IBI Watch 11/18/12

18 11 2012

Sell the Goodies, Ignore the Costs //

You might say this describes the fossil fuel industry’s business model these many decades.  And those who enjoy those goodies – the CEOs, the shareholders and, yes, we consumers, particularly those who think there is nothing more important than low, low gas prices – continue to hope this model endures.  Recent media accounts crow about the United States’ current trajectory towards top-dog status in oil production.  Non-traditional extraction methods – fracking and horizontal drilling – are responsible for this dramatic uptick. But the costs I describe here are not exploration bills.  Rather, they are costs to the environment – so-called “externalities.”  And of course those magical new methods have their own unique costs that industry has so far hidden from public view. Well, mostly.

But leaving aside fracking, consider oil spills.  The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 continues to play out.  BP has just agreed to a record payout of damages, but even the $4.5 billion dollar figure is really just a fraction of the immense environmental damage.  Cynics might say it’s just a cost of doing business.  And just in the last few days, there is a report of another oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to at least one fatality.  Lest we think this is only an American problem, try this brand new story from Nigeria.

Then of course there is that inconvenient issue that won’t go away – the greenhouse gases that are loading the dice for destructive weather and radically altered climate.  This Scientific American article puts the chortling about “American energy independence” into stark perspective. The piece includes many informative links.  Here is a Tara Lohan piece on AlterNet on a similar myth-debunking mission. And don’t forget – it’s been warmer than average for awhile.  In fact, for a generation or so.  Every single month, no exceptions.  Man, what a fluke!  Anytime now, this will be recognized as a trend.  Maybe it needs more research.

Grand Climate Opportunity

It’s been a long time since I heard the issues surrounding human-caused climate change described as comprehensively and succinctly as did Naomi Klein in a recent interview with Bill Moyers.  No surprise there.  Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is a book I often recommend.  Her thesis – that the rich a powerful strategically capitalize on disasters of all sorts in order to become richer and more powerful – comes into play in the current climate-related disaster, Hurricane Sandy, and its aftermath. It applies as well to the grand crisis – the damage our greenhouse gases are doing to the planet that sustains us.

Klein’s comments overflow with quotable lines and insightful analysis.  She rightly points out that the recent election was between a “terrible candidate and a candidate who needs a lot of pressure.” She fingers climate change as the ultimate social problem in an era of rugged individualism. And here is an ironic twist that I somehow missed.  Apparently, the crown prince of pignorance (pretend ignorance), Senator James Inhofe, missed the most recent Heartland Institute conference because of illness.  The irony? He had contracted an infection from swimming in an algae- clogged lake.

Don’t call Klein a communist.  She says in the interview that the only system worse than capitalism for managing this consummate public space issue is – you guessed it – communism.  She calls for a “people’s shock” in response.  If you follow only one link in this post, make it this one.

The Shock Doctrine author is collaborating with Bill McKibben (350.org) on the latter’s “Do the Math” tour.  Readers in locations other than my home Twin Cities can still get tickets – which of course I recommend.  The math is simple and scary.  Big Fossil Fuel already has five times the amount of oil, gas and coal necessary to drive global temperatures up a total of two degrees Centigrade.  That’s right, all the climate destabilization we have seen – droughts, deluges, glacial melting, superstorms – comes from a mere one degree Centigrade rise. Keeping the conflagration from happening is up to us, and especially to young people.  Here is one of McKibben’s main strategies – student pressure on universities to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

This week saw another big event highlighting climate change and ideas for solving the crisis.  The Climate Reality Project ran its second 24 Hours of Reality.  More than 14 million people worldwide tuned in. Each hour covered a different region of the world and its issues, and featured expert panels and compelling video.  It is all archived here. The final hour featured a presentation by the Project’s founder, former Vice President Al Gore – billed as a continuation of his presentation in An Inconvenient Truth.  He includes some powerful math here as well – we put 90 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every 24 hours.  I highly recommend Gore’s presentation – which includes lots of current information proving the thesis of the entire event – dirty fuel produces dirty weather, and we have the means to correct the problems.  If you want a strictly audio version of his recent comments, here is a new, brief interview with NPR.

For something completely different, how about Al Gore, with music? That’s right.  This is a new discovery for me – the Symphony of Science. At first I found this weird. But it grows on you, and is part of an expanding collection of techno-musical videos on scientific topics.  But to close on climate change for now, why not commit to being part of the solution?  Take the pledge.

Bridges Away from Extinction

There is no doubt about it.  If we have any hope for preserving biodiversity, and particularly for keeping large mammals on the planet in places other than zoos, small islands of habitat just won’t cut it.  That’s the message of wildlife biologists, and is featured in a new book by Mary Ellen Hannibal.  In The Spine of the Continent, Hannibal explains the science, and discusses programs under way to link habitat by building infrastructure for animals to deal with the ways we have carved up the landscape.  That’s mainly our highways and roads of course. The prescription is not to destroy the roads, but create bypasses, overpasses and underpasses so that populations can mix across our artificial boundaries. Hannibal was interviewed by MPR’s Kerri Miller.  Look for the six-minute video interview highlight on the MPR site. Here is the website of an organization – Wildlands Network – working to build the network.  And if you want the big picture – served up by one of the best popular science writers of all – read this book that I frequently recommend.  That’s David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Logjam Breakup Imminent?

Just as it looks like we could see some movement on climate change, the fiscal cliff provides an opportunity to set some things right.  First – here is a Robert Borosage commentary that calls our recent election “the first class-warfare election of the new Gilded Age.” I could not agree more. Then, two more shockers.  First – unelected powerbroker Grover Norquist hinting that a carbon tax would be acceptable to his legions of vassals? The only thing more startling would be the prospect of an end to the grossly misused Senate filibuster.  Hey, we have that too! Maybe. Stay tuned.

A Bird Dog for Wild Weather

All eyes have been on the East coast of the US recently and rightly so.  Three weeks after the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, some still remain without power, and those are the lucky ones – their homes were not washed away. But here in the upper Midwest, we had our own weird weather sequence last week.  We are used to weather extremes here, but these events had the mark of today’s climate chaos.  Saturday – warmth and sunshine.  Saturday night – heavy thunderstorms with two extremely rare November tornadoes. Monday – the season’s first traffic-snarling snow squall.  The bird dog I speak of is a University of Minnesota meteorologist and severe weather enthusiast, Kenny Blumenfeld. Standing aside from mainstream media talking heads, he predicted the tornadoes!  He also had one of the best explanations of the link between Sandy and climate change. I posted that explanation in several climate change sites I frequent on Facebook.  I will post both the Sandy comments and the right-on forecast here.  Also – here is an offer for Minnesota-based IBI Watch readers.  If you would like to get on Kenny’s email list – make a comment on the blog site or send me an email.

“Sandy had an exceptionally high impact, mostly because we cram all those people (tens of millions of them) into an area the size of Iowa.
Meteorologically, Sandy was odd for the following reasons:

  1. pretty late in the season
  2. turned west at an unusually high latitude because
  3. it interacted with a strong mid-latitude weather system, which was “negatively tilted” and caused Sandy to take a sharp-left
  4. it hit an area that doesn’t get a lot of direct hits, because the predominant storm tracks run parallel to (rather than perpendicular to) that part of the coast

Now, this sort of thing is unusual, but not unheard of, but to go to the not-unheard-of places, you have to leave the domain of most TV weather maps, and head up to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Those areas get frequent direct hits from aging, transitioning tropical weather systems, which are occasionally still hurricanes at landfall.   Many of those storms interact with midlatitude weather systems, and they occasionally even get tugged westward by strong negative-tilt-related flow patterns. But in those areas, population 14, we don’t hear much of the results. 

Climatically, it gets even more interesting, at least for me.  Sandy may or may not have been attributable to the deus ex machina we know as global warming.  It’s a tough position for scientists who appreciate nuance: global warming is at this point *undeniable*; oceanic warming is one of the theoretically-expected and already-observed results of global warming; tropical weather systems derive their source energy *entirely* from oceanic heat content.  Thus, global warming could be, would be, should be, and is leading to more and even stronger hurricanes.  But, as we all know, there were hurricanes, including very strong ones, before global warming, and they operate on scales that are smaller (in both time and space) than global warming.  This makes attribution very very difficult.  If you are a meteorologist or a climatologist and you want to get a good spanking, you will write a paper attributing some individual event to global warming.  It’s a scientific no-no.
On the other hand, any reasonable person should be able to add it up: oceans will be warmer, which means they will stay warm-enough-for-hurricanes later into the fall, and at higher latitudes.  Add to that the fact that even with global warming, the lights still go out in the high Arctic region by early fall–the sun goes down.  Without the sun shining, the temperatures in far northern areas begin to fall, quickly.  But at the same time, it’s still plenty warm in the northern hemisphere tropics.  So, by fall, a strong hemispheric temperature gradient forms.  This is very important, because it is this temperature gradient that really gets the strong mid-latitude (i.e., non-tropical) weather systems going.  In the summer, it’s warm in the Tropics, but it’s also relatively warm in the Arctic.  The temperature gradient is weak, and consequently, you have little in the way of energetic weather systems.  But by fall, it’s show time, and this will remain true–even if to a slightly lesser extent–well into the future.
So, warming oceans should lead to an expanded hurricane season.  At the same time, the loss of sunlight during mid fall will create the important temperature gradient that leads to our strong non-tropical weather systems.  Make a Venn Diagram in your head: the circle representing the season for hurricanes is now (increasingly) overlapping with the circle representing the season for non-tropical storms.  Thus, as hurricanes and other tropical weather systems continue later and later into Autumn, they will have better chances of interacting with non-tropical weather systems.  Kind of like Sandy did.  The first one is always unusual, but it won’t be unusual for all that long.
Several readers, friends, colleagues etc. have urged me to use this event get soapboxy about global warming, but I don’t need to.  The evidence speaks for itself.  The recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek said it pretty well:
http://news.wsiu.org/post/bloomberg-businessweeks-cover-its-global-warming-stupid
Besides, I have a different soapbox.  As a guy who grew up obsessed with hazardous weather, I had to tease out which part of the obsession was about the weather, and which part was about the results and our reactions, both of which are non-meteorological.  And do you know what?  They’re close to equal.  I will spare you the essay within the essay, and just say that we better learn, quickly, to take care of our disadvantaged, lower-access populations, and also our pets.  Because these groups keep getting hurt, killed, and permanently displaced during major weather events, and we look like great big jerks for allowing it.
And now that we’re all a little bit uncomfortable, let’s talk about the weekend.
Today, once upon a time, looked pretty freakish.  But, the models have been doing that a lot this fall–generating freakish storms for a few days, before settling on something much more pedestrian.  But this system in reality is neither; let’s call it a pedestrian-jaywalker, one-too-many whiskeys into its evening.
Basically, a massive area of low pressure hit the Pacific Northwest a few days back, and, as always happens, exhausted itself in the process of crossing the mountains.  The large trough and circulation system split into three pieces:  one is up in James Bay, acting as a high-end, low-impact hyper-blizzard (just imagine 2-3 inches of snow per hour for most of a day, amid 40-60 mph winds and temperatures around zero); a second one is weakening in the Wyoming/Dakotas/Montana border region and had produced near-blizzard conditions in northern Montana on Thursday and yesterday; the third one is just getting into western Nebraska and is morphing into the main playmaker right now.

 This storm system will be pretty talented.  In the southerly flow out ahead of it, temperatures will sail right through the 50s and go well into the 60s, with 70s possible in far southern Minnesota and Iowa.  In the northwesterly flow on the other side of the system, temperature will fall through the 20s and into the teens and even single digits in the western Dakotas.  Rain and scattered thunderstorms are likely in the warm areas, snow and blowing snow in the colder areas, with a decent ice storm possible on the cold side of the buffer zone between the two.
The conditions are running a bit short of ideal for severe weather, but it is close.  The wind fields are nearly perfect, we have decent–but not excellent–upper-level support, but we are really lacking instability.  Today will probably be cloudy, leaving temperatures around 60, maybe 65.  If the sun comes out for a couple important hours, we may see 70 as far north as the Twin Cities, which by the way, would be very special.  Did you know it’s November?  Even with the sun, however, dew points should remain in the 50s, putting them on the very low end of the reliably-generating-severe-weather spectrum.  If moisture transport becomes even more efficient and the dew points can get up into the low 60s, and if the sun comes out, well, then this evening will be severe weather bonanza.  The pattern of wind shear–the way the winds increase and shift from southeasterly, to southerly, to southwesterly with height–is just about perfect for tornadoes.  But the lack of instability is not.  So at this point, widespread or significant severe weather doesn’t seem too likely.

Instead, we can expect waves of rain and thunderstorms this evening and overnight, with the strongest storms possibly producing some small hail or gusty winds.  Given these wind fields, a brief tornado is still possible, but nothing violent or long-lasting–unless the moisture levels jump dramatically.

Many Happy Gift Returns

You may have heard Mitt Romney’s explanation for his loss in the recent election. Once again, Jon Stewart calls it.

“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” – David Suzuki

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeanine Bontrager, Allyson Harper

Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: