Why Our Weather is Weird ‘n Wild and Why It Is Getting Worse

Repost from 2011: More and more science reveals the not surprising connection between a warming planet and extreme weather. Won’t stop unless emissions of fossil fuels stop — Stephen 

(Bonus: How we can kick the fossil fuel addiction)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16, 2011 (IPS)

Human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, leading to more severe floods, researchers announced Wednesday.

Two new studies document significant impacts with just a fraction of the heating yet to come from the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately, another new report shows the world can end its addiction to climate-wrecking fossil-fuel energy by 2050.

“Warmer air contains more moisture and leads to more extreme precipitation,” said Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria.

Extreme precipitation and flooding over the entire northern hemisphere increased by seven percent between 1951 and 1999 as a result of anthropogenic global warming. That represents a “substantial change”, Zwiers told IPS, and more than twice the increase projected by climate modeling.

Zwiers and Xuebin Zhang of Environment Canada used observations from over 6,000 weather stations to measure the impact of climate warming on the intensity of extreme precipitation for the first time. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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The planet is currently 0.8 degrees C hotter from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global temperatures had not yet started to increase in 1951, the first year of rainfall data Zwiers and Xuebin examined. By 1999, global temperatures had climbed by about 0.6 degrees C. The average temperature increase over that 50-year period is relatively small compared to the present but major impacts have been documented in terms of storm and flood damage even with this small increase in temperatures.

This suggests that the Earth’s climatic system may be more sensitive to small temperature increases than previously believed.

Continue reading

Green Approaches to Water Safest and Cheapest Solution

Wetlands regulate, clean and cool water. Mare Aux Cochons high-altitude wetlands, Seychelles Islands (ReneeLeahy copyright)
Wetlands regulate, clean and cool water. Mare Aux Cochons high-altitude wetlands, Seychelles Islands (ReneeLeahy copyright)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 18 2013 (IPS)

After Hurricane Sandy swept through the northeast of the United States late October 2012, millions of New Yorkers were left for days without electricity.  But they still had access to drinking water, thanks to New York City’s reliance on protected watershed areas for potable water.

Instead of using electric-powered water treatment plans, New York City brings its high-quality drinking water through aqueducts connected to protected areas in the nearby Catskill/Delaware forests and wetlands – just one example of how protecting watersheds can provide residential areas with drinking water and flood and pollution protection at bargain basement prices.

New York saved between four and six billion dollars on the cost of water treatment plants by protecting forests and compensating farmers in the Catskills for reducing pollution in lakes and streams.

In 2011, countries around the world invested more than eight billion dollars in similar watershed projects around the world, according to the State of Watershed Payments 2012 report released Thursday. That year, China led the way, accounting for 91 percent of watershed investment.

“Whether you need to save water-starved China from economic ruin or protect drinking water for New York City, investing in natural resources is emerging as the most cost-efficient and effective way to secure clean water and recharge our dangerously depleted streams and aquifers,” said Michael Jenkins, president of Forest Trends, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the United States, which compiled the report. Continue reading

Wild and Weird Weather Getting Worse

New York City flooding
New York City flooding
It doesn’t have to be this way – typical family could reduce their energy use 60 to 75 percent

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 29 2013 (IPS)

Weird is the only way to describe January temperatures whipsawing between record warm and arctic cold over a span of a few days. Experts say that is what climate change looks like: weird, record-shattering weather.

Here’s a fact that goes beyond weird to astonishing. Anyone who is 27 years old or younger has never lived through a month that was colder than the global 20th century average. In other words, we’ve had 334 consecutive months with above average temperatures, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Last summer, the Arctic sea ice shrunk to half of what it used to be during summers only three decades ago. Our planet’s weather is driven largely by the two cold polar regions and the warm tropics. With the Arctic defrosting, it should be no surprise our weather is getting weird. And that it’s not going to get better.

Our planet is heating up because we each year put thousands of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. CO2 acts as heating blanket keeping the planet warm by trapping some of the sun’s heat.

The amount of extra heat-energy being trapped is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, calculates James Hansen, a climate scientist who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Cautious scientists like Hansen are terrified of what’s coming. Conservative institutions like the World Bank and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) have warned we’re on a path to heating the entire surface of the planet by an average of four or five degrees C before 2100. That translates into eight to 12 degrees C hotter in places like Canada.

Continue reading

Drought and New Deserts by 2060: Most of Mexico, Central America and half of US

Projected drought and dry regions in 2060-2069

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 22, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Mexico and Central America look like they are covered in dried blood on maps projecting future soil moisture conditions.

The results from 19 different state-of-the-art climate models project extreme and persistent drought conditions (colored dark red-brown on the maps) for almost all of Mexico, the midwestern United States and most of Central America.

If climate change pushes the global average temperature to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era levels, as many experts now expect, these regions will be under severe and permanent drought conditions.

Future conditions are projected to be worse than Mexico’s current drought or the U.S. Dust Bowl era of the 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate.

These are some of the conclusions of the study “Projections of Future Drought in the Continental United States and Mexico”, which was published in the December 2011 issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Hydrometeorology and has gone largely unnoticed.

“Drought conditions will prevail no matter what precipitation rates are in the future,” said co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. government research centre in California.

“Even in regions where rainfall increases, the soils will get drier. This is a very robust finding,” Wehner told Tierramérica.

Without major reductions in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, global temperatures will increase to at least 2.5 degrees of warming between 2050 and 2090, depending on rates of emissions of greenhouse gases, climate sensitivity and feedbacks. Continue reading

Global Temperatures Rising on a Devastating Trajectory

Global temperatures are only 0.7C warmer — on pace for +4C!

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 25, 2012 (IPS)

Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the International Energy Agency reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures.

A new report released on the last days of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week reveals that the planet is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), despite an international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Not only are pledges inadequate, but countries are unable to fulfill even those pledges, a new CAT analysis shows. CAT is a joint project of Dutch energy consulting organisation Ecofys, Germany’s Climate Analytics, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“When we compared the emission reduction pledges of countries like Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., we found they did not have the policies in place to meet those pledges,” said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys.

Höhne told IPS that they looked only at the policies of a few countries, but no country’s policies were enough to meet their targets. Continue reading

Extreme Weather is the New Normal with Climate Change

Aftermath of an early tornado in Lancaster, Texas. To join thousands of others connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather, visit ClimateDots.org.

By Stephen Leahy

CAIRNS, Australia, Apr 3, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Extreme weather is fast becoming the new normal. Canada and much of the United States experienced summer temperatures during winter this year, confirming the findings of a new report on extreme weather.

For two weeks this March most of North America baked under extraordinarily warm temperatures that melted all the snow and ice and broke 150-year-old temperature records by large margins.

Last year the U.S. endured 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters including flooding, hurricanes and tornados.

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Mar. 28, provides solid evidence that record-breaking weather events are increasing in number and becoming more extreme. And if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, these events will reach dangerous new levels over the coming century.

Since 1950 there have been many more heat waves and record warm temperatures than in previous decades.

This will only increase in future decades, as will heavier rainfall events in tropical regions and the high latitudes, according to the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). 

The hottest day that occurs once in 20 years is likely to become a one-in-two year event by the end of the century, except in the high latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, where it is likely to happen once every five years.

The average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, but the global frequency of tropical cyclones is likely to decrease or remain unchanged.

Continue reading

Indigenous Peoples Needed to Meet the Challenge of Climate Change

Gimuy Wallabarra Yidinji Dancers performing Welcome to the Country in Cairns, Australia .Photo: Gleb Raygorodetsky

By Stephen Leahy

First published at National Geographic NewsWatch

“Planning is not part of our culture. You just get up in the morning and do what you need to do for the day,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (aboriginal nation) in northern Queensland, Australia.

“Bama” or caring for their local territory is an important part of aboriginal culture and identity Wallace told participants at a mini-workshop in Cairns, Australia today Sunday March 25th prior to the start of the main workshop Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples on Monday.

Caring for the land includes monitoring the impacts of climate change and using traditional knowledge to keep or sequester carbon she said.

Click here for full article plus a video visit with Marilyn in her home country.

Amazon Drought Accelerating Climate Change

World’s Forests Losing Their Green. Billions of tonnes of CO2 Released

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 3, 2011 (IPS)

Last year’s severe drought in the Amazon will pump billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, a new report has found.

Researchers calculate that millions of trees died in 2010, which means the Amazon is soaking up much less CO2 from the atmosphere, and those dead trees will now release all the carbon they’ve accumulated over 300 or more years.

The widespread 2010 drought follows a similar drought in 2005 which itself will put an additional five billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, Simon Lewis of University of Leeds in the UK and colleagues calculate in a study published Thursday in Science. The United States emitted 5.4 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuel use in 2009.

The two droughts will end up adding an estimated 13 billion tonnes of additional CO2 – equivalent to combined emissions in 2009 from China and the U.S. – and likely accelerating global warming.

“New growth in the region will not offset those releases,” Lewis told IPS.

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After the 2005 drought, Lewis and Brazilian scientist Paulo Brando from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) led teams of researchers on the ground to assess the impacts. They determined that only a few trees died per hectare, and so while the forest canopy cover looked relatively unchanged, there had been a significant change in the forest’s carbon balance. Continue reading

Final Update: COP 16 Cancun Climate Conference

19 Dec 2010

On reflection there was some progress at COP 16. Small island states, whose very existence is threatened, were satisfied the world is on its way to a significant climate treaty so that is something. Last year in Copenhagen, hardly anyone happy with the outcome. There is still a long and difficult road ahead. Not least because there remains a powerful and well-funded opposition to emission reductions in many countries.

In 2011 I hope to uncover more about that opposition while continuing to write about how the physical processes of climate change are not waiting for us to get our act together. Substantial changes are already underway. Changes to the global water cycle have been shown in the first global study of evapotranspiration rates as detailed in my article: “Climate Changes Herald a Future of Widespread Drought – Water Left High and Dry in Climate Talks”

The article also looks at some fairly dire drought projections for the coming decades.

For those experiencing a rough, early winter, I did the first article revealing how the melting Arctic may be bringing earlier and harsher winters to the UK, parts of Europe and North America. That story happened because of donations to help cover my costs of attending a polar science conference in Oslo were those new findings were presented. Science journalism isn’t easy or cheap to do. I was one of  few journalists in Oslo because hardly any media outlet covers travel costs any more – never mind paying a decent fee for a story. That’s why I am trying Community Supported Journalism where people support my efforts to inform people about the great issues of our time.

A warm thank you to those who sponsored some of the Cancun articles, contributing some much needed cash to help cover my costs.  Supporters names are prominently listed in the articles here. I can no longer continue to do environmental and science journalism without your help so thank you for helping out.

— Stephen

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“We Are a Harbinger of What Is to Come” – Global Warming is Already Affecting Millions – Video

[Those living closest to the land – small farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples — are already suffering from impacts of climate change. They have made a series of short videos to show people like you and me who are insulated from these impacts how our emissions of carbon are changing the world.

This is both a plea for help and a warning of what’s coming for all of us.

I found it remarkable those I spoke with are not angry. They simply want us to understand what is happening to them because if we understand, if we know what we are doing to them, then we will act. I hope they are right. — Steve]

By Stephen Leahy

COPENHAGEN, Dec 3 (IPS)

A small group of indigenous people have travelled here to the historic Copenhagen climate talks to show negotiators dramatic documentary videos they made about the immediate impacts of climate change on their homelands and way of life.

“We want to show policymakers what the three-year long drought in my country is doing to our communities,” said Stanley Selian Konini, a Maasai from Oltepesi in Kajiado district, Kenya.

“Our animals are all dead. The zebras and the monkeys are dying even in the forests,” Konini told IPS. “Leaders need to change policies to help us.”

The Kenyan video documents the impact of an intense drought hitting the Maasai community. During these extremely hard times, pastoralists have been losing their cattle – their main and sometimes only livelihood.

“It’s affecting our culture. There can be no dowry payments because we have no animals,” said Konini, one of the young Maasai who made the video.

“The elders say they have never seen anything like this drought. It is something beyond their understanding and experience of the Maasai people,” he said. Continue reading