IBI Watch 6/9/13

9 06 2013

Weather Meets Climate //

When does today’s weather become our climate? This question drives the climate change debate. Everyone agrees that the sum total of each day’s weather, over the long haul, adds up to the climate. But with our greenhouse gases rapidly changing the atmosphere and climate system, making the climate/weather connection is a key challenge for scientists from both the meteorology and climatology camps.

It is way past time to retire that dull old TV weather talking head’s saw, “It’s not possible to tie any specific weather event to climate change.”  How can I say that? That is, what other reasons are there than the fact that I have been waving my arms around on this issue since the late 1980s? The answer in a moment.

First, here is a roundup of the absolutely crazy weather plaguing the world in just the last week or so, along with some new climate-related findings. Ho-hum, seen-it-all- before stuff like record rain and flooding in Germany and neighboring countries. An early-season tropical storm setting flood records on the East coast. Maybe your taste tends toward extraordinary western wild fires (and don’t forget the record-low Sierra snowpack). Or how about the biggest, fattest, fastest tornado on record? A naysayer might point out that the Oklahoma mauler was only the second-fastest recorded, making it not unprecedented, but that just contributes to my argument. Which is – arguing that each of these phenomena, looked at individually, might represent only something approaching or slightly exceeding some isolated historical precedent, is a colossal and costly failure of big-picture thinking. That is because any historical precedent for a modern drought, a flood, a torrential downpour, did not happen in world anything like today’s dramatically warming orb. When each historical “precedent” occurred, alpine glaciers were not turning to water, the jet stream had not slowed by 14%, the trade winds over paradise were blowing as ever, and maybe most important of all, the Arctic ice cap was not in a death spiral of melt.

The world needs many more scientists like Stu Ostro and Jennifer Francis, and science journalists like Chris Mooney to help them tell their story. The two scientists come from different worlds, but, like 97% of climate scientists and (sadly) about 50 percent of TV meteorologists, have concluded that as Pogo said, we have seen the enemy and it is us. That is, human altering of the atmosphere is the root cause of the overall one degree Celsius of warming observed so far, and rapidly accelerating changes in climate patterns – which we see daily and weekly as perturbations of weather.

Ostro is a media meteorologist and self-described reformed climate change skeptic who is now travelling the country sharing research results that demonstrate key connections between our “thickening” of the atmospheric blanket with greenhouse gases, and resultant greatly increased frequency of blocking highs and cutoff lows. These result in a slowing of west-to-east progress of weather systems, and bring daylong floods, months of drought, tornadoes battering the same area for several days in succession, and other examples of meteorological mayhem. Ostro is also a witty fellow and good storyteller, as you will find if you stay with me and follow a link I will share shortly.

Jennifer Francis is a research professor in marine and coastal science, who has been approaching the climate change issue from a different angle. Her research centers on polar melting and the consequent changes in the jet stream. In her words, we have created “a real pickle.” Can’t argue with that.

The two scientists met recently in a seminar facilitated by journalist Chris Mooney (author of Unscientific America). The presentations by Ostro and Francis offer some of the most powerful evidence yet that our ever-weirder weather can be traced right to our carbon-spewing smokestacks, tailpipes and farm gas. If you are not already convinced that we need to take this problem on, their highly illustrated and fascinating talks can help spring you to action. Here is the link, with big kudos to Chris Mooney.

And oh yes, if you agree that it is time to act, see this guy.


Pre-Rich Fall Further Behind

I have heard it said in some extreme laissez-faire circles that the real divide is not between the rich and the poor, but the rich and the “pre-rich.” If we would just remove all the controls, all the impediments, all the “distortions,” barriers to wealth for all would vanish. Deregulation has been a work in progress, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, since the 1970s. Let’s see how that is working out. Sorry, Mr. and Ms. “Pre-Rich,” just as Joseph Heller’s Yossarian must always fly more missions, you have to wait a little longer for that million. Maybe a fourth job?


Bees Chemically Imperiled

One of the greatest environmental crises right now is Colony Collapse Disorder. Just as climate change has a wealth of evidence pointing to the cause – manmade greenhouse gases – bee decline has a similar body of clues pointing to nicotinoid pesticides. But just as climate change has a powerful lobby blowing smoke and generating a critical mass of public doubt, so does bee decline. Learn more here. See some innovative hive designs, and meet some people trying to reverse the catastrophic decline. This documentary, cited in the longer piece, looks promising. Watch the trailer here. Also – I wrote a lead story on this issue in last week’s post – see Happy Talk or Sustainability?


COD (Crap on Delivery)

I wish my adopted home town would adopt this ordinance.


“Mark Twain had it backwards. Nowadays, everybody is doing something about the weather, but nobody is talking about it.”

― Stephen Schneider


Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN



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