Posted by: JohnnyRook | February 2, 2009

Drought and Heat Waves Batter Three Continents

New research, soon to be published in Geophysical Research Letters by Thomas Reichler of the University of Utah and Jian Lu of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado indicates, that as climate models have projected, the tropics are expanding.

To determine this, the researchers measured changes in the height of the tropopause (the boundary area between the troposphere, the lowest level of the earth’s atmosphere and the stratosphere, the layer directly above it). The tropopause is higher in the tropics than at the poles because the warmer air of the tropics rises higher than does the colder air of the poles, given that the atmospheric pressure is the same in both regions.

The red line indicates the location of the tropopause. As you can see, the closer you get to the equator, the higher the tropopause is.

Using the tropopause as a yardstick (PDF) Lu and Reichler have examined the expansion of the tropics since 1958. Using the tropopause data in a computer model the researchers confirmed a gradual poleward shift of the tropics at the average rate of 70 km per decade.

Previous studies have shown that the width of the tropical belt has been increasing since at least the late 1970s based on a variety of metrics. One such metric, the frequency of occurrence of a high-altitude tropopause characteristic of the tropics, is used here to show that the observed widening of the tropics can be accurately replicated by an atmospheric general circulation model forced by the observed evolution of global SST and sea ice distributions as well as the direct radiative effects from both natural and anthropogenic sources. Contrasting this simulation with one forced by the observed SST and sea ice distributions alone reveals that the widening trend can be attributed entirely to direct radiative forcing, in particular those related to greenhouse gases and stratospheric ozone depletion. SST forcing causes no significant change in the width of the tropics, and even a contraction in some seasons.

In other words GHG emissions and emissions that cause ozone depletion are driving the expansion of the tropics. More worrisome though, is the growth in the area of the subtropics because this latter area is marked by deserts and extreme drought, some of the consequences of which we shall examine below.

The researchers conclude:

Taken together, the most likely culprits for the widening of the tropics since 1958 are increasing GHGs and stratospheric ozone depletion, both of which are of anthropogenic origin. Identification of their separate roles would require additional experiments with each radiative forcing agent considered individually.

Lu and Reichler’s work provides the theoretical background for the extreme drought conditions that are taking place around the world in places as diverse as Australia, California and Argentina.

Australia

According to the Independent:

Leaves are falling off trees in the height of summer, railway tracks are buckling, and people are retiring to their beds with deep-frozen hot-water bottles, as much of Australia swelters in its worst-ever heatwave.

On Friday, Melbourne thermometers topped 43C (109.4F) on a third successive day for the first time on record, while even normally mild Tasmania suffered its second-hottest day in a row, as temperatures reached 42.2C. Two days before, Adelaide hit a staggering 45.6C. After a weekend respite, more records are expected to be broken this week.

Ministers are blaming the heat – which follows a record drought – on global warming. Experts worry that Australia, which emits more carbon dioxide per head than any nation on earth, may also be the first to implode under the impact of climate change.

At times last week it seemed as if that was happening already. Chaos ruled in Melbourne on Friday after an electricity substation exploded, shutting down the city’s entire train service, trapping people in lifts, and blocking roads as traffic lights failed. Half a million homes and businesses were blacked out, and patients were turned away from hospitals.

More than 20 people have died from the heat, mainly in Adelaide. Trees in Melbourne’s parks are dropping leaves to survive, and residents at one of the city’s nursing homes have started putting their clothes in the freezer.

“All of this is consistent with climate change, and with what scientists told us would happen,” said climate change minister Penny Wong.

Meanwhile the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting extreme temperatures in normally more temperate Tasmania:

The record for Tasmania’s hottest day was broken twice, with Flinders Island reaching 41 degrees on January 29th and Scamander 42 degrees the next day.

The record for Tasmania’s coldest January day was also broken, with Mt Wellington only reaching two degrees on the 16th.

A climate change expert from the University of Tasmania, Dr Kate Crowley, says it is very concerning.

“Shifting weather patterns cause shifting eco-systems so I guess that means areas that are dry are becoming wet, areas that are wet are becoming dry, areas that are prone to bushfire are going to be prone to catastrophic bushfire,” he said.

“So it really is of concern.”

This image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite was captured on January 30. For larger image click here.

California

USA today reported that:

[Snow] Levels were 49% of normal in the northern Sierra and about 63% of normal in the central region and 68% of normal in the southern region.

California’s largest reservoirs — Shasta and Oroville — are less than half as full as they should be for this time of year. The snowpack water content needs to be roughly double what it is today by April to replenish the reservoirs, said Don Strickland, a spokesman for the water agency.

The immediate, economic consequences of this low snowpack are particularly worrisome given the already tenuous state of the economy. This from the Sacramento Bee:

[I]t’s easy for the experts to sound out a clear warning: This may become, simply, the worst drought California has ever seen.

“Our worst fears appear to be materializing,” said Wendy Martin, drought coordinator at the state Department of Water Resources. “It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

The bottom line, water officials said, is that right now, everyone must start using less water. The public can expect higher water bills and fines if they don’t, because the alternative is a real water shortage – one that is threatening tens of thousands of Valley jobs.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, who has more than three decades in the water-supply business. “The public needs to tighten their belts. You have to rearrange all the molecules in your brain to think about using water differently.”

Researcher Richard Howett of UC Davis says that the immediate economic consequences could be enormous with losses of 40,000 jobs in the Central Valley alone and 1.15 billion in income. And that’s just in the farm sector.

Argentina

Reports are that things are equally desperate in the Pampas region of Argentina

Earlier this week the Argentine government declared a drought emergency due to the ongoing drought crisis that is crippling the country’s key cattle, soy and wheat industries. Though normally dry because of the rain shadow created by the Andes Mountains to the west, the Pampas are receiving even less rain than usual and temperatures are unusually hot.

The Pampas region usually receives the bulk of its little rainfall during the summer months, between November and March. The rain in this region is absolutely necessary to maintain crop growth and for cattle grazing.

Corn production could be down up to 40 percent according to the latest estimates from the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange. 800,000 cattle have died in what the Argentine weather service is calling the worst drought in at least 35 years.

Dust Plume off Argentina’s Patagonian Coast south of Bahía Blanca by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite passed overhead. For larger image click here.

All this grim news comes on the heals of the publication of Susan Solomon’s paper on irreversible climate change, which forecasts centuries long droughts if we fail to take immediate action.

If CO2 is allowed to peak at 450-600 parts per million, the results would include persistent decreases in dry-season rainfall that are comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia.

The study notes that decreases in rainfall that last not just for a few decades but over centuries are expected to have a range of impacts that differ by region. Such regional impacts include decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts. Dry-season wheat and maize agriculture in regions of rain-fed farming, such as Africa, would also be affected.

In summary:

1. The tropics are expanding, thereby increasing the desertification of large areas of the earth’s surface.

2. The extreme droughts we are seeing in Australia, California and Argentina are likely early signs of this phenomenon.

3. If we fail to act immediately and allow CO2 levels to reach the 450-600 ppm range we will most likely have condemned our descendants to a 1000 years of drought, and desertification of one third of the planet’s surface.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Posted by: JohnnyRook | February 2, 2009

James Hansen says “Keep your eye on the ball”

Dr. James Hansen, the world famous climatologist from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has declined to throw his support behind UK protesters organizing against a 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport. In the past Dr. Hansen has lent his considerable scientific weight in support of anti-coal protesters such as the Kingsnorth Six at whose trial he offered both written and oral testimony.

In explanation of his decision, Dr. Hansen offered the following comments:

“I don’t think it is helpful to be trying to prevent air flight,” Hansen told the Observer.

“Coal is 80% of the planet’s problem,” he said. “You have to keep your eye on the ball and not waste your efforts. The number one enemy is coal and we should never forget that.”

“The number of runways you need for your airports depends on their traffic. You don’t want to be so restrictive that you end up burning more fuel because planes are having to circle and wait to land because of lack of runway space.”

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 31, 2009

Latest Glacial Mass-Balance Data Shows Continued Rapid Melting

A just-published report by the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) on glacial mass balances for 2006-2007 shows that the long-term decline trend described in its superb Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures, (this document is a must read for anyone interested in glacier advance and retreat–a very accessible text for the non-specialist) continues.

Morteratsch Glacier, 1985-2007. Recession of Morteratsch Glacier, Switzerland, between 1985 and 2007. Source: J. Alean, SwissEduc (www.swisseduc.ch) / Glaciers online (www.glaciers-online.net).

As Mauri Pelto at Real Climate explains:

The health of an alpine glacier is typically determined by monitoring the behavior of the terminus and/or its mass balance. Glacier mass balance is the difference between accumulation and ablation (melting and sublimation) and can be altered by climate change caused variations in temperature and snowfall. A glacier with a sustained negative balance is out of equilibrium and will retreat. A glacier with sustained positive balance is out of equilibrium, and will advance to reestablish equilibrium. Glacier advance increases the area of a glacier at lower elevations where ablation is highest, offsetting the increase in accumulation. Glacier retreat results in the loss of the low-elevation region of the glacier. Since higher elevations are cooler, the disappearance of the lowest portion of the glacier reduces total ablation, increasing mass balance and potentially reestablishing equilibrium. If a glacier lacks a consistent accumulation it is in disequilibrium (non-steady state) with climate and will retreat away without a climate change toward cooler wetter conditions (Pelto, 2006; Paul et al., 2007).

For a larger image, click here.

According to data from WGMS published on January 30, 2009:

Preliminary mass balance values for the observation periods 2005/06 and 2006/07 have been reported now from more than 100 and 80 glaciers worldwide, respectively. The mass balance statistics (Table 1) are calculated based on all reported values as well as on the data from the 30 reference glaciers in 9 mountain ranges (Table 2) with continuous observation series back to 1980.

The average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease, with tentative figures indicating a further thickness reduction of 1.3 and 0.7 metres water equivalent (m w.e.) during the hydrological years 2006 and 2007, respectively. The new data continues the global trend in accelerated ice loss over the past few decades and brings the cumulative average thickness loss of the reference glaciers since 1980 at almost 11.3 m w.e. (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Mean annual specific mass balance of reference glaciers.

Figure 2: Mean cumulative specific mass balance of all reported glaciers (black line) and the reference glaciers (red line).

To compare this recent data with 120 years worth of data dating from the end of the Little Ice Age see the chart below:

Chart is from Global Glacial Changes: facts and figures For larger image, click here. On the new page, click again on the image to enlarge.

Or to view the data in a different way:

The average annual mass balance for nine sectors of the globe are shown for the decades (a) 1946–55, (b) 1956–65, (c) 1966–75, (d) 1976–85, (e) 1986–95, and (f) 1996–2005. Sectors with measurements are coloured according to the mean annual specific mass balance in metre w.e. with positive balances in blue, ice losses up to 0.25 m w.e. in orange and above that in red; sectors without data in grey. Average decadal mass balance values based on less than 100 observations (marked in italics) are less representative for the entire sector. For each decade, the global mean (gm) annual mass balance in m w.e. and the number of observations (no) are indicated. Source: Data from WGMS.

It is clear that since the end of the (last) Little Ice Age around 1850, that Glacial retreat has dominated over glacial advance. Even during the period 1965-1985 when there was an increase in advancing glaciers, retreat was still the dominant theme.

For its article on the release of the latest WGMS report Bloomberg interviewed Siwss geographer Michael Zemp:

“One year doesn’t tell us much, it’s really these long-term trends that help us to understand what’s going on,” Michael Zemp, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography, said in an interview. “The main thing that we can do to stop this is reduce greenhouse gases” that are blamed for global warming.

Some glaciers in the Alps, including Italy’s Calderone, have shrunk so much it’s becoming difficult to take accurate measurements, Zemp said. Such ice has not recovered from the 2003 European summer heat wave that melted the snow, revealing darker ice underneath which heats up faster than whiter surfaces.

The global average temperature has risen 0.76 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times as humans used more fossil fuels to generate energy and power machinery, according to the UN’s Environment Program.

Ice melt is even speeding [up] in Greenland. In 2007, U.S. scientists discovered that water from melting glaciers, draining from a 5.6 square-kilometer lake on Greenland’s ice sheet, reached a peak flow exceeding that of Niagara Falls.

For a larger image, click here.

Briksdalsbreen Glacier. Advance and retreat of Briksdalsbreen, an outlet glacier of Jostedalsbreen, Norway, in a photo series of the years 1989, 1995, 2001 and 2007. Source: S. Winkler, University of Würzburg, Germany.

Related posts:

Alpine Glaciers in Bolivia Shrink, Contributing to Sea Level Rise

Swiss Glaciers Going the Way of their Himalayan and Andean Counterparts

Lack of Radioactivity in Himalayan Ice Cores Bodes Ill for Millions

Thirsty Yet? Alpine Glaciers in Full Retreat

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 29, 2009

NBC Protects Americans’ Morals: Bans PETA Superbowl Ad

Thanks to NBC your children will not be exposed to sexual immorality during the Superbowl.

I’m posting this not because I like this ad, which I consider to be sexist, (although you can bet that NBC didn’t reject it because it was sexist, but because it was sexy (and at the wrong time of day!). No, I’m posting it and the video that follows it because I’m offended by moral hypocrisy.

So, without further comment:

Rejected PETA ad

Football’s Greatest Hits YouTube video

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 28, 2009

greenman3610’s “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”

I want to highly recommend Greenman3610’s “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”. These are short, well made, and scientifically sound videos that Greenman has begun to create on a weekly basis. They are particularly useful for beginners trying to make sense of the overwhelming amount of often contradictory information available online and elsewhere about Climaticide. They are also invaluable for people who are looking to better arm themselves for discussion with denialist friends and relatives who have been taken in by, and repeat, the lies and disinformation of the denialist propaganda machine.

Below are a couple of samples. You can find all the videos here.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 28, 2009

Quick Update on Arctic Sea Ice–January 28, 2009

The hiatus in the refreezing of the Arctic continues. Today’s NSIDC data shows that this year’s refreezing has now dropped below the rate for 2006-2007, the year of the record summer sea-ice melt. Here are the latest NSIDC maps and graphs.

Both images from National Snow and Ice Data Center

I have not seen an explanation yet for why this is happening. A similar phenomenon occurred in December. At that time the NSICD offered the following explanation:

Reasons for December’s pause in ice extent change

December’s week-long pause in expansion of the ice cover appears to have been caused, at least in part, by an anomalous atmospheric pressure pattern. High pressure over Alaska and the European Arctic, coupled with unusually low pressure east of Greenland and over eastern Siberia, brought warm southerly winds over much of the Arctic Ocean. The southerly winds helped keep the ice edge from expanding southward. In addition, warm sea surface temperatures, at least in the Barents Sea, inhibited ice formation.

Chart showing year-long extent lines for 1979-2000 average, 2007, and 2008Figure 4. This timeseries from January through December shows the natural waxing and waning of the Arctic sea ice cover with the seasons. The maximum extent generally occurs in March, the minimum extent in September. Sea ice extent in 2008 (purple) fell well below the 1979 to 2000 long-term average (gray) and was slightly above 2007 (dashed green), in which the lowest summer minimum and the second-lowest winter maximum occurred.

Torsten Hanssen has pointed out the following very interesting web site run by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) where you can download, in spreadsheet format, day-by-day sea ice extent data going back to June 2002. The quickest way to get to the data is to go to this page where you’ll find a very interesting graph.Once you’re on the graph page you can click on the data download button under the graph to download the spreadsheet.

The data here is slightly different from that on the NSIDC graph. After you’ve downloaded the spreadsheet, which is very simple, take a look at the data for January 2009. You’ll notice that sea ice reached it’s maximum extent so far in 2009 on January 19th and that since that date it has stayed below that January 19th figure.

You can also copy the data from January 19, 2007 and paste it next to the corresponding data from 2009. You’ll then see that the two data sets are very close at this point (within 64,000 km2 as of yesterday) and that on January 25th, 2009 the sea-ice extent fell below the January 25, 2007 extent.

I don’t know that one can yet draw any conclusions about this upcoming summer’s sea-ice melt from all of this. That should all be clearer in a month or so. What is clear is this. To the denialists’ chagrin, so far there has not been any big refreeze of sea ice in the Arctic. Indeed, instead it’s tracking very similarly to how it tracked in 2007, the year when the record for minimum summer sea-ice extent was set.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 27, 2009

NOAA Forecast: “1000 Years Wandering in the Desert”

A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has some startling news: some of the effects of global warming are irreversible. Even if we suddenly stopped all CO2 emissions today certain effects that we are already feeling will still be with our descendants a thousand years from now. If we continue to increase our emissions of CO2 the number of irreversible effects will be that much greater.

It is often assumed that if we halt CO2 emissions within the next few years that the world will return to it’s pre-Climaticide state within a century or two. That is not the case according to a report to be published this week [as of 4pm PST the paper does not show up on the PNAS web site] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Susan Solomon of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Examples of global warming effects that will still be felt a 1000 years after CO2 emissions are stopped, include changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level.

According to the NOAA press release:

The study examines the consequences of allowing CO2 to build up to several different peak levels beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million and then completely halting the emissions after the peak. The authors found that the scientific evidence is strong enough to quantify some irreversible climate impacts, including rainfall changes in certain key regions, and global sea level rise.

The scientists emphasize that increases in CO2 that occur in this century “lock in” sea level rise that would slowly follow in the next 1,000 years. Considering just the expansion of warming ocean waters—without melting glaciers and polar ice sheets—the authors find that the irreversible global average sea level rise by the year 3000 would be at least 1.3–3.2 feet (0.4–1.0 meter) if CO2 peaks at 600 parts per million, and double that amount if CO2 peaks at 1,000 parts per million.

“Additional contributions to sea level rise from the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets are too uncertain to quantify in the same way,” said Solomon. “They could be even larger but we just don’t have the same level of knowledge about those terms. We presented the minimum sea level rise that we can expect from well-understood physics, and we were surprised that it was so large.”

I cannot emphasize too much that Solomon is describing a minimum, conservative, non-real world, best-case scenario. For example, the sea level rise that Solomon and her colleagues describe is only the result of thermal expansion. It does not include sea-level rise from the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets or Alpine glaciers, which, should they occur, will, because of various feedbacks (reduced albedo, increased and methane release from permafrost melting, as well as other related marine issues not directly related to sea level rise such as ocean acidification) take place much more rapidly and raise the sea level much more dramatically, potentially over decades and by 100’s of feet not the the 3 feet that Solomon is talking about.

What Solomon is saying is that even if we stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 600 ppm by the year 3000, the oceans will have risen 3 feet. If we stabilize at 1000 ppm they will have risen by 6 feet.

One might be inclined to respond to this by saying, “So, what? A six foot sea-level rise over a thousand years. Surely, humanity can adapt to that. And surely it could.

Far more worrisome is what Solomon writes about drought:

If CO2 is allowed to peak at 450-600 parts per million, the results would include persistent decreases in dry-season rainfall that are comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia.

The study notes that decreases in rainfall that last not just for a few decades but over centuries are expected to have a range of impacts that differ by region. Such regional impacts include decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts. Dry-season wheat and maize agriculture in regions of rain-fed farming, such as Africa, would also be affected.

In other words, if CO2 is allowed to peak at the 450-600 ppm, instead of the 350 ppm that James Hansen (PDF) and Al Gore are insisting upon, (but which many climate scientists don’t believe is possible to achieve–see Joe Romm’s series on this question) we will have inevitably, irreversibly locked ourselves into a 1000-year long 1930’s style dustbowl over a very large part of the earth’s surface. And, remember, that that is the most optimistic scenario. That’s right the most optimistic scenario is one in which large parts of the earth’s surface are a desert completely unsuited to agriculture or human occupation for at least a millennium.

You can watch Solomon comment on her work in the video below:

Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said [of Solomon’s study that] it’s an important message for the wider public to grasp. “This aspect is one that is poorly appreciated by policymakers and the general public: Many aspects of the changes that are slowly coming are not really or practically reversible,” he said.

It’s not hard to imagine how the denialists/delayers will respond to this research. They will focus on the long time period that Solomon and her colleagues consider and will conclude that nothing needs to be done currently, despite the fact that Solomon herself is calling for urgent action.

As an example here is the reaction of Roger Pielke Jr. one of the most prominent delayers.

Roger Pielke Jr., a climate policy specialist at the University of Colorado, said the study would not likely “change the nature of the debate” about cutting emissions, at least in the short term.

Decisions are going to be made about mitigation based on short-term costs and benefits of those actions,” he said. “In the very long term, if things turn out to be as bad as projected … then we’ll have technologies to do that.

The same old denialist/delayer arguments: “It’s too expensive to do anything now, but later we will have miraculous technology that will make all this go away and save us. So, no need to worry.”

Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research responded to Pielke Jr. in the following terms:

“The policy relevance is clear: We need to act sooner, even if there is some doubt about exactly what will happen,” he said. “By the time the public and policymakers really realize the changes are here, it is far too late to do anything about it. In fact, as the authors point out, it is already too late for some effects.”

A. Siegel had an interesting post on the NOAA report over at Daily Kos entitled A few decades of prevention vs 1000 years of Hell … I usually agree with Adam on global warming issues, but I have some doubts about his position on this one because I don’t see how we can pull off the prevention part. I am myself a supporter of the 350 ppm target but I have yet to see anyone provide a convincing description of how such a goal can be achieved taking into account both the technical and political (domestic and international) issues. I think that we will be lucky to stabilize CO2 emissions at 450 parts per million, which means, if Solomon and her team are correct, we are doomed to an inevitable worldwide dustbowl, as our best long-range outcome. Far more likely is that things will be much worse because as I pointed out above, Solomon’s forecast is a best-case one, in which most of the terrible things that can happen (and some of which, I believe, are likely to happen) are left out. What we are more likely to get, in my opinion is, if I may tinker with Adam’s title a bit, “A few decades of prevention AND 1000 years of hell…”

By all means, let us do all that we can, because however bad things turn out to be, they will inevitably be worse if we fail to do everything within our power to contain this monster we have unleashed. But we all need to be realistic enough to know that he battle is no longer between the world that we knew and the one that we have created. Rather, it is between the one we have created and a far worse one that we will create if we do not give our all and as urgently as possible.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 25, 2009

George Monbiot Takes Off the Gloves with Shell CEO

George Monbiot, the blunt, outspoken Guardian writer on global warming has put up 5 of his hardest hitting interviews on Monbiot.com. Monbiot has a take-no-prisoners attitude toward the interviewing process as you can see if you watch the video below that he conducted with Shell CEO Jeroen van de Veer.

Do any reporters at major media outlets in the States ask and,if necessary, reiterate, these kinds of serious questions? Not that I’m aware of. If Monbiot worked for any American network news company or any of the major American daily’s, he’d be out on his ear in a second.

Hat tip to Kevin Grandia at Desmogblog where I first came across this.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 25, 2009

“I won, so we’re going to prevail on that.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg had an article in today’s Seattle Times entitled Obama’s agenda sails into head wind. Most of the article involved speculation about how Obama will run his administration and how much real cooperation there will actually be between Democrats and Republicans as the new President attempts to address problems where he has strong differences with the ideologically-driven Republican right wing.

What caught my eye in the article was a statement near the end:

[Obama’s] ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together will be the first major test of his presidency.

That test began Friday, in the White House Roosevelt Room, where he tried to bring House Republicans on board.

In a polite but pointed exchange with the No. 2 House Republican leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia, Obama took note of the parties’ fundamental differences on tax policy toward low-wage workers, and he insisted his view would prevail.

At issue is Obama’s proposal that his tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers be refundable so the benefits also go to workers who earn too little to pay income taxes but who pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Republicans generally oppose giving such refunds to people who pay no income taxes, a view that Cantor voiced at the White House meeting with Obama.

“We just have a difference here, and I’m president,” Obama said to Cantor, according to Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who was at the meeting. Emanuel said Obama was being lighthearted and lawmakers of both parties had laughed.

Cantor, in an interview afterward, had a similar recollection. He said the president had told him, “You’re correct, there’s a philosophical difference, but I won, so we’re going to prevail on that.”

“There was no disrespect, but it was very matter-of-fact.”

“I won, so we’re going to prevail on that.”

Those are precisely the sort of words that I want to hear coming out of President Obama’s mouth. “Bipartisanship” has been a badly abused term. Under George W. Bush it was a piece of meaningless rhetoric. Until the 2006 mid-term election, in particular, the Republicans ignored the Democrats, rarely consulting with them on legislation, preferring instead, whenever possible to ram through their own agenda uncompromised. Even after 2006, Republican bipartisanship consisted mostly of trying to drive a wedge between factions within the Democratic Party in order to block the passage of Democratic sponsored legislation.

I believe that President Obama is serious about attempting to negotiate in good faith with his opponents. He has a long history of doing just that dating back to his days as a community organizer. I also believe that he understands where the power lies and that, whenever he holds the upper hand he intends to have his way, particularly on questions that he sees as vital. One of the advantages of the transparency that Obama insists on is that it will be much more difficult for the Republicans to negotiate in bad faith in the hope that both parties will be seen as equally responsible for the failure to reach agreement on vital issues. An open political process will make it much easier for the American public to see who is holding up needed legislation.

It is urgent that Obama bring the same “we will prevail” attitude to the battle against global warming. If he can convince Republicans to sign on to his plans, so much the better, but if he can’t, well, too bad for them. As all of us involved in the struggle to bring Climaticide to the forefront of the public consciousness and to the top our nation’s political agenda know, time is running out and there is no negotiating with the laws of nature.

When Obama won, we won, and we will prevail.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 25, 2009

Don’t Worry When the Roof Blows Off Your House…

It can’t be linked directly to global warming.

I hope that makes you and all those folks in France and Spain that lived through yesterday’s storm, feel better. I’ll be talking about them a little latter in this post.

Scientists agree that no particular weather event can be linked directly to global warming. Nonetheless, taken collectively, Extreme Weather Events, have increased and are predicted to continue to increase at a statistically significant rate.

As Nature explains:

… scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide.

The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature this week. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon.

The team statistically analysed satellite-derived data of cyclone wind speeds. Although there was hardly any increase in the average number or intensity of all storms, the team found a significant shift in distribution towards stronger storms that wreak the greatest havoc. This meant that, overall, there were more storms with a maximum wind speed exceeding 210 kilometres per hour (category 4 and 5 storms on the Saffir–Simpson scale)….

“It’ll be pretty hard now for anyone to claim that cyclone activity has not increased,” says Judith Curry, an atmospheric researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study….

“People should now stop saying ‘who cares, storm activity is just a few per cent up’,” says Curry. “It’s the strongest storms that matter most.”

Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, points out other problems related to extreme weather.

As temperatures increase and continental rainfall also gets warmer, waterborne diseases will flourish and without major infrastructure upgrades, our exposure to the diseases will likewise grow.

Simply from increased frequency and severity of torrential downpours, disease will be able to attack us from a growing number of fronts – at the beach, in our drinking water, from our sewers, in seafood, after a mosquito bite. The WaPo article focuses on how urban infrastructure systems are not prepared to handle the weather forecast – the rains will overflow sewer systems and threaten to mix sewage, storm water, and drinking water.

The article reports, “From 1948 to 1994, heavy rainfall was correlated with more than half of the nation’s outbreaks of waterborne illness, according to a 1991 study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency.” The article’s examples include:

# In one of the worst, torrential rains in Milwaukee in 1993 triggered a sewage release that exposed 403,000 people to cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite transmitted in fecal matter. Fifty-four people died.
# On Ohio’s South Bass Island in Lake Erie in the summer of 2004, at least 1,450 residents and tourists suffered gastrointestinal illnesses linked to several months of above-average rains that contaminated the town’s drinking water.
# On Sept. 13, during an unrelenting downpour, Chicago chose to prevent urban flooding by opening and releasing runoff containing raw sewage into Lake Michigan.

Climate-change-driven disease is at our door (and faucet). In the words of the country’s leading authority on the subject, Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School:

It will be the next few years. This is not 20 years away. It’s already occurring. The CDC is gearing up to deal with [it], but at the same time, we need to be focused on the primary driver, which is our unstable climate. We need to do all of the above — protect, prepare and prevent.

And this From Science Magazine:

Here, we use satellite observations and model simulations to examine the response of tropical precipitation events to naturally driven changes in surface temperature and atmospheric moisture content. These observations reveal a distinct link between rainfall extremes and temperature, with heavy rain events increasing during warm periods and decreasing during cold periods. Furthermore, the observed amplification of rainfall extremes is found to be larger than predicted by models, implying that projections of future changes in rainfall extremes due to anthropogenic global warming may be underestimated.

I’ve been fascinated by extreme weather event ever since I learned that that they would be made more likely and more intense by Climaticide. There is an interesting conundrum in knowing the global warming increases the likelihood of extreme weather events without being able to say this or that extreme weather event has been influenced by global warming. I do think that it is important though that we talk about global warming every time there is an extreme weather event. Without claiming that Climaticide caused the particular event we can point out to people the statistical relationship between storm numbers and intensity and climate change. We can remind them that the future that awaits us will be less predictable, with more storms of greater intensity and with more destructive power causing more material damage and loss of life.

Having just lived through an extreme weather event for the second year in a row I am intrigued by how such events will affect the public’s perception of Climaticide. So, I plan to write often about such events to highlight that the climate we took for granted is already gone. We have performed an experiment on the entire planet and the result is that we now live in the Anthropocene, the age in which humanity determines the world’s climate.

Like a teenager sitting behind the wheel of an automobile for the first time, we quite clearly don’t know how to drive very well, but we do have the keys and whether the ride from here on out is merely bumpy or ends in a fatal accident will depend on how quickly we learn to act like grown-ups.

Now let’s take a look at events in France and Spain today: The AFP is reporting that:

Rescuers in Spain and France launched a desperate operation on Sunday to clear wrecked homes, roads and power lines after hurricane-force winds killed 15 people, including four children inside a sports hall near Barcelona.

The falling roof and a wall killed four children who had taken shelter from winds that in some places roared at more than 180 kilometres (110 miles) an hour, while 20 metre (70 feet) high waves battered the Atlantic coast.

One the fiercest storms to hit Europe in more than a decade, the winds came in from the Atlantic and tore into southwest France and northern Spain ripping roofs off houses, pulling down power lines and flattening hundreds of thousands of trees.

More than 1.1 million homes in France and hundreds of thousands in Spain remained without power on Sunday. Electricity workers were brought in from Britain, Germany and Portugal to help hundreds sent from the rest of France to patch up power supplies.

A dozen helicopters were sent out to estimate the damage to the French electricity network, which the state electric company said could be worse than a hurricane which battered a wider area of France in 1999.

In Perpignan, near the French-Spanish border, the winds were recorded at 184 kilometres (114 miles) an hour.

Fallen trees hampered police and other emergency services from getting to many alerts and brought trains and bus services to a halt. Many rail routes were still cut on Sunday.

“It’s the apocalypse,” said Peio Poueyts, an official in the tourism office in the French city of Biarritz on the Atlantic coast.

In addition to the children who were killed when the roof was blown off the sports hall in which they had taken shelter causing a wall of the building to collapse on them, the BBC is reporting a number of other fatalities from the storm, which is now moving across central Italy with 85-90 km per hour winds.

In other incidents:

* In the Landes region of south-western France, near Bordeaux, a driver was killed by a falling tree, a 78-year-old man was killed by flying debris and a third man, 75, was crushed by a tree
* A woman, 73, died in France’s Gironde region when the storm cut electricity powering her breathing machine
* A woman was crushed by a door in Burgos, Spain
* A collapsing wall killed a woman and a falling tree killed a male park employee in the Barcelona area; a man, 60, was killed elsewhere in the Catalonia region
* In Galicia, a policeman was killed by a falling tree as he directed traffic in Burela and a sailor from a cargo ship died when the vessel got in trouble off the coast
* A falling wall crushed a man in Aigues de Busot, near Alicante in the south-east of Spain

Tens of thousands of homes have been left without power in Spain, while in France, 1.3 million people are without electricity.

You can get some sense of the damage by watching the video below (the music is a little over the top, but the images are interesting)

The BBC also has a good video, which unfortunately I cannot embed here. You can watch it at the following link. The opening scene of the flattened forests tree plantations is striking.

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