A dog that was stranded near a frozen waterfall in Utah on Christmas Eve was saved by search and rescue officials and reunited with her owner.
According to the Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, a local man was hiking near Waterfall Canyon on Saturday when he became separated from his dog Nala.
The unidentified hiker couldn’t find Nala by nightfall and resumed his search the morning of Christmas Day, the sheriff’s office wrote on its Facebook page.
The hiker’s family members contacted authorities around 1:00 p.m., local time, saying he wasn’t responding to their calls or text messages, officials said.
Nala’s owner answered one of the phone calls once he regained cellphone service and was able to let people know that Nala was around the waterfall, but couldn’t reach her because of the steepness and the icy condition of the terrain, according to Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue.
A grab from video posted by Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue shows the dog Nala at Waterfall Canyon in Ogden, Utah, Dec. 25, 2022.
Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue
The search and rescue team responded to the call and were able to save a skittish Nala after a little coaxing, officials said.
“Nala was cold with a few minor injuries, but was able to hike down with the rescuers,” officials wrote. “She is one tough puppy! Once reaching the trailhead parking lot, both human and canine couldn’t have been happier to be reunited.”
According to Waterfall Canyon it is a “moderately challenging,” 2.4-mile trail near Ogden, Utah, according to AllTrails. Ogden is around 38 miles north of Salt Lake City.
I’m sure you read that the human and the dog were very grateful to be reunited.
From the 21st November until the 23rd Sunshine Solar installed a solar panel system. But we were then told to wait until Pacific Power had come to the house to put in a new electricity meter. Last Thursday, 1st December, Brent from Pacific Power called by and replaced our electricity meter. He replaced it with a bi-directional meter that when we were producing more power than we are consuming then the surplus would be ‘banked’ to be used at times when we required the surplus.
This was the result of us investing in a ground-mounted solar system.
We purchased the system from Solar Sunshine after doing a great deal of research. Indeed Brent said that they were a great company.
The other thing that we had no choice over was to install a ground-mounted system some 120 feet from the house. Because neither the house nor the roof face East and therefore are no use for solar. But as Brent pointed out last Thursday the ground-mounted system, despite being more expensive, was a good alternative to the roof system because new roof tiles were irrelevant.
The system consists of 30 individual panels capable of producing a maximum output of 65 amps at 240 volts; in other words 15,600 watts!
Yesterday, Cory and Brandon (sp?) came out to the system and checked that it was alright. Plus they gave us an digital application so we could see how much power we were generating, plus more, and they also took some photographs, that I offer you now.
This last photograph was one taken by yours truly with Cory on the left and Brandon on the right with Jeannie in the middle.
Finally, the ‘app’ is going to be very useful.
Already it shows that last Saturday the array produced 29 kilowatts and then yesterday, the 4th December, the array produced 22.9 kilowatts and these were by no means sunlit days all the time. That brings the total for all 5 days in December, in other words since the system went live, to 91.1 kilowatts as of 15:27 PT on the 5th.
We are most pleased with the company and the installation.
Herman Daly had a flair for stating the obvious. When an economy creates more costs than benefits, he called it “uneconomic growth.” But you won’t find that conclusion in economics textbooks. Even suggesting that economic growth could cost more than it’s worth can be seen as economic heresy.
The renegade economist, known as the father of ecological economics and a leading architect of sustainable development, died on Oct. 28, 2022, at the age of 84. He spent his career questioning an economics disconnected from an environmental footing and moral compass.
In an age of climate chaos and economic crisis, his ideas that inspired a movement to live within our means are increasingly essential.
The seeds of an ecological economist
Herman Daly grew up in Beaumont, Texas, ground zero of the early 20th century oil boom. He witnessed the unprecedented growth and prosperity of the “gusher age” set against the poverty and deprivation that lingered after the Great Depression.
To Daly, as many young men then and since believed, economic growth was the solution to the world’s problems, especially in developing countries. To study economics in college and export the northern model to the global south was seen as a righteous path.
But Daly was a voracious reader, a side effect of having polio as a boy and missing out on the Texas football craze. Outside the confines of assigned textbooks, he found a history of economic thought steeped in rich philosophical debates on the function and purpose of the economy.
Unlike the precision of a market equilibrium sketched on the classroom blackboard, the real-world economy was messy and political, designed by those in power to choose winners and losers. He believed that economists should at least ask: Growth for whom, for what purpose and for how long?
Daly’s biggest realization came through reading marine biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” and seeing her call to “come to terms with nature … to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves.” By then, he was working on a Ph.D. in Latin American development at Vanderbilt University and was already quite skeptical of the hyperindividualism baked into economic models. In Carson’s writing, the conflict between a growing economy and a fragile environment was blindingly clear.
After a fateful class with Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Daly’s conversion was complete. Georgescu-Roegen, a Romanian-born economist, dismissed the free market fairy tale of a pendulum swinging back and forth, effortlessly seeking a natural state of equilibrium. He argued that the economy was more like an hourglass, a one-way process converting valuable resources into useless waste.
Daly became convinced that economics should no longer prioritize the efficiency of this one-way process but instead focus on the “optimal” scale of an economy that the Earth can sustain. Just shy of his 30th birthday in 1968, while working as a visiting professor in the poverty-stricken Ceará region of northeastern Brazil, Daly published “On Economics as a Life Science.”
His sketches and tables of the economy as a metabolic process, entirely dependent on the biosphere as source for sustenance and sink for waste, were the road map for a revolution in economics.
Economics of a full world
Daly spent the rest of his career drawing boxes in circles. In what he called the “pre-analytical vision,” the economy – the box – was viewed as the “wholly owned subsidiary” of the environment, the circle.
When the economy is small relative to the containing environment, a focus on the efficiency of a growing system has merit. But Daly argued that in a “full world,” with an economy that outgrows its sustaining environment, the system is in danger of collapse.
While a professor at Louisiana State University in the 1970s, at the height of the U.S. environmental movement, Daly brought the box-in-circle framing to its logical conclusion in “Steady-State Economics.” Daly reasoned that growth and exploitation are prioritized in the competitive, pioneer stage of a young ecosystem. But with age comes a new focus on durability and cooperation. His steady-state model shifted the goal away from blind expansion of the economy and toward purposeful improvement of the human condition.
The international development community took notice. Following the United Nations’ 1987 publication of “Our Common Future,” which framed the goals of a “sustainable” development, Daly saw a window for development policy reform. He left the safety of tenure at LSU to join a rogue group of environmental scientists at the World Bank.
For the better part of six years, they worked to upend the reigning economic logic that treated “the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” He often butted heads with senior leadership, most famously with Larry Summers, the bank’s chief economist at the time, who publicly waved off Daly’s question of whether the size of a growing economy relative to a fixed ecosystem was of any importance. The future U.S. treasury secretary’s reply was short and dismissive: “That’s not the right way to look at it.”
I knew Herman Daly for two decades as a co-author, mentor and teacher. He always made time for me and my students, most recently writing the foreword to my upcoming book, “The Progress Illusion: Reclaiming Our Future from the Fairytale of Economics.” I will be forever grateful for his inspiration and courage to, as he put it, “ask the naive, honest questions” and then not be “satisfied until I get the answers.”
A rather gloomy analysis about the next few years!
One makes decisions all one’s life. But too few of us are making decisions that will prevent our planet from over-heating.
Patrice Ayme wrote a comment in a recent post that said (in part): “However we are tracking to a much higher temperature: + 7 (seven) Celsius in some now temperate parts… imminently. That is going to be catastrophic.”
There is a terrible change going on right now. From the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest to the unseasonable heat in Europe, as reported in the Guardian newspaper: “The result of this advection has been anomalously warm temperatures across large parts of Europe – in particular across France and Spain, where temperatures soared to over 10C above normal. Maximum temperatures widely exceeded 30C in parts of Spain on Thursday, with 35.2C measured at Morón de la Frontera, south-east of Seville.“
One would think that our governments would be pulling together in order to have a co-ordinated global plan. But there’s no sight of that yet. What we do have is a sort of craziness of Governments that causes me to lament over our, as in a global ‘our’, distractions. We are running out of time!
To this end I am republishing in full the latest George Monbiot essay. I hasten to add with Mr Monbiot’s permission.
The Oligarch’s Oligarch
Published 30th October 2022.
Just as we need to get the money out of politics, we have been gifted a Prime Minister who represents the ultra-rich.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 26th October 2022
Before we decide what needs to change, let’s take stock of what we have lost. I want to begin with what happened last week. I don’t mean the resignation of the prime minister. This is more important.
Almost all the media reported a scripted comment by the newly reinstated home secretary, Suella Braverman, about the “Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati”. Astonishingly, scarcely any of them reported what she was doing at the time. She was pushing through the House of Commons the most repressive legislation of the modern era.
Under the public order bill, anyone who has protested in the previous five years, or has encouraged other people to protest, can be forced to “submit to … being fitted with, or the installation of, any necessary apparatus” to monitor their movements. In other words, if you attend or support any protest in which “serious disruption to two or more individuals or to an organisation” occurs, you can be forced to wear an electronic tag. “Serious disruption” was redefined by the 2022 Police Act to include noise.
This is just one of a series of astounding measures in the bill, which has been hardly remarked upon in public life as it passes through Britain’s legislature. What we see here is two losses in one moment: the final erasure of the right to protest, and political journalism’s mutation from reporting substance to reporting spectacle. These are just the latest of our losses.
So extreme has inequality become, and so dangerous is the combination of frozen wages, lagging benefits, rising rents and mortgage repayments, soaring bills and food inflation, that millions of people are being pushed towards destitution. Unless something changes, many will soon lose their homes. In the midst of this crisis, we have been gifted a prime minister who owns four luxury “homes”. One of them is an empty flat in Kensington that he reserves for visiting relatives.
While Rishi Sunak was chancellor, the government repeatedly delayed its manifesto promise to ban no-fault evictions. Landlords are ruthlessly exploiting this power to throw their tenants on to the street or use the threat to force them to accept outrageous rent rises and dismal conditions. Had Sunak’s “help to buy” mortgage scheme succeeded (it was a dismal flop), it would have raised house prices, increasing rents and making ownership less accessible: the opposite of its stated aim. But this, as with all such schemes, was surely its true purpose: to inflate the assets of existing owners, the Conservative party’s base.
Public services are collapsing at breathtaking speed. Headteachers warn that 90% of schools in England could run out of money next year. NHS dentistry is on the verge of extinction. Untold numbers are now living in constant pain and, in some cases, extracting their own teeth. The suspicion that the NHS is being deliberately dismembered, its core services allowed to fail so that we cease to defend it against privatisation, rises ever higher in the mind.
But Sunak appears determined only to hack ever further. Sitting on a family fortune of £730m, he seems unmoved by the plight of people so far removed from him in wealth that they must seem to exist on another planet. He is the oligarch’s oligarch, ever responsive to the demands of big capitaland the three offshore plutocrats who own the country’s biggest newspapers, oblivious of the needs of the 67 million people who live here.
After 12 years of Conservative austerity and chaos, the very rich have taken almost everything. They have even captured virtue. They now appropriate the outward signs of an ethical life while continuing – despite or because of their organic cotton jackets and second homes, their electric cars and pasture-fed meat, their carbon offsets and ayahuasca retreats, philanthropy and holidays in quiet resorts whose palm-thatched cabins mimic the vernacular of the people evicted to make way for them – to grasp the lion’s share of everything.
In other words, it’s not just a general election we need, it’s a complete rethink of who we are and where we stand. It’s not just proportional representation we need, but radical devolution to the lowest possible levels at which decisions can be made, accompanied by deliberative, participatory democracy. It’s not just new lobbying laws we require, but a comprehensive programme to get the money out of politics, ending all private political donations, breaking up the billionaire press and demanding full financial transparency for everyone in public life. We should seek not only the repeal of repressive legislation, but – as civil disobedience is the bedrock of democracy – positive rights to protest.
All this now feels far away. Jeremy Corbyn offered some (though by no means all) of these reforms. Keir Starmer offers none. Though Labour MPs voted against the public order bill, his only public comment so far has been to endorse its headline policy: longer sentences for people who glue themselves to roads. But if the Labour party or its future coalition partners can persuade him to agree to just one aspect of this programme, proportional representation, we can start work on the rest, building the political alliances that could transform the life of this nation. Without PR, we’re stuck with a dysfunctional duopoly, in hock to the billionaire press and the millionaires it appoints to govern us. We cannot carry on like this.
So much is really telling but I just want to draw your attention to this sentence: In other words, it’s not just a general election we need, it’s a complete rethink of who we are and where we stand.
It is not just in England and Wales but also in the USA. Indeed, most of the countries in the world.
Here is an excerpt from the latest email from The Economist. It presages the COP27 to be held in Egypt next week.
By burning fossil fuels, humans have altered Earth’s atmosphere, which has consequences for almost everything on the planet. It is reshaping weather systems and coastlines, transforming where crops can be grown, which diseases thrive, and how armies fight . Rising temperatures affect geopolitics, migration, ecosystems and the economy. Over the next century and beyond, climate change—and the responses to it—will remake societies and the world.
And a paragraph later:
This week I wrote about the seven texts I recommend as an introduction to the climate crisis—and explained why each is worth turning to—as a part of our “Economist reads” series. They range from Bill Gates’s assessment of technological solutions to a discussion of international justice by the former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. One book I find myself recommending over and over again is “What We Know About Climate Change” by Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT. At 88 pages, it is a blessedly short, readable primer on the science, history and economics of climate change. The climate crisis touches everything. Understanding it, even a little, is essential for anyone who is engaged with the world and its future. This is a good place to start.
Please follow this advice because it is an excellent place to start.
I wish with all my heart that I am wrong and maybe, just maybe, I am having a ‘down in the dumps’ day. Whatever, my judgement is that we have a few more years at most to find out.
Treehugger was founded by Graham Hill as “a green lifestyle website dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream.” Sustainability is often defined as “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” and doesn’t seem to be much more mainstream now than it was then. Here we are, 18 years later, and key sustainability issues like climate change are not top of mind for most people, and Treehugger is not the world’s biggest website.
One reason might be because of people’s perception of risk. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation is a charity that “helps to protect life and property at sea, on land, and in the air.” It hired Gallup to do a World Risk Poll in 2020, using 2019 data, and just published its latest 2022 poll with 2021 data, after polling 125,911 people in 121 countries, mostly by telephone. One poll was pre-pandemic, and the other during it.1Chief executive Dr. Ruth Boumphrey compares the two:
“Looking at this first report of the 2021 World Risk Poll, what strikes me most about the findings is what hasn’t changed, as much as what has. People globally still worry about perennial threats such as road crashes, crime, and violence more than any other risks, including Covid-19, and this has important implications for how policymakers work with communities to manage emerging public health challenges in the context of their everyday lives.”
Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that North Americans believe that their greatest daily source of risk is from road-related accidents and injuries at 29%, followed by crime and violence at 11%. Australia and New Zealand put road risk at 33%, weirdly followed by cooking and household accidents at 11%.1
At first, I thought this is terrible; we have been writing about road safety for years, and nothing gets fixed, and yet it is North Americans’ biggest worry! And what’s wrong with Australian kitchens? But when you look at the numbers, you realize that this is a result of rich countries not suffering as much from many of the things other countries worry about, such as Latin America with crime and violence at 43%, Africa worrying about not having money, and North Africa worried about disease.1
Covid-19 was considered a major risk in some parts of the world, but “its impact was moderate overall, and day-to-day risks such as road-related injuries, crime and violence, and economic concerns remained top-of-mind for most people.”
This has been the perennial sustainability story; day-to-day issues and worries have higher priority. Climate change gets its own special section of the risk report and it comes to much the same conclusion. The authors start by noting that “the global risk posed by climate change is widely recognised, and warnings about its effects are increasingly dire. A recent joint statement by more than 200 medical journals called the rapidly warming climate the ‘greatest threat to global public health.'”
But then they dig into the data and find that, while 67% of respondents consider climate change a threat, only 41% deem it serious.1 It varies by education:
“The likelihood of people viewing climate change as a very serious threat to their country was much lower among those with primary education or less (32%) than among those with secondary (47%) or post-secondary (50%) education. More than a quarter of people in the lowest education group (28%) said they ‘don’t know,’ compared to 13% among those with secondary education and 7% with at least some post-secondary education.”
Logically, people who had experienced severe weather events were more likely to consider climate change to be a serious threat, although even then, there is a correlation with education. So university grads in Fort Myers are probably pretty convinced that climate change is a problem right now. The conclusion:
“As in 2019, the 2021 World Risk Poll findings demonstrate the powerful influence of education on global perceptions of climate change. The data highlight the challenge of reaching people who may be vulnerable to risk from extreme weather but have low average education levels, such as agricultural communities in low- and middle-income countries and territories… Spreading awareness of how climate change may directly impact people’s lives may be crucial in broadening local efforts to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to the effects of rising temperatures.”
Education has always been a problem because, as climate journalist Amy Westervelt noted after the latest IPCC report, there are powerful forces interested in downplaying the importance of climate change. She wrote, “The report made one thing abundantly clear: the technologies and policies necessary to adequately address climate change exist, and the only real obstacles are politics and fossil fuel interests.” Education would have a lot to do with how susceptible people are to their stories.
In many ways, we have seen this movie before, in the Great Recession of 2008. When people are worrying about whether they can heat or they can eat, or apparently whether they will survive crossing the street, then climate change is something they can worry about later.
This is the reason why we need leaders, as in country leaders, because only these people are sufficiently committed to plan and to legislate for the most important tasks facing that country. In the case of climate change it requires even more co-ordination across all the countries in the world; we do have a way to go before that is achieved.
The promotion for this TED Talk appeared in my ‘in box’ last week and I was curious as to its contents. So I watched the talk on Sunday afternoon and was amazed. This is so much more significant to all of us than the title suggests.
First watch the talk.
Then some background to Jane, who is a ecosystem scientist:
Dr. Tamara Jane Zelikova works at the intersection of climate science and policy. Her work focuses on advancing the science of carbon removal and she has published in scientific journals like Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written and contributed to climate policy reports and published articles in popular media outlets like Scientific American. She is currently the executive director of the Soil Carbon Solutions Center at Colorado State University, where she works with leading scientists to build the tools and approaches needed to accelerate the deployment of credible soil-based climate solutions, measure their impacts and bring them to scale.
Unlocking the potential of soil for a more sustainable planet
Soil is one of the largest natural carbon reservoirs and an important climate mitigation tool that is ready to deploy today. Accelerating the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices that build soil carbon on working lands offers the potential to substantially draw down atmospheric carbon while improving the environmental, economic and social sustainability of food, fiber and bioenergy production.
There’s no way to make this pleasant; the Arctic Summer Sea Ice tied for the tenth lowest on record.
According to satellite observations, Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum extent (lowest amount of ice for the year) on Sept. 18, 2022. The ice cover shrank to an area of 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles) this year, roughly 1.55 million square kilometers (598,000 square miles) below the 1981-2010 average minimum of 6.22 million square kilometers (2.40 million square miles).
The average September minimum extent record shows significant declines since satellites began measuring consistently in 1978. The last 15 years (2007 to 2021) are the lowest 15 minimum extents in the 43-year satellite record.
This visualization, created at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shows data provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), acquired by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument aboard JAXA’s Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water “SHIZUKU” (GCOM-W1) satellite.
Music: “Celestial Vault” from Universal Production Music
Video credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Kathleen Gaeta (GSFC AIMMS): Lead Producer
Trent L. Schindler (USRA): Lead Animator
Roberto Molar (KBR): Lead Writer
As I said, a sorry tale for which there is no good news. I wish there were!
Showing that droughts have been in evidence for 1,000 years or more!
It is very easy, well it is for me, to think that the changes we are seeing in the climate are purely recent. There is no question that we are experiencing changes in the global climate. But it would be too easy to think that these changes are only the result of recent times.
1,000-year-old stalagmites from a cave in India show the monsoon isn’t so reliable – their rings reveal a history of long, deadly droughts.
Published on the 19th September, 2022 by:
Gayatri Kathayat Associate Professor of Global Environmental Change, Xi’an Jiaotong University
Ashish Sinha Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences, California State University, Dominguez Hills
In a remote cave in northeast India, rainwater has slowly dripped from the ceiling in the same spots for over 1,000 years. With each drop, minerals in the water accumulate on the floor below, slowly growing into calcium carbonate towers known as stalagmites.
These stalagmites are more than geological wonders – like tree rings, their layers record the region’s rainfall history. They also carry a warning about the potential for catastrophic multiyear droughts in the future.
By analyzing the geochemistry of these stalagmites in a new study published Sept. 19, 2022, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we were able to create the most precise chronology yet of the summer Indian monsoon over the past millennium. It documents how the Indian subcontinent frequently experienced long, severe droughts unlike any observed in the last 150 years of reliable monsoon rainfall measurements.
They show how the decline of the Mughal Empire and India’s textile industries in the 1780s and 1790s coincided with the most severe 30-year period of drought over the millennium. The depth and duration of the drought would have caused widespread crop failures and the level of famine discussed in written documentsat the time.
Another long drought encompasses the 1630-1632 Deccan famine, one of the most devastating droughts in India’s history. Millions of people died as crops failed. Around the same time, the elaborate Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned and the Guge Kingdom collapsed in western Tibet.
Our findings have important implications today for water planning in a warming world, particularly for India, which, with its vast monsoon-reliant agriculture industry, is on pace to soon be the most populous country on the planet.
Why the monsoon’s history matters
Scientists began systematically measuring India’s monsoon rainfall with instruments around the 1870s. Since then, India has experienced about 27 regionally widespread droughts. Among them, only one – 1985 to 1987 – was a three-year consecutive drought or worse.
The apparent stability of the Indian monsoon in that data might lead one to surmise that neither protracted droughts lasting multiple years nor frequent droughts are intrinsic aspects of its variability. This seemingly reassuring view currently informs the region’s present-day water resource infrastructure.
However, the stalagmite evidence of prolonged, severe droughts over the past 1,000 years paints a different picture.
It indicates that the short instrumental period does not capture the full range of Indian monsoon variability. It also raises questions about the region’s current water resources, sustainability and mitigation policies that discount the possibility of protracted droughts in the future.
How do stalagmites capture a region’s monsoon history?
Stalagmites are conelike structures that grow slowly from the ground up, typically at a rate of about one millimeter every 10 years. Trapped within their growth layers are minute amounts of uranium and other elements that were acquired as rainwater infiltrated the rocks and soil above the cave. Over time, uranium trapped in stalagmites decays into thorium at a predictable pace, so we can figure out the age of each stalagmite growth layer by measuring the ratio of uranium to thorium.
The oxygen in rainwater molecules comes in two primary types of isotopes – heavy and light. As stalagmites grow, they lock into their structure the oxygen isotope ratios of the percolating rainwater that seeps into the cave. Subtle variations in this ratio can arise from a range of climatic conditions at the time the rainwater originally fell.
Our previous research in this area showed that variations in oxygen isotope ratios in rainwater, and consequently, in stalagmites, track changes in the relative abundance of different moisture sources that contribute to summer monsoon rainfall.
During years when monsoon circulation is weak, rainfall here is primarily derived from the moisture that evaporated from the nearby Arabian Sea. During strong monsoon years, however, atmospheric circulation brings copious amounts of moisture to this area all the way from the southern Indian Ocean.
The two moisture sources have quite different oxygen isotope signatures, and this ratio is faithfully preserved in the stalagmites. We can use this clue to learn about the overall strength of the monsoon intensity at the time the stalagmite formed. We pieced together the monsoon rainfall history by extracting minute amounts of calcium carbonate from its growth rings and then measuring the oxygen isotope ratios. To anchor our climate record to precise calendar years, we measured the uranium and thorium ratio.
The paleoclimate records can usually tell what, where and when something happened. But often, they alone cannot answer why or how something happened.
Our new study shows that protracted droughts frequently occurred during the past millennia, but we do not have a good understanding of why the monsoon failed in those years. Similar studies using Himalayan ice cores, tree rings and other caves have also detected protracted droughts but face the same challenge.
In the next phase of our study, we are teaming up with climate modelers to conduct coordinated proxy-modeling studies that we hope will offer more insight into the climate dynamics that triggered and sustained such extended periods of drought during the past millennium.
So there we are. Droughts are a thing of the ancient past. But only a partial understanding for why the monsoons failed is known. Despite these modern times with so much general access to knowledge there are still things that we do not know!
Finally, one hopes that the next phase of their study will be along in reasonable time! I would love to report on it.
In between, wildfires raged through California, Arizona and New Mexico on the background of a megadrought in Southwestern U.S. that has been more severe than anything the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a five-mile stretch of the Rio Grande ran dry for the first time in 40 years. Persistent heat waves lingered over many parts of the country, setting temperature records.
The United States is hardly alone in its share of climate disasters.
In Pakistan, record monsoon rains inundated more than one-third of the country, killing over 1,500 people. In India and China, prolonged heat waves and droughts dried up rivers, disrupted power grids and threatened food security for billions of people.
In Europe, heat waves set record temperatures in Britain and other places, leading to severe droughts and wildfires in many parts of the continent. In South Africa, torrential rains brought flooding and mudslides that killed more than 400 people. The summer may have come to an end on the calendar, but climate disasters will surely continue.
This isn’t just a freak summer: Over the years, such extreme events are occurring in increasing frequency and intensity.
Climate change is intensifying these disasters
The most recent international climate assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found significant increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme temperature and precipitation events, leading to more droughts and floods.
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature found that extreme flooding and droughts are also getting deadlier and more expensive, despite an improving capacity to manage climate risks. This is because these extreme events, enhanced by climate change, often exceed the designed levels of such management strategies.
Extreme events, by definition, occur rarely. A 100-year flood has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. So, when such events occur with increasing frequency and intensity, they are a clear indication of a changing climate state.
The term “global warming” can sometimes be misleading, as it seems to suggest that as humans put more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world is going to get a bit warmer everywhere. What it fails to convey is that warming temperatures also lead to a more violent world with more extreme climate disasters, as we saw this past summer.
Climate models showed these risks were coming
Much of this is well-understood and consistently reproduced by climate models.
As the climate warms, a shift in temperature distribution leads to more extremes. The magnitudes of changes in extreme temperature are often larger than changes in the mean. For example, globally, a 1 degree Celsius increase in annual average temperature is associated with 1.2 C to 1.9 C (2.1 Fahrenheit to 3.4 F) of increase in the annual maximum temperature.
In addition, global warming causes changes in the vertical profile of the atmosphere and equator-to-pole temperature gradients, leading to changes in how the atmosphere and ocean move. The temperature difference between equator and the poles is the driving force for global wind. As the polar regions warm at much higher rates then the equator, the reduced temperature difference causes a weakening of global winds and leads to a more meandering jet stream.
Some of these changes can create conditions such as persistent high-pressure systems and atmosphere blocking that favor more frequent and more intense heat waves. The heat domes over the Southern Plains and South in June and the West in September are examples.
The initial warming can be further amplified by positive feedbacks. For example, warming increases snow melt, exposing dark soil underneath, which absorbs more heat than snow, further enhancing the warming.
Warming of the atmosphere also increases its capacity to hold water vapor, which is a strong greenhouse gas. Therefore, more water vapor in the air leads to more warming. Higher temperatures tend to dry out the soil, and less soil moisture reduces the land’s heat capacity, making it easier to heat up.
These positive feedbacks further intensify the initial warming, leading to more heat extremes. More frequent and persistent heat waves lead to excessive evaporation, combined with decreased precipitation in some regions, causing more severe droughts and more frequent wildfires.
This increased humidity leads to heavier rainfall events. In addition, storm systems are fueled by latent heat, or the large amount of energy released when water vapor condenses to liquid water. Increased moisture content in the atmosphere also enhances latent heat in storm systems, increasing their intensity. Extreme heavy or persistent rainfall leads to increased flooding and landslides, with devastating social and economic consequences.
Even though it’s difficult to link specific extreme events directly to climate change, when these supposedly rare events occur with increasing frequency in a warming world, it is hard to ignore the changing state of our climate.
The new abnormal
So this past summer might just provide a glimpse of our near future, as these extreme climate events become more frequent.
To say this is the new “normal,” though, is misleading. It suggests that we have reached a new stable state, and that is far from the truth.
Without serious effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, this trend toward more extreme events will continue. Things will keep getting worse, and this past summer will become the norm a few years or decades down the road – and eventually, it will seem mild, like one of those “nice summers” we look back on fondly with nostalgia.
There is growing evidence that things are really changing globally. I used to say that I would be dead before the impacts of climate change really hit home. As in, it would be a good twenty years before things really took a hold. But it is now much more likely that the next five years are going to see a continuation of the changes and that there isn’t time to hang around.
I may not be as sharp as I used to be but the changing climate will affect me and Jean and all those in our area. Will our leaders grasp this nettle now? I wish I knew.