Monday, July 30, 2007

Resiliency - an essential quality of adaptation

When we think of how humans will deal with changing climate and the disasters that are likely to be its hallmark, the temptation is to assume that we'll confront the problem just like we've confronted Nature and the environment throughout human history - we'll invent ways to overcome the climatic effects through brute force or elegant design. That's what humans do, right?

One reason I started Climate Change, with its curious approach to the future, is that I've long given up on the idea that we humans are so smart that we can continue to outperform Nature. I've become persuaded that Nature now has the upper hand and we're going to have to adapt in ways more characteristic of the rest of the creatures, which is to not depend on single solutions quickly chosen.

In a great essay found on the TomDispatch blog, writer Chip Ward describes how efficiency - the maximization of output combined with the minimization of cost - is likely to lead to disaster in the search for adaptive paths to climate change.

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys: The Case for Resilience reminds us how efficiency - finding the "one best" solution to a problem - hates redundancy, and how natural adaptive systems rely on redundancy for the survival of species through crises. Redundancy is an essential element of resiliency.

Think of resiliency, on the other hand, as the ability of a system to recover from a disturbance. Recovery requires options to that one "best" way of doing things in case that way is blocked or disturbed. A resilient system is adaptable and diverse. It has some redundancy built in. A resilient perspective acknowledges that change is constant and prediction difficult in a world that is complex and dynamic. It understands that when you manipulate the individual pieces of a system, you change that system in unintended ways. Resilience thinking is a new lens for looking at the natural world we are embedded in and the manmade world we have imposed upon it.
So as we observe and report on activities meant to adapt to changing climate, we'll also be noting to what extent these adaptations include elements of resiliency? Will the solution simply set up the population for failure at another point on the Nature/human interface, or will it serve to more closely integrate the population with the new natural order of things?

Restoring resilience to manmade systems will require an eye for options, an appreciation for redundancy, and a tolerance for chaos. Messy organizations may also be creative. But, hard as it may be, we will always find it easier to anticipate disturbance and build choices into our manmade systems than to understand how to conserve resilience in the natural systems that support us. To do that, we must grasp the deep underlying relationships between such "slow variables" as weather, soil composition, and plant succession that we often miss. We will have to learn to see how connectivity and feedback loops operate in nature and how futile it is, in the long run, to impose narrow notions of efficiency on natural systems that are profoundly dynamic and inherently unpredictable.

How resilient are we? Crisis is also an opportunity for change. As the bees die, we are getting an unmistakable warning. Without pollination, life as we know it is not possible. Think "tiny canaries in the coal mine." Then think "resilience."

Hopefully, we still have enough time and slack to exercise this new resilient thinking.

Flooding Aftermath - the Farming Impact

The torrential rains that visited England over the past 2 months have done more than damage homes and businesses in flooded towns, they've wreaked havoc with farmers and everyone downstream from them in the food supply chain. All you need to do is imagine this (and the corresponding European rains and heat wave) happening on a regular basis in order to understand how enormous the impact of extreme rainfall during the growing season could be on the lives of our British friends.

Entire crops have been wiped out, and other farms only expect to be able to harvest around 40% of normal. Additionally, the loss of hay and silage means shortages of food for livestock owners, who face having to sell all of their animals because they will not be able to feed them over the winter.

Crops which have been especially badly affected include potatoes, peas, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, and other field vegetables.

Dairy farmers have also had to throw away large quantities of milk due to tankers being unable to collect it due to flooded roads.

And because of extreme weather on the European continent - flooding in western Europe, and a heatwave in south-eatern Europe - means that there is likely to be difficulty in making up for crop losses via imports.

Short supplies of food items are predicted, as well as steeply rising costs for those items on store shelves. This at a time when fuel prices are also rising to record levels. Time for some belt-tightening.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Extreme Lightning

They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. But what if it strikes so often in the same region that it becomes regarded, not as an impressive light show, but as a major seasonal threat to life and limb?

Living here on the northern California coast, where lightning strikes are rare as hens' teeth, we can't appreciate the danger posed in areas where bolts are going off like popcorn in the microwave.

This year so far, 403 people have been killed by lightning strikes in China - as many as were killed all last year. The Reuters story reports that the China Meteorological Administration attributes other damages to storm-generated strikes.

The administration attributed the higher rate of deaths to more frequent and severe lightning storms, Xinhua news agency reported late on Friday.

Lightning storms caused 2,525 accidents between January and June, of which 52 involved fires, causing more than 80 million yuan ($10.6 million) in direct economic losses, the administration said.

Chinese scientists have warned that global warming is likely to intensify extreme weather patterns, and severe storms in recent years may be a prelude to this.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cooking Greece - Record Temps and Fires

Southern Europe - Greece, Macedonia and Italy - have been seeing temperatures never recorded before, and fires are sweeping through the dry and baked landscapes. Athens is sweltering under temperatures I associate with Phoenix, Arizona, breaking 114 degree F.

Of course all the side effects are there, too. Electrical power failures due to overload, due to maximum reliance on air conditioning and fans. Deaths and health crises. Brush fires impossible to control.


The "temperatures never recorded" as linked to above, should have pointed to this Reuters article describing the heat wave that "broke temperature records across the Balkans." Thanks to Ron for catching that error. My apologies.

Does Tree Planting Count?

Planting trees deliberately would seem to be an example of taking action in the face of climate change, right?

For at least 30 years I've accepted the premise that planting trees was good for the environment in general, and helpful at stemming global warming in particular. Not only do trees anchor the soil and hold moisture there, they provide homes and "services" to other critters, shade for cooling the earth and overheated picnickers, and - most relevant to global warming - they absorb CO2 while producing oxygen.

Lately, though, this accepted advantage of carbon sequestration by trees has come under attack from scientists who see a dark side to trees - at least in temperate and subarctic latitudes.

The U.S. Forest Service has begun a program where citizens can contribute 6 dollars to offset one ton of carbon dioxide through treeplanting programs in various U.S. locations. The program and its basic assumptions are under attack by some climatologists.

Not every scientist agrees that planting more trees in the United States will cut greenhouse emissions. Ken Caldeira, a climate expert at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, says restoring forests outside the tropics will do little or nothing to stop climate change.

Trees absorb more sunlight than the ground so they can add to warming, according to Caldeira. The effect rises when the ground is covered in snow, which reflects the sun's heat back into the atmosphere.
One thing we don't want is for people to be sold on taking actions that do little to change the trend toward climate change while offering them a feeling of complacency that, "Now I've done something to help. I can relax now."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thames Estuary 2100 - a Plan Just Beginning

Also on the ThamesWeb site is a description (though no current status report) of Thames Estuary 2100, a planning project aimed at mitigating flooding beyond the capacity of current efforts (which include the Barrier for regulating storm and tidal surges that could flood London).

Sponsored by the government's Environment Agency, the Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) "is developing a tidal flood risk management plan for London and the Thames estuary." In 2006 the public was invited to participate in an online consultation about the project. The contingencies presented to participants in this dialogue are presented here. Suggested defense measures include planned and dedicated flooded areas and the construction of more and larger Barrier-like gates.

In web site copy apparently not updated since the latest flooding, the project was further described:

Although London's existing tidal defences offer a high level of protection from today's flood risks, they were only designed to provide protection up until 2030. While slight modifications to these defences could extend their useful life by a few more years, the need for a long-term, strategic look at London's flood defences is becoming increasingly apparent. Thames Estuary 2100 is the first step of the process and will help shape the way in which future flood defence schemes are designed and managed. Taking action now will allow time for research, design and the physical construction of the defences.

ThamesWeb - Defense of a Watershed

ThamesWeb's Flood Defence page provides a comprehensive overview of the situation facing a large chunk of the English population. The copy below was on the site before this summer's major flooding.

The area at risk from flooding across the Thames is home to over a million residents and workers, 500,000 properties, 38 Underground and DLR stations, and City Airport, as well as many areas recognised for their ecological importance. An estimated 75% of the property value at risk from tidal floods in England and Wales lies within the Thames tidal flood plain. A large-scale flood event in this area would have disastrous effects, causing millions of pounds worth of damage to businesses, homes and infrastructure, and potentially causing the loss of life for thousands of London's residents.
The page includes descriptions of the government and administrative structure that must coordinate in any flood defense effort, photos of the Flood of '53 and the great gates of the Thames Barrier (designed to protect London until 2030), a map of the flood defense area:

and a chart showing how frequently the Barrier gates have been closed for flood protection in the years 1983 - 2003:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

British Floods - Early Reflections from the Front

It's getting heavy in England. Damian Carrington, online Environment editor for New Scientist, starts his blog article, Flooding in England: What can be done? with some commentary from the scientific community - yes, this amount of rain at this time of the year in such a short timespan is highly unusual. It's the highest May-June total on record, in fact. And the way the storms lingered over the island - also very unusual.

Carrington goes on to describe the intense analysis and solution-searching that's happening right now in England - which is up a creek right now, coming to grips with the prospect that the climate has, indeed, changed and may never return to what it recently was. Time to adapt for annual flooding? How about improving drainage?

That has been a common refrain – you'll never stop all floods. All you can aim for is to reduce the risk of them, and cope better when they happen. So how do you do that? One big issue is run-off.

When rain falls, the ground can soak up some of it, meaning it does not run into rivers and raise their level. But the harder the rain falls, the more runs off, and the less soaks in – and rainstorms are predicted to get more intense as the planet warms. The other key issue here is urbanisation – water rolls off concrete and straight into drainage channels – and that will increase with the plan to build millions of new homes.
He quotes other experts who point out other locales around the world where these problems have been dealth with, at least to some degree, already:
Ten per cent of UK housing is on flood plains, but this is quite low compared to some countries – it is 70% in Japan and 100% in the Netherlands. We need better flood defences.
He points out the obviously dysfunctional administrative structure that deals with systems key to flood control and sanitation. turns out that the responsibility for the various aspects of drainage appears oddly disparate: road drainage, surface waters, sewage drainage and flood protection are the separate responsibilities of local councils, the Environment Agency and water companies. Not very joined up. What are often joined up, but shouldn’t be, are surface drainage channels and sewage drainage, making a real mess when floods happen.
It's vital, I think, for us all - and especially populous locations located in the flood plains of rivers and creeks - to learn from what England is going through. Not just the disaster recovery, but the long range changes that need to be made, from the top level government structure to the guidance provided to individual citizens, who desperately need to figure out secure housing and jobs.

The floods have already cost some $6 billion and the country now faces imposing requirements to redesign and rebuild infrastructure for a new future. Damian Carrington is open to suggestions.

Britain's Unpredictable Summers

This could be the wettest summer England has ever had. Last summer was one of the driest.

There are still 350,000 citizens without clean drinking water today, the flood crest has not reached many cities yet, and there's more rain on the way.

Among the hardest hit areas was Tewkesbury, north of Gloucester, where rising water entered the 900-year-old abbey church for the first time since 1760.

Authorities deployed some 900 tanker trucks in the Gloucestershire region with emergency water rations, but said it could take a week before water was restored to an estimated 350,000 people.

Gloucestershire County Council's chief executive, Peter Bungard, said flood levels at Tewkesbury would have to fall nearly 36 inches before drinking water supplies could be restored.

"The very, very best forecast is seven days," Bungard told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "I'm really, really worried — 350,000 people is hard to imagine, and amongst those are very vulnerable people."

Estimates of damage so far have reached more than $6 billion.

On the Web site of the United Kingdom's Environment Agency, hightened flood risk due to climate change is acknowledged, and risk management recommendations are being made.
Over 2 million properties in England and Wales are at risk from flooding. Changes in our climate, such as more severe storms and wetter winters, will increase that risk.

Through flood risk management, we can reduce the probability of flooding from rivers and the sea through the management of land, river systems, and flood and coastal defences. We also work to reduce the damage floods can do through effective land use planning, flood warning and emergency responses.
And this:

Changes to UK weather patterns are happening now. We are recording more periods of heavy rainfall and intense storms. Both can lead to flooding through increases in peak river flows, sea levels and tidal surges.

Extreme conditions like this are most likely in autumn and winter when weather tends to be wetter and soil more saturated. However, there is no ‘flood season’, and heavy rain in spring and summer can also cause severe flood incidents.

Most scientists agree that climate change will worsen during this century. Sir David King, the country’s Chief Scientific Adviser, was asked by the Environment Agency and Government to evaluate a range of possible scenarios for climate change in the UK over the next hundred years. His conclusions, published in the Foresight future flooding report, estimate that the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea will at least double by the 2080s, and could increase by up to 20 times. The number of people at a high risk of flooding could also rise from 1.5 million to between 2.3 and 3.5 million over the same period, with the cost of flooding rising from the current £1 billion a year to between £1.5 billion and £21 billion.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Insurers React to Flood of Flooding

An extraordinary flood or extreme weather event in one location may be a disaster, but repeated extraordinary flooding across many locations may be regarded as evidence that something's going on that deserves not only attention, but also action.

Reuters gathers some of the news threads and finds that the people who may serve as the developed world's "economy scouts" - insurers - are finding justification in recognizing climate change for the threat that it is.

Floods killed more than 7,000 people in the world last year, a recent study by reinsurance group Swiss Re study showed -- roughly a third of all victims of natural catastrophes such as storms, earthquakes, droughts and extreme cold or heat.

Statistics gathered by insurers -- who look at the cost of a catastrophe to measure its severity, not the death toll -- also indicate climate is changing.

"One single event can never be a sign of climate change," said Jens Mehlhorn, who heads a team of flood experts at the Zurich-based company.

"But when you see a series of such events, and that's what it looks like at the moment ... it may be about time to say something is changing," he said.

This year's UK floods were an event statistical models say should happen once only every 30 to 50 years, Mehlhorn says: the floods in 2000 were a 25-30 years event.

Two such events in only seven years are not statistically impossible, but they are unlikely. Other countries have seen similar increases in such disasters.

England Cries "Uncle" to Worst Floods in 60 Years

The relentless rains have continued across the island nation, flooding great cities across its western half and convincing new Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take some defensive action.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Gloucester -- and promised to mobilize resources from across the country. He also announced increased funding for flood and coastal defenses across the country.

"Like every advanced industrialized country, we are coming to terms with the issues surrounding climate change," he said.

Flooding - from England to Pakistan to Texas, from Bangladesh to China - seems to be this season's message to us from the climate. And the loss of life and property is only the immediate damage as they're seeing in Great Britain.
The wet weather for much of June of July across England and Wales has also affected crops. Farmers are predicting low yields and higher prices -- with several crops due to be harvested in the next month.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Culture Adapts

Far away from the hype of media and the contrived arguments of government, an ancient culture with long established habits has thrown in the towel and changed its ways due to climate change.

This story by National Public Radio tells of the Taureg people, desert nomads who have, for centuries, herded their livestock in regions just beyond the reach of the Sahara.

Over the past 40 years, persistent drought has forced the Tuareg to give up their wandering way of life. To survive they have had to start settling in villages and cultivating land to secure a food supply which is less susceptible to drought.
Drought has killed off much of their livestock. Their diet has changed from a meat and dairy base to more grains and vegetables. Like many other nomadic peoples from history, they have settled down and become farmers and gardeners, but not so much out of choice as out of necessity. And with the abandonment of the nomadic lifestyle, other aspects of their culture are fading away, including the strict domination by adult males. As children and women play more essential parts in the agrarian communities, they are claiming more power in the social structure.

The culture may disappear, but the people may have a new lease on life.

Deja Vu Deluges In GB

I know England has a reputation for the damp weather, but this this year is getting a bit over the top.

The great flood
By Jonathan Brown
Published: 26 June 2007

Torrential rain that swept across Britain brought chaos as hundreds of homes were evacuated and stranded motorists plucked to safety from their vehicles.

At least three people were killed in the severe storms that brought devastation to large parts of England. One man died after he wastrapped in a drain in Hull, while a 68-year-old man was killed while trying to cross a flooded road in Sheffield. Last night, police searching for a teenager who fell into the Sheaf river in Sheffield said they had found the body of a young man.

Then, 24 days later, this:
Torrential rain brings flooding
Published: 20 July 2007

Britons could only stare at the sky in bewilderment today as the country was shrouded in black skies and drenched in torrential rain.

The average rainfall today is enough to change the July average rainfall figures for the last 30 years and the chances of such weather in July are 1 in 20, a spokesman for the Press Association's weather arm, Meteogroup, said.

"It's fair to say that what we're seeing today is extremely rare for this time of year," said forecaster Helen Rossington.

In some parts of the UK, up to an inch of rain fell in an hour

Saturday, July 21, 2007

E. O. Wilson - You should know him

I finally got around to watching this episode I'd Tivo'd of Bill Moyer's Journal. E. O. Wilson is a "sociobiologist" of great distinction who grew up in Mobile, Alabama and Washington, D.C., and is currently a professor at Harvard. He is, perhaps, the model naturalist of our times, and has recently authored a book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, in which he addresses a virtual Southern Baptist preacher about the responsibility to care for life on earth.

He emphasizes the potential cost of our allowing the extinction of a quarter to a half of all living species, and does so in a gentle but sincerely concerned manner. As one of our most informed biologists, he can foresee a time when the earth is much as it was after the great meteorite impact that many scientists believe wiped out the dinosaurs and many of their contemporary critters.

He also points out an element that I have not seen reflected in the projections of economists - the dollar value cost of services provided by nature to humanity.

We get from nature scot-free, so long as we don't screw it up and destroy it-- approximately the same amount of services as far as you can measure them in dollars as we ourselves produce each year. it was about $30 trillion a year. T. Trillion. And these creatures, they have built in them, in their genes and then in their physiology an endless array of defenses, many of which we could use and we have used, like producing antibiotics we never heard of using chemicals that we never even dreamed existed. And-- so we have already benefited immensely from wild species in that way. But, you know, let me get to the bottom line as far as I'm concerned. And that is-- isn't it morally wrong to destroy the rest of life, you know, in any way you look at it-- for what it's going to do to human spirit and aesthetics?
Here's Dr. Wilson speaking last March at TED, appealing for support in building his online Encyclopedia of Life, "an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world."

Wet or Dry, West Nile Doesn't Care

It's not simply the lack of rain or the surplus of water that may change our lives, but the ripple effects (so to speak) of any climate changes. Take this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitos, but is carried by birds. When dead birds are found in an area and examined for the virus, they tell epidemiologists that infection of local humans is likely.

We're used to associating mosquito proliferation with wet weather, but that's being proven a simplistic expectation. In California, the incidence of West Nile Virus is as high as it's ever been, while the state is experiencing the lowest precipitation since 1988. Scientists explain this by pointing to the fact that fewer watering holes means that more birds congregate in fewer locations, concentrating the population of carriers. Mosquitos find more targets in a smaller area, and consequently become more effective vectors to us humans.

This has been a dry year in California. The Sierra snowpack survey in May found that snow levels were 29 percent of normal, the lowest since 1988. In addition to crowding birds and mosquitoes, the drought is also reducing the natural flushing of urban storm drains, causing stagnant puddles that are ideal breeding grounds for Culex quinquefasciatus, a variety of mosquito linked to many West Nile outbreaks.
Even the real estate situation seems to have a hand in it. Homeowners facing higher payments or foreclosure and looking to save money will first quit maintaining their swimming pools, thus creating perfect algae-covered breeding grounds for more mosquitos.
In Kern County, half of all citizen complaints about mosquito swarms have been linked to neglected swimming pools that have turned green and become mosquito breeding sites.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Poor need to adapt"

Experts gathered in Bangladesh to discuss how the poor must adapt to changing climatic conditions. They acknowledged that regions encountering the most extreme effects of climate change are among the poorest in the world, and that their inhabitants "bear the brunt" of the consequences of rich country practices.

The London-based International Institute for Environment and Development and the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies organized the conference to share experiences on local climate adaptation programs across the world.
- - -
Bangladeshi climate change expert Atiq Rahman said if the sea rises by 30 centimeters (a foot), which some researchers say could happen over next few decades, up to 12 percent of the population living across the vast coast would be flooded out of their homes.

Sri Lanka Learning from Past Disasters

The Tsunami was the topper, but Sri Lanka sees its share of floods, droughts and epidemics. In a wise move to learn from these disasters, going back to 1974, the government's Disaster Management Centre (DMC) is gathering a database of information about how it dealt with them in order to plan for better handling of disasters in the future.

"This database will help policymakers make investments in disaster reduction more efficiently, and relief providers will be able to identify vulnerable areas to target their programmes," U. W. L. Chandradasa, the DMC's director of mitigation and technology, told IRIN.
Apparently, it doesn't take a disastrous response to a disaster (as in Katrina), to provide useful and instructional lessons. Every emergency provides opportunities to learn. As the preliminary report says:
The systematic tracking of small and medium disasters [which do not hit the headlines of international or even national media] along with detailed data about large-scale disasters will provide the necessary disaster intelligence to keep a tab on emerging patterns of disaster risk and look at the underlying causes.
Of course, a study of Katrina could fill volumes and we still see little evidence that FEMA has gotten its act together for the next powerful storm.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More About Chinese Desertification

China's food security dilemma was touched on in a previous Climate Frog article, where a new policy was announced to set a bottom limit to the area of arable land in the country.

The Ministry of Forestry tells, on its Web site, that deserts cover 20% of China's territory, ranging from the upper reaches of the Yellow River, on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and parts of Inner Mongolia and Gansu. In an article published on Planet Ark, a Ministry spokesperson describes the need to continue the huge effort China is making to stem the spread of these deserts.

This effort - consisting largely of mass tree planting campaigns - has become especially intense as the 2008 Olympics approach and China has committed to eliminating the chance that sandstorms (which have become increasingly common and widespread in recent years) will disrupt the event and embarrass the government.

"Experts say that the series of anti-desertification measures our country has taken has obtained obvious results, which have had an important effect on improving people's livelihood," it said.

"But at present the anti-desertification situation remains serious, and is still the main ecological problem which restricts our sustainable socio-economic development," the ministry added.

"Stepping up control efforts is of the utmost urgency."

India's Shrinking Glaciers

This quote from the New York Times science article (free subscription required) makes the case for reporting it in Climate Frog:

The thousands of glaciers studded across 1,500 miles of the Himalayas make up the savings account of South Asia’s water supply, feeding more than a dozen major rivers and sustaining a billion people downstream. Their apparent retreat threatens to bear heavily on everything from the region’s drinking water supply to agricultural production to disease and floods.
The glaciers of the Himalaya, which feed the rivers that flow through India, are among the least studied glaciers in the world. There is little history of their growth and shrinkage to refer to in evaluating trends, but since all glaciers in all parts of the world have been in major retreat for the past 20 years, it's safe to assume that the same is true in the Himalaya. The difference here is that a huge population- over a billion people - is dependent on the water that has historically been released through the dry season by the gradual melting of these accumulations of ice.

As the article says, the IPCC addresses the shrinking glacier problem in its recently released report.
In its report, the international panel predicted that as these glaciers melt, they would increase the likelihood of flooding over the next three decades and then, as they recede, dry up the rivers that they feed. “In the course of the century,” it warned darkly, “water supply stored in glaciers and snow cover are projected to decline, reducing water availability in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges, where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.”

Hurricanes on the French Riviera?

What do we know as the conditions for generating a hurricane? Warm sea surface temperatures and atmospheric instability are two essential elements.

Well guess what? According to a story distributed by Reuters, some European scientists are warning that the Mediterranean Sea could join the Carribean as a region threatened by major storms.

"This is the first study to detect this possibility," lead researcher Miguel Angel Gaertner of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, Spain, told Reuters on Monday.

"Most models in our study show increasing storm intensity and if you combine this with rising sea levels, as are projected, this could be damaging for many coastal settlements."

Historically, hurricanes have formed in the North Atlantic and, more rarely, in the North Pacific, and have been confined to tropical latitudes. We're all accustomed to hurricanes hitting Florida, the islands and coastlines of the Carribean and the Gulf Coast. Occasionally, we've seen hurricanes wandering up the Eastern Seaboard. But the story recounts some recent anomalies such as Hurricane Catarina, which formed in the South Atlantic and struck southern Brazil, and Hurricane Vince, which formed next to the Madeira Islands and became the first to make landfall in Spain.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Australia's Wildlife Corridor

The land down under is in the 10th year of drought. In light of the warnings of scientists that the country is experiencing accelerated global warming, state and federal authorities have agreed to establish a 1,740-mile, north-south climate "spine" to allow free passage of wildlife to more habitable climate areas. Reported by Reuters and published in Planet Ark, this is an example of government authorities taking action based on emerging evidence.

The corridor, under discussion since the 1990s as the argument in support of climate change strengthened, will link national parks, state forests and government land. It will help preserve scores of endangered species.

"We are talking a very long-term vision, a land use that values keeping the eastern forests in place over past uses like landclearing," said Graeme Worboys from the IUCN, the world conservation union.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"There's no one responsible for sea-level rise."

So says a frustrated David Holland, who directs New York University's Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science. And right now, according to an article in the Washington Post, no one has developed a computer model that can predict when sea level will begin to rise more rapidly, or how high it will rise.

Since the most serious contributor to rising sea level is the melting of glacial ice on Greenland and Antarctica, computer models must be able to account for the complex movement of these ice sheet across the unknown terrain that lies beneath them.

Without those models, scientists are left to guess on the timing and severity of sea level rise, and with estimates varying between the IPCC's forecast "that it would rise between 7.8 inches and two feet by the end of the century" and more catastrophic warnings that both ice sheets could slide into the ocean entirely, under certain conditions, policy makers are unable to move ahead with any planning to prevent or mitigate future coastal damage.

Worst case, as stated by Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs, is "if the Greenland ice sheet disintegrates, sea level would rise about 23 feet. If the West Antarctic sheet melts, as well, it would add an additional 17 feet or so." Such a scenario would wipe out coastal civilization as we know it. And no one can say, for certain, that such a scenario is impossible.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

English Survey Finds Happy Farmers

The Web site Farming Futures reports that a survey found 81 per cent of farmers believe that the global climate is changing, and 70 per cent believe that these changes offer them business benefits.

Farmers pointed to longer growing seasons, warmer weather, new crops and new markets as benefits they could see from climate change, and many have begun growing what recently were considered exotic crops - grapes, olives and walnuts. Some are growing crops that can be converted into biofuel to supply new energy markets.

“We’re already experiencing some benefits, but the risk of increasingly drier summers mean our farmers need to plan now for the challenges ahead”.

Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director of Forum for the Future said: “Farmers, like other businesses, are beginning to realise that adapting to and mitigating climate change is crucial to the success of their business.

“Reluctance to adapt could become a concern as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, so it's important to remember that actions to combat climate change also help to reduce on-farm costs.”

I found the pointer to Farming Futures in an article by Sarah Rich at WorldChanging, which ended with this wrapup:
Inevitably as the actual effects of climate change on agriculture become more and more apparent and demonstrable, the resource pool will grow and address a greater geographic area. Meanwhile, these UK-based organizations provide plenty of fodder for forecasting what fate may await the world's farms and what we might do to steer things in a positive direction.
Replace "agriculture" with "transportation," "construction" or "water supply" and the statement is equally true - people will wait until the problem is "more apparent and demonstrable" before they really engage in finding solutions.

China's Line in the Sand Ignores the, uh, Sand

China used to be able to grow enough food to feed its entire population. It used to be a net food exporter, but since 2004 it has been a net food importer. With one fifth of the world's population, it has only 7% of the world's arable land, so its leaders intend to stem the loss of any additional land to other purposes such as development. Housing, roads and factories have been gobbling up farmland at an accelerating pace. China now has a food security problem.

Reuters reports that in a news conference, Minister of Land and Resources Xu Shaoshi declared that the government will hold the line at a minimum of 120 million hectares devoted to agriculture. How this new law will be enforced, given the turmoil of China's booming business development and migration to the cities, remains to be seen.

No mention at the news conference, apparently, of the spreading Gobi desert, which has been claiming Chinese farmland for years. More on that in a future post here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Very Different Future for the Northeast

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which used to be more preoccupied with nuclear arms and proliferation than climate, has issued the results of a study on the impact of climate change on the Northeast U.S., and it's not pretty according to the Washington Post. The study will be published in the journal "Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change."

Unless there is global abatement of emissions that cause global warming, the region may see winters that average 8 to 12 degrees warmer and summers that average 6 to 14 degrees hotter than current temperatures by the end of this century. Those conditions, in turn, could kill of spruce and hemlock forests, shut down the ski industry and deliver 30 days of over 100-degree heat each year to Philadelphia.

As the New York Times (subscription required) interpreted the report:

Without reductions in emissions, sea levels could rise, inundating coastal areas on southern Long Island and pushing water over parts of lower Manhattan, flooding the financial district and pouring water into the subways, making them inoperable.
New York, Boston and Atlantic City would experience regular disatrous flooding and songbird populations would completely disappear. Though there might be some upside to the changes - longer growing seasons for northern farmers, and lower heating bills for residents - the disruptive elements of such drastic change would prove very expensive.

Some of these effects could be mitigated by prompt changes in global habits around carbon emissions, but "even under the best-case emission-lowering scenario, global warming will bring unprecedented damage to the coastline and will require enormous expenditures to maintain and replace roads, bridges and other infrastructure."

Restoring what the Northeast considers to be its normal climate "would require industrialized nations to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent below levels in 2000, and for developing nations to make substantial cuts, too." Of course, we're nowhere near seeing agreement to take such actions.

Hazard Mitigation in California

California has a Hazard Mitigation Portal maintained by the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Hazards listed include Fire, Flood, Earth Movement (Landslide), Seismic (Earthquakes, Tsunamis) and Other Hazards.

Other includes Avalanches, Drought, Freezes, Insect Pests, Civil Disturbances, Dam Failure, Hazardous Material Spills, Polution, Terrorism, Volcanoes, and Less Significant Hazards.

Hurricane's are one of the "Less Significant Hazards," along with nuclear power accidents, tornadoes, airline crashes, computer breaches and train derailments.

In assessing whether or not hurricanes present a threat to California, the state currently relies on information found in the USA Today Weather Book by Jack Williams, which dismisses the possibility with this statement:

No hurricanes have hit California in recorded history because tropical storm winds generally blow from east to west, but California is affected by heavy rain resulting from tropical winds that blow north from Mexico and become colder by the time they hit California.
Thus, recorded history determines policy. In fact, though California certainly faces enough threats that have historically been devastating - earthquakes, wildfires, inland flooding and mudslides - the mitigation planning does not even consider the effects of climate change. Nowhere is sea level rise mentioned, or the possibility that eastern Pacific hurricanes may reach further north than before, or the possibility that both drought and extreme rainfall will become even greater threats than before.

Yes, California is leading the way in state-promoted green programs, but given its long coastline and its vulnerability to weather extremes, one can only hope that contingency planning will take place for the changes we're beginning to see in our daily climate.

Records gathered by NOAA show the mean sea level at San Francisco has risen by about 0.2 meters (about 7 inches) from 1850 to 2000. For an interesting - and scary - comparison, check out the graph for Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flooding Galore

Just following a link in my Reuters Alertnet newsfeed this morning led me to the following headlines:

Hundreds of thousands stranded in India floods

PAKISTAN: Deaths reported as heavy rains lash northwestern districts

Flash floods kill 20, destroy 15,000 homes in Sudan

Thousands need rescuing after Ethiopia flood

And from a Reuters news blog, there are these stark descriptions:

Imagine seeing two years of rain in the space of just three days. It's a mind-boggling thought, but that's the fate that befell Barmer last week - a sprawling desert region in western India more accustomed to drought than floods. Many people had to be rescued by helicopters and dinghies after becoming marooned on top of sand dunes surrounded by water over five metres (15 feet) deep. Hundreds of thousands are now displaced. "The desert looks like a sea," commented one army officer involved in relief operations.


China's worst drought in half a century has left more than 18 million people short of drinking water and destroyed swathes of cropland. Things are especially bad in the parched southwest, where the harshest conditions since meteorological records began in 1891 are sending vegetable prices soaring.
Death, destruction and displacement are not new. Exceptional weather events, happening regularly though without any provable relationship, are the hallmark of the climate change impact forecast provided by Global Business Network, as it describes, "an increase in the variability of weather patterns globally--more frequent intense rainfall events, more intense heat waves, and prolonged droughts." Any of the events described in these news stories can be seen as an annual anomaly. All together, though, they appear more troubling.

(photo courtesy of ABC News)

Monday, July 9, 2007

An Insider's Account of Arizona's Plight

Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown narrated a tour of the many serious wildfires currently burning up the drought stricken West, from the Black Hills to Utah to Nevada and both northern and southern California. Hot and wind conditions with protracted dryness set up forests, shrublands and grasslands for instant ignition by lightning.

Arizona has also had wildfires burning across its northern region and Jeffrey Brown interviewed Lisa Graumlich, director of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona about the situation (hint: it's not a happy one).

Here are some sobering quotes from Dr. Graumlich:

Well, this is actually starting to become a bit of a norm. The drought that we're currently in actually started in 1999 and has persisted. And it's been a drought that's not only been severe, but it's been very pervasive.
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So as the entire climate system warms, the movement of the jet stream that brings, you know, moisture to us here in the West from the Pacific Ocean has started to migrate north. And arguably it's sort of going to sort of continue to move north and create a permanent dust bowl-type situation here in the Southwest.
- - -
...the fires that you were talking about now are almost becoming a way of life for us. In the last five years, almost 20 percent of the forested land in Arizona has burned. We're also seeing massive mortality of the pinion pine, the sort of beautiful pine forest that cover much of the northern part of New Mexico and Arizona.
- - -
In the legal terms, we have junior water rights compared to California. So if the drought deepens and if Colorado River water needs to be divided, we're going to find ourselves in a pretty sticky situation, in terms of negotiating our way into some sort of sustainable system here.

Uncertainty, Science and the Press

I rely on RealClimate to untangle much of the confusion around reports of global warming and climate change. This confusion - as described in this classic case concerning the melting of the Greenland ice cap - is often generated by the biases and ignorance inherent in press coverage.

As my preceding article explained, there is alway uncertainty in forecasting, and there is definitely uncertainty in any attempt to predict the weather - whether it be for the next decade or this afternoon. But misinterpretation of scientific findings introduces even more uncertainty in the minds of citizens, who read or hear conflicting reports and then decide not to trust any of them.

A deep core sample of the ice in Greenland found the "oldest pure DNA ever" and the reports published in Science magazine included some mentions of historic ice cap melting some 125,000 years ago when the sea level was some 6 meters above what it is today. Some press accounts of the Science article interpreted those mentions as meaning that forecasts of the impact of current Greenland meltoff were overblown, exaggerated.

RealClimate provides a more accurate explanation of the original study, which is consistent with the IPCC findings regarding the ice cap. So we're back to considering the possibility that a Greenland meltoff, combined with similar melting of the Antarctic ice cap, the melting of many smaller mountain glaciers around the world and the expansion of the ocean itself due to warming may - MAY - still result in at least a 6 meter rise in sea level.

Forecasting and the Cone of Uncertainty

Paul Saffo, a noted Bay Area futurist, wrote a valuable piece for the Harvard Business Review titled Six Rules for Effective Forecasting. Given that the whole premise of Climate Frog is based on forecasting the impacts of climate change, Saffo's rules help put my writing into proper perspective. Forecasting is not predicting.

The role of the forecaster in the real world is quite different from that of the mythical seer. Prediction is concerned with future certainty; forecasting looks at how hidden currents in the present signal possible changes in direction for companies, societies, or the world at large. Thus, the primary goal of forecasting is to identify the full range of possibilities, not a limited set of illusory certainties. Whether a specific forecast actually turns out to be accurate is only part of the picture—even a broken clock is right twice a day. Above all, the forecaster’s task is to map uncertainty, for in a world where our actions in the present influence the future, uncertainty is opportunity.
The implications of my Climate Frog articles - that humans should be planning their futures based on forecasts of the possible effects of climate change - are certainly not predictive. If it were certain that sea levels would rise in a predictable pattern, we would be seeing a lot more preparation for that in the planning and development of coastal cities and towns. But the element of uncertainty in the forecasts regarding sea level rise makes expensive changes in policy a bit of a gamble in the present, both economically and politically. No one today could secure the legislation and funding to relocate major sea level highways. Even the most pessimistic predictor of sea level rise recognizes the fact that climate change is full of uncertainties today.

Saffo describes change as an "S curve" that begins slowly and hits an inflection point where change accelerates rapidly for a period until it flattens out and recedes.
The art of forecasting is to identify an S-curve pattern as it begins to emerge, well ahead of the inflection point. The tricky part of S curves is that they inevitably invite us to focus on the inflection point, that dramatic moment of takeoff when fortunes are made and revolutions launched. But the wise forecaster will look to the left of the curve in hopes of identifying the inflection point’s inevitable precursors.
Action to mitigate the impacts of climate change are certainly in that slow, beginning stage today. Perhaps - if events in the world become compelling enough and the link to climate change is illustrated more clearly - action will accelerate rapidly at some point in the future. Climate Frog is a risk in terms of the time I invest in it, but I'm attempting to aggregate the forecasts based in today's research and world events in order to provide the most current reports on those actions.

Saffo recommends that we "embrace the things that don't fit" in the precursor stages, as these may actually be indicators of conditions that will be present at the inflection point of the S-curve.
More often than not, indicators look like mere oddball curiosities or, worse, failures, and just as we dislike uncertainty, we shy away from failures and anomalies. But if you want to look for the thing that’s going to come whistling in out of nowhere in the next years and change your business, look for interesting failures—smart ideas that seem to have gone nowhere.
Many climate change skeptics point to conditions that look counter-intuitive to global warming scenarios. Why would it be getting colder than average in some places if it's all about "warming." And wouldn't a warmer climate make some regions more productive and attractive than before? Well, sure, there will be an upside for some people in some places. And maybe those places will serve as refuges for migrating populations. It may all be part of the actual global scenario that unfolds for us.

Saffo's fourth rule is to "hold strong opinions weakly," which means to continually update your forecasts based on changing conditions. My main premise is that we should be making tentative plans to defend ourselves from the impacts of climate change. In making those plans, we should be prepared to implement them rapidly since much of climate change forecasting includes tipping points and feedback loops that are likely to cause rapid changes in sea level and weather-related vulnerabilities. I don't know how climate change will unfold, but I'm convinced that it's unfolding.

The fifth and sixth rules are Look Back Twice as Far As You Look Forward and Know When NOT to Make a Forecast. These are easy for me to follow. Human history is full of stories of whole populations not recognizing risk or impending disaster. We are creatures of habit with short future horizons. We don't easily change our habits unless forced to by Nature. And I know better than to make a specific forecast of what is to come. This blog is more about observation of human behaviors in reaction to whatever indicators of climate change are observable, whether or not they are absolute.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Holding Back the Desert

Just as the Dutch have worked so hard to hold back the sea from the Low Country where they live, many other populations must - today and increasingly in the future - hold back the spreading deserts. Thanks to Alex Steffen at WorldChanging, I was made aware of a policy report from the United Nations University that warns that a third of the earth's population may become victims of desertification. Of course, as with most of the manifestations of climate change, the immediate danger to life and limb is only part of the story. Spreading deserts force people to move, to migrate, to relocate out of desperation. So imagine over 2 billion people in migration across the planet, most of them already living in politically unstable environments.

Desertification could bring about mass migration as people are forced to leave lands that can no longer support them, posing an "imminent threat to international stability", according to the report's authors.
The report predicts that over the next 10 years, 50 million people will be forced into this situation. Perhaps most importantly, the report points out the weak collaboration between nations and the scientific community in creating and executing policies to slow desertification. Planting trees that will hold moisture, anchor soil and sequester carbon dioxide to slow global warming seems to be the most logical and affordable step to take right now, but such programs are slow to catch on and carry through.

Jiang Gaoming, an ecology expert at the Institute of Botany, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told the reporter that, "planting trees to fight desertification has been a priority in China, but a lack of coordination between Chinese agencies such as the State Forestry Administration and other ministries, has hindered this approach."

Of course, in the US, this problem begs the question, "Why did we choose to settle tens of millions of people in deserts and semi-arid environments?" Will we ever see Las Vegas ringed by intentionally planted forests? Will a flyover of Los Angeles show us more foliage than backyard swimming pools?

(photo credit: P.Ward/Bruce Coleman, Inc.)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The IPCC Report: Resigned to Catastrophe

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on April 16 predicted plenty of damage as the sea level rises - the greater the rise the greater the damage, of course. In the summary material headed Hurricanes and Sea Level Rise: Key passages from the IPCC's "Climate Change 2007", we find projections and recommendations, but I sense a resignation to the historic tendency to not prepare for uncertainty.

Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina clearly illustrated the "vulnerability of North American infrastructure and urban systems that were either not designed or maintained to adequate safety margins."

"North America very likely will continue to suffer serious losses of life and property simply due to growth in property values and numbers of people at risk (very high confidence)." (Italics mine) This statement was followed by enumeration of property values vulnerable to North Atlantic storm damage. Of the total property value in some states, the majority is vulnerable. "This economic value includes 79% of the property in Florida, 63% of the property in New York, and 61% of the property in Connecticut."

But here's where I think you can feel the authors' collective pessimism. In the money terms applied to home ownership, defensive home improvements don't pay for themselves unless they actually save the home under the onslaught of a major storm.

Extensive property damage in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 led to significant revisions to the building code. If all properties in southern Florida met this updated code in 1992, then property damage from Hurricane Andrew would have been lower by nearly 45%. Florida will, however, still experience extensive damage from hurricanes through damage to the large number of older homes and businesses. Other financial barriers come from the challenge property owners face in recovering the costs of protecting themselves. Hidden adaptations tend to be undervalued, relative to obvious ones. For example, homes with storm shutters sell for more than homes without this visible adaptation, while less visible retrofits, such as tie-down straps to hold the roof in high winds, add less to the resale value of the home, relative to their cost.
And in general, projections of possible or probable sea level rise lead only to predictions of massive damage. Readiness? Barely detectable.
Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low [very high confidence].

The Southeast Drought and Mitigation

I've previously mentioned the National Drought Mitigation Center, located at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus. Mitigation, as they define it, is "taking actions in advance of drought to reduce its long-term risk."

In fact, Alabama has a drought mitigation plan, finalized in 2004. The abstract of the plan includes these statements:

There is no way to prevent a drought from occurring, however the effects of a drought can be reduced or even eliminated altogether. The impact of drought can be reduced by improving the overall forest health which reduces the risk of drought-caused fires, by improving and maintaining water systems which will reduce pumping failures. Also, by establishing and implementing contingency plans, such as, predetermined water conservation measures, or by designating alternative emergency water sources.
In actual practice, it's not at all clear that these mitigation actions had yet been taken, and if they had, that they were effective. Bark beetle infestations of the southern pine forests are quite the opposite of "improving overall forest health." The extended period of wildfires in Georgia and Florida through the spring and early summer point to a failure reduce that risk. Whatever water conservation measures have been taken don't seem to be "mitigating" anything.

To put the drought into graphic presentation, NDMC provides an array of maps including this one that shows drought severity according to the "Palmer Index." Note that the severe drought in the Southeast is a relatively small area compared to what is happening in the West, where the tendency toward drought is more natural.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Evidence or Oddity?

The question is and will remain, "Is what we're seeing today an indication of the way it will continue to be?" Climate change skeptics may continue, for years, to insist that nothing has been proven by dramatic shifts in the weather. Thus - based on that conviction - no behavioral changes are warranted. Normalcy will return eventually.

Climate Frog doesn't argue that question, but waits to see if, first, individuals and, then, populations begin to change behaviors out of frustration or necessity.

Take, for example, the state of Alabama, which was just (July 2) declared a national disaster area by the Department of Agriculture. Rainfall across the state is 20 inches below the annual normal of 32. Farmers are taking it on the chin, suffering tremendous losses.

The New York Times reports that, "Northern Alabama has become acre after acre of shriveled cornstalks, cracked red dirt for miles and days of unrelenting white heat." It's the most severe drought in over a century. Across the Southeast, ranchers are selling off their cattle and river levels are so low that power companies are worried and barges are unable to navigate the sandbars. Farmers are burning through their cash reserves and facing bankruptcy. Huge stands of southern pine are infested with bark beatles.

Whether or not this year's extreme drought is simply a short-term anomaly or an indication of long-term climate change, it's clear that it stands to change the behaviors, professions and lifestyles of many of the region's residents. A farmer who suffers through a year like this one may leave the vocation behind, especially if the prospect for similar weather is increasingly likely. If large expanses of timber are lost, so will be many jobs in the lumber and paper industries. If power generation is affected by low water for hydro, we may even see power rationing and blackouts.

So the question becomes, What are the thresholds of climate impact that motivates people to change dramatically? Not simply to cut back on driving or lawn watering, but to change jobs or to move to different areas.

Out at Mr. Bragg’s 7,000-acre, third-generation spread just north of Huntsville, immediate worries are pressing: he is facing the classic farmer’s debt squeeze, with heavy investment — $1 million in giant new silos, a down payment on an ethanol-based future — and little revenue to pay for it. Mr. Bragg is contemplating a $500,000 loss.

Mr. Sanderson’s grain bins cost $400,000. “Not only have we lost our revenue, I’m also $400,000 in debt,” he said.

Mr. Bragg said, “My salary is tied to how much it rains.” He is luckier than most because some of his crop is irrigated by giant sprayers. He still has “the potential to work for this whole year and not get paid.”

In his cotton fields, the stalks are not high enough to be reached by the mechanical picker. Every stalk should have 10 bolls, but these barely have four or five.

The drought takes a psychological toll. Mr. Bragg spoke of a tight feeling in the pit of his stomach when drought sets in. “Mentally, we expect it,” he said, “but genetically, we can’t handle it.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Advancing Beachfront

As sea levels rise - perhaps slowly, perhaps precipitously - and as storms become more powerful and more frequent, the idea of owning beachfront property would seem to be imbued with some kind of time limit.

The comfortable cottage sitting across the strand of sand from the Gulf of Mexico looms like a tasty morsel dangled in front of an increasingly hungry scavenger. Having driven Highway 90 from the Louisiana border to Gulfport 18 months after Katrina, we saw the coastline scoured clean, with the occasional cement stairs leading nowhere and the live oaks barren of leaves and branches. Yet every few miles we'd pass and active construction site where a defiant owner was insisting on rebuilding exactly where his previous abode had been annihilated. Stubborn? Proud? Or is this plain old stupidity?

An article the New York Times on June 21 included the estimate that at least one quarter of U.S. beachfront homes would be destroyed by rising seas and storms by 2060. I'd put strong emphasis on "at least" since I witnessed the total elimination of beachfront homes by a single storm landfall, and most global warming projections see major storms reaching not only the usual Florida and Gulf coasts, but farther up the East and even West coasts where residents of seaside communities and developments have always felt safe from Nature's wrath.

More from the NYT article:

Though most of the country's ocean beaches are eroding, few coastal jurisdictions consider sea level rise in their coastal planning, and still fewer incorporate the fact that the rise is accelerating.
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Few coastal residents want to see their towns walled off and surrounded by water. And few want to elevate their houses by 20 feet or more, as flooding experts are beginning to recommend in some coastal areas. The approach favored by many scientists, a gradual retreat from the coast, is a perennial nonstarter among real estate interests and their political allies.
As Alex Steffen points out at WorldChanging,
The first-order problems brought on by global warming -- beach houses washing away, sure, but also crop failures, water shortages, floods, catastrophic wildfires, much more severe hurricanes, the spread of new diseases -- should freak us out and give us pause. But they are not necessarily the worst impacts we'll see.
Indeed, there are impacts that go far beyond the specific catastrophes and point to the loss of species, cultures and whole populations, not to mention what we here in America think of as our way of life. As Steffen say, "...climate foresight is no longer a luxury and, one way or another, we all live in New Orleans now."