Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Climate Frog transitions to pResilience

Climate Frog is reincarnated as pResilience. If you're linked here or are getting a feed from here, please make the switch. You'll be glad you did. Thanks.

Climate Frog was my first effort at blogging about climate change and our responses to it as citizens, communities and governments. Since I began this blog in early 2007, the landscape has changed - both literally and scientifically - and so has my approach to blogging about it.

Over a year ago, I was curious about what - if anything - people were doing to prepare for the impacts that research was forecasting. I learned that those impacts would be specific to locations, not generalized across all locations. I went so far as to propose a business for building special purpose Web sites for use by local government in collaboratively planning to mitigate those impacts. I called the effort AdaptLocal and as some potential funders considered my proposal, I continued to inquire as to the likelihood that local governments would pay to have these sites set up for them.

Early this March, I came to the conclusion that very few local governments are currently ready to take such a step. Some might be, but most are buried in other more immediate obligations while struggling to fund even those priorities.

The driving force for local climate adaptation and building local resilience for approaching climate impacts will be the grassroots groups and organizers, not their local governments. There are exceptions, of course, and I've featured some of them here in Climate Frog, but I've concluded that the most useful purpose I can serve is to find and blog about the best examples of local organizing. And that's what pResilience is all about.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today the sky is blue. Does the future matter?

Today, I see a brilliant blue sky out my window. I can't tell that there' s more carbon dioxide up there then there was last year. It's tempting to think, "Why worry? Why change anything?"

I focus on local preparation for adaptation to a changing climate because I know, based on assurances by a preponderance of scientific investigation, that the impacts of climate change will come, probably sooner than we'd like to think. Most of us, it seems, choose to not think about it. And that spurs me further to do what I can to advance adaptation planning.

Who is responsible for educating and motivating the public about this stuff? There are countless other climate/green organizations, agencies and web sites. Al Gore got his Academy Award and Nobel Prize. The IPCC shared the Nobel and is now known worldwide for having substantiated the evidence of big problems ahead.

I have automatic web searches dumping more climate-related articleson my desktop every day than I can possibly read. The information to lead our actions is available and plentiful.

So why aren't things moving as they must to prevent catastrophic impacts in our future? You'll notice that none of the presidential candidates even mention climate change. Today's NY Times editorial urges Clinton and Obama to elevate their campaigns "to a serious debate about major issues," none of which happens to be climate related. This is absurd.

I'm thinking that the best way to penetrate the average U.S. citizen's crisis fatigue is to make the climate change threat a local one - to describe it in terms of what might happen in each person's back yard. The prospect of having to abandon one's lush landscaping or of upsetting one's ability to commute to work or of having high tide covering the local high school's athletic fields is a lot less abstract than presenting the threats as "global." Which is not to say that the global perspective deserves to be ignored; billions of lives are at stake.

And who should be bringing the challenge back home? I propose that it's our local elected leaders and public servants. Here in Marin, the local government has been very visible in promoting its Get Ready Marin initiative, which is aimed at elevating disaster preparedness across the county. Hundreds of weatherproof banners were produced and hung in high visibility locations, resulting in the training and recruiting of hundreds of neighborhood volunteers.

Marin should expand beyond emergency planning and bring the same level of urgency to long range planning. The future matters and for the first time in human history we have forecasting abilities that can warn us about emergencies long before they happen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Major H2O Utilities Want Fed Research Help

Now we're talking. But will the Feds respond, at least before Bush is gone?

Quoting from Climate Science Watch:

An alliance of eight major water utilities that provide drinking water to 36 million people is calling on the US Climate Change Science Program and the science community to aid in assessing and managing risks to water infrastructure and supply from impacts of warming, diminishing snowpack, bigger storms, drought, rising sea level, and potential abrupt climate change.
This is about the US Global Change Research Program, which the Bush Administration has done its best to disempower. The alliance calls itself, logically enough, the Water Utility Climate Alliance, and they need "access to the best possible climate change research as they prepare to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure over the next 15 years."

OK, water comes first, especially for the regions most threatened by water shortages. (Interestingly, neither Georgia's nor Alabama's water utilities are among them.) But wouldn't just be right for the federal program to fund research to provide the best risk assessment for all potential climate impacts across the U.S.?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Flood season in the upper Midwest

I have a Google News Alert for "flood" that delivers a daily list of stories to me. Here are some of what shows up today:

Flooding closes I-280 A weekend warm-up caused rivers to rise in their banks and some areas to flood, causing the closure of Interstate 280

Local flooding prompts closures Area flooding prompted flash flood warnings from the National Weather Service and road closures by the city of ...

Forecasters Monitor Weiser River for Flooding Such a storm would cause the snowpack to melt rapidly and increase flood danger. Right now forecasters are closely watching certain rivers that wouldn't be ...

Southeastern Minnesota Prepares for Possible Spring Flooding The town of Houston, Minnesota was fortunate that it avoided major damage from last year's flooding, but the flood served as a wake up call to the community ...

Strong Storms... Flooding... Several Inches of Snow... ALL Possible First of all due to the already saturated ground and the enormous amount of rain showing up on forecast models a Flood Watch is in effect. ...

Freezing Rain, Sleet, Snow, Flooding A Concern High water and localized flooding due to ice action and snow melt will continue along sections of the Elkhorn through Monday. ...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

New San Francisco planner, no mention of climate

The only reason I point to this story in the San Francisco Chronicle is its lack of any mention of environmental concerns in the list of urgent issues the new hire will need to tackle. This in spite of the fact the the Chronicle just launched its online Green publication.

Yes, that's one of the points of Climate Frog - we'd better begin our adaptation planning now because every place has a long list of important issues already on the table. If adaptation has to wait in line until the impacts are upon us, we may find that most of today's big zoning and housing debates were lacking some key considerations.

Environmental economist: "Work locally to diversify our ecosystems"

No, local actions don't make a difference in the climate change process, which is principally driven by worldwide trends. But Charles Perrings, a professor of environmental economics at Arizona State University, says there's a lot we can do locally to lessen impacts at the local level.

The trick is to work locally to diversify our ecosystems to make them more resilient for what is to come.

Perrings' argument, which he presented 17 February at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, is based upon the findings of the 2005 United Nations' Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Like the IPCC report, the MA is a comprehensive synthesis of existing information, scientific literature and data; but whereas the IPCC report discusses climate change generally, the MA focuses on improving ecosystem management and human well-being.

'The MA points to the value of regulating ecosystems locally to function over a range of environmental conditions,' Perrings says. 'The challenge now is to deepen our understanding of diversity's impact on both the supply of valued goods and the severity of harmful events.'

Understanding the value of ecosystem change is one more tile in the global climate change mosaic, one that, according to Perrings, scientists and policymakers must understand if they are to accurately assess costs and benefits of proposed actions, track ecological assets and develop means of remedying the problem.

Europe holds roundtable on adaptaion

A multi-stakeholder roundtable on climate change entitled Adapting to Climate Change in Europe – Options for EU Action took place on February 27. The pre-conference story described the format this way:

Climate change concerns us all. Therefore all actors, in the widest possible sense, from the individual citizen to public authorities, the private sector, businesses, towns and cities, academics, networks, policy makers and authorities at all levels, associations and NGOs are invited to participate actively during the roundtable.
Broad participation builds resilience.

800-year drought in South Carolina?

That's what the state climatologist told the newspaper. Tree ring data says it's so.

Flooding in the U.S. Midwest - climate impact?

It's not your imagination; there have been more reports of flooding in the upper Midwest lately. It's impossible to say for sure that it's a climate change impact, but conditions have certainly changed.

The Findley (Ohio) Courier interviewed Robert McCall, an Ohio State University Extension educator who focuses on watershed management about the more frequent flooding they've been experiencing. The uncertainty McCall expressed is indicative of where we're all at now, as we deal with new patterns of extreme weather, although he sounds like he could use to follow Climate Frog and learn some stuff.

Q: We have flooded seven times in the last 14 months. Is this a fluke, or have we entered a new era in which flooding will permanently be a much bigger problem than in the past?

A: We are in an new era, that's for sure. What era that is, speaking from a climate standpoint, I'm not sure. The researchers, the scientists, the national figureheads, nobody can really come to an agreement, I don't think, across the board as to what that is. If global warming ... is caused by man-made, land use practices, I'm not sure what's going on there. Or ... it's just the natural cycle of things. I don't know how much influence, obviously we probably have some influence, but to what degree I'm not sure.

What? No truffles?

Yes, sorry, epicures. The European truffle hunters are blaming the shortage on global warming. I've been telling you that the impacts would be diverse, hitting you in places you never expected. And there you have it. Get ready to pay through the nose for your next truffle experience.

Now, foodies and tourists buying truffles by the piece have replaced the bulk-buying middlemen, and most transactions at the once-bustling market are measured in grams. At the Aups market, the black truffle's price has more than doubled over the past five years, to about €850 per kilo ($560 a pound).
One 76-year-old trufficulteur pinned the blame on climate, and is ready to believe it's permanent.
"Climate change has got the seasons out of whack, it's hotter than it used to be and it rains lots less. I want my grandson to take over, but if things continue like this, who knows if there will be anything left."

Complexities of drought planning

Most of North Carolina is still dealing with extreme drought conditions, and a plan proposed by the governor - which would impose water use restrictions uniformly on counties based on what "level" of drought they are in - is getting plenty of pushback from local resource managers.

"There is no one size fits all [answer]. Every community and the situation of every water system is different," said Ellis Hankins, director of the League of Municipalities.
Hankins is recommending his own plan to the governor, that will take into consideration other factors in assigning restrictions. Some counties, for example, are at an "extreme level" of drought, but still have water in their reservoirs, while others at that same level have empty reservoirs.

When it's dry everywhere, a little bit of available water makes a difference.

Entropy - another adaptation challenge

Climate change is far from the only change we're going through. Our national infrastructure is aging, crumbling and falling behind fast in the maintenance required to keep it safe and usable. The collapse of the interstate bridge into the Mississippi river last year was a spectacular failure, but it's only an indicator years of neglect of infrastructure built long ago.

A recent editorial in the New York Times appealed to presidential candidates to pay attention to this growing threat to lives, transportation and the economy. Check out these numbers:

....a federal commission put a jaw-dropping price tag on starting to attend to America’s crumbling foundations: $225 billion a year for the next 50 years just to maintain and upgrade surface transportation
The editorial wonders - as we all should - why this was not mentioned by anyone running to be the next president. Yes, it's bad news, but it's here now. It's not even bad news from the future, as climate change impacts are framed by those excusing their absence from the debates.

Desalination - Backup for the Long Dry

The first large-scale desalination plant in the U.S. recently began operating in Tampa, Florida. With a production capacity of 25 million gallons per day, it's much bigger than the plant currently going through public comment and EIR for my home county of Marin in California, with its initial capacity to produce 5 million gallons per day.

The price comparison: Tampa's plant, $150 million; Marin's, and estimated $115 million. One main difference is that Tampa's plant gets its water from the cooling system of a nearby power plant.

Both locations have gone through extreme water shortages and rationing in the not-too-distant past, and neither has access to backup water supplies. Marin has not yet made the decision to proceed, but has no other alternatives except conservation. Both locations have steadily increased their per capita water usage.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

USA Today on Climate Changes

Our national daily newspaper calls its section "Weather and Climate Science," and on the Feb 17 page from that section it provides two interesting features.

First is an animated map of the Northeast U.S. that illustrates how scientific projections see local climate changing over the course of this century under reduced emissions and constant emissions scenarios. Worst case for Massachusetts: its climate toward the end of the century will be like South Carolina's climate today. Imaging adapting to THAT! The original version of the map can be found in this report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Second is an article inspired by the latest update from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change (PDF), which surveys cities, states and counties that have begun pursuing adaptation planning. All of these places are, in turn, inspired by their membership in ICLEI, which has focused for years on sustainability planning but has begun to emphasize adaptation planning.

The clear leader in local sustainability and adaptation planning is King County, WA, whose Executive, Ron Sims, has launched these initiatives and was just named to the board of ICLEI-USA.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lakes Powell and Mead dry by 2021 - Odds: 50/50

It's way beyond a slim possibility. Fifty percent odds make for an appreciable risk. This was the finding of a study by Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. To reduce those odds, cities, farmers and industry that rely on water from the Colorado River had better change their water use habits immediately. Not to mention the loss of electricity generated by the lost water.

The results underscore the importance of water-conservation measures that many communities throughout the region are putting into place. Other studies, some dating back nearly 20 years, have projected that Lake Mead could fall to virtually useless levels as climate warmed, but they lacked a sense of the timing. The new results, the Scripps scientists say, represent a first attempt to answer when lakes Mead and Powell would run dry, squeezing water supplies in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico.

"We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it is coming at us," notes Tim Barnett, a research physicist at Scripps who led the effort. By "dry," the team means that water levels fall so low behind the Hoover and Glenn Canyon Dams that the water fails to reach the gravity-fed intakes that guide it through turbines or out through spillways. In addition, the report estimates that the lakes stand a 50 percent chance of falling to the lowest levels required to generate electricity by 2017.

Call them "Tipping Elements"

This Science Daily article seems to unveil a climate change twist on "tipping points."

"Society may be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change," the researchers around Timothy Lenton from the British University of East Anglia in Norwich and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research report. Global change may appear to be a slow and gradual process on human scales. However, in some regions anthropogenic forcing on the climate system could kick start abrupt and potentially irreversible changes. For these sub-systems of the Earth system the researchers introduce the term "tipping element".
Here's the short list from the UK-based team of researchers with their calculated tipping times:
  • Melting of Arctic sea-ice (approx 10 years)
  • Decay of the Greenland ice sheet (more than 300 years)
  • Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (more than 300 years)
  • Collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (approx 100 years)
  • Increase in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (approx 100 years)
  • Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (approx 1 year)
  • Greening of the Sahara/Sahel and disruption of the West African monsoon (approx 10 years)
  • Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (approx 50 years)
  • Dieback of the Boreal Forest (approx 50 years)
And this interesting description of their projections for the Greenland ice cap, which I'd been getting the impression lately losing ice at an accelerated rate. Total melt-off will take at least 300 years and a 7-meter contribution to sea level rise:
Warming over the ice sheet accelerates ice loss from outlet glaciers and lowers ice altitude at the periphery, which further increases surface temperature and ablation. The exact tipping point for disintegration of the ice sheet is unknown, since current models cannot capture the observed dynamic deglaciation processes accurately. But in a worst case scenario local warming of more than three degrees Celsius could cause the ice sheet to disappear within 300 years. This would result in a rise of sea level of up to seven meters.

Good language - Center for Climate Strategies

If new civic space is going to open up around climate change issues, an open process for making decisions and setting priorities is going to be essential. The Center's web site does a good job of describing the process it uses in working with state-level governments on climate mitigation planning. Often working through the governor's office, they convene teams of stakeholders who meet for a year in meetings open to the public.

Here's how answer the question Why was CSS created?

Many governors and other state leaders are addressing the problem of climate change by planning and implementing proactive solutions to the pollution caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs). CCS was formed to help these leaders develop effective, consensus based policy solutions through analysis, planning and collaboration with stakeholders, state agencies and other institutions. CCS has provided assistance to 18 US states involved in state or regional climate action planning, as well as Canadian Provinces and the border states of Mexico.
And What does CSS do?
The CCS team provides a forum for advanced learning and joint decision-making on climate strategies and solutions in an open, inclusive, non-partisan, fact-based, and collaborative environment. We provide impartial and expert analysis, planning, facilitation and technical assistance toward development of highly customized, consensus-based policies and plans to reduce GHG emissions. CCS works jointly with state officials, agency staff, and stakeholders to develop actions that meet or exceed state or regional GHG emission reduction goals and targets through a “portfolio” of coordinated actions, developed through the consensus building process. CCS provides similar assistance for the development of response actions and plans for adaptation to climate change impacts.

Stakeholders Help Plan Florida's Survival

Most of Florida has an elevation not much above sea level, and I've seen more than a few maps illustrating a largely submerged peninsula. Not surprisingly, the state government is trying to do something to help slow the warming, the melting, the resultant rise of sea level. This article describes the two-phase project that aims toward reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Now beginning its Stage Two, the governor has assigned a 21-member Action Team to come up with a list of recommended actions.

The process will be facilitated by the Center for Climate Strategies, which is "working in 16 states to build consensus and develop comprehensive action plans."

The Center was quoted about its role in the process of helping the Action Team make the most worthy recommendations:

"We are not advocates for particular approaches with vested interests, and we do not take positions on policy or legislative issues. We assemble and facilitate complex decisions among diverse stakeholder groups."

Energy Expert prescribes, "fundamental shift in how we do things at every level."

A post on the CleanTech Blog by Richard T. Stuebi, the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, caught my eye because it's so rare that you see anyone with any influence acknowledging that there's sacrifice in our future.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Virtual Civic Centers for Local Resilience and Climate Adaptation

Why aren't we doing more to get ready for climate impacts? We know they're coming. They may already be here. We've seen from Katrina how lack of adequate preparation can leave a place vulnerable to even the most obvious risks. We know these impacts won't just come through once and be over. Sure, we need to slash carbon emissions, but we can do that and learn to adapt at the same time. In fact, they should go together.

Having been following the news and the science so closely over the past year in my research for Climate Frog I've learned a few things that are calling me to action:

  • The timeframe for many key forecasts has been compressing; the pace of change seems to be accelerating
  • Many locations have had - and are still having - extreme weather that may as well be climate change impacts even if they're not referred to as such
  • We're not going to reverse the climate change process and impacts for a long, long time
  • We're going to go through at least a decades-long period of "unstable" and extreme weather
  • Adaptation is defined by the location where climate impacts take place
  • Local is where the rubber meets the road in terms of government involvement with its constituents
  • Local governments have yet to begin addressing adaptation planning for their local conditions and populations
  • The Web is being underused as a local information and collaboration medium on climate
I'm proposing that we begin building a global network of local civic center sites that operate through enlightened (or at least willing) local government agencies to:
  1. inform their citizens about the latest science, news and commentary on climate change
  2. involve them in risk assessment and civic deliberation on planning issues
  3. support collaborative activities among citizens, businesses, groups and government
At the same time, these local sites will be networked to share knowledge and experience about risks and situations they have in common. All sites will contribute knowledge to a global knowledge base that anyone can draw from.

Yes, this is actually a serious business proposition. I'm taking the unorthodox path of announcing it here for anyone who might be interested in helping to get it off the ground. I'm calling it AdaptLocal, and here's a short version of the proposition.

Please circulate. Contact info is on the site or just comment here. Ciao.

Naomi Oreskes - A History of Denialism

Thanks to Joe Romm at Climate Progress for pointing us to this video of a presentation by science historian Naomi Oreskes. Joe has some good background on the lecture.

This meticulously put together presentation explains a lot about the uncertainty expressed by the America people when asked to describe their feelings about global warming. You've heard all these same tired arguments for years now. Oreskes reveals the original script writers.

Here's the YouTube intro:

Polls show that between one-third and one-half of Americans still believe that there is "no solid" evidence of global warming, or that if warming is happening it can be attributed to natural variability. Others believe that scientists are still debating the point. Join scientist and renowned historian Naomi Oreskes as she describes her investigation into the reasons for such widespread mistrust and misunderstanding of scientific consensus and probes the history of organized campaigns designed to create public doubt and confusion about science.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The link between strange and extreme weather and climate change. Does it matter?

The powerful killer tornados that blasted across the Southeast on Tuesday were - according to Dr. Jeff Masters, the most deadly mid-winter tornados in recorded history with the exception of a storm in January, 1949. The drought that continues to plague northern Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas is equally unusual in that region's history.

Scientists and responsible science writers (such as Chris Mooney) are admitting that in both cases - and in general - they must be very cautious about attributing these oddball extremes to climate change.

Fair enough. That's how science should and must be. But really, does it matter? If we are witnessing hundreds of broken records for temperature, rainfall and drought in the course of a year, there's a gut level instinct that tells you something is changing in the world. No one has yet defined how we'll mark the official, scientifically sanctioned and approved beginning of Climate Change. No one has described how we will someday look back on history and set a pushpin on a timeline and declare, "This is when the climate began to change."

We certainly can't say that just because over 50 people were killed in February tornados this year, we can expect to see such patterns repeated from now on. The most certain thing we can say about climate change is that its behavior will be uncertain. Our weather patterns may change, but they may not settle into any patterns at all.

I think it's fair to say that having the Arctic ice cover disappear, having countless glaciers retreat, having severe flooding in England, catastrophic drought in Australia and shrinking snowpack in the Rockies all represent changes in...something. We can studiously avoid blaming these facts on global warming, but not if it means denying that they are happening.

Monday, February 4, 2008

UK leading citizens in local flood protection

The Goole region of Great Britain was heavily flooded last year and is a high risk area for flooding in the future, if recent weather patterns persist. Britain's Environmental Agency is issuing guidance for local Members of Parlaiment for how to lead their constituents in preparing for floods and mitigating damage from them. As the Goole MP described it,

"Flooding is a real threat to people living in my constituency and it is vital that they listen to the Environment Agency's advice on protecting themselves and their home.

"Signing up to Floodline is a great service that will give you the best possible warning of a flood.

"Making a flood plan and getting a flood kit together takes a few moments, but can make an enormous difference if there is a flood."
As ever, the EA is trying to balance the need for building new homes with the risks of building them in known floodplains. (I still don't understand how new homes can be built on floodplains. It just stretches the bounds of reason!)

Take a class; get to water your lawn

Here's a new twist in drought adaptation from Georgia, where citizens who have been under a lawn watering ban since last September may be allowed a limited reprieve in exchange for attending a class on water conservation.

Green attitudes: same old action

The good news from a USA Today article reporting on a recent poll, is that a majority of Americans considers global warming to be "a very serious problem. The bad news is that it's a slim majority (62%) and that a very small percentage of those who support taking "green" action to mitigate global warming are taking the actions they advocate.

The author of the study, Edward Maibach - head of the climate center at George Mason University - observed that there's a strong need to raise more awareness of the situation and cited growing concern among behavior experts that "there has been too much fear-mongering and not enough emphasis on what people can do." Unfortunately, the acknowledgement of the problem reflects the political divide in the country.

Democrats are about three times more likely than Republicans to see high danger in global warming and think they can do something about it. But Democrats are living only slightly more green than Republicans.
Hey, folks, the climate is non-partisan!

This is where I'm convinced that local focus on the potential impacts of climate change on the places where people live and work is the most direct route to getting them to engage in the issue. It's not abstract when you look at global warming through the lens of your own experience. If you can visualize dramatic change in terms of how it may affect your daily life, it's that much more real to you. And it frames the answer to the question, "what can people do?"

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Georgia drought: tension in the air about water

They held a public meeting was held about the water crisis in metro Atlanta. The conveners placed the meeting in Gainesville, next to Lake Lanier - the reservoir whose cracked, dry bottom has become the poster child for the lengthening drought. Present to address the current were officials from regional water planning, local development planning and the Atlanta area chamber of commerce. Harold Reheis, a planning consultant, quoted below, provided some straight talk about the situation.

For all the big guns of local policy who were there to speak and answer questions, it's a bit disappointing that only 125 people showed up as an audience. Maybe the feeling of powerlessness has taken over. Certainly one of the quotes published indicated the dissatisfaction with explanations that must be running through the community.

Reheis, former director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, forecast more drought in the future - if not an extension of the current one, then something as bad or worse in the future.

"There will be a worse drought," said Harold Reheis, who served as EPD director from 1991 to 2003. "I don’t know if it will be 10 years from now or 100 years, but it’s coming."
He also offered some tough love to those in regions outside of Atlanta who have complained that the metro area has been using more than its fair share of the limited supplies.
Reheis said he hopes the comprehensive plan will reduce the "paranoia" that the rest of Georgia seems to have about metro Atlanta. Some people accuse Atlanta of consuming more than its share of water.

"I hope there will be less whining, once all the facts are out there about how much water metro Atlanta actually uses," Reheis said.

He pointed out that Georgia law does not allow a community to withdraw so much water that it dries up a stream.

"Folks downstream need water, too," he said. "Some of our neighbor states don’t have that policy. Some of those states don’t regulate water withdrawal at all."

He said in Georgia, a municipal water source must be reliable enough to yield water even during a "drought of record." The state’s current drought is the new drought of record, so it is the standard by which new water sources will be measured.

"You’re going to have to build more and bigger reservoirs in the future," Reheis said.

Drought in the Southwest - "There are no knowns right now"

My wife, visiting family in Scottsdale, Arizona, called me this morning to tell me about a front page article in the Arizona Republic titled Climate-change realities could ruin water planning. The article was inspired by a new study reported in Science magazine - Stationarity Is Dead: Whither Water Management?

The killer quote (I thought) that wraps the AZ Repub article was this one, by Larry Dozier, deputy general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson:

"There are no knowns right now," Dozier said. "We have no more certainty."

Adaptation will be more an exercise of living with uncertainty that one of changing the way we live for a new steady-state environment. It won't be like traveling to another country and bringing the right clothes to fit a different climate. It will be more like being taken without any control to one new location after another, with surprise weather greeting you in each destination. You'd better bring everything from your swimming trunks to your down parka.

The article does a good job of explaining why the warm and heavy rains that have fallen on Arizona so far this winter are not the answer to its water shortage problems. The entire strategy of water management in the largely desert region of the American Southwest is based on snowpack. The real water storage should be held in the form of snow in the mountains of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, then released gradually to replenish reservoirs during the dry and hot summer months. If the winter precipitation falls as rain, it rapidly fills reservoirs to capacity, forcing releases of overflow into river channels - effectively wasting water that would have been available later in the year had it been in frozen state.

Authors of the Science article were interviewed for the newspaper article.

In the Science magazine article, researchers say that human-caused changes in the climate will play havoc on the averages and extremes used to plan for floods, droughts and water storage. Those measurements help determine how much water needs to be stored or how cities allocate resources.

"Climate change magnifies the possibility that the future will bring droughts or floods you never saw in your old measurements," said Christopher Milly, the study's lead author and a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

"For agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, this would mean fundamental changes in the way they do business," Milly said.

Scientists can't offer a solution yet, beyond urging water managers to consider a wider range of possibilities as they plan for the future.

"We need to have enough flexibility to change course in case the system goes in a way it hasn't before," said Kelly Redmond, deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, one of six climate-study centers overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We have to plan for possibly being in a new regime," Redmond said.

Whether the current drought represents a new regime is still unknown, Redmond said, but that question looms large in front of researchers.

"We know from the tree-ring records that the Southwest does experience long droughts on its own," he said. "Is it one of those droughts, or is it a new type of drought? That's what we don't know."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Scraping the bottom of the reservoir

I'm learning new things all the time about reservoir jargon. Today I was exposed for the first time to the "sediment layer" of a reservoir's water supply. Of course I've known that sediments settle and collect behind dams, sometimes to the extent that the volume of water in the reservoir shrinks over time. But more often, much of that sediment remains in suspension in the water, sinking to occupy the bottom level as what we'd recognize as watery mud.

The drought in Raleigh, North Carolina, has just about driven the region to begin providing water to residents from this sediment layer, according to the NewsObserver.

A federal study in the 1990s found that Falls Lake's bottom is filling more slowly than expected, leaving more room for water than first planned. In theory, the lake's bottom layer holds enough water to supply Raleigh and the seven other Wake County towns it serves for two to three months.

Under the proposal, the Army Corps of Engineers would sell up to about 6 1/2 billion gallons of the bottom water in four increments as needed. That's up to 87 days' worth at the lake's current draw-down rate, assuming no rain. That would come after Raleigh exhausts its regular supply, which by the most recent estimate on Tuesday stood at 113 days left.

Raleigh's City Council voted this week to ask the corps to let the city tap permanently into the surplus at the bottom. A permanent reallocation of half the lake's bottom layer would boost the city's supply by more than one-fourth -- until inevitable sediment accumulations erased it.

But once the muddy water has been tapped, there's other local source to draw from. Future planning relies on the return of the rains to refill reservoirs, after which the local and state governments will resolve to maintain higher standing levels to guard against future drought.

In a sense, the best-case scenarios are that drought periods in the future are no longer than a couple years at a time, an assumption that can no longer be considered reliable.

Climate risk management training in Asia

The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center is offering a course (pdf) "to build the capacity of professionals to manage risks associated with climate variability, change, and extremes. " The announcement, which I found on Reuters' Alertnet, describes the course as follows:

It builds upon the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center's two decades of experience in disaster management, facilitating regional cooperation and building capacities of disaster management institutions at all government levels, disaster management practitioners and communities, and a decade of experience in institutionalizing climate information applications for disaster mitigation. It incorporates case studies and sectoral examples from ADPC's climate risk management programs and projects all over Asia. Upon completing the course, participants will be able to: 1) design early warning systems for climate-related risks; 2) design community-based climate risk management, climate forecast applications, and climate change adaptation projects, and 3) develop tools to mainstream climate risk management practices into development programs and policies.
If there is such a training course in the U.S.A. I haven't heard of it. Please tell me if you know of one. I doubt that local planners have been brought up to speed on this stuff.

The price of snow in China

Some places in China are calling it the heaviest snowfall in 5o years with forecasts that it might continue falling for days, even in Shanghai where this kind of weather rarely happens, even to a minor degree. Of course this is increasing energy consumption, and thus coal burning. The government reports that 78 million people are being directly affected and that coal supplies are dropping fast, forcing energy rationing. Transportation during the Lunar New Year celebration has been curtailed, with many trains stranded in place. Air travel and bus transportation have also been restricted.

This is the same country that last summer was suffering both extreme drought and extreme flooding. The weather is not taking it easy on China.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another Achilles' Heel for nukes - Droughts are Dry!

In early December I blogged about the TVA's power generating capacity being weakened by low water levels due to extreme drought conditions. They were faced with the Solomon's choice of supplying more water where it was most needed or to save water to produce the normal amount of electric power to the region. Of course, TVA had to provide people with water. This meant that, with less water saved behind dams, hydro had less generating capacity, forcing TVA to buy power at higher cost from other sources. And of course passing costs along to customers. End result: emergency water was provided and customers will pay more for light and heat next year.

This was almost two months ago and only barely significant rain or snow has fallen since. Now the focus is on the effects on nuclear power generation.

Again the story features TVA as the owner/manager making the decisions. This article in today's Huntsville (AL) Times does a good job of explaining the problem and how the outcome is similar to the one facing the hydro generators. The Achilles' heel with both hydro and nuke power generation is - that's right - YOU NEED ENOUGH WATER.

For every location where a new nuclear power plant is being considered, you'd better hope that climate change doesn't land a big drought on you. And while I'm at it, all those nukes built on th coastlines at sea level to make use of the ocean's voluminous water supply - you'd better hope the sea doesn't rise. How, I wonder, are those plants assessing risk these days?

Stewart (Whole Earth Catalog) Brand has been promoting nukes as the one renewable and "green" electric power source that can be put online fast enough to allow us to cut loose of coal burning plants in time to avoid the atmospheric carbon tipping point. I have an inherent fear of nuclear accidents, one of which could kill and dispace so many people - not to mention destroy gobs of infrastructure and whole local economies - that it's hard to see how benefits could be worth the risk.

But these real, climate-determined limits on operability are what adaptation planning is all about. We won't be functioning under the conditions we're used to. Climate variability will make many of our assumptions unstable and our solutions temporary. Adaptation won't be a one-time adjustment ("OK, we'll just replace the roses with cactus and that will be that."), it is likely to be an ongoing accomodation to whatever our carbon-soaked atmosphere heaps upon us, in each of our unique local environments.

Adaptation may be like what we tell people visiting us and asking how they should dress for our local weather. No matter what time of the year, we tell them, "Wear layers."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Adaptation Discussion in the City of Toronto - Take 1

This description in a column by Dale Duncan in provides a good example of the complexities we face in addressing "adaptation" in a civic context. Duncan attended a meeting of Toronto's Parks and Environment committee where presentations were given, including two by representatives of the insurance industry and public health. Duncan's takeway from it?

Is the City of Toronto ready to adapt to a new normal of increased floods and droughts, new pests and vector-borne illnesses, and a possible influx of environmental refugees? After sitting in on a series of presentation on climate change adaptation given to the Parks and Environment Committee yesterday, I can tell you that the answer to this question is a resounding "no." Toronto may have a plan to help mitigate climate change, but there’s no plan for how the city will adapt to it, and the consequences of that could mean severe economic, social and health problems in the years to come.
So, in a nutshell, what's the problem? Let's start with insurance. I've blogged about that topic numerous times. They're the ones, after all, whose whole business model relies on accurate risk assessment. One of the municipal councillors brought up infrastructure, which Duncan reminded readers was already a sore point, with a backlog of $123 billion (Canadian) in repair to roads, bridges and pipes. Adaptation of the infrastructure would involve not only making those repairs, but also strengthening those facilities to endure more extreme weather. The insurance guy responds:
“We need to be ready for more severe weather more frequently, which means greater risks due to weather-related events than we have ever faced before,” said Mark Yakabuski, president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
He reminds the council that the 1998 ice storm in Quebec consumed 20 percent of all insurance premiums paid that year. Ouch. Will climate change bring more ice storms? The insurance guy continues:
“It is not good enough to simply say we’ll maintain pieces of infrastructure at the standard for which they were built. It’s not going to be adequate,” argued Yakabuski. “We need to rebuild our infrastructure at a significantly higher standard in order to try to deal with a threat that’s higher than we’ve ever faced before. We have to review building codes and be as strict as possible in enforcing land use decisions. We don’t have the luxury to take our time to get it done. We need to find innovative ways to fund these investments now.”
Another councillor tries to turn the dilemma on its head by proposing that the national government provide the money to upgrade the infrastructure to avoid prohibitive insurance premiums in the future. This assumes, of course, that the national government has that money. But beyond infrastructure there were health threats to consider.
Dr. Monica Campbell, manager for Toronto Public Health, spoke about preparing for heat waves like the one in Europe in 2003 that killed nearly 70,000 people. In Toronto, heat-related mortality will double by 2050 and triple by 2080, she said. Furthermore, air pollution mortality will increase by 20 per cent by 2050 and 25 per cent by 2080. Campbell also reminded the committee that vulnerable populations are more likely to be negatively affected by climate change. In California, she said, research has been conducted to construct a Social Vulnerability Index to help ensure these populations don’t get left behind.
The potential of growing masses of climate refugees arriving on Canada's doorstep was brought up. But at least they held such a meeting and at least they've begun to consider these imposing issues. And - as a good example to all localities - they have provided a Climate Change Adaptation page on the city's Web site. Bravo to that!

Friday, January 25, 2008


Maps will prove to be one of the most powerful tools for local adaptation. Here in Marin, MarinMap is a membership supported business for integrating GIS data into special purpose maps. As they describe themselves:

MarinMap is a consortium of public agencies (local governments, special districts) organized under the legal authority of the Marin General Services Agency. The Executive Director is Paul Berlant. The Program Director for MarinMap is Wayne Bush. He also serves as the Chair of the Steering Committee.

MarinMap is dedicated to building and sharing a geographic information system (GIS), cooperating to improve each agency's business processes, improving public service and providing a forum for collaborative decision making. MarinMap has built an Internet-accessible GIS, bringing the best available information to the Internet.

Here's WildMap, which can show you where different kinds of wildlife are reported to live in the county. Mostly, everything lives everywhere because we have so much open space and wildlife corridors crossing the county.

So, it's a collaborative service and the County of Marin is using it to provide a range of maps to its agencies. Cool and all, but I can picture using Google maps to provide much more useful information for identifying key locations that adaptive planning would need to identify. Floodplains, slide risk areas, fire danger paths - these are all contained in separate maps and databases now. Citizens could help mark up a very useful Google map and could integrate some of the GIS database if MarinMaps let them.

An abnormal wind hits home

Literally and figuratively. Just after I posted the last article asking when "disaster" becomes accepted as normal, what has been a normal serious Alaskan front winter storm here in Mill Valley became a hurricane force monster with gusts up to 75 mph blasting across the flatlands that run in alignment with the wind, straight off of Richardson Bay. The big eucalyptus trees across the road were being pushed to angles we'd never seen in 14 years. Then, around 10:30 AM, the whole building (it's an 8-unit, 2-story apartment) shook as if hit by a 2-ton pillow, and there was a loud explosive sound. Not like the electric transformers up the road, that were popping off every ten minutes. But like the building had been whacked with a giant trash can lid.

I put on my Precip jacket and waterproof boots and stepped out the door to see this:

That black shape draping over the trees is a 3o-foot square, 1500-lb chunk of insulated roofing.

Now, I'm not about to claim that this unprecendented wind gust is the spawn of the devil-global-warming. I'm just telling you that the weather has got my attention here in Mill Valley. We're also averaging about 47 degrees for our temperature over December and January. That's down by about 8 degrees from the historical average.

Right now, we're having one of our more familiar winter storms, with minor flooding all around and some slides being reported on area roads. Our reservoirs are still below the level they should be at in late January, but with another storm or two like this one, we should be catching up.

And meanwhile, the workers are still repaing the two units that were flooded when the roof fkew away in the midst of a wind-powered torrential downpour. Just a taste of what storm damage is all about - four of the eight units had to be vacated.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Judgement call - when does disaster become normal?

I ran across this article in the Orlando Business Journal - Drought disaster loan deadline approaches.

So I'm wondering, if the climate actually changes in a place and drought becomes the norm, when does the government decide that the losses due to drought are no longer a disaster? Same with flooding - if the hundred-year flood becomes the 2-year flood, does flood insurance still work?

Should be interesting to see how such matters are handled in the future.

Another way of describing adaptation

I get tired of writing, uttering and thinking the word. Many people tell me it's way too early to even suggest that we be talking about it. To suggest that we begin planning how to adapt to climate change implies that we've given up and surrendered. The climate wins. We lose and submit. So I was glad to hear someone NOT use the word while making the point I seek to make.

Today's editorial in the online version of the Huntsville (Alabama) Times does not use the word adapt in any form - not adaptation, nor adaptive, nor even adaptable. We are spared by John Ehinger of the editorial board.

Northern Alabama is, of course, living through the same extreme drought conditions as northern Georgia. What's interesting to me is how the writer frames the issue and - as he puts it - "What's to be done?"

The year 2007 was the driest of three straight dry years locally.

Because the fractions don't count for much, let's just round the numbers off a little. In 2007, Huntsville's rainfall was just over 28 inches. That was almost 30 inches below normal. The same thing, though sometimes to a lesser degree, occurred over other portions of Alabama and the Southeast.

What's to be done? Start with what's not to be done.

The lack of rainfall - at times characterized by the phrase "exceptional drought" - was not the result of some bureaucrat's oversight or an ill-conceived government policy. Human beings in the 21st century are the beneficiaries of (and the victims of) the same cycles of nature that have long influenced both human progress and, over the eons, life on Earth.

But, again, what's to be done? What has to be done is coping. We have to find ways to manage in years of exceptional drought as well as in years of excessive rainfall.

In other words, we have to use resources wisely and plan for contingencies. Trouble is, people define such ideas as wise use differently. Georgia defines it differently than Alabama. Developers define it differently than conservationists.

The rain comes or it doesn't come. We simply have to find ways to deal with it, and the notion of assuming the annual average is what we'll get every year doesn't suffice - because it doesn't hold up.

Huntsville's water system is in better shape than most. But the challenges it faces are the challenges faced by water systems across the region.

Here's an example. Huntsville's system can pump up to 80 million gallons a day. And how much do we use? In winter, for example, the daily usage is about 40 million gallons. That leaves a cushion for growth and for breakdowns.

But in summer, particularly last summer when watering systems had to make up for the chronic lack of precipitation, actual usage reached about 76 million gallons on some days. If a treatment plant had failed or some other misfortune had struck, we'd probably have ended up under mandatory conservation measures.

I sure sounds like adaptation to me, but by avoiding using the word, the writer appealed to good old common sense in the face of natural forces. What's to be done? "Use resources wisely and plan for contingencies."

What's glaringly missing, of course, is any acknowledgement that human beings in the 21st Century are influencing those natural forces. Without that - and the changes in behavior it should prescribe - we're not truly adapting; we're just trying to survive a little longer.

The Storm of Our Residency

Maybe not the storm of the century, but over the 16 years we've lived in our building today's onslaught of wind and rain has outdone the many Pacific storms that have blown through this location. The ground has not become saturated yet - that usually happens after a couple frog-chokers like this one - and yet one of the nearby eucalyptus trees that has withstood many a stiff gale finally went down this morning.

The tidal inlet that reaches into Mill Valley up to Blithedale Avenue rose, with storm surge and high tide, to within a foot of overflowing onto the street.

And to top things off (so to speak) about a third of the roof of our building blew off with a thunderous BOOM, landing on the patio.

So I think I've finally had my AHA moment where I realize what increasingly intense weather is all about. Batten down the hatches! It ain't over yet.

Who'da thunk that we'd need a roof that would stand up to 70 mph winds? Now we know.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Riding the drought-flood cycle

Well, folks, worries about extended drought conditions in Northern California are easing a bit with the arrival of this energetic series of storms. They're predicting 4 inches at sea level and 8 inches in the bay area hills over the next 3 days. Ten feet of snow at Lake Tahoe and more at higher elevations. Until now, for this rain season (which began measuring last July) we've been at between 40 and 60 of normal. We should make it back to normal by next week.

It's coming down pretty steady right now, with winds gusting up to (my estimate, based on the large eucalyptus trees across the street) 40 mph. We're supposed to see gusts of up to 75 mph tomorrow, especially in the hills.

There's nothing extraordinary about this storm; we've seen at least 2 of these every winter that we've lived here. Sometimes enough storms link together that the sustained rains and ground saturation cause slides and flooding. Ground saturation is not a problem at this point. We'll just wait and see what the skies actually deliver. Weather prediction on the Pacific Coast is still a dicey proposition.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the downpours of December - in spite of their intensity - have barely made a scratch in the ongoing drought conditions afflicting the state.

Heavy rain and snow earlier this month may have turned streets into rivers and allowed Arizona Snowbowl to open on time, but they did little to stop a 13-year drought.

National Weather Service forecaster Valerie Meyers said it would take numerous storms to replenish aquifers and get river levels back to normal.

To end the drought, Meyers said, "give yourself three good (storm) events like that each month during the winter, then carry that forward to having good precipitation over the summer months, and then let's repeat it for another year or two.
The rain that fell on Arizona replenished reservoirs to their 2006 levels, making it the third wettest December since the state began keeping records 108 years ago.