Year 4, Month 12, Day 18: A Little More Lovely Than It Was Before You

The Spokesman-Review takes note of a new study on the Rockies’ rapidly disappearing snowpack:

Last weekend’s doozy of a storm followed a classic Northwest weather script.

Winds gusting to 40 mph blew moisture-rich air from the ocean into the Cascades and Northern Rockies, dumping snow on the mountains while leaving lower elevations bare.

The winds – called “winter westerlies” – are vital to a region that depends on mountain snowpack for its water supply. But a new study suggests that climate change is disrupting the winds, with stark implications for future water availability.

“Those winds are being slowed down by climate change,” said Charlie Luce, a research hydrologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise. That means fewer storms will reach the mountains, or smaller water droplets will drift over the peaks as fog instead of falling as snow, he said.

Either scenario would mean additional headaches for Northwest policymakers preparing for an altered climate.

Warmer temperatures already are expected to shift some Northwest precipitation from snow to rain and cause the snow that does accumulate to melt earlier in the year. The net effect is reduced runoff during the spring and summer, when the water is needed for irrigation, hydropower, fisheries and other uses. Complicating matters, Luce’s study suggests there will be far less water to begin with.

The “Missing Mountain Water” study was published last week in Science magazine by Luce and researchers from the University of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service.

This letter is a pastiche from previous efforts. December 6:

The newly released study of the Northwest’s shrinking snowpack offers further support to an enormous body of research that confirms a distressing planetary trend. Human greenhouse emissions have achieved quantities sufficient to warm the Earth’s atmosphere and affect ecosystems all around the world in unpredictable and disruptive ways. This loss of water resources in the Rockies and Cascades is exacerbated by those politicians and media figures whose rigid ideologies compel them to reject the implications of scientific inquiry and analysis.

Our national case of ADD has blinded us to the fact that when it comes to the planet’s health, we’re all in this together. Perhaps the climate crisis may finally help us realize that what we do in our own neighborhoods can affect people’s lives on the other side of the globe — and that what we do today will shape the lives of our descendants in the distant future.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 17: There Is No Greater Love

The Boise Weekly assesses climate impacts on Idaho:

Winter in Idaho is many things: bracing, frustrating, stunningly beautiful, exhilarating, inversion-stricken, way too long or way too short. No matter how the season measures up, it remains one thing: the climatic engine that drives everything else for the rest of the year.

In the West, water rules all, and in a place like Idaho, where roughly 80 percent of the annual precipitation comes in the form of snow, the entire economy–even the lifestyle–is tied in some way to winter. From irrigating crops to moving water down the rivers for recreation, and from flood management to supporting the water needs of a growing population (and keeping things green enough that the whole area doesn’t burst into flames every summer), everything depends on winter snows and the spring runoff they create.

But what if Idaho winters went the way of the dodo? What if continued climate changes mean that winters heat up and seasonal snows become a memory told in tales that start with the phrase, “When I was a kid…”?

The Bad News

While there are still some skeptics out there, the majority of scientists now agree that the world is experiencing climate change and that its effects vary by location. In Idaho, forecasting models predict that winters will continue to get warmer and, because of that, most of the precipitation in the Treasure Valley will come in the form of rain, with snows limited to higher and higher elevations.

This also means that hot, dry summers will likely continue to be the norm, but without winter snows and spring runoff, the strategy for coping with those conditions will have to change.

“Everything here ties back to water and our ability to keep it,” said Scott Lowe, associate professor in the Department of Economics at Boise State University and director of the Environmental Studies Program.

“This nexus of water, energy, agriculture … we have an understanding of it, but people in the Treasure Valley don’t realize to what extent it’s intertwined,” Lowe said.

Nobody does, sir. Nobody does. November 7:

When it comes to confronting the troublesome facts of climate change, Idaho’s farmers aren’t alone. All over on Earth, we’re waking up to the realization that that the tab for a century-long binge on fossil-fuels is coming due. Whether they’re monocropping food factories in the corn belt or sharecropping peasants in nations like Bangladesh, agriculturists are discovering that the predictable seasons and stable regional environments that made productive farming possible are being compromised — often enough to trigger crop failures or drastically reduced yields — by the consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

To prepare for the coming decades of increased climatic instability, we need arguments; we need a vigorous public discussion of coping strategies, risk assessment, and scientific findings. But we don’t need any more arguments about the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change; that subject is as settled as (for example) the link between smoking and cancer.

The oil and coal industries still supporting climate-deniers in our media and politics do not have the best interests of our species at heart; they sacrifice our collective future at the altar of profit.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 16: It’s As Plain As The Face Underneath Your Nose

The Capital Press (WA) talks to farmers, who are worried about water, not the bigger picture.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Water worries carry more weight than climate change for two Western Washington farmers.

Dairy farmer Jay Gordon sees too much water, and he doesn’t know whether to blame coal-burning in China or a warming Earth, but “for a bunch of us in the Chehalis, the question is over: It’s raining more.”

Gordon and his wife own a 600-acre dairy on the Chehalis River that his family homesteaded in 1872. The river has flooded many times during that span. The most recent major floods, in 2007 and 2009, left vast areas of farmland and a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 underwater.

“The river gauge shows earlier floods, more floods and higher levels,” he said. “We’ve had four 100-year floods in 23 years’ time; 75 percent of the highest floods were in the past 23 years.”

He said fellow dairy farmers have told him, “I can’t handle one more of these. This is getting old.”

Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, spoke during a recent symposium on “Climate Change and the Future of Food.” Symposium sponsors and coordinators included Washington State University, the University of Washington, government agencies, conservation districts, researchers and a shellfish producer.

Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, said he doesn’t see climate change as a high priority.

“Everyone in ag knows about adapting to change,” he said. “It’s down on the list of worries.”

Uh-huh. November 6:

To worry about water while dismissing climate change is to obsess over symptoms while ignoring the sickness that causes them. A transforming climate cannot be separated from the state of water resources, whether they’re in the American West, the steppes of Central Asia, or the heart of the Amazon. A hotter atmosphere evaporates more water, creating higher humidity conditions while adding energy to the system as a whole. The result: more precipitation, less predictability — both conditions which make agriculture more difficult.

The phrase “climate change”, while an accurate description of a global phenomenon, doesn’t adequately convey the local and regional consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect. Some areas will experience devastating droughts — while elsewhere on the globe, that missing water will be flooding villagers and drowning fields. Extreme and unseasonal storms, wilder temperature swings, and significant loss of necessary biodiversity are just some of the symptoms we can expect in the coming decades as our increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 make their impacts felt.

The future of water is inextricably linked to the future of our planet’s climate; to dismiss or downplay the connection is like fixating on birthday parties — while ignoring the processes of aging.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 29: Happy Birthday

The Southwest is in for a rough summer. The Albuquerque Journal (NM):

With the preliminary April 1 runoff forecast numbers in hand, this is “the worst year ever” on the Rio Grande, according to Phil King, New Mexico State University professor and the water management adviser to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. “Ever” in this case translates to a century of water management on the river system through modern New Mexico.

The most likely forecast calls for just 14 percent of the long term average for spring runoff into Elephant Butte Reservoir, according to federal forecasters. That’s not a surprise – King and others were watching the March weather and knew the numbers would be bad. But still… “It hurts to get slugged in the stomach,” King told me this afternoon, “even if you were expecting it.”

EBID will begin releasing what limited water it has to lower Rio Grande farmers beginning in early June, and hope for a big monsoon, King said.

Upstream, farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are seeing water already in their ditches, but it’s not clear how long that will last, according to David Gensler, the agency’s water manager. The District will run out of stored water in upstream dams sometime in late June, according to Gensler, after which farmers will depend on whatever meager supply comes from natural river flow.

“This is going to be one of, if not the worst years in memory,” Gensler said.

Synchronicity, I call it. May 17:

While climatology cannot state definitively that this summer’s projected extreme drought is a direct consequence of climate change, observations and analysis do allow us to understand that the burgeoning greenhouse effect is having an alarming impact. For exmple, atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere was distorted for several months following the breakdown of the polar vortex, and extreme high pressure above the Labrador sea pushed the normal storm track south of its usual Atlantic position. All of these changes happening across the globe will hardly leave the Southwest untouched, and in fact it looks like a third straight year of tinderbox conditions lies ahead for New Mexico.

Sure, it might be just a “coincidence” that climatologists have predicted just the sort of harsher droughts and extreme weather that are now making headlines. But if so, it’s a coincidence that’s happening all over the world, with steadily increasing frequency and intensity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 5: DiHydrogen Monoxide

The Washington Post runs an AP article on World Water Day, featuring that irresponsible hippie, Ban ki-Moon:

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is warning that by 2030 nearly half the world’s population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40 percent.

Ban said one in three people already live in a country with moderate to high water stress. He spoke Friday at a U.N. event marking the opening of the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013 and the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of World Water Day.

He said “competition is growing among farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country; upstream and downstream; and across borders.”

With a growing global population and climate change, he said international cooperation is essential to protect water resources.

“Let us use it more intelligently and waste less so all get a fair share,” Ban said.

Shrill, I know. March 23:

As Ban Ki-moon emphasizes, regional populations everywhere are coming under unprecedented environmental pressures. Even as extreme weather events increase, dumping huge quantities of rain or snow on ill-prepared communities, others are discovering that drought, once an unwelcome visitor, is now a permanent resident.

Barring new infrastructural technology that will allow regions buffeted by unseasonal precipitation to save their water and transport it to areas where it’s urgently needed, we can anticipate a profound humanitarian crisis. By delaying and hindering adaptation strategies, the climate-change deniers in our media and politics have ensured a tragedy of unprecedented proportions.

Singing of a “hard rain” in the early 1960s, Bob Dylan referred to nuclear annihilation. Fifty years later, his song’s an eerie prophecy of the burgeoning climate crisis — harkening to the “sound of a thunder, it roared out a warning,” and the “roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 14: I Feel Pretty

The Orlando Sentinel considers the question of water supplies, and wonders:

…how might climate change play out at a local level? Will the amount of fresh water in the Floridan Aquifer or the Kissimmee and St. Johns rivers shrink to critically low levels? And which coastal cities’ wells are most likely to become fouled by seawater?

Spurred by that lack of location-specific knowledge, a half-dozen Florida water utilities, along with state water managers and some university scientists, have formed a grass-roots alliance to do what otherwise isn’t being done: Figure out what climate change will do in different parts of Florida and devise ways to ensure enough water for the state’s counties and cities in the years and decades to come.

“It’s a very big concern of ours,” said Rob Teegarden, vice president of Orlando Utilities Commission’s water division. “The world and the nation have no plan for serious climate-policy initiatives. People have their desires, but they aren’t there yet, and we’re trying to seriously figure it out.”

Don’t mention who’s responsible for the “no plan” part. March 5:

By all means acknowledge that climate change will to impact Florida’s water supplies, and that there’s been too little action at the federal level on this issue. But it’s important to understand that there’s been little or no meaningful policy response from Washington on what’s perhaps the most important issue facing America and the world because Republican politicians have adopted such extreme anti-science attitudes that reality-based positions no longer have any place in the legislative agenda.

Scientific method is a great way to develop an accurate picture of the universe and how it works. Since environment and energy policies are implemented in the real world, it makes sense to base them on the findings of scientists rather than hidebound ideologies. But until the GOP stops steeping itself in an anti-intellectual teapot, Floridians are on their own when it comes to coping with the consequences of a radically transforming climate.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 16: Low Bridge! Everybody Down!

The Ridgefield Press (CT) runs a column on climate change and the problem with rivers:

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is negatively affecting the health of rivers and, by extension, the quality and availability of fresh water? — Robert Elman

Global warming is no doubt going to cause many kinds of problems (and, indeed, already is), and rivers may well be some of the hardest hit geographical features, given the likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread of waterborne diseases.

For one, rivers are already starting to lose the amount of water they channel. A 2009 study at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that water volume in the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest declined by 14 percent since the 1950s. This trend is similar in major rivers all over the world.

“Many communities will see their water supplies shrink as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift,” reports the nonprofit American Rivers, adding that a rise in severe storms will degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic floods. “Changes in the timing and location of precipitation combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife species.” These shifts will have dramatic impacts, threatening public health, weakening economies and decreasing the quality of life in many places. In the U.S., the number of storms with extreme precipitation has increased 24 percent since the late 1940s-and the trend is expected to continue.

I got them deep river blues. Sent January 11:

The ongoing slow-motion catastrophe of climate change is getting harder to deny. Precipitously dropping river levels are one of the most powerful indicators that in countless ways, things ain’t what they used to be — a realization daily shared by formerly doubting Americans who’ve started to see global warming’s effects first-hand. But despite the burgeoning awareness of the problem, many of our country’s social and infrastructural mechanisms are stuck in the past. Developed in a period of conspicuous consumption and never upgraded, both agriculture and manufacturing sectors waste unimaginable quantities of water every day — water that will soon be recognized as a precious resource, not a disposable commodity.

New technology will be vital in husbanding dwindling water supplies, but the most important changes will be in our attitudes and behavior. We Americans must recognize that the era of waste is ended, and transform our ways of living accordingly.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 4: Stop Me Before I Strike Again!

California’s gonna get a soaker sometime soon (SF Chronicle):

Global sea-level rise, induced by the warming climate, will hit California’s coastline harder than the other West Coast states over the coming decades and on through the end of the century, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

Oceans around the world are rising, but seas around California will rise even higher – by more than 3 feet before 2100, the report says. Tide gauges and satellites show that the rate of sea-level rise has increased steadily since 1900, and with each passing decade, storm surges and high waves will put low-lying regions like the Bay Area at heightened risk of dangerous flooding.

The forecasts come from the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which appointed the 12-member committee to investigate earlier estimates of sea-level rise and factor in all new available evidence. The result was a 260-page report issued Friday.

The report was commissioned primarily by California’s Department of Water Resources, along with state agencies from Oregon and Washington in order to aid their planning efforts.

Another job-killing bureaucracy to kill! Sent June 23:

The next few decades are going to be ones of drastic transition for many Americans. Insulated by our wealth and elaborate consumer lifestyle, we have lost sight of the fact that ultimately our lives entirely depend on our increasingly tenuous control of water.

Now, as rising oceans transform our coastlines, inland states anticipate water shortages. Even as our vulnerable aquifers are overused by an expanding population, climate change makes weather more unpredictable and droughts more extreme. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see that this future isn’t going to be kind to us, despite the glib pronouncements of denialists in politics and the media.

In a sensible world, the National Research Council’s report on global sea-level rise would be a wake-up call for all of us, everywhere. Since our world is anything but sensible, what are the odds that the next Republican “jobs” bill will also eliminate funding for the NRC?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 6: Here’s Your Allowance For The Next Decade, Sweetheart. It’s All In Pennies.

The New York Times reports on a scary new study:

New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.

By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.

If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.

That’s pretty fucking alarming. Sent April 27:

A projected twenty percent acceleration in Earth’s water cycle holds the potential for catastrophic ripple effects throughout our lives and those of our posterity. Without a steady supply of water throughout the growing season, agriculture on civilization-feeding scales will become exponentially more difficult. While its impacts on farming will be profound, the drought-or-deluge model predicted by Paul Durack and his colleagues can be expected to transform beyond recognition many of the local and regional ecosystems our forbears took for granted.

To avoid the worst-case scenarios implicit in these findings, we must begin planning for a future in which water supplies will be irregular and extreme. We’ll need expanded and reinforced storage and conservation, water-stingy techniques of manufacturing, a completely re-imagined waste-processing system, and the infrastructure required by a host of other functions. Most difficult of all, we need to make our paralyzed political system respond constructively to an imminent crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 27: We Used To Use These On Mountainsides.

The Christian Science Monitor addresses the study of decreasing snow mass in the Rockies:

A blend of natural climate swings and global warming appears to be driving a long-term decline in snowpack along the Rocky Mountains rarely seen in the past 800 years.

In the process, and perhaps more important for the future, the dominant driver behind available snowpack along the continental spine appears to be shifting from precipitation to temperature, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

If this shift holds, the study’s team adds, it could represent a change that would accelerate the loss of the West’s natural freshwater reservoirs – if long-term average temperatures continue to rise with increasing levels of industrial greenhouse gases, as most climate scientists are convinced they will.

Ski the Rocky Mountains while you can, kids.

Sent June 12:

There aren’t a great many surprises in the new study of the Rocky Mountains’ shrinking snowpack. Rather, we find evidence that supports hundreds of other studies in the confirmation of a troubling planetary trend. The Earth is warming; human beings are causing it with emissions of greenhouse gases; it’s going to affect ecosystems all around the world in complex and disruptive ways. The Rocky Mountains are one such area, and their decreasing snow mass is going to have significant effects on the water usage patterns of the entire American West. It is a tragedy in the making, exacerbated by an ideologically-based refusal of “conservatives” to acknowledge scientific reality and its implications. In fact, self-styled conservatives are the real radicals when it comes to climate: by advocating a rapid transformation of the Earth’s atmosphere to unexplored extremes, they’re endangering all of us. That’s not conservatism, that’s reckless insanity.

Warren Senders