Friday, June 17, 2011

Global weirding

The strange weather patterns just keep getting stranger.  Hardly a day goes by anymore that I don't find myself muttering "It's a good thing this climate change stuff is a 'hoax' or I would REALLY be worried."

Of course, the REALLY strange part about the denial of overwhelming evidence that we have seriously screwed with the atmosphere is not that folks must ignore what is happening outside their front door (or ripping off the front door in a tornado), it's that folks simply cannot imagine all the good things that would follow if we actually got serious about addressing this catastrophic problem.  I mean, the denial is fairly easy to explain--confusion caused by paid liars from the carbon industries, faulty memories about past climatic conditions, resistance to change (especially the expensive variety), etc.  But the failure of imagination is harder to explain--especially in USA where not so long ago, folks with vision and inventiveness pretty much dominated the direction of the nation.  Oh there are still remnants of the visionaries that once built a nation--it's just that most of them these days are working on Wall Street trying to figure out ever more innovative ways to cheat people.

While we dither and deny, the time to make significant improvements to the carbon and fire-based infrastructure slips away.  A screwed-up atmosphere is not something that will fix itself.  And meaningful action must happen soon--like ten years ago.  Unfortunately, we aren't going to get action from the institutions created to address these sorts of problems--like government.  It's not bad enough that everyone running for President on the Republican side is a loud climate-change denier, but as I write, a gathering of lefty "progressives" is meeting in Minneapolis and they cannot be bothered to address this life-and-death issue in a four-day convention.

Warning: extreme weather ahead
Tornados, wildfires, droughts and floods were once seen as freak conditions. But the environmental disasters now striking the world are shocking signs of 'global weirding'
John Vidal, Monday 13 June 2011 19.59 BST
Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just registered its wettest-ever May. The warmest British spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest UK winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March. February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon, but last Saturday it snowed there.
Welcome to the climate rollercoaster, or what is being coined the "new normal" of weather. What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild and equable British weather, guaranteed to be warmish and wettish, ensuring green lawns in August, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year. When Kent receives as much rain (4mm) in May as Timbuktu, Manchester has more sunshine than Marbella, and soils in southern England are drier than those in Egypt, something is happening.
Sober government scientists at the centre for hydrology and ecology are openly using words like "remarkable", "unprecedented" and "shocking" to describe the recent physical state of Britain this year, but the extremes we are experiencing in 2011 are nothing to the scale of what has been taking place elsewhere recently.
Last year, more than 2m sq km of eastern Europe and Russia scorched. An extra 50,000 people died as temperatures stayed more than 6C above normal for many weeks, crops were devastated and hunderds of giant wild fires broke out. The price of wheat and other foods rose as two thirds of the continent experienced its hottest summer in around 500 years.
This year, it's western Europe's turn for a mega-heatwave, with 16 countries, including France, Switzerland and Germany (and Britain on the periphery), experiencing extreme dryness. The blame is being out on El Niño and La Niña, naturally occurring but poorly understood events that follow heating and cooling of the Pacific ocean near the equator, bringing floods and droughts.
Vast areas of Europe have received less than half the rainfall they would normally get in March, April and May, temperatures have been off the scale for the time of year, nuclear power stations have been in danger of having to be shut down because they need so much river water to cool them, and boats along many of Europe's main rivers have been grounded because of low flows. In the past week, the great European spring drought has broken in many places as massive storms and flash floods have left the streets of Germany and France running like rivers.
But for real extremes in 2011, look to Australia, China and the southern US these past few months. In Queeensland, Australia, an area the size of Germany and France was flooded in December and January in what was called the country's "worst natural disaster". It cost the economy up to A$30bn (£19.5bn), devastated livelihoods and is still being cleaned up.
In China, a "once-in-a-100-years" drought in southern and central regions has this year dried up hundreds of reservoirs, rivers and water courses, evaporating drinking supplies and stirring up political tensions. The government responded with a massive rain-making operation, firing thousands of rockets to "seed" clouds with silver iodide and other chemicals. It may have worked: for whatever reason, the heavens opened last week, a record 30cm of rain fell in some places in 24 hours, floods and mudslides killed 94 people, and tens of thousands of people have lost their homes.
Meanwhile, north America's most deadly and destructive tornado season ever saw 600 "twisters" in April alone, and 138 people killed in Joplin, Missouri, by a mile-wide whirlwind. Arizonans were this week fighting some of the largest wildfires they have known, and the greatest flood in recorded US history is occurring along sections of the Missouri river. This is all taking place during a deepening drought in Texas and other southern states – the eighth year of "exceptional" drought there in the past 12 years. more

CLIMATE | 07.06.2011
Kyoto successor looks bleak at Bonn climate talks
Global emissions reached an all-time high last year
Delegates from around the world are meeting in Bonn to prepare the way for this year's climate summit in South Africa. The UN's climate chief seems to think the time has run out for a second round of the Kyoto Protocol.
It is unclear, as yet, what will happen when the first commitment period of the sole treaty setting out legally binding emissions targets expires at the end of 2012.
The plan was to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, but with Russia, Japan and Canada all saying they will not sign up to a new round of cuts unless emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil get on board, that is not looking very likely.
The US, which has always refused to ratify Kyoto, is one of a number of countries which favors an approach based upon voluntary commitment.
Developing countries and many environmental groups observing the talks consider voluntary pledges to cut emissions a step backwards. 
"We need political commitment by the end of the year at the latest," Jan Kowalzig, climate expert with the German branch of the charity Oxfam, told Deutsche Welle. "And if that is not forthcoming, it will spell the end of the Kyoto Protocol."
No new Kyoto in the offing.  Christiana Figueres has urged delegates to focus on the two-degree target:
"Even if they were able to agree on a legal text for a second commitment period that requires an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, it requires legislative ratifications on the part of three-quarters of the parties, so we would assume that there's no time to do that between Durban and the end of 2012," she told reporters at the Bonn talks, which run until mid-June.
Referring back to the climate summit in Cancun last December, when governments agreed to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, she said a target temperature range had been set, and that it was now essential to work towards it.
"Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilized towards living up to this commitment," Figueres said. more 

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