Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

World Is Locked into ~1.5°C Warming & Risks Are Rising, New Climate Report Finds

December 14, 2014


November 23, 2014

  • The new “Turn Down the Heat” report explores the risks worsening climate change poses to lives and livelihoods across three regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.
  • It finds that globally, warming of close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times – up from 0.8°C today – is already locked into Earth’s atmospheric system by past and predicted greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Everyone will feel the impact, particularly the poor, as weather extremes become more commons and risks to food, water, and energy security increase.

In the Andes of South America and across the mountains of Central Asia, the glaciers are receding. As temperatures continue to warm, their melting will bring more water to farms and cities earlier in the growing season, raising the risks of damaging floods. Within a few decades, however, the risk of flood will become risk of drought. Without action to stop the drivers of climate change, most of the Andean glaciers and two-thirds of Central Asia’s glaciers could be gone by the end of the century.

These changes are already underway, with global temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, and the impact on food security, water supplies and livelihoods is just beginning.

A new report exploring the impact of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia and finds that warming of close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times is already locked into the Earth’s atmospheric system by past and predicted greenhouse gas emissions. Without concerted action to reduce emissions, the planet is on pace for 2°C warming by mid-century and 4°C or more by the time today’s teenagers are in their 80s.

The report warns that as temperatures rise, heat extremes on par with the heat waves in the United States in 2012 and Russia in 2010 will become more common. Melting permafrost will release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that will drive more warming in a dangerous feedback loop. Forests, including the Amazon, are also at risk. A world even 1.5°C will mean more severe droughts and global sea level rise, increasing the risk of damage from storm surges and crop loss and raising the cost of adaptation for millions of people.

“Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying – past emissions have set an unavoidable course of warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said.  “We cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions.”

As governments gather in Lima for the next round of climate negotiations, this report and others provide direction and evidence of the risks and the need for ambitious goals to decarbonize economies now.

Turn Down the Heat

Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal is the third in a series of reports commissioned by the World Bank Group from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. The first report looked at risks globally if the world were to warm by 4°C. The second report focused on three regions – Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia – and the risks to food security, water security, and low-lying cities exposed to dangerous sea level rise and vulnerability to storms.

The new report comes on the heels of strong new warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the pace of climate change and the energy transformations necessary to stay within 2°C warming.

Open Quotes

Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying – past emissions have set an unavoidable course of warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most. We cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions. Close Quotes

Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank GroupJim Yong Kim
President, World Bank Group

Latin America and the Caribbean

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the report warns of longer droughts, extreme weather, and increasing ocean acidification.

In the tropical Andes, rising temperatures will reduce the annual build-up of glacier ice and the spring meltwater that some 50 million people in the low-land farms and cities rely on. Heat and drought stress will substantially increase the risk of large-scale forest loss, affecting Amazon ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as the forests’ ability to store carbon dioxide.

Rising temperatures also affect food security. The oceans, which have absorbed about 30 percent of all human-caused carbon dioxide so far, will continue to acidify and warm, damaging coral ecosystems where sea life thrives and sending fish migrating to cooler waters. The result for the Caribbean could be the loss of up to 50 percent of its current catch volume.

Middle East and North Africa

People in the Middle East and North Africa have been adapting to extreme heat for centuries, but the report warns of unprecedented impact as temperatures continue to rise.

Extreme heat will spread across more of the land for longer periods of time, making some regions unlivable and reducing growing areas for agriculture, the report warns. Cities will feel an increasing heat island effect, so that by 4°C warming – possibly as early as the 2080s without action to slow climate change – most capital cities in the Middle East could face four months of exceedingly hot days every year.

Rising temperatures will put intense pressure on crops and already scarce water resources, potentially increasing migration and the risk of conflict. Climate change is a threat multiplier here – and elsewhere.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the report shows how the impact of climate change will vary region to region. Melting glaciers and warming temperatures will shift the growing season and the flow of glacier-fed rivers further into spring in Central Asia, while in the Balkans in Eastern Europe, worsening drought conditions will put crops at risk.

Rising temperatures also increase the thawing of permafrost, which releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat. By mid-century, if temperatures continue to rise toward 2°C, the release of methane from thawing permafrost is likely to increase 20 to 30 percent in Russia, creating a feedback loop that will drive climate change.

Working to Lower the Risk

“The good news is that there is a growing consensus on what it will take to make changes to the unsustainable path we are currently on,” President Kim said. “Action on climate change does not have to come at the expense of economic growth.”

At the World Bank, we are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy to help countries lower their emissions while growing their economies, and in clean transportation that can put fast-growing cities onto more sustainable growth paths.

We are also working with governments to design policies that support clean growth, including developing efficiency standards, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, and pricing carbon. It’s clear that the public sector cannot solve the climate challenge alone – private investment and smart business choices are crucial, but business leaders tell us they need governments to provide clear, consistent policy direction that reflects the true costs of emissions. We now screen our projects in 77 countries for climate risk and for opportunities for climate action. We are helping countries find opportunities in climate action and developing financial instruments to increase funding that can help them grow clean and build resilience.

“Our response to the challenge of climate change will define the legacy of our generation,” President Kim said. “The stakes have never been higher.”

What We Learned About Climate Change In 2014, In 6 Scary Charts

December 14, 2014


What We Learned About Climate Change In 2014, In 6 Scary Charts

Humanitys choice

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S.

This year saw a lot of big climate reports, including three by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And, as always, we had many important publications by individual scientists. And that means great charts, like the one from the IPCC above depicting the outcome of continued inaction on climate change. Here are some more of the year’s most impactful graphics.

The 2014 chart I consider the most important is not the prettiest or simplest. But it is the one that best captures our latest understanding of what has emerged as the greatest danger to humanity this century from human-caused climate change — Dust-Bowlification and the threat to our food supplies.

This map of the global drying we face uses the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), a standard measure of long-term drought. It is excerpted from the study, “Global warming and 21st century drying.”

Future drought

Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for 2080-2099 with business-as-usual warming. By comparison, during the 1930s Dust Bowl, the PDSI in the Great Plains rarely exceeded -3 (see here). Source: Cook et al. and Climate Progress.

We are currently on track to make drought and extreme drying the normal condition for the Southwest, Central Plains, the Amazon, southern Europe, and much of the currently inhabited and arable land around the world in the second half of the century.

Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Met Office updated its bar chart of the hottest years on record to include 2014, which is headed toward a new record.


Peter Stott, Head of Climate Attribution at the Met Office, explains: “Our research shows current global average temperatures are highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate.”

For those still under the fog of confusion spread by the climate science deniers, a new RealClimate chart in a recent post by climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf is especially elegant. This chart uses “change point” analysis, which “objectively looks for times in the data where the trend changes in a significant way.”

Change point

Global temperature (annual values, NASA GISTEMP data) together with piecewise linear trend lines from an objective change point analysis. (The value for 2014 will change slightly as it is based on Jan-Oct data only.) Graph by Niamh Cahill.

In its comprehensive literature review, the IPCC finds the annual cost of avoiding climate catastrophe is a mere 0.06 percent of annual growth — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6 percent and 3 percent per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24 percent rather than 2.30 percent to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries.

The IPCC has a simple chart/table spelling out this key finding:

Mitigation costs for 450 ppm

Global mitigation costs for stabilization at a level “likely” to stay below 2°C (3.6°F). The green columns show the consumption loss in the years 2030, 2050, and 2100 relative to a baseline without climate policy. The light green column shows the annual consumption growth reduction is 0.06 percent. Via IPCC.

The uncounted co-benefits are enormous. A recent International Energy Agency report concluded that “the uptake of economically viable energy efficiency investments has the potential to boost cumulative economic output through 2035 by USD 18 trillion.”

The report found that green building design can achieve health benefits — including reduced medical costs and higher worker productivity — “representing up to 75 percent of overall benefits.” That is, the non-energy benefits of efficiency upgrades can be three times larger than the energy savings.

The biggest scientific bombshell of 2014 was that the West Antarctic ice sheet appears close to if not past the point of irreversible collapse— and, relatedly, that “Greenland’s icy reaches are far more vulnerable to warm ocean waters from climate change than had been thought.”

We also learned in August that Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheetmore than doubled their rate of ice loss in the last five years.

Those findings have led leading climatologists to conclude we are headed toward the high end of projected sea level rise this century, four to six feet. That means we are in a major coastal real estate bubble (see “When Will Coastal Property Values Crash“).

How big is the bubble and who will pay when it bursts? I’ll have more detail in a later post, but the terrific Reuters series, “The crisis of rising sea levels: Water’s Edge,” has a good chart:


It’s a trillion-dollar bubble. And it looks like taxpayers — you and I — are on the hook for much of it.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, one good climate chart might be worth a thousand billion dollars.

California’s drought is the worst in 1,200 years, evidence suggests

December 10, 2014

December 5, 2014
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
As California finally experiences the arrival of a rain-bearing Pineapple Express this week, two climate scientists have shown that the drought of 2012-2014 has been the worst in 1,200 years.

The 2012-2014 California drought, unusual in the context of the last 1,200 years, greatly diminished water reserves in Lake Nacimiento of the upper Salinas Valley.
Credit: Photo by Daniel Griffin

As California finally experiences the arrival of a rain-bearing Pineapple Express this week, two climate scientists from the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have shown that the drought of 2012-2014 has been the worst in 1,200 years.

Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, and Kevin Anchukaitis, an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, asked the question, “How unusual is the ongoing California drought?” Watching the severity of the California drought intensify since last autumn, they wondered how it would eventually compare to other extreme droughts throughout the state’s history.

To answer those questions, Griffin and Anchukaitis collected new tree-ring samples from blue oak trees in southern and central California. “California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get,” says Griffin. “They thrive in some of California’s driest environments.” These trees are particularly sensitive to moisture changes and their tree rings display moisture fluctuations vividly.

As soon as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released climate data for the summer of 2014, the two scientists sprang into action. Using their blue oak data, they reconstructed rainfall back to the 13th century. They also calculated the severity of the drought by combining NOAA’s estimates of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), an index of soil moisture variability, with the existing North American Drought Atlas, a spatial tree-ring based reconstruction of drought developed by scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. These resources together provided complementary data on rainfall and soil moisture over the past millennium. Griffin and Anchukaitis found that while the current period of low precipitation is not unusual in California’s history, these rainfall deficits combined with sustained record high temperatures created the current multiyear severe water shortages. “While it is precipitation that sets the rhythm of California drought, temperature weighs in on the pitch,” says Anchukaitis.

“We were genuinely surprised at the result,” says Griffin, a NOAA Climate & Global Change Fellow and former WHOI postdoctoral scholar. “This is California–drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras. This time, however, the result was different.” While there is good evidence of past sustained, multi-decadal droughts or so-called “megadroughts”‘ in California, the authors say those past episodes were probably punctuated by occasional wet years, even if the cumulative effect over decades was one of overall drying. The current short-term drought appears to be worse than any previous span of consecutive years of drought without reprieve.

Tree rings are a valuable data source when tracking historical climate, weather and natural disaster trends. Floods, fires, drought and other elements that can affect growing conditions are reflected in the development of tree rings, and since each ring represents one year the samples collected from centuries-old trees are a virtual timeline that extend beyond the historical record in North America.

So what are the implications? The research indicates that natural climate system variability is compounded by human-caused climate change and that “hot” droughts such as the current one are likely to occur again in the future. California is the world’s 8th largest economy and the source of a substantial amount of U.S. produce. Surface water supply shortages there have impacts well beyond the state’s borders.

With an exceptionally wet winter, parts of California might emerge from the drought this year. “But there is no doubt,” cautions Anchukaitis, “that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel Griffin, Kevin J Anchukaitis. How unusual is the 2012-2014 California drought? Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL062433

Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “California’s drought is the worst in 1,200 years, evidence suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2014. <>.

Reversing Global Warming, Hunger and Poverty: Supercharging the Global Grassroots

December 5, 2014


Greass fed cow

“It is easy to forget that once upon a time all agriculture was organic, grassfed and regenerative. Seed saving, composting, fertilizing with manure, polycultures, no-till and raising livestock entirely on grass—all of which we associate today with sustainable food production—was the norm in the ‘old days’ of merely a century ago, not the exception as it is now. Somehow, back then we managed to feed ourselves and do so in a manner that followed nature’s model of regeneration.

“We all know what happened next: the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, monocrops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, e. coli, CAFOs, GMOs, erosion, despair—practices and conditions that most Americans today think of as ‘normal,’ when they think about agriculture at all.

“Fortunately, a movement to rediscover and implement ‘old’ practices of bygone days has risen rapidly, abetted by innovations in technology, breakthroughs in scientific knowledge, and tons of old-fashioned, on-the-ground problem-solving.” – Courtney White, The Carbon Pilgrim, Nov. 16, 2014

A critical mass of climate scientists have warned us repeatedly that we must reduce the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in order to preserve life on Earth.

Unfortunately the business-as-usual behavior of out-of-control corporations, indentured politicians and hordes of mindless consumers, continues to lead to billions of tons of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHGs) being pumped into our already (398 ppm) supersaturated atmosphere and ocean. By the time major reductions in fossil fuel use take effect—in 20 years, if we’re lucky—it could be too late. By then, we will likely have reached 450 ppm or more, approaching the point of no return, where serious climate instability morphs into climate catastrophe.

While climate scientists sound their alarms on the global warming front, agronomists and hunger experts warn of equally catastrophic events. They tell us that unless we embark on a global campaign to reduce the damages of industrial agriculture, restore soil fertility (especially on the 22 percent of potential arable lands now eroded or desertified), improve crop quality and food nutrition, and conserve water, we face increasing rural poverty, starvation, and permanent food and water wars, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the majority of the world’s population live.

These looming disasters—climate catastrophe, and rural poverty, starvation, and food and water wars—are not entirely unrelated. And neither are their solutions.

We can reverse (not just mitigate) global warming. And while we’re at it, we can also restore soil fertility, eliminate rural poverty and hunger. We can do this by sequestering several hundred billion tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere, using the traditional, time-tested tools we already have at hand: regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use.

What will it take to make this world-changing transition to a livable Earth?

First, we need to change the climate discussion from the one presently centered narrowly on fossil fuel emissions and reductions, to one that is also focused on carbon sequestration. Next, we need a global, supercharged grassroots movement. This will mean mobilizing a vast corps of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, consumers, climate activists and conservationists—North and South—to begin the monumental task of moving the Carbon Behemoth safely back underground.

Changing the climate conversation

Up until now, too much of the discussion surrounding global warming and the climate crisis has been cloaked in gloom and doom. The fact is, we have the power to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming. Or, we should say, the world’s 2.8 billion small farmers and rural villagers, with the cooperation of conscious consumers, have that power.

We know, from a critical mass of scientific data, that the qualitatively enhanced plant photosynthesis which is a byproduct of regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use practices, can remove several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and safely store this carbon where it belongs, in the living soil.

If we implement regenerative agriculture practices on a global scale, we can buy the time we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90 percent over the next few decades. At the same time, we can also reverse rural global poverty and deteriorating public health.

Our immediate task therefore is to spread this profound message of hope and agricultural transformation, framing the regenerative organic solution appropriately for each country, each region, each continent, and ultimately each person. What this means in practice is that most regions, nations and people, including many climate change deniers, will respond more intensely or more positively to different frames or dimensions of our message.

For instance, those individuals or groups concerned about global warming will be interested in regenerative agriculture as a way to avert a climate disaster. Others, who are less focused on global warming, but consider themselves to be environmentalists, will respond more positively to our message that regenerative agriculture can preserve biodiversity, forests and the health of our oceans. The capacity of regenerative agriculture to restore soil fertility, protect crops from drought and other climate events, is a message that will pique the attention of farmers. While many communities, regions and nations may be more motivated by the message that regenerative agriculture practices can help reduce rural poverty, eliminate hunger and malnutrition and preserve water.

It’s not necessary that everyone, everywhere agrees 100 percent on all of the potential benefits of regenerative organics—that goal is neither practical nor necessary to building a movement. What is important is that we identify the different messages that will motivate different segments of the population, and then build upon our shared concerns. Through a diversity of messages and campaigns we can build the largest grassroots coalition in history—for our survival, and the survival of the future generations.

Where do we start? How do we build this global Movement? How do we change the climate discussion from one presently centered narrowly on fossil fuel emissions and reductions to one that is also focused on carbon sequestration? How do we supercharge the global grassroots and avert the impending climate catastrophe, mass starvation, resource depletion and endless wars?

Building a global grassroots movement

We don’t have the time or the space here for a full Manifesto and Global Plan of Action, but here are seven preliminary steps we need to take in 2015, The Year of the Soil.

1.    Form Climate Solution/Carbon Underground working groups in each region, nation and continent.The purpose of these working groups will be to qualitatively broaden the discussion and connect the dots between the climate, natural health, food, farming, forestry, ocean, water, biodiversity, justice, peace and hunger movements so that we begin to acknowledge the common causal roots and solutions to our Global Crisis.

These working groups must not only steadily spread the message, utilizing mass media as well as alternative online media outlets, but must also begin to build alliances and coalitions, linking willing “live wire” activists, organizations, networks and campaigns (both online and on the ground) locally, regionally, nationally, and across continents. We will recruit our collaborators from the different farm, campesino, environmental, animal rights, natural health, organic, forest, justice, anti-war and climate movements, who are willing to connect the dots between all the issues, and address climate solutions, not just the problems. Working groups in every nation must consciously and deliberately recruit leading activists, writers, researchers and campaigners from all strategic sectors. While building new alliances, these groups will publicize, over and over again the transformational message that regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use can not only reverse global warming and improve public health, but also begin to reverse rural poverty, hunger, increase soil fertility, farm animal health, farm productivity, biodiversity, and rural prosperity.

In addition to organizational allies, we will need to form scientific research and education groups in each region (as well as globally) to compile, translate, and distribute case studies and peer-reviewed articles, as well as popular education articles, videos, and social media posts for the general public.

2.    Regionalize and globalize the Movement, building from current best practices in each region, nation and continent, and accelerating and publicizing regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use projects in each area. The solution to global warming will involve, first and foremost, educating, supporting, funding and mobilizing the world’s 2.8 billion small farmers, ranchers, pastoralists and forest dwellers to adopt regenerative agricultural, forest and land use practices, with a priority on the regions of the world where soils and grasslands are most eroded and degraded, and in many cases where rural poverty is most serious.

To supercharge this Movement, global networks like Via Campesina, Consumers International, IFOAM, Savory Institute regional hubs, and relevant farm and indigenous organizations will need to cooperate, sharing best practices and technical advisors, supported by national and international organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam.

In the Americas, priority areas for sequestration include the Southwest and Western United States, Mexico, Central America and the most degraded soils of South America. Other priority areas will include most of Africa and Asia, especially India and North China.

3.    Wage a multi-faceted global public education campaign starting with the UN Declaration of 2015  as “The Year of the Soil.” This campaign should be designed to educate and mobilize the maximum number of people, given the different objective and subjective conditions in each region, nation, and continent. This will involve launching solidarity campaigns in every community, region, and nation, mobilizing resources from the United Nations, and national and regional governments, philanthropic organizations and businesses.
4.    Launch a massive local-to-global campaign against factory farms and factory-farmed foods. This campaign must emphasize the mortal threats posed by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which house about 70 percent of all farm animals on the Earth—threats to human health, the environment, climate stability, animal welfare, and small farmers, ranchers and forest dwellers.

We must use this campaign to develop public education, public policy reforms, and create mass-market rejection of factory farmed and industrially produced foods, in every region and nation, while creating mass- market demand for grass-fed, pastured, humanely produced meat and animal products, and locally and regionally produced organic grains, fruits and vegetables. Just as the global anti-GMO movement has demonized Monsanto and the genetic engineering industry, we must also demonize the largest consumer of Monsanto’s products—factory farms.

5.    Join ranks with the climate movement to phase out fossil fuels ASAP. Replacing our industrial, energy- and toxic chemical-intensive modern food and farming system with regenerative, organic farming, ranching, forest, and wetlands restoration practices is the number one solution to not only mitigating, but reversing global warming and rural poverty and strife.

It is dangerous, disempowering and irresponsible to talk about eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and dismantling the fossil fuel industry without also talking about maximizing natural carbon sequestration through agro-ecological agriculture and regenerative land use practices. There’s no way we will ever get back to 350 ppm of CO2 without a global food, farming and land use revolution that literally sucks downs and sequesters in the soil 50-100 ppm of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, utilizing enhanced plant photosynthesis and regenerative grazing practices.

On the other hand, it is equally dangerous and irresponsible to pretend that regenerative organics can solve the climate and environmental crisis without taking down the Carbon Criminals and their Fossil Fuel Empire. We must all become climate activists, as well as regenerative food, farm and forest activists. We must work together to drastically reduce fossil fuel use; to implement fundamental energy conservation policies in the housing, transportation, utilities and industrial sectors; to put an end to destructive “extreme energy” extraction and export practices such as mountaintop removal, deep sea, tropical rainforest and arctic oil drilling, tar sands production, and fracking; and to convert as rapidly as possible to renewable forms of energy. Our literal survival depends upon uniting the climate, food, environmental and economic justice movements—both North and South.

6.    Join ranks with local, region, national and international forest movements and the ocean conservation movements to stop the destruction of the Earth’s tropical, temperate, and boreal forests, as well as wetlands, surface waters and the oceans. Just as we must work with the global climate movement, we must also interface with and support local and global conservation movements. This will require connecting the dots, by emphasizing the destructive role modern industrial agriculture plays in deforestation and the pollution of surface and ground waters, and our oceans.

7.    Unite with the natural health movement. Most experts agree that despite advances in modern medicine (or perhaps in part because of them), as a population, we face a serious health crisis. This is particularly apparent in western nations, where there is plenty of food—but much of that “food” is highly processed, nutrient-deficient junk food.

If there is one theme that unites every segment of the human population, it is that we want ourselves, and our families, to be healthy. Yet the food produced by our modern industrial agriculture system detracts from, rather than enhances, our health. By transitioning to organic, regenerative agriculture practices we can vastly improve our health and  our financial well-being, by reducing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, and other chronic diseases, while at the same time reducing medical expenses globally by trillions of dollars.
The hour is late. We are facing the life or death challenge of our lives. Each and every one of us must join the global Movement to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions and move, as rapidly as possible, to a sustainable economy and agriculture based upon renewable energy and natural carbon sequestration.

We have no choice, ethically or existentially, but to expose, shame, and divest from the climate criminals, get rid of corrupt politicians, boycott offending companies and retrofit our profoundly non-sustainable transportation, housing, agriculture, military-industrial, and utilities infrastructure. We must all become climate hawks, peace activists, conscious consumers, environmental conservationists, and advocates for renewable energy.

But most important of all we must become advocates and campaigners for regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land use.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.


Tomgram: Michael Klare, The New Congress and Planetary Disaster

December 5, 2014

Looking for a little hope on climate change?  Believe it or not, it’s here and it’s real. And I’m not referring to the fact that, at least temporarily, oil prices have gone through the floor, making environmentally destructive “tough oil” projects like western oil-shale fracking and Canadian tar sands extraction look ever less profitable.  Nor do I mean the climate change deal that was just reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and is being called “historic.” It’s true that President Obama made a positive move at that summit, another symbolic gesture in its wake, and is promisingmore of the same in the future.  These steps to check the worst future depredations of climate change have been hailed as perhaps more transformational than they are.  Nonetheless, in the face of a new Republican Congress in which anti-climate-change hawks may outnumber war hawks (no small feat), this is well worth noting.

I’m talking, of course, about the potentially carbon-reducing long-term deal between the planet’s two major greenhouse gas polluters, between, that is, Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Both of them have been running “all of the above,” drill-baby-drill — or in China’s case dig-baby-dig and import-baby-import — energy programs to devastating effect. China, for instance, is slated to bring online the equivalent of a new coal-powered plant every 10 days for the next decade, even as it’s taken a leading position in developing solar power technology.

The steps agreed to in somewhat hazy language by the two presidents fall far short of what will be needed to keep this planet from overheating drastically, and yet they do at least pave the way for the first global climate change negotiations that might actually matter in a long while.  The genuinely good news, however, was none of the above.  It has to do instead with the thinking behind Obama’s Beijing decision.  The “architect” of the American negotiating position, months in the making, was presidential senior adviser John Podesta. And here’s what you need to know about him: he’s reportedly going to leave the Obama administration early in 2015 to run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This means that he’s essentially committed the leading Democratic candidate in 2016 to run her campaign on Obama’s gesture in China and whatever other climate change moves he plans to make in the coming year — on, that is, reducing carbon emissions.

As Coral Davenport of the New York Times explained recently, the thinking behind this is clear.  Despite the historically low-turnout 2014 midterm elections, Podesta — and the Democrats — are making a different kind of bet on 2016 based on polling figures showing that, among key presidential election year Democratic demographics (young voters, Hispanics, African Americans, and unmarried women), concern over climate change is rising in striking ways.  In other words, if you can tune out an election in which an aging 19% of the prospective electorate swept a whole crew of climate deniers into office and focus on deeper, longer-term calculations, something is happening, possibly generationally, that’s potentially big enough to change future elections.

It’s big enough, at least, to catch the attention of pragmatic political types in Washington, and may be the beginning of a tectonic transformation in this country.  Despite the power of Big Energy and the present hue and cry about “job destruction,” a “war on coal,” and all the rest, a rising climate movement could potentially transform our politics and our world.  No one who attended the enormous climate change rally in New York in late September could doubt that this was so, but that John Podesta has also been paying attention matters.  It tells us in a nitty-gritty way that sometimes the work of activists does pay off.

All those years in the (overheating) wilderness organizing and proselytizing, all those years when the mainstream media managed to look the other way, all those years when climate change activists in groups like had to struggle to avoid despair, may turn out to matter.  That’s the positive side of the picture.  Then there’s the other side, and it couldn’t be grimmer, as TomDispatch’s energy and climate-change expert Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today. Tom

Fossil-Fueled Republicanism
The Grand Oil Party Takes Washington by Storm
By Michael T. Klare

Pop the champagne corks in Washington!  It’s party time for Big Energy.  In the wake of the midterm elections, Republican energy hawks are ascendant, having taken the Senate and House by storm.  They are preparing to put pressure on a president already presiding over a largelydrill-baby-drill administration to take the last constraints off the development of North American fossil fuel reserves.

The new Republican majority is certain to push their agenda on a variety of key issues, including tax reform and immigration.  None of their initiatives, however, will have as catastrophic an impact as their coming drive to ensure that fossil fuels will dominate the nation’s energy landscape into the distant future, long after climate change has wrecked the planet and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.

It’s already clear that the new Republican leadership in the Senate will make construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, intended to carry heavy oil (or “tar sands”) from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, one of their top legislative priorities. If the lame-duck Congress fails to secure Keystone’s approval now with the help of pro-carbon Senate Democrats, it certainly will push the measure through when a Republican-dominated Senate arrives in January. Approval of that pipeline, said soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, will be among the first measures “we’re very likely to be voting on.”  But while the Keystone issue is going to command the Senate’s attention, it’s only one of many measures being promoted by the Republicans to speed the exploitation of the country’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves.  So devoted are their leaders to fossil fuel extraction that we should start thinking of them not as the Grand Old Party, but the Grand Oil Party.

In seeking to boost fossil fuel production, the GOP leadership is already mapping out plans to fight on several fronts in addition to Keystone.  For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a likely presidential candidate, is promoting a scheme to eliminate what he calls government “obstacles” — that is, federal oversight of energy-related matters — to the construction of any border-crossing pipelines, whether for the importation of tar sands from Canada or the export of natural gas to Mexico.  Other prominent Republicans, including McConnell (who comes from coal-rich Kentucky), are eager to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing strict carbon restraints on the use of coal, ban federal oversight of hydro-fracking, open offshore Alaska and Virginia to drilling, and facilitate foreign sales of U.S. crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Whatever individual initiatives one Republican figure or another may be pushing, as a group they fervently believe in the desirability of boosting the consumption of fossil fuels and the absolute need to defeat any measures designed to slow climate change through restraints on such consumption.  For many of them, this is both an economic issue, aimed at boosting the profits of U.S. energy firms, and bedrock ideology, part of a quasi-mystical belief in the national-power-enhancing nature of petroleum.  Top Republicans argue, for instance, that the best way to counter Russian inroads in Ukraine (or elsewhere in Europe) is to accelerate the fracking of U.S. shale gas reserves and ship the added output to that continent in the form of liquefied natural gas.  This, they are convinced, will break Russia’s hold on the continent’s energy supplies.  “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check,” House Speaker John Boehner wrote in March, “lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy.”

Central to the political ethos of many Republicans, including the likely candidates for president in 2016, is a belief in the restorative abilities of oil and gas when it comes to waning national power and prestige.  Governor Christie, for example, devoted his initial foreign policy speech to a vision of a “North American energy renaissance” based on the accelerated production of hydrocarbons in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.  “The dramatic change in the energy landscape in North America,” hedeclared, “has made all of us better off and will continue to do so.”  (Significantly, Christie unveiled his plan in Mexico, which is expected toopen its oil and gas fields to development by U.S. firms for the first time since it expropriated foreign oil assets in 1938.)

In order to claim such benefits from increased fossil-fuel production, the increasingly severe effects of climate change — including on highly vulnerable coastal communities in New Jersey — have to be conveniently left out of the equation.  In fact, most top Republicans solve that problem either by denying the very reality of climate change or by viewing it as, at worst, a future minor irritant.  In one of the genuinely bizarre outcomes of the recent election, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe is expected to be chosen as the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  A long-time proponent of the view that human-induced climate change is a giant “hoax,” Inhofe has pledged, among other things, to sabotage the EPA’s drive to restrict carbon emissions from coal.

The Power of the Purse

What accounts for such a messianic belief in the beneficial effects of fossil fuel extraction?

Never underestimate the lure of money — or, to be more precise, campaign contributions.  The giant energy firms are among the leading sources of campaign financing.  Most of their money has, in recent years, gone to Republicans who espouse a pro-carbon agenda — and with such a crew now ascendant in Congress, staggering sums will undoubtedly continue to pour in.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, the oil and gas industry was the ninth biggest supplier of campaign funds during the 2013-2014 election cycle, with 87% of the $51 million it spent going to Republicans.  The coal industry provided another $10 million in contributions, with 95% going to Republicans.  Koch Industries, the energy conglomerate controlled bybillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was the top oil company provider, accounting for $9.4 million in contributions; Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Petroleum were also major donors.  These figures, it should be noted, only include direct donations to candidates in accordance with federal campaign laws.  They exclude funds channeledthrough secretive super PACS and supposedly “non-profit” organizations that are not bound by such rules.  During the 2012 election, the CRP reports, the Koch brothers helped steer an estimated $407 million to such entities; equally large amounts are thought to have been expended in the 2014 go-around.

To a significant extent, these funds were shuttled to especially industry-friendly and powerful Republicans.  Among the leading recipients of oil funding in 2014, according to the CRP, were John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, along with John Cornyn, the particularly enthusiastic pro-energy senator from Texas, and Congressman Cory Gardner of Colorado, who just took a Senate seat from the environmentally conscious Democrat Mark Udall.  Not surprisingly, among the top recipients of coal industry funding were Boehner and McConnell, as well as especially coal-friendly congressional representatives like Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley of West Virginia.

These and other recipients of fossil fuel cash know full well that their future access to such largesse, and so their ability to get reelected, will depend on their success in pushing legislation that facilitates the accelerated extraction of oil, gas, and coal.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to calculate the consequences of this conveyor belt of financial support, both for affected communities and for the climate.

Energy-Surplus States

Another way to understand the Republican embrace of fossil fuels is to focus on the relative importance of oil, gas, and mining operations to the economies of certain predominantly “red” states with built-in Republican majorities.  According to a revealing analysis by John Kemp of Reuters, only 13 U.S. states export more energy than they import (in descending order): Wyoming, West Virginia, Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Utah, and Kentucky. Fossil fuel extraction helps drive the economies of these states and voters there tend to elect particularly pro-extraction Republicans. When the 114th Congress convenes in January, 19 of the 26 Senate seats from these states will be held by Republicans and only six by Democrats.

Note that these states played a particularly pivotal role in the 2014 midterms, with the Republican leadership making an all-out drive to score major victories in them. Ten of these states had Senate races this year and the Republicans succeeded in ousting Democrats in five of them: Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas, and Alaska.  Needless to say, the giant oil and coal companies poured vast amounts of money into these campaigns. Koch Industries, for example, made substantial contributions to the Senate campaigns of Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Steve Daines in Montana, and Cory Gardner in Colorado.

In many respects, energy-surplus states have different interests than other states, which must import the preponderance of their energy supplies.  These energy-importing states, including Democratic bastions like Illinois, New York, California, and Massachusetts, often seek strict federal regulation of things like hydro-fracking and power-plant emissions.  Surplus states like Texas and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, largely prefer state-level oversight rather than the generally stronger federal version of the same.

The major fossil fuel companies also favor state-level oversight of energy affairs, which regularly results into drilling-friendly legislation.  When it comes to hydraulic fracking, here’s how ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson politely puts the matter: “[W]e believe that is best left to the state, [to] state regulatory bodies,” as they are more attuned to conditions on the ground.  “[W]riting a federal standard to apply across a whole range of these conditions we don’t think is the most efficient way to go about it.”

In this and other ways, energy-surplus states often resemble oil-rich countries like Russia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kazakhstan, where energy companies enjoy a cozy, often venal, relationship with top leaders. Scholars in the field speak of an “oil curse” that bedevils such countries, in which the best interests of ordinary citizens — not to mention the environment — are regularly sacrificed in efforts to boost output and line the pockets of ruling elites.

Oil, Gas, and National Security

A third reason why the Grand Oil Party tends to favor fossil fuel extraction is that its representatives view such production as a vital pillar of national security — another Republican priority.  Increased oil, gas, and coal extraction is said to enhance U.S. security in two ways: by invigorating the economy and so strengthening America’s competitive advantage vis-à-vis rival powers and by bolstering Washington’s capacity to confront hostile petro-states like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.

The recent upsurge in oil and natural gas production in what’s being called “Saudi America” is especially beneficial, Republicans claim, because it lowers the cost of energy for American manufacturers and attracts fresh investment in energy-intensive activities by companies that might otherwise locate their factories in China, Taiwan, or elsewhere.  “The production boom in gas and associated lower costs,” Governor Christie argues, “have contributed to ‘re-shoring,’ a return of manufacturing jobs that had been migrating to Asia before.”

Equally important, it is a Republican conviction that an upsurge in domestic oil and gas production will give Washington a stronger hand in its dealings with Iran and Russia, in particular.  For one thing, by becoming less dependent on imported energy, the U.S. is making itself ever less vulnerable to the blandishments of major suppliers in the Middle East.  In addition, by driving down international prices, American oil and gas output is also curtailing the energy revenues of Iran and Russia, making their leaders more susceptible to U.S. pressure.

Given this, the Republican leadership is especially focused on eliminating existing obstacles to selling crude oil and natural gas abroad.  At the moment, the exporting of crude is prohibited, thanks to a 40-year-old ban adopted in the wake of the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974.  Natural gas exports are hindered by the lack of LNG facilities in this country and by regulatory barriers to their rapid construction. Constraints on such construction, according to Boehner (who, of course, wants to lift them), constitute a “de-facto ban on American natural-gas exports — a situation that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals.”

Not surprisingly, the major oil and gas companies are also strongly in favor of such steps, which would allow them to sell cheap oil and gas to Europe and Asia, where prices are substantially higher.  Building more gas-export facilities, says Erik Milito, an official of the pro-industry American Petroleum Institute, would mean that “our LNG exports could significantly strengthen the global energy market against crisis and manipulation… a win-win for our economy and our friends.”

The oil companies are also pushing for intensified efforts to integrate the U.S., Mexican, and Canadian oil systems which, Christie and othersclaim, would enhance U.S. security by diminishing reliance on Middle Eastern and other extra-hemispheric suppliers. At the same time, such integration would help American companies acquire greater control over production in Mexico and Canada. Mexico’s new energy legislation, which opens the way for foreign investment in its oil and gas fields, washeavily pushed by U.S. oil firms and prominent Republicans.

There is little question that increased exports would benefit American energy firms and their customers abroad.  Any easing of export constraints would, however, induce U.S. producers to divert output from domestic markets to more lucrative markets abroad, potentially harming American consumers. While prices might fall in Europe, they could risein the United States, removing the current economic stimulus that relatively low-cost oil and gas provide.  Increased exports would also mean that the recent slowdown in U.S. carbon emissions — a product of economic hard times and a switch from coal to gas in electricity generation — would be rendered meaningless by increased greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of U.S. fossil fuels in other countries.

Fossil Fuels Forever

At a time when more and more people around the world are coming to recognize the need for tough restraints on fossil fuel combustion, the Republicans are about to march forcefully in the opposite direction.  Theirs will be a powerful vote for a fossil-fuels-forever planet.

The consequences of such a commitment are chilling.  While virtually all scientists and many world leaders have concluded that the heating of the planet must be kept to an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the pro-carbon agenda being pursued by the Republicans would guarantee a planet heated by four to six or more degrees Celsius or six to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  That large an increase is almost certain to render significant portions of the planet virtually uninhabitable, and so threaten human civilization as we know it.  As the U.N.’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)noted in its recent summary report, “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

With Republicans now in control, pro-carbon initiatives will be the order of the day in Congress.  President Obama has veto power over most such measures and is reportedly planning various executive actions on climate issues — some intended to clinch a recent climate deal with China.  In the long run, however, his need to secure Republican support for key legislative endeavors and his own “all of the above” energy policy may mean that he will give ground in this area to win votes for what he may view as more actionable steps on free trade pacts and other issues.  In other words, for each modest step forward on climate stabilization, the latest election ensures that Americans are destined to march several steps backward when it comes to reliance on climate-altering fossil fuels.  It’s a recipe for good times for Big Energy and its congressional supporters and bad times for the rest of us.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Michael T. Klare

Want to combat climate change? Eat less meat

December 5, 2014

“Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption”


A new report from English think tank Chatham House indicates that limiting meat consumption is a vital aspect of any plan to stop climate change, but governments and NGOs are too scared of angry consumers to start advocating the move.

“Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little,” said Rob Bailey, the lead author of the report, in an interview with the Guardian. “A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector. There is a deep reluctance to engage because of the received wisdom that it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”

Despite the fact that the global livestock industry actually produces the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the transportation sector (both at 15 percent of total emissions), attention is rarely paid to our eating habits in conjunction with climate — especially among politicians. In fact, in a recent survey by Ipsos MORI, less than 30 percent of respondents said that meat and dairy production contributed to climate change, while 64 percent identified transportation as a major producer of greenhouse gases.

The Guardian’s Damian Carrington reports:

Here’s a cool way to visualize carbon emissions

December 3, 2014


The World Resources Institute has posted a really well-done interactive visualization on the history and the sources of human-caused CO2 emissions. Check it out:One uncomfortable fact that is made very clear by this: The U.S. has been the biggest emitter for a long, long while. China’s recent ascension shouldn’t distract from America’s enormous share of the responsibility for this problem (which, ironically, will probably impact America least, at least at first). 

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A plan to get solar headed in the right direction — literally

December 3, 2014

Up here in the northern hemisphere, south-facing solar panels produce the most total electricity. So we should build them to look that direction to make the biggest impact, right? Not so fast, my friend.

Clean energy buffs have been saying for a while that we should point our photovoltaics to the west, not the south, to maximize thevalue of the juice produced. Westward-facing solar panels capture late-day sunshine (think about it) when electricity demand is highest.

The wonks at utility-software maker OPower know this to be true, and they recently scoured their enormous stockpile of energy data to come up with some new math on the subject (the blog post is well worth reading, or at least looking at the pretty charts). Here’s just one nugget from the analysis of over 100,000 California solar systems:

Overall, 71% of residential systems in the Golden State primarily face the southern sky, while 20% primarily face the western sky. Only around 9% of systems face within 10 degrees of due west — an orientation that’s highly aligned with the needs of the grid, according to recent guidelines from the California Energy Commission.

The Cali solar landscape may begin to tilt toward the west soon, though. Those new guidelines from the CEC, released in September, include a program to give up to $500 to people who build panels that point to the Pacific.

Why is it important, you ask, to provide solar power in the early evening? Well, nine-to-fivers and students come home from work and school and — depending on location and season — turn on the AC or the heat, plug in their rechargeables, run some appliances, and illuminate screens. Meanwhile, the electric utility scrambles to meet this demand as power output from south-facing solar panels wanes. Often, this means firing up natural gas-burning power plants. Sorry climate.

So, if westward-oriented solar panels can offset some of the electricity system’s carbon emissions, why have we been positioning them to aim south? In short, the incentives suck. Most people with solar arrays get paid for the total power generated (or net meter it) at a flat rate. So solar owners and lessees choose to put up panels facing south to make the most money. Who could blame them?

OPower’s study mentions a few ways to fix the issue. First, and easiest, utilities can pay for solar power at varying rates, to reflect the price of power at a particular time of day. Second, solar trackers, which allow panels to follow the sun as it moves from east to west, are getting cheaper. And lastly, tech innovation means better options for storing lots of energy. Large-scale electricity storage makes timing irrelevant — just maximize solar power production and feed it back into the grid as needed!

Until these advances become affordable reality, do your utility a favor and set up your new solar system to look longingly to the west. Your panels want to watch the gorgeous sunset too, you know.

Here’s what your city will look like when the ice sheets melt

December 3, 2014

Jeffrey Linn

Seattle mapmaker and urban planner Jeffrey Linn loves cities. “I spend a lot of time thinking about cities and how people fit into them,” he writes on his website. “I walk. I bus. I sometimes bike. I like trains and cables and pantographs. I think the row house is the pinnacle of residential urban form.”

Recently, while in between jobs, Linn started creating maps of major U.S. cities — underwater. Because that’s always fun.

Specifically, his maps show what coastal cities would (will) look like if (when) all the ice caps melt, and the seas rise roughly 80 meters, or 260 feet. (That estimate comes from the U.S. Geological Survey.) Taking a cue from blogger Burrito Justice, who created a map of San Francisco under 200 feet of water, Linn adds imaginative new names to the future islands, archipelagos, and underwater features in his soggy topographies.

Here’s Linn’s (and Grist’s) hometown. (Great news for my greatx50 grandkids! If all goes well, you’re gonna inherit a beach house on Meridian Island!)

click to embiggen
Click to embiggen
Jeffrey Linn

Here’s L.A. (Hey kids, pack your scuba gear! We’re going to Knott’s Oyster Farm!)

click to embiggen
Click to embiggen.
Jeffrey Linn

Also in the collection: Underwater maps of PortlandSan Diego,Vancouver, and Palm Springs. Montreal is on the way.

Linn is quick to point out that scientists do not predict this kind of sea-level rise in our lifetimes. He adds, however, that “I would imagine that any climatologist would say that this has happened before and will happen again. It’s just a matter of how soon, and what the human race is doing to hasten the process.”

What are we likely to see? In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that, if we continue polluting the way we’ve been, the seas will rise between 1.7 and 3.2 feet by 2100. But that’s a conservative estimate. A survey of sea-level scientists published earlier this year found that most experts believe the IPCC’s worst-case scenario is actually about the best we can expect if we aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions, starting now. Failing that, they said, we can expect 2.3 to 4 feet of rise by 2100, and 6.5 to 9.8 feet by 2300. Some believe we could see as much as 16 feet of rise by the end of this century.

Why the discrepancy? Well, there are things we can say with a good degree of certainly about the rising seas. We know, for example, that as seawater warms, it expands. (We can watch it happen, in fact.) But there are other factors that we don’t yet understand, including that small matter of how fast the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting. And when we do get a glimmer of an answer, it never fails to send us running for the closet in search of our snorkel and flippers.

The debate over how fast the ice sheets are melting is an academic one, really. Toss a storm surge or a hurricane on top of even the mildest sea-level rise, and we’ll see billions of dollars in damage. As Linn points out, the worst of the damage will come long before our distant descendants are navigating the Islands of Portland or Palm Springs Bay with his Total Melt maps. (If you haven’t read the recent investigative series from Reuters on rising seas, I highly recommend it. Unless you’re afraid of sharks.)

Time will tell how quickly, and how high, the waters will rise. In the meantime, Linn would be happy to sell you one of his cartographic creations to hang on your wall. Bet they make for great cocktail party conversation. Or buy one for your favorite bartender to hang at the local watering hole. Drinks on the house!

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Seas are rising in weird, new ways

December 3, 2014

Here’s a fun fact about “sea-level rise”: The seas aren’t actually level to begin with. Because of predictable, long-term patterns in climate, global winds push more water into some oceans than others. This leaves the seven seas (not really a thing) divided into six “basins” (actually a thing). Water in these interconnected systems can slosh around to different areas while the overall volume stays the same — much like water in a bathtub.

Or so we thought!

Last month in the super-sexy-sounding journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists published research suggesting that changes to the Earth’s climate are driving changes in the way sea level rises in some of these ocean basins. Historically, the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere operate as a closed system, with an inverse relationship between the Indian and South Pacific basin and the South Atlantic basin: When one goes up, the other must come down. Using satellite measurements of sea level to track the flux in level, the researchers were surprised to find that, starting in the late ’90s, both basins began to rise in unison.

What the heck it's doing. Click to embiggen.
This is a map of the ocean basins — those big blue and purple blotches at the bottom of the map have been behaving strangely, thanks to climate change. Click to embiggen.
Philip R. Thompson and Mark A. Merrifield

The total increase in this basin is about 2 millimeters a year — for you Americans, that adds up to a little more than an inch since 2000. It’s not weird that the oceans are rising, obviously, but it is strange to see such a distinct shift in the way they rise. The scientists trace this weirdness back to changes in the east-west wind patterns — changes for which they have several hypotheses, all of them linked to climate change.

Meanwhile, the other oceans seem to be behaving normally. Though let’s be clear: By “behaving normally,” we mean “rising in predictably terrifying ways as opposed to new weirdly terrifying ways.”


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