What are we to make of this fire? After all, fires occur in nature and Alaska has had its share in the past. As Larry Lazar put it in an email to me,
While the size of the fire on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is not particularly unusual, it is very early in the season. This type of fire usually occurs from July-September, not May. With the lack of snow last “winter” and the very dry spring (no rain in ~month), this fire was just a matter of time. I wonder what the rest of the summer will be like?
Whenever I read about these large and out of season forest fires, I can’t help but think of what it will be like in 30-50 years or longer. So much for Alaska being a climate refuge.
As for that comment, about “climate refuge”, the reality is that nowhere will be spared the climate chaos’ impacts in terms of an ability to maintain modern human civilization. Even if an area might be (relatively) somewhat unscathed by direct impacts, catastrophic climate change will reduce the global economy’s ability to deliver up everything from sophisticated electronics to pasta. (As to that last, the occasional tv watching a few years ago had me flipped the channels to a discussion of the global industrial machine behind delivering a box of pasta to the supermarket counter. Rather daunting the system-of-systems involved from the farms to the industrial machines for processing pasta to the international transport/logistics system.)
In any event, what is notable is not ‘an’ unusual weather event (earlier large Alaska fire than typically occurs), but how this is part and parcel of an increasing reality of ‘unusual’ weather incidents. Just a few from recent weeks …
California wild fires: “It is pretty amazing to see these in May,” said San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar. “We certainly have seen climate change and the impact of climate change. My understanding from Cal Fire is that we’ve seen twice the number of wildfire starts in the state of California as we typically see this time of year.”
Balkan floods: Not only did this massive flooding displace large numbers of people, cause economic damage, and create opportunities for dramatic photos (like animals being fed on rooftops), it created yet another new climate change impact: uncovering of 10,000s of land mines from the wars of the Yugoslavia breakup (mainly Bosnia but also Kosovo) with new risks for the population as ‘identified’ minefields are now scattered through the countryside.
Unlike Russia, Sarah Palin likely could to see the smoke from the Kenai Peninsula wildfire from a Wasilla porch. Even as Alaska experiences a significant warming climate, with dramatic effects on Alaska and Alaskans (including curtailing Todd “My Guy” Palin’s hobby), it seems even more likely that Sarah Palin will not be able to recognize how that smoke is signaling mounting climate change impacts.
Photo credit: Dan Logan (note, photo is from 2010, not the current Kenai Peninsula fire) and NASA of
Kahn discussed three drivers for India’s agricultural technology startup revolution:
Demand Growing: With increasing wealth, India’s diet is changing — more fruits, vegetables, and meats. This trend will continue in India and throughout Asia.
Supply Constraints: India’s agricultural supply is tight and will worsen under business as usual. There are “multiple bottlenecks” limiting food production.
Land is disappearing (urbanization) and degrading.
Water quality and supply is worsening.
Labor costs are skyrocketing.
Ecosystem is right:
Human capital of IT, biotech, pharma, etc; technical & managerial talent base.
Research capital with many universities and research institutions with relevant people and programs.
Business base and examples as India has a strong domestic agribusiness built up supporting small Indian farmers and
Moving past this, Kahn explained why he sees India as the best laboratory for small-scale agriculture:
The Indian sub-continent has every single agricultural climate zone found around the world.
Indian farming is small — there are not the large farms that dominate Iowa, Russia, and Australia.
India’s challenges are the global small-holder challenges: limited capital (frugal and durable engineering), small-scale mechanization and lean information technology.
The Indian market is large, big enough to sustain development of new technologies and innovative approaches to then export around the world.
These coalesce to make India unique. Unlike India, for example, China has not built up a branded agricultural export industry and, as Kahn put it gently in an interview, “Chinese internal agriculture is shit.” Other small-holder dominated nations do not have India’s human-capital base. Thus, for true innovation in small-scale farming technology, we should look to and invest in India.
Kahn provided these six key characteristics for Ag 3.0 at play in India and with relevance globally for small-scale farming:
Mechanization & Automation
Supply chain modernization:
Innovative food products:
Kahn’s presentation simply made sense — it clicked as a logical way to look at the situation, opening my (and others’) eyes as to how to look at a path forward for agriculture in the 21st century.
And, amid valid and serious reasons for concerns over mounting climate chaos, Kahn laid a plausible case to see why, rather than starve, India will innovate to take a leading position in creating the Agriculture 3.0 revolution.
Energy poverty is one of the world’s greatest challenges. There are billions of people without access to reliable and reasonably priced electricity. In India, alone, there are some 400 million people in energy poverty. The new Indian government has set a major initiative to change this situation radically and rapidly: “to harness solar power to enable every home to run at least one light bulb by 2019″.
“We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space,” said Narendra Taneja, convener of the energy division at Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party
This has the potential to change radically the situation throughout India. Access to even a few hours of light, for example, has had a major impact on the status of women as the lighting enables children to do their homework. A few hours of the lighting will equate to adding years of education to the poorest of Indians.
The markets are already assessing the implications. India’s electricity system is cumbersome, inefficient, and heavily dependent on coal imports. If the new government follows through on its promise, with renewable energy a cornerstone of its energy policy, expectations of increased coal exports might turn into a chimera. As discussed at RENewEconomy,
As far back as mid-2012, signs were already emerging that a rebirth in the development Australian coal infrastructure was masking huge problems in the Indian energy market, such as poor supply and pipeline infrastructure and the increasingly unviable cost of coal imports.
And as recently as January, leading investment bank HSBC warned that the market value of the coal assets owned by Australia’s biggest mining groups could be slashed by nearly half – or more than $US20 billion – due to constraints of the global “carbon budget;” a concept HSBC says is gaining traction, given the climate science, and the implementation of pollution control policies in the US and China.
Now, India’s ambitious new five-year solar lighting goal further subtracts from the much diminished future coal equation.
About 400 million people in India lack access to electricity, more than the combined population of the U.S. and Canada. The outgoing government led by Prime MinisterManmohan Singh missed a 2012 target to provide electricity to all households.
Each spring, millions of Americans at 1,000s of High Schools and Universities sit through commencement speeches. While many are filled with overused cliches and serve only as a speed bump en route post graduation parties, others represent mind-changing moments that “are truly worth remembering, or so well-said that they stick in the memory longer than just about anything else” with language worth returning to time and time again. Paul Hawkens’ is such a speech, framing our environmental challenges in a way direct relevant to the life choices of the students who were sitting before him.
You are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.
Politicians are standard on the commencement rounds, typically providing pablum rather than substance. Sometimes, a politician takes a commencement speech to make a statement of fundamental importance, to move past photo opportunity to political leadership. Such is the case with Governor Deval Patrick’s 9 May speech at the University of Massachusetts (extracts after the fold).
Patrick opened with his perspective that education is about something greater than securing a job and that the graduates would put something central to their desires for the future: “above all I hope you will choose to be good citizens.”
your education here at UMass is about more than preparation for being good employees. It is about preparation for citizenship itself.
Good citizens take an interest in people and issues outside themselves. They understand community, in the sense of seeing their stake in their neighbors’ dreams and struggles as well as their own. They inform themselves about what’s happening in their community. They volunteer. They listen. They take the long view. They vote.
Good citizens don’t just live and work in a community. They build community.
With that in mind, Patrick laid out what is the greatest challenge today for being able to “build community”:
no policy choice before this community, this Commonwealth and this Nation is more emblematic than climate change.
After discussing climate science (highlighting the just released National Climate Assessment, 2014) and laying out Massachusetts’ progress in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate mitigation/adaptation, Patrick laid out what we need from energy policy:
the time has come to set a new standard that ensures that, at every point in time, at every moment, we are getting the cleanest energy possible. It means energy efficiency first. It means zero-emission electricity next – solar, wind, and hydro. It means lower-emission electricity last – natural gas, an imperfect choice but best of the fossil fuels. And it means high-emissions sources never.
We should not be gleefully pursuing and celebrating an “All-of-the-Above” energy policy, which fosters continued investment in dirty energy sources along with moves toward clean energy, but must prioritize throughout our economy and our policy moves toward a cleaner energy system.
This is what we call a “clean energy standard,” and we should set one for our state that puts us on a path to reduce our emissions by fully 80 percent by mid-century. It’s not the ideal today, but it will get us there tomorrow. It’s how we move from good to better to best.
Patrick is laying out that ‘prioritizing’ clean over dirty isn’t perfection, isn’t “best”, but provides a path toward “best”.
What’s the best?
The best is a future free of fossil fuels.
Has a governor ever before made such a direct call for entirely getting off fossil fuels?
In a sentence, what is that “best …future”:
It’s an economy driven by homegrown, independent sources of renewable energy, cutting edge technology, and hyper-efficient cars and buildings.
This provides a positive and optimistic vision — that we can address climate change with leveraging our capacity for innovation with clean energy and efficiency throughout the economy.
It’s a future within our grasp.
While every day makes the climate crisis worse,
We don’t have to wait for disaster:
the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone,
but because humankind imagined a better way and then reached for it.
Climate change, resulting in more frost-free days and warmer seasonal air temperatures, can contribute to shifts in flowering time and pollen initiation from allergenic plant species, and increased CO2 by itself can elevate production of plant-based allergens.,,,,,, Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons can increase allergic sensitizations and asthma episodes,,,, and diminish productive work and school days.,,
Simultaneous exposure to toxic air pollutants can worsen allergic responses.,,, Extreme rainfall and rising temperatures can also foster indoor air quality problems, including the growth of indoor fungi and molds, with increases in respiratory and asthma-related conditions.,,, Asthma prevalence (the percentage of people who have ever been diagnosed with asthma and still have asthma) increased nationwide from 7.3% in 2001 to 8.4% in 2010. Asthma visits in primary care settings, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations were all stable from 2001 to 2009, and asthma death rates per 1,000 persons with asthma declined from 2001 to 2009. To the extent that increased pollen exposures occur, patients and their physicians will face increased challenges in maintaining adequate asthma control.
As per the National Wildlife Foundation’s Extreme Allergies and Global Warming from several years ago, the NCA starkly lays out the facts: global warming is making and will make conditions worse for allergy sufferers. In fact, while global warming has almost certainly already made allergy conditions worse, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far.
Ragweed will worsen … fungal pollution … tree pollen … Oh, of course, poison ivy gets worse in a warming world, with a more allergic form of urushiol being produced, with faster growth, over a longer portion of the year.
Considering this leads to some inescapable conclusions: time to stock on Benadryl and time to consider buying some drug company stocks, since could be of greater value in a higher CO2 levels, warming world …
The United States economy loses some $11.2 billion in medical costs and some $700 million in lost productivity per year to hay fever suffering each year. What will be the Global Warming multiplier?
The U.S. economy loses over 14 million school days, over 14 million work days, over $15 billion in medical costs and over $5 billion in lost earnings a year due to asthma. What will be the Global Warming multiplier?
At this time, US television screens are graced with several blockbuster science programs. Showtime’s The Years of Living Dangerously provides serious and substantive looks at climate change. With Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, NewsCorp is giving thinking people a substantive reason to tune in every Sunday evening. “Cosmos aims to be a primer on the incredible grandeur of the world around us, lionizing the scientists that have made our greatest discoveries, and hopefully stoking the fires for education and learning in the process.” If we think about the political demographic associated with Fox News, Cosmos’ calm, rather, and thoughtful scientific-based take on the history of Earth (no, not 6000 years), evolution (yes, it happens), and climate change (not that word) might appear shocking.
As to the last, Cosmos’ discussion to date has been relatively muted — certainly not a central focus — but yesterday’s show changed that equation.
We just can’t seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton, in the form of oil and gas.
If we could, we’d be home free climate wise.
Instead, we’re dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn’t seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions.
We just can’t seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves.
All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need.
Why can’t we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us?
The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming.
In his calm sonorous voice, Tyson asks a profound question
“What’s our excuse?”
Tip of the hat to Chris Mooney (see that discussion, which has links to other excellent discussions about and with Tyson).
Around the planet, difficult cultural norms exist for writing. Avoidance of direct discussion and attribution seem to be the norm for many nations. Over recent decades, the U.S. business world has adopted an emphasis on using more direct language with the active voice. When it comes to passive voices, a standard recommendation:
Use the passive voice sparingly.
It may make the writing unclear by keeping the identity of the actor secret.
As to when you should use passive voice,
Usually use passive voice when you do not know the actor, you want to hide the identity of the actor, or the actor is not important to the meaning of the sentence.
With this in mind, I read the opening to Richard Tol’s letter to the Journal of Economic Perspectives providing a set of corrections to an earlier article that asserts, in essence, that economic modeling provides uncertainty as to whether climate change will have a net negative or positive impact in coming decades. The following is the abstract as well as opening paragraph for this five-page letter.
Tol, Richard S J. 2014. “Correction and Update: The Economic Effects of Climate Change.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28(2): 221-26.DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.2.221
Gremlins intervened in the preparation of my paper “The Economic Effects of Climate Change” published in the Spring 2009 issue of this journal. In Table 1 of that paper, titled “Estimates of the Welfare Impact of Climate Change,” minus signs were dropped from the two impact estimates, one by Plambeck and Hope (1996) and one by Hope (2006). In Figure 1 of that paper, titled “Fourteen Estimates of the Global Economic Impact of Climate Change,” and in the various analyses that support that figure, the minus sign was dropped from only one of the two estimates. The corresponding Table 1 and Figure 1 presented here correct these errors. Figure 2 titled,”Twenty-One Estimates of the Global Economic Impact of Climate Change” adds two overlooked estimates from before the time of the original 2009 paper and five more recent ones.
“minus signs were dropped … minus sign was dropped”.
Who dropped those minus signs and “overlooked estimates”. Evidently, those unnamed and nefarious “gremlins” who ”intervened” to undermine the quality of Professor Tol’s research and publications.
Using the passive voice makes one wonder whether editors, research assistants, technical glitches, or Professor Tol, himself, were the “gremlins” who “intervened”.
As to the substance of the correction, Tol first writes;
The parameters of the impact curves are not statistically significantly different from one another
In essence, this phrase says ‘okay, item corrected, but it has no substantive import’.
That “not statistically different”, as Professor Tol explains, is driven by the relative paucity of data sets which drive wide error bars and thus require extreme shifts for “statistically significant” change.
Let us remember that Richard Tol is perhaps the leading voice assessing that climate change’s economic impact could well (or even is likely to) be a net positive and that climate mitigation with an impact, therefore, could actually hurt the economy. With that in mind, this comes from later in the letter.
First, unlike the original curve (Tol 2009, Figure 1) in which there were net benefits of climate change associated with warming below about 2°C, in the corrected and updated curve (Figure 2), impacts are always negative
When it comes to the economic analysis of climate change impacts in the coming decades, Professor Tol writes, “impacts are always negative”.
Note, on the substance of this correction, please see And then there’s Physics. “What’s maybe more interesting, is that Tol updates the analysis by including 7 newer studies. … With the new studies included, there is essentially no positive benefit for future warming. This seems like quite a significant change …”
Today, there is an all day event at the White House on solar power, both announcing a series of initiatives and honoring “solar champions” from around the nation (full press release after the fold). These champions are representative of leaders in technological change, drivers for policy change, and people working ‘in the grassroots’ to get solar on the rooftops of disadvantaged citizens across the country. As to initiatives, they include several interesting ones:
Department of Energy funding to support state, tribal, and local planning for tackling barriers to cost-competitive solar deployment. As solar technology prices continue to plunge, “soft” costs (planning, financing, inspection, sales, etc …) are also falling — but at a much slower rate which means that they are, with each passing day, a greater percentage of the total costs.
Energy Department SunShot and NREL staff/technical support to assist in accelerating solar installations at Federally-assisted housing.
EPA issuance of an “on-site renewables challenge” to prod businesses (Green Power partners) around the nation to put renewables (including solar) at their actual facilities rather than ’simply’ buying clean energy credits.
Energy Department coming issuance of a “Solar Deployment Playbook”, which is aimed to ease internal ’soft costs’ as to decision-making and understanding within business as to why and how to do solar installations.
Capital Solar Challenge: The Administration is targeting solar power at Federal facilities in Washington, DC, as part of an effort “to lead by example”.
Military Solar Deployment: The White House is reaffirming the military commitment to solar deployments. Note that the WH press release emphasizes the Army. Last week, at the Sea-Air Space Symposium, Navy leaders mentioned that the Secretary of the Navy ordered far more aggressive action on putting solar up at Navy and Marine Corps facilities.
Many of the above are ‘leading by example’. Since this is a live, online event, the White House is taking questions via twitter using #WHChamps and #ActOnClimate. My first question refers back to a painful issue:
Drastic shifts in weather (from beautiful sunny skies to dark menacing ones, from t-shirt frisbee temperatures to parka-wearing cold, from …) are natural. Humanity, however, has been putting its figures on the scales of “natural”. As Bill McKibben so eloquently discussed 25 years ago in The End of Nature, due to fossil fuel emissions, humanity’s footprint is global. And, as he laid out in Eaarth, we now have changed the earth so much that the “natural world” of the 21st century and beyond is removed from what it was even in my youth a few decades ago.
Amid mounting climate change and increased climate chaos, a term of growing frequency: “weather whiplash”:
The term “weather whiplash” describes the rapid transition from one extreme weather event to another opposing extreme event.
Last May, for example, Iowa had unusual May snow that was soon followed by 106F record heat.
Sioux City, Iowa had their first-ever snowfall on record in the month of May on May 1 (1.4″), but hit an astonishing 106° yesterday. Not only was this their hottest temperature ever measured in the month of May, but only two June days in recorded history have been hotter (June, 10, 1933: 107° and June 21, 1988: 108°.) On May 12th they registered 29°, and thus had a 77° rise over 56 hours (from 6 a.m. May 12 to 1:30 p.m May 14.)
Right now, far from the first time through the 2013-2014 winter (okay, it is now spring), I feel like I am wearing a neck brace. Two days ago, I was working in the yard in a t-shirt and today I went outside in a winter coat. Being well aware of the need to be careful in extrapolating from our backyard to the globe, after decades of living in the region, it certainly ‘appears’ that the Washington, DC, area is now whipping between extremes with greater frequency. I have lost count of how many times the DC area — my backyard — has had over 30F or 20C shift in high and/or low temperature in less than 96 or 48 hours over the past six months. Multiple times, we were walking without coats one day to be shoveling snow the next to then, a few days or hours later, be in short sleeves with snow on the ground.
This past Sunday topped 80F and the late evening was 76F/24C (about 10 pm was last I looked at the weather in my backyard) — t-weather with flowers in glory. Last night was below freezing and most of the flowers are now drooping. And, this is real ‘whiplash’ as you don’t know whether to have shorts or sweaters out … and, anyone who planted tomatoes in the heat over the weekend just lost them to the cold last night.
My ‘impression’ is that this winter has been the worse that I have ever experienced in terms of such major shifts.
Honestly, this is an ‘impressionistic’ perspective that would be a rather straightforward piece of analysis: How many days per annum of over 50F (or 30C) (or 35F / 20C) shift in high and/or low temperature in less than 96 or 48 hours over the past 100 years? The data is there even I don’t have the time / resources to run it to see whether the hypothesis of ‘increased weather whiplash as seen in rapid significant temperature shifts’ is substantiated by the historical data.
Obviously, temperature variability is not the only ‘weather whiplash’ element. Some predicted climate change impacts are already clear in the data and well documented, such as ever greater precipitation in extreme events. And, winds … And, … And, … This arena — weather whiplash — does seem appropriate for greater scientific work — from defining the term with scientific precision to analyzing the issue in regional and global terms with historical data and modeling it for the future.
In any event, Weather Whiplash doesn’t only seem to be an ever growing reality of Eaarth’s climate but a fruitful arena for further scientific analysis.
Now, I have always written letters and even had many published — just not one every day. WarrenS inspires me to do better.
Many newspapers state that they will reject letters that have been published elsewhere, thus I have not been blogging letters … perhaps that should change. Thus, on a delay from ‘rejection’ (or lack of publication), here is an installment of the “unpublished letters” series publishing those LTEs that don’t get picked up by the editors.
To the Editor,
“Energy” is a complex system.
In “Fueling Independence” (6 March), the Washington Post looked at the Ukraine situation through a “supply” mentality – advocating increased drilling in Ukraine and increased liquid natural gas (LNG) imports, including from the United States.
America’s role in the Ukrainian energy system shouldn’t be “drill, baby, drill” to “pollute, baby, pollute.” Instead, we should promote energy efficiency throughout the Ukrainian economy and help Ukraine develop alternative and cleaner paths for fueling its economy.
Promotion of liquid natural gas (LNG) exports only has one true winner: the fossil fuel industry. For the rest of the U.S. economy, mark it as a loss due to increased U.S. energy prices and worsened climate implications.
Enhancing energy efficiency and energy diversification in the Ukraine, on the other hand, is a real win-win-win opportunity:
Strengthen Ukraine’s economy and security with ever more sustainable independence from imported fossil fuels – Russian or otherwise;
Improve U.S. economy via export of clean energy expertise and products; and,
In the Ukraine and elsewhere, dealing with energy complexity matters. Integrating our approaches to national and natural security challenges can create wins for us all.
NOTE: Sigh … Sadly, The Washington Post editorial board has doubled down on its stove-piped thinking with today’s editorial “Using natural gas as an energy wedge against Russia“. While they would likely, if asked, agree with the Pentagon that climate change creates national security risks, they seem unable to connect their calls for increased fossil-fuel exports with the increased climate change risks that would result from the exports. As well, they do not seem able to process that the old adage ‘give a man a fish … teach a man to fish’ fits well here. Rather than continue to supply Ukraine’s natural gas habit, much better to help the Ukrainians — far more cost effectively for them and us — reduce their demand for natural gas. This can be done faster and less expensively than creating an export system to send liquified natural gas overseas.