Friday, August 09, 2013

New Normal in California

While fires rage in southern CA and north and east of us in national forest areas, California's Environmental Protection Agency issued a 270 page report on other climate crisis effects in the state.  The SF Chronicle story noted: "The combined impact described by the indicators is dramatic," said Matthew Rodriquez, California's secretary for environmental protection, whose agency specialists prepared the report.
"The science is clear that we're already seeing significant changes in every part of the state," he said Wednesday. "If you look at these indicators, you can't really debate that climate change, and its impact, is here." 

The quantified impacts include sea level rise, temperature variation, movement of tree, plant and animal species to higher elevations, fires, decline in salmon, increased sea lion pup mortality and other species disruptions. Many of the changes can be traced back a half century, and many are accelerating in recent years.  For instance (acc. to the Chronicle) The annual average acres burned by California wildfires in the dozen years since 2000 (598,000 acres) is more than double the acreage burned in the 50 years between 1950 and 2000 (264,000 acres).

California newspapers gave the story positive play.  A subsequent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News said: "Climate change is not just some abstract scientific debate," California EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez told the Mercury News' Paul Rogers. "It's real, and it's already here." Californians understand the seriousness of the threat. In a poll last week from the Public Policy Institute of California, 79 percent of respondents said they support even bolder action from the state, which is already at the forefront. As in so many other matters, Californians can lead the rest of the nation with this. The cost will be high, but the cost of inaction will be higher."

The LA Times story included: "These environmental indicators are leaning very dominantly in a single direction that is consistent with the early phases of climate change," said Dan Cayan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey who contributed to the report. "It’s not something that's 100 years away; it's already starting to play out."

An Associated Press story published in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and elsewhere said this: Officials hope it will spur the state and local governments to plan ahead and adapt to a hotter future. Monitoring should continue ‘‘to reduce the impacts of climate change and to prepare for those effects that we cannot avoid,’’ George Alexeeff, head of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said in an e-mail.

I've written about the climate crisis for a long time, on this blog and elsewhere.  At first my intent was to spread the word, especially about the urgency of addressing it before we started feeling serious effects that were for all intents and purposes permanent.  That ship has sailed, as this report and other indicators over the past several years prove.

My second purpose in recent years was to promote the notion that we now must deal with two crises, or two aspects of the climate crisis.  We must address the causes of global heating--primarily greenhouse gases--in order to save the farther future from catastrophic change that will end life on earth as we know it.  At the same time, we must address the effects of the global heating and greenhouse gas pollution that has already occurred--effects which can't be stopped, and which will build and will be with us for a long time.

Now, when I hear an official like George Alexeeff quoted above make that second point as a matter of policy guidance, then it is becoming conventional wisdom.  That's good.

But I'm not sure what purpose it serves for me to continue to write about the climate crisis anymore.  The effects are going to be cataloged, and some of them will be somewhat surprising (like the yo-yo effect of carbon in the atmosphere reported Thurs.)   More warnings on continued carbon pollution will be made.  More storms, heat waves etc. will be attributed to the climate crisis, along with the denialists denying it (led by--no surprise, but now quantified,-- Fox News.)   More international conferences will grapple with what to do.  More progress will be made on clean energy, and more money from fossils who own fossil fuel companies will fuel denial.

It's now largely in the hands of policy makers, a great many of them on the state, regional and local levels.  Also corporations seeing opportunities, or realizing that their asses are in the fire, regardless of how lovely things are for monstrous oil companies.  If I think I can contribute anything new, then sure.  But in my limited time I wonder if this is the best use of it.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Climate Crisis is The New Normal

NOAA's climate report for 2012, issued Tuesday, adds more substance if no real surprises to the climate crisis as--in its words--the new normal.

This report involves 384 climate scientists from 52 countries, and tons of data.  Climate crisis deniers like to point to the slowing of the rate of global heating, which scientists believe is a temporary effect of the latest La Nina.  But there's the ongoing long term trend, and the specific data that supports the dour idea that heating is going to continue and probably accelerate.

The ongoing trend is for more climate records to be broken.  For instance: • Record ice loss from melting glaciers. 2012 will be the 22nd year in a row of ice loss.
• Near-record ocean heat content, a measure of heat stored in the oceans. When the ocean holds more heat than it releases, its heat content increases.
• Record sea level rise of 1.4 inches above average.
• Record-low June snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. The June snow cover has declined 17 percent per decade since 1979, outpacing the shrinking summer Arctic sea ice extent by 4 percent.
• Record-low summer Arctic sea ice extent. Sea ice shrank to its smallest summer minimum since record-keeping began 34 years ago.
• Record-high winter Antarctic sea ice extent of 7.51 million square miles (19.44 million square kilometers) in September.
• Record-high man-made greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. In 2012, for the first time, global average carbon dioxide concentrations hit 392 parts per million and exceeded 400 ppm at some observation sites. The number means there were 400 carbon dioxide molecules per 1 million air molecules.

It's the Arctic melting that forecasts trouble ahead, including sea level rise, but also triggering more heating.  And the consistency of data led one of the report's co-authors to conclude "The near records being reported from year to year are no longer anomalies or exceptions," Richter-Menge said. "They have become the norm for us and what we expect to see in the near future."

NOAA compiles this report for the use of policymakers who are responsible for making policy for the future.  That's where the New Normal comes in.

The report's data indicate "new normal" conditions that can inform planning decisions, instead of relying on models that "count on the future being statistically a lot like the past," Sullivan said at a news briefing.

It  cuts no ice, Arctic or otherwise, with certain irresponsible policymakers.  The U.S. House for example just passed a bill that declared carbon pollution isn't a problem.  (They say you can't legislate morality--but apparently you can legislate reality.)  A GOPer controlled House committee voted to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and then cut its budget by a third to make sure.

None of that is likely to pass the Senate, and at the other end of PA Ave., the Secretary of Interior declared to her employees that she wants no climate crisis deniers among them.  But in terms of the effect on actual policy, this conflict creates what I called in a different context, a "furious stasis."  

This is the U.S.--even though in 2012 the global temp only got into the top ten, while it was the hottest year on record for the U.S.  Meanwhile an unequivocal statement from 60,000 scientists of the American Geophysical Union, just the latest scientific organization to say something similar:

This week the group issued a two-page statement with the headline: "Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years." It added, "Human-induced climate change requires urgent action."