Indigenous peoples around the world tell myths which contain warning signs for natural disasters. Scientists are now listening.
Native knowledge. A Moken woman stares out to sea. Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket/Getty
Carrie Arnold is a freelance science writer, whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Scientific American and Slate, among others. Her latest book is Decoding Anorexia (2012). She lives in Virginia.
Shortly before 8am on 26 December 2004, the cicadas fell silent and the ground shook in dismay. The Moken, an isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, knew that the Laboon, the ‘wave that eats people’, had stirred from his ocean lair. The Moken also knew what was next: a towering wall of water washing over their island, cleansing it of all that was evil and impure. To heed the Laboon’s warning signs, elders told their children, run to high ground.
The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were directly in the path of the tsunami generated by the magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Final totals put the islands’ death toll at 1,879, with another 5,600 people missing. When relief workers finally came ashore, however, they realised that the death toll was skewed. The islanders who had heard the stories about the Laboon or similar mythological figures survived the tsunami essentially unscathed. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern Nicobar Islands. Part of the reason was the area’s geography, which generated a higher wave. But also at the root was the lack of a legacy; many residents in the city of Port Blair were outsiders, leaving them with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.
Humanity has always courted disaster. We have lived, died and even thrived alongside vengeful volcanoes and merciless waves. Some disasters arrive without warning, leaving survival to luck. Often, however, there is a small window of time giving people a chance to escape. Learning how to crack open this window can be difficult when a given catastrophe strikes once every few generations. So humans passed down stories through the ages that helped cultures to cope when disaster inevitably struck. These stories were fodder for anthropologists and social scientists, but in the past decade, geologists have begun to pay more attention to how indigenous peoples understood, and prepared for, disaster. These stories, which couched myth in metaphor, could ultimately help scientists prepare for cataclysms to come.
Anyone who has spent time around small children gets used to the question ‘why?’ Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why does thunder make such a loud noise? A friend’s mother told us that thunder was God going bowling in the sky. Nature need not be scary and unpredictable, even if it was controlled by forces we could neither see nor understand.
The human penchant for stories and meaning is nothing new. Myths and legends provide entertainment, but they also transmit knowledge of how to behave and how the world works. Breaking the code of these stories, however, takes skill. Tales of gods gone bowling during summer downpours seems nonsensical on the surface, but know a little about the sudden thunderclaps and the clatter of bowling pins as they’re struck by a ball, and the story makes sense.
In 1968, Dorothy Vitaliano, a geologist at Indiana University, pioneered the study of cultural myths that told of real geological events. Ancient Sanskrit tales told of entire cities that sunk beneath the waves with all the hallmarks of a tsunami. Plato’s story of the utopian Atlantis, destroyed by the gods in a wreckage of fire, might have referred to a volcano that partially destroyed the Greek island of Thera more than 3,500 years ago.
this story wasn’t simply a saga of angry gods but a geological record of an ancient eruption
Vitaliano published her work in a folklore journal, not a scientific one. It would take another geologist, Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, to bring the field more fully into the physical sciences. Nunn’s work in the paradisiacal South Pacific gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the islands’ traditional cultures. A group on Fiji regaled him with a story of Tanovo, the ancient chief of the Fijian island of Ono. One day, Tanovo ran across his main rival, the chief of the volcano Nabukelevu. To intimidate Tanovo, the volcano chief made Nabukelevu rise up and belch gas and burning rock into the air. Tanovo responded by weaving massive baskets to remove the mountain, dropping the debris in the ocean to create new islands. To Nunn, this story wasn’t simply a saga of angry gods but a geological record of an ancient eruption. Pressure from magma can make a volcano expand in size before the release of gas and ash. Geologists knew that small islands around Fiji were the result of volcanic rubble, but Nunn was the first geologist to hear these stories and read between the lines.
The problem was that the best geological evidence Nunn could find dated the last eruption of Nabukelevu to 50,000 years in the past, long before any humans inhabited Fiji. Nunn wrote off the tale as merely a fanciful story, and it would have remained that way if not for a new road being built near the volcano. When construction workers dug out the roadbed, they discovered pottery fragments mixed in a three-foot layer of ash. Further analysis revealed that the fragments were 3,000 years old, dating to 1,000 years after humans first arrived on Fiji.
These stories, in synch with archaeological finds, provided evidence of ‘geological events we don’t have access to any other way. There are not many examples of wholly invented myths – ancient humans were not like modern fiction writers. The point of these stories was to pass knowledge along,’ Nunn explained.
Brian McAdoo, a tsunami scientist at Yale-NUS in Singapore, began his career plumbing the depths of the ocean in high-tech submersibles to understand the earthquakes that triggered tsunamis. In 1998, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, triggering a tsunami estimated to have killed more than 2,000 on the island. The quake was comparatively gentle for such a deadly tsunami, which led McAdoo to begin looking at the social and cultural factors that made some geological disasters deadlier than others. His research introduced him to local tribes who told him traditional stories about earthquakes and tsunamis from the past.
‘A lot of the people we talked to said that their grandmothers would tell these stories about how their grandmothers survived a tsunami,’ McAdoo said.
As McAdoo was delving into the mysteries of Fijian stories in the southwestern Pacific, other scientists were using a similar strategy to study seismic events in the Pacific Northwest. Brian Atwater, an employee of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the 1970s and ’80s, was tasked with mapping the earthquake risks across Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. To do that, Atwater needed information about previous earthquakes that had struck the area. Written records dated back only about 200 years, so Atwater, now at the University of Washington in Seattle, initially relied on information that he could glean from the soil and rocks.
His work sent him into areas where native peoples had lived for thousands of years, and they told the government scientist their own myths about gods who walked the earth, stomping their feet and making the ground shake, as well as giant waves that swept over the land shortly thereafter.
In 2007, Atwater identified a massive earthquake that spawned an equally massive tsunami, decimating villages and forever altering the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. When his team dated the debris from the earthquake, he discovered it had occurred around the year 1700.
‘It was a horrible thing – the burial of a house and no doubt its occupants. It’s a really sobering experience to sift through those artefacts’
When Japanese seismologists heard of this date, they immediately contacted Atwater about a rogue tsunami that no one could explain. The Japanese, of course, were long familiar with tsunamis, having coined the word. They knew that the wall of water always followed an earthquake, and people living along the coast had learned to seek higher ground when they felt the ground start to shake. Yet in the 12th year of the Genroku era, or 1700 CE, a tsunami had hurtled itself into Japan’s eastern shore, but without an accompanying earthquake.
Modern seismologists guessed that the tsunami must have been spawned by an earthquake on the other side of the Pacific, but they couldn’t be any more specific. Atwater’s work gave them the missing information: in the Cascades, the Juan de Fuca plate dives beneath the North American plate, but it doesn’t move smoothly. The rocks get stuck, and tension builds. When the stress becomes too high, the fault ruptures and the plates move – a process that humans describe as an earthquake. Based on the precise recordings of the Japanese tsunami, the researchers provided a much more precise date for the earthquake that devastated the Pacific Northwest. Sometime around 9pm on Tuesday, 26 January 1700, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit as the plates violently released the stress pent up in the rocks.
‘It was a horrible thing to contemplate – the burial of a house and no doubt its occupants, as well as so many other parts of their lives. It’s a really sobering experience to sift through those artefacts,’ Atwater said.
Linking traditional Native American stories to historic records of a Japanese tsunami was considered an exception, not the start of a fruitful geological collaboration. It seemed that McAdoo, Nunn and Atwater’s explorations would be confined to the fringes of geology.
Then the 2004 tsunami struck.
A century before, a tsunami had slammed into the Indonesian island of Simeulue, killing hundreds and leaving even more homeless. The event was seared into the memory of those who survived, determined to pass their hard-earned wisdom along to their children. Their instructions were devastatingly simple: if the water recedes after an earthquake, run immediately to high ground. They didn’t invoke gods or the supernatural, but these types of warnings likely formed the kernel of later myths and traditional stories, Nunn says. During the tsunami of 2004, their efficacy was clear. On Simeulue, with a population of more than 80,000, only seven people died. Before the roar of the waves drowned out human voices, the island was filled with shouts of ‘Smong! Smong! Smong!’, the local word for a tsunami.
Such stories regularly cropped up in the weeks and months following the tsunami. Residents of remote villages knew exactly what to do and survived with relatively few casualties. As the stories gained in popularity, the idea that they had valid geological merit began to grow.
‘The 2004 tsunami completely changed how science looked at disasters. There were more conversations between social scientists, natural scientists, and engineers, which led to more insights on how and why these disasters happened,’ McAdoo said.
Most recently, a paper in Science published in August 2016 revealed geological evidence for a massive ancient flood in China that had long been rumoured to have spurred the formation of the country’s first imperial dynasty. Around 4,000 years ago, the stories go, an ‘Emperor Yu’ rose to power based on his ability to drain lowlands of flood. No one knew whether Emperor Yu was a real person or whether the floodwaters he tamed actually existed.
Yet studying the landslides in the Jishi Gorge that dammed the Yellow River high in the Tibetan plateau, a team of Chinese scientists gathered archaeological and geological evidence to demonstrate that the dams failed right around the time that China’s first dynasty emerged. The failure rerouted the Yellow River, a dynamic that could lead to persistent flooding downstream. The researchers also found evidence of large-scale drainage projects in the Yellow River delta that popped up not long after the Jishi Gorge landslides.
My personal suburban legends left me intimately familiar with what to do if I ever saw a funnel cloud
The destructive power of natural disasters hasn’t diminished in the thousands of years during which these stories were told and retold. And humanity now faces an even greater catastrophe in the form of climate change. Unlike floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, the devastation from global warming isn’t sudden and violent. It has been creeping up on us for decades, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less deadly. To fight these changes, humanity needs a new set of tales.
On Fiji, 25-year-old Betty Barkha is traversing her homeland to gather stories of how locals are responding to increased cyclones and flooding caused by our changing climate. These stories might not have the nail-biting drama of oral epics filled with supernatural forces, but they can connect with readers and listeners in ways that dry data from government agencies can’t.
Most humans don’t spend their evenings swapping stories around a campfire, but we haven’t lost our penchant for myth. The same summer storms caused by gods gone bowling could also generate tornadoes. As a child in the Midwest, I knew all the signs: a sky that looked like pea soup, wind that had the angry roar of an oncoming train, and the plaintive wail of a warning siren. A few years before I was born, a tornado had ripped through my town, leaving a path of debris less than a quarter mile from my home. Decades later, stories are still told of how a gas station was levelled on one side of the street but a building diagonally across was untouched. My personal suburban legends left me intimately familiar with what to do if I ever saw a funnel cloud.
Whether the disaster is earthquake, volcano or ocean wave, modern responses will likely involve cutting-edge science, but chances are we’ll also be spinning stories for aeons to come.
1. More scientists are investigating ways to help people adapt
Over the past half century, thousands of scientists around the world have dedicated their careers to documenting the link between climate change and human activity. A remarkable amount of this work has been done at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, New York. Indeed, one of the founders of modern climate science, the late Columbia geochemist Wally Broecker ’53CC, ’58GSAS, popularized the term “global warming” and first alerted the broader scientific community to the emerging climate crisis in a landmark 1975 paper. He and other Columbia researchers then set about demonstrating that rising global temperatures could not be explained by the earth’s natural long-term climate cycles. For evidence, they relied heavily on Columbia’s world-class collections of tree-ring samples and deep-sea sediment cores, which together provide a unique window into the earth’s climate history.
Today, experts say, the field of climate science is in transition. Having settled the question of whether humans are causing climate change — the evidence is “unequivocal,” according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — many scientists have been branching out into new areas, investigating the myriad ways that global warming is affecting our lives. Columbia scholars from fields as diverse as public health, agriculture, economics, law, political science, urban planning, finance, and engineering are now teaming up with climate scientists to learn how communities can adapt to the immense challenges they are likely to confront.
The University is taking bold steps to support such interdisciplinary thinking. Its new Columbia Climate School, established last year, is designed to serve as a hub for research and education on climate sustainability. Here a new generation of students will be trained to find creative solutions to the climate crisis. Its scholars are asking questions such as: How can communities best protect themselves from rising sea levels and intensifying storm surges, droughts, and heat waves? When extreme weather occurs, what segments of society are most vulnerable? And what types of public policies and ethical principles are needed to ensure fair and equitable adaptation strategies? At the same time, Columbia engineers, physicists, chemists, data scientists, and others are working with entrepreneurs to develop the new technologies that are urgently needed to scale up renewable-energy systems and curb emissions.
“The challenges that we’re facing with climate change are so huge, and so incredibly complex, that we need to bring people together from across the entire University to tackle them,” says Alex Halliday, the founding dean of the Columbia Climate School and the director of the Earth Institute. “Success will mean bringing the resources, knowledge, and capacity of Columbia to the rest of the world and guiding society toward a more sustainable future.”
For climate scientists who have been at the forefront of efforts to document the effects of fossil-fuel emissions on our planet, the shift toward helping people adapt to climate change presents new scientific challenges, as well as the opportunity to translate years of basic research into practical, real-world solutions.
“A lot of climate research has traditionally looked at how the earth’s climate system operates at a global scale and predicted how a given amount of greenhouse-gas emissions will affect global temperatures,” says Adam Sobel, a Columbia applied physicist, mathematician, and climate scientist. “The more urgent questions we face now involve how climate hazards vary across the planet, at local or regional scales, and how those variations translate into specific risks to human society. We also need to learn to communicate climate risks in ways that can facilitate actions to reduce them. This is where climate scientists need to focus more of our energy now, if we’re to maximize the social value of our work.”
2. Big data will enable us to predict extreme weather
Just a few years ago, scientists couldn’t say with any confidence how climate change was affecting storms, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather around the world. But now, armed with unprecedented amounts of real-time and historical weather data, powerful new supercomputers, and a rapidly evolving understanding of how different parts of our climate system interact, researchers are routinely spotting the fingerprints of global warming on our weather.
“Of course, no individual weather event can be attributed solely to climate change, because weather systems are highly dynamic and subject to natural variability,” says Sobel, who studies global warming’s impact on extreme weather. “But data analysis clearly shows that global warming is tilting the scales of nature in a way that is increasing both the frequency and intensity of certain types of events, including heat waves, droughts, and floods.”
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the total number of major weather-related disasters to hit the world annually has increased five-fold since the 1970s. In 2021, the US alone endured eighteen weather-related disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damages. Those included Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas; tropical storms Fred and Elsa; a series of thunderstorms that devastated broad swaths of the Midwest; floods that overwhelmed the coasts of Texas and Louisiana; and a patchwork of wildfires that destroyed parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona. In 2020, twenty-two $1 billion events struck this country — the most ever.
“The pace and magnitude of the weather disasters we’ve seen over the past couple of years are just bonkers,” says Sobel, who studies the atmospheric dynamics behind hurricanes. (He notes that while hurricanes are growing stronger as a result of climate change, scientists are not yet sure if they are becoming more common.) “Everybody I know who studies this stuff is absolutely stunned by it. When non-scientists ask me what I think about the weather these days, I say, ‘If it makes you worried for the future, it should, because the long-term trend is terrifying.’”
The increasing ferocity of our weather, scientists say, is partly attributable to the fact that warmer air can hold more moisture. This means that more water is evaporating off oceans, lakes, and rivers and accumulating in the sky, resulting in heavier rainstorms. And since hot air also wicks moisture out of soil and vegetation, regions that tend to receive less rainfall, like the American West, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, are increasingly prone to drought and all its attendant risks. “Climate change is generally making wet areas wetter and dry regions drier,” Sobel says.
But global warming is also altering the earth’s climate system in more profound ways. Columbia glaciologist Marco Tedesco, among others, has found evidence that rising temperatures in the Arctic are weakening the North Atlantic jet stream, a band of westerly winds that influence much of the Northern Hemisphere’s weather. These winds are produced when cold air from the Arctic clashes with warm air coming up from the tropics. But because the Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the world, the temperature differential between these air flows is diminishing and causing the jet stream to slow down and follow a more wobbly path. As a result, scientists have discovered, storm systems and pockets of hot or cold air that would ordinarily be pushed along quickly by the jet stream are now sometimes hovering over particular locations for days, amplifying their impact. Experts say that the jet stream’s new snail-like pace may explain why a heavy rainstorm parked itself over Zhengzhou, China, for three days last July, dumping an entire year’s worth of precipitation, and why a heat wave that same month brought 120-degree temperatures and killed an estimated 1,400 people in the northwestern US and western Canada.
Many Columbia scientists are pursuing research projects aimed at helping communities prepare for floods, droughts, heat waves, and other threats. Sobel and his colleagues, for example, have been using their knowledge of hurricane dynamics to develop an open-source computer-based risk-assessment model that could help policymakers in coastal cities from New Orleans to Mumbai assess their vulnerability to cyclones as sea levels rise and storms grow stronger. “The goal is to create analytic tools that will reveal how much wind and flood damage would likely occur under different future climate scenarios, as well as the human and economic toll,” says Sobel, whose team has sought input from public-health researchers, urban planners, disaster-management specialists, and civil engineers and is currently collaborating with insurance companies as well as the World Bank, the International Red Cross, and the UN Capital Development Fund. “Few coastal cities have high-quality information of this type, which is necessary for making rational adaptation decisions.”
Radley Horton ’07GSAS, another Columbia climatologist who studies weather extremes; Christian Braneon, a Columbia civil engineer and climate scientist; and Kim Knowlton ’05PH and Thomas Matte, Columbia public-health researchers, are members of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a scientific advisory body that is helping local officials prepare for increased flooding, temperature spikes, and other climate hazards. New York City has acted decisively to mitigate and adapt to climate change, in part by drawing on the expertise of scientists from Columbia and other local institutions, and its city council recently passed a law requiring municipal agencies to develop a comprehensive long-term plan to protect all neighborhoods against climate threats. The legislation encourages the use of natural measures, like wetland restoration and expansion, to defend against rising sea levels. “There’s a growing emphasis on attending to issues of racial justice as the city develops its adaptation strategies,” says Horton. “In part, that means identifying communities that are most vulnerable to climate impacts because of where they’re located or because they lack resources. We want to make sure that everybody is a part of the resilience conversation and has input about what their neighborhoods need.”
Horton is also conducting basic research that he hopes will inform the development of more geographically targeted climate models. For example, in a series of recent papers on the atmospheric and geographic factors that influence heat waves, he and his team discovered that warm regions located near large bodies of water have become susceptible to heat waves of surprising intensity, accompanied by dangerous humidity. His team has previously shown that in some notoriously hot parts of the world — like northern India, Bangladesh, and the Persian Gulf — the cumulative physiological impact of heat and humidity can approach the upper limits of human tolerance. “We’re talking about conditions in which a perfectly healthy person could actually die of the heat, simply by being outside for several hours, even if they’re resting and drinking plenty of water,” says Horton, explaining that when it is extremely humid, the body loses its ability to sufficiently perspire, which is how it cools itself. Now his team suspects that similarly perilous conditions could in the foreseeable future affect people who live near the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, or even the Great Lakes. “Conditions in these places probably won’t be quite as dangerous as what we’re seeing now in South Asia or the Middle East, but people who are old, sick, or working outside will certainly be at far greater risk than they are today,” Horton says. “And communities will be unprepared, which increases the danger.”
How much worse could the weather get? Over the long term, that will depend on us and how decisively we act to reduce our fossil-fuel emissions. But conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate over the next two to three decades no matter what we do, since the greenhouse gases that we have already added to the atmosphere will take years to dissipate. And the latest IPCC report states that every additional increment of warming will have a larger, more destabilizing impact. Of particular concern, the report cautions, is that in the coming years we are bound to experience many more “compound events,” such as when heat waves and droughts combine to fuel forest fires, or when coastal communities get hit by tropical storms and flooding rivers simultaneously.
“A lot of the extreme weather events that we’ve been experiencing lately are so different from anything we’ve seen that nobody saw them coming,” says Horton, who points out that climate models, which remain our best tool for projecting future climate risks, must constantly be updated with new data as real-world conditions change. “What’s happening now is that the conditions are evolving so rapidly that we’re having to work faster, with larger and more detailed data sets, to keep pace.”
3. The world’s food supply is under threat
“A warmer world could also be a hungry one, even in the rich countries,” writes the Columbia environmental economist Geoffrey Heal in his latest book, Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity. “A small temperature rise and a small increase in CO2 concentrations may be good for crops, but beyond a point that we will reach quickly, the productivity of our present crops will drop, possibly sharply.”
Indeed, a number of studies, including several by Columbia scientists, have found that staple crops like corn, rice, wheat, and soybeans are becoming more difficult to cultivate as the planet warms. Wolfram Schlenker, a Columbia economist who studies the impact of climate change on agriculture, has found that corn and soybean plants exposed to temperatures of 90°F or higher for just a few consecutive days will generate much less yield. Consequently, he has estimated that US output of corn and soybeans could decline by 30 to 80 percent this century, depending on how high average temperatures climb.
“This will reduce food availability and push up prices worldwide, since the US is the largest producer and exporter of these commodities,” Schlenker says.
There is also evidence that climate change is reducing the nutritional value of our food. Lewis Ziska, a Columbia professor of environmental health sciences and an expert on plant physiology, has found that as CO2 levels rise, rice plants are producing grains that contain less protein and fewer vitamins and minerals. “Plant biology is all about balance, and when crops suddenly have access to more CO2 but the same amount of soil nutrients, their chemical composition changes,” he says. “The plants look the same, and they may even grow a little bit faster, but they’re not as good for you. They’re carbon-rich and nutrient-poor.” Ziska says that the molecular changes in rice that he has observed are fairly subtle, but he expects that as CO2 levels continue to rise over the next two to three decades, the changes will become more pronounced and have a significant impact on human health. “Wheat, barley, potatoes, and carrots are also losing some of their nutritional value,” he says. “This is going to affect everybody — but especially people in developing countries who depend on grains like wheat and rice for most of their calories.”
Experts also worry that droughts, heat waves, and floods driven by climate change could destroy harvests across entire regions, causing widespread food shortages. A major UN report coauthored by Columbia climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig in 2019 described the growing threat of climate-induced hunger, identifying Africa, South America, and Asia as the areas of greatest susceptibility, in part because global warming is accelerating desertification there. Already, some eight hundred million people around the world are chronically undernourished, and that number could grow by 20 percent as a result of climate change in the coming decades, the report found.
In hopes of reversing this trend, Columbia scientists are now spearheading ambitious efforts to improve the food security of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. For example, at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), which is part of the Earth Institute, multidisciplinary teams of climatologists and social scientists are working in Ethiopia, Senegal, Colombia, Guatemala, Bangladesh, and Vietnam to minimize the types of crop losses that often occur when climate change brings more sporadic rainfall. The IRI experts, whose work is supported by Columbia World Projects, are training local meteorologists, agricultural officials, and farmers to use short-term climate-prediction systems to anticipate when an upcoming season’s growing conditions necessitate using drought-resistant or flood-resistant seeds. They can also suggest more favorable planting schedules. To date, they have helped boost crop yields in dozens of small agricultural communities.
“This is a versatile approach that we’re modeling in six nations, with the hope of rolling it out to many others,” says IRI director John Furlow. “Agriculture still dominates the economies of most developing countries, and in order to succeed despite increasingly erratic weather, farmers need to be able to integrate science into their decision-making.”
4. We need to prepare for massive waves of human migration
For thousands of years,the vast majority of the human population has lived in a surprisingly narrow environmental niche, on lands that are fairly close to the equator and offer warm temperatures, ample fresh water, and fertile soils.
But now, suddenly, the environment is changing. The sun’s rays burn hotter, and rainfall is erratic. Some areas are threatened by rising sea levels, and in others the land is turning to dust, forests to kindling. What will people do in the coming years? Will they tough it out and try to adapt, or will they migrate in search of more hospitable territory?
Alex de Sherbinin, a Columbia geographer, is among the first scientists attempting to answer this question empirically. In a series of groundbreaking studies conducted with colleagues at the World Bank, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, New York University, Baruch College, and other institutions, he has concluded that enormous waves of human migration will likely occur this century unless governments act quickly to shift their economies away from fossil fuels and thereby slow the pace of global warming. His team’s latest report, published this fall and based on a comprehensive analysis of climatic, demographic, agricultural, and water-use data, predicts that up to 215 million people from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America — mostly members of agricultural communities, but also some city dwellers on shorelines — will permanently abandon their homes as a result of droughts, crop failures, and sea-level rise by 2050.
“And that’s a conservative estimate,” says de Sherbinin, a senior research scientist at Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network. “We’re only looking at migration that will occur as the result of the gradual environmental changes occurring where people live, not massive one-time relocations that might be prompted by natural disasters like typhoons or wildfires.”
De Sherbinin and his colleagues do not predict how many climate migrants will ultimately cross international borders in search of greener pastures. Their work to date has focused on anticipating population movements within resource-poor countries in order to help governments develop strategies for preventing exoduses of their own citizens, such as by providing struggling farmers with irrigation systems or crop insurance. They also identify cities that are likely to receive large numbers of new residents from the surrounding countryside, so that local governments can prepare to accommodate them. Among the regions that will see large-scale population movements, the researchers predict, is East Africa, where millions of smallholder farmers will abandon drought-stricken lands and flock to cities like Kampala, Nairobi, and Lilongwe. Similarly, agricultural communities across Latin America, devastated by plummeting corn, bean, and coffee yields, will leave their fields and depart for urban centers. And in Southeast Asia, rice farmers and fishing families in increasingly flood-prone coastal zones like Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, home to twenty-one million people, will retreat inland.
But these migrations, if they do occur, do not necessarily need to be tragic or chaotic affairs, according to de Sherbinin. In fact, he says that with proper planning, and with input from those who are considering moving, it is even possible that large-scale relocations could be organized in ways that ultimately benefit everybody involved, offering families of subsistence farmers who would otherwise face climate-induced food shortages a new start in more fertile locations or in municipalities that offer more education, job training, health care, and other public services.
“Of course, wealthy nations should be doing more to stop climate change and to help people in developing countries adapt to environmental changes, so they have a better chance of thriving where they are,” he says. “But the international community also needs to help poorer countries prepare for these migrations. If and when large numbers of people do find that their lands are no longer habitable, there should be systems in place to help them relocate in ways that work for them, so that they’re not spontaneously fleeing droughts or floods as refugees but are choosing to safely move somewhere they want to go, to a place that’s ready to receive them.”
5. Rising temperatures are already making people sick
One of the deadliest results of climate change, and also one of the most insidious and overlooked, experts say, is the public-health threat posed by rising temperatures and extreme heat.
“Hot weather can trigger changes in the body that have both acute and chronic health consequences,” says Cecilia Sorensen, a Columbia emergency-room physician and public-health researcher. “It actually alters your blood chemistry in ways that make it prone to clotting, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes, and it promotes inflammation, which can contribute to a host of other problems.”
Exposure to severe heat, Sorensen says, has been shown to exacerbate cardiovascular disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, migraines, depression, and anxiety, among other conditions. “So if you live in a hot climate and lack access to air conditioning, or work outdoors, you’re more likely to get sick.”
By destabilizing the natural environment and our relationship to it, climate change is endangering human health in numerous ways. Researchers at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, which launched its innovative Climate and Health Program in 2010, have shown that rising temperatures are making air pollution worse, in part because smog forms faster in warmer weather and because wildfires are spewing enormous amounts of particulate matter into the atmosphere. Global warming is also contributing to food and drinking-water shortages, especially in developing countries. And it is expected to fuel transmission of dengue fever, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other diseases by expanding the ranges of mosquitoes and ticks. But experts say that exposure to extreme heat is one of the least understood and fastest growing threats.
“Health-care professionals often fail to notice when heat stress is behind a patient’s chief complaint,” says Sorensen, who directs the Mailman School’s Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education, an initiative launched in 2017 to encourage other schools of public health and medicine to train practitioners to recognize when environmental factors are driving patients’ health problems. “If I’m seeing someone in the ER with neurological symptoms in the middle of a heat wave, for example, I need to quickly figure out whether they’re having a cerebral stroke or a heat stroke, which itself can be fatal if you don’t cool the body down quickly. And then I need to check to see if they’re taking any medications that can cause dehydration or interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself. But these steps aren’t always taken.”
Sorensen says there is evidence to suggest that climate change, in addition to aggravating existing medical conditions, is causing new types of heat-related illnesses to emerge. She points out that tens of thousands of agricultural workers in Central America have died of an enigmatic new kidney ailment that has been dubbed Mesoamerican nephropathy or chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu), which appears to be the result of persistent heat-induced inflammation. Since CKDu was first observed among sugarcane workers in El Salvador in the 1990s, Sorensen says, it has become endemic in those parts of Central America where heat waves have grown the most ferocious.
“It’s also been spotted among rice farmers in Sri Lanka and laborers in India and Egypt,” says Sorensen, who is collaborating with physicians in Guatemala to develop an occupational-health surveillance system to spot workers who are at risk of developing CKDu. “In total, we think that at least fifty thousand people have died of this condition worldwide.”
Heat waves are now also killing hundreds of Americans each year. Particularly at risk, experts say, are people who live in dense urban neighborhoods that lack trees, open space, reflective rooftops, and other infrastructure that can help dissipate the heat absorbed by asphalt, concrete, and brick. Research has shown that temperatures in such areas can get up to 15°F hotter than in surrounding neighborhoods on summer days. The fact that these so-called “urban heat islands” are inhabited largely by Black and Latino people is now seen as a glaring racial inequity that should be redressed by investing in public-infrastructure projects that would make the neighborhoods cooler and safer.
“It isn’t a coincidence that racially segregated neighborhoods in US cities are much hotter, on average, than adjacent neighborhoods,” says Joan Casey, a Columbia epidemiologist who studies how our natural and built environments influence human health. In fact, in one recent study, Casey and several colleagues showed that urban neighborhoods that lack green space are by and large the same as those that in the 1930s and 1940s were subject to the racist practice known as redlining, in which banks and municipalities designated minority neighborhoods as off-limits for private lending and public investment. “There’s a clear link between that history of institutionalized racism and the subpar public infrastructure we see in these neighborhoods today,” she says.
Extreme heat is hardly the only environmental health hazard faced by residents of historically segregated neighborhoods. Research by Columbia scientists and others has shown that people in these areas are often exposed to dirty air, partly as a result of the large numbers of trucks and buses routed through their streets, and to toxins emanating from industrial sites. But skyrocketing temperatures are exacerbating all of these other health risks, according to Sorensen.
“A big push now among climate scientists and public-health researchers is to gather more street-by-street climate data in major cities so that we know exactly where people are at the greatest risk of heat stress and can more effectively advocate for major infrastructure upgrades in those places,” she says. “In the meantime, there are relatively small things that cities can do now to save lives in the summer — like providing people free air conditioners, opening community cooling centers, and installing more water fountains.”
6. We’re curbing emissions but need to act faster
Since the beginning ofthe industrial revolution, humans have caused the planet to warm 1.1°C (or about 2°F), mainly by burning coal, oil, and gas for energy. Current policies put the world on pace to increase global temperatures by about 2.6°C over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. But to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, we must try to limit the warming to 1.5°C, scientists say. This will require that we retool our energy systems, dramatically expanding the use of renewable resources and eliminating nearly all greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century.
“We’ll have to build the equivalent of the world’s largest solar park every day for the next thirty years to get to net zero by 2050,” says Jason Bordoff, co-dean of the Columbia Climate School. A leading energy-policy expert, Bordoff served on the National Security Council of President Barack Obama ’83CC. “We’ll also have to ramp up global investments in clean energy R&D from about $2 trillion to $5 trillion per year,” he adds, citing research from the International Energy Agency. “The challenge is enormous.”
Over the past few years, momentum for a clean-energy transition has been accelerating. In the early 2000s, global emissions were increasing 3 percent each year. Now they are rising just 1 percent annually, on average, with some projections indicating that they will peak in the mid-2020s and then start to decline. This is the result of a variety of policies that countries have taken to wean themselves off fossil fuels. European nations, for example, have set strict limits on industrial emissions. South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, and Canada have taken significant steps to phase out coal-fired power plants. And the US and China have enacted fuel-efficiency standards and invested in the development of renewable solar, wind, and geothermal energy — which, along with hydropower, account for nearly 30 percent of all electricity production in the world.
“It’s remarkable how efficient renewables have become over the past decade,” says Bordoff, noting that the costs of solar and wind power have dropped by roughly 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively, in that time. “They’re now competing quite favorably against fossil fuels in many places, even without government subsidies.”
But in the race to create a carbon-neutral global economy, Bordoff says, the biggest hurdles are ahead of us. He points out that we currently have no affordable ways to decarbonize industries like shipping, trucking, air travel, and cement and steel production, which require immense amounts of energy that renewables cannot yet provide. “About half of all the emission reductions that we’ll need to achieve between now and 2050 must come from technologies that aren’t yet available at commercial scale,” says Bordoff.
In order to fulfill the potential of solar and wind energy, we must also improve the capacity of electrical grids to store power. “We need new types of batteries capable of storing energy for longer durations, so that it’s available even on days when it isn’t sunny or windy,” he says.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, Bordoff says, will be scaling up renewable technologies quickly enough to meet the growing demand for electricity in developing nations, which may otherwise choose to build more coal- and gas-fueled power plants. “There are large numbers of people around the world today who have almost no access to electricity, and who in the coming years are going to want to enjoy some of the basic conveniences that we often take for granted, like refrigeration, Internet access, and air conditioning,” he says. “Finding sustainable ways to meet their energy needs is a matter of equity and justice.”
Bordoff, who is co-leading the new Climate School alongside geochemist Alex Halliday, environmental geographer Ruth DeFries, and marine geologist Maureen Raymo ’89GSAS, is also the founding director of SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy, which supports research aimed at identifying evidence-based, actionable solutions to the world’s energy needs. With more than fifty affiliate scholars, the center has, since its creation in 2013, established itself as an intellectual powerhouse in the field of energy policy, publishing a steady stream of definitive reports on topics such as the future of coal; the potential for newer, safer forms of nuclear energy to help combat climate change; and the geopolitical ramifications of the shift away from fossil fuels. One of the center’s more influential publications, Energizing America, from 2020, provides a detailed roadmap for how the US can assert itself as an international leader in clean-energy systems by injecting more federal money into the development of technologies that could help decarbonize industries like construction, transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing. President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November, incorporates many of the report’s recommendations, earmarking tens of billions of dollars for scientific research in these areas.
“When we sat down to work on that project, my colleagues and I asked ourselves: If an incoming administration wanted to go really big on climate, what would it do? How much money would you need, and where exactly would you put it?” Bordoff says. “I think that’s one of our successes.”
Which isn’t to say that Bordoff considers the climate initiatives currently being pursued by the Biden administration to be sufficient to combat global warming. The vast majority of the climate-mitigation measures contained in the administration’s first two major legislative packages — the infrastructure plan and the more ambitious Build Back Better social-spending bill, which was still being debated in Congress when this magazine went to press — are designed to reward businesses and consumers for making more sustainable choices, like switching to renewable energy sources and purchasing electric vehicles. A truly transformative climate initiative, Bordoff says, would also discourage excessive use of fossil fuels. “Ideally, you’d want to put a price on emissions, such as with a carbon tax or a gasoline tax, so that the biggest emitters are forced to internalize the social costs they’re imposing on everyone else,” he says.
Bordoff is a pragmatist, though, and ever mindful of the fact that public policy is only as durable as it is popular. “I think the American people are more divided on this than we sometimes appreciate,” he says. “Support for climate action is growing in the US, but we have to be cognizant of how policy affects everyday people. There would be concern, maybe even outrage, if electric or gas bills suddenly increased. And that would make it much, much harder to gain and keep support during this transition.”
Today, researchers from across the entire University are working together to pursue a multitude of strategies that may help alleviate the climate crisis. Some are developing nanomaterials for use in ultra-efficient solar cells. Others are inventing methods to suck CO2 out of the air and pump it underground, where it will eventually turn into chalk. Bordoff gets particularly excited when describing the work of engineers at the Columbia Electrochemical Energy Center who are designing powerful new batteries to store solar and wind power. “This is a team of more than a dozen people who are the top battery experts in the world,” he says. “Not only are they developing technologies to create long-duration batteries, but they’re looking for ways to produce them without having to rely on critical minerals like cobalt and lithium, which are in short supply.”
In his own work, Bordoff has recently been exploring the geopolitical ramifications of the energy transition, with an eye toward helping policymakers navigate the shifting international power dynamics that are likely to occur as attention tilts away from fossil fuels in favor of other natural resources.
But he believes the best ideas will come from the next generation of young people, who, like the students in the Climate School’s inaugural class this year, are demanding a better future. “When I see the growing sense of urgency around the world, especially among the younger demographics, it gives me hope,” he says. “The pressure for change is building. Our climate policies don’t go far enough yet, so something is eventually going to have to give — and I don’t think it’s going to be the will and determination of the young people. Sooner or later, they’re going to help push through the more stringent policies that we need. The question is whether it will be in time.”
As more frequent and more severe storms erode coastlines, mapmakers must adapt quickly.
A shrinking swath of coastline in Washington state has a regrettable nickname: Washaway Beach. It’s named not for what’s there, but rather for what isn’t. Insatiable Pacific Ocean currents have taken greedy bites out of the land over the past century.
Washaway Beach’s disappearing shore isn’t measured in centimeters or inches. You can’t track the changes with a hardware store measuring stick. Residents of the area, roughly two and a half hours southwest of Seattle, are watching their homes and businesses get swallowed by the sea at an average rate of 100 feet per year; that’s about the height of a 10-story building. It’s the fastest-eroding place in the western United States.
Washaway Beach is an extreme case of erosion. Many factors contribute to its rapid decline. But the quickening march of climate change, including rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms, poses a growing threat to coastal communities everywhere.
I’ve never been to Washaway Beach. I’m hearing about it for the first time from Peter Doucette, the acting director for the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center at the US Geological Survey. Doucette is showing me over Zoom a colorful animated map of how the community changed between 1985 and 2017. The water eats away at the map’s multicolored patches. The brown beaches, red developed areas and light blue freshwater bogs evaporate in the Pacific’s 32-year sprint to wipe out the town. It’s jarring to watch how quickly the land dissolves into the deep blue as the ocean takes over.
Scientists didn’t have the tech to visualize changes like this even five or 10 years ago, though they had the data. “This is the power of using the data from time; it’s taking advantage of the time dimension, which requires a lot of computing power … but we have that now,” Doucette explains.
Faster satellites, sharper images taken in near real-time and advanced computing techniques are making it possible for mapmakers to redraw Washaway Beach as soon as coastal changes occur. Emerging technologies will help scientists predict what could happen to it in the future, just like a weather report.
For coastal residents around the world, or anyone living in an area susceptible to extreme weather events, this type of mapping could save lives. Up-to-date maps can provide crucial information for first responders needing to traverse areas hit by natural disasters; residents and visitors need regular, ongoing updates to adapt to a changing landscape.
For anyone living in areas less directly affected by the climate crisis, maps that show change over time provide a crucial bridge to understanding what’s really happening in other places, and how quickly.
“By helping people visualize how the world is changing, maybe that will give them a better understanding of climate change as a whole,” says Tanya Harrison, director of science strategy at Planet, a private satellite imagery company. “How is your neighborhood being affected? How is your grandmother’s house being affected? Maybe she lives on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. In a way, that can kind of make this a little bit more personal.”
From clay tablets to satellites
Maps aren’t easy to define. They’re squishy things, molded by the minds of the people who create them. Imperfect representations of our world. One part art; one part science.
Still, they give us a baseline for decision-making, whether it’s finding the closest coffee shop, climbing a mountain or helping people understand something more serious, like climate change.
“[Maps are] such a great intuitive way to gather information and humans are really good at understanding spatial information presented in that way,” says Mike Tischler, director of the National Geospatial Program at the US Geological Survey. “You want to know what’s over the ridge, you want to know what’s around the bend, you want to know where things are.” That’s probably why maps have been around for thousands of years.
A clay tablet known as the Babylonian Map of the World, or Imago Mundi, is the oldest known map of the world. It was discovered in Iraq and dates back to about 600 B.C.
Modern mapmaking got its start in 1852, when French army officer Aimé Laussedat created the first maps with photographs. Laussedat also experimented with aerial photography, sticking cameras on kites and balloons. As air travel became more sophisticated, aerial photography transitioned from balloons to planes in World War I and World War II and, eventually, to satellites in the 1970s.
Nowadays, aerial photography is more automated than it was when ground crews launched unsteady balloons into the air, hoping to get the right shots. Hundreds or thousands of images are taken automatically from planes and satellites to make maps. Now planes and satellites visit the same place regularly, reliably showing how land changes over time.
“Land change is really complex. … Tying it to climate, I’m not sure we’re there yet,” says Jesslyn Brown, research geographer for the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center at the US Geological Survey. You can’t identify patterns that could point to climate change without monitoring the same places at regular intervals.
“This might be a little controversial, but my opinion is that governments don’t find monitoring very sexy,” Brown says. “But it’s an absolute necessity because you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so we need to take these measurements in order to have the information to monitor the Earth and to monitor the effects of climate change.”
In the US, Landsat is the best-known Earth-observing satellite for monitoring and mapping purposes. Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 circle the globe once every 99 minutes, traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. Each satellite covers the entire planet in 16 days. Together, they cover the Earth in eight days because they’re in reverse orbit.
The satellites are “roughly the size of a small school bus,” says Doucette, the USGS director who showed me the map of Washaway Beach, and have a 30-meter resolution, “about the size of a baseball diamond per pixel.”
Generations of Landsat satellites have been doing this since 1972. That 50-year record makes it extremely valuable for tracking changes over time.
“[50 years of data] provides researchers the ability to go back through time and monitor what kinds of changes are going on on the land surface,” Doucette says. “That really wasn’t possible until just the last five to 10 years with the big data compute capabilities that have become available.”
NASA launched its newest satellite, Landsat 9, on Sept. 27. Soon, it will hand over control of Landsat 9 to the USGS. Then, Landsat 7, which has been orbiting the planet for 22 years, will be retired. Most old Landsat satellites go into “disposal orbits,” destined to circle the planet until they eventually reenter the atmosphere and burn up. Landsat 7 won’t have the same fate; it will be moved into a different orbit to help test NASA’s robotic refueling project, Doucette explains.
Landsat is still the gold standard for satellite imagery, says Terry Sohl, acting branch chief for the Integrated Science and Applications Branch and research scientist at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center. “To be honest, I’m not sure that’s going to be the case in five years,” Sohl adds.
Private satellite companies are making it easier than ever to visualize changes worldwide almost as soon as they happen for much less money than Landsat.
Smaller, faster, cheaper, sharper
“If you’ve got a satellite right now that covers the Earth every two weeks, you can have homes and cities destroyed in that time,” says Tischler, the USGS director of the National Geospatial Program. Private companies are sending larger numbers of tiny satellites into orbit that cost less to build, launch and operate, have very high-resolution cameras and cover more ground more quickly.
One of the private companies, Planet, has two different types of satellites: Dove and Sky satellites. The 180 Dove satellites are the size of a loaf of bread; they orbit the globe every 90 minutes and have a three- to five-meter resolution, or about 10 to 16 feet.
Fifteen of the Sky satellites orbit at the poles like the Dove satellites. The remaining six Sky satellites orbit at latitudes closer to where people live to capture images of cities. Combined, the Sky satellites orbit Earth 12 times per day. Sky satellites are about the size of a dishwasher and have a resolution of just 50 centimeters, or a little over a foot and a half. They capture details that Landsat’s baseball-diamond-size resolutions can’t.
Smaller satellites are cheaper, too. It costs about a billion dollars to design, build, test and deploy one Landsat satellite. One Planet satellite costs in the “low hundreds of thousands of dollars,” although the company wouldn’t say exactly how much.
Having a lot of smaller satellites also makes it easier for the San Francisco-based team to build them locally and experiment with new technologies quickly.
“If there’s something new that comes to the market that could lead to better image quality … we have the option to just switch that out in-house where we’re actually building the satellites in the basement of our headquarters in San Francisco and just say, ‘Hey, let’s put in a new sensor. Let’s launch that,'” says Harrison, Planet’s director of science strategy.
That way, if they want to test something, they can try it on one satellite and see how it works, without having to update all 200 satellites in their fleet.
Its various satellites have observed many events related to the climate crisis all over the world. The most significant changes they’ve seen have taken place in the coldest regions.
In July 2020, Planet satellites captured the collapse of the last intact Arctic ice shelf. “That was obviously a big tragedy. It’s not the kind of thing that you want to see, but it’s something that we managed to capture,” Harrison says.
Seeing is believing
Newer satellites are giving us more data, more quickly. Advancements in computing are changing how mapmakers use that data to show how our planet is changing right now and how it could change in the future.
Doucette is showing me another map now, this time a projection of what the land near Lubbock, Texas, will look like decades from now. At some point, the Ogallala Aquifer, which supports cotton and other key crops in the region, is going to dry up. Scientists at the USGS worked with other government agencies to create forecasts of Lubbock between 2014 and the end of the century, drawing from Landsat data, socio-economic data and climate data.
The map shows the cotton crop disappearing in tandem with the Ogallala’s water. The projections will vary based on how water usage continues, so scientists create best, middle and worst case scenarios because of the uncertainty.
“Climate is actually much more predictable than people. I don’t worry about the variability in a climate scenario; I worry about the variability of how people behave,” says Sohl, the USGS scientist. “There are all these things that happen that are just so totally unpredictable, like a new government policy that can have a huge impact on the landscape.”
Either way, the Ogallala’s water will disappear and it isn’t coming back.
Knowing this in advance gives people in Lubbock time to shift to other types of crops that don’t depend so heavily on water. Doucette suggests dryland wheat or returning the area to grassland.
“This is how we hope to use Landsat and other related Earth observation data so we can understand the causes of change in the past that kind of help us develop these models for projecting potential change going into the future,” Doucette says.
Historic data from Landsat combined with sharper-resolution imagery from private satellite companies equips mapmakers to show climate change impacts now and model what could happen to the same areas decades or even centuries from now. “[Landsat and private satellite companies] really [are] a nice mix of where we’re going in the future,” says Sohl.
As Washaway Beach’s erosion cuts further into inland Washington state, the freshwater cranberry bogs the area is known for are increasingly threatened with contamination from salt water. But with these technologies, scientists can look at the models and make decisions before Washaway Beach, the Ogallala Aquifer and other places like them fall off the map.
“Imagine being able to do this kind of projection … and doing it on a national scale or even a global scale,” Doucette adds. “That’s our hope; this is still kind of cutting-edge research.”
Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.
Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck said, after United States federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate report, ranking 2021 as the sixth-warmest year on record for the planet.
“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”
Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”
The Pacific Northwest heat wave was the most extreme hotspot in a series of heat extremes that together seemed to stretch across the entire northern hemisphere for much of the summer, said Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist and heat expert at the University of Reading.
“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
July 2021 ended up being the single hottest month for Earth since measurements started, and on the ninth day of the month, a thermometer at Furnace Creek, in California’s Death Valley, recorded 54.4 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) for the second year in a row, in what could stand as the highest reliably measured temperature on record.
Near the end of July, a heat wave disrupted Tokyo Olympic Games scheduling, and less than two weeks later, on Aug. 11, a Syracuse, Sicily weather station measured Europe’s warmest-ever temperature, at 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 Fahrenheit), during Europe’s hottest summer on record. A few days after that, it rained at the summit of the two-mile thick Greenland Ice Sheet for the first time on record, yet another sign that pervasive warming is affecting the whole globe.
Brimicome said that, with last year’s heat extremes, it hit home that, “Oh dear, this has already started, it’s catching up with us, it’s here now.”
She added, ”We’re going to see more and more of this sort of extreme heat and extreme weather. It wasn’t a shock because that’s what had been projected, but a surprise, because it had always kind of crept up on us.”
Ocean Heat Peaks Again
The reports released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show that increasing greenhouse gas pollution has driven Earth’s annual average temperature above the pre-fossil fuel era by 1.04 degrees Celsius (1.87 degrees Fahrenheit), as measured by an 1880 to 1900 baseline. And the long-term rate of warming has doubled in recent decades, from an early pace of about 0.08 degrees Celsius (0.14 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, to 0.18 degrees Celsius (0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 1980.
Based on the most recent evaluations of greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations, especially of methane, which recently reached another record level, as well as studies of other important climate indicators, warming could speed up even more in the years ahead. By 2023, the global annual temperature could pass the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit set by the Paris Agreement, climate scientist James Hansen wrote in his Jan. 11 monthly climate update.
A separate study, published last week, showed that, while the planet’s globally averaged surface temperature has wobbled the past six years, the world’s oceans continued to warm steadily during that time, setting a new record each year, including 2021. That matters a lot for the climate because more than 90 percent of the sun’s heat trapped by greenhouse gases is going into the oceans, said Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished scholar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a co-author of the study.
“The ocean is where most of it goes,” he said. “If you’re tracking that over time, we should be able to match that with measurements from satellites. That would be the best indicator of total energy imbalance for the planet.”
By another measure, that energy imbalance is growing at a rate equivalent to the energy from about five Hiroshima-sized atom bombs exploding every second of every day of every year, all captured by the oceans. Manifesting as heat, the energy melts sea ice and ice shelves, raises sea levels and supercharges tropical storms.
And there is no doubt that ocean heat waves are linked with heat waves and drought over land. A 2020 study showed that heat waves and droughts starting over the ocean and moving over land are often longer lasting and more intense than purely land-born events. In another case, a team of researchers studied ecosystem details of how a 2011 ocean and land heat wave interacted over Australia.
Concerns about faster warming ahead are also heightened because warmer oceans are less able to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Currently, oceans absorb about 25 percent to 30 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, said Lijing Cheng, lead author of the new ocean heat paper and associate professor with the International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
That leads to ocean acidification and “reduces the efficiency of oceanic carbon uptake and leaves more carbon dioxide in the air,” which traps even more heat, he said.
Cheng said the study showed that the pattern of ocean warming “is a result of human-related changes in atmospheric composition,” adding that warmer oceans create more powerful storms and hurricanes, “as well as increasing precipitation and flood risk.”
Fully understanding ocean-atmosphere heat exchange is key to implementing and tracking climate mitigation goals, he added.
Co-author Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said the oceans will keep warming until net carbon emissions fall to zero.
“Aside from causing coral bleaching and threatening sea life and fish populations we rely upon for roughly 25 percent of our protein intake globally,” Mann said, ocean warming “is destabilizing Antarctic ice shelves and threatens massive (meters) of sea level rise if we don’t act. So this finding really underscores the urgency of climate action now.”
Record Heat in 25 Countries
Another global annual climate summary from a team of scientists with the Berkeley Earth laboratory showed that 1.8 billion people in 25 countries—about a quarter of the world’s population—experienced a record-warm annual average in 2021.
“No one lives at the global average temperature,” said Berkeley Earth lead scientist Robert Rohde. “Most land areas will experience more warming than the global average, and countries must plan their responses to this.”
Some of the world’s most populous countries experienced their hottest years on record, including China, South Korea and Nigeria, and many of them are countries that are already very hot, including Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.
Overall, the Berkeley team’s data showed that the global warming caused by greenhouse gases is broadly distributed, as expected, because the pollutants are spread through the atmosphere.
In 2021, 87 percent of Earth’s surface was significantly warmer compared to a 1951-1980 baseline, with 11 percent of the surface at a similar temperature, and only 2.6 percent significantly colder. An absence of cold extremes also illustrates the overall warming trend, as the team reported that no place on Earth recorded a record cold annual average.
A building level of greenhouse gases from human activities “is the direct cause of recent global warming,” Rohde said. “If the Paris Agreement’s goal of no more than 2 degrees Celsius warming is to be reached, significant progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to be made soon.”
Brimicome, who does research on extreme heat, said the spate of climate extremes in 2021 may mark a start of a widespread coming to terms with climate change.
“I think we’ve always had these rose-tinted glasses toward it, like yes, climate change is happening, but it’s not going to happen to me,” she said. “We need to take off those glasses and be realistic about what’s happening. Although part of our brain is telling us it can’t be true, it is completely in front of us. If we continue with this narrative, even like I did, that we’re surprised and shocked, it’s kind of like saying it’s not real. But it is real.”
Can you imagine turning on the Weather Channel to get an update on Storm 34B-SQ59? While major storms aren’t sentient beings, it’s become standard to give them human names to make it easier to communicate about them, especially during critical news updates. From Hurricane Elsa to Tropical Storm Cristobal, there’s an intriguing legacy behind naming storms.
The History of Naming Storms
A few hundred years ago, storms were named after the Catholic saint’s day that lined up with the storm. For example, Hurricane Santa Ana landed in Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825. But if storms hit on the same day in different years, names doubled up. Hurricane San Felipe I struck Puerto Rico on September 13, 1876 and then San Felipe II hit in 1928.
In the late 19th century, Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge began using women’s names for tropical storms. The practice was adopted by the U.S. Navy and Air Force during World War II when latitude and longitude identifications proved to be too cumbersome.
Outside of the military, early 20th century storms were named and tracked by the year and order, with names such as “1940 Hurricane Two” and “1932 Tropical Storm Six.” This created some confusion when multiple storms were happening during the same time, especially during news broadcasts. To reduce confusion, United States weather services also began using female names for storms in 1953, and later added male names to the list in 1978. This began the modern version of how we name storms.
Who Is in Charge of Storm Names?
Although NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Hurricane Center is the premier source for news about storms, this organization does not name them. Instead, the World Meteorological Organization does. The WMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations, headquartered in Switzerland, that focuses on weather, climate, and water resources. Each year, the WMO creates a list of potential names for the upcoming storm season.
Where Do the Names Come From?
There is a bit of an art to naming modern-day storms. The WMO compiles six lists of names for each of the three basins under its jurisdiction: Atlantic, Eastern North Pacific, and Central North Pacific. Countries outside of this jurisdiction have their own naming conventions. For areas within the WMO, such as the United States, storm names are cycled through every six years. That means that the list of names for the 2021 season will be used again in 2027.
Each list contains 21 names that begin with a different letter of the alphabet (minus Q, U, X, Y, Z because of the limited number of names). For the Atlantic basin, names are typically chosen from English, French, and Spanish, because the countries impacted primarily speak one of those three languages. While the names are supposedly random, there are some pop culture-related coincidences, such as 2021’s Hurricane Elsa.
When Is a Storm Named?
A tropical storm can be named once it meets two criteria: a circular rotation and wind speeds more than 39 MPH. Once a storm reaches 74 MPH, it becomes a hurricane but keeps the same name it was first given as a tropical storm, such as when Tropical Storm Larry turned into Hurricane Larry in September 2021.
Hurricane names can also be retired, and this is often done when a hurricane is especially destructive. As of the 2020 season, there are 93 names on the retired Atlantic hurricane list, including 2004’s Katrina, 2012’s Sandy, and 2016’s Matthew. When a name is retired, it is replaced with a new name.
New Rules in 2021
Before the 2021 season, if the full list of storm names was used before the end of the season, any additional storms that reached the necessary criteria for naming would use the Greek alphabet — Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc. There were 30 named storms in 2020, only the second time the full list of names had been used.
As of 2021, the WMO will use a supplementary list of names, similar to the original list (starting with Adria and ending with Will). The WMO felt that the Greek names were too distracting. From a technical perspective, the Greek names could also not be replaced in a way that made sense if they were retired (such as Eta and Iota in 2020).
O que o surgimento da internet, os ataques de 11 de setembro de 2001 e a crise econômica de 2008 têm em comum?
Foram eventos extremamente raros e surpreendentes que tiveram um forte impacto na história.
Acontecimentos deste tipo costumam ser chamados de “cisnes negros”.
Alguns argumentam que a recente pandemia de covid-19 também pode ser considerada um deles, mas nem todo mundo concorda.
A “teoria do cisne negro” foi desenvolvida pelo professor, escritor e ex-operador da bolsa libanês-americano Nassim Taleb em 2007.
E possui três componentes, como o próprio Taleb explicou em um artigo no jornal americano The New York Times no mesmo ano:
– Em primeiro lugar, é algo atípico, já que está fora do âmbito das expectativas habituais, porque nada no passado pode apontar de forma convincente para sua possibilidade.
– Em segundo lugar, tem um impacto extremo.
– Em terceiro lugar, apesar de seu status atípico, a natureza humana nos faz inventar explicações para sua ocorrência após o fato em si, tornando-o explicável e previsível.
A tese de Taleb está geralmente associada à economia, mas se aplica a qualquer área.
E uma vez que as consequências costumam ser catastróficas, é importante aceitar que a ocorrência de um evento”cisne negro” é possível — e por isso é necessário ter um plano para lidar com o mesmo.
Em suma, o “cisne negro” representa uma metáfora para algo imprevisível e muito estranho, mas não impossível.
Por que são chamados assim?
No fim do século 17, navios europeus embarcaram na aventura de explorar a Austrália.
Em 1697, enquanto navegava nas águas de um rio desconhecido no sudoeste da Austrália Ocidental, o capitão holandês Willem de Vlamingh avistou vários cisnes negros, sendo possivelmente o primeiro europeu a observá-los.
Como consequência, Vlamingh deu ao rio o nome de Zwaanenrivier (Rio dos Cisnes, em holandês) por causa do grande número de cisnes negros que havia ali.
Tratava-se de um acontecimento inesperado e novo. Até aquele momento, a ciência só havia registrado cisnes brancos.
A primeira referência conhecida ao termo “cisne negro” associado ao significado de raridade vem de uma frase do poeta romano Décimo Júnio Juvenal (60-128).
Desesperado para encontrar uma esposa com todas as “qualidades certas” da época, ele escreveu em latim que esta mulher era rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno (“uma ave rara nestas terras, como um cisne negro”), detalha o dicionário de Oxford.
Porque naquela época e até cerca de 1,6 mil anos depois, para os europeus, não existiam cisnes negros.
Prevendo os ‘cisnes negros’
Um grupo de cientistas da Universidade de Stanford, nos Estados Unidos, está trabalhando para prever o imprevisível.
Ou seja, para se antecipar aos “cisnes negros” — não às aves, mas aos estranhos eventos que acontecem na história.
Embora sua análise primária tenha sido baseada em três ambientes diferentes na natureza, o método computacional que eles criaram pode ser aplicado a qualquer área, incluindo economia e política.
“Ao analisar dados de longo prazo de três ecossistemas, pudemos demonstrar que as flutuações que ocorrem em diferentes espécies biológicas são estatisticamente iguais em diferentes ecossistemas”, afirmou Samuel Bray, assistente de pesquisa no laboratório de Bo Wang, professor de bioengenharia na Universidade de Stanford.
“Isso sugere que existem certos processos universais que podemos utilizar para prever esse tipo de comportamento extremo”, acrescentou Bray, conforme publicado no site da universidade.
Para desenvolver o método de previsão, os pesquisadores procuraram sistemas biológicos que vivenciaram eventos “cisne negro” e como foram os contextos em que ocorreram.
Eles se basearam então em ecossistemas monitorados de perto por muitos anos.
Os exemplos incluíram: um estudo de oito anos do plâncton do Mar Báltico com níveis de espécies medidos duas vezes por semana; medições de carbono de um bosque da Universidade de Harvard, nos EUA, que foram coletadas a cada 30 minutos desde 1991; e medições de cracas (mariscos), algas e mexilhões na costa da Nova Zelândia, feitas mensalmente por mais de 20 anos, detalha o estudo publicado na revista científica Plos Computational Biology.
Os pesquisadores aplicaram a estas bases de dados a teoria física por trás de avalanches e terremotos que, assim como os “cisnes negros”, mostram um comportamento extremo, repentino e de curto prazo.
A partir desta análise, os especialistas desenvolveram um método para prever eventos “cisne negro” que fosse flexível entre espécies e períodos de tempo e também capaz de trabalhar com dados muito menos detalhados e mais complexos.
Posteriormente, conseguiram prever com precisão eventos extremos que ocorreram nesses sistemas.
Até agora, “os métodos se baseavam no que vimos para prever o que pode acontecer no futuro, e é por isso que não costumam identificar os eventos ‘cisne negro'”, diz Wang.
Mas este novo mecanismo é diferente, segundo o professor de Stanford, “porque parte do pressuposto de que estamos vendo apenas parte do mundo”.
“Extrapola um pouco do que falta e ajuda enormemente em termos de previsão”, acrescenta.
Então, os “cisnes negros” poderiam ser detectados em outras áreas, como finanças ou economia?
“Aplicamos nosso método às flutuações do mercado de ações e funcionou muito bem”, disse Wang à BBC News Mundo, serviço de notícias em espanhol da BBC, por e-mail.
Os pesquisadores analisaram os índices Nasdaq, Dow Jones Industrial Average e S&P 500.
“Embora a principal tendência do mercado seja o crescimento exponencial de longo prazo, as flutuações em torno dessa tendência seguem as mesmas trajetórias e escalas médias que vimos nos sistemas ecológicos”, explica.
Mas “embora as semelhanças entre as variações na bolsa e ecológicas sejam interessantes, nosso método de previsão é mais útil nos casos em que os dados são escassos e as flutuações geralmente vão além dos registros históricos (o que não é o caso do mercado de ações)”, adverte Wang.
Por isso, temos que continuar atentos para saber se o próximo “cisne negro” vai nos pegar de surpresa… ou talvez não.
por Ricardo Abramovay – 13/08/2021 às 15:32 – Atualizado 13/08/2021 às 20:06
Relatório da ONU aponta: frear a crise climática exigirá novo paradigma ecológico e de bem-estar, que se sobreponha ao cálculo econômico. Um dos entraves será a indústria do cimento, altamente poluidora, que prepara novo boom da construção
Nada indica que os mais importantes tomadores de decisão do planeta estejam preparados para enfrentar o horizonte traçado nesta semana pelo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC, na sigla em inglês), que analisa a evolução e as perspectivas da relação entre as sociedades humanas e o sistema climático do qual a vida na Terra depende. Uma das mais importantes e promissoras conclusões do relatório é que ainda existe uma estreita janela de oportunidades para que a temperatura global média não suba além de 1,5ºC até o final do século.
Mas esta janela converte-se numa quase invisível fresta quando o mais importante jornal de economia do mundo, o Financial Times, retrata o entusiasmo de Jan Jenisch, presidente do maior grupo produtor global de cimento (Holcin), com o que ele chama de boom da construção, em função das necessidades de infraestrutura dos países em desenvolvimento. Sua alegria é compartilhada por Fernando Gonzales, o CEO da Cemex mexicana que fala em superciclo da construção.
O curioso é que a informação do Financial Times aparece num podcast do jornal, logo antes de um comentário sobre as enchentes na Alemanha e na China e a quebra de recorde de aumento de temperatura na América do Norte, sem que se faça qualquer relação entre cimento e eventos climáticos extremos. Ora, se fosse um país, o setor de cimento seria o terceiro maior emissor global. E não se pode dizer que o setor não esteja atento a seus impactos sobre o sistema climático.
Em 2021, cada tonelada de cimento é produzida com emissões 18% menores do que três décadas antes, mostra um trabalho do CarbonBrief. Neste período, porém, a demanda de cimento no mundo triplicou. O resultado é que, apesar dos avanços tecnológicos do setor, suas emissões continuam subindo.
O recente relatório conjunto da Agência Internacional de Energia e do Conselho Global de Negócios para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável (WBCSD, na sigla em inglês) corrobora esta informação. Até 2050, a produção global de cimento deve aumentar 12%, mas suas emissões crescem “somente” 4%. O relatório do IPCC lançado esta semana faz com que esta inegável conquista (emitir menos por unidade produzida) se converta tragicamente em componente decisivo da crise climática.
O cimento aqui é tomado como um exemplo que atinge o conjunto da vida econômica. Os dados do Painel Internacional de Recursos das Nações Unidas são claros a este respeito: as emissões vindas da produção de materiais (metais, madeira, construção e plástico, sem incluir combustíveis fósseis e alimentos) dobraram entre 1995 e 2016 e passaram de 15% a 23% das emissões globais. E, da mesma forma que no cimento, os avanços técnicos para descarbonizar a oferta de ferro, aço, plástico e borracha foram imensos.
Se a este quadro se acrescentam os planos de ampliação da produção de petróleo e mesmo de carvão e as emissões derivadas da agropecuária no mundo todo, a conclusão é que tanto as estratégias empresariais quanto os planos governamentais de combate à crise climática estão muito aquém da urgência colocada pelo relatório do IPCC. É o que explica a afirmação de Cristiana Figueres, que dirigiu a Convenção Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas e foi uma das responsáveis pelo Acordo de Paris de 2015, numa entrevista após a divulgação do relatório do IPCC: “Nós não estamos à altura do desafio de nosso tempo… Estamos ainda promovendo melhorias marginais e os tempos apelam para mudança drástica”.
O relatório do IPCC terá alcançado o objetivo de desencadear esta mudança drástica sob duas condições. A primeira é que cada cidadão e cada consumidor encare a crise climática contemporânea com a seriedade e a urgência que enfrentou a pandemia. É fundamental que a economia propicie bem-estar, conforto e condições para que as pessoas e suas comunidades floresçam, mas se não formos capazes de fazer escolhas orientadas pelas mensagens que o IPCC nos está transmitindo o resultado é que simplesmente não haverá futuro.
Neste sentido, enfrentar a crise climática consiste, antes de tudo, em combater as desigualdades, ou seja, em utilizar os recursos de que dispomos sob a orientação gandhiana de que o mundo é capaz de satisfazer as necessidades humanas, mas não o luxo, o desperdício e a cobiça. Nosso bem-estar tem que depender, cada vez mais, de bens comuns, de solidariedade, de sentido comunitário, de empatia e de cooperação social.
Nesta dimensão coletiva do bem-estar se fundamenta o vínculo entre combate à crise climática e sentimento democrático. Sociedades que cultivam o individualismo e a ideia de que a ascensão social é um esforço que depende estritamente das pessoas e não de suas relações comunitárias dificilmente terão condições de enfrentar a crise climática.
A segunda condição para que possamos nos aproximar do que Cristiana Figueres chamou de “mudança drástica” é que tanto as políticas econômicas como as decisões empresariais passem a se nortear por uma pergunta central: como isso vai impactar a relação entre sociedade e natureza e, especialmente, as mudanças climáticas? A urgência atual não permite mais que este tema seja encarado como “externo” à vida econômica, como uma espécie de consequência não antecipada, não prevista de nossas atividades e que será corrigida em algum momento. A luta contra a crise climática tem que estar no cerne da gestão econômica pública e privada.
União Europeia, China, Estados Unidos, Japão, Índia e inúmeras organizações empresariais dão claros sinais de que estão ao menos iniciando medidas nesta direção. A distância entre esta agenda e a dos fanáticos fundamentalistas que estão no Palácio do Planalto e na Esplanada dos Ministérios não poderia ser maior. No centro da luta para superar as ameaças que pesam sobre a democracia brasileira agora e no ano que vem está a mudança radical que Cristiana Figueres preconiza e que exige uma vida econômica que regenere os tecidos sociais, e naturais que até aqui tem acompanhado sistematicamente nossa oferta de bens e serviços.
Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash – Aug 14, 2021,08:29pm EDT
The recent IPCC report is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the climate crisis. The wildfires in the Western United States and Canada, the zombie fires in Siberia, heatwaves in Southern Europe and the Pacific Northwest, and floods in Germany and China should motivate aggressive climate action.
Disasters are supposed to focus policy attention, which political scientist John Kingdon described as opening the “policy window.” As “focusing events,” drastic weather episodes could create opportunities to enact new climate policies. But, of course, a lot depends on the skill of policy entrepreneurs. As Rahm Immanuel had famously noted, politicians should not allow a serious crisis to go to waste.
And yet, climate policy seems to be losing steam. The U.S. Senate has substantially slashed Biden’s proposal for new climate spending. China continues to build coal-fired electricity plants. Brazil has announced a plan to support its coal industry.
And to top it all, Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Advisor, is imploring OPEC countries to pump more oil! The White House press release notes: “President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump.” Yes, one can smell 2022 mid-term elections because Democrats do not want to be held responsible for high gas prices, a highly emotive pocketbook issue. However, these statements cause enormous policy confusion about Biden’s commitment to making tough choices on climate issues. If zero emissions are to be achieved by 2050, the White House should allow the prices to rise. Moreover, if Biden supports increasing oil supply abroad, why is he opposing it in the U.S., as Texas Governor Greg Abbott noted?
Models of Policy Change
There are different pathways to policy change. The “information deficit” model suggests that policy change is hampered when policy elites do not have sufficient information. Once these elites are “educated” and there is an “epistemic consensus,” policy change takes place. With easy accessibility to well-written and carefully crafted IPCC reports, it is difficult to accept that policy elites lack information about climate change. Perhaps, what is taking place is “motivated reasoning”: individuals seek information that coheres with their prior beliefs and leads them to their desired conclusions. This means that policy elites are not empty vessels waiting to be nourished by the nectar of new knowledge. Instead, they seek information that they want to hear. Information deficit explanations do not work well in highly polarized political contexts.
Political explanations begin with the premise that most policy institutions favor the status quo. This is partly due to the institutional design (such as the Senate Filibuster) that many democracies deliberately adopt to prevent concentration of power. But sometimes, dramatic events can shatter the status quo, as elites begin to rethink their priorities. If political entrepreneurs can stitch together a coalition, policy change can happen. And sometimes, even without policy windows opening up, these entrepreneurs can create policies that can appeal to multiple constituencies. After all, Baptists and Bootleggers came together to push for prohibition. Politics, rather than the lack of scientific information, is probably leading to policy sluggishness.
Why is Climate Policy Stalling?
Additional issues are also contributing to climate policy lethargy. Humans have a limited attention span. Climate issues are getting neglected because the policy space is getting crowded by new and sensational non-climate issues. Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan is stunning, and its aftermath is most disturbing. Western countries are in a panic mode to evacuate embassies with “Saigon type” exit from Kabul. The Afghanistan crisis is creating a new wave of refugees seeking safety in Europe, abetting a nationalist backlash. The debate on “who lost Afghanistan” will probably dominate the U.S. policy discourse with the usual blame game.
Closer to home, the resurgence of COVID and the debate about masks and vaccines are igniting political passions. School and college reopening controversy will probably take a chunk of policy space and attention span.
Other dramatic issues will make demands on the attention span as well: crime waves in many cities (the top issue in the New York Mayoral race), the Cuomo scandal, and Newsom’s recall.
Is there Hope on the Climate Front?
The good news is that the renewable energy industry is growing despite COVID-induced recession. A key reason is that the prices of both solar and wind are now competitive with coal. This means that electric utilities will deploy their political muscle to get favorable renewable policies at the state level. For example, the legislature in a Red state such as Indiana has prohibited county governments from using zoning ordinances against renewable energy.
The automobile industry seems to be pushing EVs as well. Although the Senate’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan has provided only $7.5 billion for E.V. charging stations (as opposed to $15 billion Biden had asked for), the automobile industry and electric utilities (with their massive new investments in renewables) are now getting locked into a new technological trajectory . This means that they have strong incentives to create a national charging station network.
Although the federal government may be underperforming on climate issues, the private sector has embraced them. Wall Street also seems to be keeping pace with Main Street and the Silicon Valley. Of course, one might view industry’s newfound love for Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) issues as hype, simply replacing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It remains to be seen if climate leaders such as BlackRock can bring about measurable change in corporate policies on climate issues.
In sum, the climate policy optimism of the first 100 days of the Biden administration seems to be wearing off. This is disturbing because Republicans are expected to retake the House (and possibly the Senate as well) in the 2022 midterm elections. Thus, the window of opportunity to enact aggressive federal climate policy is slowly closing. Climate policy requires vigorous political entrepreneurship to bring about policy change in the next 12 months.
“A atividade humana está alterando o clima da Terra de maneira ‘sem precedentes’ em centenas de milhares de anos, com algumas mudanças já inevitáveis e ‘irreversíveis’, alertaram cientistas do clima.”
“Países atrasaram tanto a contenção de emissões de combustíveis fósseis que já não podem mais interromper a intensificação do aquecimento global pelos próximos 30 anos, ainda que exista uma janela para prevenir o futuro mais angustiante, concluiu um grande relatório científico da ONU.”
“Pela primeira vez, os cientistas do IPCC (sigla em inglês para Painel Intergovernamental de Mudança do Clima da ONU) quantificaram em um relatório o aumento da frequência e da intensidade dos eventos extremos ligados às mudanças climáticas.”
Se é pelo dedo que se conhece o gigante, os primeiros parágrafos do noticiário mais importante do ano sobre a crise do clima mostra como o assunto está longe de um senso comum. As três aberturas acima foram cometidas por, respectivamente, The Guardian, The New York Times e Folha. A diferença de tom não é pequena: o apocalipse está próximo para o diário britânico; políticos precisam acordar antes que seja tarde segundo o americano; a ciência mostra que algo ocorre, diz o brasileiro.
O destaque da notícia nos três jornais também apresentou muitas diferenças. Valendo-se do fuso horário, o Times deu a notícia como manchete na edição impressa de segunda-feira (9) e manteve o assunto na capa no dia seguinte. O tratamento no site foi semelhante. O Guardian apurou o conteúdo do relatório com políticos e ONGs e adiantou que o tom do alerta seria grave já no domingo. Deu duas manchetes seguidas no impresso e 12 títulos em seu site apenas na segunda, além de um vídeo.
A Folha foi bem mais econômica. Resolveu a questão em três textos. No site, na segunda de manhã, o assunto não aparecia nem no primeiro scroll, a parte de cima da Home Page, mais nobre e de maior audiência. Onde estava, a chamada tinha peso parecido com o dado para uma nota sobre venda de Porsches no Brasil. O título principal dizia apenas que a “crise climática já agrava secas, tempestades e temperaturas”.
Em crítica interna. este ombudsman observou que o tratamento não condizia com o tamanho da notícia e que a comparação com a mídia internacional e até com concorrentes locais não era favorável. O destaque aumentou um pouco nas horas seguintes e a palavra “irreversível” foi acrescida ao enunciado original.
Na terça, em seu impresso, a Folha preferiu dar manchete para o desfile militar no bananal de Jair Bolsonaro. Clima virou um título, na parte debaixo da Primeira Página, em uma coluna. O Bolsa Família reloaded do presidente candidato mereceu duas colunas. Há, é claro, problemas em demasia no país, mas a opção da Folha restou entre as exceções em um dia importante.
Dos concorrentes diretos O Globo e O Estado de S.Paulo aos grandes jornais de Estados Unidos, Reino Unido e Europa, incluindo os econômicos The Wall Street Journal e Financial Times, todas as manchetes foram ocupadas pelo documento do IPCC. Com ou sem alarmismo, mas refletindo corretamente a amplitude do problema, a dimensão da notícia.
Leitores reclamaram. Alguns em tom ativista, cobrando da Folha comprometimento com a causa ambiental. Outros com pura preocupação, aquela que se sente diante do noticiário já quase diário de incêndios florestais, ondas de calor, inundações e secas pelo planeta. O temor que várias cidades brasileiras já sentem diante do racionamento de água. E o que vamos sentir todos daqui a pouco diante da falta de energia se o governo federal mantiver a incompetência de hábito.
No meio de tudo isso, surgiu um prenúncio de mudança. O jornal, na terça, padronizou que os eventos extremos devem ser tratados preferencialmente como “crise do clima”. Na quarta, porém, mais uma revolta se instalou na caixa de entrada. Leandro Narloch, de volta à Folha, repetiu argumentos negacionistas para falar de “aquecimento global” em sua coluna de reestreia.
Leitores furiosos listaram as polêmicas que cercam o jornalista conservador. Chamaram-no de homofóbico e racista. Pediram sua demissão, anunciaram o cancelamento de assinaturas do jornal e do UOL.
O episódio reforça as contradições da Folha na cobertura do clima. Sua brava equipe de Ciência faz excelente trabalho, tem bons analistas e cobertura consistente da Amazônia, mas isso é pouco para enfrentar um desafio multidisciplinar.
Crise climática precisa virar real prioridade, pauta que se impõe ao público pelo simples fato de que ela irá se impor de qualquer maneira. Não é mais questão de acreditar ou não em cientistas ou de pirralhas anunciando o fim do mundo.
O país está na berlinda na questão ambiental. A Folha não precisa ficar junto.
The latest landmark climate science report goes much further than previous ones in providing estimates of how bad things might get as the planet heats up, even if a lack of data may mean it underestimates the perils.
Scientists have used the seven years since the previous assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) to narrow the uncertainties around major issues, such as how much the planet will warm if we double atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
While temperatures have risen largely in lockstep with rising CO2, this IPCC report examines in much more detail the risks of so-called abrupt changes, when relatively stable systems abruptly and probably irreversibly shift to a new state.
Michael Mann, director of the Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science and one of the world’s most prominent climate researchers, says the models are not capturing all the risks as the climate heats up.
Perhaps the most prominent of these threats is a possible stalling of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Also known as the Gulf Stream, it brings tropic water north from the Caribbean, keeping northern Europe much warmer than its latitude might otherwise suggest, and threatening massive disruptions if it slows or stops.
“Where the models have underestimated the impact is with projections of ice melt, the AMOC, and – I argue in my own work – the uptick on extreme weather events,” Professor Mann tells the Herald and The Age.
Stefan Rahmstorf, head of research at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, agrees that climate models have not done a good job of reproducing the so-called cold blob in the subpolar Atlantic that is forming where melting Greenland ice is cooling the subpolar Atlantic.
If they are not picking that blob up, “should we trust those models on AMOC stability?” Professor Rahmstorf asks.
The IPCC’s language, too, doesn’t necessarily convey the nature of the threat, much of which will be detailed in the second AR6 report on the impacts of climate change, scheduled for release next February.
“Like just stating the AMOC collapse by 2100 is ‘very unlikely’ – that was in a previous report – it sounds reassuring,” Professor Rahmstorf said. “Now the IPCC says they have ‘medium confidence’ that it won’t happen by 2100, whatever that means.”
West Antarctic melt
Another potential tipping point is the possible disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Much of the sheet lies below sea level and as the Southern Ocean warms, it will melt causing it to “flow” towards the sea in a process that is expected to be self-sustaining.
This so-called marine ice sheet instability is identified in the IPCC report as likely resulting in ice mass loss under all emissions scenarios. There is also “deep uncertainty in projections for above 3 degrees of warming”, the report states.
Containing enough water to lift sea levels by 3.3 metres, it matters what happens to the ice sheet. As Andrew Mackintosh, an ice expert at Monash University, says, the understanding is limited: “We know more about the surface of Mars than the ice sheet bed under the ice.”
Permafrost not so permanent
Much has been made about the so-called “methane bomb” sitting under the permafrost in the northern hemisphere. As the Arctic has warmed at more than twice the pace of the globe overall, with heatwaves of increasing intensity and duration, it is not surprising that the IPCC has listed the release of so-called biogenic emissions from permafrost thaw as among potential tipping points.
These emissions could total up to 240 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent which, if released, would add an unwanted warming boost.
The IPCC lists as “high” the probability of such releases during this century, adding there is “high confidence” that the process is irreversible at century scales.
“In some cases abrupt changes can occur in Earth System Models but don’t on the timescales of the projections (for example, an AMOC collapse),” said Peter Cox, a Professor of Climate System Dynamics at the UK’s University of Exeter. “In other cases the processes involved are not yet routinely included in ESMs [such as] CO2 and methane release from deep permafrost.”
“In the latter cases IPCC statements are made on the basis of the few studies available, and are necessarily less definitive,” he said.
From the Amazon rainforest to the boreal forests of Russia and Canada, there is a risk of fire and pests that could trigger dieback and transform those regions.
Australia’s bush faces an increased risk of bad fire weather days right across the continent, the IPCC notes. How droughts, heatwaves and heavy rain and other extreme events will play out at a local level is also not well understood.
Ocean acidification and marine heatwaves also mean the world’s coral reefs will be much diminished at more than 1.5 degrees of warming. “You can kiss it goodbye as we know it,” says Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate researcher at the University of NSW, said.
Global monsoons, which affect billions of people including those on the Indian subcontinent, are likely to increase their rainfall in most parts of the world, the IPCC said.
Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said policymakers need to understand that much is riding on these tipping points not being triggered as even one or two of them would have long-lasting and significant effects. “How lucky do you feel?” Professor Pitman says.
The Biggest uncertainty
Christian Jakob, a Monash University climate researcher, said that while there remain important uncertainties, science is honing most of those risks down.
Much harder to gauge, though, is which emissions path humans are going to take. Picking between the five scenarios ranging from low to high that we are going to choose is “much larger than the uncertainty we have in the science,” Professor Jakob said.
O impacto do aumento da temperatura média na Terra é planetário, com elevação do nível do mar e alteração de ecossistemas inteiros, entre outras mudanças.
Alterações regionais do clima, com maior frequência de eventos extremos, já são percebidas e se intensificarão nos próximos anos, com consequências diretas na saúde de todos.
No Brasil, alguns estados conviverão com mais dias de calorão, que podem ser prejudiciais à saúde a ponto de provocar a morte de idosos.
Em outros, chuvas intensas se tornarão mais recorrentes, ocasionando inundações que aumentam o risco de doenças, quando não destroem bairros e cidades.
Por fim, as secas também devem ficar mais intensas, o que pode agravar problemas respiratórios.
Além disso, tanto as chuvas intensas quanto as secas prejudicam lavouras, aumentando o preço dos alimentos.
Um exemplo prático de aumento de temperatura está no Sudeste e no Sul do Brasil. Segundo o cenário mais otimista do IPCC, até 2040 os dias com termômetros acima de 35°C passarão de 26 por ano (média de 1995 a 2014) para 32. Num cenário intermediário, até o final do século esse número pode chegar a 43, um aumento de mais de 65% em relação à situação recente.
No Centro-Oeste, o aumento do calorão é ainda mais severo. No cenário intermediário, do IPCC, a média de 53 dias por ano com termômetros acima de 35°C salta para cerca de 72 até 2040 e para 108 até o fim do século, ou pouco mais de um trimestre de temperatura extrema.
As consequências para a saúde são graves. Ondas de calor extremo podem causar hipertermia, que afeta os órgãos internos e provoca lesões no coração, nas células musculares e nos vasos sanguíneos. São danos que podem levar à morte.
Em junho, uma onda de calor nos estados de Oregon e Washington, nos Estados Unidos, custou a vida de centenas de pessoas. Segundo reportagem do jornal The New York Times, foram registrados cerca de 600 óbitos em excesso no período.
Além do calor, a crise do clima deve tornar mais frequentes os períodos de seca e os dias sem chuva em muitas regiões. É o caso da Amazônia.
Dados do IPCC apontam que, na região Norte, no período 1995-2014 eram em média 43 dias consecutivos sem chuva por ano, que podem aumentar para 51, com períodos 10% mais secos até 2040.
Situação similar deve ocorrer no Centro-Oeste, que tinha 69 dias consecutivos sem chuva por ano, que podem ir a 76, com períodos 13% mais secos.
Períodos mais secos nessas regiões preocupam por causa das queimadas. Na Amazônia, por exemplo, a época sem chuvas é associada à intensificação de processos de desmatamento e de incêndios.
As queimadas na região amazônica têm relação com piora da qualidade do ar e consequentes problemas respiratórios. A Fiocruz e a ONG WWF-Brasil estimam que estados amazônicos com índices elevados de queimadas tenham gastado, em dez anos, quase R$ 1 bilhão com hospitalizações por doenças respiratórias provavelmente relacionadas à fumaça dos incêndios.
No ano passado, o Pantanal passou por sua pior seca dos últimos 60 anos, estiagem que ainda pode continuar por até cinco anos, segundo afirmou à época a Secretaria Nacional de Proteção e Defesa Civil. A situação fez explodir o número de queimadas na região.
O IPCC também aponta aumento da frequência e da intensidade de chuvas extremas e enchentes em diversas regiões do Brasil.
Além dos danos óbvios na infraestrutura das cidades, as inundações provocam problemas de saúde. Hepatite A (transmitida de modo oral-fecal, ou seja, por alimentos e água contaminada) e leptospirose (com transmissão a partir do contato com urina de ratos) são suspeitos conhecidos, mas há também o risco de acidentes com animais peçonhentos, já que cobras e escorpiões podem procurar abrigos dentro das casas.
Manaus tornou-se exemplo recente desse tipo de situação. A cidade enfrentou uma cheia histórica, a maior desde o início das medições, há 119 anos. As águas do rio Negro provocaram inundações com duração superior a um mês na principal capital da região amazônica. Seis das dez maiores cheias já registradas no rio ocorreram no século 21, ou seja, nas últimas duas décadas.
Ruas da região do porto de Manaus tiveram que ser interditadas e foi necessária a construção de passarelas sobre as vias alagadas. Enquanto isso, comerciantes fizeram barreiras com sacos de areia e jogaram cal na água parada para tentar neutralizar o cheiro de fezes.
Em meio à inundação em igarapés, houve acúmulo de lixo, que chegou a cobrir toda a área superficial da água. Dentro das casas, moradores usaram plataformas de madeira (chamadas de marombas) para suspender móveis e eletrodomésticos.
As enchentes não são exclusividade amazônica. Elas também ocorrem na região Sudeste, em São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, por exemplo.
Pouco tempo depois da cheia em Manaus, a Europa também viu chuvas intensas concentradas em um curto espaço de tempo causarem inundações severas, principalmente na Alemanha. Além da destruição de vias públicas e imóveis, houve mais de uma centena de mortes.
Segundo Lincoln Alves, pesquisador do Inpe (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) e autor-líder do Atlas do IPCC, a ferramenta pretende facilitar o acesso a informações normalmente complexas. “É visível a mudança do clima”, afirma o pesquisador.
A partir do Atlas, diz Alves, é possível que comunidades, empresas e até esferas do governo consigam olhar de forma mais regional para os efeitos da crise do clima.
A ferramenta permite ver a história climática da Terra e observar as projeções para diferentes variáveis em diferentes cenários de emissões —e de aquecimento, como 1,5°C e 2°C— apontados pelo IPCC.
PRINCIPAIS CONCLUSÕES DO RELATÓRIO DO IPCC
Aumento de temperatura provocada pelo ser humano desde 1850-1900 até 2010-2019: de 0,8°C a 1,21°C
Os anos de 2016 a 2020 foram o período de cinco anos mais quentes de 1850 a 2020
De 2021 a 2040, um aumento de temperatura de 1,5°C é, no mínimo, provável de acontecer em qualquer cenário de emissões
A estabilização da temperatura na Terra pode levar de 20 a 30 anos se houver redução forte e sustentada de emissões
O oceano está esquentando mais rápido —inclusive em profundidades maiores do que 2.000 m— do que em qualquer período anterior, desde pelo menos a última transição glacial. É extremamente provável que as atividades humanas sejam o principal fator para isso
O oceano continuará a aquecer por todo o século 21 e provavelmente até 2300, mesmo em cenários de baixas emissões
O aquecimento de áreas profundas do oceano e o derretimento de massas de gelo tende a elevar o nível do mar, o que tende a se manter por milhares de anos
Nos próximos 2.000 anos, o nível médio global do mar deve aumentar 2 a 3 metros, se o aumento da temperatura ficar contido em 1,5°C. Se o aquecimento global ficar contido a 2°C, o nível deve aumentar de 2 a 6 metros. No caso de 5°C de aumento de temperatura, o mar subirá de 19 a 22 metros
A crise climática é uma crise de direitos humanos, cujas emergências já estão afetando de maneira desproporcional os países mais vulneráveis e os grupos sociais mais discriminados e marginalizados, aprofundando desigualdades.
É isso o que indica o relatório “Parem de Queimar Nossos Direitos”, lançado nesta sexta-feira (13) globalmente pela Anistia Internacional.
O documento detalha como emergências climáticas têm consequências injustas entre países, entre diferentes populações e entre gerações e de que maneira elas comprometem a garantia de uma série de direitos fundamentais, como o direito à vida, à água, à alimentação, à moradia, à saúde, ao trabalho e à autodeterminação, entre outros.
O primeiro e mais elementar desses direitos é a face mais evidente e trágica da escalada de emergências climáticas que tomaram o noticiário ao longo do último ano. Tempestades devastadoras, recorde de furacões, ondas de calor e incêndios sem precedentes mataram pessoas da Austrália à Alemanha, passando por Bahamas, China e Canadá.
O Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) estimou que manter o aumento da temperatura média global em 1,5°C, e não em 2°C, resultaria na proteção de 420 milhões de pessoas em relação a ondas de calor extremas e na redução de 50% no número de pessoas expostas ao estresse hídrico induzido pelo clima, além de diminuir o risco de inundações costeiras.
“As autoridades públicas no Brasil têm contribuído para que haja um desmonte da agenda ambiental, mas não há mais espaço para o negacionismo. A vida de brasileiros e brasileiras deve vir em primeiro lugar”, explica Jurema Werneck, diretora executiva da Anistia Internacional Brasil.
Segundo Werneck, os Estados têm obrigações legais de enfrentar a crise do clima, de acordo com a normativa internacional dos direitos humanos. “Exigimos que o governo do presidente Jair Bolsonaro e o Congresso Nacional ajam para atenuar os efeitos das mudanças climáticas sobre a população brasileira e implementem políticas públicas de conservação da natureza e proteção dos direitos humanos.”
Para ela, o governo do Brasil não está fazendo o que é preciso para enfrentar a crise climática. “Muito pelo contrário, temos visto decisões equivocadas, perigosas e muita negligência. O governo não se coloca ao lado da proteção do ambiente natural nem dos sujeitos de grupos populacionais como indígenas, quilombolas e moradores das periferias das cidades para mitigar e superar os impactos da crise climática.”
Embora as mudanças climáticas sejam um fenômeno global, elas atingem países pobres e em desenvolvimento de maneira desproporcional, o que configura um aspecto injusto desse fenômeno.
O relatório afirma que os países e blocos que mais emitiram CO2 na história —EUA, União Europeia, China, Rússia e Japão— têm uma responsabilidade histórica e precisam agir em seu território e no exterior, mas não são os únicos que devem responder ao imperativo de mudanças.
“Para resolver essa crise, que é global, é preciso que a responsabilidade de agir seja compartilhada por todos e todas. Todos os países precisam fazer alguma coisa urgente, sejam os países mais ricos do mundo, sejam aqueles em desenvolvimento, como o Brasil, sejam os países mais pobres do mundo. Todo mundo tem o que fazer, todo mundo deve fazer. Se omitir nesse momento é extremamente violador dos direitos humanos”, afirma a diretora-executiva da Anistia no Brasil.
Neste sentido, o relatório da organização aponta que a omissão de países em tomar medidas audaciosas para enfrentar a crise do clima é, em si, uma violação de direitos humanos porque tem impactos concretos sobre direitos com um escopo ainda maior que outros tipos de violações.
Isso porque, além do desequilíbrio entre nações, os efeitos das emergências climáticas também estão ligados às desigualdades e privilégios de parcelas da população mundial.
De acordo com o relatório da Anistia, de 1990 a 2015, os 10% mais ricos da população mundial (cerca de 630 milhões de pessoas) foram responsáveis por mais da metade das emissões acumuladas de carbono, enquanto os 50% mais pobres (cerca de 3,1 bilhões de pessoas) foram responsáveis por apenas 7% das emissões acumuladas.
Estudos já identificaram que existem recortes étnicos, raciais e de gênero nas pessoas mais afetadas, entre elas, mulheres, pessoas negras e povos indígenas, além de outros grupos que vivem em moradias mais precárias, em localidades de risco ou em áreas mais expostas à poluição e menos servidas de saneamento, por exemplo.
Por isso, ao mesmo tempo que o relatório convoca os países a reduzir drasticamente a queima de combustíveis fósseis e a acelerarem suas transições para matrizes energéticas limpas, a Anistia chama a atenção para a necessidade de cuidar das pessoas mais vulneráveis. Para tanto, recomenda a criação de mecanismos de financiamento internacional para que se adote medidas de mitigação da crise e de adaptação das populações a emergências climáticas.
Além disso, de acordo com a ONG, esses projetos de mitigação e de adaptação muitas vezes ocorrem em contextos de violação de direitos, seja no campo do trabalho ou da alimentação, no caso das monoculturas de biocombustíveis.
“Há uma profunda injustiça permeando toda essa crise climática. Porque é uma minoria das pessoas do mundo e dos países do mundo que produzem um excesso de gases de efeito estufa, que estão na origem da crise climática. E são aqueles que são excluídos e marginalizados que já estão pagando o preço mais alto dessa crise”, avalia Werneck.
“Portanto, a resposta à crise precisa ser coordenada e ter enfoque em direitos humanos. Precisa garantir que as medidas de reparação e de correção de rota sejam rápidas, mas também sejam justas.”
Na sua opinião, o que aconteceu nos últimos cem anos com o número total de mortes causadas por furacões, inundações, secas, ondas de calor e outros desastres climáticos? Peço que escolha uma destas alternativas:
a) Aumentou mais de 800%
b) Aumentou cerca de 50%
c) Manteve-se constante
d) Diminuiu cerca de 50%
e) Diminuiu mais de 80%
Como a população mundial cresceu de 1,8 bilhão em 1921 para 8 bilhões em 2021, é razoável cravar as respostas B ou C, pois o fato de haver mais pessoas resultaria em mais vítimas. Muitos leitores devem ter escolhido a primeira opção, tendo em vista as notícias assustadoras do relatório do IPCC desta semana.
A alternativa correta, porém, é a última. As mortes por desastres naturais diminuíram 87% desde a década de 1920 até os anos 2010, segundo dados coletados pelo Our World in Data.
Passaram de 540 mil por ano para 68 mil. A taxa em relação à população teve picos de 63 mortes por 100 mil habitantes em 1921, e 176 em 1931. Hoje está em 0,15.
Esses números levam a dois paradoxos interessantes sobre a relação entre o homem e o clima. O primeiro lembra o Paradoxo de Spencer –referência a Herbert Spencer, para quem “o grau de preocupação pública sobre um problema ou fenômeno social varia inversamente a sua incidência”.
Assim como os ingleses se deram conta da pobreza quando ela começava a diminuir, durante a Revolução Industrial, a humanidade está apavorada com os infortúnios do clima justamente depois de conseguir sobreviver a eles.
O segundo paradoxo: ao mesmo tempo em que emitimos muito (mas muito mesmo) carbono na atmosfera e causamos um grave problema de efeito estufa, também nos tornamos menos vulneráveis à natureza. Na verdade, proteger-se do clima foi um dos principais motivos para termos poluído tanto.
Veja o caso da construção. Produzir cimento consiste grosseiramente em queimar calcário e liberar dióxido de carbono.
Se a indústria de cimento fosse um país, seria o terceiro maior emissor de gases do efeito estufa. Mas essa indústria poluidora permitiu que as pessoas deixassem casas de pau-a-pique ou madeira para dormirem abrigadas em estruturas mais seguras.
Já a fome originada pela seca, principal causa de morte por desastres naturais nos anos 1920, foi resolvida com a criação dos fertilizantes químicos, sistemas de irrigação e a construção de represas e redes de saneamento.
Todas essas atividades causaram aquecimento global –mas não deixam de ser grandes conquistas humanas, que merecem ser celebradas e difundidas entre os pobres que ainda vivem sob risco de morrer durante furacões, secas ou inundações.
Será que a queda histórica das mortes por desastres naturais vai se reverter nos próximos anos, tornando realidade os vaticínios apocalípticos de Greta Thunberg, para quem “bilhões de pessoas morrerão se não tomarmos medidas urgentes”?
O ativista climático Michael Shellenberger, autor do brilhante “Apocalipse Nunca”, que será lançado este mês no Brasil pela editora LVM, acha que não.
Pretendo falar mais sobre o livro de Shellenberger em outras colunas, mas já adianto um dos argumentos: o alarmismo ambiental despreza a capacidade humana de se adaptar e resolver problemas.
“Os Países Baixos, por exemplo, tornaram-se uma nação rica mesmo tendo um terço de suas terras abaixo do nível do mar, incluindo áreas que estão nada menos do que sete metros abaixo do mar”, diz ele.
A luta contra o aquecimento global não precisa de ativistas obcecados com o apocalipse (que geralmente desprezam soluções óbvias, como a energia nuclear). Precisa de tecnologia, de inovadores, de gente que dê mais conforto e segurança à humanidade interferindo na natureza cada vez menos.
É urgente que se integrem tais questões às amplas políticas de desenvolvimento socioeconômico
Foi em janeiro de 2011 que o mito de que no Brasil não há desastre foi por terra. Chuvas torrenciais registradas na Região Serrana do Rio de Janeiro provocaram deslizamentos de terra e inundações, deixando um rastro de mais de mil mortos. O ocorrido mostrou a necessidade de priorização da agenda de riscos de desastres que fora, por muito tempo, secundária frente à falta de conhecimento dos reais impactos dos eventos naturais extremos na sociedade e economia brasileiras.
Nesse contexto, o Banco Mundial em parceria com a Sedec (Secretaria Nacional de Proteção e Defesa Civil) e a UFSC (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina) conduziu uma análise detalhada de eventos de desastres passados demostrando a real dimensão do problema: entre 1995 e 2019, o Brasil perdeu em média mensalmente cerca de R$ 1,1 bilhão devido a desastres, ou seja, os prejuízos totais para o período são estimados em cerca de R$ 330 bilhões.
Desse total, 20% são perdas direitas (ou danos), a ampla maioria (59%) no setor de infraestrutura enquanto o de habitação responde por 37%. Já as perdas indiretas (ou prejuízos) correspondem a aproximadamente 80% do valor total dos impactos de desastre no país, mais marcantes na agricultura (R$ 149,8 bilhões) e pecuária (R$ 55,7 bilhões) pelo setor privado e água e transporte (R$ 31,9 bilhões) pelo setor público. Em relação aos impactos humanos, a conta é também significava: 4.065 mortes, 7,4 milhões de pessoas temporária ou permanentemente fora de suas casas devido a danos e mais de 276 milhões de pessoas afetadas.
Para além das perdas humanas e econômicas, as políticas públicas para a promoção de avanços socioeconômicos também podem ter sua eficácia reduzida dado que os eventos de desastres comprovadamente afetam indicadores de saúde, poder de compra, acesso a emprego e renda, educação, dentre outros. Investimentos vitais em infraestruturas críticas, como transportes e habitação, também são massivamente impactados devido a ocorrência de desastres.
Diante deste cenário, surge a inevitável pergunta: por que o Brasil ainda não tem uma política integrada de gestão de riscos de desastres e um Plano Nacional de Proteção e Defesa Civil? De forma a assegurar os tão necessários avanços, a atual gestão da Sedec definiu como prioridade a regulamentação da Lei 12.608/2012 que institui a Política Nacional de Proteção e Defesa Civil, bem como a formulação do Plano Nacional de Proteção e Defesa Civil.
Tais ações podem configurar um arcabouço legal e de diretrizes que venham a fomentar melhorias estruturais em políticas públicas. Por exemplo, no setor de habitação pode-se definir protocolos de incorporação de produtos de mapeamento de riscos em decisões de novos investimentos ou mitigação de riscos de desastres em projetos já entregues. No campo do planejamento fiscal, orçamentos mais condizentes com os impactos econômicos de desastres podem ser definidos no exercício de cada ano com vistas a melhor proteger a economia nacional e subnacional. Por fim, investimentos em infraestruturas críticas (por exemplo transportes, água e saneamento, geração e distribuição de energia) bem como manutenção das mesmas sob a ótica de exposição e vulnerabilidade a perigos naturais podem assegurar a continuidade da operação e de negócios em situações extremas, permitindo que serviços essenciais continuem a ser providos à população e que os impactos indiretos na economia sejam reduzidos.
Dado o aumento da frequência e impactos socioeconômicos dos eventos naturais extremos, existe consenso entre os especialistas que o processo de rápida urbanização favoreceu a criação de um cenário mais propício à ocorrência de desastres devido à ocupação inadequada do solo em áreas com perigos naturais e sem o devido tratamento de obras civis para gestão dos processos naturais. Ao mesmo tempo que esse processo levou a uma alta exposição de comunidades vulneráveis no território nacional e no momento em que analisamos os impactos da pandemia de Covid-19 em nossa economia e comunidades, não podemos deixar de considerar como os desastres vêm influenciando (negativamente) há muito tempo as políticas públicas em nosso país.
Felizmente avanços na coleta de dados e evidências permitem agora que os eventos de desastres e seus impactos estejam sob a luz do conhecimento técnico e em posse dos legisladores, administradores públicos e tomadores de decisões por meio de mapas de riscos, previsão de clima e tempo, modelos de inundações e deslizamentos, bem como fóruns de discussão e projetos de financiamento.
Nesse contexto, fica clara a necessidade de adaptação dos modelos de sucesso de gestão de riscos de desastres observados globalmente às características do Brasil. De forma geral, a extensão do território nacional, modelo federalista de administração pública, histórico de eventos de desastres de menor escala e alta frequência cumulativa, dentre outros, implica na necessidade de definição do papel da União e dos governos estaduais e municipais na agenda.
Assim, é urgente que se integre as questões de gestão de riscos de desastres às amplas políticas de desenvolvimento socioeconômico, tais como programas de habitação, planejamento e expansão urbana, investimentos em infraestruturas críticas, incentivos agropecuários, transferência de renda, entre outros.
Adicionalmente, há real oportunidade em se repensar processos de recuperação segundo a ótica de reconstrução melhor (em inglês, Build Back Better) de forma a assegurar que erros do passado não sejam repetidos gerando ou mantendo-se os patamares de riscos de desastres.
Esta coluna foi escrita em colaboração com Frederico Pedroso, especialista em Gestão de Riscos de Desastres do Banco Mundial, Joaquin Toro, especialista líder em Gestão de Riscos de Desastres do Banco Mundial e Rafael Schadeck, engenheiro civil e consultor em Gestão de Riscos de Desastres do Banco Mundial.
Summary: Natural disasters alone are not enough to motivate local communities to engage in climate change mitigation or adaptation, a new study has found. Rather, policy change in response to extreme weather events appears to depend on a combination of factors, including fatalities, sustained media coverage, the unusualness of the event and the political makeup of the community.
Natural disasters alone are not enough to motivate local communities to engage in climate change mitigation or adaptation, a new study from Oregon State University found.
Rather, policy change in response to extreme weather events appears to depend on a combination of factors, including fatalities, sustained media coverage, the unusualness of the event and the political makeup of the community.
Climate scientists predict that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will only continue to increase in coming decades. OSU researchers wanted to understand how local communities are reacting.
“There’s obviously national and state-level climate change policy, but we’re really interested in what goes on at the local level to adapt to these changes,” said lead author Leanne Giordono, a post-doctoral researcher in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Local communities are typically the first to respond to extreme events and disasters. How are they making themselves more resilient — for example, how are they adapting to more frequent flooding or intense heat?”
For the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Giordono and co-authors Hilary Boudet of OSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Alexander Gard-Murray at Harvard University examined 15 extreme weather events that occurred around the U.S. between March 2012 and June 2017, and any subsequent local climate policy change.
These events included flooding, winter weather, extreme heat, tornadoes, wildfires and a landslide.
The study, published recently in the journal Policy Sciences, found there were two “recipes” for local policy change after an extreme weather event.
“For both recipes, experiencing a high-impact event — one with many deaths or a presidential disaster declaration — is a necessary condition for future-oriented policy adoption,” Giordono said.
In addition to a high death toll, the first recipe consisted of Democrat-leaning communities where there was focused media coverage of the weather event. These communities moved forward with adopting policies aimed at adapting in response to future climate change, such as building emergency preparedness and risk management capacity.
The second recipe consisted of Republican-leaning communities with past experiences of other uncommon weather events. In these locales, residents often didn’t engage directly in conversation about climate change but still worked on policies meant to prepare their communities for future disasters.
In both recipes, policy changes were fairly modest and reactive, such as building fire breaks, levees or community tornado shelters. Giordono referred to these as “instrumental” policy changes.
“As opposed to being driven by ideology or a shift in thought process, it’s more a means to an end,” she said. “‘We don’t want anyone else to die from tornadoes, so we build a shelter.’ It’s not typically a systemic response to global climate change.”
In their sample, the researchers didn’t find any evidence of mitigation-focused policy response, such as communities passing laws to limit carbon emissions or require a shift to solar power. And some communities did not make any policy changes at all in the wake of extreme weather.
The researchers suggest that in communities that are ideologically resistant to talking about climate change, it may be more effective to frame these policy conversations in other ways, such as people’s commitment to their community or the community’s long-term viability.
Without specifically examining communities that have not experienced extreme weather events, the researchers cannot speak to the status of their policy change, but Giordono said it is a question for future study.
“In some ways, it’s not surprising that you see communities that have these really devastating events responding to them,” Giordono said. “What about the vast majority of communities that don’t experience a high-impact event — is there a way to also spark interest in those communities?”
“We don’t want people to have to experience these types of disasters to make changes.”
A new virus sweeps the world, closing borders, shutting down arts and sports, and killing thousands of people. Is this coronavirus pandemic, with the disease named Covid-19, simply a natural disaster, a culling of overpopulation as suggested by callous commentators who seem to revel in human misery? Is it nature’s rebuttal to human-caused climate change, forcing us to reduce fossil fuel-based transportation and overconsumption (apart from toilet paper)? The answer is neither. As with almost all disasters, the Covid-19 disaster is the outcome of human choices.
The Earth, with its microorganisms, tectonic activity, powerful weather, and other phenomena, has long posed dangers to humans. We know this, so it is up to us to deal with it. Sometimes we manage and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are forced into situations with few choices, such as impoverished people living on the slopes of Mexico City’s volcano or in the subsiding floodplains of Jakarta. Not everyone can or should be a planner or engineer, to avoid houses built on soils prone to liquefying in an earthquake or offices lacking basic seismic reinforcement. Sometimes, we need to trust the zoning regulations and building codes—and their monitoring and enforcement—to keep us safe. Too often, gaps are revealed only after people have died, from the collapse of the CTV Building in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the 2011 earthquake, to New Orleans flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those who suffer most, from Australia’s 2020 bushfires to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, tend to have the fewest options for countering their vulnerabilities which were created by others.
We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur.
When we are vulnerable to nature, it is because societal actions set people up to be harmed by nature. As we cannot blame nature for disasters, we should avoid the phrase “natural disaster.” They are just “disasters.” It could be shoddily built infrastructure, breaking or not having planning regulations, not being able to afford or not having insurance, poor communication of warnings, or fearing assault in an evacuation shelter. It is the same with disease.
The World Health Organization of the United Nations was lambasted for being far too slow to observe and respond to what became the largest Ebola epidemic yet known, in West Africa between 2014 and 2016. In the years before, donor countries to the WHO had slashed the funds available, particularly hitting the division responsible for surveilling, monitoring, preparing for, and responding to possible epidemics. Experienced staff departed, communication lines to health systems around the world slackened, and institutional memory faded. Not that the UN’s organizations are perfect otherwise, displaying their own operational failings alongside geographic and cultural biases. Plus, many of the Ebola-struck countries—for instance, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—have long lacked adequate health systems, with the governments mired in corruption, conflict, external exploitation, and incompetence. Deficient local, national, and international governance for epidemics meant that Ebola spread far faster and farther afield than it would have if health systems had been supported. A further illustration comes from infected people ending up in the United Kingdom and the United States, yet neither country experienced an Ebola outbreak nor was there ever a pandemic. When it was decided that the spread of Ebola should be stopped, knowledge, resources, and actions were harnessed to stop the spread of Ebola. Earlier choices in West Africa, especially long-term backing for health systems, would have curtailed the disease far sooner.
And so we come to Covid-19. When a strange form of pneumonia appeared in patients in Wuhan, China in December 2019, medical staff reported it and soon identified the origin in one market. They isolated the new virus and publicly announced its genetic sequence. Authorities gave assurances that transmission between humans was not possible and that the virus was under control, despite evidence that neither was the case. Medical staff in Wuhan noticing the sickness explained that they were not permitted to broadcast their knowledge about it. Ai Fen, an emergency department doctor, was reprimanded and told to keep quiet. An ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, was intimidated and silenced. He eventually died of coronavirus, with the media adorning him with the poignant label of “whistle blower.”
It is a choice to institute what is now referred to as a “cover up” when a potential public health threat emerges. It is a choice not to listen to health professionals hired in key positions when they are trying to save lives through public health measures. It is a choice to have opaque dissemination procedures and to try to shut down information flow. Now that the pandemic has been created by choices early on, it is a choice that many others are making to panic-buy soap while others are not bothering to wash their hands properly or to stop touching their food or face with unwashed hands. So much of disease is about human behavior. This in no way diminishes the importance of the essential medical responses. Without vaccines, smallpox, polio, rinderpest, measles, mumps, and a whole host of other lethal diseases would continue to run rampant. Along with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, vaccines not only save lives daily, but also reduce the costs of running health systems by stopping illness.
Health systems must have technologies and tools—dialysis machines, isolation wards, defibrillators, and stents within the dizzying array—but must not stop at technical means and buildings. Any health system must be underpinned by people, training, and experience—exactly what many of the authorities disdained when people in Wuhan suddenly fell ill. Earlier choices in China might have curtailed the spread of Covid-19 before it morphed into a pandemic. Even basic hygiene when dealing with animals might have prevented the virus from jumping species to humans.
Today, diseases targeted for eradication include rubella, measles, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease), and polio. The latter two remain endemic in conflict zones, often reappearing due to war, like polio did in 2013, in Syria, where it had disappeared a decade previously. Similarly, dracunculiasis is close to being eradicated, stubbornly remaining in areas wracked by violence including Chad and South Sudan. Choices to target these diseases are nonetheless preventing epidemics of them, with eradication in sight. London and Paris famously eliminated cholera in the 19th century by building sewage systems, among other actions. Malaria used to be prevalent in southern England and across the US. Dedicated efforts eradicated it and continue to prevent its re-introduction, despite cases from travelers and near international airports. We can continue these efforts by choice or we can let malaria return.
We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur. “In Africa, we see a lot of incursion driven by oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations,” Dennis Carroll, an infectious disease researcher, toldNautilus editor Kevin Berger. “The problem is not only moving workers and establishing camps in these domains, but building roads that allow for even more movement of populations. Roads also allow for the movement of wildlife animals, which may be part of a food trade, to make their way into urban settlements. All these dramatic changes increase the potential spread of infection.” It is no mystery why pandemics happen. Those with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources must choose to decide to avoid these disasters that afflict everyone.
Indeed, science was turned on its head after a discovery in 1772 near Vilui, Siberia, of an intact frozen woolly rhinoceros, which was followed by the more famous discovery of a frozen mammoth in 1787. You may be shocked, but these discoveries of frozen animals with grass still in their stomachs set in motion these two schools of thought since the evidence implied you could be eating lunch and suddenly find yourself frozen, only to be discovered by posterity.
The discovery of the woolly rhinoceros in 1772, and then frozen mammoths, sparked the imagination that things were not linear after all. These major discoveries truly contributed to the “Age of Enlightenment” where there was a burst of knowledge erupting in every field of inquisition. Such finds of frozen mammoths in Siberia continue to this day. This has challenged theories on both sides of this debate to explain such catastrophic events. These frozen animals in Siberia suggest strange events are possible even in climates that are not that dissimilar from the casts of dead victims who were buried alive after the volcanic eruption of 79 AD at Pompeii in ancient Roman Italy. Animals can be grazing and then suddenly freeze abruptly. That climate change was long before man invented the combustion engine.
Even the field of geology began to create great debates that perhaps the earth simply burst into a catastrophic convulsion and indeed the planet was cyclical — not linear. This view of sequential destructive upheavals at irregular intervals or cycles emerged during the 1700s. This school of thought was perhaps best expressed by a forgotten contributor to the knowledge of mankind, George Hoggart Toulmin in his rare 1785 book, “The Eternity of the World“:
” ••• convulsions and revolutions violent beyond our experience or conception, yet unequal to the destruction of the globe, or the whole of the human species, have both existed and will again exist ••• [terminating] ••• an astonishing succession of ages.”
In 1832, Professor A. Bernhardi argued that the North Polar ice cap had extended into the plains of Germany. To support this theory, he pointed to the existence of huge boulders that have become known as “erratics,” which he suggested were pushed by the advancing ice. This was a shocking theory for it was certainly a nonlinear view of natural history. Bernhardi was thinking out of the box. However, in natural science people listen and review theories unlike in social science where theories are ignored if they challenge what people want to believe. In 1834, Johann von Charpentier (1786-1855) argued that there were deep grooves cut into the Alpine rock concluding, as did Karl Schimper, that they were caused by an advancing Ice Age.
This body of knowledge has been completely ignored by the global warming/climate change religious cult. They know nothing about nature or cycles and they are completely ignorant of history or even that it was the discovery of these ancient creatures who froze with food in their mouths. They cannot explain these events nor the vast amount of knowledge written by people who actually did research instead of trying to cloak an agenda in pretend science.
Glaciologists have their own word, jökulhlaup(from Icelandic), to describe the spectacular outbursts when water builds up behind a glacier and then breaks loose. An example was the 1922 jökulhlaup in Iceland. Some seven cubic kilometers of water, melted by a volcano under a glacier, had rushed out in a few days. Still grander, almost unimaginably events, were floods that had swept across Washington state toward the end of the last ice age when a vast lake dammed behind a glacier broke loose. Catastrophic geologic events are not generally part of the uniformitarian geologist’s thinking. Rather, the normal view tends to be linear including events that are local or regional in size.
One example of a regional event would be the 15,000 square miles of the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington. Initially, this spectacular erosion was thought to be the product of slow gradual processes. In 1923, J. Harlen Bretz presented a paper to the Geological Society of America suggesting the Scablands were eroded catastrophically. During the 1940s, after decades of arguing, geologists admitted that high ridges in the Scablands were the equivalent of the little ripples one sees in mud on a streambed, magnified ten thousand times. Finally, by the 1950s, glaciologists were accustomed to thinking about catastrophic regional floods. The Scablands are now accepted to have been catastrophically eroded by the “Spokane Flood.” This Spokane flood was the result of the breaching of an ice dam which had created glacial Lake Missoula. Now the United States Geological Survey estimates the flood released 500 cubic miles of water, which drained in as little as 48 hours. That rush of water gouged out millions of tons of solid rock.
When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, this too produced a catastrophic process whereby two hundred million cubic yards of material was deposited by volcanic flows at the base of the mountain in just a matter of hours. Then, less than two years later, there was another minor eruption, but this resulted in creating a mudflow, which carved channels through the recently deposited material. These channels, which are 1/40th the size of the Grand Canyon, exposed flat segments between the catastrophically deposited layers. This is what we see between the layers exposed in the walls of the Grand Canyon. What is clear, is that these events were relatively minor compared to a global flood. For example, the eruption of Mount St. Helens contained only 0.27 cubic miles of material compared to other eruptions, which have been as much as 950 cubic miles. That is over 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens!
With respect to the Grand Canyon, the specific geologic processes and timing of the formation of the Grand Canyon have always sparked lively debates by geologists. The general scientific consensus, updated at a 2010 conference, maintains that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon beginning 5 million to 6 million years ago. This general thinking is still linear and by no means catastrophic. The Grand Canyon is believed to have been gradually eroded. However, there is an example cyclical behavior in nature which demonstrates that water can very rapidly erode even solid rock. An example of this took place in the Grand Canyon region back on June 28th, 1983. There emerged an overflow of Lake Powell which required the use of the Glen Canyon Dam’s 40-foot diameter spillway tunnels for the first time. As the volume of water increased, the entire dam started to vibrate and large boulders spewed from one of the spillways. The spillway was immediately shut down and an inspection revealed catastrophic erosion had cut through the three-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls and eroded a hole 40 feet wide, 32 feet deep, and 150 feet long in the sandstone beneath the dam. Nobody thought such catastrophic erosion that quick was even possible.
Some have speculated that the end of the Ice Age resulted in a flood of water which had been contained by an ice dam. Like that of the Scablands, it is possible that a sudden catastrophic release of water originally carved the Grand Canyon. It is clear that both the formation of the Scablands and the evidence of how Mount St Helens unfolded, may be support for the catastrophic formation of events rather than nice, slow, and linear formations.
Then there is the Biblical Account of the Great Flood and Noah. Noah is also considered to be a Prophet of Islam. Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah was based on the biblical story of Genesis. Some Christians were angry because the film strayed from biblical Scripture. The Muslim-majority countries banned the film Noah from screening in theaters because Noah was a prophet of God in the Koran. They considered it to be blasphemous to make a film about a prophet. Many countries banned the film entirely.
The story of Noah predates the Bible. There exists the legend of the Great Flood rooted in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh dates back nearly 5,000 years which is believed to be perhaps the oldest written tale on Earth. Here too, we find an account of the great sage Utnapishtim, who is warned of an imminent flood to be unleashed by wrathful gods. He builds a vast circular-shaped boat, reinforced with tar and pitch, and carries his relatives, grains along with animals. After enduring days of storms, Utnapishtim, like Noah in Genesis, releases a bird in search of dry land. Since there is evidence that there were survivors in different parts of the world, it is merely logical that there should be more than just one.
Archaeologists generally agree that there was a historical deluge between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago which hit lands ranging from the Black Sea to what many call the cradle of civilization, which was the floodplain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The translation of ancient cuneiform tablets in the 19th century confirmed the Mesopotamian Great Flood myth as an antecedent of the Noah story in the Bible.
The problem that existed was the question of just how “great” was the Great Flood? Was it regional or worldwide? The stories of the Great Flood in Western Culture clearly date back before the Bible. The region implicated has long been considered to be the Black Sea. It has been suggested that the water broke through the land by Istanbul and flooded a fertile valley on the other side much as we just looked at in the Scablands. Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, who found the Titanic, set out to test that theory to search for an underwater civilization. He discovered that some four hundred feet below the surface, there was an ancient shoreline, proving that there was a catastrophic event did happen in the Black Sea. By carbon dating shells found along the underwater shoreline, Ballard dated this catastrophic event to around 5,000 BC. This may match around the time when Noah’s flood could have occurred.
Given the fact that for the entire Earth to be submerged for 40 days and 40 nights is impossible for that much water to simply vanish, we are probably looking at a Great Flood that at the very least was regional. However, there are tales of the Great Floodwhich spring from many other sources. Various ancient cultures have their own legends of a Great Flood and salvation. According to Vedic lore, a fish tells the mythic Indian king Manu of a Great Flood that will wipe out humanity. In turn, Manu also builds a ship to withstand the epic rains and is later led to a mountaintop by the same fish.
We also find an Aztec story that tells of a devout couple hiding in the hollow of a vast tree with two ears of corn as divine storms drown the wicked of the land. Creation myths from Egypt to Scandinavia also involve tidal floods of all sorts of substances purging and remaking the earth. The fact that we have Great Flood stories from India is not really a surprise since there was contact between the Middle East and India throughout recorded history. However, the Aztec story lacks the ship, but it still contains punishing the wicked and here there was certainly no direct contact, although there is evidence of cocaine use in Egypt implying there was some trade route probably through island hopping in the Pacific to the shores of India and off to Egypt. Obviously, we cannot rule out that this story of the Great Flood even made it to South America.
Then again, there is the story of Atlantis – the island that sunk beath the sea. The Atlantic Ocean covers approximately one-fifth of Earth’s surface and second in size only to the Pacific Ocean. The ocean’s name, derived from Greek mythology, means the “Sea of Atlas.” The origin of names is often very interesting clues as well. For example. New Jersey is the English Translation of Latin Nova Caesarea which appeared even on the colonial coins of the 18th century. Hence, the state of New Jersey is named after the Island of Jersey which in turn was named in the honor of Julius Caesar. So we actually have an American state named after the man who changed the world on par with Alexander the Great, for whom Alexandria of Virginia is named after with the location of the famous cemetery for veterans, where John F. Kennedy is buried.
So here the Atlantic Ocean is named after Atlas and the story of Atlantis. The original story of Atlantis comes to us from two Socratic dialogues called Timaeus and Critias, both written about 360 BC by the Greek philosopher Plato. According to the dialogues, Socrates asked three men to meet him: Timaeus of Locri, Hermocrates of Syracuse, and Critias of Athens. Socrates asked the men to tell him stories about how ancient Athens interacted with other states. Critias was the first to tell the story. Critias explained how his grandfather had met with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, who had been to Egypt where priests told the Egyptian story about Atlantis. According to the Egyptians, Solon was told that there was a mighty power based on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. This empire was called Atlantis and it ruled over several other islands and parts of the continents of Africa and Europe.
Atlantis was arranged in concentric rings of alternating water and land. The soil was rich and the engineers were technically advanced. The architecture was said to be extravagant with baths, harbor installations, and barracks. The central plain outside the city was constructed with canals and an elaborate irrigation system. Atlantis was ruled by kings but also had a civil administration. Its military was well organized. Their religious rituals were similar to that of Athens with bull-baiting, sacrifice, and prayer.
Plato told us about the metals found in Atlantis, namely gold, silver, copper, tin and the mysterious Orichalcum. Plato said that the city walls were plated with Orichalcum (Brass). This was a rare alloy metal back then which was found both in Crete as well as in the Andes, in South America. An ancient shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Sicily in 2015 which contained 39 ingots of Orichalcum. Many claimed this proved the story of Atlantis. Orichalcum was believed to have been a gold/copper alloy that was cheaper than gold, but twice the value of copper. Of course, Orichalcum was really a copper-tin or copper-zinc brass. We find in Virgil’s Aeneid, the breastplate of Turnus is described as “stiff with gold and white orichalc”.
The monetary reform of Augustus in 23BC reintroduced bronze coinage which had vanished after 84BC. Here we see the introduction of Orichalcum for the Roman sesterius and the dupondius. The Roman As was struck in near pure copper. Therefore, about 300 years after Plato, we do see Orichalcum being introduced as part of the monetary system of Rome. It is clear that Orichalcum was rare at the time Plato wrote this. Consequently, this is similar to the stories of America that there was so much gold, they paved the streets with it.
As the story is told, Atlantis was located in the Atlantic Ocean. There have been bronze-age anchors discovered at the Gates of Hercules (Straights of Gibralter) and many people proclaimed this proved Atlantis was real. However, what these proponents fail to take into account is the Minoans. The Minoans were perhaps the first International Economy. They traded far and wide even with Britain seeking tin to make bronze – henceBronze Age. Their civilization was of the Bronze Age rising civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC – nearly 12,000 years. Their trading range and colonization extended to Spain, Egypt, Israel (Canaan), Syria (Levantine), Greece, Rhodes, and of course to Turkey (Anatolia). Many other cultures referred to them as the people from the islands in the middle of the sea. However, the Minoans had no mineral deposits. They lacked gold as well as silver or even the ability to produce large mining of copper. They appear to have copper mines in Anatolia (Turkey) in colonized cities. What has survived are examples of copper ingots that served as MONEY in trade. Keep in mind that gold at this point was rare, too rare to truly serve as MONEY. It is found largely as jewelry in tombs of royal dignitaries.
The Bronze Age emerged at different times globally appearing in Greece and China around 3,000BC but it came late to Britain reaching there about 1900BC. It is known that copper emerged as a valuable tool in Anatolia (Turkey) as early as 6,500BC, where it began to replace stone in the creation of tools. It was the development of casting copper that also appears to aid the urbanization of man in Mesopotamia. By 3,000BC, copper is in wide use throughout the Middle East and starts to move up into Europe. Copper in its pure stage appears first, and tin is eventually added creating actual bronze where a bronze sword would break a copper sword. It was this addition of tin that really propelled the transition of copper to bronze and the tin was coming from England where vast deposits existed at Cornwall. We know that the Minoans traveled into the Atlantic for trade. Anchors are not conclusive evidence of Atlantis.
As the legend unfolds, Atlantis waged an unprovoked imperialistic war on the remainder of Asia and Europe. When Atlantis attacked, Athens showed its excellence as the leader of the Greeks, the much smaller city-state the only power to stand against Atlantis. Alone, Athens triumphed over the invading Atlantean forces, defeating the enemy, preventing the free from being enslaved, and freeing those who had been enslaved. This part may certainly be embellished and remains doubtful at best. However, following this battle, there were violent earthquakes and floods, and Atlantis sank into the sea, and all the Athenian warriors were swallowed up by the earth. This appears to be almost certainly a fiction based on some ancient political realities. Still, the explosive disappearance of an island some have argued is a reference to the eruption of MinoanSantorini. The story of Atlantis does closely correlate with Plato’s notions of The Republic examining the deteriorating cycle of life in a state.
There have been theories that Atlantiswas the Azores, and still, others argue it was actually South America. That would explain to some extent the cocaine mummies in Egypt. Yet despite all these theories, usually, when there is an ancient story, despite embellishment, there is often a grain of truth hidden deep within. In this case, Atlantis may not have completely submerged, but it could have partially submerged from an earthquake at least where some people survived. Survivors could have made to either the Americas or to Africa/Europe. What is clear, is that a sudden event could have sent a tsunamiinto the Mediterranean which then broke the land mass at Istanbul and flooded the valley below transforming this region into the Black Sea becoming the story of Noah.
We also have evidence which has surfaced that the Earth was struck by a comet around 12,800 years ago. Scientific American has published that sediments from six sites across North America—Murray Springs, Ariz.; Bull Creek, Okla.; Gainey, Mich.; Topper, S.C.; Lake Hind, Manitoba; and Chobot, Alberta, have yielded tiny diamonds, which only occur in sediment exposed to extreme temperatures and pressures. The evidence surfacing implies that the Earth moved into an Ice Age killing off large mammals and setting the course for Global Cooling for the next 1300 years. This may indeed explain that catastrophic freezing of Wooly Mammoths in Siberia. Such an event could have also been responsible for the legend of Atlantis where the survivors migrated taking their stories with them.
There is also evidence surfacing from stone carvings at one of the oldest sites recorded located in Anatolia (Turkey). Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, researchers were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas,which was was a return to glacial conditions and Global Cooling which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the Last Glacial Maximum that began to recede around 20,000 BC, utilizing ice core data from Greenland.
Now, there is a very big asteroid which passed by the Earth on September 16th, 2013. What is most disturbing is the fact that its cycle is 19 years so it will return in 2032. Astronomers have not been able to swear it will not hit the Earth on the next pass in 2032. It was discovered by Ukrainian astronomers with just 10 days to go back in 2013. The 2013 pass was only a distance of 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers). If anything alters its orbit, then it will get closer and closer. It just so happens to line up on a cyclical basis that suggests we should begin to look at how to deflect asteroids and soon.
It definitely appears that catastrophic cooling may also be linked to the Earth being struck by a meteor, asteroids, or a comet. We are clearly headed into a period of Global Cooling and this will get worse as we head into 2032. The question becomes: Is our model also reflecting that it is once again time for an Earth change caused by an asteroid encounter? Such events are not DOOMSDAY and the end of the world. They do seem to be regional. However, a comet striking in North America would have altered the comet freezing animals in Siberia.
If there is a tiny element of truth in the story of Atlantis, the one thing it certainly proves is clear – there are ALWAYS survivors. Based upon a review of the history of civilization as well as climate, what resonates profoundly is that events follow the cyclical model of catastrophic occurrences rather than the linear steady slow progression of evolution.
No total, foram registrados 750 fenômenos climáticos ou geológicos extremos no ano passado
Postado em 04/01/2017 10:24
O estudo também registra 160 catástrofes na América do Norte, incluindo o furacão Matthew, em outubro, que deixou 550 vítimas no Haiti
Os desastres naturais causaram danos no valor de 175 bilhões de dólares em 2016, um recorde desde 2012, mas foram menos mortíferos que no ano anterior, segundo um estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira pela companhia resseguradora alemã Munich Re.
Destes 175 bilhões de dólares, apenas 50 bilhões estavam assegurados, segundo o estudo, considerado uma referência no setor.
Por outro lado, as catástrofes naturais deixaram 8,7 mil mortos no ano recém-terminado, comparado com os 25,4 mil mortos em 2015, fazendo de 2016 o segundo ano menos mortífero desde 1986, atrás de 2014 e suas 8.050 mortes por desastres naturais.
No total, foram registrados 750 fenômenos climáticos ou geológicos extremos em 2016, muito mais que os 590 casos constatados em média nos últimos dez anos.
A Munich Re destaca que duas catástrofes – vários terremotos no Japão em abril e uma onda de inundações na China em junho e julho – foram as mais caras, provocando respectivamente 31 bilhões e 20 bilhões de dólares em danos.
O estudo também registra 160 catástrofes na América do Norte, incluindo o furacão Matthew, em outubro, que deixou 550 vítimas no Haiti e provocou 10,2 bilhões de dólares em danos em sua passagem.
No Canadá, os incêndios das florestas em Alberta, em maio, provocaram cerca de 4 bilhões de dólares em danos, enquanto os danos causados pelas inundações de agosto no sul dos Estados Unidos custaram 10 bilhões de dólares.
Na Europa, uma série de tempestades no final de maio e início de junho, principalmente na França e na Alemanha, com inundações e cheias de rios comportaram perdas no valor de 6 bilhões de dólares.
International research team presents findings from frozen ‘climate archive’ of Antarctica
January 5, 2017
University of Bonn
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again.
Iceberg in the southeastern Weddell Sea region. Credit: Photo: Dr. Michael Weber
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again. An international team of scientists with the participation of the University of Bonn is now reporting its findings in the magazine Scientific Reports.
University of Bonn’s climate researcher Michael E. Weber is a member of the study group. He says, “The changes that are currently taking place in a disturbing manner resemble those 14,700 years ago.” At that time, changes in atmospheric-oceanic circulation led to a stratification in the ocean with a cold layer at the surface and a warm layer below. Under such conditions, ice sheets melt more strongly than when the surrounding ocean is thoroughly mixed. This is exactly what is presently happening around the Antarctic.
The main author of the study, the Australian climate researcher Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney, explains the process as follows: “The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface. At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.” It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.
To investigate the climate changes of the past, the scientists are studying drill cores from the eternal ice. Layer by layer, this frozen “climate archive” reveals its secrets to the experts. In previous studies, the scientists had found evidence of eight massive melting events in deep sea sediments around the Antarctic, which occurred at the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. Co-author Dr. Weber from the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn says: “The largest melt occurred 14,700 years ago. During this time the Antarctic contributed to a sea level rise of at least three meters within a few centuries.”
The present discovery is the first direct evidence from the Antarctic continent which confirms the assumed models. The research team used isotopic analyzes of ice cores from the Weddell Sea region, which now flows into the ocean about a quarter of the Antarctic melt.
Through a combination with ice sheet and climate modeling, the isotopic data show that the waters around the Antarctic were heavily layered at the time of the melting events, so that the ice sheets melted at a faster rate. “The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,700 years ago,” says co-author Nick Golledge from the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand.
C. J. Fogwill, C. S. M. Turney, N. R. Golledge, D. M. Etheridge, M. Rubino, D. P. Thornton, A. Baker, J. Woodward, K. Winter, T. D. van Ommen, A. D. Moy, M. A. J. Curran, S. M. Davies, M. E. Weber, M. I. Bird, N. C. Munksgaard, L. Menviel, C. M. Rootes, B. Ellis, H. Millman, J. Vohra, A. Rivera, A. Cooper. Antarctic ice sheet discharge driven by atmosphere-ocean feedbacks at the Last Glacial Termination. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 39979 DOI: 10.1038/srep39979
Por estar sujeito a fortes terremotos e inundações causadas por tsunamis, o Japão é o único país desenvolvido que apresenta risco muito alto de ser afetado por cataclismos, segundo a edição de 2016 do World Risk Report, publicação organizada pela Universidade das Nações Unidas, agência alemã Alliance Development Works e Universidade de Stuttgart. A nação asiática figura na 17ª posição do índice mundial de risco a desastres, que classifica 171 países em função da possibilidade de serem alvo de cinco tipos de eventos extremos: secas, inundações, ciclones ou tempestades, terremotos e aumento do nível do mar.
O índice lista as áreas do globo em ordem decrescente de vulnerabilidade a desastres e os separa em cinco categorias. Cada uma delas é composta por 20% do total de países, que são classificados como sendo de risco muito alto, alto, médio, baixo ou muito baixo. O indicador final é calculado por meio da análise de 28 parâmetros geoclimáticos e socioeconômicos, como a quantidade de pessoas expostas a desastres, a renda e a educação da população, a capacidade de mitigar o impacto de eventos extremos e de se adaptar a mudanças.
Vanuatu, um pequeno arquipélago do Pacífico sul distante 1.700 quilômetros a leste da Austrália, com 250 mil habitantes, é o país mais arriscado do mundo, o número 1 do índice. Está sujeito a terremotos, ciclones e pode ser coberto pelas águas se o nível do mar aumentar. Isso sem contar o vulcanismo, que não entra no cálculo do índice. O segundo lugar é ocupado por Tonga, um arquipélago da Polinésia, e o terceiro, pelas Filipinas. O Haiti, onde o furacão Matthew matou 1.300 pessoas e desalojou 35 mil em outubro, aparece em 21º lugar da lista. O Brasil ocupa a 123ª posição e está classificado na categoria dos países de baixo risco, como os Estados Unidos, a Itália, a Argentina e o Reino Unido. “Nenhum índice baseado em desastres naturais é perfeito”, comenta Lucí Hidalgo Nunes, da Unicamp. “De acordo com as variáveis usadas e o peso dado a elas, as classificações mudam. Mas, certamente, o Brasil não é um dos países em pior situação.”
Fora da rota dos grandes furacões, sem vulcões ativos e desprovido de zonas habitadas sujeitas a fortes terremotos, o Brasil não figura entre os países mais suscetíveis a desastres naturais. Ocupa apenas a 123ª posição em um índice mundial dos países mais vulneráveis a cataclismos. Mas a aparência de lugar seguro, protegido dos humores do clima e dos solavancos da geologia, deve ser relativizada. Aqui, cerca de 85% dos desastres são causados por três tipos de ocorrências: inundações bruscas, deslizamentos de terra e secas prolongadas. Esses fenômenos são relativamente recorrentes em zonas tropicais e seus efeitos podem ser atenuados, em grande medida, por políticas públicas de redução de danos. Nas últimas cinco décadas, mais de 10.225 brasileiros morreram em desastres naturais, a maioria em inundações e devido à queda de encostas. As estiagens duradouras, como as comumente observadas no Nordeste, são, no entanto, o tipo de ocorrência que provoca mais vítimas não fatais no país (ver Pesquisa FAPESP nº 241).
Dois estudos baseados em simulações climáticas feitos por pesquisadores brasileiros indicam que o risco de ocorrência desses três tipos de desastre, ligados ao excesso ou à falta de água, deverá aumentar, até o final do século, na maioria das áreas hoje já afetadas por esses fenômenos. Eles também sinalizam que novos pontos do território nacional, em geral adjacentes às zonas atualmente atingidas por essas ocorrências, deverão se transformar em áreas de risco significativo para esses mesmos problemas. “Os impactos tendem a ser maiores no futuro, com as mudanças climáticas, o crescimento das cidades e de sua população e a ocupação de mais áreas de risco”, comenta José A. Marengo, chefe da Divisão de Produtos Integrados de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alerta de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden), órgão ligado ao Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC), que coordenou as simulações climáticas. Parte dos resultados das projeções já foi divulgada em congressos e relatórios, como o documento federal enviado em abril deste ano à Convenção-Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudança do Clima (UNFCCC, na sigla em inglês), e serve de subsídio para direcionar as estratégias do recém-criado Plano Nacional de Adaptação à Mudança do Clima. Mas dados mais detalhados das simulações vão sair em um artigo científico já aceito para publicação na revista Natural Hazards e em trabalhos destinados a outros periódicos.
Expansão das secas
De acordo com os estudos, as estiagens severas, hoje um problema de calamidade pública quase sempre associado a localidades do Nordeste, deverão se intensificar também no oeste e parte do leste da Amazônia, no Centro-Oeste, inclusive em torno de Brasília, em pontos dos estados do Sudeste e até no Sul. “Embora parte do Nordeste seja naturalmente mais árido, a seca não se deve apenas ao clima”, afirma o engenheiro civil Pedro Ivo Camarinha, pesquisador do Cemaden. “A vulnerabilidade da região se dá também por uma série de problemas de ordem socioeconômica, de uso do solo e devido à baixa capacidade de adaptação aos impactos das mudanças climáticas.” A carência de políticas públicas específicas para enfrentar os meses de estiagem, o baixo grau de escolaridade da população e a escassez de recursos são alguns dos fatores citados pelos autores como determinantes para aumentar a exposição de parcelas significativas do Nordeste a secas futuras.
A vulnerabilidade a inundações e enxurradas tende a se elevar em 30% nos três estados do Sul, na porção meridional do Mato Grosso e em boa parte da faixa litorânea do Nordeste, segundo um cenário projetado para 2100 pelas simulações climáticas. No estado de São Paulo, o mais populoso do país, a intensificação da ocorrência de enchentes-relâmpago, aquelas originadas após poucos minutos de chuvas torrenciais, deverá ser mais modesta, da ordem de 10%, mas ainda assim significativa. No Brasil Central, a vulnerabilidade a enchentes deverá cair, até porque as projeções indicam menos chuvas (e mais secas) em boa parte da região. “Os modelos divergem sobre o regime futuro de chuvas no oeste da Amazônia”, explica Marengo, cujos estudos se desenvolveram em parte no âmbito de um projeto temático da FAPESP. “Um deles aponta um aumento expressivo na frequência de inundações enquanto o outro sinaliza um cenário de estabilidade ou de leve aumento de enchentes.”
O padrão de deslizamento de terra, associado à ocorrência de chuvas intensas ou prolongadas por dias, deverá seguir, grosso modo, as mesmas tendências verificadas com as inundações, ainda que em um ritmo de crescimento mais moderado. O aumento na incidência de quedas de encostas deverá variar entre 3% e 15% nos lugares hoje já atingidos por esse tipo de fenômeno. O destaque negativo recai sobre a porção mais meridional do país. As áreas sujeitas a deslizamentos no Rio Grande do Sul, em Santa Catarina e no Paraná deverão se expandir e abarcar boa parte desses estados até 2100. No Sudeste, a região serrana na divisa entre São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro e Minas Gerais deverá se tornar ainda mais vulnerável a esse tipo de desastre. “Precisamos implementar com urgência políticas públicas nas regiões mais vulneráveis a inundações e deslizamentos de terra”, afirma o geógrafo Nathan Debortoli, coautor dos estudos, que hoje faz estágio de pós-doutorado na Universidade McGill, do Canadá. “A maior exposição às mudanças climáticas pode tornar a sobrevivência inviável em algumas regiões do país.”
Para gerar as projeções de risco futuro de desastres, foram usados dois modelos climáticos globais, o HadGEM2 ES, desenvolvido pelo Centro Hadley, da Inglaterra, e o Miroc5, criado pelo centro meteorológico japonês. Acoplado a eles, rodou ainda o modelo de escala regional Eta, desenvolvido pelo Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe). Trabalhando dessa forma, os autores conseguiram avaliar os padrões predominantes do clima futuro que estão associados à ocorrência de desastres naturais em áreas de, no mínimo, 400 quilômetros quadrados, um quadrado com os lados de 20 quilômetros de extensão.
Mais convergências que divergências
Os resultados fornecidos pelos dois modelos climáticos são semelhantes para cerca de 80% do território nacional. Isso dá robustez às projeções. O modelo inglês é usado há mais de 10 anos em simulações feitas por climatologistas brasileiros, que têm boa experiência acumulada com ele. O japonês começa agora a ser empregado com mais frequência. Há, no entanto, algumas discordâncias nas simulações de longo prazo geradas pelos dois modelos. A lista, por exemplo, dos 100 municípios mais vulneráveis a episódios de seca nas próximas três décadas fornecida pelas simulações do HadGEM2 ES é diferente da obtida com o Miroc5. As cidades de maior risco ficam, segundo o modelo japonês, em quatro estados do Nordeste: Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco e Alagoas. As fornecidas pelo modelo inglês se encontram, em sua maioria, em outros estados do Nordeste e também no Centro-Oeste e no norte de Minas Gerais. “Com exceção desses exemplos extremos, as projeções dos dois modelos coincidem em grande medida”, comenta Camarinha. No caso dos fenômenos hídricos, a discrepância mais significativa diz respeito ao regime de chuvas na Amazônia, em especial nos estados do oeste da região Norte (Acre, Amazonas e Rondônia). O HadGEM2 ES projeta mais chuvas — portanto, risco aumentado de inundações e deslizamentos — e o Miroc5, menos. “Prever as chuvas na Amazônia ainda é um desafio para os modelos”, afirma Marengo.
Para quantificar o risco futuro de ocorrer desastres naturais em uma área, é preciso ainda incluir nas simulações, além das informações climáticas, uma série de dados locais, como as condições econômicas, sociais e ambientais dos mais de 5.500 municípios brasileiros e de sua população. Ao final dos cálculos, cada área é classificada em um de cinco níveis de vulnerabilidade: muito baixa, baixa, média, alta e muito alta. “O modelo escolhido, a qualidade dos dados de cada cidade e o peso que se dá a cada variável influenciam no índice final obtido”, explica Camarinha.
O peso do homem
Além da suscetibilidade natural a secas, enchentes, deslizamentos e outros desastres, a ação do homem tem um peso considerável em transformar o que poderia ser um problema de menor monta em uma catástrofe. Os pesquisadores estimam que um terço do impacto dos deslizamentos de terra e metade dos estragos de inundações poderiam ser evitados com alterações de práticas humanas ligadas à ocupação do solo e a melhorias nas condições socioeconômicas da população em áreas de risco.
Moradias precárias em lugares inadequados, perto de encostas ou em pontos de alagamento; infraestrutura ruim, como estradas ou vias que não permitem acesso fácil a zonas de grande vulnerabilidade; falta de uma defesa civil atuante; cidades superpopulosas e impermeabilizadas, que não escoam a água da chuva – todos esses fatores não naturais, da cultura humana, podem influenciar o desfecho final de uma situação de risco. “Até hábitos cotidianos, como não jogar lixo na rua, e o nível de solidariedade e coesão social de uma população podem ao menos mitigar os impactos de um desastre”, pondera a geógrafa Lucí Hidalgo Nunes, do Instituto de Geociências da Universidade Estadual de Campinas (IG-Unicamp). “Obviamente, há desastres naturais tão intensos, como os grandes terremotos no Japão, que nem mesmo uma população extremamente preparada consegue evitar. Mas a recuperação nos países mais estruturados é muito mais rápida.”
Em seus trabalhos, os pesquisadores adotaram um cenário global até o final do século relativamente pessimista, mas bastante plausível: o RCP 8.5, que consta do quinto relatório de avaliação do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC). Esse cenário é marcado por grandes elevações de temperatura e recrudescimento tanto de chuvas como de secas intensas. No caso do Brasil, as projeções indicam que o país deverá ficar ao menos 3 ºC mais quente até o fim do século e que as chuvas podem aumentar até 30% no Sul-Sudeste e diminuir até 40% no Norte-Nordeste. As mudanças climáticas devem tornar mais frequentes os chamados eventos extremos, que podem se manifestar de diferentes formas: secas prolongadas, picos de temperatura, tempestades mais intensas, chuvas prolongadas por vários dias, ressacas mais fortes. Essas ocorrências aumentam o risco de desastres. “Não é, por exemplo, só uma questão da quantidade de chuva que cai em um lugar”, explica Marengo. “Às vezes, a quantidade pode até não mudar, mas a distribuição da chuva ao longo do tempo se altera e essa mudança pode gerar mais desastres.” Numa cidade como São Paulo, chover 50 milímetros no decorrer de três ou quatro dias dificilmente causa danos. Mas, se a pluviosidade se concentrar em apenas uma tarde, provavelmente ocorrerão alagamentos.
Para testar o grau de confiabilidade do índice de vulnerabilidade, os pesquisadores brasileiros compararam os resultados obtidos pelos modelos com os registros reais de desastres do passado recente (1960 a 1990), compilados pelo Atlas brasileiro de desastres naturais. Dessa forma, foi possível ter uma boa ideia se os modelos eram, de fato, úteis para prever as áreas onde ocorreram inundações, deslizamentos de terra e secas no Brasil durante as últimas décadas. Os dados do atlas também serviram de termo de comparação, como base presente para se quantificar o aumento ou a diminuição da vulnerabilidade futura de uma área a desastres. Para estiagem, as simulações do Miroc5 se mostraram geralmente mais confiáveis na maior parte do território nacional. No caso das enchentes e deslizamentos de terra, o HadGEM2 ES forneceu previsões mais precisas para áreas subtropicais e montanhosas, no Sul e Sudeste, e o Miroc5, para o resto do país. A Amazônia, como já destacado, foi o alvo de discórdia.
Um trabalho com metodologia semelhante à empregada pelos estudos de Marengo e de seus colaboradores, mas com enfoque apenas na situação atual, sem as projeções de aumento ou diminuição de risco futuro, foi publicado em abril no International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Em parceria com pesquisadores alemães, o geógrafo Lutiane Queiroz de Almeida, da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), calculou um conjunto de índices que apontaria o risco de ocorrer desastres naturais em cada município do país. Denominado Drib (Disaster risk indicators in Brazil), o indicador é uma adaptação do trabalho feito em escala mundial pela Universidade das Nações Unidas e instituições europeias (ver mapa e texto às páginas 22 e 23). Além de levar em conta dados sobre o risco de secas, enchentes e deslizamentos de terra, o Drib inclui em seu índice a exposição dos municípios costeiros ao aumento do nível do mar. Para esse tipo de problema, as cidades que se mostraram em maior perigo foram Vila Velha e Vitória, no Espírito Santo, Santos (SP) e Salvador (BA).
Almeida produziu índices de vulnerabilidade para os principais tipos de desastre em todo o território nacional e um número final, o Drib, que indicaria o risco geral de um lugar para a ocorrência de eventos extremos. Chamou a atenção a classificação de praticamente todo o território do Amazonas e do Acre e de metade do Pará como áreas de risco muito elevado, com populações socialmente vulneráveis e expostas a inundações. Entre os 20 municípios com pior desempenho no índice Drib, 12 são da região Norte. Os demais são do Nordeste (seis) e do Sudeste (dois). “Esses municípios têm pequenas populações, entre 3 mil e 25 mil habitantes, alta exposição a desastres e baixa capacidade adaptativa”, comenta o geógrafo da UFRN. “O estudo aponta que apenas 20% dos municípios brasileiros estão bem preparados para mitigar os impactos e reagir imediatamente a eventos extremos.” Em geral, essa é uma característica das regiões Sul e Sudeste.
Tragédias que se repetem
Muito antes das discussões atuais sobre as mudanças climáticas, os cataclismos naturais despertam interesse no homem. Os desastres são um capítulo trágico da história da humanidade desde tempos imemoriais. Alegado castigo divino, o mítico dilúvio global que teria acabado com a vida na Terra, com exceção das pessoas e animais que embarcaram na arca de Noé, é uma narrativa presente no Gênesis, primeiro livro do Antigo Testamento cristão e do Tanach, o conjunto de textos sagrados do judaísmo. Supostas inundações gigantescas e catastróficas, antes e depois da publicação do Gênesis, aparecem em relatos de várias culturas ao longo dos tempos, desde os antigos mesopotâmicos e gregos até os maias centro-americanos e os vikings. As antigas cidades romanas de Pompeia e Herculano foram soterradas pela lava do monte Vesúvio na famosa erupção de 79 d.C. e, estima-se, cerca de 2 mil pessoas morreram. Dezessete anos antes, essa região da Campania italiana já havia sido afetada por um terremoto de menor magnitude. “Costumamos dizer que, se um desastre já ocorreu em um lugar, ele vai se repetir, mais dia ou menos dia”, comenta Lucí.
Assessment of impacts and vulnerability to climate change in Brazil and strategies for adaptation option (nº 2008/58161-1); Modalidade Auxílio à Pesquisa – Programa de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais – Temático (Acordo FAPESP/CNPq – Pronex); Pesquisador responsável José A. Marengo (Cemaden); Investimento R$ 812.135,64.
Uma onda que atingiu duas praias no sul de Santa Catarinaarrastou carros e assustou os banhistas em um dia de calor e fortes ventos. O fenômeno foi provocado por uma grande tempestade no mar que impulsionou a onda “gigante”. O evento, que é raro e perigoso, tem nome: tsunami meteorológico.
Sim, podemos dizer que ocorrem tsunamis no Brasil. Comuns no leste e sudeste da Ásia, tsunamis são ondas que avançam na costa provocando danos (em japonês, “tsu” quer dizer porto, e “nami” significa onda).
Os tsunamis que já devastaram grandes áreas de países como o Japão são provocados por abalos sísmicos em um ponto do oceano. Eles são muito mais drásticos do que o caso brasileiro, com ondas bem maiores, que alcançam diversas praias após irradiarem do epicentro do tremor.
Já o tsunami meteorológico, como o nome diz, é provocado por eventos meteorológicos (da atmosfera) e ocorre mais localmente. É mais propício na primavera e no verão, época de tempestades.
Apesar de raro, há registros de sua ocorrência em locais como Cabo Frio (RJ) e Florianópolis (SC). Uma onda mais forte atingindo a praia é algo perigoso para banhistas e pessoas que morem nas costas. Além disso, tempestades no mar também trazem riscos devido aos ventos, raios e trovões.
Carros arrastados por onda em Balneário Rincão (SC). Ao fundo, nuvem de tempestade que provoca tsunami meteorógico
Como se forma
Um tsunami meteorológico ocorre quando um conjunto de cúmulo-nimbo, a nuvem que provoca as tempestades, se propaga em paralelo sobre o oceano. Nesse cenário, uma grande onda pode se formar caso as ondas do mar também estejam alinhadas a essas nuvens.
“Ocorre uma ressonância entre a onda de pressão [nuvem] e a onda do mar, que se aproxima da costa, cresce em amplitude e pode inundar a região costeira”, explica Renato Ramos da Silva, professor de física da atmosfera da UFSC (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina).
Em uma tempestade, o ar sobe, formando uma zona de baixa pressão atmosférica. Tal mudança nas condições atmosféricas ocorre de forma brusca. Essa formação é chamada de linha de instabilidade. Seu rápido deslocamento acoplado às ondas do mar faz com que a onda ganhe tamanho.
O nome tsunami meteorológico, contudo, não é consenso entre os meteorologistas. Para José Carlos Figueiredo, meteorologista da Unesp, a grande onda que se verificou em SC é comum no Nordeste, sem contudo ser chamada de tsunami.
“Em algumas praias, há ondas que invadem a areia. O avanço pode ser provocado por tempestades naturais no mar”, diz Figueiredo. Ele lembra ainda que ciclones que ocorrem no Sul do Brasil provocam ressacas em praias de SP e RJ. Nesses episódios, fortes ondas também invadem a costa.
Para o meteorologista, outro fenômeno, conhecido como “downburst”, pode explicar para a grande onda que atingiu as praias catarinenses. Nesse tipo de evento, a chuva, “em vez de precipitar normal e pausadamente, precipita tudo de uma vez”, explica. A grande chuva poderia, assim, ter levado a formação de uma onda maior.
Difícil de prever
Tsunamis meteorológicos não são nada fáceis de serem previstos. Isso porque sua ocorrência é muito localizada, dependendo da formação de tempestades em um ponto do oceano e das condições do mar um lugar específico.
Segundo Silva, para prever o fenômeno a tempo de avisar a população seria necessária “uma boa previsão meteorológica junto de um modelo oceânico de previsão de ondas”.
* Com colaboração de Gabriel Francisco Ribeiro
Relembre tornado que atingiu SC
27.abr.2015 – A presidente Dilma Rousseff sobrevoa o município de Xanxerê, em Santa Catarina, e observa os estragos provocados pelo tornado que devastou a cidade do interior catarinense (situada a 551 km de Florianópolis), na última segunda-feira (20). De acordo com o último balanço da Defesa Civil, 4.275 pessoas estão desalojadas e há 539 desabrigadas em Xanxerê, por conta dos ventos que ultrapassaram a velocidade de 250 km/h VEJA MAIS >Imagem: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR
Signs warning of drought and high temperatures in Texas. The UN has predicted climate hell by 2050. Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters
The United Nations is warning of floods, storms and searing heat fromArizona to Zambia within four decades, as part of a series of imagined weather forecasts released on Monday for a campaign publicising a UN climate summit.
“Miami South Beach is under water,” one forecaster says in a first edition of “weather reports from the future“, a series set in 2050 and produced by companies including Japan’s NHK, the US Weather Channel and ARD in Germany.
A Zambian forecaster, for instance, describes a severe heatwave and an American presenter says: “The mega-drought in Arizona has claimed another casualty.”
Some, however, show extreme change. One Bulgarian presenter shows a red map with temperatures of 50C (122F) – far above the temperature record for the country of 45.2C (113F) recorded in 1916.
“Climate change is affecting the weather everywhere. It makes it more extreme and disturbs established patterns. That means more disasters; more uncertainty,” the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement.
Ban has asked world leaders to make “bold pledges” to fight climate change at the meeting in New York. The summit is meant as a step towards a deal by almost 200 nations, due by the end of 2015, to slow global warming.
A UN report last year concluded it is at least 95% probable that human activities, rather than natural variations in the climate, are the main cause of global warming since 1950.