is going to prepare itself for CC impacts, it's going to need local politicians who are willing to educate themselves and advocate energetically in the face of more immediate issues. We're lucky to have a couple of staunch, environmentally informed local supervisors on our board of 5 members. Unfortunately 2 does not give them a majority vote.

The Marin Countywide Plan is being updated and one of the most contentious issues is the zoning of several hundred acres adjacent to an old but still operating rehabilitation center for boys, called the St. Vincent Home. Most of its property consists of a flat meadow between highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay - land that is vulnerable to sea level rise and that the county's Planning Commission had zoned as part of the the Bayfront Corridor where no development is to take place. That parcel of land is also one of the last remaining available areas where low-cost and senior housing could be built in the county.

If climate change looms as a serious threat in Marin's future, even more immediate is the dramatic demographic shift that will happen as we Boomers reach our senior years. Unless more senior housing is provided, many of us will be forced to relocate to other areas within the next 20 years. The over-65 demographic is by far the fastest growing one in Marin, and there has been a strong movement to reclaim the St. Vincent property from the Bayfront Corridor zoning.

Yesterday I attended the Board of Supervisors hearing where this zoning question was debated. Over 140 citizens made verbal comment, with environmentalists standing up for preserving the zoning and most of the seniors and low-cost housing advocates speaking for building out on the property. It was a wonderful demonstration of democracy in action. Too bad "our" side lost.

Yes, we do need to provide for the aging population, and yes, a levee could be built to protect the new development from a 1-meter rise in the level of the Bay. But these facilities will not help reduce Marin's huge ecological footprint by taking vehicles off the roads. The units will be isolated from any shopping areas or medical services and I'm sure more imaginative and convenient solutions could be found for locating the same facilities.

Most significant to me, though, were the fact that the County now acknowledges the threat of a 1-meter sea level rise and the quote by my local supervisor, Charles McGlashan, who told a reporter, "We are fighting, in my view, a race against potential extinction." Yes, those could very well be the stakes.

And as to the 1-meter sea level rise, I'm following up with McGlashan's aides to find out if that threat is being applied to the rest of the County's coastline. If it's recognized as a threat to a large, currently uninhabited wetland and meadow, it should certainly be considered as one in the many inhabited and developed coastal locations.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Submergency! Three-foot sea level rise ahead.

More scientists have just come out and told it like it is. The AP story by Seth Borenstein is less about what its title says - Rising Seas Likely to Flood U.S. History - and more about the certainty of two dozen climatologists that the sea level will rise by at least 3 feet no matter what we do to slow global warming.

Global warming — through a combination of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding — is expected to cause oceans to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches. It will happen regardless of any future actions to curb greenhouse gases, several leading scientists say. And it will reshape the nation.

Rising waters will lap at the foundations of old money Wall Street and the new money towers of Silicon Valley. They will swamp the locations of big city airports and major interstate highways.

There are discrepancies between the scientists' estimations of when the 3-foot rise metric will be reached; some say 50 years, some 100, and some 150. However long it takes, the sea will be rising up to that point, maybe inch-by-inch, maybe in larger steps.

Sea level rise is "the thing that I'm most concerned about as a scientist," says Benjamin Santer, a climate physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

"We're going to get a meter and there's nothing we can do about it," said University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, a lead author of the February report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris. "It's going to happen no matter what — the question is when."

Sea level rise "has consequences about where people live and what they care about," said Donald Boesch, a University of Maryland scientist who has studied the issue. "We're going to be into this big national debate about what we protect and at what cost."

This is why I'm most concerned about sea level rise. It affects almost everything and everybody and it's not temporary. The sea goes's gonna stay there a good long time. And as it goes up, how do we know what to plan for? Will it stop at 3 feet of rise? Not necessarily or even probably. Some climatologists can envision a 20-foot rise and more.

As Joe Romm and Jim Hansen keep telling us, SHUT DOWN COAL EMISSIONS. Somehow, today, preferably yesterday, but tomorrow at least. Joe is a bit more optimistic than the least optimistic of the scientists interviewed, but he admits we're using up our window of opportunity to get the energy producers and governments to put a lid on coal. As Joe explains:

My point — and I think Hansen’s point — is that the “when” (i.e. the rate of change) matters a lot! One meter by mid-century would be an unmitigated catastrophe. Sea level rise would have to average 9 inches a decade from now to 2050, implying seas rising over a foot a decade by then — which could continue for centuries. Who could adapt to that?

Strong actions to limit further emissions starting today — what Hansen calls the alternative scenario — can limit total warming from preindustrial levels to about 2°C, which should keep sea level rise below one meter per century. That’s a disaster, but a slow-moving one, leaving time for some adaptation. And if we were lucky, the rate might be well below a meter per century.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Magic Bus - Oakland's hydrogen-powered experiment

This very detailed and informative article from the Cleantech Blog describes what may be the most sensible and adaptable solution yet for lowering local carbon emissions from transportation. AC Transit - one of the East Bay's main public transit providers - is setting an example with a remarkable new integrated system called Hyroad that includes cutting edge vehicles, sensible fuel sources and smartly-used solar power generation.

Emitting only water vapor, there are three of these buses in operation now. Twelve such buses are projected to be operating by 2012, carrying five thousand people daily.

Cleantech presents a good argument for favoring buses - especially these buses - over light rail systems.

Buses can move millions for a fraction of the cost of light-rail. Bus routes can be easily changed as cities grow, change in shape, and alter in transportation demands. Light-rail tracks are likely to be fixed for over forty years; bus routes may change annually. For most major cities, the ideal is intermodal solutions that include both bus and light-rail.
Potential CC-caused sea level rise will probably put today's main bayside traffic arteries out of commission. Other potential impacts like floods, slides and fires could close other thoroughfares. Buses can route around these. Light rail is fixed. I'll have to cross the Bay and take a test ride on the Hyroad.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Singing in the rain - London Calling

I've got my headphones on. Getting near midnight, cruising YouTube.
It's the ominous chords of the Clash. Joe Strummer. Where's my guitar?

A nuclear error, but I have no fear,
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An architect's approach to adaptation

Architect Edward Mazria of Santa Fe, New Mexico changed the direction of his very successful career in 2002 to focus his skills, experience and perspective on slowing global warming and motivating people to take action. He founded Architecture 2030 because "seventy-six percent of all electricity generated by US power plants goes to supply the Building Sector."

His web site provides an architect's view of priorities for changing the construction industry and for retrofitting buildings. It also provides ideas and guidance on a regional basis for low-carbon impact design and building.

But what really got my attention were the animated Google maps of sea level rise, which are the most accurate (in terms of the currency and sophistication of their data sources) that I've seen. Maps are provided, with varying amounts of sea level rise, for 31 coastal cities in the U.S. They really get your attention. That's Foster City, California, above, under a simulated 1.25-meter sea level rise from the San Francisco Bay. I'd expect the lowland flats of my home county of Marin to look much the same.

Things NOT To Do: Move to a Fire Trap

If the story of California is the story of its water resources, the story of its alpine forests is the story of human mismanagement, natural conflagration and rising fire risk. Unfortunately, we humans are taking what you might call a "counter-adaptive path" to living with that risk.

I admit, I love the Sierra Nevada, the mountains that John Muir called "the range of light." And I've often entertained the thought of us one day moving to the foothills just to be closer driving distance to that magical place. But every time I pass an expanse of burnt-over forest, the black charcoal-encrusted snags and the baked ground between them, and every time I picture the video of a raging foothill forest fire, I wack myself upside the head. What am I thinking????

So, fear has squelched my dream of living in the foothills but there's more than enough people to replace folks like me. In terms of risk management, California is not doing a very good job of it since the number of people moving into these drying, dying forest areas on the Western slopes of the Sierra increased by 16% during the Nineties. And 94% of planned new home development is also within high fire danger areas. What are they thinking????

"There is a tremendous amount of population growth going on in these extreme fire danger areas," said Autumn Bernstein, the [Sierra Nevada] alliance's land use coordinator and the author of the 45-page study, entitled "Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada."

"Unless Sierra counties can start to change the way they are growing, we are going to have a much bigger fire problem on our hands," she said.

Like all forested lands, the Sierra is subject to the weakening of its forests by changing climate and the infestations that prey on vulnerable trees. The forests will only become more flammable with time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From record heat to record early snow?

Southern California - swimmin' pools, movie stars.....and some mighty weird weather.

Two weeks ago they were baking in the midst of triple-digit temperatures as drought conditions pushed the water managers to the brink of imposing restrictions. Now, the National Weather Service is predicting the possibility of snow in mid-September.

"This system will be almost unprecedented in terms of cold weather and snow levels for September in southwestern California," the NWS said.

"Many locations may well set record low maximum temperatures on Friday, with temperatures more typical of January rather than September," forecasters said.

Here in the San Francisco suburbs, we've had a day of cooling temperatures and steady winds that forced the Alameda/San Francisco ferry to curtail service. Feels like autumn back East.

So much for simplifying your wardrobe to fit the warming climate.

California Drought Preparedness

Given the history of short- and long-term drought in California (and the fact that its southern half and most of the Central Valley are naturally semi-arid to desert regions), you'd think there would be an agency in charge of drought mitigation and adaptation. And you'd be right!

The California Rural Water Association provides the Drought Preparedness site, which includes action plans for small towns experiencing water shortages. As they state on their home page,

Drought is a natural occurrence and, unfortunately, one that California is familiar with. In times of drought, those who feel the effects of water shortage the most are small water systems and their customers whose reliance on marginal wells, springs, and small creeks make them especially sensitive to annual rainfall totals. Urban systems are undoubtedly spared compared to their smaller community counterparts.
The site provides ideas and guidelines for localities with various water sources and recommendations for water conservation and disaster management. The content has obviously been updated in light of the recent conditions in Southern California, and wisely suggests that planning be updated. A recent law passed by the California Legislature requires all users of publicly-provided water sources have water meters in order that water conservation measures can be made more effective.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Water wars - a mild domestic example

Rivers run across borders and often form borders. Water rights have always been a sore point between communities with shared access to sources, and the reduction of water supplies from alternative sources make the conflicts even more intense.

Here's a story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution about one such conflict currently playing out in the midst of the Southeast's record-breaking drought. Georgia and Alabama are at odds over water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin. The Army Corps of Engineers is serving as the mediator in the argument.

This is one example of a social stressor that may become much more common if drought conditions settle on other regions in the U.S. It leaves me wondering if we'll begin to see such conflicts worked out in advance of actual crisis, when the parties are able to think more clearly than they'd be able to under pressure of a severe drought.

During a teleconference last week with representatives from both states, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said they are considering a reduction in the amount of water released from Allatoona Lake by the end of this month — a move strongly opposed by Alabama.

In addition to concerns about having enough water for operations at power plants and pulp and paper mills, Alabama officials are worried dredging on the Alabama River, which gets some of its water from Allatoona, will have to stop if water levels get too low. The Corps is dredging the river to make room for barges serving mills and other manufacturers.

Allatoona, which provides drinking water for Cobb County and other northwest metro Atlanta communities, has dropped 6 1/2 feet since the beginning of August, and is now more than 11 feet below full. The low lake level has exacerbated problems with an algae bloom in the lake, leading to some odor and taste complaints about the drinking water.

The Corps, which owns and operates the federal reservoir, began releasing additional water from the lake in late July after Alabama complained of not receiving enough to mitigate effects from the historic drought. In the worst-case scenario, Corps estimates show Allatoona could reach a record low level by the end of the year.

This month, congressional delegations from Georgia and Alabama met separately with Army Secretary Pete Geren, the top Army official who oversees the Corps.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said the additional releases from Allatoona must stop soon "or we're not going to have a lake. We're just going to have a mudhole."

Alabama officials contend metro Atlanta is getting more than its fair share of water.

The Bicycle Adaptation Strategy

I live in a location where many hundreds of cyclists ride by on a nice weekend day. Lance Armstrong really helped sell a lot of bikes around here. Most of these riders are "weekend warriors" only. A relative few of them ride bikes to work or to visit friends or to run errands.

Still, over the past year I've noticed a rise in the number of daily commuters riding by every weekday morning. And the Marin Bicycling Coalition reported a steep rise in the number of riders on Bike to Work Day.

Marin County cyclists broke the record this year by riding on the morning of Bike to Work Day – 3000 cyclists were counted at Marin’s 17 Energizer Stations on May 17 – almost 1300 more than last year! We know there were many more folks riding than were counted, and we applaud you too.
The Coalition also reports that over $30 million have been allocated for bike route enhancements to come. I assume plenty of analysis went into the decisions that granted those funds. It seems that the UK has done such an assessment on the national level.

As Treehugger reports, a study done in the UK found that "Spending money on encouraging cyclists could actually save the government money." The monetary benefits of less traffic congestion and better health could offset the cost of developing better bike-supportive infrastructure even if it led to only a 20% increase in the number of bike trips.
According to the report, each cyclist saves the NHS £28.30 every year, by not having as many heart attacks and other problems. Cycling in London is quite dangerous though, so the average cyclist probably costs the NHS some money in broken legs and other taxi-related illnesses.

Professor Stephen Glaister, an Imperial College London transport expert, warned that, "It is certainly a problem we face in London in that we have succeeded in encouraging more cycling but more cyclists are exposed to death and injury as a result."

Well, sure, but that's why you invest in building safer bike lanes and bike paths to reduce the risk to riders. You'll attract more people back into the habit if it you make it safer. Being a cyclist, I know from experience that one accident or near miss can spook you right off the bike.
The Department for Transport maintains statistics, which show a decline from 1997 to 2005 in cycling in the UK. The average distance travelled per person, per year by bicycle fell 7 miles to 36 miles.

Monday, September 17, 2007

College students to "Focus the Nation" on climate change solutions

In what its organizers call "an unprecedented educational initiative, involving over a thousand colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, faith groups, civic organizations and businesses," Focus the Nation is leading what amounts to a grassroots nationwide teach-in and open discussion of the climate change situation and what must be done in a hurry to prevent worst case scenarios from becoming reality.

Aiming at people young enough today to be in their prime when today's efforts to reverse carbon-loading of the atmosphere will make a difference in the years that follow, Focus the Nation has an impressive list of advisors, board members, staff and sponsors.

They quote Jim Hansen on their home page, which gave them instant credibility in my eyes.

Mashup Map of Drought Monitor and Stream Flow

John Fleck, a blogger from New Mexico, points to this interesting combo map presented on the NOAA site. Just as you'd expect, stream flow within drought-plagued regions is low.

Data drawn from the U.S. Drought Monitor site and the USGS Daily Stream Flow Conditions page.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

LA Times calls for adaptive restrictions

The record-breaking drought in Southern California adds emphasis to what everyone has always known - the story of California is the story of its water sources. This is especially so in the southern half of the state, which is naturally a desert area. In the previous article I noted that local government leaders were holding water rationing as their trump card in dealing with the drought, but the Los Angeles Times, in its editorial for September 13, takes those so-called "leaders" to task for not seeing water rationing as the intelligent adaptive action that it is.

First, the editorial acknowledges the recent court ruling that restricts the amount of water that L.A. can get from the Sacramento Delta in the northern half of the state.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that state and federal water projects must limit the pumping operations that move fresh water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and into the southern part of the state -- all to protect the delta smelt, an endangered fish considered a bellwether for that region's fragile ecosystem. That may sound arcane, but it has serious everyday consequences. The water that flows through the delta serves 25 million people, providing more than a third of Southern California's supply. Officials estimate that the judge's ruling could cut off more than 30% of delta deliveries for at least a year.
Let's emphasize that - "for at least a year." Then, in justifying immediate restrictions on water use in the L.A. region, the writer describes the risks facing the viability of its current main water sources.
...given the profound uncertainties facing the state's water system, the choice to wait on mandatory restrictions is puzzling. As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reminded Angelenos in June when he called for (as yet unrealized) voluntary 10% reductions in water use, low local rainfall, diminished Sierra snowpacks and prolonged drought conditions on the Colorado River have combined to make this year L.A.'s driest ever. The effects of global warming on future water supplies are still unknown. And endangered species aren't the only threat to delta pumping: A breach in the region's unstable levees could shut down operations at any moment.

A more inspiring and productive response would capitalize on the sense of urgency and call on Los Angeles to do its part to address wider water woes now. Careful consideration of proposals to re-engineer the delta should be one part of the effort; serious dedication to conservation, another. Planners across the state should think twice before they allow development of lush suburbs or vast farmlands in hydrologically-challenged regions. All Californians will have to work for a water system that works for everyone.
[[Article appendage, Sunday September 16]]

Today's LA Times carries an article that at least partially explains the issue that was at the center of the above editorial, i.e. why no water restrictions have been imposed. It seems that the drought of 1990-91 taught water managers a lesson: keep plenty of water in reserve. So, as this article by Hector Becerra describes, the L.A. area can make it through this year's drought OK. But there may be more reason to believe now that those water reserves will not be so easily replenished, so the Water District is still planning to impose restrictions as a way to help residents get used to life with less water. A good adaptive strategy.
Officials say they learned from that drought and spent the ensuing years building up water reserve capacity. Despite the record dry conditions, the Metropolitan Water District has 14 times more reservoir and groundwater storage than it did in 1991, with many local reservoirs flush with water. This is giving the region a buffer against a reduction in supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River.

Moreover, the region has learned to conserve in dramatic fashion.

In 1991, the average household used 210 gallons of water a day. Today, thanks to low-flow toilets, new shower heads and changes in behavior, that number has declined to about 180 gallons, according to water officials.

In a sign that the conservation message is sinking in, the Metropolitan Water District said it delivers the same amount of water -- 2.1 million acre feet a year -- to Southern California now as it did in 1990. That's despite having 3 million more customers.

Water officials warn that more restrictions -- and possibly higher rates -- are on the way in the coming months. But they said this was not yet a crisis.

In fact, water officials and weather experts believe that further restrictions might result in enough savings to deal with the continued dryness and a recent court ruling that could yield a 30% reduction in water deliveries from Northern California.

Moreover, they argue that mandatory water reduction is important because Southern Californians need to learn how to do more with less as the region's population grows and water supplies remain finite.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It was dry....(How dry was it???) so dry that...

So dry that they've invented the term "The Perfect Drought." This is Southern California I'm talking about. This from a report by the ABC-TV affiliate in L.A.

Southern California is now in its eighth year of an extended drought. But what would happen if that drought lasted for decades, or even a century? Some experts say the pieces are falling into place for a so-called "perfect drought," and it could have devastating consequences for California.
This was supposed to be the climate change future? What happened to put in into the present? WTF????
2007 will go down on the books as Southern California's driest year in recorded history. Fires raged out of control. Millions of dollars were lost as California crops shrivel in the searing sun. And the Eastern Sierras, where L.A. gets most of its water, marked its second lowest snowpack on record.
Adaptation? Well some farmers are packing it in, that's how they're adapting.

"We didn't plant this time for the first time in 85 years," said Betty Bouris of Bouris Ranches.

The Bouris family has been farming in Riverside County since 1922. This year, the lack of rain forced them to lay off long-time employees and auction off their farming equipment.

"I think it hit home to me when I walked into the parts room that was absolutely stocked, and I went in there and all the shelves are empty because all the parts were sold," said Bouris.

Adaptation? How about instituting more rigid rules for water use?

"If this continues for another year or two like this, we'll have a full-fledged drought and we'll need to take more drastic steps," said David Nahai, president of Department Water and Power (DWP).

Drastic steps, such as a return of the drought busters who roamed the streets of L.A. issuing citations during our last major drought from '87 to '92.

But it's gonna return to "normal" soon, right?
Government forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have announced they believe another La Nina is on the way. That weather phenomenon is a periodic cooling of surface temperatures in the Pacific that's expected to bring drier-than-normal conditions this fall to an already drought-stricken Southern California.

Future lifestyles for the non-rich-and-famous in California

If, as William Collins reported to us at the California Climate Change Conference, our state is in for longer and hotter heat waves, one helpful person has put together a list of 17 Cheap Ways To Keep Cool And Survive A Heat Wave.

Start thinking now of adjusting your summer California lifestyle to incorporate these survival tips, behaviors and habits.

To summarize (the descriptions are worth reading, too!):

#1 Visit the beach, lake or river.
#2 Visit water amusement parks.
#3 Find a community pool (or someone else’s pool).
#4 Buy an inflatable swimming pool.
#5 Install air conditioning.
#6 Circulate the air with fans.
#7 Make sure your house is well insulated.
#8 Install a whole house fan (in the attic or basement).
#9 Change your air filters.
#10 Use a programmable thermostat.
#11 Plant more trees and get some shade.
#12 Visit cooler spots.
#13 Slow down.
#14 Drink a lot!
#15 Wear the right clothes.
#16 Avoid humidity.
#17 Stick your feet out of your blankets.

Hopefully, your town will still allow you to fill a backyard pool. And...blankets?

My home town is drying up

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, bordering Washington, D.C. My mother still lives there and reports that she has to mow her acre-and-a-half lawn much less frequently now that a drought as set in. There are still a few farmers left in this overdeveloped expanse of bedroom neighborhoods for our bloated government industrial operation. The Washington Post recently carried this story: Drought Shrivels Farmers' Crops and Income.

Lechlider said it's the worst he has ever seen -- and that's saying a lot for a man who has raised pigs and grown sod, corn, soybeans and hay in northern Montgomery County for more than half a century. He's 86 and still going strong, but summers like this test even hearty men like him, he said. It's not just Montgomery. According to an analysis by the National Drought Mitigation Center, 97 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions.
Amidst all the reporting of drought covering the entire American Southwest and Southeast, the fact that much of the East Coast is drying out adds a dimension to the problem. If we're in just the beginning of what could be a period of worsenng drought, it's clear that we could be seeing impacts not only on the livelihoods of farmers, but on consumers who would have bought those farmers' products.

If we have to migrate agricultural production to where temperature ranges, seasonal length and precipitation will support it, when and where do we start this kind of adaptation?

[photo from Washington Post]

Turn up the Dire Dial a click or two

Joe over at Climate Progress once again points us to stake-raising news, this time in an article just published in Science (subscription required). The gist of it is that forecasts from in the latest IPCC report underestimate the pace and impact of current changes due to global warming. The broad consensus required among scientists and participating national agendas to publish the IPCC's conclusions served as a censor to many findings which are now being confirmed as accurate.

The emphasis on consensus in IPCC reports, however, has put the spotlight on expected outcomes, which then become anchored via numerical estimates in the minds of policy-makers. With the general credibility of the science of climate change established, it is now equally important that policy-makers understand the more extreme possibilities that consensus may exclude or downplay.
The IPCC group did not include many of the feedback effects on ice sheet melting or carbon emissions released from natural storage sources as temperatures rise. These effects - which are well under way right now - stand to accelerate impacts such as sea level rise well beyond the stated limits in the IPCC's conclusions. This is critical information for dynamic risk assessment, preparation, adaptation and certainly for mitigation action.
[N]ational governments now need to confront a more fundamental question of how often they need comprehensive assessments of climate change. Addressing the special risks entailed in particular aspects of the climate system, like the ice sheets or carbon cycle, might be better approached by increasing the number of concise, highly focused special reports that can be completed relatively quickly by smaller groups, perhaps even by competing teams of experts. At this juncture, full assessments emphasizing consensus, which are a major drain on participants and a deflection from research, may not be needed more than once per decade.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A new guidebook for preparing for climate change

Longtime environmental writer Ted Wolf turned me on to a very useful new book produced through a collaboration between a county government and a university. I immediately alerted my local supervisor in Marin County who will (according to his grateful aide) take the book with him into the upcoming meetings to update the Countywide Plan.

Preparing for Climate Change: a Guidebook for Local, Regional and State Governments was written by a collaboration the Center for Science in the Earth System (Climate Impacts Group of King County, Washington) and the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. The Guidebook is being distributed to 250 member cities, towns and counties of the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. As it turns out, Marin County is a member of this organization and will be receiving a copy through that route as well.

As the Web site describes it:

Within a handful of decades, climate in many parts of the United States is expected to be significantly warmer than even the warmest years of the 20th century, increasing the risk of drought, flooding, forest fires, disease, and other impacts across many regions.

Public decision makers have a critical opportunity – and a need – to start preparing today for the impacts of climate change. Preparing for climate change is not a “one size fits all” process, however. Just as the impacts of climate change will vary from place to place, the combination of institutions and legal and political tools available to public decision-makers are unique from region to region. Preparedness actions will need to be tailored to the circumstances of different communities.

The Guidebook is full of recommendations for motivating and mobilizing the local community, for conducting risk assessment, for preparing for identified risks, and for building resilience into local planning. This is a wonderful addition to the local planning toolkit. It remains to be seen how many of its recommendations will be put into action here, but I'll certainly be involved in promoting it.

Wishing for a hurricane

South Florida's record-breaking drought continues as local water managers throw up their hands in frustration. As the Palm Beach Post reports, with no rain on the horizon and the level of Lake Okeechobee at an all-time low for this time of the year, a near miss by a tropical storm during what's left of the hurricane season would be a blessing. But even that brings the threat that a downpour might cause damaging flooding because pumps to handle the sudden accumulation of water in the flat near-sea-level area have lost their prime.

"This is history - we've never been here before," said district board member Malcolm "Bubba" Wade, a senior vice president of United States Sugar Corp. "This drought's already having an impact, and it's going to get much, much worse."
Options for replenishing Lake Okeechobee at this point appear to be limited to pumping water a long distance from the West Palm Beach Canal and returning polluted agricultural runoff to the lake. The latter idea has sparked heated debate, but with no rain, there's no runoff to pump.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Longer, hotter heat waves for California

William Collins was the keynote speaker for yesterday's California Climate Change Conference. Collins is a professor at U.C. Berkeley and a senior scientist and head of the department of Climate Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and he's conducted research on the observation and modeling of the Earth's climate system at both the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He is a lead author of the IPCC Assessment, Working Group I, which covered the physical science of global warming.

His talk was titled "the Future of California's Climate from a Global Perspective." (see here for the slides) He came loaded with explanatory graphics and statistics, and was suitably cautious in getting anywhere near predicting specifics, so the conclusions of his analysis were conservative. And here they are:

  • Recent climate change is very likely human-induced.

  • Near-term climate change before 2030:

    • Western US will be noticeably warmer compared to climatology.

    • Predictions converge across models and scenarios.

    • This convergence could facilitate process of adaptation.

  • Long-term climate change by 2100:

    • Extremes include less frost, more dry spells, longer heat waves.

    • Warming increases with increasing levels of atmospheric CO2.

  • There are real prospects for more dynamic coupling of climate modeling, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation.


A new term for our mission: MITIGAPTATION. No, I don't expect that I'll ever actually pronounce it in conversation, but it makes my point here, which is that we cant' afford to abandon either of the two approaches to climate change. We must learn to practice both mitigation and adaptation simultaneously.

Mitigation is critical to lessen the future impact of global warming and prevent feedback processes from setting off runaway deadly (to humans) overheating of the environment. Adaptation is essential because there's no way - no matter how effective our mitigation - that we're going to escape the impacts of the current growing carbon concentration in the atmosphere.

If the impacts catch you now, you'll have your hands full adapting. Just ask the folks affected by Katrina and last summer's floods in the Midwest. Those of us who have not been fully impacted by climate change must insist that both our governments and the companies that provide us with products and services make drastic changes to reduce carbon emissions. In our own lives, we must make the same kinds of changes in our buying and living habits. These are both mitigating and adapting behaviors. Get used to it or be prepared to scramble aboard what might be a comparatively uncomfortable adaptive bandwagon.

I've just been introduced by Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch to a new consulting group called Adaptation Network , a project of Earth Island Institute (which, as many of you know, was founded by the late environmental pioneer David Brower.)

I like how the Network describes adaptation.

Adaptations we make to climatic change need to be aimed at making systems more resilient and healthy now and in the long run. Resilient, healthy systems can better withstand perturbations of all types than systems that are unbalanced or at the edge of their survival. Making a system more resilient could mean reducing pressures that are already stressing the system. It could mean providing greenways and migration routes for plants and animals that need to move to better match the environment that is best for them. It could mean restoring natural floodways to allow the natural system to better protect the built environment. It could mean investing in long-term projects that reduce vulnerability (of people, infrastructure, or even investments) rather than increasing it. It could mean investing in educating the public to increase their awareness and availability of more environmentally friendly choices and options open to them. In short, adaptation action can vary greatly from one location to another. That is also why adaptation may require a significant level of planning and feedback prior to and following implementation.

A closer look at sea level risk for the San Francisco Bay region

In previous articles I've pointed to sites like Future Sea Level, which focuses on the prospects and impacts in the San Francisco Bay region and the National Environmental Trust page that shows animations of several major U.S. cities being inundated by rising seas. These give you the general idea, but can't tell you much about incremental sea level rise because the sensitivity of their maps to vertical elevation are so crude. With low vertical resolution, it's difficult to estimate just how much damage will be done a by "minor" sea level rise of, say, one meter.

One of the presenters at the California Climate Change Conference this past Monday was Noah Knowles, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, based in Menlo Park, CA. He presented some new maps of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Delta that provide a much more accurate assessment of the risks of inundation due to sea level rise. Here's the PDF of his presentation with samples of their maps. Below is an image of San Francisco showing the Embarcadero and downtown areas.

Using photogramettry - where aerial photographs taken from six different angles were digitally processed to yield maps with vertical scale accuracy of 10-20 cm - combined with tide data, he described the current situation where, on a daily basis, about 500 square kilometers of tidal land and land protected by levees are below water level at high tide. With a 1-meter rise in sea level, that area would increase by 30% and would - under the current circumstances - be inundated at high tide. That would include all of the levee-dependent islands and agricultural lands of the Delta and much developed land surrounding the Bay including much of our highway system.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

An urban backyard wind generator

You may want to get off the grid, or the grid may just go away. In either case, you'll need to make your own electricity. Having a wind-driven power supply in your backyard - that the neighbors will allow and that doesn't kill off the local songbird population - is one solution. So here's the Windspire, an interesting model that Treehugger directed me to:

With its sleek, bladeless design and capacity to produce nearly 2000 kilowatt hours per year, the Windspire might just inspire some YIMBYism -- that's Yes, In My BackYard -- about wind power. At 30 feet tall and 2 feet wide, the propeller-less design is bird-safe, relatively quiet -- it produces about 25 decibels of noise at five feet, roughly equivalent to the average noise of a residential neighborhood at night -- and doesn't take much breeze to get it spinning; it fires up at 8 mph, and is rated to survive 100 mph gusts. It comes with a wireless modem that connects to your computer, so you can sit back and watch the energy in action at any time.

Glacial Earthquakes? Uh-oh

Risk assessment for the impacts of climate change must be an active, ongoing, constantly-updated process. We're learning all the time, especially about feedback systems that affect the speed of change.

Here's an example of where the risk assessment for sea level rise is suddenly requiring a significant adjustment. The quickening pace of ice breaking off from the Greenland icecap means that our current estimates of sea level rise are both too low and too slow.

Thanks to Dave Roberts at Gristmill for pointing to this article in the Guardian (UK):

Melting ice cap triggering earthquakes

· Estimates of sea-level rise out of date, say scientists
· Religious leaders pray for planet at Greenland glacier

And from The Independent (UK) via Climate Ark, this ominous quote:
The accelerating thaw and the earthquakes are intimately connected, according to [Finnish scientist Veli Albert Kallio], as immense slabs of ice are sheared from the bed rock by melt water. Those blocks of ice, often more than 800m deep and 1500m long, contain immense rocks as well and move against geological faults with seismic consequences. The study of these ice quakes is still in its infancy, according to [American polar expert Robert Correll], but their occurence is in itself disturbing. "It is becoming a lot more volatile," said Mr Vallio. Predictions made by the Arctic Council, a working group of regional scientists, have been hopelessly overrun by the extent of the thaw. "Five years ago we made models predicting how much ice would melt and when," said Mr Kallio. "Five years later we are already at the levels predicted for 2040, in a year's time we'll be at 2050."

Friday, September 7, 2007

Americans deserve a "full soup-to-nuts national assessment"

Here's some evidence showing why we can't depend on the current Federal government to assess the risks we face from global warming and let us know about them.

Exhibit A: The Administration refuses to issue a mandated public assessment of the risks of climate change.
Exhibit B: When ordered to comply by a Federal judge, the Administration does all it can to weasel out of the order.

As it turns out, the Global Change Research Act, which mandated the assessment, did not specify the form that the assessment should take, so the Administration is likely (based on its history with regards to global warming) to issue "assessments" that disemble and confuse rather than clarify our situation.

This led to Richard Moss, the former head of Bush's Climate Change Research Program to speak out against the low standards the Administration is setting for its responsibility to the public.

As reported by Climate Science Watch:

Richard Moss, who ran the climate change office under Bush until 2006, called it "unfortunate" that the ruling criticized the timing of the reports but failed to force CCSP to integrate its findings. "The Administration should be held to a higher standard than just what a judge finds follows the letter of the law," says Moss, adding that Americans deserve a "full soup-to-nuts national assessment" of how climate change will impact them. [emphasis added]
Maybe the Administration will shock us by offering us some information that is helpful and scientifically accurate. Even so, it won't provide us with the local assessment that we need to make our own plans.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Why the grassroots matter

You Should Know
It's well worth your while to have some idea of what may be in store for you and your hometown in a climate changing future. Finding, gathering and acting on that knowledge before the impacts of global warming arrive at your door may save your home, your town, your life.

Your Governments are Failing You
Your federal government is not helping you accumulate that knowledge. In fact, the current Administration has actively stifled the distribution of scientific findings on global warming. State governments are not much better at educating us, preparing us, protecting us and keeping us informed about this critical situation. [I'd like to hear from you about any exceptions to that.] And as we all know, the Feds seem to have their hands full with a war.

This is Not Necessarily Long Range Planning
I hate to write this, but if current trends continue a lot of people are going to end up leaving the homes they live in today, for reasons of climate change. It may be the threat of destruction or the destruction itself, but just as flooding and drought are forcing people to reassess their situations this summer in England and Australia and the American Midwest, many more people will have to do so in the not-so-distant future.

I realize that such a statement is going to set off an emotional reaction in those of you currently invested in your homes, neighborhoods and regions. I don't blame you; it's an outrageous scenario. But if you live where a 2-foot rise in sea level will put your front yard under water at high tide; or if you live in a desert only made habitable by importing water from a long distance, then you should really know and understand the scientific assessments of your risks.

Of course, that's oversimplifying things. If you live anywhere in a region where those conditions are present, you'll be affected to a greater or lesser degree by the disruptions.

The Climate, It Are A-Changin'
We're no longer living in a benign climatic condition, where extreme weather visited us rarely enough that we didn't have to worry. We're currently seeing records broken for heat, rainfall, drought and storm intensity all over the planet. We're losing the overall stability that characterized weather for as long as we've been keeping records. You can no longer take for granted that the weather patterns you've lived with in your location for 50 years will be your weather patterns for the future.

The Grassroots Matter
For democracy to work, the citizens need to be involved. It's the informed citizenry that does the best job of choosing its representatives. Sometimes it takes an especially strong motivation to get citizens to that level of involvement.

I believe we last saw that when America entered World War II. Global warming has the potential to be much more destructive than the Axis Powers. We, the people, need to mobilize not only to change our energy habits, but to prepare for the global warming effects that are already heading down the tracks toward us.

If we inform ourselves about the risks we face, we make ourselves less dependent on dysfunctional government. We also get to understand just how dysfunctional our representative bodies have become, and how important it is that we choose representatives with brains, courage and integrity.

Climate change in your backyard

Are you curious about how climate change will affect you and your home location? I’m sure that’s in the backs of many people’s minds today, with so much talk of global warming and so many news stories of floods, drought and record-breaking heat.

Right now I can’t offer any definite answers, but I’m going to provide some clues and resources so that you can track the most current, most relevant and most accurate scientific data available that pertains to your region, if not your actual county or town.

I’m also going to continue to report news about climate-related impacts around the world and how those are being dealt with by the unfortunate souls who happen to be in their way. Between the science and the facts on the ground, you may be able to gather enough information to take some protective or preventative local action. At least I hope to motivate you to demand that your public officials provide you with ongoing risk assessments based on the most current science.

The science is advancing rapidly and so are some of the key factors that will determine tipping points in climate change. On the global level, we know that a lot of formerly permanent ice is melting at an accelerating rate. We’re also seeing some of the predicted markers of global warming appearing sooner than expected – extended droughts, extreme flooding, major heat waves. But the science of localized forecasting is still immature and not tailored for use by those of us who are not climatologists.

Here’s an example. This is an article posted 10 days ago on RealClimate, probably the most valuable hard science blog for following climate change. It’s titled Regional Climate Projections and it describes the different climate models that were incorporated into the findings of the fourth assessment report from the IPCC. The climate models are all structured to evaluate global processes, so breaking them down into regionally relevant reports is difficult. The closest we get, in this article, to localized projections is the assessment for North America, and here’s where the language barrier comes into play.

A number of RCM-based studies provide further regional details (North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program). Despite improvements, AR4 also states that RCM simulations are sensitive to the choice of domain, the parameterisation of moist convection processes (representation of clouds and precipitation), and that there are biases in the RCM results when GCM are provided as boundary conditions rather than re-analyses.

Radiative-convective models (RCMs) and general dirculation models (GCMs) are beyond what us non-scientists are trained to understand. But the current drought and heat in the American Southwest are conditions that these models forecast, as is the intensifying of all weather conditions. We’re also seeing the migration of the average temperature lines toward the poles. Growing seasons are longer. Regions that have always had hard freezes during the winter are seeing warmer winters.

So I’m going to start simply and safely by emphasizing the climatic vulnerabilities of certain geographical situations. If you live near the ocean, you’re sea level infrastructure and housing is at risk. If you live on a floodplain, you’re risk of flooding may be increasing. If you live where summers are hot, look for them to get hotter. If you live in a desert environment, expect it to become drier.

But you can only do so much as an individual. Your public officials should be way ahead of you in assessing local risk. They should have access to the latest science and should be interpreting it for you, putting together contingency and action plans appropriate to the risks and informing you – their constituents – about them. You may need to do some of the initial groundwork to stimulate them to perform these duties, and I’m here to help you get that groundwork together.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In which your humble author is interviewed

Jon Lebkowsky, one of the merry band who do such a great job of bringing us interesting and useful news at WorldChanging, interviewed me (online) over the past couple of weeks and the whole thing is there now, in two parts. Part One is mostly about my history as a back-to-the-land communard and online communities pioneer. Part Two focuses more on my current interest in dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Drought and its list of woes

If it stops raining where you live and stays that way for long enough, your life must change. Unless you can find water from other sources - drilling new wells, importing it from a distance, desalination of ocean water - you'll be forced at least to ration your uses of water, as will everyone in the affected region. No more watering the lawn or washing the car. No more filling the pool and taking those long showers. The cost to you of whatever water is left may rise to cover the expenses of importing, manufacturing or preserving it.

I've subscribed to Google Alerts for "drought," which gets me a daily email of stories containing that word. I get a lot of sports stories describing baseball players and their "hitting droughts." But there are plenty of places in the world currently suffering prolonged lack of water. The impacts range from ranchers destroying livestock to starving elephants raiding villages to recreational lakes drying up and leaving boats sitting in the mud. Of course, drought dries up agricultural land and raises the risk of fires. Drought indirectly raises the prices of agricultural products. It stresses trees, making them vulnerable to bugs and disease.

Farmers are the most directly affected by drought. They will seek relief from the government if their crops can't grow. Those whose businesses are indirectly affected by the drought - markets that sell fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products - don't get that kind of relief. They seek other sources and raise their prices accordingly. The consumers bear the brunt of the passed-along costs.

Extended drought, which can go on for years and even decades, can not only drive farmers and ranchers out of business, but can lead to whole communities being uprooted and whole regions becoming dustbowls. Water tables drop and wells dry up. Rivers shrink. Water rationing becomes so severe that residents move to other moister climes. Vegetative cover dies off, leaving the soil vulnerable to severe erosion if and when a good rain storm happens.

In areas subject to flooding, you can move to higher ground. In an area going through a long period of drought, there's no refuge.

Here's the constantly updated U.S. Drought Monitor map, provided by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Note the "exceptional" drought conditions in the Southeast.

Singin' in the Rain

I just attended the 40th anniversary party for the Summer of Love (no, I wasn't there for the first one), and one of the performers was a band led by Jefferson Airplane founding member Paul Kantner. Former Airplane singer Marty Balin sang "Volunteers" with them, but their most powerful piece was White Rabbit. I decided to look on YouTube for a version with Grace Slick singing. I found this remnant of Woodstock where Grace truly delivers the goods. Check it out.

Hopefully, Climate Frog will help you feed your heads.

Climate Frog takes local educational turn

I've been blogging on climate change for all of six months now and I've learned a lot about the lay of the blogosphere and where the most pressing needs are, at least in the United States. I see that there are plenty of good sites with outstanding reporters and writers to keep us up to date on the current extreme weather situation, the global atmospheric carbon status and the lagging federal legislation regarding emissions limits. There's Al Gore's movie and the ongoing training of presenters who keep his famous slide show circulating to new audiences. I link to what I consider to be the best of these sites.

These are all wonderful efforts and they get my standing ovation. But I sense that there is too little effort in bringing it all back home, to the local level where citizens see climate change in terms of how it will impact them and their communities. As I've reported here, the local county officials could tell me nothing about climate-related contingency planning for Marin County. Yet, with all the stories about extreme weather - and with all the actual experiences that communities are going through due to extreme weather - you know that many of us have questions and concerns about when and how it's going to hit us and our lifestyles.

So Climate Frog is from here on out going to focus on answering local questions for the concerned citizen. This does not mean that I'm going to go out on the thin limbs and try to predict the future for each location and microclimate in the world. I'm not so dumb as to assume that's possible. But through research and sharing knowledge, I'm going make Climate Frog into a knowledge resource for doing your own local research and for getting more people involved locally so that your community can have its risks realistically assessed for climate change impacts.

I'll still report on climatic events and findings from around the world, but more with the perspective of the local community learning from the experiences of others. When we report on the flooding in England, it will be to learn how much damage can be done, how victims recover and respond to the disaster, and how government at all levels acts to protect its citizens.

I lean in the direction of local empowerment and believe that it's unwise today to depend on higher levels of government to deal competently with situations at the local level. We've seen (and continue to see) the debacle of Katrina. And though some works can only be handled at the federal and state levels, it's critical that citizens be the driving force for specialized preparation and response for the fast-evolving climate change situation.

Each of us, in our own separate locations, is vulnerable to different dangers from the potential of extreme weather. To plan our most secure futures, we need the most accurate information about the impacts we're likely to be dealing with. These can't be sugar coated by politics or business concerns. Neither of those social forces can influence the weather, excecpt by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and even those reductions won't influence the weather we'll see in the next 4 decades. We can only guide ourselves by trusted sources and objective science, and then make our most effective and practical choices.

California's big climate change conference

Next week I'll be attending the Fourth Annual Climate Change Research Conference in Sacramento. Sponsored by the California Energy Commission & California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), this four-day event brings together scientists and policy makers to share the most up-to-date findings and challenges regarding global warming and its impacts on the varied ecosystems and population centers in the state.

This will be an opportunity for me to meet other individuals and organizational representatives with interests in this area, and it will provide me with a good baseline for where government agencies are currently positioned with regard to climate change risk assessment.

As my next post explains, I'm narrowing my focus and adding another wrinkle to the mission of Climate Frog.