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.