Year 4, Month 10, Day 4: Love You To

Crater Lake in Oregon is drying up:

Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest body of water in the United States, a beautiful gem of southern Oregon. Fed by overhead snow and rain, the lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world. Gazing upon the breathtakingly bright blue waters of the lake is something you never forget.

But there is trouble in paradise. During the past 21 years, I have spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Looking out my bedroom window, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.

The science confirms my observation. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have been trending downward by decade from an average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.

Climate researchers expect the trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

I gather it’s a lovely place. September 25:

When it comes to confronting global climate change, Oregon’s not alone. Everywhere on Earth, people are discovering that the bill for a century-long carbon binge is coming due. Whether it’s devastated agriculture, rising sea levels and oceanic acidification, extreme and unpredictable weather, or the kind of droughts that are disrupting ecosystems at Crater Lake, we can no longer ignore the warning signs.

There’s a lot of argument about how to prepare for the greenhouse effect’s consequences — but one thing is certain: we will never successfully address climate change if we cannot accept its existence, its causes, and its potential to harm our neighborhoods, our regions, our states, our nation, and our world. The time is past for denial; politicians and media figures who continue to hide their heads in the sand on this planetary crisis are sacrificing the happiness of future generations for a few minutes in the limelight.

Warren Senders

Year 9, Month 9, Day 13: Sick Comedy

The Hindu (India) notes that climate change is going to bring us some issues with insects:

How will wind strength impact the migration and affect the flight range of mosquitoes? These and several other parameters are being studied at the micro-environmental level by scientists as part of a national project on climate change to forecast spectrum of vector-borne diseases.

With climate change influencing all aspects, including health and agriculture, CSIR through its network of institutions is seeking to develop sustainable mitigation strategies at local level. As part of this, a national project — Integrated Analysis for Impact, Mitigation and Sustainability — has been initiated to leverage multi-disciplinary expertise available at CSIR for developing suitable models by taking into account various geographical variations.

Pesky little buggers, aren’t they? September 6:

A common prognostication from those who are attentive to the geopolitical implications of climate change is that unimaginably large numbers of people are likely to become “climate refugees” in the coming decades. Indeed, as rising sea levels wipe out coastal lands, disappearing glaciers no longer provide sufficient water for agriculture in mountainous areas, and intensifying drought bakes the areas in between, it’s a fair bet that millions will lose their land and their hopes, if not their lives.

But humans are only the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg when it comes to climate-caused displacement. Countless plant, animal and insect species are going to be racing to new habitats; these lifeforms, just like human beings, will be struggling to survive on a transforming planet — but their interests aren’t always going to align easily with ours. The increased prevalence of insect-carried diseases like dengue fever is a case in point.

While diplomatic preparations will be necessary in a post-climate-change world to avoid resource wars and border conflicts, it is equally necessary to develop medical communications and infrastructure to cope with these smaller (but equally significant) “refugees.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 31: A Cheerful Thought.

USA Today points out that frogs in the pot of boiling water are more likely to start wars with one another:

If climate change predictions turn out to be true, some parts of the world could become more violent, according to a new study released today.

“The relationship between temperature and conflict shows that much warmer-than-normal temperatures raise the risk of violence,” the authors write in the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was led by John O’Loughlin, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado. It was done in concert with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

This study is not trying to draw parallels to how violence escalates in some urban areas in the summer due to heat, reports O’Loughlin. This is about how warmer temperatures cause stresses on crops and grasslands, forcing people to fight with their neighbors for food and other resources.

O’Loughlin and his team examined the influence of temperature and precipitation on the risk of violent conflict in nine East African countries between 1990 and 2009, and found that increased precipitation dampened the risk of violence, whereas very hot temperatures raised it.

The changer things get, the samer they stay. Sent October 24:

As the planet’s atmosphere heats, the potential for extreme weather increases. The extra energy triggered by the accelerating greenhouse effect will show up as unseasonal storms, unpredictable rain and snow, careening high and low temperatures, and bizarre events. It’s hardly surprising that the seasons of human life will be likewise disrupted.

In the coming years of climate crisis, nations everywhere will be faced with massive stresses and strains: famines, droughts, refugee crises, and resource conflicts. While we cannot forecast exactly whose boundaries will be rent asunder by the ravages of a transforming climate, there’s no doubt that the twenty-first century will be packed with international emergencies.

It’s not just reinforced roads and bridges, or a decentralized power grid. If we are to avoid climate change’s geopolitical impacts, the world’s nations must develop a robust diplomatic infrastructure to prevent Earth’s radically transforming environment from forcing us into devastating wars.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 25: Also Younger Than The Sun

The Belleville News-Democrat (IL) runs an opinion piece on the need for a transformation in our way of thinking about the environment:

For decades environmentalists have been guided in their work by what became known as the “precautionary principle.” This decision-making guide was first put forward in environmental terms by pioneering naturalist and biologist Aldo Leopold in his landmark 1940s essay “Round River.”

His focus was the complexity of the environment.

“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering,” Leopold wrote.

This is the major logic behind the Endangered Species Act, the strongest environmental law ever written. For the United States to allow a species to go extinct, it must go through an exhaustive process that is politically perilous.

This imperative has strong support. John Turner, the director of the U.S. Wildlife Service under George H.W. Bush, was a Republican president of the Wyoming Senate and a rancher. He regularly told a story of how his grandfather had kept all of the broken farm equipment he ever owned.

“My granddad and my dad used to say ‘It’s important to save all the parts,’ ” Turner said. “You never know when you’re going to need them.”

Protecting all the parts was a daunting task before. In the face of climate change that could dramatically transform or destroy ecosystems across the globe, it has become impossible.

This is a fairly generic letter; it could go to any source that admits the existence of the problem. Sent October 18:

Earlier this year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson finally admitted that climate change was both real and caused by human activity. But the oil baron also blithely asserted that humanity would adapt; the problem, he said, was essentially one of “engineering.”

Well, maybe so. Our innovative, forward-looking, technological species will undoubtedly find ways of fixing some of what we’ve broken and restoring some of the things we’ve destroyed. But as environmentalist Bill McKibben asked recently, “What are you going to develop that replaces Iowa?” Global warming is going to drastically reduce agricultural yields, which is hard to reconcile with our expanding global population. Unless we address the causes of the climate crisis, adopting better farming practices essentially amounts to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.

And if climate change can actually be “solved by engineering,” isn’t it time for our fossil-fueled politicians to stop denying the existence of the crisis — and instead aggressively fund the engineers and scientists we’ll be needing more than ever over the coming decades?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 24: Hellzapoppin…

More on the agricultural disaster currently underway: the same article as yesterday, this time reprinted in the Mitchell Daily Republic (KS):

“I don’t have a place to store pinto beans, OK?” said Rowe, who has managed his community’s grain elevator for 25 years. “This is corn and soybean ground. The reason someone else is more diverse is because there’s more money in being diverse. It’s all economics.”

Still, the hotter, dryer weather pattern may change crop rotations even in the heart of the Corn Belt. “Wheat acres will be very high” next year, said Tabitha Craig, who sells crop insurance for Young Enterprises, an agricultural services and input dealer in New Hartford, Mo.

Climate change will probably push corn-growing regions north while making alternatives to the grain more important elsewhere, said John Soper, the vice president of crop genetics research and development for Pioneer, the seed division of DuPont. The company’s researchers anticipate more corn in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, traditional Canadian wheat-growing areas, while sorghum and sunflowers may experience a revival in Kansas as rainfall declines and irrigation becomes less practical, he said.

The company is developing new varieties of corn, both in traditional hybrid and genetically modified seeds, while boosting research in sorghum and other crops that don’t need irrigation in areas where they’re expected to make a comeback, he said.

Still, fighting drought with better seeds and new trade sources only mitigates the effects of climate change, said Roger Beachy, the first head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture and now a plant biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Revising yesterday’s letter…very busy today. Sent October 17:

Those parched cornfields are a preview of coming attractions. Scientists predict a 10 percent drop in crop yields for each degree of temperature increase; given that we’re on track for a six-degree rise by the end of the century, we’re looking at agricultural output that could well be cut in half. And that’s not just in America, but everywhere. History and common sense tell us that crop failures trigger food shortages, which can turn whole populations into refugees fleeing a land that can no longer support them.

Unfortunately one of our country’s two major political parties has rejected science, history, and common sense as guidelines for policy, which means that any government attempts to prepare for these environmental, humanitarian, and geopolitical crises will inevitably be hamstrung by irrational posturing and gamesmanship. When the coming century promises to uprooting millions of human lives, such a deny-and-delay strategy is intellectually and morally abhorrent.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 1: Nice Try, Though.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram has a writer named Paul Silva, who’s trying to be funny:

The world is getting hotter and I have the scientific proof.

This weekend is supposed to be cooler than the previous three weeks of broiling temperatures, but don’t let that resurgent marine layer fool you.

Global warming is real, and I don’t need temperature charts, drought-stricken plains or pictures of polar bears swimming in search of ice to tell me that.

I know the world is in meltdown because of three simple harbingers of heat we can’t beat.

Sign No. 1: My tennis-ball obsessed dog has started to quit on me.

Normally, Louie, the younger of my two Labradors, will retrieve a tennis ball as long as I am willing to throw it. When I sit on my couch watching TV, he drops the ball in my lap over and over again until I relent and take him outside to play.

To Louie, tennis balls are the point of living. They are his bliss and his chi. I do not know what this dog would have done with himself before tennis was invented. Maybe he would have fetched pine cones or small furry animals, but he would have fetched something.

During the heat wave, though, he actually reached his level of tennis ball tolerance. After about 10 minutes, he would go for the ball only if I threw it right at his mouth. If it bounced a few feet from him, he would look at me, tongue hanging out, as if to say, “Maybe I have really overestimated this whole tennis ball thing.”

I’m just a f**king killjoy, I suppose. Sent August 26:

Paul Silva’s humorous perspective on climate change offers an inadvertent demonstration of the fact that there’s remarkably little to laugh about when it comes to the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect. It’s not just hotter beach sands and rapidly tiring Labs, but droughts, storms, wildfires and bizarre forms of extreme weather, like the record-setting hot rain earlier this month in Needles, California. With food prices set to spike this fall, and well over a million acres of the United States currently on fire, it’s pretty clear that global climate change isn’t really a gold mine for humorists.

That only one in five Americans feels any sense of responsibility for our greenhouse emissions and the slow-motion disaster they’ve helped create is a sad commentary on a complaisant media that has eschewed thoughtful coverage of science in favor of scandals and titillation. But Mr. Silva’s got a point: as the crisis deepens in the coming years, we’ll need all the laughs we can get.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 29: The Tip Of A Rapidly Melting Iceberg

The August 25 Hartford Courant runs a piece by Robert Thorson, addressing the reality of drought conditions in the United States as a consequence of climate change:

No part of New England (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climatic data center) is experiencing drought. In contrast, 61 percent of the southeastern United States is experiencing moderate drought or worse, with Georgia taking the strongest hit. Things are much drier in the Southern Plains between Louisiana, south Texas, Arizona and Colorado. There, 84 percent of the land is experiencing at least moderate drought, with 47 percent experiencing exceptional drought.

Climate records are falling by the wayside: more than 6,100 records for warmer-than-usual nights, and 2,740 for hotter-than-usual days. Centered over west-central Texas is the largest footprint ever recorded for “exceptional” drought, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Texas is the launching pad for a presidential hopeful who denies that climate is being changed by human influence, and who seems to have forgotten that having a tea party requires water to make the tea.

I’m going to try and work the tar sands issue into as many of these letters as I can. Sent August 26 — I’m back from India and back at this grimly necessary work.

Increasingly frequent and severe droughts are only a part of the multiple vulnerabilities we and our descendants will have to cope with as climate change escalates. There’ll be heavier rains, too, since storms and extreme weather are part of the long-term forecast for humanity’s carbon-enhanced future. The conservatives’ simplistic caricature of “global warming” is a strawman; the work of climate scientists has predicted for decades that a runaway greenhouse effect won’t simply make the planet uniformly hotter, but will trigger innumerable local and regional effects, potentially disrupting and destroying ecologies, infrastructure and agriculture. While it’s too late to avoid many of the consequences of our civilization’s century-long oil and coal binge, we can still mitigate the severity of the coming storms if we rapidly reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels from our energy economy. Conversely, projects like the exploitation of Canadian tar sands are a decisive step in the wrong direction; if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, droughts will be the least of our worries. It’s time to get serious about the reality of climate change.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 24: The Bad News IS The Good News

The August 6 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports that increased CO2 may help some plants resist droughts more effectively:

CHEYENNE — A rising carbon dioxide level may help protect some prairie plants from a decrease in water.

An experiment running at the Agricultural Research Service’s High Plains Grassland Research Station to the northwest of Cheyenne examined the interaction of slightly warmer temperatures, higher carbon dioxide levels and less water.

“The overview is that we’re doing research to evaluate the effects of climate change on grassland ecology,” Jack Morgan, plant physiologist and researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said of the cause of the study.

Of course, without the climate change, there wouldn’t be as many droughts for them to resist. What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away. Or something. Sent August 6:

It’s certainly likely that some effects of climate change will have welcome consequences, like an increase in plants’ ability to resist prolonged dry periods. On the other hand, it’s irrefutable that as the greenhouse effect intensifies, the world as a whole is going to experience more droughts — along with more irregular and extreme weather events of every kind. Those plants are going to need every bit of their augmented survival capability to continue thriving in the coming centuries. So, of course, are humans.

We are clever creatures, and we’ll probably figure out how to keep on keeping on as the world’s climate changes. But we’ll need wisdom, forethought and resourcefulness if our species is to avoid what biologists euphemistically call an “evolutionary bottleneck.” Every day spent denying the threat of global warming is a day wasted; we can no longer delay in preparing for a radically transformed future.

Warren Senders