Tag archive for climate change
The snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada soared to 170% of normal: just two years ago at the annual measuring date at the end of March (attended by Governor Brown) it stood at 5%.
This extreme variability of the California climate will become routine this century argues researcher Daniel Swain of UCLA.
Here’s my story on his appearance tomorrow in Ojai, at the Krotona Institute.
“If you zoom in on the models and take into account the highly varying topography and the diminishing snow cover, you find that the Sierra Nevadas are actually going to warm much more than we [scientists] thought this century,” he said. “Temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees at some locations in the mountains.”
The March study, by Neil Berg and Alex Hall at UCLA, warns that droughts could all but eliminate the snowpack in the mountains on which California depends for water storage. The authors conclude, “Going forward, it is likely to become more difficult to store and manage municipal, agricultural and ecological water needs within a warmer climate, especially during periods of extreme drought.”
This could challenge the State Water Project, which depends on the slow melting of the Sierra snowpack to keep farmers in water through the long summers. Swain thinks that people are begining to understand the need to adapt to climate change, but he still thinks that even scientists have been slow to recognize how quickly the state is moving toward a polarization of the climate.
“It really is the extremes that matter now in California,” he said. “We already have seen patterns of extreme wetness and extreme dryness in recent years despite the fact we haven’t seen a significant change in the long-term annual mean [for rain and snow]. I argue that when it comes to precipitation in California, it’s not that the average doesn’t matter, it’s that the extremes matter much more.”
Swain has become famous for his remarkable California Weather Blog . Here’s a recent image he posted, of “wave number six” making its way around the world, altering weather patterns as it goes. Reading his blog offers a way for civilians to find their way into an understanding of meteorology and climate science.
A tsunami of derision has attached itself to the President Trump’s best explainer/apologizer KellyAnne Conway’s assertion last week that the President’s press secretary was offering alternative facts to explain the President’s obviously wrong belief regarding the (small) size of the crowd at his inauguration. Even some of the best coaches in professional basketball, led by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, have joined in the mockery.
When asked about his [Houston Rockets] team struggling, going 3-5 over their last eight games, [Coach Mike]D’Antoni told reporters: “Actually we won all those games. I’m going with that alternative fact thing.”
The best column I’ve seen on the subject of the new administration’s um, assertion of untruths, comes from Dana Milbank, the most popular newspaper columnist in the country, who points out that President Trump is “barking mad.”
“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”
Really sunny? I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?
No, of course not — the current President of the United States has so little regard for fact that he will without a second’s qualm lie about even the weather, even about the same weather experienced by thousands of his fellow Americans, and millions more watching on television. Many professionals are saying in public that he is in fact clinically mentally ill.
But this week along with the derision and the psychoanalysis I heard some words of wisdom (methinks) from a much-loved California public official, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, who told a packed crowd of hundreds of cientists, bureaucrats, and advocates at the California Climate Change Symposium that we must not be distracted from their work in the environment and on climate change by “alternative facts.”
I quote Hunter Thompson, who said in the Nixon years “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” It’s tempting to want to do all things but if we’re going to be pros we’re going to have to focus. It means people need to work on one or two or three issues. Being scattershot is not the right response. I think people sort of get this: if I care about reproductive rights I get with Planned Parenthood. I join the ACLU to defend immigrants rights. But the question [I have for you] is, how do I plug in on climate change? What I want to do in closing is pass that challenge on to you. I think that there is a ready and willing public and it’s not enough for government agencies to say this is what we’re doing, even though I think we’re doing our best work in years.
I’ve gone this far without mentioning “alternative facts.’ There’s a nuance here. If you focus totally on alternative facts you’re allowing someone else to drive the debate and it’s on us to focus on the real facts…That means not going down ratholes and that we really focus in a way that is meaningful and not scattershot. I think we are to up to it and we are going to drive this debate. So don’t get deterred. We are going to be pros.
Yes, we are — and it starts with believing our eyes. Shouldn’t be impossible, as Orwell reminds us.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” –George Orwell, 1984 pic.twitter.com/ePfu3m720g
— Terry Moran (@TerryMoran) January 22, 2017
Although climate change was hardly mentioned in the two-hour discussion of desalination led by Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett last Thursday at the county government center, the question of drought has clearly been very much on the minds of water officials in the county.
Even more alarming, possibly, might be an earthquake that could interrupt supplies to county residents from the State Water Project, which supplies most of the water to about 640,000 people in the county.
Said Susan Mulligan, an engineer who manages the Calleguas district that supplies most of the county, during the discussion:
“The question of an earthquake cutting us off isn’t a question of if; it’s a question of when. If 75 percent of the water [from the State Water Project] is cut off, we don’t even have health and safety water at that point.”
The quote comes from a story in the Ventura County Star by Tony Biascotti. The even-handed story stayed away from conclusions, except to point out one vexing fact. Because it will take on the order of fourteen years to permit, research, and build a seawater desalination plant — according to a study cited by Mulligan — such a plant won’t solve our current water shortage woes right now.
Bennett took an unusual and fresh approach to the water supply question: stating no position of his own, and pointing out that the county has no direct authority over water, he nonetheless brought four real experts to the podium, gave them ten minutes each to make a presentation, and then asked questions — about cost, about permitting, about alternatives, and so on. Here’s the video, from his supervisorial site.
From this reporter’s perspective, the most useful advice came from Joshua Haggmark of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was once dependent, as is western Ventura County now, mostly on a local watershed and reservoir (Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara), augmented with groundwater from wells. After an on-and-off again history with a desalination plant, build in response to the last drought in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, Santa Barbara has now has all but completely exhausted Lake Cachuma. Until it really begins to rain again, if it ever does, the county now relies on a great variety of different sources, as illustrated by this slide from Haggmark’s presentation:
The strongest proponent of desalination was Scott Maloni, a vice-president from a private company called Poseidon that has built a fairly large plant in San Diego that supplies a significant portion of the county’s water. That’s the upside: the downside is that it cost a billion dollars, and took fifteen years to construct and permit.
Two significant questions were not asked, from this reporter’s perspective. What plans, if any, does Mulligan and Calleguas have to develop some form of desalination? They clearly have a need for water for at the minimum health and safety for two-thirds of the county: What are they thinking?
Second, if as much science indicates Southern California is headed for a substantially drier future, is there any real alternative to at least some desalination? (Desalination doesn’t have to draw from the sea — it’s cheaper and easier to desalinate brackish groundwater or effluent from water treatment plants, such as in Oxnard.)
(The climate change/perpetual drought question may be a hyperobject: a fact so big and omnipresent it cannot be mentioned in local reporting. This is part of a fascinating theory being pioneered by a BBC documentarian named Adam Curtis.)
But judging from the tenor of Haggmark’s remarks about what happened in Santa Barbara, my conclusion is that water districts may not have much choice but to develop a diversity of sources to survive, including some desal. He said:
“Desalination is not going to solve all your problems, but it certainly helps to have diversity in your supplies,” said panelist Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara. “You want diversity in your stock portfolio, you want diversity in your community, and water supply is the same thing.”
Interesting to hear him connect the concept of diversity to both politics and investments.
Ten years ago world leaders and world powers gathered in Montreal in ostensible hopes of hammering out an agreement to reduce emissions and reduce the harms of global warming.
Little or nothing came out of the meetings, in part because of the adamant refusal to deal with the issue on the part of the Bush/Cheney administration. That same administration aggressively promoted fracking with the “Halliburton Exemption,” which specifically exempted fracking from any regulation connected with the federal Clean Water Act..
Young people have the most to lose in a warming world, and young people at the meeting in Montreal in 2005 tried to demonstrate, John and Yoko style. singing a song with the refrain of
Give Youth A Chance
Though I think we all wanted to believe this would have a galvanizing effect, just as it did with Lennon, such did not appear to be the case, according to my version of accounts available at the time.
Believe it or not, earlier this week there were quite a few signs of hope from the United Nations-sponsored climate change conference in Montreal, despite U.S. foot-dragging. One of the most encouraging signs was a group of young people who came and camped out and demonstrated at the conference, promising a generational commitment towards a solution to the problem.
Re-awakening the call of a dreamer: if John Lennon were still here, he’d be here in Montreal.
So write Michelle Petrisor and Rosa Kouri, blogging for itsgettinghotinhere, a website built for the climate change conference in Montreal. On the date of his assassination, December 8th, they wrote that:
In his memory, youth at the United Nations Climate Negotiations staged a “bed-in” for the climate. Two blocks away from the original site of John’s protest, we briefly recreated the message of peace and compassion. Surrounded by flashing cameras, recorders, and reporters, flanked by escalators and men and women in business suits, we begin to sing John’s simple words. Youth two dozen strong, we laid white blankets and pillows on the floor. Delegates passing by began to sing along to “Give youth a chance” and “Imagine”…
That’s from 2005. From today, a completely different style of demonstration, including striking art works (TK) and impressively choreographed mass demonstrations (TK).
Even a friendly face showing a clever little sign to encourage faith in a sustainable tomorrow.
Yes, time for a new kind of demonstration.
Where does one start with the news from Paris, from COP21? With the speech from the President? Images from the fantastically imaginative demonstrations from the day before, in defiance of police authority, of shoes left in protest in the Place de la Republique?
Or with the fatalism of so many scientists, who agree that the agreements will not be enough to hold the planet to 2 degrees warmer Celsius — about three and a half degrees for Americans?
Probably with the Pope, who pollsters say brought about 10% of Americans to a position of belief in the factuality and seriousness of global warming — a huge shift.
“I can say to you ‘now or never’,” he told a group of reporters aboard the papal plane, en route home from Africa, according to Reuters. “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”
The Pope, a climate activist! I still can’t fully believe that — but boy am I grateful.
In Tales of a Warming Planet in today’s review section of the Sunday NYTimes, Curt Stager makes some central points about climate change well-known and accepted by climate scientists, but still new to most people:
Let me cite just three, in byte-sized form:
1) Roughly one-eighth of the carbon in your flesh, hair and bones recently emerged from smokestacks and tailpipes. We are not only a source of air pollution — we are air pollution.
2)This best-case [climate change] scenario is troubling, but Earth history shows us that the alternative is unacceptable. If we burn all remaining coal, oil and gas reserves within the next century or two, we could introduce a more extreme, longer-lasting hothouse much like one that occurred about 56 million years ago: the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM
3) A switch from finite fossil energy to cleaner, renewable energy sources is inevitable: We are only deciding how and when to do it.
One can look at the apocalypse and despair, or one can look at the risks and lead, as Jerry Brown has been doing in California, discussed in a nice piece by UCLA prof Jon Christiansen called:
But in either case, it’s going to get warmer on this planet. The only question is a matter of degrees.
Have been struggling a bit with climate “overwhelm” — the volume of bad news is drowning out my efforts to keep up and post, even my own thoughts. I sympathize with a JPL/NASA scientist and publicist named Laura Faye Tenenbaum:
The energy it takes to make honest, interesting and informative content for NASA’s climate website, the energy it takes to not let the daily deluge of Internet trolls and nasty comments get to me, all while facing the reality of GLOBAL WARMING, is exhausting.
I try to make a difference, to keep encouraging myself, to lift myself out of despair. We’re supposed to keep our noses to the do-something-meaningful-with-your-life grindstone and keep chugging endlessly uphill, just like The Little Engine That Could, while repeating some mindless positive slogans of encouragement to keep our heads up.
I try to find a way to cope with these enormous problems without turning away, without downing a pint of ice cream, without watching the stupidest reality TV show I can find. For to be so disconnected from the world as to be capable of polluting it, is to be disconnected from life. And connection is the one thing I refuse to let go of.
True, maybe you really should crawl under your desk and your little engine should pull over to the side of the road for a break. But you’re here, just like I am, pushing through because it’s somehow better to stay connected even if it hurts.
Doesn’t help that the public sees the reality, but shrugs off its seriousness. From an AP poll just out today:
Most Americans know the climate is changing, but they say they are just not that worried about it, according to a new poll by The Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And that is keeping the American public from demanding and getting the changes that are necessary to prevent global warming from reaching a crisis, according to climate and social scientists.
As top-level international negotiations to try to limit greenhouse gas emissions start later this month in Paris, the AP-NORC poll taken in mid-October shows about two out of three Americans accept global warming and the vast majority of those say human activities are at least part of the cause.
However, fewer than one in four Americans are extremely or very worried about it, according the poll of 1,058 people. About one out of three Americans are moderately worried and the highest percentage of those polled — 38 percent — were not too worried or not at all worried.
Despite high profile preaching by Pope Francis, only 36 percent of Americans see global warming as a moral issue and only a quarter of those asked see it as a fairness issue, according to the poll which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
“The big deal is that climate has not been a voting issue of the American population,” said Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland. “If the American population were left to lead on the issue of climate, it’s just not going to happen.”
Friends and hard-working activists keep me from despair — but I have my moments.
Are we all living in a bubble?
Today the lead op-ed in the editorial pages of the LATimes comes from a well-known expert on drought, who argues that California is leading the way for the nation when it comes to mitigating climate change damages such as drought. It’s called Get Ready for the New Normal: Dry and Drier.
If California points the way to dry times ahead, it also gives us a glimpse of how a responsible society can adjust to a warmer future. In general, the state’s individual consumers and water districts are meeting conservation goals, thanks to a range of innovations and sacrifices.
Perhaps most impressively, the state has adopted its own pioneering cap-and-trade program aimed at rolling back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Emissions are capped and emitters are assigned a certain number of carbon permits. If they emit less, they can sell their extra permits in a state auction, creating incentives to cut carbon pollution.
Will cap and trade enable the state to meet its greenhouse gas goal? That’s unknown, but there is no debating its positive effect on the state treasury. In fiscal year 2015-16, the permit auction will net about $2.2 billion for mass transit, affordable housing and a range of climate-adaptation programs. And by the way, the warnings of naysayers and climate deniers that cap-and-trade would prove a drag on the economy have proved groundless.
California a “responsible society!” Doesn’t fit our flaky image does it? Columnist Joe Matthews wrote about our flaky image for Zocalo Public Square a couple of years ago, and pretty much blew it out of the water.
It’s true that in our personal lives, Californians can tend toward the unreliable. But in our work lives, we have never been flakes. If we’re social flakes, we have a good excuse: It’s because we’re working too damn hard.
While the federal government doesn’t break out productivity by state, academics have found California to be among the top places in the country in worker productivity, right up there with New York. If you want to find flakes in the workplace, try Alaska or Louisiana—or the big slacker, Texas. (No wonder Texans find so much time to criticize our business climate).
Our state attracts more venture capital than the rest of the country combined. We lead in agriculture revenues, high-wage services, fastest-growing companies, patents and inventions (more than 20,000 a year), job creation (at least recently), initial public offerings, and (by any measure you want to use) in innovation. We’re paying more in taxes, and getting back less, than virtually every other state. If you’re reading this in another state, odds are we’re subsidizing your flakiness.
So there. Here’s the image that went with the “Winning the Drought” op-ed.
In Chapter 12 of Pope Francis' encyclical, "Praise Be," in our language, just before he launches into an appeal to all people to come together to save the world, the pontiff brings up the idea of nature as a book.
He writes (in a passage that is, may I say, too rich to be truncated):
12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
The metaphor of nature as a volume of writings has been with us long before the paperback – since the Greeks. The Book of Nature, the idea was called, and (as usual) Aristotle has a lot to do with whipping it into a shape we can recognize. The metaphor/idea was inculcated in many of the Christian faith growing up over the centuries. To give an example John Muir grew up with the concept and in his youth likened Nature to a book, with Scripture to be revealed. He talked of glaciers writing their stories on the walls of Yosemite.
But as Muir grew older, and as he grew as a writer, he moved away from that metaphor. (As discussed in Frederick Turner's biography "Rediscovering America.") Nature was too fluid, too alive, to be likened to dead things, even if they were words on paper.
The pontiff doesn't directly confront this weakness in the thinking, but he has an answer for it. Because Saint Francis so loved wild things, and connected wild things with God, he reserved a part of the friary garden for that divine purpose. So the Pope sanctifies wilderness.
Here's Albrecht Durer's simply unbelievable watercolor of much the same idea, called, in our language "Great Piece of Turf." It's said to be painting's discovery of ecology: