Catastrophic weather

Turbulent Times, the key message

Core message from my YouTube talk

Let go – or be dragged – but NEVER GIVE UP

I am letting go of the notion that homo sapiens will inhabit this planet beyond 2030.

I am letting go of the notion that within a few short years, there will still be any comfortable habitat for humans anywhere.

I am letting go of the notion that we will retain even one percent of the species currently in Earth beyond 2050.

But I am not letting go of the notion of resistance, for that is what makes me human.


Feel GOOD to be alive – always, every day

Don’t consume ANYTHING you don’t need

We are the most creative creatures on the planet



Talk about food – Empty Promise

Could scientists have got the impacts of climate change on food supply wildly wrong?
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th October 2012

I believe we might have made a mistake: a mistake whose consequences, if I am right, would be hard to overstate. I think the forecasts for world food production could be entirely wrong.

Food prices are rising again, partly because of the damage done to crops in the northern hemisphere by ferocious weather. In the US, Russia and Ukraine, grain crops were clobbered by remarkable droughts. In parts of northern Europe, such as the UK, they were were pummelled by endless rain.

Even so, this is not, as a report in the Guardian claimed last week, “one of the worst global harvests in years”(1). It’s one of the best. World grain production last year was the highest on record; this year’s crop is just 2.6% smaller(2). The problem is that, thanks to the combination of a rising population and the immoral diversion of so much grain into animal feed and biofuels(3), a new record must be set every year. Though 2012’s is the third biggest global harvest in history (after 2011 and 2008)(4), this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume some 28 million tonnes more grain than farmers produced(5). If 2013’s harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble.

So the question of how climate change might alter food production could not be more significant. It is also extremely hard to resolve, and relies on such daunting instruments as “multinomial endogenous switching regression models”(6). The problem is that there are so many factors involved. Will extra rainfall be cancelled out by extra evaporation? Will the fertilising effect of carbon dioxide be more powerful than the heat damage it causes? To what extent will farmers be able to adapt? Will new varieties of crops keep up with the changing weather?

But, to put it very broadly, the consensus is that climate change will hurt farmers in the tropics and help farmers in temperate countries. A famous paper published in 2005 concluded that if we follow the most extreme trajectory for greenhouse gas production (the one we happen to be on at the moment), global warming would raise harvests in the rich nations by 3% by the 2080s, and reduce them in the poor nations by 7%(7). This gives an overall reduction in the world’s food supply (by comparison to what would have happened without manmade climate change) of 5%.

Papers published since then support this conclusion: they foresee hard times for farmers in Africa and South Asia(8,9,10), but a bonanza for farmers in the colder parts of the world(11,12,13), whose yields will rise just as developing countries become less able to feed themselves. Climate change is likely to be devastating for many of the world’s poor. If farmers in developing countries can’t compete, both their income and their food security will decline, and the number of permanently malnourished people could rise. The nations in which they live, much of whose growth was supposed to have come from food production, will have to import more of their food from abroad. But in terms of gross commodity flows the models do not predict an insuperable problem.

So here’s where the issue arises. The models used by most of these papers forecast the effects of changes in averaged conditions. They take no account of extreme weather events(14,15). Fair enough: they’re complicated enough already. But what if changes in the size of the global harvest are determined less by average conditions than by the extremes?

This is what happened in 2012. This is what seems likely to happen in subsequent years. Here’s why. A paper this year by the world’s leading climate scientist James Hansen shows that the frequency of extremely hot events (such as the droughts which hammered the US and Russia) has risen by a factor of around 50 by comparison to the decades before 1980(16). Forty years ago, extreme summer heat typically affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the globe. Today it scorches some 10%. “We can project with a high degree of confidence,” the paper warns, “that the area covered by extremely hot anomalies will continue to increase during the next few decades and even greater extremes will occur.” Yet these extremes do not feature in the standard models predicting changes in crop production.

If the mechanism proposed by another paper is correct, it is not just extremes of heat that are likely to rise(17). I’ve explained this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. The jet stream is a current of air travelling eastwards around the upper northern hemisphere. It separates the cold wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Wobbling along this ribbon are huge meanders called Rossby waves. As the Arctic heats up, the meanders slow down and become steeper. The weather gets stuck.

Stuck weather is another way of saying extreme weather. If the jet stream is jammed to the north of where you are, the weather stays hot and dry, and the temperature builds up – and up. If it’s lodged to the south of you, the rain keeps falling, the ground becomes saturated and the rivers burst their banks. This summer the UK and the US seem to have found themselves on opposite sides of stuck meanders, and harvests in both countries were savaged by opposing extremes of weather.

This is where we stand with just 0.8 degrees of global warming and a 30% loss of summer sea ice. Picture a world with 2, 4 or 6 degrees of warming and a pole without ice, and you get some idea of what could be coming.

Farmers in the rich nations can adapt to a change in averaged conditions. It is hard to see how they can adapt to extreme events, especially if those events are different every year. Last winter, for example, I spent days drought-proofing my apple trees, as the previous spring had been so dry that – a few weeks after pollination – most of the fruit shrivelled up and died. This spring was so wet that the pollinators scarcely emerged at all: it was the unfertilised blossom that withered and died. I thanked my stars that I don’t make my living this way.

Perhaps there is no normal any more. Perhaps the smooth average warming trends the climate models predict – simultaneously terrifying and oddly reassuring – mask wild extremes for which no farmer can plan and to which no farmer can respond. Where does that leave a world which must either keep raising production or starve?

7. Martin Parry, Cynthia Rosenzweig and Matthew Livermore, 2005. Climate change, global food supply and risk of hunger. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – B, vol 360, pp 2125–2138. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1751
8. Eg Jerry Knox, Tim Hess, Andre Daccache and Tim Wheeler, 2012. Climate change impacts on crop productivity in Africa and South Asia. Environmental Research Letters 7. 034032. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034032
9. Christoph Müller et al, 2012. Climate change risks for African agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
10. P. Krishnan et al, 2011. High temperature effects on rice growth, yield, and grain quality. Advances in Agronomy. Vol 111, pp87-205.
11. Jan Beck, 2012. Predicting climate change effects on agriculture from ecological niche modeling: who profits, who loses? Climatic Change – published online.
12. Tom Osborne, Gillian Rose and Tim Wheeler, 2012 (in press). Variation in the global-scale impacts of climate change on crop productivity due to climate model uncertainty and adaptation. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology.
13. Kyungsuk Cho et al, 2012. Winter wheat yields in the UK: uncertainties in
climate and management impacts. Climate Research. Vol. 54, pp49–68.
doi: 10.3354/cr01085
14. Eg Martin Parry, Cynthia Rosenzweig and Matthew Livermore, 2005 (as above) write: “The crop growth models embody a number of simplifications. For example, weeds, diseases and insect pests are assumed to be controlled, there are no problem soil conditions (e.g. high salinity or acidity) and there are no extreme weather events such as heavy storms.”
15. and Kyungsuk Cho et al, 2012 (as above) state: “We do not include effects caused
by negative soil conditions such as salinity, acidity and compaction, extreme weather events or pests and diseases, all of which are likely to be directly or indirectly affected by climate change and resulting changes in management practices.”
16. James Hansen, Makiko Satoa, Reto Ruedy, 2012. Perception of climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online.
17. Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus, 2012. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 39, L06801, doi:10.1029/2012GL051000.

We have breached the first tipping point.

 Two critical tipping points have been breached. This is the critical moment in an evolving system when feedback becomes strong enough to continue on its own without any further input. The tipping point is that moment when a gradual increase becomes unstoppable because the feedback maintains its own momentum. There is nowhere to go under these circumstances, and nothing can be done to prevent it continuing. It is the point when an everyday infection turns epidemic.

We have now breached the edge from two events. One is a remarkable collapse of summer sea ice in the Arctic with enormous consequences, especially on the Gulfstream, which is driven by the flood of cold water that emerges from under the Arctic ice. Now that summers are going to be more and more ice-free the permanent disruption of the Gulfstream becomes more likely. With it will come, inevitably, a change in temperatures and weather in North America and Europe. It may herald an ice age, but it is more likely, according to current thinking, to create even more dangerous weather patterns than we have experienced hitherto.

The other event is the extraordinary growth of methane being exhausted into the air, especially in Siberia that has gained more heat than anywhere else. Some is from clathrates under the ocean floor, and some from the melting of the permafrost. These emissions are now many many times greater than science had expected, and it is feared that they have reached a point where they are feeding back on themselves and are becoming unstoppable.

Together they have brought us to the first tipping point, as this will set off more.

As methane is some 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the planet, further heat is now expected to proceed at an extremely fast rate. It is likely that from here on the consequences of what we have been doing will impact on our lives more severely every year. Larger hurricanes, catastrophic fires, burning temperatures, endless droughts and fierce storm surges are to be the norm.

Together, the feedback loops now in place in the Arctic and in Siberia will inexorably build on themselves. The time when we could have curtailed this disaster has passed. Hanging on to a 2oC limit was a mistake. Thinking of limits when feedback cuts in is ridiculous. Some will continue to argue that we can still do something. Politically, socially, and militarily this is highly unlikely.

If we had listened to the science ten years ago we may not now be in this fix. In 2006 on the PlanetExtinction website my banner said “we have eight years to stop …”, only eight years to end the use of fossil fuels and reverse the trend. It seems that I was over optimistic. We had six.

We are not going to stop the juggernaut of greed that is determined to destroy this beautiful earth, all for the sake of profit, so what can we do under the circumstances? The end-game will be played out in its own time, and will be dealt us by Gaia. But we, the ordinary people, need to protect our lives and our children and what we can of our heritage. There are many schemes and proposals such as Transition Towns, and of these we may take our pick.

Essentially we need ways to increase our personal and social resilience while coming into communities that are dedicated to preserving what matters most. It means training ourselves from today onwards in the ancient trades of farming and clothing, of healing and shelter.

At the same time we need to consider the moral issues, for they will determine how we will react in stress. We need to discuss our options in advance of the coming catastrophe. For example, a sea rise of some metres in Australia would create more than a million refugees. In shock, destitute, desperate for food and lodging, how would any community that has set out to preserve itself handle such an influx? Governments would be compelled to maintain order with reflexes that are likely to be draconian, and political bullies would take advantage of the panic for their own ends.

How does a Morality of Survival deal with this and many similar situations? If not publicly aired, and quickly, our ability to respond is likely to be overwhelmed by events.

Ideally, governments should take the lead, and provide nurture and guidance where it is needed. Frankly, I think this is highly unlikely. It therefore comes down to us, as individuals and as communities, to find our way through the mess that is coming.

We cannot hide our heads and pretend there is still time left to change this world into a better place. From here on we will be more and more at the mercy of the grim forces we have unleashed.

If we continue to direct our efforts towards modifying the rush to insanity, we will have wasted our time and will be thrashed by the outcome. It is now time to become Survivors.

Droughts bring revolution and war

Climate Change And The Syrian Uprising (By Shahrzad Mohtadi}

A drought unparalleled in recent Syrian history lasted from 2006 to 2010 and led to an unprecedented mass migration of 1.5 million people from farms to urban centers.

Because the Assad regime’s economic policies had largely ignored water issues and sustainable agriculture, the drought destroyed many farming communities and placed great strain on urban populations.

Although not the leading cause of the Syrian rebellion, the drought-induced migration from farm to city clearly contributed to the uprising and serves as a warning of the potential impact of climate change on political stability.

For whole article click here.


World in Serious Trouble on Food Front

In the early spring of 2012, U.S. farmers were on their way to planting some 96 million acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.

The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world’s feedgrain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the U.S. grain harvest. Internationally, the U.S. corn crop exceeds China’s rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains ˆ corn, wheat, and rice ˆ corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.

For the whole of this important article, click here

Extreme weather isn’t that extreme any more

May was the second warmest ever recorded worldwide and the warmest on record for the northern hemisphere. The link between a warming atmosphere and individual climatic events is unclear but no one should doubt the physical turmoil. In the last few weeks we have seen the Arctic sea ice melting at a record pace, the Amazon reaching its highest level on record, massive forest fires in Siberia and the Russian east, temperatures climbing to a barely imaginable 48C in northern India, and an abnormally strong monsoon which has so far left many hundreds dead and nearly 7 million people homeless from floods in Assam and southern Bangladesh.

Interesting, an an important summary

This is a most dangerous period. We still have a very good chance of avoiding the worst of climate change but the collective will to try to do anything appears to be weakening and confidence in politicians is at rock bottom. Unless the climate of opinion changes, the present economic storms may seem as nothing.

Ozone Hole link to climate change south of equator

The ozone hole is now widely believed to have been the dominant agent of atmospheric circulation changes in the Southern Hemisphere in the last half century. The ozone hole, which is located over the South Pole, has affected the entire circulation of the Southern Hemisphere all the way to the equator. It has large and far-reaching impacts. The ozone hole is a big player in the climate system!” “It’s really amazing that the ozone hole, located so high up in the atmosphere over Antarctica, can have an impact all the way to the tropics and affect rainfall there — it’s just like a domino effect,”

For whole article read this.

Coal and the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef

Australia is on the verge of an unprecedented coal boom. The epicentre of this expansion is the yet to be developed Galilee Basin in Central Queensland. Galilee is the proposed site for a series of mega mines that will cause Australia’s coal exports to more than double within a decade. The creation of mega mines in Central Queensland, the accompanying export infrastructure and increases in shipping traffic, as well as the burning of the coal they produce, place an incredible burden on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Full report Boom_goes_the_Reef_Report

Rising Sea Level Threat to Coastal US

About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.

full article click here.

Climate change to shake the earth

A changing climate isn’t just about floods, droughts and heatwaves. It brings erupting volcanoes and catastrophic earthquakes – Bill McGuire.

The idea that a changing climate can persuade the ground to shake, volcanoes to rumble and tsunamis to crash on to unsuspecting coastlines seems, at first, to be bordering on the insane. How can what happens in the thin envelope of gas that shrouds and protects our world possibly influence the potentially earth-shattering processes that operate deep beneath the surface? The fact that it does reflects a failure of our imagination and a limited understanding of the manner in which the different physical components of our planet – the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth, or geosphere – intertwine and interact.

If we think about climate change at all, most of us do so in a very simplistic way: so, the weather might get a bit warmer; floods and droughts may become more of a problem and sea levels will slowly creep upwards. Evidence reveals, however, that our planet is an almost unimaginably complicated beast, which reacts to a dramatically changing climate in all manner of different ways; a few – like the aforementioned – straightforward and predictable; some surprising and others downright implausible. Into the latter category fall the manifold responses of the geosphere.

Read more: