August 15 2018

August 15 2018

a hot world on fire, feeding cows seaweed to fight climate change, attributing extreme weather to climate change, sea level rise threatens the Internet

The New York Times reports on the heat waves that have appeared all over the globe this year; the U.S., Japan, Africa, Europe and even the arctic. The article includes interviews with people who are experiencing these weather extremes. Grist summarizes a month of weather extremes in an article entitled The World is Hot, on Fire, and Flooding. The Guardian reports that wildfires are changing in frequency and physical intensity, including remarkable video of the “fire tornado” that struck Redding, CA, as part of the Carr Fire (the Los Angeles Times has more details on this remarkable geophysical phenomenon). The Guardian also summarizes impacts around the world, including fires in northern Sweden that have caused the Swedes to request fire-fighting assistance from other nations. President Trump responded to this disaster with an ignorant, false and thoughtless tweet about environmental laws that have resulted in a lack of water to fight fires (Peter Gleick explains in the Washington Post why the President’s tweet is nonsense).

David Leonhardt notes in the New York Times that in California “seven of the 12 most destructive wildfires on record have occurred in the last three years.” The Los Angeles Times reports on the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has supplanted the Thomas Fire of eight months ago as California’s largest wildfire. The San Jose Mercury News describes how the damage done by these fires has escalated as more and more people have moved into fire-prone regions, and the Washington Post reviews the link between wildfires and our changing climate.

At RealClimate Norwegian physicist Rasmus Benestad reviews how scientists assess if climate change is altering the frequency and nature of extreme weather events (using statistical evidence, physical processes and attribution studies). Scientific American has a great article that describes the growing capacity of scientists to attribute the role that climate change has played (or not) in an extreme weather event (a short piece in Slate also addresses attribution for heat waves).

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting describes how Yankeetown, a small town in the northwestern part of Florida, has been actively utilizing its natural lands to adapt to sea level rise. A 2016 amendment to the town’s comprehensive plan (passed by public referendum) set aside 86 percent of the town as a “natural resources adaptation action area,” aimed at protecting their natural defenses for sea level rise (Climate Central notes such natural defenses [“living shorelines”] are becoming quite popular in this part of Florida due to their cost effectiveness and multiple benefits when compared to seawalls). Unfortunately, the highest point in Yankeetown is 5 feet above current sea level, and the existence of “ghost forests” (where salt water intrusion has killed trees) shows that the inevitable transition of the area to salt marsh is underway. Many of the towns residents consider the rising sea to be evidence of a “natural cycle” rather than anthropogenic climate change.

Here’s an interesting op-ed from the Sacramento Bee looking at Representative Devin Nunes’ view and actions related to water availability in the San Joaquin Valley. This shows the capacity for congresspeople to get so involved in national politics that they become disconnected from the concerns of residents in their districts.

Livestock are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and Thomson Reuters Foundation reviews recent research on how these emissions might be reduced through altered diet and breeding (the key goal is reducing the methane that is burped by cows). Yale e360 reports on the remarkable success of reducing methane emissions from cows by 30% through the addition of a certain seaweed to their diet.

National Geographic reports on a new study that concludes large sections of important internet infrastructure are located in the places likely to be underwater within 15 years. This is another example of a key reality noted by Rich Sorkin, the co-founder of Jupiter Intelligence, “We live in a world designed for an environment that no longer exists.”

The New York Times has a great article about the floodplain restoration efforts in California’s Central Valley, where farmland is being restored to riparian woodland and related habitats that can withstand flooding. When these lands flood they reduce the flood levels downstream, helping to protect cities and towns. These restoration projects will be extremely valuable in a warming world, as the likelihood of major downpours increases. Of course, if we have a megaflood like 1860-61, these projects will probably be overwhelmed.

Scientific American offers an excellent review of the complexity of retreat from the shoreline as an adaptation to sea level rise, focusing on the Blue Acres Buyout Program in New Jersey. This program’s three goals are to permanently move people and property out of harm’s way, open the land for public access and restore the natural ecology. Although retreat is an inevitable outcome in many instances, in practice it is a challenge that includes a tax base loss for local communities and profound personal loss for landowners who leave their homes. For those interested in this issue, I recommend Elizabeth Rush’s new book Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.

The New York Times Magazine (August 1) has only one article; Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. This is a very detailed history of climate science and policy from 1979-89, and well worth the read if you have the time (the article has been criticized for not laying the blame for this tragedy at the feet of the fossil fuel industry and the Republican party). Meanwhile, InsideClimate News reports on the climate change denialist’s annual meeting, where many speakers decried the fact that so many members of the public, government agencies and corporations are treating climate change as a real problem (Time Magazine examines the growing interest in climate action among the GOP).

An op-ed in The Hill by Columbia economist Geoff Heal explains why a carbon tax needs to be much larger ($100/ton) than the current proposals being discussed if it is going to reduce carbon emissions in a significant way.

The Onion, a bastion of American satire, is up for sale. The Onion has been a source of great articles on climate change, including Texas Governor Warns It Could Be Decades Before State Fully Ready To Talk About Climate Change, Climate Change Denier Battens Down Worldview To Weather Hurricane Irma, Climate Change Deniers Present Graphic Description Of What Earth Must Look Like For Them To Believe and Frustrated Republicans Argue Pope Should Leave Science To Scientists Who Deny Climate Change.