November 24, 2009

+6°C

Filed under: Climate change — Erin @ 12:11 am

Forget the brouhaha about the ideologically motivated hackers who combed through megabytes of e-mails in order to find some indicating that, horrors, scientists are humans too and some of them will jazz up their data to make a point. It means nothing in terms of the credibility of anthropogenic climate change. All that the climate deniers have proven is that their “position” is utterly bankrupt. In the language of the Internet, the hacking stunt was a fail. Hoping to find proof of a grand conspiracy to falsify data in favor of global climate change, their hackers simply uncovered a few e-mails in which a few scientists spoke about manipulating the presentation of the data that they had found. No secret coverups, no collective lying about what is contained in the data, no forged results, just a mere matter of data presentation. The data themselves are what’s really the issue. Considering how lackadaisical that the politicians of the world have been on this subject, and considering what their stalling seems to have done, I can’t say I’m against jazzing up the data to scare people.

A scientific study group led by British scientists has run the climate models again, and the group has found that we are on target for a global rise in temperature of 6°C by the year 2100. This is the worst-case scenario of the 2007 United Nations report on climate change, which even then was widely seen as being far too conservative. The odds are very strong that I wouldn’t live to see it, since I’d be 117 if I did, but the children and definitely grandchildren of my generation would see it.

This is not quite a repeat of the carbon- and methane-caused temperature spike that caused the massive Permian extinction and resulted in the loss of 95% of all species on Earth. It’s not quite the catastrophic mass extinction scenario of the Pixar movie WALL-E. (Yes, the real environmental damage portrayed in that film was caused by global warming, not just garbage.) But it’s close, and it isn’t an isolated result. For several years now, scientific studies of climate have been finding that the observed conditions are on the upper end of the range of predicted results for that period of time, or even exceed all estimates outright. Those people who have paid attention to global warming news probably saw this British result coming.

Life on Earth at +6°C would not be a pleasant affair, even if the description of it in The Independent is a bit sensationalized. The Gulf Stream Current of the Atlantic would have shut down, plunging Europe into coldness (and probably also much of the Atlantic coast) and cutting off the outward flow of hot water from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Without a source of outflow for this tropical heat, hurricanes like Katrina could be brewed up in the Gulf every month in every hurricane season, theoretically. Tropical diseases and invasive species would have an easier time of spreading past their appropriate ranges. The Arctic ice would long ago have melted—indeed, the summer ice is very close to disappearing now, and mainstream scientific consensus is that it is too late to prevent this particular loss—and the resulting changes in air masses would have a profound impact on Northern Hemisphere climates. At 6°C, the Antarctic Ice Shelf likely would have melted as well, along with Greenland, resulting in the submerging of areas like the Florida peninsula and the marshes of Louisiana.

But even so, what the West will face in this brave new nightmare world is mild in comparison with what is coming Africa and Asia’s way. Africa, already suffering from critical food and disease problems, would see both exacerbated. The melting of glaciers and the sea-level-driven flooding would be climatic bombs dropped on east Asia. Imagine a scenario in which the ice of the Himalaya mountains—a source of fresh water for India, China, and Pakistan—melted away. Then add to that the seawater flooding of the Ganges, Yangtze, and other river basins in Asia that have port cities housing millions of people. Those people have to go somewhere, but resources would already be strained because of the decrease in usable fresh water. China, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear powers. (It suddenly makes “Global Zero,” a full nuclear disarmament movement, sound not at all hippie-idealistic, but critical.) Even the Bush-era Pentagon produced a report about the geopolitical effects of catastrophic global climate change, and its conclusions were chilling. It predicted a global resource war.

What scientist in his or her right mind would want to fabricate data to support such a horrific situation? The only people who enjoy dreaming of things like this are people like the scriptwriters for 2012. People who actually do deal in fantasy. Of course the stupid hackers did not find anything real. It is indicative of the level of media discourse in America that, to the extent that either news story is being discussed at all, their failed stunt garnered more attention than the scientific study of the Global Carbon Project. But the Global Carbon Project’s results are far more important.

I’ve said it before and I will reiterate it in the face of this ugly report. I do not believe that energy efficiency and conservation will be enough to forestall this. I am absolutely in favor of moving in that direction, if for no other reason than because it is cheaper in the long run and it is not advisable to power a world economy on fuels that will someday run out. However, I am utterly convinced that we will need to develop geoengineering techniques that can remove the greenhouse gases that we have already put into the atmosphere. Technology created this problem, yes, but it is a fallacy to extrapolate from this that technology must be avoided in finding a solution. In fact, I think that the judicious use of technology to clean up the atmosphere is the real solution.

February 11, 2009

Thoughts on Mobile Homes: A Problem with No Solution?

Filed under: Severe — Erin @ 6:16 pm

Yesterday and today an early-season severe weather outbreak occurred in the Central and Eastern U.S. The outbreak produced comparatively few tornadoes, but under the right conditions, it takes only one to do catastrophic damage—and that is exactly what happened when an EF4 struck the community of Lone Grove, Oklahoma.

EF4 and EF5 tornadoes are classified as “violent,” and they are known for flattening “fixed” buildings. The main difference is that EF4s blow houses down and EF5s blow them away. Obviously, in these tornadoes, survival above ground in ordinary buildings is not something that can be counted on. (Sometimes, in fact, survival in basements is not guaranteed, such as in the Parkersburg, IA EF5 tornado that struck in May of 2008. It ripped houses from their foundations and filled the exposed basements with debris.) But a mobile home is absolutely the worst place that one could be. It’s not any better than being in the open outdoors in EF3 and higher events. And, indeed, most of the fatalities associated with yesterday’s tornado occurred in a trailer park.

This is really no surprise. These structures are death traps in severe weather. Last year, 56 of 123 tornado-related deaths occurred in mobile homes. (Read more…)

February 16, 2007

Global Warming Would Drown the Coastal Hurricane Defenses

Filed under: Climate change — Erin @ 6:24 pm

The barrier islands of the Gulf Coast are an important defense against hurricanes. Mostly uninhabited, they are the first landforms that a Gulf Coast hurricane strikes. While they do not weaken the hurricanes (they aren’t large enough), the islands take the brunt of the hurricane’s storm surge, diffusing it somewhat before the eye makes landfall on the mainland. They are also an important defense against tsunami, a real (if little-known) threat. Significant seismic activity has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico fairly recently.

Global warming is predicted to melt part of Greenland and/or West Antarctica, raising sea levels worldwide up to 20 feet (more if all of Greenland and some of West Antarctica melted). This would have horrific consequences on coastal cities around the globe, of course. This blog, however, will focus on one specific area — the United States Gulf Coast. (Ha, doesn’t it always?)

If global warming raised sea levels as predicted, most of low-lying Louisiana — as well as the critical barrier islands — would be underwater. The low-lying swampland of Louisiana, which has been receding for years now, is another natural barrier for the coast, as well as an environmental treasure. It too would be covered in water.

The coastline would lose its natural defenses against hurricanes.

And, as research is indicating, global warming would also intensify the hurricanes themselves.
The EPA produced a series of pictures showing the coastal areas that are most at risk from global warming-induced inundation. Red indicates areas that are less than 1.5 meters above sea level. The images can be clicked on to show a larger view.

Here is an image of Louisiana and Texas:

And here’s one of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida:

It’s hard to see on these maps, but the barrier islands are the thin trail of red south of the main coastline. They would be underwater.

More disturbingly, from the National Environmental Trust, here is a QuickTime movie of how Biloxi, MS (and its barrier island) would be affected by a rise in sea level. (WARNING for dial-up users: 3 MB file!) I’ve linked to the movie from this graphic I’ve made showing how the coastline would be inundated.

The barrier island protecting the city would no longer exist. Sure, the projection of the land would still exist underwater, and would serve to slightly lessen the impact of a storm surge, but it isn’t at all the same as having a true island above the sea. A dry, projecting landmass stops the flow of water, at least temporarily, and breaks the waves. A former island that has gone underwater obviously doesn’t keep the water from flowing.

Also, as you can clearly see, the city itself would be partially underwater. This includes the glitzy new development that is taking place on this part of the coast in response to Hurricane Katrina — very shortsightedly, I ought to add. Whether this is because of the government of Haley Barbour, who is very likely a global warming skeptic, or because the businesses are aware of the risk but decided to hedge their bets, I do not know.

The Katrina recovery and rebuilding process is not taking global warming into account at all. When the next really bad hurricane strikes, its impact could be compounded by the effects of global warming. The coast will be farther inland due to rising waters, there will be fewer natural barriers, and the hurricane itself is likely to be stronger and wetter than it would be without global warming. And, as unfortunate as it is for me to say this, at this point it’s not enough to simply drive less, replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent, cross our fingers, and hope that we’ve stopped the problem.

I absolutely support cutting carbon emissions. If we don’t, the consequences will be even more horrendous than the scientists are daring to predict right now. But we’ve reached a point where it would be nothing short of grossly irresponsible to fail to look into preparation for the potentially disastrous changes that we have brought upon ourselves.

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