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Entries in global warming (24)


(RESILIENT BLOG) Climate Change Tests Metropolitan Resilience With Wider Array Of Weather Dynamics

I RECENTLY MET A SAN DIEGAN - A TRANSPLANT FROM WISCONSIN (WHERE I LIVE) - AND SHE WAS FLABBERGASTED TO NOTE A RECENT TORNADO WARNING THERE, COURTESY OF EL NINO.  Having grown up with tornados in southwestern Wisconsin, I was curious to discover how often this happens in sunny southern California, and, according to the Tornado History Project, it's not all that often - roughly once every 6-7 years for the immediate San Diego metro area. Having endured 6-7 such warnings every summer as a kid, that strikes me as pretty rare, so, sure, when they happen in San Diego, it must seem awfully exotic - like an earthquake in Wisconsin ...



YouTubes of 2015 Washington DC speech

Video segments of September 2015 briefing to an international military audience in the Washington DC area.



Part 1: Introductions and US grand strategy


 Part 2: America's looming energy self-sufficiency


Part 3: Climate Change and its impact on food & water


Part 4: The aging of great powers


Past 5: Millennials & Latinization of U.S.


Part 6: Evolution of US Military under Obama


Part 7: Dangers of a "splendid little war" with China


Part 8: Middle East without a Leviathan


Part 9: Answers to audience questions


(RESILIENT BLOG) How Climate Change Will Test Our Resilience On A Very Local – Even Intimate – Level

gr1LIVING IN THE NORTHERN UNITED STATES, ONE DOESN'T EXPECT TO CONTRACT ESSENTIALLY TROPICAL DISEASES LIKE MALARIA (see Lancet's chart on left), and yet, would you be surprised that, in the early-to-mid-19th century, Norwegian pioneers settling in Wisconsin - as a rule - feared malaria significantly more than cholera?  Malaria actually remained endemic in much of the United States (more in the South, obviously) through the 1940s, whereas today in a state like Wisconsin, virtually all cases that present themselves (roughly a dozen a year) feature travelers just back from tropical locations.  But that's changing, per a great WAPO in-depth story of a few days back ...



Tracking agriculture's northward shift due to climate change

Fascinating NYT story on a subject I am very interested in tracking:  how ag moves northward with climate change.

This story focuses on ag's canary-in-the-coalmine, wineries.  Nothing is more sensitive, and thus wineries are the first to start shifting:

For more than a decade, wine experts have discussed the impact of climate change on wine grapes, agriculture’s diva, a marquee crop nurtured and pampered around the world.

Now scientists are raising a new question: when grapes are transported to new areas, assuming warming weather and flagging rain make current regions unsuited to such harvests, what will the crop’s arrival do to the animals and plants already in residence?

Will there be a conflict between prosecco and pandas in China? Will the contentious wolf hunts near Yellowstone National Park be complicated by new vineyards that crowd out everything else — wolves, elk and hunters?

“One of the adaptation strategies for grape growers will be to move into areas that have a suitable climate,” said Rebecca Shaw, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and an author of a new paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This adaptation has the potential to threaten the survival of wildlife.”

Or, in the words of the new study, “Vineyards have long-lasting effects on habitat quality and may significantly impact freshwater resources.” In addition to introducing sterilizing chemicals and fertilizer, which remake the ecosystem, mature vineyards “have low habitat value” for native species “and are visited more often by nonnative species.”

So the interesting point to consider here: As climate change stresses "Middle Earth" (central band below 35 degrees north and above 35 degrees south), ag will be moving poleward for survival.  All sounds good until you realize that leapfrogging in this manner will be disruptive to what's already there.

So how do you balance the needs of enviro refugees (humans and their activities) with those of native species?

I can see this being a huge political issue going forward.  But, for now, just a glimpse.


Chart of the day: US farm income to be highest in 4 decades

WSJ story.

Despite last year's drought, net farm income in US (128B projected) will be highest since 1973 (adjusted basis).


Higher prices for livestock and poulty and "a continued boom in the farm belt initially fueled by rising global demand for grains" + that idiotic conversion into corn ethanol.

The big danger?  Great Plains enters the season way too dry - still.

So we see here the interplay between two dominant global dynamics in this century: rising global middle class and rising global temperature.


Getting Arctic hydrocarbons will be a lot harder than anticipated

FT special report on Canadian energy that highlights the difficulties of accessing Arctic oil and gas and bringing it economically to market.

First is the sheer remoteness.  Then there's the extremely hostile environment.  Even with the ice-clearing in the summer, the genuine window for exploitation is still measured in weeks.  Everything you use must be special built, platforms with extreme reliability.

And the fields in question need to be big - really big - to cover the high costs.  

In short, only the majors and supermajors should apply, because only they will have the "financial firepower."

This is all before governments issue ever stringent safety requirements to protect the environment, a bar that rises with each Deepwater Horizon.

Finally, there's how you get it to market, with the big choice being between fixed pipelines and ice-class shuttle tankers.  Neither is cheap.

Just a bit of cold water thrown on the anticipated "bonanza."

I note it with interest as I write the final report (while traveling most of the week) for Wikistrat's recent "How the Arctic Was Won" simulation.


Great summarizing FT article on "global food security" risk

Notice the equatorially-centric band? Remind you of another map?

Starts by calling farmers "the canaries in the mine when it comes to climate change."  Brilliant.

What affects farmers affects the global food supply and causes the price rises that hit middle class wallets and increases the risk of hunger for the world's poor.

CC isn't the "only culprit" when it comes to good security.

The primary drivers, the article notes, are population growth and the stunning growth of the global middle class, which, as we know, likes to eat and eat well.

Next is the loss of land to food crops due to urbanization and the diversion of crops to fuels (dumbest idea in human history).

But here's the quote that caught my eye:

If these were the only pressures on the global food supply, feeding the world sustainably could still be achievable, says Jerry Nelson, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).  "If you didn't have climate change, you could tell a story about how it will be challenging and how we need to invest more in productivity, reduce waste and manage international trade," he says.  "But this would be something we could accomplish.

"When you throw climate change into the mix, that makes everything a lot more difficult."

Or better said - with regard to risk - more uncertain.

Great little piece in "FT Special Report: Managing Climate Change."


Growing vegetables in the future

WSJ story about vertical farming vision from Sweden.

Goal is to make food happen while farmland disappears (to urbanization and harsh climate change) and to be able to do so year-round in a northern clime. Then there's the local food angle (less transpo, etc.).

Critics say the economics won't work at this time, especially on the energy, but advocates say this is a long-term solution that will become economical as climate change raises the price of doing business in many parts of the world, triggering global shifts in food production and - presumably - migration.

Interesting stuff.

Interesting idea.  I think the notion may make some sense regarding vegetables, but I don't see either fruits (maintenance of trees too tricky) or grains (just can't get the volume).

On vegetables, they (and fruits) account for only 3% of US farmland use, which is overwhelmingly given over to wheat, corn and soybeans (and a few others).  So, given that reality, vertical farming for major urban areas may make economic sense on a major scale sometime later this century.


Expensive oil as trigger for less exhausting ag land practices

Special WSJ report on agriculture, with interesting article on "fertile land is under strain."

Ag takes up about 1/5th of energy consumption in the US, so higher oil encourages, over the long run, abandoning certain energy-intensive practices, such as tilling:

The most popular fuel-reduction strategy involves a radically new way of planting seeds. Instead of breaking up the ground with a plow to plant seeds, no-till farming leaves the remains of last year's crop on the surface.  Drills punch through this mat of vegetation and insert seeds into the ground.  Ditching the plow can cut fuel consumption by as much as half . . . It also reduces the need for expensive fertilizer.

A major enviro drawback, according to an accompanying article?  No-till requires more herbicides.

Another reason why farmers like to plow: you can dry out a wet spring field and thus plant earlier.  You see that hear in Indiana with its super-wet springs.  But with climate change making for more droughts, ag experts expect more and more farmers to adopt the no-till method (or one of its many variants) over time, thus reducing the ag sector's energy draw.  Fields that aren't plowed typically hold up much better in July and August when rain gets much more rare.  Indiana has suffered super-dry summers, with this year's summer reducing the crop haul by a large amount, as just my eyeballs can attest.

Interesting pair of articles.

The map and chart below came with the first cited piece.  Note all the stable soil in the "New North."

Click the smaller image for a more readable version.



Impact of the drought is multivariable

First, the good news: the "margin squeeze" due to rising corn prices/futures is killing corn ethanol - still the stupidest idea on the planet (outside of Washington-subsidized Iowa).

Then the worse news: Russia/Black Sea region is undergoing another bad drought, raising the specter of another export ban. US is biggest exporter of wheat but the Black Sea trio (Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) account for one-quarter of global exports and are traditionally key suppliers to north Africa and the Middle East.


Reasons to be optimistic regarding the global economy's response to global warming

US experiencing warmest year on record and 13 hottest years (going back to 1880) for the planet have all occurred since 1998.

David Leonhardt (whom I like a lot and always read) writing in NYT speaks of a non-punitive vector that seems to be emerging among the big players:

Behind the scenes [of the disappearing public debate on global warming], however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country’s largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predicted only a decade ago.

Even natural gas, a hotly debated topic among climate experts, helps make the point. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible. The use of natural gas to generate electricity — far from perfectly clean but less carbon-intensive than coal use — has jumped 25 percent since 2008, while prices have fallen more than 80 percent. Natural gas now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.

The successes make it possible at least to fathom a transition to clean energy that does not involve putting a price on carbon — either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program that requires licenses for emissions. It was exactly such a program, supported by both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 campaign, that died in Congress in 2010 and is now opposed by almost all Congressional Republicans and some coal-state and oil-state Democrats.

The real goal, according to one scientist, is the emergence of disruptive technologies that push the planet "down" the hydrocarbon chain (wood-->coal-->oil-->gas-->renewables & hydrogen).

The more we shift from threatening fines to promising record profits, the migration will occur as it should.

Fascinating for me to watch a dozen years after I ran that global warming-focused "economic security exercise" with Cantor Fitzgerald atop World Trade Center One.

NOTE: the falling USG support for renewable energy research is why the influx of China investment is so important.


Getting seriously efficient on water use

USA Today story on San Antonio: exhibit A for those that assume we cannot do better on efficient use of resources.

In mid 1990s, city was slapped with restriction of use of aquifier due to endangered species (rare blind salamander).  Instead of looking for new sources, the city went big on cutting use (recycling, more efficient toilets pushed throughout city, etc.).

City now uses the same amount of water it used in 1984, even though population is two-thirds larger. Citizens average about 2/3rd the national average water use.

All of this is crucial given Texas' long and harsh drought - a harbinger of things to come with climate change.

Mayor: "We practice [conservation] religiously.  It's part and parcel of being a San Antonian."



Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 5 (Flow of Food)

In this section of the brief I explore water and how it connects to grain-production centers of gravity, how climate change will impact the flow of food, how that flow will surpass the flow of energy in global importance in the future, and how the Western Hemisphere evolves as a result of its incredible water advantage.


Time's Battleland: "Does al-Qaeda go the way of AIDS?"

Nice piece in WAPO about Ayman al-Zawahiri taking over al-Qaeda from the recently assassinated Osama bin Laden. Story leads with remembrances from a guy who knew him back in the day:

He was arrogant, angry and extreme in his ideas,” said Azzam, 40, son of a radical Palestinian ideologue who had become bin Laden's mentor. “He fought with everyone, even those who agreed with him.”

Thus, experts are now saying that al-Qaeda will suffer under his leadership:

U.S. intelligence officials, terrorism experts and even the Egyptian's former cohorts say a Zawahiri-led al-Qaeda will be far more discordant, dysfunctional and perhaps disloyal than it was under bin Laden.

Just to cover rear-ends, though, the story's next statement leaves open the question whether or not the group will be more or less effective (terrorism experts must always do this to make sure they can win big when the next strike comes and they told us so!).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Chart of the Day: why everyone loves shale gas


From FT story.  Simply answer:  because of its weirdly even spread.  Unassociated gas, meaning gas not associated with oil, is the future.  We always just found gas alongside oil and assumed its distro geographically was similar.  It's not.  Unassociated gas is everywhere, and this chart doesn't even include methane hydrates (unassociated gas frozen solid in sea beds).

You may think that gas is only so-so exciting compared to oil, but electricity generation is crucial, and avoiding coal is crucial to reduce pollution/CO2.  You go mostly gas on electricity to crowd out coal, and then go modular nukes to supplement that (especially where infrastructure is "hostile" in its enviro layout:  remoteness is big example), and you use the modulars to make water potable and crack it for hydrogen, and that's how you make transpo happen increasingly (hybrid electricals shifting to hydrogen, with ultralights providing a lot of the energy savings along the way).  

Oil has had its time.  Gas is the next big node going down the hydrocarbon chain.

The big hold-up/uncertainty on gas remains the enviro impact of fracking.  This is why I continue to think that methane hydrates will ultimately be more the answer.  But someone please disabuse me of that assumption.


Esquire's Politics Blog: Who Should Worry About the Tunisia Fallout, Really?

Details of the downfall of Tunisia's longtime strong man Zein el-Abidine Ben Ali are familiar enough: The spark that triggers the street-level explosion of social anger (a young man, hassled by the government for his pathetic gray-market activities, decides Plan B is to set himself on fire); the frantic government attempts at crackdown (close school!); only to be followed by the offering of sacrificial lambs (take my minister — please!); and, finally, the embarrassing departure of the big man himself. At this point, the rump government is throwing anything it can into the angry fire, hoping it will burn itself out. And the "unity" government doesn't seem to be doing much better.

With any such revolution (color this one green — as in money, despite all the Iran-esque web chatter), there is the temptation to read into it all sorts of larger meaning. This time around, I think the best route is simply to note which parties — outside of Tunisia — should be made supremely nervous by the unfolding events. With the possible exception of Crazy Qaddafi....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.



The Great North as globalization's future economic hot zone

WSJ weekend full-pager by Laurence Smith, prof of geography at UCLA, and it's pulled from an upcoming book, "The World in 2050."  Get used to seeing such analysis: exploring global warming's upside--geographically speaking.

A lot of good, fertile land sitting with technologically advanced and relatively wealthy populations will come into play, along with a lot of transportation connectivity made possible or kicked into year-old exploitation.  

This article focuses on the Arctic (above the Circle), and flips Jared Diamond on his head, asking not what makes civilizations perish but what allows them to grow?   His answer:  

First and foremost will be economic incentive, followed by willing settlers, stable rule of law, viable trading partners, friendly neighbors and beneficial climate change.

Point being, you toss in the beneficial climate change and the northern states have all the mixings.

Now, the guy does rightfully call out Russia an an outlier, but my expectation is, Russia will see this as a godsend and fall into the misguided notion of having to dominate to flourish because its geography and experience base will put it in good stead.

Right now the Arctic is a welfare state of sorts: deeply subsidized economic activity that centers on extractive industries (the Core's version of the Gap sans the violence).

Will these wastelands get settled?  Did the barren desert of America's southwest?

The close:

I imagine the high Arctic, in particular, will be rather like Nevada--a landscape nearly empty but with fast-growing towns. Its prime socioeconomic role in the 21st century will not be homestead haven but economic engine, shoveling gas, oil, minerals and fish into the gaping global maw.

Sidenote:  here's another slew of countries China will need to be friends with due to its extreme resource dependencies.

Just thank God we bought Alaska while we could.

While not exactly on topic WRT this piece, it raises the question of whether or not buyers of certain ag commodities could exploit global warming to shift production from current locations to better ones--as in, safer, more stable, easier to control, etc.


Lomborg's U-turn on global warming? Complete nonsense

Readers know how much I like Bjorn Lomborg and how much his stuff has influenced--nay, bolstered my existing--optimism on questions of resource consumption, disaster hype, global warming, and the overall progress of humanity.  My current brief shows the faces of only two authors:  Lomborg and C.K. Prahalad. I don't advertise other people's books lightly, since I'm always trying to move my own product! But that gives you some sense of my respect for the man.

So you can imagine how many people sent me messages about Lomborg's alleged U-turn on global warming. Actually, on first, second and third blushes, I interpreted that possibility to be a lot more important--on any number of scales--than Fidel Castro's similarly hyped confession.

But deep down, I knew it was false and just a matter of misinterpretation. 

Lomborg lays out all his logic here in a nice summary piece. Basically, he's never "denied" anything with global warming. He simply argues that cranking hard on the C02 "knob" isn't our best choice for dealing with this world across this century.  He sees money better put elsewhere, and he makes stunning convincing arguments to that effect.

I heartily endorse his thinking on the subject: global warming is real and we will be forced to deal with it, but it's not the central reality of our age and it must compete for our efforts and attention with a host of other issues where--dollar-wise--more gain can be had more rapidly for more of humanity.

But what Lomborg has also advocated for years now is an R&D push of serious money (tens of billions) on green techs and geo-engineering to deal with the rising impact of global warming (which he consistently says is reasonably mitigated by humanity). 

Well, he made that pitch again recently to some--apparently--clueless Guardian reporter who jumped on Lomborg's statement that global warming is "one of the chief concerns facing the world today" as evidence of a U-turn.

That's it, a leap-frogging conclusion from a reporter who obviously has never read any of Lomborg's books.

So simmer down, now!


Climate change and the scientific community: "hemorrhaging trust and respect"

As we are treated to stories of Bjorn Lomborg's alleged flip on climate change (sorry, but nothing I read to date sounds like that, especially in the wordage he's using; rather, I see him shading a less antagonistic stance toward potential impact studies), the FT full-page "analysis" reminds us of the great uncertainty surrounding climate science.

The eight great uncertainties listed here are:

  1. range of likely temperature rises
  2. timescale
  3. hurricanes
  4. regions
  5. rainfall
  6. methane release
  7. Antarctica v Arctic impacts
  8. clouds

Then there's the bias tendency of pro-climate change scientists, who see only normal variation in cold snaps but "proof" of global warming in every hotspot (a goofy tendency mirrored by the anti-global warming camp--but then again, no one holds them to any great standard of trust).

The FT ends with the usual Economist-like fear:  all this uncertainty will preclude action until it's too late.  But I'm more impressed with the logic that says, we're more likely to screw things up by responding quickly and drastically.  

Toward that end, Lomborg's persistent call for lots more R&D on the subject still strikes me as eminently sensible.


Again with the "climate wars"!

The Economist bemoaning the flurry of new books predicting climate wars.

Yet surprisingly few facts support these alarming assertions. Widely touted forecasts such as for 200m climate refugees in the next few decades seem to have been plucked from the air. Little or no academic research has looked at questions such as whether Bangladeshis displaced by a rising sea would move a series of short distances over a long period, or (more disruptively) a greater distance immediately.

And yet the next edition of the IPCC report will have a chapter exploring this issue.  A recent conference in Norway explored the issue.  What was proposed was pretty weak.

The hardest evidence for a link so far comes from a team led by Marshall Burke of the University of California, which studied African wars from 1980 to 2002 and found that rising temperatures are indeed associated with crop failure, economic decline and a sharp rise in the likelihood of war. It predicted a “50% increase” in the chance of civil war in Africa by 2030.

But that claim is now heavily revised, since researchers redid their sums to take account of the more peaceful period of 2002-08. Others say that political and other factors such as ethnic conflict and outside intervention are far better indicators of the likelihood of fighting.

Take the widely cited case of the war in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, described it as “an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change”. Environmental problems have probably worsened the Darfuris’ dreadful plight, offering grist to those who call climate change a “threat multiplier”. Average rainfall in the region fell abruptly (by a third or more) in the early 1970s and Darfur repeatedly suffered droughts. Clashes over grazing and then displacement of villagers were followed, from 2003, by horrific war.

Yet the connection is elusive. Roughly three decades elapsed between the rain stopping and war starting. Many other factors—political, ethnic, demographic and economic—conspired to stoke violence. Those were specific to Darfur, whereas the sharp drop in rainfall hit the whole Sahel, without intensifying conflict elsewhere.

Another commonly cited example is violent competition for scarce grazing between nomadic herdsmen in the Horn of Africa. Yet a study of fighting among pastoralists on the border between Kenya and Somalia in the past 60 years (presented at the conference) showed instead that conflict worsened when grazing was abundant and fell during droughts. Hungry people were too busy staying alive, or too exhausted, to fight. By contrast, when rains made herdsmen’s lives easier, they could release surplus young labour for the violent sport of raiding other groups.

Honestly, this all sounds like a bunch of academic pinheads looking to create fear out of thin gruel. We just have a hot topic and a lot of people chasing money. Predicting 50% higher chances of civil war in Africa simply on the basis of global warming, while ignoring the obvious commodity and connectivity boom going on, is just silly.  It is reductionism to an absurd degree, something modern political science is amazingly adept at pursuing.