Arquivo da tag: Mudanças climáticas

The Coming California Megastorm (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Raymond Zhong


A different ‘Big One’ is approaching. Climate change is hastening its arrival.

Aug. 12, 2022

California, where earthquakes, droughts and wildfires have shaped life for generations, also faces the growing threat of another kind of calamity, one whose fury would be felt across the entire state.

This one will come from the sky.

According to new research, it will very likely take shape one winter in the Pacific, near Hawaii. No one knows exactly when, but from the vast expanse of tropical air around the Equator, atmospheric currents will pluck out a long tendril of water vapor and funnel it toward the West Coast.

This vapor plume will be enormous, hundreds of miles wide and more than 1,200 miles long, and seething with ferocious winds. It will be carrying so much water that if you converted it all to liquid, its flow would be about 26 times what the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico at any given moment.

When this torpedo of moisture reaches California, it will crash into the mountains and be forced upward. This will cool its payload of vapor and kick off weeks and waves of rain and snow.

The coming superstorm — really, a rapid procession of what scientists call atmospheric rivers — will be the ultimate test of the dams, levees and bypasses California has built to impound nature’s might.

But in a state where scarcity of water has long been the central fact of existence, global warming is not only worsening droughts and wildfires. Because warmer air can hold more moisture, atmospheric rivers can carry bigger cargoes of precipitation. The infrastructure design standards, hazard maps and disaster response plans that protected California from flooding in the past might soon be out of date.

As humans burn fossil fuels and heat up the planet, we have already increased the chances each year that California will experience a monthlong, statewide megastorm of this severity to roughly 1 in 50, according to a new study published Friday. (The hypothetical storm visualized here is based on computer modeling from this study.)

In the coming decades, if global average temperatures climb by another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1 degree Celsius — and current trends suggest they might — then the likelihood of such storms will go up further, to nearly 1 in 30.

At the same time, the risk of megastorms that are rarer but even stronger, with much fiercer downpours, will rise as well.

These are alarming possibilities. But geological evidence suggests the West has been struck by cataclysmic floods several times over the past millennium, and the new study provides the most advanced look yet at how this threat is evolving in the age of human-caused global warming.

The researchers specifically considered hypothetical storms that are extreme but realistic, and which would probably strain California’s flood preparations. According to their findings, powerful storms that once would not have been expected to occur in an average human lifetime are fast becoming ones with significant risks of happening during the span of a home mortgage.

“We got kind of lucky to avoid it in the 20th century,” said Daniel L. Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who prepared the new study with Xingying Huang of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “I would be very surprised to avoid it occurring in the 21st.”

Unlike a giant earthquake, the other “Big One” threatening California, an atmospheric river superstorm will not sneak up on the state. Forecasters can now spot incoming atmospheric rivers five days to a week in advance, though they don’t always know exactly where they’ll hit or how intense they’ll be.

Using Dr. Huang and Dr. Swain’s findings, California hopes to be ready even earlier. Aided by supercomputers, state officials plan to map out how all that precipitation will work its way through rivers and over land. They will hunt for gaps in evacuation plans and emergency services.

The last time government agencies studied a hypothetical California megaflood, more than a decade ago, they estimated it could cause $725 billion in property damage and economic disruption. That was three times the projected fallout from a severe San Andreas Fault earthquake, and five times the economic damage from Hurricane Katrina, which left much of New Orleans underwater for weeks in 2005.

Dr. Swain and Dr. Huang have handed California a new script for what could be one of its most challenging months in history. Now begin the dress rehearsals.

“Mother Nature has no obligation to wait for us,” said Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist.

In fact, nature has not been wasting any time testing California’s defenses. And when it comes to risks to the water system, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is hardly the state’s only foe.

THE ULTIMATE CURVEBALL

On Feb. 12, 2017, almost 190,000 people living north of Sacramento received an urgent order: Get out. Now. Part of the tallest dam in America was verging on collapse.

That day, Ronald Stork was in another part of the state, where he was worrying about precisely this kind of disaster — at a different dam.

Standing with binoculars near California’s New Exchequer Dam, he dreaded what might happen if large amounts of water were ever sent through the dam’s spillways. Mr. Stork, a policy expert with the conservation group Friends of the River, had seen on a previous visit to Exchequer that the nearby earth was fractured and could be easily eroded. If enough water rushed through, it might cause major erosion and destabilize the spillways.

He only learned later that his fears were playing out in real time, 150 miles north. At the Oroville Dam, a 770-foot-tall facility built in the 1960s, water from atmospheric rivers was washing away the soil and rock beneath the dam’s emergency spillway, which is essentially a hillside next to the main chute that acts like an overflow drain in a bathtub. The top of the emergency spillway looked like it might buckle, which would send a wall of water cascading toward the cities below.

Mr. Stork had no idea this was happening until he got home to Sacramento and found his neighbor in a panic. The neighbor’s mother lived downriver from Oroville. She didn’t drive anymore. How was he going to get her out?

Mr. Stork had filed motions and written letters to officials, starting in 2001, about vulnerabilities at Oroville. People were now in danger because nobody had listened. “It was nearly soul crushing,” he said.

“With flood hazard, it’s never the fastball that hits you,” said Nicholas Pinter, an earth scientist at the University of California, Davis. “It’s the curveball that comes from a direction you don’t anticipate. And Oroville was one of those.”

Ronald Stork in his office at Friends of the River in Sacramento.

The spillway of the New Exchequer Dam.

Such perils had lurked at Oroville for so long because California’s Department of Water Resources had been “overconfident and complacent” about its infrastructure, tending to react to problems rather than pre-empt them, independent investigators later wrote in a report. It is not clear this culture is changing, even as the 21st-century climate threatens to test the state’s aging dams in new ways. One recent study estimated that climate change had boosted precipitation from the 2017 storms at Oroville by up to 15 percent.

A year and a half after the crisis, crews were busy rebuilding Oroville’s emergency spillway when the federal hydropower regulator wrote to the state with some unsettling news: The reconstructed emergency spillway will not be big enough to safely handle the “probable maximum flood,” or the largest amount of water that might ever fall there.

Sources: Global Historical Climatology Network, Huang and Swain (2022) Measurements taken from the Oroville weather station and the nearest modeled data point

This is the standard most major hydroelectric projects in the United States have to meet. The idea is that spillways should basically never fail because of excessive rain.

Today, scientists say they believe climate change might be increasing “probable maximum” precipitation levels at many dams. When the Oroville evacuation was ordered in 2017, nowhere near that much water had been flowing through the dam’s emergency spillway.

Yet California officials have downplayed these concerns about the capacity of Oroville’s emergency spillway, which were raised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Such extreme flows are a “remote” possibility, they argued in a letter last year. Therefore, further upgrades at Oroville aren’t urgently needed.

In a curt reply last month, the commission said this position was “not acceptable.” It gave the state until mid-September to submit a plan for addressing the issue.

The Department of Water Resources told The Times it would continue studying the matter. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to comment.

“People could die,” Mr. Stork said. “And it bothers the hell out of me.”

WETTER WET YEARS

Donald G. Sullivan was lying in bed one night, early in his career as a scientist, when he realized his data might hold a startling secret.

For his master’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, he had sampled the sediment beneath a remote lake in the Sacramento Valley and was hoping to study the history of vegetation in the area. But a lot of the pollen in his sediment cores didn’t seem to be from nearby. How had it gotten there?

When he X-rayed the cores, he found layers where the sediment was denser. Maybe, he surmised, these layers were filled with sand and silt that had washed in during floods.

It was only late that night that he tried to estimate the ages of the layers. They lined up neatly with other records of West Coast megafloods.

“That’s when it clicked,” said Dr. Sullivan, who is now at the University of Denver.

His findings, from 1982, showed that major floods hadn’t been exceptionally rare occurrences over the past eight centuries. They took place every 100 to 200 years. And in the decades since, advancements in modeling have helped scientists evaluate how quickly the risks are rising because of climate change.

For their new study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Huang and Dr. Swain replayed portions of the 20th and 21st centuries using 40 simulations of the global climate. Extreme weather events, by definition, don’t occur very often. So by using computer models to create realistic alternate histories of the past, present and future climate, scientists can study a longer record of events than the real world offers.

Dr. Swain and Dr. Huang looked at all the monthlong California storms that took place during two time segments in the simulations, one in the recent past and the other in a future with high global warming, and chose one of the most intense events from each period. They then used a weather model to produce detailed play-by-plays of where and when the storms dump their water.

Those details matter. There are “so many different factors” that make an atmospheric river deadly or benign, Dr. Huang said.

Xingying Huang of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Rachel Woolf for The New York Times

The New Don Pedro Dam spillway.

Wes Monier, a hydrologist, with a 1997 photo of water rushing through the New Don Pedro Reservoir spillway.

In the high Sierras, for example, atmospheric rivers today largely bring snow. But higher temperatures are shifting the balance toward rain. Some of this rain can fall on snowpack that accumulated earlier, melting it and sending even more water toward towns and cities below.

Climate change might be affecting atmospheric rivers in other ways, too, said F. Martin Ralph of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. How strong their winds are, for instance. Or how long they last: Some storms stall, barraging an area for days on end, while others blow through quickly.

Scientists are also working to improve atmospheric river forecasts, which is no easy task as the West experiences increasingly sharp shifts from very dry conditions to very wet and back again. In October, strong storms broke records in Sacramento and other places. Yet this January through March was the driest in the Sierra Nevada in more than a century.

“My scientific gut says there’s change happening,” Dr. Ralph said. “And we just haven’t quite pinned down how to detect it adequately.”

Better forecasting is already helping California run some of its reservoirs more efficiently, a crucial step toward coping with wetter wet years and drier dry ones.

On the last day of 2016, Wes Monier was looking at forecasts on his iPad and getting a sinking feeling.

Mr. Monier is chief hydrologist for the Turlock Irrigation District, which operates the New Don Pedro Reservoir near Modesto. The Tuolumne River, where the Don Pedro sits, was coming out of its driest four years in a millennium. Now, some terrifying rainfall projections were rolling in.

First, 23.2 inches over the next 16 days. A day later: 28.8 inches. Then 37.1 inches, roughly what the area normally received in a full year.

If Mr. Monier started releasing Don Pedro’s water too quickly, homes and farms downstream would flood. Release too much and he would be accused of squandering water that would be precious come summer.

But the forecasts helped him time his flood releases precisely enough that, after weeks of rain, the water in the dam ended up just shy of capacity. Barely a drop was wasted, although some orchards were flooded, and growers took a financial hit.

The next storm might be even bigger, though. And even the best data and forecasts might not allow Mr. Monier to stop it from causing destruction. “There’s a point there where I can’t do anything,” he said.

KATRINA 2.0

How do you protect a place as vast as California from a storm as colossal as that? Two ways, said David Peterson, a veteran engineer. Change where the water goes, or change where the people are. Ideally, both. But neither is easy.

Firebaugh is a quiet, mostly Hispanic city of 8,100 people, one of many small communities that power the Central Valley’s prodigious agricultural economy. Many residents work at nearby facilities that process almonds, pistachios, garlic and tomatoes.

Firebaugh also sits right on the San Joaquin River.

For a sleepless stretch of early 2017, Ben Gallegos, Firebaugh’s city manager, did little but watch the river rise and debate whether to evacuate half the town. Water from winter storms had already turned the town’s cherished rodeo grounds into a swamp. Now it was threatening homes, schools, churches and the wastewater treatment plant. If that flooded, people would be unable to flush their toilets. Raw sewage would flow down the San Joaquin.

Luckily, the river stopped rising. Still, the experience led Mr. Gallegos to apply for tens of millions in funding for new and improved levees around Firebaugh.

Levees change where the water goes, giving rivers more room to swell before they inundate the land. Levee failures in New Orleans were what turned Katrina into an epochal catastrophe, and after that storm, California toughened levee standards in urbanized areas of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, two major river basins of the Central Valley.

The idea is to keep people out of places where the levees don’t protect against 200-year storms, or those with a 0.5 percent chance of occurring in any year. To account for rising seas and the shifting climate, California requires that levees be recertified as providing this level of defense at least every 20 years.

Firebaugh, Calif., on the San Joaquin River, is home to 8,100 people and helps power the Central Valley’s agricultural economy.

Ben Gallegos, the Firebaugh city manager.

A 6-year-old’s birthday celebration in Firebaugh.

The problem is that once levees are strengthened, the areas behind them often become particularly attractive for development: fancier homes, bigger buildings, more people. The likelihood of a disaster is reduced, but the consequences, should one strike, are increased.

Federal agencies try to stop this by not funding infrastructure projects that induce growth in flood zones. But “it’s almost impossible to generate the local funds to raise that levee if you don’t facilitate some sort of growth behind the levee,” Mr. Peterson said. “You need that economic activity to pay for the project,” he said. “It puts you in a Catch-22.”

A project to provide 200-year protection to the Mossdale Tract, a large area south of Stockton, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s major cities, has been on pause for years because the Army Corps of Engineers fears it would spur growth, said Chris Elias, executive director of the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency, which is leading the project. City planners have agreed to freeze development across thousands of acres, but the Corps still hasn’t given its final blessing.

The Corps and state and local agencies will begin studying how best to protect the area this fall, said Tyler M. Stalker, a spokesman for the Corps’s Sacramento District.

The plodding pace of work in the San Joaquin Valley has set people on edge. At a recent public hearing in Stockton on flood risk, Mr. Elias stood up and highlighted some troubling math.

The Department of Water Resources says up to $30 billion in investment is needed over the next 30 years to keep the Central Valley safe. Yet over the past 15 years, the state managed to spend only $3.5 billion.

“We have to find ways to get ahead of the curve,” Mr. Elias said. “We don’t want to have a Katrina 2.0 play out right here in the heart of Stockton.”

As Mr. Elias waits for projects to be approved and budgets to come through, heat and moisture will continue to churn over the Pacific. Government agencies, battling the forces of inertia, indifference and delay, will make plans and update policies. And Stockton and the Central Valley, which runs through the heart of California, will count down the days and years until the inevitable storm.

T​​he Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Stockton, Calif.

Sources

The megastorm simulation is based on the “ARkHist” storm modeled by Huang and Swain, Science Advances (2022), a hypothetical statewide, 30-day atmospheric river storm sequence over California with an approximately 2 percent likelihood of occurring each year in the present climate. Data was generated using the Weather Research and Forecasting model and global climate simulations from the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble.

The chart of precipitation at Oroville compares cumulative rainfall at the Oroville weather station before the 2017 crisis with cumulative rainfall at the closest data point in ARkHist.

The rainfall visualization compares observed hourly rainfall in December 2016 from the Los Angeles Downtown weather station with rainfall at the closest data point in a hypothetical future megastorm, the ARkFuture scenario in Huang and Swain (2022). This storm would be a rare but plausible event in the second half of the 21st century if nations continue on a path of high greenhouse-gas emissions.

Additional credits

The 3D rainfall visualization and augmented reality effect by Nia Adurogbola, Jeffrey Gray, Evan Grothjan, Lydia Jessup, Max Lauter, Daniel Mangosing, Noah Pisner, James Surdam and Raymond Zhong.

Photo editing by Matt McCann.

Produced by Sarah Graham, Claire O’Neill, Jesse Pesta and Nadja Popovich.

Audio produced by Kate Winslett.

Cloud Wars: Mideast Rivalries Rise Along a New Front (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Alissa J. Rubin, Bryan Denton


Artificial lakes like this one in Dubai are helping fuel an insatiable demand for water in the United Arab Emirates.
Artificial lakes like this one in Dubai are helping fuel an insatiable demand for water in the United Arab Emirates.

As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, the U.A.E. is leading the effort to squeeze more rain out of the clouds, and other countries are rushing to keep up.

Aug. 28, 2022

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iranian officials have worried for years that other nations have been depriving them of one of their vital water sources. But it was not an upstream dam that they were worrying about, or an aquifer being bled dry.

In 2018, amid a searing drought and rising temperatures, some senior officials concluded that someone was stealing their water from the clouds.

“Both Israel and another country are working to make Iranian clouds not rain,” Brig. Gen. Gholam Reza Jalali, a senior official in the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, said in a 2018 speech.

The unnamed country was the United Arab Emirates, which had begun an ambitious cloud-seeding program, injecting chemicals into clouds to try to force precipitation. Iran’s suspicions are not surprising, given its tense relations with most Persian Gulf nations, but the real purpose of these efforts is not to steal water, but simply to make it rain on parched lands.

As the Middle East and North Africa dry up, countries in the region have embarked on a race to develop the chemicals and techniques that they hope will enable them to squeeze rain drops out of clouds that would otherwise float fruitlessly overhead.

With 12 of the 19 regional countries averaging less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, a decline of 20 percent over the past 30 years, their governments are desperate for any increment of fresh water, and cloud seeding is seen by many as a quick way to tackle the problem.

The tawny mountain range that rises above Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates is where summer updrafts often create clouds that make excellent candidates for seeding.

And as wealthy countries like the emirates pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, other nations are joining the race, trying to ensure that they do not miss out on their fair share of rainfall before others drain the heavens dry — despite serious questions about whether the technique generates enough rainfall to be worth the effort and expense.

Morocco and Ethiopia have cloud-seeding programs, as does Iran. Saudi Arabia just started a large-scale program, and a half-dozen other Middle Eastern and North African countries are considering it.

China has the most ambitious program worldwide, with the aim of either stimulating rain or halting hail across half the country. It is trying to force clouds to rain over the Yangtze River, which is running dry in some spots.

While cloud seeding has been around for 75 years, experts say the science has yet to be proven. And they are especially dismissive of worries about one country draining clouds dry at the expense of others downwind.

The life span of a cloud, in particular the type of cumulus clouds most likely to produce rain, is rarely more than a couple of hours, atmospheric scientists say. Occasionally, clouds can last longer, but rarely long enough to reach another country, even in the Persian Gulf, where seven countries are jammed close together.

But several Middle Eastern countries have brushed aside the experts’ doubts and are pushing ahead with plans to wring any moisture they can from otherwise stingy clouds.

Today, the unquestioned regional leader is the United Arab Emirates. As early as the 1990s, the country’s ruling family recognized that maintaining a plentiful supply of water would be as important as the nation’s huge oil and gas reserves in sustaining its status as the financial and business capital of the Persian Gulf.

While there had been enough water to sustain the tiny country’s population in 1960, when there were fewer than 100,000 people, by 2020 the population had ballooned to nearly 10 million. And the demand for water soared, as well. United Arab Emirates residents now use roughly 147 gallons per person a day, compared with the world average of 47 gallons, according to a 2021 research paper funded by the emirates.

Currently, that demand is being met by desalination plants. Each facility, however, costs $1 billion or more to build and requires prodigious amounts of energy to run, especially when compared with cloud seeding, said Abdulla Al Mandous, the director of the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology in the emirates and the leader of its cloud-seeding program.

After 20 years of research and experimentation, the center runs its cloud-seeding program with near military protocols. Nine pilots rotate on standby, ready to bolt into the sky as soon as meteorologists focusing on the country’s mountainous regions spot a promising weather formation — ideally, the types of clouds that can build to heights of as much as 40,000 feet.

They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.

“We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.

And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.

That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.

“The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.

Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.

Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.

While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.

Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.

“You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.

“It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.

Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.

Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.

In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.

And where would those extra clouds come from?

“Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”

Covering a Disaster That Hasn’t Happened Yet (New York Times)

Raymond Zhong


Times Insider

Giant rainstorms have ravaged California before. Times journalists combined data, graphics and old-fashioned reporting to explore what the next big one might look like.

Rudy Mussi, a farmer in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California, has lived through two devastating levee failures near his land. Neither experience made him want to go farm somewhere else.
Credit: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Aug. 25, 2022

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Not long ago, when I heard that California officials were embarking on an ambitious, multiyear effort to study one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history, I knew there would be a lot of interesting material to cover. There was just one wrinkle: The disaster hadn’t happened yet — it still hasn’t.

The California water authorities wanted to examine a much bigger and more powerful version of the rainstorms the state often gets in winter. The milder ones replenish water supplies. But the strong ones cause devastating flooding and debris flows. And the really strong ones, like those that have hit the Pacific Coast several times over the past millennium, can erase whole landscapes, turning valleys and plains into lakes.

As global warming increases the likelihood and the intensity of severe storms, the state’s Department of Water Resources wanted to know: What would a really big (yet plausible) storm look like today? How well would we handle it?

As a climate reporter for The New York Times, I had a pretty good idea of how to tell the first part of the story. The department was starting its study by commissioning two climate scientists to construct a detailed play-by-play of how a monthlong storm might unload its precipitation throughout the state. (And what a lot of precipitation it would be: nearly 16 inches, on average, across California, according to the scientists’ simulations, and much more in mountainous areas.)

All that detail would help operators of dams and other infrastructure pinpoint how much water they might get at specific times and places. It would also allow the graphics wizards at The Times to bring the storm to stunning visual life in our article, which we published this month.

But to make the article more than an academic recounting of a computer-modeling exercise, I knew I had to find ways to ground this future storm strongly in the present. And as I started reporting, I realized this was what a lot of people in the flood-management world were trying to do, too. Unlike traffic congestion, air pollution or even drought, flood risk isn’t in people’s faces most of the time. Forecasters and engineers have to keep reminding them that it’s there.

I realized this wasn’t a story about predicting the future at all. Like a lot of climate stories, it was about how humans and institutions function, or fail to function, when faced with catastrophic possibilities whose arrival date is uncertain.

The near-catastrophe Californians remember most vividly is the 2017 crisis at the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento. The dam’s emergency spillway nearly collapsed after heavy rainstorms, prompting the evacuation of 188,000 people. The state authorities spent the next few years reinspecting dams and re-evaluating safety needs. Yet I found signs that all this attention might already be starting to fade, even when it came to Oroville itself.

For every example of proactive thinking on flood risks, I found instances where budgets, political exigencies or other complications had gotten in the way. I visited flood-prone communities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with Kathleen Schaefer, an engineer formerly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She helped prepare the last major study of a hypothetical California megastorm, over a decade ago, and she recalled the frosty reception her and her colleagues’ work had received in some official circles.

She described the attitude she encountered this way: “If you can’t do anything about it, if it’s such a big problem, then you don’t want to stick your head out and raise it, because then you’re supposed to do something about it. So it’s better just to be like, ‘Oh, I hope it doesn’t happen on my watch.’”

I also sought out Californians who had suffered the effects of flooding firsthand. One reason the state is so vulnerable is that so many people and their homes and assets are in inundation-prone places. The reasons they stay, despite the dangers, are complex and often deeply personal.

Rudy Mussi has lived through two devastating levee failures near his land, in a part of the Delta called the Jones Tract. Neither experience made him want to go farm somewhere else. He recently invested millions in almond trees.

“Even though there’s risk,” Mr. Mussi told me, “there’s people willing to take that risk.”

Bob Ott grows cherries, almonds and walnuts in the fertile soil along the Tuolumne River. As we drove through his orchards on a rickety golf cart, he showed me where the water had rushed in during the 2017 storms.

Mr. Ott said he knew his land was bound to flood again, whether from a repeat of rains past or from a future megastorm. Still, he would never consider leaving, he said. His family has been farming there for the better part of a century. “This is part of us,” he said.

Seca histórica atinge metade do México e leva a espiral de violência e desespero (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

Crise climática impacta chuvas, e dois terços do país enfrentam problemas no fornecimento de água

Maria Abi-Habib e Bryan Avelar

7 de agosto de 2022


O homem vestindo um boné de beisebol azul enche baldes com água de um caminhão do governo. Fonte: New York Times

O México —ou grande parte do país— está ficando sem água. Uma seca extrema tem deixado as torneiras secas, e quase dois terços dos municípios enfrentam escassez que vem obrigando as pessoas a encarar horas em filas para entregas de água feitas pelo governo em alguns locais.

A falta d’água está tão grave que moradores já fizeram barreiras em rodovias e sequestraram funcionários para exigir mais carregamentos. Os números são mesmo assustadores: em julho, 8 dos 32 estados enfrentaram estiagem de extrema a moderada, levando 1.546 dos 2.463 municípios a enfrentar cortes no fornecimento, segundo a Comissão Nacional de Água.

Em meados de julho, a seca atingia 48% do território do México —no ano passado, a situação afetou 28% do país.

Vincular uma seca isolada à crise climática requer análise, mas cientistas não têm dúvida de que o aquecimento global pode alterar os padrões de chuva no mundo e está elevando a probabilidade de ocorrência de secas.

Do outro lado da fronteira norte, nos últimos anos a maior parte da metade ocidental dos EUA sofre com estiagem de moderada a severa. São as duas décadas mais secas na região em 1.200 anos.

A crise está especialmente aguda em Monterrey, um dos centros econômicos mais importantes do México, com uma região metropolitana de 5 milhões de habitantes. Alguns bairros estão sem água há 75 dias, levando escolas a fechar as portas antes das férias de verão. Um jornalista percorreu várias lojas à procura de água potável, incluindo um supermercado Walmart, em vão.

Baldes estão em falta no comércio ou são vendidos a preços astronômicos, enquanto os habitantes juntam recipientes para coletar a água distribuída por caminhões enviados aos bairros mais afetados. Alguns usam latas de lixo limpas, e crianças lutam para ajudar a carregar a água.

A crise afeta inclusive as regiões de alta renda. “Aqui a gente tem que sair à caça de água”, diz Claudia Muñiz, 38, cuja família frequentemente tem passado uma semana sem água corrente. “Num momento de desespero, as pessoas explodem.”

Monterrey fica no norte do México e viu sua população crescer nos últimos anos, acompanhando o boom econômico. O clima tipicamente árido da região não ajuda a suprir as necessidades da população, e a crise climática reduz as chuvas já escassas.

Hoje os moradores podem caminhar sobre o leito da represa da barragem de Cerro Prieto, que no passado era uma das maiores fontes de água da cidade e uma importante atração turística, com animados restaurantes à beira da água, pesca, passeios de barco e esqui aquático.

A chuva que caiu em julho em partes do estado de Nuevo León, que faz divisa com o Texas e cuja capital é Monterrey, representou apenas 10% da média mensal registrada desde 1960, segundo Juan Ignacio Barragán Villareal, diretor-geral da agência local de recursos hídricos. “Nem uma gota caiu no estado inteiro em março”, diz. Foi o primeiro março sem chuvas desde que se começou a registrar esses dados, em 1960.

Hoje o governo distribui 9 milhões de litros de água por dia para 400 bairros. O motorista de caminhão-pipa Alejandro Casas conta que, quando começou na função há cinco anos, ajudava os bombeiros e era chamado uma ou duas vezes por mês para levar água a um local incendiado. Ele passava muitos dias de trabalho apenas olhando para o telefone.

Mas desde janeiro ele trabalha sem parar, fazendo até dez viagens por dia, para suprir cerca de 200 famílias a cada vez. Quando ele chega a um local, uma longa fila já serpenteia pelas ruas. Pessoas levam recipientes que comportam até 200 litros e passam a tarde sob o sol para receber água só à meia-noite —e ela pode ser a única entregue por até uma semana.

Ninguém policia as filas, por isso é comum ocorrerem brigas, com moradores de outras comunidades tentando se infiltrar. Em maio o caminhão de Casas foi assaltado por jovens que subiram no assento do passageiro e o ameaçaram, exigindo que ele levasse o veículo ao bairro deles. “Se a gente não fosse para onde eles queriam, iam nos sequestrar.”

Casas seguiu a ordem, encheu os baldes dos moradores e foi libertado.

Maria de los Angeles, 45, nasceu e cresceu em Ciénega de Flores, cidade próxima a Monterrey. Ela diz que a crise está afetando sua família e seu negócio. “Nunca antes vi isso. Só temos água nas torneiras a cada quatro ou cinco dias”, diz.

O viveiro de plantas de jardim é a única fonte de renda de sua família e requer mais água do que a que chega apenas ocasionalmente às torneiras. “Toda semana sou obrigada a comprar um tanque que me custa 1.200 pesos [R$ 300] de um fornecedor particular”, diz. É metade de sua receita semanal. “Não aguento mais.”

Pequenos e microempresários como ela estão frustrados por serem abandonados à própria sorte, enquanto as grandes indústrias podem operar quase normalmente: as fábricas conseguem receber 50 milhões de metros cúbicos de água por ano, devido a concessões federais que lhes garantem acesso especial aos aquíferos da cidade.

O governo está tendo dificuldade em responder à crise. Para tentar mitigar estiagens futuras, o estado está investindo US$ 97 milhões na construção de uma estação de tratamento de águas servidas e pretende comprar água de uma estação de dessalinização em construção num estado vizinho. Também gastou US$ 82 milhões para alugar mais caminhões, pagar motoristas adicionais e cavar mais poços.

O governador de Nuevo León, Samuel García, recentemente exortou o mundo a agir em conjunto para combater a crise climática. “Ela nos alcançou”, escreveu no Twitter. “Hoje precisamos cuidar do ambiente, é uma questão de vida ou morte.”

Greta Thunberg delivers a climate warning at Glastonbury (BBC)

By Mark Savage
BBC Music Correspondent

June 25, 2022

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking on the Pyramid Stage during the Glastonbury Festival
Image caption, The 19-year-old activist criticised world leaders in a speech to festival-goers

Greta Thunberg has made a surprise appearance at Glastonbury, to warn of the dangers of climate change.

The earth’s biosphere is “not just changing, it is destabilising, it is breaking down,” the 19-year-old told festival-goers from the Pyramid Stage.

She criticised world leaders for “creating loopholes” to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change.

“That is a moral decision… that will put the entire living planet at risk”, she added.

But she ended on a message of hope, telling festival-goers they had the power to make a difference.

“We are capable of the most incredible things,” she said. “Once we are given the full story… we will know what to do. There is still time to choose a new path, to step back from the cliff.

“Instead of looking for hope, start creating that hope yourself.

Greta Thunberg
Image caption, The climate activist also visited the festival’s Park area during her visit

“Make no mistake, no-one else is going to do this for us,” she concluded. “Right here and now is where we stand our ground.”

Thunberg was introduced on stage by Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis, who called her “the most inspirational speaker of her generation.”

The activist spoke against a backdrop of the “warming stripes”, a vivid illustration of how the average global temperature has soared in recent decades.

Her appearance was warmly received by the crowd, who joined her in a chant of “climate justice” at the end of her speech.

Thunberg’s speech comes three years after Sir David Attenborough made a cameo on the Pyramid Stage.

The broadcaster thanked festival-goers for cutting their plastic use, after organisers banned single-use plastic bottles.

Grenfell plea

Thunberg spoke after an invigorating performance from rapper AJ Tracey, who opened his set with a powerful, angry message about the Grenfell Tower disaster.

In a pre-recorded video, the West London musician accused those responsible for the fire of “hiding behind a legal framework”, while young black men were being “arrested and convicted every day with haste for acts a lot less significant”.

AJ Tracey
Image caption, AJ Tracey gave one of the most compelling performances of the day so far

“The worst thing of the whole situation is [that] Grenfell could happen again,” he continued.

“Our buildings are not safe and thousands of low-income people, people who grew up just like I did, go to bed every night not knowing if it’ll be their last. They tuck their children in at night and don’t know if they’ll wake up in flames.”

Tracey, who grew up in Ladbroke Grove, knows many of the victims, survivors and bereaved.

He ended his message by addressing the Prime Minister directly.

“Boris Johnson, I want to ask you a question: 72 of our friends and family are dead and there’s been zero arrests,” he said. “Why?”

The rapper went on to perform a muscular set of hip-hop, grime and 2-step, rearranging many of his songs to work with a live band.

“I’m hoping that the crowd are receptive to me trying to give them a different take on my usual set,” he told BBC News ahead of the performance.

He said his musical versatility came from his upbringing.

“My dad used to be a rapper, my mum used to be a DJ on the radio, playing jungle, house, garage… so I’ve got quite a mix.

“My mum’s Welsh and my dad’s from Trinidad – so the British sounds and the Caribbean sounds come into one, and I’ve been inspired by it.”

The star brought his mother to Glastonbury and she watched his show from the side of the Pyramid stage.

“She’s going to be rocking out, man. She’s my biggest fan,” he said.

“She doesn’t have a scrapbook but she’s a photographer so she takes loads of personal pictures and has her own little personal archive.”

Paul McCartney will headline the festival later on Saturday night, and is scheduled to play a marathon two-and-three-quarter hour set.

Fans arrived at the barriers in front of the Pyramid stage early on Saturday morning to make sure they had a front row seat for the show.

Games já retratam mudança climática, mas indústria que os cria ainda patina (Um Só Planeta)

umsoplaneta.globo.com

Autor examina compromissos ainda tímidos de boa parte da força industrial envolvida na criação de games e de computadores e consoles para jogá-los em relação a metas de descarbonização e redução de consumo de energia

Por Marco Britto, para o Um Só Planeta

12/06/2022 14h00


O mundo dos games já encontrou as mudanças climáticas, que é tema para diversos cenários no mundo virtual. Porém, terá a indústria dos videogames encontrado seu papel na adaptação para limitar o aquecimento global a 1,5°C até 2050, como determina o Acordo de Paris? Essa questão foi examinada por Ben Abraham, um pesquisador e fã de jogos, no livro “Digital Games After Climate Change” (“Jogos Digitais Após a Mudança Climática”, em tradução livre), e o cenário mostra que, como em muitos negócios, é preciso acelerar o passo para tornar esse engajamento uma realidade fora dos pixels.

Em conversa com a revista Wired, o autor se mostra preocupado com a “falta de liderança” no setor, onde empresas ainda patinam em reunir dados sobre pegada de carbono em seus relatórios anuais, como no caso da Nintendo, que em 2019 publicou que usava 98% de sua energia de fontes renováveis, para no ano seguinte o mesmo dado cair para 4,2%.

Para Abraham, provavelmente houve um erro ao calcular kilowatts ou megawatts (procurada pela revista, a empresa japonesa não esclareceu o ocorrido e afirmou que hoje 44% da energia usada provém de fontes limpas).

Em seu livro, o autor relata que os compromissos de carbono dos principais fabricantes de consoles e produtores de games, Microsoft, Sony e Nintendo, variam. A Microsoft planeja até 2030 retirar da atmosfera mais carbono do que produz. Uma meta “ambiciosa, mas alcançável”, diz Abraham.

A Sony anunciou recentemente uma meta revisada para 2040 de carbono neutro, juntamente com esforços para usar 100% de energia renovável em suas próprias operações até 2030.

“Ainda precisamos de intervenção regulatória, um marco legal e padrões de eficiência energética”, afirma Abraham. Como exemplo dessa estratégia, ele cita a recente legislação na Califórnia que coloca limite no consumo de energia de dispositivos eletrônicos. Após a lei. a fabricante de computadores Dell suspendeu o envio de alguns de seus PCs de jogos Alienware para o estado.

Jogar videogame não é exatamente uma atividade ecofriendly, ressalta o autor, uma vez que a evolução de equipamentos e qualidade gráfica demanda um maior consumo de energia pelos computadores ou consoles. Mas como em muitos casos, a cobrança maior deve recair sobre a cadeia produtiva, e não o consumidor. “Jogar ainda é, em geral, uma atividade de lazer — e atualmente é relativamente intensivo em carbono.”

Na parte virtual, contudo, o autor é mais otimista, e ressalta a força que os games têm de incentivar a mudança de atitude no mundo real, mas não deixa de cutucar a indústria. “Faz todo o sentido. Se você é um desenvolvedor de jogos, você quer usar suas habilidades para ajudar com o problema. Mas, quando olho para os desafios de persuadir as pessoas em torno de uma questão tão controversa e ideológica quanto o clima, não parece ser uma batalha que possa ser vencida dessa maneira.”

Arminio Fraga: Desafios globais trazem riscos e oportunidades para o Brasil (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

23.mai.2022 às 12h43


O mundo vive um inferno astral de ameaças de curto e longo prazo. Em brilhante palestra recente, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, ministro sênior de Singapura, listou cinco riscos que, para ele, configuram uma “longa tempestade perfeita” para o planeta. Neste artigo, discutirei as implicações desse quadro para o Brasil, procurando também identificar as oportunidades disponíveis.

O pano de fundo é conhecido. Ao acordar do sonho do mundo pacífico e integrado do fim da história de Fukuyama, nos deparamos com crescentes tensões, que se manifestam em múltiplas esferas. A mais chocante de todas e primeiro tema da lista de Tharman é a tragédia ucraniana, que configura o rompimento de uma governança global que garantia a soberania e a integridade territorial de todas as nações.

A esse retorno da Guerra Fria original, de natureza ideológica (modificada) e militar, se soma a Guerra Fria.2 entre os Estados Unidos e a China, também ideológica, mas muito mais complexa em suas frentes de disputa.

O embate entre os dois gigantes caracteriza um período de ausência de uma liderança global hegemônica que, como bem diagnosticou Charles P. Kindleberger, tende a ser muito instável. Do ponto de vista econômico, as duas guerras frias forçosamente demandam um importante repensar de alianças e relações de produção e comércio globais.

Para o Brasil, será necessário retornar à política externa tradicional do Itamaraty, voltada para a busca do interesse nacional através de boas relações viabilizadas pelo nosso histórico apego a princípios universais e pela nossa natural vocação multilateral. Nos cabe primeiramente e o quanto antes uma defesa inequívoca da integridade de todas as nações. Temos também que zelar pela manutenção de relações mutuamente benéficas com a maior parte dos países.

Em seu segundo grande tema, o autor discute o perigo de uma prolongada estagflação. O epicentro do problema encontra-se nos Estados Unidos, onde uma economia superaquecida por políticas expansionistas vem sendo atingida pelos choques de oferta da pandemia e das guerras frias. Para o Brasil, o risco maior advém da real possibilidade de o banco central americano ter de elevar os juros bem além do que os mercados já antecipam. Nos faria lembrar da frase “quando o Norte espirra, o Sul pega pneumonia”.

Um cenário alternativo, também nada reconfortante, seria uma queda ainda maior das Bolsas, acompanhada de um novo colapso nos preços dos imóveis, hoje acima em termos reais dos níveis da bolha que estourou em 2008.

Do lado de cá, o quadro é ainda mais complicado do que nos Estados Unidos, pois mesmo em recessão a inflação atingiu dois dígitos. Não é difícil imaginar uma tempestade perfeita para o Brasil, onde desafios externos e internos se reforçam. O próximo presidente terá que conduzir a política econômica com coragem e competência, de preferência com o apoio qualitativo das respostas aos demais desafios, que discuto a seguir.

A ameaça existencial da mudança climática é o terceiro tema do discurso. Aqui o Brasil terá a oportunidade de promover uma guinada verdadeiramente alquímica: trocar uma posição de pária ambiental, decorrente de posturas que aumentaram o desmatamento e o crime organizado, por uma guinada que nos poria em uma posição de liderança global no tema, com consequências extremamente positivas fora e dentro do país.

A criação de um mercado de carbono, como vem sendo discutido no Congresso e prometido pelo Executivo, seria um passo essencial nessa direção. É fundamental que o mercado seja desenhado de forma a permitir a plena inserção do país no mercado global de carbono, alternativa não disponível no momento. Vejo amplo potencial para investimentos no setor, em ambiente de concorrência e plenamente alinhados com o interesse público (estou investindo nessa área).

O elevado risco de novas pandemias vem a seguir. A ciência recomenda todo cuidado com o tema. Aqui também vejo amplo espaço para um cavalo de pau. Será necessário reforçar sob todos os ângulos o SUS, que, com seus 4% do PIB de recursos, precisa urgentemente subir na escala de prioridades dos orçamentos de todas as esferas de governo.

Cabe também incluir nas prioridades da nação mais apoio à pesquisa. Fontes de recursos para tais esforços não faltam, como tenho argumentado aqui. Falta sim transparência orçamentária e vontade política.

Em último lugar na lista, mas não menos importante, são as desigualdades de crescimento e bem-estar dentro dos países e entre eles, os mais ricos em vantagem em ambos os casos. Essa situação vem se agravando com as “tempestades perfeitas” e representa um terreno fértil para populismos e autoritarismos. O Brasil tem muito a fazer nessa área.

Com sucesso nessas frentes, o Brasil se qualificaria para ser relevante na reconstrução de uma governança global ora em frangalhos. As vantagens seriam imensas, pois ajudaria a si próprio em tudo mais. No entanto, sem sucesso, os prejuízos para a população seriam enormes. Um futuro melhor só virá se e quando a nossa democracia não mais estiver ameaçada e um tanto disfuncional.

O que não indígenas deveriam aprender com os povos originários para impedir a queda do céu? (Brasil De Fato)

Retomando terras e roças tradicionais, Guaranis apontam caminhos para mudar a rota de devastação do planeta

Gabriela Moncau

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |

22 de Maio de 2022 às 15:25

Segundo a plataforma Agro é Fogo, só no ano passado 37 mil famílias foram afetadas pelo uso do fogo como arma para os conflitos no campo
Segundo a plataforma Agro é Fogo, só no ano passado 37 mil famílias foram afetadas pelo uso do fogo como arma para os conflitos no campo – Carl de Souza / AFP

“Gente do céu… Esse pessoal branco tem que parar. Ficam passando veneno, destruindo tudo. O dia que acabar a natureza, os seres humanos vão se acabar também. Parece que os brancos são cegos. Parece que são surdos”. 

Leila Rocha toma chimarrão olhando o rio todas as manhãs. Com 59 anos de idade, a liderança Guarani Ñandeva do município de Japorã, no Mato Grosso do Sul (quase fronteira com o Paraguai), diz ter de suportar ver, a cada dia, o mato desaparecer e as águas do rio diminuírem.  

Foi ali, na Terra Indígena (TI) Yvy Katu, que Leila cresceu. Ela se lembra quando, aos 8 anos, sua comunidade foi expulsa, encaminhada “na marra” pela Funai para uma reserva “apertada” e viu sua terra ser tomada por fazendeiros. Na ocasião, ela prometeu ao pai que voltaria. Décadas depois, cumpriu.  

Leila faz parte do Conselho da Aty Guasu (Grande Assembleia Kaiowá e Guarani) e da Kuñangue Aty Guasu (Grande Assembleia das Mulehres Kaiowá e Guarani). Participou da retomada da TI Yvy Katu em 2003 e, depois de serem despejados, esteve também na outra retomada, feita em 2013. Ali vive desde então. Mas a terra – que está demarcada e com a homologação pendente – não é mais a mesma. Está no meio de um estado tomado pela pecuária, por plantações de cana, milho e soja transgênica. 

Segundo o MapBiomas, só as plantações de soja ocupam 36 milhões de hectares no Brasil, o equivalente a 4,3% do território nacional. É uma área maior do que países como a Itália ou o Vietnã.  

Pouco menos que a metade (42%) dessa monocultura está na região do Cerrado, onde Leila vive. Entre 1985 e 2020, a soja se expandiu 464% no bioma.  

Um ser que produz seu próprio fim 

O veneno no rio mencionado por Leila vem da pulverização de agrotóxicos do agronegócio que, de tão sistemáticas no Mato Grosso do Sul, foram definidas como “agressões químicas” pelo procurador Marco Antônio Delfino, do Ministério Público Federal, em denúncias que levou adiante contra a prática.  

O Cerrado é também uma das regiões do país que ganhou destaque no relatório do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) da ONU, divulgado em abril. Se houver o aumento previsto da temperatura média da Terra de 4ºC a 5ºC, a previsão é que as chuvas nessa área do Brasil reduzam em 20%. 

:: Novo relatório do IPCC destaca que mundo teria aumento de 3,2ºC com políticas climáticas atuais ::

Ainda segundo o relatório da ONU, feito a partir de cerca de 18 mil publicações científicas, se o planeta não reduzir quase pela metade as emissões de gases do efeito estufa até 2030, uma catástrofe global será inevitável. 

E o Brasil vem dando sua contribuição para que o planeta avance rapidamente nesse rumo. Dados da ONG Global Forest Watch divulgados no fim de abril apontam que o país foi responsável por 40% do desmatamento mundial em 2021.  

No livro A queda do céu, o xamã e líder Yanomami Davi Kopenawa descreve que “os brancos não pensam muito adiante no futuro. Estão sempre preocupados demais com as coisas do momento”.  

“A floresta está viva. Só vai morrer se os brancos insistirem em destruí-la”, profetiza Kopenawa: “Então morreremos, um atrás do outro, tanto os brancos quanto nós. Todos os xamãs vão acabar morrendo. Quando não houver mais nenhum deles vivo para sustentar o céu, ele vai desabar”.  

Kopenawa explica que escreveu aquelas palavras em coautoria com o antropólogo Bruce Albert para que os brancos as compreendam e possam dizer “os Yanomami são diferentes de nós, (…) o pensamento deles segue caminhos outros que o da mercadoria”. 

“Ruralista bebe água também”  

E a mercadoria, diz Leila Rocha – com um tom de voz calmo, quase destoante com aquele que se esperaria de alguém que há tanto tempo tem de explicar o óbvio -, é inútil se a vida não puder existir. 

“As pessoas não entendem a luta dos indígenas. Pensam que é por causa da terra. Não é isso. A gente luta pela natureza, pelo rio, pelos remédios tradicionais, para que as árvores possam ficar no lugar em que elas estão”, elenca. “A natureza também sente dor, igual o ser humano”, diz. 

“É difícil colocar isso na cabeça das pessoas brancas. Quando você diz, parece que a pessoa entende tudo. Mas na verdade não entende né? Só pensa em destruir, passar o trator, queimar a beira do rio. Mas nós seres humanos precisamos dessa água. Nunca vamos viver sem água”, afirma Leila Rocha. 

“Os ruralistas, fazendeiros, são devoradores da natureza. E não conseguem pensar que estão matando a própria vida deles. Se um dia a água acabar, nós seres humanos não sobrevivemos. Mesmo ruralista com toda a riqueza que tem. Ruralista bebe água também”, ressalta.   

Retomadas de terra e de roças tradicionais 

Mas enquanto uns insistem em destruir a natureza, outros se esforçam para salvá-la. Depois de décadas vivendo em duas aldeias de 26 hectares cada, os Guarani Mbya da TI Tenondé Porã, localizada na região de Parelheiros, zona sul de São Paulo, começaram, desde 2013, um processo de retomada de suas terras. 

:: Retomadas em todo o país: indígenas ocupam suas terras ancestrais, ainda que sob ataque ::

Atualmente são 14 aldeias. Seis delas – Nhamandu Mirῖ, Yporã,  Ikatu Mirῖ, Takua Ju Mirĩ, Ka’aguy Hovy e Kuaray Oua – foram retomadas de 2020 para cá.  

A dispersão por um território mais amplo permitiu que, nos últimos anos, os indígenas retomassem também aspectos do nhandereko, o modo de viver Guarani. Uma parte desse conjunto de práticas e conhecimentos é a agricultura tradicional, antes impossibilitada pela falta de espaço.  


Em 2020, 35% da população da Terra Indígena Tenondé Porã estava envolvida nos trabalhos das roças tradicionais / Clarisse Jaxuka

Segundo levantamento do Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI) em seis das aldeias, em 2020 já havia 80 roças indígenas, cultivando 190 variedades agrícolas. Entre elas, diferentes espécies de milho, mandioca, batata, feijão, abóbora e banana.  

As roças foram desenvolvidas a partir do uso de sementes trocadas e também guardadas como tesouro pelos anciãos e anciãs Guarani, os xeramoĩ e as xejariy

Juxuka Mirῖ, chamada de Clarisse em português, trabalha na roça da aldeia Kalipety (retomada em 2013) e é também coordenadora da Comissão Guarani Yvyrupa (CGY).  

“Temos vários tipos de batata: roxa, branca, amarela. E milhos também. Tem preto, vermelho, branquinho, amarelo, colorido. A gente conseguiu resgatar os milhos de antigamente. Eu estou muito feliz. Quando eu era criança era bem difícil ver esse milho”, conta Jaxuka, que atualmente tem 37 anos. “Às vezes eu penso… Tem alguns mais velhos que já não estão mais junto conosco, que lutaram tanto para ver isso… Sabe?” 

“O mundo não acaba, mas a gente acaba” 

Jaxuka tem uma lembrança de, aos 12 anos, ouvir pela primeira vez os xeramoĩ’ kuery, os mais velhos, falando sobre a importância da manutenção das práticas e saberes indígenas para impedir que a ganância capitalista destrua a vida humana.  

“Isso se fala desde antigamente. Não só juruá [não indígenas] né, mas mesmo nós Guarani: se não soubermos cuidar da natureza, das nossas rezas, se a gente começar a esquecer dos nossos, das nossas línguas…”, diz Jaxuka: “O mundo não acaba. Mas a gente acaba”.  

“Hoje em dia esse mundo está louco mesmo. A natureza vive, a natureza chora, a natureza grita – e ninguém ouve mais”, resume Leila Rocha. “Eu espero que um dia os brancos entendam que os indígenas são guardiões. A gente não luta só pela terra. A gente luta por todos nós”. 

Edição: Raquel Setz

Brasil devastou quase 90% da mata atlântica e 20% da Amazônia depois da Independência (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

País dilapida patrimônio natural único e ignora urgências da crise do clima

Marcelo Leite

21 de maio de 2022


[RESUMO] A preocupação com o desmatamento é tão antiga quanto a Independência, mas José Bonifácio foi derrotado por oligarquias escravistas em suas tentativas de disciplinar a exploração e a derrubada de florestas. Dois séculos depois, o Brasil de Bolsonaro retrocede à versão mais primitiva do mito do berço esplêndido e trata o ambiente, na contramão da emergência climática, como se fosse fonte inesgotável de riquezas para pilhar.

Em 1822, o patrimônio ambiental do território que se tornava o Império do Brasil não diferia muito do que portugueses haviam encontrado três séculos antes. A devastação da mata atlântica, primeira vítima natural da colonização, prosseguia a ferro e fogo, mas concentrada no entorno de poucos centros urbanos, muitos canaviais, áreas de pecuária e a lavoura incipiente de café.

O mesmo não se pode dizer dos povos indígenas, vários já extintos naquela altura. No século 16, eles contavam algo entre 2 e 8 milhões de indivíduos, calcula-se. Sobreviveram à frente colonial os que se internaram nos sertões da caatinga, do cerrado e da floresta amazônica, deixando a costa para o domínio do branco e a labuta dos escravizados da África.

São hoje 305 povos indígenas remanescentes, segundo o IBGE. No Censo de 2010, somavam 897 mil pessoas, menos de 0,5% da população, das quais 572 mil em áreas rurais (sobretudo aldeias) e 325 mil em cidades.

No mesmo recenseamento, mais de 82 milhões de habitantes se declararam pardos (43,1% do total). Outros 15 milhões se identificaram como pretos (7,6%), perfazendo assim uma maioria de brasileiros descendentes dos 4,8 milhões de negros sequestrados na África.

Essa deriva populacional é indissociável da história do meio ambiente no Brasil. A dizimação de povos indígenas acompanhou a marcha predatória para oeste no século 20, com meios técnicos bem mais poderosos que a limitada força produtiva da legião de escravizados.

Na virada do século 19 para o 20, logo após a Abolição (1888), estima-se que a mata atlântica ainda tinha cerca de 90% da cobertura original de pé, mesmo após quatro séculos de predação. Hoje, 130 anos depois, restam apenas 12,4% da vegetação do bioma. No início do século passado, Amazônia, cerrado e caatinga estavam quase intocados.

A tríade genocídio, escravização e desmatamento compõe a matriz da exploração do território forjada no período colonial, com reflexos até os dias de hoje. A crítica à forma peculiar de atraso, embora atual, não emergiu com a consciência ambiental nos anos 1970, mas já com a própria nação brasileira.

Na proa do ambientalismo precoce esteve José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, alcunhado patriarca da Independência, como detalha o historiador José Augusto Pádua no livro “Um Sopro de Destruição: Pensamento Político e Crítica Ambiental no Brasil Escravista, 1786-1888“.

Andrada passou a maior parte da vida adulta em Portugal, para onde partiu aos 20 anos. Formou-se na Universidade de Coimbra sob influência do Iluminismo e do naturalista italiano Domenico Vandelli, professor da universidade e crítico da destruição ambiental no país e em suas colônias. Só em 1819, aos 56, retornou ao Brasil, onde se tornaria ministro do Império.

Pádua destaca no livro quatro elementos essenciais da obra de Andrada: visão de mundo fundada na economia da natureza, defesa do progresso econômico como instrumento civilizatório, apologia da racionalização das técnicas produtivas pela aplicação pragmática do conhecimento científico, crítica da exploração destrutiva dos recursos naturais.

Antes mesmo da Independência, ele foi chamado pelo príncipe regente, futuro Pedro 1º, para chefiar o gabinete de ministros. Passou a defender ideias avançadas para a época, como emancipação gradual de escravizados, assimilação de indígenas, educação popular e imigração estrangeira.

Propunha a superação do modelo agrícola colonial calcado no latifúndio, na monocultura e na destruição florestal. Tal prática deveria ser transformada com reforma agrária, difusão de métodos agronômicos modernos e ambientalmente equilibrados, relata Pádua.

Para o visionário, florestas eram fundamentais para manter a fertilidade da terra e a abundância de água. A venda ou a distribuição de terras pela Coroa deveria ficar subordinada à condição de manter um sexto da área com matas originais ou plantadas.

A carreira política de Andrada foi curta. Já em 1823, deixou o ministério, em julho; em novembro, foi preso e exilado na França, onde ficaria até 1829. Retoma os projetos em 1831, como tutor dos filhos do imperador, mas é deposto em 1833. Refugiou-se em Paquetá até a morte, cinco anos depois.

Oligarquias regionais, latifundiárias e escravistas jamais aceitaram o programa de Andrada. Sua derrota, assim como a consagração como estadista, da qual a historiografia omitiu, entretanto, o ideário ambiental, dizem muito sobre a indisposição da elite nacional, desde sempre, para tirar o país do atraso.

Pádua traça um paralelo com os Estados Unidos, outra nação jovem com vastos recursos naturais, mas não tropical, que também dizimou indígenas e explorou negros escravizados. As terras a oeste foram ocupadas cedo com levas de imigrantes, enquanto o Brasil permanecia dependente da escravidão.

Em 1822, a população brasileira era de 4,6 milhões de habitantes, contra 9,6 milhões de norte-americanos. Em 1900, éramos ainda 17,4 milhões, ao passo que, nos EUA, já viviam 76,3 milhões.

“A permanência desse olhar para um horizonte dotado de gigantescas formações naturais e aberto para um avanço futuro praticamente ilimitado, parecendo tornar desnecessários os esforços e os custos envolvidos na conservação e no uso cuidadoso das áreas já abertas, é possivelmente a marca central da história ambiental do Brasil”, diagnostica Pádua.

É o que ele chama de mito do berço esplêndido, expressão tirada do primeiro verso da segunda parte do hino nacional, a menos cantada. Um mito ambíguo, que pôs a natureza exuberante no centro da autoimagem da nação que surgia, motivando as missões científicas de naturalistas patrocinadas pelo Império, mas também a pintava como recurso em aparência infinito a ser explorado.

“Somos definidos pela confluência de abundâncias, abusos e ganâncias”, afirma Natalie Unterstell, do centro de estudos climáticos Talanoa e do Monitor da Política Ambiental, uma parceria com a Folha.

“O mito do berço esplêndido inscreveu uma perspectiva linear e cumulativa de expansão territorial progressiva”, diz.

“O algoritmo original da nação brasileira, que foi infelizmente tão bem demonstrado na devastação da mata atlântica, nos impulsionou a acelerar a destruição ambiental, partindo do pressuposto de que nossa base de recursos é infindável e que o custo da conversão de biodiversidade é nulo.”

Se o algoritmo já estava pronto e, por assim dizer, testado em 1,1 milhão de quilômetros quadrados da mata atlântica (13% do território nacional), demorou a ser aplicado em outros dois biomas florestais muito mais vastos: floresta amazônica(4,2 milhões de km2,ou 49%) e cerrado (2 milhões de km2, 24%).

O sopro de destruição de que fala Pádua só varreria o restante do território no século 20. O ímpeto modernizador que levou à Revolução de 1930 criou a noção de que era preciso ocupar o interior e levar o desenvolvimento para os sertões.

“Governar é povoar”, dizia o presidente Afonso Pena (1906-1909). Washington Luís(1926-1930) aproveitou o mote e o ampliou quando ainda era governador de São Paulo: “Governar é abrir estradas”.

Um século depois dos Estados Unidos, o Brasil iniciava sua Marcha para Oeste, que culminaria com a inauguração de Brasília em 1960. Em lugar de cavalos e carroções, seguiam caminhões, ônibus, tratores e automóveis da nascente indústria automobilística. O petróleo era nosso.

Dos anos 1880, década da Abolição e da República, até 1940, quase 5 milhões de imigrantes chegaram ao país. A população se multiplicou por dez ao longo do século passado, mas em 1950 o Brasil ainda era um país atrasado: apenas 36% da população de 52 milhões vivendo em cidades, 51% de analfabetismo, expectativa de vida de meros 43 anos.

Do ponto de vista ambiental, entretanto, o atraso e o gigantismo legaram ao país uma situação única: 99% da maior floresta tropical do mundo estava de pé na Amazônia, alimentando algumas das maiores bacias hidrográficas do planeta, a garantir água para a nascente potência agropecuária.

Aí sobreveio a ditadura militar (1964-1985), com o ímpeto do chamado milagre econômico e um novo lema territorial: “Integrar para não entregar”. O mito do berço esplêndido passou a alicerçar a paranoia militar da cobiça internacional sobre a Amazônia.

O que era, até aí, uma vocação para destruir, apesar do ufanismo naturalista dos tempos do Império, ganhou escala e impacto com a grande aceleração do pós-guerra, como assinala o historiador José Augusto Pádua.

A população cresceu para mais de 214 milhões de pessoas. A produção de ferro pulou de 9 milhões de toneladas em 1950 para cerca de 400 milhões atualmente. A produção de grãos saltou de 39 milhões, em 1975, para cerca de 210 milhões de toneladas. A taxa de urbanização avançou a 85%.

Esse crescimento teve um lado muito positivo. Com a criação da Embrapa em 1973, na pior fase da ditadura, a agricultura mudou de patamar, ganhou produtividade e conquistou o planalto central para a soja, o milho e o gado bovino.

A produtividade agrícola brasileira subiu à taxa de 3,6% ao ano entre 1975 e 2010, segundo o Ipea (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada) –o dobro da velocidade observada nos Estados Unidos no mesmo período.

O Brasil chegou em ótima posição ao boom de commodities dos anos 2000. Surfando na abundância de recursos, o governo Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) criou o Bolsa Família e o ProUni e turbinou o Fies. Cotas raciais foram implementadas. A pobreza diminuiu, e a escolaridade aumentou.

Em contrapartida, o ambiente sofreu. Na euforia do pré-sal, cresceu a produção de petróleo e gás (para não falar da corrupção associada), combustíveis fósseis que agravam o aquecimento global.

A usina de Belo Monte desfigurou para sempre o emblemático Xingu. O rio dá vida e nome ao parque indígena (1961) dos irmãos Villas-Bôas, continuadores do indigenismo benigno do marechal Cândido Rondon. Ali vivem 16 etnias, algumas atraídas para a área para abrir espaço às companhias colonizadoras.

Aliada à incúria do poder público, a mineração de metais, outro setor impulsionado pelo apetite voraz da economia chinesa, desencadeou as hecatombes de Mariana (2015) e Brumadinho (2019). Ao todo, 289 mortos.

O crescimento da população urbana se deu de maneira desorganizada. As cidades incharam, sem saneamento básico, com muito trânsito, favelas e poluição atmosférica.

Quase metade (45%) dos brasileiros não tem acesso à rede de esgoto, e só metade do que se coleta passa por tratamento —o restante chega in natura aos rios, volume de dejetos equivalente a 5,3 milhões de piscinas olímpicas por ano, segundo o Instituto Trata Brasil. É mais que improvável cumprir a meta de universalizar água e esgoto até 2033.

A derrubada do cerrado avançou, e a devastação dessa savana brasileira com enorme biodiversidade ultrapassou metade da cobertura original. A floresta amazônica, que viu as taxas de desmatamento recuarem de 27.779 km2 a 4.571 km2 entre 2004 e 2012, voltou a crescer até alcançar 13.235 km2 em 2021, acumulando 20% de perda da vegetação ainda intacta na época da Independência.

“Na economia, usa-se o termo ‘voo de galinha’ para descrever os ciclos de desenvolvimento, e na área ambiental pode-se usar a mesma analogia”, diz Natalie Unterstell, do Instituto Talanoa.

“Depois de recordes de descaso, reduzimos drasticamente o desmatamento na Amazônia entre 2004 e 2012, a maior ação de mitigação de emissão de gases de efeito estufa da história contemporânea, mostrando do que o Brasil é capaz quando trabalha sério para implementar uma política pública.”

Em paralelo, avançavam no mundo negociações para mitigar o aquecimento global e o pior da mudança climática. O governo brasileiro evoluiu de posições refratárias para algum protagonismo, a partir da Cúpula da Terra no Rio (1992) e do Protocolo de Kyoto (1997), o que se esboroaria de vez com Jair Bolsonaro (PL).

A destruição da Amazônia se tornou tema mundial em 1988, no governo de José Sarney (PMDB, 1985-1990), poucos anos após o fim da ditadura que cortou a região Norte com a rodovia Transamazônica. Queimadas se multiplicavam nos sensores de satélites, chamando a atenção da opinião pública mundial para a frente de ocupação predatória que resultaria na morte do líder seringueiro Chico Mendes.

Demorou uma década para a diplomacia e a Presidência da República se darem conta da oportunidade do país valorizar seu patrimônio florestal ímpar como capital político (soft power). E, também, para auferir créditos de carbono e pagamentos por serviço ambiental de matas que absorviam gases do efeito estufa da atmosfera.

O governo de Dilma Rousseff (PT) assumiu compromissos voluntários relativamente ambiciosos de diminuição de emissões de carbono para o Acordo de Paris (2015). O Brasil se prontificou a reduzir em 43%, até 2030, o lançamento de gases-estufa gerados, principalmente, pelo desmatamento.

Apesar de pequenos repiques nas cifras de devastação amazônica de 2013 a 2015, a média anual nesse triênio ainda estava em 5.700 km2. À luz da experiência na década anterior, não parecia assim tão difícil cumprir a meta assumida.

Tudo mudou após o impeachment da presidente, em 2016, que contou com amplo apoio da bancada ruralista no Congresso. Já naquele ano o desmate subiu para 7.893 km2 na Amazônia —e não parou mais.

A eleição de Jair Bolsonaro disseminou o retrocesso por todas as frentes. O presidente de extrema direita está cumprindo a promessa de não demarcar um centímetro das 265 terras indígenas ainda em estudos (do total de 725 identificadas).

Bolsonaro diz que não vai acatar eventual decisão do Supremo Tribunal Federal contra o chamado marco temporal, tese de que só têm direito ao reconhecimento de territórios povos que os ocupavam em 1988. Ou seja, os esbulhados antes da Constituição assim permaneceriam.

Políticas para prevenir desmatamento e mudanças climáticas também foram desmontadas, assim como se manietaram os órgãos de fiscalização Ibama e ICMBio. O Planalto inviabilizou o Fundo Amazônia e congelou R$ 3 bilhões para projetos de preservação e desenvolvimento sustentável, doados por Noruega e Alemanha.

“A falta de inteligência e criatividade, assim como a ganância de curto prazo e a preguiça política, podem gerar um cenário cada vez mais trágico no país, ao invés de aproveitar as oportunidades que a conjuntura histórica possa estar apresentando”, lamenta Pádua.

“É claro que o crescimento da grande exportação primária tem peso essencial, mas creio que não explica tudo. O sinal verde para os interesses de curto prazo de agentes econômicos locais, como garimpeiros e madeireiros, também é fundamental. O que espanta é o grau de atraso e a falta de inteligência estratégica na visão ambiental do atual governo. É como se décadas de debate sobre o imperativo da sustentabilidade fossem simplesmente ignoradas.”

A ideia de que repousamos como potência verde em um berço esplêndido de carbono, sem nada precisar fazer para gerar créditos, também é uma ilusão bolsonarista, aponta Natalie Unterstell. “Não somos uma Arábia Saudita do carbono: é preciso muito esforço para acabar com o desmatamento e, assim, conseguir gerar redução de emissões.”

Só depois da Constituição de 1988, mais de 743 mil km2 de floresta amazônica foram ao chão (quase 18% do bioma), ou o triplo da área do estado de São Paulo. Em meros 34 anos, os habitantes do berço esplêndido destruíram na Amazônia quase o mesmo tanto de mata atlântica que levaram cinco séculos para dizimar.

Só essa derrubada na Amazônia contribuiu com cerca de 32 bilhões de toneladas equivalentes de dióxido de carbono (GtCO2e), principal gás do efeito estufa, para agravar o aquecimento global. Para comparação: em um ano (2020), todas as atividades humanas no Brasil geram um total de 2,16 GtCO2e.

Incluindo tudo que se desmatou antes de 1988, um quinto da floresta amazônica já virou fumaça. O restante vai sendo degradado por garimpo, madeireiros ilegais e estradas clandestinas, além do aumento de temperatura e do ressecamento impostos pelo aquecimento global.

Chegando a um quarto de perda, o bioma deve entrar em colapso, prevê a ciência. A tragédia viria com a interrupção da maior célula terrestre de produção de chuvas no planeta, gerando impacto negativo na agricultura do país todo.

Se depender de Bolsonaro e da bancada ruralista incrustada no centrão, é o futuro que nos espera —para o qual fomos alertados há 200 anos pelo patriarca da Independência.

Why is climate ‘doomism’ going viral – and who’s fighting it? (BBC)

bbc.com

23 May 2022


By Marco Silva
BBC climate disinformation specialist

Illustration of two hands holding electronic devices showing melting planets.

Climate “doomers” believe the world has already lost the battle against global warming. That’s wrong – and while that view is spreading online, there are others who are fighting the viral tide.

As he walked down the street wearing a Jurassic Park cap, Charles McBryde raised his smartphone, stared at the camera, and hit the record button.

“Ok, TikTok, I need your help.”

Charles is 27 and lives in California. His quirky TikTok videos about news, history, and politics have earned him more than 150,000 followers.

In the video in question, recorded in October 2021, he decided it was time for a confession.

“I am a climate doomer,” he said. “Since about 2019, I have believed that there’s little to nothing that we can do to actually reverse climate change on a global scale.”

Climate doomism is the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming – and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.

That’s wrong, scientists say, but the argument is picking up steam online.

Still from one of Charles McBryde's videos on TikTok
Image caption, “I am a climate doomer,” Charles McBryde told his TikTok followers last October
‘Give me hope’

Charles admitted to feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed about global warming, but he followed up with a plea.

“I’m calling on the activists and the scientists of TikTok to give me hope,” he said. “Convince me that there’s something out there that’s worth fighting for, that in the end we can achieve victory over this, even if it’s only temporary.”

And it wasn’t long before someone answered.

Facing up to the ‘doomers’

Alaina Wood is a sustainability scientist based in Tennessee. On TikTok she’s known as thegarbagequeen.

After watching Charles’ video, she posted a reply, explaining in simple terms why he was wrong.

Alaina makes a habit of challenging climate doomism – a mission she has embraced with a sense of urgency.

“People are giving up on activism because they’re like, ‘I can’t handle it any more… This is too much…’ and ‘If it really is too late, why am I even trying?'” she says. “Doomism ultimately leads to climate inaction, which is the opposite of what we want.”

Sustainability scientist and TikToker Alaina Wood
Image caption, Sustainability scientist and TikToker Alaina Wood is on a mission to reassure people it is not too late for the climate
Why it’s not too late

Climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who has been working with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says: “I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend that climate change will lead to humanity’s extinction.”

In its most recent report, the IPCC laid out a detailed plan that it believes could help the world avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.

It involves “rapid, deep and immediate” cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases – which trap the sun’s heat and make the planet hotter.

“There is no denying that there are large changes across the globe, and that some of them are irreversible,” says Dr Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment.

“It doesn’t mean the world is going to end – but we have to adapt, and we have to stop emitting.”

People carry a sign as they attend a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow.
Fertile ground

Last year, the Pew Research Center in the US ran a poll covering 17 countries, focusing on attitudes towards climate change.

An overwhelming majority of the respondents said they were willing to change the way they lived to tackle the problem.

But when asked how confident they were that climate action would significantly reduce the effects of global warming, more than half said they had little to no confidence.

Doomism taps into, and exaggerates, that sense of hopelessness. In Charles’s case, it all began with a community on Reddit devoted to the potential collapse of civilisation.

“The most apocalyptic language that I would find was actually coming from former climate scientists,” Charles says.

It’s impossible to know whether the people posting the messages Charles read were genuine scientists.

But the posts had a profound effect on him. He admits: “I do think I fell down the rabbit hole.”

Alaina Wood, the sustainability scientist, says Charles’s story is not unusual.

“I rarely at this point encounter climate denial or any other form of misinformation [on social media],” she says. “It’s not people saying, ‘Fossil fuels don’t cause climate change’ … It’s people saying, ‘It’s too late’.”

TikTok’s rules forbid misinformation that causes harm. We sent the company some videos that Alaina has debunked in the past. None was found to have violated the rules.

TikTok says it works with accredited fact-checkers to “limit the spread of false or misleading climate information”.

Young and pessimistic

Although it can take many forms (and is thus difficult to accurately measure), Alaina says doomism is particularly popular among young people.

“There’s people who are climate activists and they’re so scared. They want to make change, but they feel they need to spread fear-based content to do so,” she says.

“Then there are people who know that fear in general goes viral, and they’re just following trends, even if they don’t necessarily understand the science.”

I’ve watched several of the videos that she debunked. Invariably, they feature young users voicing despair about the future.

“Let me tell you why I don’t know what I want to do with my life and why I’m not planning,” says one young woman. “By the year 2050, most of us should be underwater from global warming.” But that’s a gross exaggeration of what climate scientists are actually telling us.

“A lot of that is often fatalistic humour, but people on TikTok are interpreting that as fact,” Alaina says.

But is Charles still among them, after watching Alaina’s debunks? Is he still a climate doomer?

“I would say no,” he tells me. “I have convinced myself that we can get out of this.”

You’ve heard of water droughts. Could ‘energy’ droughts be next? (Science Daily)

Date: April 12, 2022

Source: Columbia University

Summary: Drawing on 70 years of historic wind and solar-power data, researchers built an AI model to predict the probability of a network-scale ‘drought,’ when daily production of renewables fell below a target threshold. Under a threshold set at the 30th percentile, when roughly a third of all days are low-production days, the researchers found that Texas could face a daily energy drought for up to four months straight. Batteries would be unable to compensate for a drought of this length, and if the system relied on solar energy alone, the drought could be expected to last twice as long — for eight months.


Renewable energy prices have fallen by more than 70 percent in the last decade, driving more Americans to abandon fossil fuels for greener, less-polluting energy sources. But as wind and solar power continue to make inroads, grid operators may have to plan for large swings in availability.

The warning comes from Upmanu Lall, a professor at Columbia Engineering and the Columbia Climate School who has recently turned his sights from sustainable water use to sustainable renewables in the push toward net-zero carbon emissions.

“Designers of renewable energy systems will need to pay attention to changing wind and solar patterns over weeks, months, and years, the way water managers do,” he said. “You won’t be able to manage variability like this with batteries. You’ll need more capacity.”

In a new modeling study in the journal Patterns, Lall and Columbia PhD student Yash Amonkar, show that solar and wind potential vary widely over days and weeks, not to mention months to years. They focused on Texas, which leads the country in generating electricity from wind power and is the fifth-largest solar producer. Texas also boasts a self-contained grid that’s as big as many countries’, said Lall, making it an ideal laboratory for charting the promise and peril of renewable energy systems.

Drawing on 70 years of historic wind and solar-power data, the researchers built an AI model to predict the probability of a network-scale “drought,” when daily production of renewables fell below a target threshold. Under a threshold set at the 30th percentile, when roughly a third of all days are low-production days, the researchers found that Texas could face a daily energy drought for up to four months straight.

Batteries would be unable to compensate for a drought of this length, said Lall, and if the system relied on solar energy alone, the drought could be expected to last twice as long — for eight months. “These findings suggest that energy planners will have to consider alternate ways of storing or generating electricity, or dramatically increasing the capacity of their renewable systems,” he said.

Anticipating Future ‘Energy’ Droughts — in Texas, and Across the Continental United States

The research began six years ago, when Lall and a former graduate student, David Farnham, examined wind and solar variability at eight U.S. airports, where weather records tend to be longer and more detailed. They wanted to see how much variation could be expected under a hypothetical 100% renewable-energy grid.

The results, which Farnham published in his PhD thesis, weren’t a surprise. Farnham and Lall found that solar and wind potential, like rainfall, is highly variable based on the time of year and the place where wind turbines and solar panels have been sited. Across eight cities, they found that renewable energy potential rose and fell from the long-term average by as much as a third in some seasons.

“We coined the term ‘energy’ droughts since a 10-year cycle with this much variation from the long-term average would be seen as a major drought,” said Lall. “That was the beginning of the energy drought work.”

In the current study, Lall chose to zoom in on Texas, a state well-endowed with both sun and wind. Lall and Amonkar found that persistent renewable energy droughts could last as long as a year even if solar and wind generators were spread across the entire state. The conclusion, Lall said, is that renewables face a storage problem that can only realistically be solved by adding additional capacity or sources of energy.

“In a fully renewable world, we would need to develop nuclear fuel or hydrogen fuel, or carbon recycling, or add much more capacity for generating renewables, if we want to avoid burning fossil fuels,” he said.

In times of low rainfall, water managers keep fresh water flowing through the spigot by tapping municipal reservoirs or underground aquifers. Solar and wind energy systems have no equivalent backup. The batteries used to store excess solar and wind power on exceptionally bright and gusty days hold a charge for only a few hours, and at most, a few days. Hydropower plants provide a potential buffer, said Lall, but not for long enough to carry the system through an extended dry spell of intermittent sun and wind.

“We won’t solve the problem by building a larger network,” he said. “Electric grid operators have a target of 99.99% reliability while water managers strive for 90 percent reliability. You can see what a challenging game this will be for the energy industry, and just how valuable seasonal and longer forecasts could be.”

In the next phase of research, Lall will work with Columbia Engineering professors Vijay Modi and Bolun Xu to see if they can predict both energy droughts and “floods,” when the system generates a surplus of renewables. Armed with these projections, they hope to predict the rise and fall of energy prices.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yash Amonkar, David J. Farnham, Upmanu Lall. A k-nearest neighbor space-time simulator with applications to large-scale wind and solar power modeling. Patterns, 2022; 3 (3): 100454 DOI: 10.1016/j.patter.2022.100454

Brasil oficializa ‘pedalada climática’ em nova meta de redução de gases (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

Phillippe Watanabe

7 de abril de 2022


Uma atualização das metas de redução de gases estufa foi registrada pelo Brasil, nesta quinta-feira (7), na UNFCCC (sigla em inglês para Convenção-Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudança do Clima), formalizando, dessa forma, uma “pedalada climática“.

As novas metas aparecem mais de cinco meses depois da COP26, a Conferência das Nações Unidas para Mudanças Climáticas, e, mesmo assim, ainda não formalizam todas promessas feitas durante o evento à comunidade internacional.

Entre os objetivos atualizados está a neutralidade de carbono até 2050, a redução, em 2025, de 37% dos gase estufa, em comparação com as emissões de 2005, e a diminuição, em 2030, de 50% dos gases, também em comparação com 2005.

As emissões brasileiras são resultado, principalmente, de desmatamento e atividade pecuária.

As promessas, feitas durante a COP, de zerar o desmatamento até 2030 e de redução na emissão de metano não constam no documento, ausência apontada por entidades como o Política por Inteiro e o Observatório do Clima.

Os cortes de emissões de gases para 2030 e a neutralidade de carbono em 2050 tinham sido anunciados pelo ministro do Meio Ambiente, Joaquim Leite, em 1º de novembro do ano passado.

As organizações também criticam a “pedalada climática” das metas apresentadas.

A pedalada ocorre pela mudança no dado das emissões de 2005, que foi atualizado nos mais recentes inventários nacionais de gases estufa, ou seja, ocorreu uma mudança na base de comparação.

A primeira NDC brasileira (sigla para contribuição nacional determinada e que pode ser, de modo mais simples, traduzida como meta climática) é de 2015, ano do Acordo de Paris. Nela, o Brasil se compromete a até 2030 reduzir em 43%, em relação a 2005, as emissões de gases estufa. Nesse cenário e com os dados disponíveis naquele momento, o país emitiria, em 2030, cerca de 1,208 gigatoneladas de gás carbônico equivalente (em linhas gerais, uma soma dos gases que causam o aquecimento global).

Com a evolução nas metodologias para medir os gases, os dados de 2005 sofreram correções e aumentaram. A meta brasileira, porém, não foi alinhada a essa correção e permaneceu em 43% de redução. Como os dados de base (2005) são menores, a redução de 43% passou a significar emissões maiores em 2030 (cerca de 1,620 gigatoneladas), em comparação ao prometido inicialmente. Surgiu, assim a pedalada climática.

Aumentando-se mais o percentual de corte de emissões, a situação poderia ser corrigida com a nota meta nacional submetida ao UNFCCC. Mas isso não aconteceu. Considerando o documento que foi submetido com 50% de redução de emissões, o Brasil em 2030 estará emitindo 1,281 gigatoneladas de CO2e (leia gás carbônico equivalente), segundo análises do Observatório do Clima e do Política por Inteiro.

O alerta sobre a manutenção da pedalada já tinha sido soado no momento em que Leite anunciou a nova meta, na COP26. No dia anterior à promessa, o Brasil havia, inclusive, submetido uma carta-adendo à UNFCCC em que oficializava somente a meta de neutralidade climática até 2050, sem citações aos objetivos desta década.

Organizações apontam que as novas metas nacionais não aumentam a ambição climática, algo que era esperado das nações que assinaram o Acordo de Paris.

“O teto de emissões estipulado para 2030 está uma Colômbia inteira (em termos de emissões anuais) acima daquele estipulado anteriormente pelo Governo do Brasil”, afirma uma análise produzida pelo Política por Inteiro. Já o teto de 2025 está uma Polônia inteira acima do estipulado anteriormente aponta o documento.

O Política por Inteiro ainda aponta que o país deve resolver em definitivo a questão de atualização de metas. “As sucessivas demonstrações de retrocesso afetam diretamente a credibilidade do país na esfera internacional”, diz a análise.

O Observatório do Clima aponta que o país está descumprindo o Acordo de Paris e que mente no documento enviado ao UNFCCC ao afirmar que está aumentando sua ambição.

“Continua sendo um retrocesso, num momento em que as Nações Unidas fazem um chamado para os países aumentarem suas ambições. O Brasil não responde ao chamado e ainda continua retrocedendo”, diz, em nota, Marcio Astrini, secretário-executivo do Observatório do Clima.

Editorial: Misinformation is blocking climate action, and the U.N. is finally calling it out (Los Angeles Times)

latimes.com

By The Times Editorial Board March 7, 2022 3 AM PT


A landmark U.N. climate report on the escalating effects of global warming broke new ground by finally highlighting the role of misinformation in obstructing climate action. It was the first time one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s exhaustive assessments has called out the ways in which fossil fuel companies, climate deniers and conspiracy theorists have sown doubt and confusion about climate change and made it harder for policymakers to act.

The expert panel’s report released last week mostly focused on the increasing risk of catastrophe to nature and humanity from climate change. But it also laid out clear evidence of how misinformation about climate change and the “deliberate undermining of science” financed and organized by “vested economic and political interests,” along with deep partisanship and polarization, are delaying action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to their impacts.

The assessment describes an atmosphere in which public perception about climate change is continually undermined by fossil fuel interests’ peddling of false, misleading and contrarian information and its circulation through social media echo chambers; where there’s an entrenched partisan divide on climate science and solutions; and people reject factual information if it conflicts with their political ideology.

Sound familiar? It should, because the climate misinformation landscape is worse in the United States than practically any other country.

While the section on misinformation covers only a few of the more than 3,600 pages in the report approved by 195 countries, it’s notable that it’s in a chapter about North America and calls out the U.S. as a hotbed for conspiracy theories, partisanship and polarization. A 2018 study of 25 countries that was cited in the IPCC report found that the U.S. had a stronger link between climate skepticism and conspiratorial and conservative ideology than in any other nation tested. These forces aren’t just a threat to democracy, they are major roadblocks to climate action and seem to have sharpened with the Trump presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Misinformation was included in the North America chapter for the first time this year “because there has been a lot of research conducted on the topic since the last major IPCC report was published in 2014,” said Sherilee Harper, one of the lead authors and an associate professor at the University of Alberta in Canada. “Evidence assessed in the report shows how strong party affiliation and partisan opinion polarization can contribute to delayed climate action, most notably in the U.S.A., but also in Canada.”

The IPCC’s language is measured but leaves no doubt that the fossil fuel industry and politicians who advance its agenda are responsible. It is shameful that fossil fuel interests have been so successful in misleading Americans about the greatest threat to our existence. The industry has engaged in a decades-long campaign to question climate science and delay action, enlisting conservative think tanks and public relations firms to help sow doubt about global warming and the actions needed to fight it.

These dynamics help explain why U.S. politicians have failed time after time to enact significant federal climate legislation, including President Biden’s stalled but desperately needed “Build Back Better” bill that includes $555 billion to spur growth in renewable energy and clean transportation. And they show that combating disinformation is a necessity if we are to break through lawmakers’ refusal to act, which is increasingly out of step with Americans’ surging levels of alarm and concern about the overheating of the planet.

“We’ve seen misinformation poisoning the information landscape for over three decades, and over that time the public has been getting more and more polarized,” said John Cook, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia. “The U.S. is the strongest source of misinformation and recipient of misinformation. It’s also the most polarized on climate.”

Cook and his colleagues studied misinformation on conservative think-tank websites and contrarian blogs over the last 20 years and charted the evolution of the climate opposition from outright denial of the reality of human-caused climate change and toward attacking solutions such as renewable energy or seeking to discredit scientists.

Cook said his research has found the most effective way to counter climate obstruction misinformation is to educate people about how to identify and understand different tactics, such as the use of fake experts, cherry-picked facts, logical fallacies and conspiracy theories. For example, seeing words such as “natural” or “renewable” in fossil fuel advertising raises red flags that you’re being misled through greenwashing.

“It’s like teaching people the magician’s sleight-of-hand trick,” Cook said.

There have been important efforts recently to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for disinformation. In a hearing that was modeled on tobacco industry testimony from a generation ago, House Democrats hauled in oil executives last fall to answer to allegations that their companies have concealed their knowledge of the risks of global warming to obstruct climate action (they, unsurprisingly, denied them).

Perhaps we are getting closer to a turning point, where public realization that we’ve been misinformed by polluting industries begins to overcome decades of planet-endangering deceit and delay. Having the world’s scientists finally begin to call out the problem certainly can’t hurt.

How a little-discussed revision of climate science could help avert doom (Washington Post)

washingtonpost.com

Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq, Michael E. Mann

Feb. 23, 2022

We can reduce global temperatures faster than we once thought — if we act now

One of the biggest obstacles to avoiding global climate breakdown is that so many people think there’s nothing we can do about it.

They point out that record-breaking heat waves, fires and storms are already devastating communities and economies throughout the world. And they’ve long been told that temperatures will keep rising for decades to come, no matter how many solar panels replace oil derricks or how many meat-eaters go vegetarian. No wonder they think we’re doomed.

But climate science actually doesn’t say this. To the contrary, the best climate science you’ve probably never heard of suggests that humanity can still limit the damage to a fraction of the worst projections if — and, we admit, this is a big if — governments, businesses and all of us take strong action starting now.

For many years, the scientific rule of thumb was that a sizable amount of temperature rise was locked into the Earth’s climate system. Scientists believed — and told policymakers and journalists, who in turn told the public — that even if humanity hypothetically halted all heat-trapping emissions overnight, carbon dioxide’s long lifetime in the atmosphere, combined with the sluggish thermal properties of the oceans, would nevertheless keep global temperatures rising for 30 to 40 more years. Since shifting to a zero-carbon global economy would take at least a decade or two, temperatures were bound to keep rising for at least another half-century.

But guided by subsequent research, scientists dramatically revised that lag time estimate down to as little as three to five years. That is an enormous difference that carries paradigm-shifting and broadly hopeful implications for how people, especially young people, think and feel about the climate emergency and how societies can respond to it.

This revised science means that if humanity slashes emissions to zero, global temperatures will stop rising almost immediately. To be clear, this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Global temperatures will not fall if emissions go to zero, so the planet’s ice will keep melting and sea levels will keep rising. But global temperatures will stop their relentless climb, buying humanity time to devise ways to deal with such unavoidable impacts. In short, we are not irrevocably doomed — or at least we don’t have to be, if we take bold, rapid action.

The science we’re referencing was included — but buried — in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, issued in August. Indeed, it was first featured in the IPCC’s landmark 2018 report, “Global warming of 1.5 C.”That report’s key finding — that global emissions must fall by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate disruption — generated headlines declaring that we had “12 years to save the planet.” That 12-year timeline, and the related concept of a “carbon budget” — the amount of carbon that can be burned while still limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — were both rooted in this revised science. Meanwhile, the public and policy worlds have largely neglected the revised science that enabled these very estimates.

Nonscientists can reasonably ask: What made scientists change their minds? Why should we believe their new estimate of a three-to-five-year lag time if their previous estimate of 30 to 40 years is now known to be incorrect? And does this mean the world still must cut emissions in half by 2030 to avoid climate catastrophe?

The short answer to the last question is yes. Remember, temperatures only stop rising once global emissions fall to zero. Currently, emissions are not falling. Instead, humanity continues to pump approximately 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere. The longer it takes to cut those 36 billion tons to zero, the more temperature rise humanity eventually will face. And as the IPCC’s 2018 report made hauntingly clear, pushing temperatures above 1.5 degrees C would cause unspeakable amounts of human suffering, economic loss and social breakdown — and perhaps trigger genuinely irreversible impacts.

Scientists changed their minds about how much warming is locked in because additional research gave them a much better understanding of how the climate system works. Their initial 30-to-40-year estimates were based on relatively simple computer models that treated the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a “control knob” that determines temperature levels. The long lag in the warming impact is due to the oceans, which continue to warm long after the control knob is turned up. More recent climate models account for the more dynamic nature of carbon emissions. Yes, CO2 pushes temperatures higher, but carbon “sinks,” including forests and in particular the oceans, absorb almost half of the CO2 that is emitted, causing atmospheric CO2 levels to drop, offsetting the delayed warming effect.

Knowing that 30 more years of rising temperatures are not necessarily locked in can be a game-changer for how people, governments and businesses respond to the climate crisis. Understanding that we can still save our civilization if we take strong, fast action can banish the psychological despair that paralyzes people and instead motivate them to get involved. Lifestyle changes can help, but that involvement must also include political engagement. Slashing emissions in half by 2030 demands the fastest possible transition away from today’s fossil-fueled economies in favor of wind, solar and other non-carbon alternatives. That can happen only if governments enact dramatically different policies. If citizens understand that things aren’t hopeless, they can better push elected officials to make such changes.

As important as minimizing temperature rise is to the United States, where last year’s record wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest illustrated just how deadly climate change can be, it matters most in the highly climate-vulnerable communities throughout the global South. Countless people in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Madagascar, Africa’s Sahel nations, Brazil, Honduras and other low-income countries have already been suffering from climate disasters for decades because their communities tend to be more exposed to climate impacts and have less financial capacity to protect themselves. For millions of people in such countries, limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C is not a scientific abstraction.

The IPCC’s next report, due for release Feb. 28, will address how societies can adapt to the temperature rise now underway and the fires, storms and rising seas it unleashes. If we want a livable future for today’s young people, temperature rise must be kept as close as possible to 1.5 C. The best climate science most people have never heard of says that goal remains within reach. The question is whether enough of us will act on that knowledge in time.

US could see a century’s worth of sea rise in just 30 years (AP)

apnews.com

By SETH BORENSTEIN

Feb. 15, 2022


A woman walks along a flooded street caused by a king tide, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Miami Beach, Fla. Low-lying neighborhoods in South Florida are vulnerable to the seasonal flooding caused by king tides. While higher seas cause much more damage when storms such as hurricanes hit the coast, they are getting to the point where it doesn’t have to storm to be a problem. High tides get larger and water flows further inland and deeper even on sunny days. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

America’s coastline will see sea levels rise in the next 30 years by as much as they did in the entire 20th century, with major Eastern cities hit regularly with costly floods even on sunny days, a government report warns.

By 2050, seas lapping against the U.S. shore will be 10 to 12 inches (0.25 to 0.3 meters) higher, with parts of Louisiana and Texas projected to see waters a foot and a half (0.45 meters) higher, according to a 111-page report issued Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and six other federal agencies.

“Make no mistake: Sea level rise is upon us,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

The projected increase is especially alarming given that in the 20th century, seas along the Atlantic coast rose at the fastest clip in 2,000 years.

LeBoeuf warned that the cost will be high, pointing out that much of the American economy and 40% of the population are along the coast.

However, the worst of the long-term sea level rise from the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland probably won’t kick in until after 2100, said ocean service oceanographer William Sweet, the report’s lead author.

Warmer water expands, and the melting ice sheets and glaciers adds more water to the worlds oceans.

The report “is the equivalent of NOAA sending a red flag up” about accelerating the rise in sea levels, said University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscientist Andrea Dutton, a specialist in sea level rise who wasn’t part of the federal report. The coastal flooding the U.S. is seeing now “will get taken to a whole new level in just a couple of decades.”

“We can see this freight train coming from more than a mile away,” Dutton said in an email. “The question is whether we continue to let houses slide into the ocean.”

Sea level rises more in some places than others because of sinking land, currents and water from ice melt. The U.S. will get slightly more sea level rise than the global average. And the greatest rise in the U.S. will be on the Gulf and East Coasts, while the West Coast and Hawaii will be hit less than average, Sweet said.

For example, between now and 2060, expect almost 25 inches (0.63 meters) of sea level rise in Galveston, Texas, and just under 2 feet (0.6 meters) in St. Petersburg, Florida, while only 9 inches (0.23 inches) in Seattle and 14 inches (0.36 meters) in Los Angeles, the report said.

While higher seas cause much more damage when storms such as hurricanes hit the coast, they are becoming a problem even on sunny days.

Cities such as Miami Beach, Florida; Annapolis, Maryland; and Norfolk, Virginia, already get a few minor “nuisance” floods a year during high tides, but those will be replaced by several “moderate” floods a year by mid-century, ones that cause property damage, the researchers said.

“It’s going to be areas that haven’t been flooding that are starting to flood,” Sweet said in an interview. “Many of our major metropolitan areas on the East Coast are going to be increasingly at risk.”

The western Gulf of Mexico coast, should get hit the most with the highest sea level rise — 16 to 18 inches (0.4 to 0.45 meters) — by 2050, the report said. And that means more than 10 moderate property-damaging sunny-day floods and one “major” high tide flood event a year.

The eastern Gulf of Mexico should expect 14 to 16 inches (0.35 to 0.4 meters) of sea level rise by 2050 and three moderate sunny-day floods a year. By mid-century, the Southeast coast should get a foot to 14 inches (0.3 to 0.35 meters) of sea level rise and four sunny-day moderate floods a year, while the Northeast coast should get 10 inches to a foot (0.25 to 0.3 meters) of sea level rise and six moderate sunny-day floods a year.

Both the Hawaiian Islands and Southwestern coast should expect 6 to 8 inches (0.15 to 0.2 meters) of sea level rise by mid-century, with the Northwest coast seeing only 4 to 6 inches (0.1 to 0.15 meters). The Pacific coastline will get more than 10 minor nuisance sunny-day floods a year but only about one moderate one a year, with Hawaii getting even less than that.

And that’s just until 2050. The report is projecting an average of about 2 feet of sea level rise in the United States — more in the East, less in the West — by the end of the century.

Worst mega-drought since the Dark Ages hits the West (Independent)

independent.co.uk

Louise Boyle

Senior Climate Correspondent, New York

Feb. 15, 2022

A mega-drought is defined as one which lasts for 20 years or more

The current mega-drought gripping the US Southwest is the region’s driest period in 1,200 years, a new study has found.

The mega-drought – defined as one which lasts for 20 years or more – is the most severe since at least the year 800AD, due to soaring heat and low rainfall from summer 2020 until summer 2021.

According to the new study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, the current mega-drought has exceeded one which occurred in the late 1500s.

The drought intensity was calculated using tree ring patterns, which provide insights about soil moisture levels each year over long timespans. The findings were checked against historical climate data for the area from southern Montana to northern Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.

Since the start of the 21st century, the average soil moisture deficit was twice as severe as any drought of the 1900s, the researchers found, and greater than it was during even the driest parts of the most severe mega-droughts of the past 12 centuries.

Geographer Park Williams, the study’s lead author at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), said that it could take several years with high precipitation to overcome the mega-drought.

“It’s extremely unlikely that this drought can be ended in one wet year,” he said in a statement.

Mega-droughts occurred repeatedly from 800 to 1600, the researchers discovered, which led them to believe that swings between dry and wet periods were taking place in the Southwest region prior to the climate crisis.

Existing climate models have shown that the current drought would have been dry even without global heating but not to the same extent.

The climate crisis, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for about 42 per cent of the soil moisture deficit since 2000.

The rise in global temperatures, being driven by heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, increases evaporation which dries out soil and vegetation and leads to more severe droughts.

The average annual temperature of the Southwest increased 1.6F (0.9C) between 1901 and 2016, according to the latest US National Climate Assessment.

Currently 95 per cent of the West is in drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. In September 2021, Lake Powell and Lake Mead – two of the largest reservoirs in the US and both on the Colorado River – were at a combined 39 per cent capacity, down from 49 per cent the previous year. It is the lowest recorded levels since tracking began in 1906.

This summer, officials declared the first-ever shortage on the Colorado River which supplies water to 40 million people and sustain 4.5 million acres of agriculture.

In December, the states of Arizona, Nevada and California agreed to voluntarily reduce the amount of water being used from the Colorado River to prevent mandatory cutbacks in the coming years.

UCLA Professor Williams said that water conservation efforts that extend beyond times of drought will be needed to help ensure people have the water they need as drought conditions intensify due to the climate crisis.

Eradicating ‘extreme poverty’ would raise global emissions by less than 1% (Carbon Brief)

carbonbrief.org

14 February 2022 16:00


Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of “extreme poverty” – where they live on less than US$1.90 per day – would drive a global increase in emissions of less than 1%, according to new research.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, highlights the global inequality in emissions between people in rich and poor countries. For example, it finds that the average carbon footprint of a person living in sub-Saharan Africa is 0.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2). Meanwhile, the average US citizen produces 14.5tCO2 per year.

The authors find that the average carbon footprint in the top 1% of emitters was more than 75-times higher than that in the bottom 50%.

“The inequality is just insane,” the lead author of the study tells Carbon Brief. “If we want to reduce our carbon emissions, we really need to do something about the consumption patterns of the super-rich.”

A scientist not involved in the research says that “we often hear that actions taken in Europe or the US are meaningless when compared to the industrial emissions of China, or the effects of rapid population growth in Africa. This paper exposes these claims as wilfully ignorant, at best”.

Emissions inequality

Humans release tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. However, the distribution of these emissions is unequal – as they are disproportionately produced by people in wealthier countries who typically live more carbon-intensive lifestyles.

The new study uses what it calls “outstandingly detailed” global expenditure data from the World Bank Consumption Dataset from 2014 to assess the carbon footprints of people in different countries, and with different consumption levels.

Dr Klaus Hubacek is a professor of science, technology and society at the University of Groningen and an author on the study. He tells Carbon Brief what is included in consumption figures:

“Driving the model with the consumption patterns calculates the carbon emissions not only directly through expenditure for heating and cooling, but the embodied carbon emissions in the products they buy. So it’s taking account of the entire global supply chains to calculate those carbon emissions.”

Dr Yuli Shan – a faculty research fellow in climate change economics at the University of Groningen – is also an author on the study. He explains that using consumption data ensures that carbon emissions are linked to the countries that use goods and services, rather than the countries that produce them. This is important, because “poor countries emit large quantities of CO2 due to the behaviour of people in developed countries”, he adds.

The map below shows the average carbon footprints of residents of the 116 countries included in the study. The shading indicates the size of the carbon footprint, for low (blue) to high (red). Note the exponential scale on the colour bar.

National average carbon footprints for 116 countries, from low (blue) to high (red). Note the exponential scale on the colour bar. Source: Bruckner et al (2022).

The authors find that Luxembourg has the highest average national per capita carbon footprint in the study, at 30tCO2 per person, followed by the US with 14.5tCO2. It is worth noting that a number of countries with high per-capita emissions are not included in the study, such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, as these are not included in the dataset.

In contrast, Madagascar, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda all have average carbon footprints of less than 0.2tCO2.

Dr Shoibal Chakravarty is a visiting professor at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change and was also not involved in the research. He tells Carbon Brief that the study “significantly improves on previous attempts” to measure per-capita emissions, and is “more rigorous that past efforts”.

The rich and the ‘super-rich’

Within each country, the authors also split the population into groups based on how much they spend, on average. Benedikt Bruckner – the lead author on the study, also from the University of Groningen  – tells Carbon Brief that while previous studies typically used four or five groups, this study uses more than 200.

The high number of “expenditure bins” allows for “more precise, more detailed [and] more accurate” analysis, Hubacek says.

When including bins, the spread of carbon footprints ranges from less than 0.01 tCO2 for more than a million people in sub-Saharan countries to hundreds of tonnes of CO2 for about 500,000 individuals at the top of the “global expenditure spectrum”, the authors find.

The authors then split the global population into the top 1%, next 9%, next 40% and bottom 50% of emitters. Their share of global emissions (left) and average carbon footprint (right) are shown in red, yellow, light blue and dark blue below, respectively.

The global share of carbon emissions (left) and average carbon footprints (right) of the top 1%, next 9%, next 40% and bottom 50% of emitters. Chart by Carbon Brief, using Highcharts. Credit: Bruckner et al (2022).

The study finds that the average carbon footprint in the top 1% of emitters is more than 75-times higher than that in the bottom 50%. 

This gap is “astonishing”, Dr Wiliam Lamb – a researcher at the Mercator Research Institute who was not involved in the study – tells Carbon Brief. He adds that responsibility for global emissions lies with the “super-rich”:

“In the public conversation on climate change, we often hear that actions taken in Europe or the US are meaningless when compared to the industrial emissions of China, or the effects of rapid population growth in Africa. This paper exposes these claims as wilfully ignorant, at best. By far the worst polluters are the super-rich, most of whom live in high income countries.”

Lamb notes that the expenditure of the “super-rich” may be even higher than suggested by this analysis, because “their earnings may be derived from investments, while their expenditures can be shrouded in secrecy.”

Dr Bruckner also highlights this underestimation, noting that while the highest carbon footprints in this study go up to hundreds of tonnes of CO2 per year, past studies into the super-rich have produced carbon footprint estimates of more than 1,000 tonnes per year. “The inequality is just insane,” he tells Carbon Brief. He adds:

“If we want to reduce our carbon emissions, we really need to do something about the consumption patterns of the super-rich.”

Eradicating poverty

In 2015, the United Nations set a series of Sustainable Development Goals – the first of which is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. The goal focuses on eradicating “extreme poverty” – defined as living on less than US$1.90 per day – as well as halving poverty as defined by national poverty lines.

The map below shows the proportion of people in the 119 countries mapped are living in extreme poverty, from a low level (blue) to high (red). 

National population shares living below the extreme poverty line. Source: Bruckner et al (2022).

More than a billion people were living below the extreme poverty line of US$1.90 per day in 2014, according to the study. The authors find that “extreme poverty” is mostly concentrated in Africa and south Asia – where per capita CO2 emissions are generally the lowest.

“Carbon inequality is a mirror to extreme income and wealth inequality experienced at a national and global level today,” the study says.

To investigate how poverty alleviation would impact global carbon emissions, the authors devised a range of possible “poverty alleviation and eradication scenarios”.

These scenarios assume no changes in population or energy balance. Instead, they shift people living in poverty into an expenditure group above the poverty line – and assume that their consumption patterns and carbon footprints change accordingly given present-day consumption habits in their country.

The authors find that eradicating “extreme poverty” – by raising everyone above the US$1.90 per day threshold – would drive up global carbon emissions by less than 1%.

Countries in Africa and south Asia would see the greatest increase in emissions, the authors find. For example, they find that emissions in low and lower-middle income countries in sub-Saharan Africa – such as Madagascar – would double if everyone were lifted out of extreme poverty.

Meanwhile, the study finds that lifting 3.6 billion people over the poverty line of US$5.50 per day would drive an 18% increase in global emissions.

The study shows that “eradicating extreme poverty is not a concern for climate mitigation”, says Dr Narasimha Rao – an associate professor of energy systems at the Yale School of Environment, who was not involved in the study.

Warming targets

To meet the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement – of limiting global warming to 1.5C or “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels – humanity has a limited “carbon budget” left to emit. 

The study investigates how the average carbon footprints of different countries line up with the Paris warming targets.

The graphic below shows average carbon footprints in a range of countries and regions, including the US, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) and sub-Saharan Africa. The colour of each column indicates the region’s average expenditure per person, measured using “purchasing power parity” to account for the different costs of living between different countries.

Regional average carbon footprints for countries and regions. The dotted lines indicate the carbon footprints needed to adhere to the temperature goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Source: Bruckner et al (2022).

The dotted lines show the target per-capita footprint that the world would need to adopt to limit warming to 2C (top line) and 1.5C (bottom line).

The authors find that according to existing literature, humanity needs to reach an average carbon footprint of 1.6-2.8tCO2 in the coming decade to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C above preindustrial levels.

In this chart, the US exceeds this amount the most dramatically. Meanwhile, individuals in sub-Saharan Africa are well below the global target range – emitting only 0.6tCO2 per year on average.

“From a climate justice perspective, the clear focus of climate policy should be on high emitters,” Lamb tells Carbon Brief. He adds:

“We have a moral imperative to reduce emissions as fast as possible in order to avoid climate impacts where they will land the worst – in the Global South – as well as to ease the burden of the transition on vulnerable populations.”

Dr Shonali Pachauri is a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and was not involved in the study. She tells Carbon Brief that this analysis “shin[es] a light on the level of inequality in carbon emissions evident across the world today”. She adds:

“[The analysis] is critical to setting equitable and just targets for climate mitigation, such that those who contribute the most to current emissions mitigate the most in alignment with the UNFCCC’s common but differentiated responsibility and polluter pays principle.”

Bruckner et al (2022), Impacts of poverty alleviation on national and global carbon emissions, Nature Sustainability, doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00842-z

Climate crisis blamed as winter drought devastates crops in Spain and Portugal (Independent)

independent.co.uk

In Spain, rainfall this winter stands at only a third of the average in recent years

Feb. 14, 2022

The abandoned village of Aceredo near the dam of Lindoso in Lobios, Galicia, Spain, on 13 February 2022
(EPA)

In north-western Spain, the sight of roofs emerging from the surface of the water in the Lindoso reservoir is not uncommon at the height of particularly dry summers, but since the lake was first created three decades ago, this winter is the first time the flooded village of Aceredo has been revealed in its entirety.

The decrepit old stone works of the village are an indication of the extent of the severe winter drought impacting Spain and Portugal, which is now devastating crops after more than two months with no rain.

While 10 per cent of Spain has officially been declared as being under “prolonged drought,” large areas outside this categorisation, particularly in the south, also face extreme shortages that could impact the irrigation of crops.

Overall around 50 per cent of all Spanish farms are believed to be at risk due to the record low rainfall which is impacting rain-fed crops including cereals, olives, nuts and vineyards, which could lose 6 per cent to 8 per cent of their production, Spanish farming organisations have warned.

While the government is planning to spend around €570m (£477m) to improve irrigation systems, the lack of rainfall has been blamed on the worsening climate crisis.

Over the last three months of 2021, Spain recorded just 35 per cent of the average rainfall it had during the same period from 1981 to 2010. But there has been almost no rain since then.

Meanwhile in Portugal, 45 per cent of the country is currently experiencing “severe” or “extreme” drought conditions, Portuguese national weather agency IPMA said, with the climate crisis bringing hotter, drier conditions that make agriculture increasingly difficult.

IPMA climatologist Vanda Pires, Portugal told AP the agency had recorded an increase in the frequency of droughts over the past 20 to 30 years, with lower rainfall and higher temperatures.

“It’s part of the context of climate change,” she said.

People walk among damaged buildings in the abandoned village of Aceredo, which was was flooded in 1992 as part of a hydro-electric power project but has emerged as a consequence of the ongoing drought (EPA)

Scientists estimate that Portugal will see a drop in average annual rainfall of 20 per cent to 40 per cent by the end of the century.

According to the Spain’s national weather agency AEMET, only in 2005 has there been a January with almost no rain in this century.

If there is not significant rain within the next two weeks, emergency subsidies for farmers will be needed, Spanish authorities told AP.

Rubén del Campo, a spokesman for the Spanish weather service, said the below-average rainfall over the last six months was likely to continue for several more weeks, with hopes that spring will bring much-needed rainfall.

Satellite images show Spain’s third-largest reservoir, at Almendra in the Castilla y León, at just a third of its capacity. According to the Spanish meteorology and climatology State Agency, 2022 has started as the second driest year of the 21st century (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery)

Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said last week the government would take emergency action if it did not rain in two weeks – likely to be financial support measures  for farmers to alleviate the loss of crops and revenues.

Additional reporting by AP.

6 Things You Need to Know About Climate Change Now (Columbia Magazine)

magazine.columbia.edu

With global warming no longer just a threat but a full-blown crisis, Columbia experts are on the frontlines, documenting the dangers and developing solutions.

By David J. Craig | Winter 2021-22

David Swanson / Reuters

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.”

A firefighter battles the Caldor Fire in Grizzly Flats, California in 2021
A firefighter battles the Caldor Fire in Grizzly Flats, California, last summer. (Fred Greaves / Reuters)
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.

Rescue workers helping a flood victim in China’s Henan Province in July 2021
Flooding killed at least three hundred people in China’s Henan Province in July. (Cai Yang / Xinhua via Getty Images)

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.”

Soybeans
Soybean yields in many parts of the world are expected to drop as temperatures rise. (Rory Doyle / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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.”

South Sudanese refugees gathering at a camp in Uganda
South Sudanese refugees gather at a camp in Uganda. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)
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.”

Man cooling off in a fire hydrant
Temperatures have become especially dangerous in inner cities as a result of the “urban heat island” effect. (Nina Westervelt / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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.”

Workers installing solar panels on the roof of a fish-processing plant in Zhoushan, China
Workers install solar panels on the roof of a fish-processing plant in Zhoushan, China. (Yao Feng / VCG via Getty Images)
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.” 

Climate Change Enters the Therapy Room (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Ellen Barry


Alina Black, a mother of two in Portland, Ore., sought a therapist who specialized in climate anxiety to address her mounting panics. “I feel like I have developed a phobia to my way of life,” she said.
Alina Black, a mother of two in Portland, Ore., sought a therapist who specialized in climate anxiety to address her mounting panics. “I feel like I have developed a phobia to my way of life,” she said. Credit: Mason Trinca for The New York Times
Ten years ago, psychologists proposed that a wide range of people would suffer anxiety and grief over climate. Skepticism about that idea is gone.

Published Feb. 6, 2022; Updated Feb. 7, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. — It would hit Alina Black in the snack aisle at Trader Joe’s, a wave of guilt and shame that made her skin crawl.

Something as simple as nuts. They came wrapped in plastic, often in layers of it, that she imagined leaving her house and traveling to a landfill, where it would remain through her lifetime and the lifetime of her children.

She longed, really longed, to make less of a mark on the earth. But she had also had a baby in diapers, and a full-time job, and a 5-year-old who wanted snacks. At the age of 37, these conflicting forces were slowly closing on her, like a set of jaws.

In the early-morning hours, after nursing the baby, she would slip down a rabbit hole, scrolling through news reports of droughts, fires, mass extinction. Then she would stare into the dark.

It was for this reason that, around six months ago, she searched “climate anxiety” and pulled up the name of Thomas J. Doherty, a Portland psychologist who specializes in climate.

A decade ago, Dr. Doherty and a colleague, Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology at the College of Wooster, published a paper proposing a new idea. They argued that climate change would have a powerful psychological impact — not just on the people bearing the brunt of it, but on people following it through news and research. At the time, the notion was seen as speculative.

That skepticism is fading. Eco-anxiety, a concept introduced by young activists, has entered a mainstream vocabulary. And professional organizations are hurrying to catch up, exploring approaches to treating anxiety that is both existential and, many would argue, rational.

Though there is little empirical data on effective treatments, the field is expanding swiftly. The Climate Psychology Alliance provides an online directory of climate-aware therapists; the Good Grief Network, a peer support network modeled on 12-step addiction programs, has spawned more than 50 groups; professional certification programs in climate psychology have begun to appear.

As for Dr. Doherty, so many people now come to him for this problem that he has built an entire practice around them: an 18-year-old student who sometimes experiences panic attacks so severe that she can’t get out of bed; a 69-year-old glacial geologist who is sometimes overwhelmed with sadness when he looks at his grandchildren; a man in his 50s who erupts in frustration over his friends’ consumption choices, unable to tolerate their chatter about vacations in Tuscany.

The field’s emergence has met resistance, for various reasons. Therapists have long been trained to keep their own views out of their practices. And many leaders in mental health maintain that anxiety over climate change is no different, clinically, from anxiety caused by other societal threats, like terrorism or school shootings. Some climate activists, meanwhile, are leery of viewing anxiety over climate as dysfunctional thinking — to be soothed or, worse, cured.

But Ms. Black was not interested in theoretical arguments; she needed help right away.

She was no Greta Thunberg type, but a busy, sleep-deprived working mom. Two years of wildfires and heat waves in Portland had stirred up something sleeping inside her, a compulsion to prepare for disaster. She found herself up at night, pricing out water purification systems. For her birthday, she asked for a generator.

She understands how privileged she is; she describes her anxiety as a “luxury problem.” But still: The plastic toys in the bathtub made her anxious. The disposable diapers made her anxious. She began to ask herself, what is the relationship between the diapers and the wildfires?

“I feel like I have developed a phobia to my way of life,” she said.

Thomas Doherty in Portland, Ore. He specializes in distress related to climate disaster, or ecopsychology, which was, as he put it,  a “woo-woo area” until recently.
Credit: Mason Trinca for The New York Times

Last fall, Ms. Black logged on for her first meeting with Dr. Doherty, who sat, on video, in front of a large, glossy photograph of evergreens.

At 56, he is one of the most visible authorities on climate in psychotherapy, and he hosts a podcast, “Climate Change and Happiness.” In his clinical practice, he reaches beyond standard treatments for anxiety, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to more obscure ones, like existential therapy, conceived to help people fight off despair, and ecotherapy, which explores the client’s relationship to the natural world.

He did not take the usual route to psychology; after graduating from Columbia University, he hitchhiked across the country to work on fishing boats in Alaska, then as a whitewater rafting guide — “the whole Jack London thing” — and as a Greenpeace fund-raiser. Entering graduate school in his 30s, he fell in naturally with the discipline of “ecopsychology.”

At the time, ecopsychology was, as he put it, a “woo-woo area,” with colleagues delving into shamanic rituals and Jungian deep ecology. Dr. Doherty had a more conventional focus, on the physiological effects of anxiety. But he had picked up on an idea that was, at that time, novel: that people could be affected by environmental decay even if they were not physically caught in a disaster.

Recent research has left little doubt that this is happening. A 10-country survey of 10,000 people aged 16 to 25 published last month in The Lancet found startling rates of pessimism. Forty-five percent of respondents said worry about climate negatively affected their daily life. Three-quarters said they believed “the future is frightening,” and 56 percent said “humanity is doomed.”

The blow to young people’s confidence appears to be more profound than with previous threats, such as nuclear war, Dr. Clayton said. “We’ve definitely faced big problems before, but climate change is described as an existential threat,” she said. “It undermines people’s sense of security in a basic way.”

Caitlin Ecklund, 37, a Portland therapist who finished graduate school in 2016, said that nothing in her training — in subjects like buried trauma, family systems, cultural competence and attachment theory — had prepared her to help the young women who began coming to her describing hopelessness and grief over climate. She looks back on those first interactions as “misses.”

“Climate stuff is really scary, so I went more toward soothing or normalizing,” said Ms. Ecklund, who is part of a group of therapists convened by Dr. Doherty to discuss approaches to climate. It has meant, she said, “deconstructing some of that formal old-school counseling that has implicitly made things people’s individual problems.”

Many of Dr. Doherty’s clients sought him out after finding it difficult to discuss climate with a previous therapist.

Caroline Wiese, 18, described her previous therapist as “a typical New Yorker who likes to follow politics and would read The New York Times, but also really didn’t know what a Keeling Curve was,” referring to the daily record of carbon dioxide concentration.

Ms. Wiese had little interest in “Freudian B.S.” She sought out Dr. Doherty for help with a concrete problem: The data she was reading was sending her into “multiday panic episodes” that interfered with her schoolwork.

In their sessions, she has worked to carefully manage what she reads, something she says she needs to sustain herself for a lifetime of work on climate. “Obviously, it would be nice to be happy,” she said, “but my goal is more to just be able to function.”

Frank Granshaw, 69, a retired professor of geology, wanted help hanging on to what he calls “realistic hope.”

He recalls a morning, years ago, when his granddaughter crawled into his lap and fell asleep, and he found himself overwhelmed with emotion, considering the changes that would occur in her lifetime. These feelings, he said, are simply easier to unpack with a psychologist who is well versed on climate. “I appreciate the fact that he is dealing with emotions that are tied into physical events,” he said.

As for Ms. Black, she had never quite accepted her previous therapist’s vague reassurances. Once she made an appointment with Dr. Doherty, she counted the days. She had a wild hope that he would say something that would simply cause the weight to lift.

That didn’t happen. Much of their first session was devoted to her doomscrolling, especially during the nighttime hours. It felt like a baby step.

“Do I need to read this 10th article about the climate summit?” she practiced asking herself. “Probably not.”

Several sessions came and went before something really happened.

Ms. Black remembers going into an appointment feeling distraught. She had been listening to radio coverage of the international climate summit in Glasgow last fall and heard a scientist interviewed. What she perceived in his voice was flat resignation.

That summer, Portland had been trapped under a high-pressure system known as a “heat dome,” sending temperatures to 116 degrees. Looking at her own children, terrible images flashed through her head, like a field of fire. She wondered aloud: Were they doomed?

Dr. Doherty listened quietly. Then he told her, choosing his words carefully, that the rate of climate change suggested by the data was not as swift as what she was envisioning.

“In the future, even with worst-case scenarios, there will be good days,” he told her, according to his notes. “Disasters will happen in certain places. But, around the world, there will be good days. Your children will also have good days.”

At this, Ms. Black began to cry.

She is a contained person — she tends to deflect frightening thoughts with dark humor — so this was unusual. She recalled the exchange later as a threshold moment, the point when the knot in her chest began to loosen.

“I really trust that when I hear information from him, it’s coming from a deep well of knowledge,” she said. “And that gives me a lot of peace.”

Dr. Doherty recalled the conversation as “cathartic in a basic way.” It was not unusual, in his practice; many clients harbor dark fears about the future and have no way to express them. “It is a terrible place to be,” he said.

A big part of his practice is helping people manage guilt over consumption: He takes a critical view of the notion of a climate footprint, a construct he says was created by corporations in order to shift the burden to individuals.

He uses elements of cognitive behavioral therapy, like training clients to manage their news intake and look critically at their assumptions.

He also draws on logotherapy, or existential therapy, a field founded by Viktor E. Frankl, who survived German concentration camps and then wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which described how prisoners in Auschwitz were able to live fulfilling lives.

“I joke, you know it’s bad when you’ve got to bring out the Viktor Frankl,” he said. “But it’s true. It is exactly right. It is of that scale. It is that consolation: that ultimately I make meaning, even in a meaningless world.”

At times, over the last few months, Ms. Black could feel some of the stress easing.

On weekends, she practices walking in the woods with her family without allowing her mind to flicker to the future. Her conversations with Dr. Doherty, she said, had “opened up my aperture to the idea that it’s not really on us as individuals to solve.”

Sometimes, though, she’s not sure that relief is what she wants. Following the news about the climate feels like an obligation, a burden she is meant to carry, at least until she is confident that elected officials are taking action.

Her goal is not to be released from her fears about the warming planet, or paralyzed by them, but something in between: She compares it to someone with a fear of flying, who learns to manage their fear well enough to fly.

“On a very personal level,” she said, “the small victory is not thinking about this all the time.”

This photographer-scientists collaboration shows the speed of climate change (MIT Technology Review)

technologyreview.com

Ian van Coller had scientists annotate his photos to show how climate change is warping geological time around the world.

Ian van Coller – June 30, 2021


Climate change is warping geological time, compressing the time scales of natural processes. In photographs taken around the world, Ian van Coller has documented these shifts, reflected in rocks, sediment, and the shrinking of glaciers. Van Coller collaborates with scientists who annotate his images, pointing out key geological features. He also uses historical photos to show changes, juxtaposing the black-and-white images taken by earlier expeditions with today’s landscapes; peaks once covered in snow are now bare rock.

Fairy Lake Mudcore
A mud core from Fairy Lake in Montana, superimposed against the surrounding mountains, reveals thousands of years of vegetative history. Geographer James Benes annotated the photo.
Quelccaya
Quelccaya Glacier in Peru, seen here in 2017, is receding. The foreground rocks show signs of glacial erosion and were likely still covered 10 years ago. Each layer in the ice represents a year’s worth of snow. Annotated by geographer Carsten Braun.
Rwenzori
A photograph taken in 2020 shows just how little is left of the glacier at Mount Stanley in Uganda. The photo from a 1906 expedition shows the glacier below Elena Peak; today what’s left is dirty ice, a sign the glacier will soon be gone. (Carsten Braun)
Mt Baker
At nearby Mount Baker, also in Uganda, the story is similar. Dotted lines are an attempt to estimate the ice seen in earlier expeditions on Semper Peak, which is now bare rock. There is no sign of what the 1906 photo labels Moore Glacier. (Carsten Braun)

How next-gen satellites are transforming our view of climate change (CNET)

cnet.com

Megan Wollerton – Jan. 18 2022


climate-change-maps.png
Robert Rodriguez/CNET
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. 

Watch Washaway Beach disappear. USGS

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.

404485001
The Babylonian Map of the World is the oldest map of the world. The Trustees of the British Museum

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.”

Chasing 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.”

l9-himalaya-hyperwall-rgb-nolabels
This image of the Himalayan Mountains is one of the first shots taken by Landsat 9.  NASA

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. 

Planet satellites show the Milne Ice Shelf breaking apart in July 2020. Planet Labs PBC

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.”

ogallala-changes-620
What happens when the Ogallala Aquifer runs out of water? NOAA

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.” 

A Project to Count Climate Crisis Deaths Has Surprising Results (WIRED)

wired.com

Matt Reynolds

01.18.2022 07:15 AM

Climate change is already killing people, but countries don’t have an easy way to count those deaths. A new project might change that.

Climate change can kill people in all kinds of ways. There are the obvious ones—wildfires, storms, and floods—yet rising temperatures may also lead to the increased spread of deadly diseases, make food harder to come by, and increase the risk of conflict.

Although we know about these wide-ranging but equally terrifying risks, attempts to pinpoint the number of deaths caused by climate change have been piecemeal. One recent study estimated that climate change was to blame for 37 percent of heat-related deaths over the past three decades. In 2021, Daniel Bressler, a PhD student at Columbia University in New York, estimated that every additional 4,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted will cause one heat-related death later this century. He called this number the “mortality cost of carbon.”

Putting a number on climate deaths isn’t just an academic exercise. People are already dying because of extreme temperature and weather events, and we can expect this to become more common as the planet continues to heat up. If governments want to put in place policies to prevent these deaths, they need a way of accurately measuring the deaths and ill health linked to warming. The search is on for the true mortality cost of carbon.

As part of this search, the UK government has made its first attempt at putting a number on climate change deaths. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS)—an independent government agency responsible for producing official data—has for the first time reported climate-related deaths and hospital admissions in England and Wales. The report covers the years 2001 to 2020, but future reports will be released annually, revealing for the first time detailed information about the impact that climate change is having on health in the two nations. (Statistics for Scotland and Northern Ireland are recorded separately.)

The main finding from this investigation is counterintuitive. The report found that the number of deaths associated with warm or cold temperatures actually decreased between 2001 and 2020. On average, 27,755 fewer people were dying each year due to unusually warm or cold temperatures. In other words, climate change might have actually prevented over half a million deaths in England and Wales over this period. In 2001 there were 993 climate-related deaths per 100,000 people in England and Wales. By 2019 that figure had fallen to 771.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are a number of reasons why the net number of temperature-related deaths appeared to decline over this period, says Myer Glickman, head of the epidemiological, climate, and global health team at the ONS. For a start, statisticians took a relatively narrow definition of climate-related deaths. They only included deaths from conditions where scientists had previously found a clear link between temperature and disease outcome, and they also excluded any health condition where their own analysis showed no link between temperature and outcome. This means that the mortality data doesn’t include deaths from violence or natural forces (such as storms, landslides, or flooding).

The analysis also excluded deaths from air pollution, which Public Health England estimates is equivalent to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year in the UK. Glickman says that there is no accepted way to separate out the effect that temperature increases have on air pollution. Add all these caveats together and it’s likely that the ONS analysis is a little on the conservative side.

Then there is the big reason why climate change has not led to more deaths in England and Wales: the very mild climate. Although average temperatures in the UK have increased by 0.9 degrees compared to the period from 1961 to 1990, its residents are not some of the 3 billion people who face unlivable conditions if greenhouse gas emissions increase rapidly. And while deaths linked to cold weather were down in England and Wales, on warmer days there was a net increase in hospital admissions linked to warmer weather. This was particularly true when it comes to injuries, which may be because more people do outdoor activities when it’s warmer or might be linked to the increases in violence and mental health problems that are associated with warmer temperatures.

The lower rate of deaths might also be a sign that our attempts to fight back against cold weather are working. Widespread flu vaccinations, support for people to pay their heating bills, and increases in home insulation mean that the coldest days didn’t hit as hard as they might have without these mitigations in place, Glickman says. And warmer homes might be a good thing now, but as summers in the UK get hotter and air-conditioning remains rare, it may start to become a problem.

The ONS will now release this data on a yearly basis, but Glickman’s next project is to look more closely at how temperature changes affected different areas. “We’re going to drill down to a local level temperature,” he says. “That’s going to give us a lot more resolution on what’s happening and who it’s happening to.” The impact of climate change might depend on how wealthy an area is, for example, or whether its residents have easy access to health care or community support.

Glickman also wants to explore indirect impacts of climate on health. “What will be a big interest in the coming years is the lower-level health impacts of things like flooding,” he says. If someone’s home is flooded, it might increase their vulnerability to respiratory disease or worsen their mental health. Researchers from the UK have already found that people with mental illnesses are more at risk of death during hot weather. We don’t know why that is exactly, but researchers think it might be because people with mental illnesses are more likely to be socially isolated or already have poorer health, which makes them more vulnerable when temperatures rise.

The team behind the ONS report are also part of a wider effort to create a global system to count climate-related health impacts. “What we don’t have is a robust set of statistics to categorize the impact of climate on health,” says Bilal Mateen, a senior manager of digital technology at Wellcome Trust, the health charity funding the new climate change health impact initiative.

The first year of the project will be spent identifying countries to partner with before developing and testing different ways of measuring climate change deaths that work for specific countries, says Mateen. The idea is to use this data to help countries devise policies that lessen the health impact of climate change. “We can begin to tease out what works, what doesn’t, and what adaptation and mitigation interventions we should be supporting,” Mateen says.

If it’s true that warmer homes and flu vaccines helped reduce climate change deaths in England and Wales, it’s a sign that populations that are healthier on the whole might be better at surviving the ravages of a heating world. Other countries may want to take note. “All policies are health policies,” says Mateen. “There is a clear need to support job stability, to address fuel poverty and every other policy that’s outside of the mandate of the health minister, because we know that those social determinants of health have downstream impact.”

Your Medical History Might Someday Include ‘Climate Change’ (WIRED)

wired.com

Rose Eveleth

01.18.2022 07:00 AM

Last summer, a doctor wrote “climate change” in his patient’s chart. But is medicine really ready to address systemic health impacts?

Last June, a heat dome settled over British Columbia, shattering the region’s heat records for five consecutive days and hitting temperatures of over 120 degrees. The dome was responsible for at least 500 human deaths (and potentially a billion marine creature casualties) and stretched the health systems in the region to their breaking point.

And at one rural hospital in Nelson, British Columbia, doctor Kyle Merritt began to feel like there was more he should do than simply treat all the patients coming in with heat stroke and exhaustion. “I was upset with what I was seeing,” he says, “I felt like it should be documented in some way.” So when a 70-year-old woman arrived with heat stroke, he wrote “climate change” in her medical chart as the underlying reason she had to be admitted to the hospital.

It was the first and only time Merritt chose to include “climate change” as an underlying condition in a patient’s chart. “It was the first patient that I felt like it was really clear cut,” he says. Had the conditions outside not been so extreme, he might have been able to discharge her and let her recover at home. When we spoke, Merritt emphasized that it was a decision he made in the heat of the moment. He never expected it to become national news.

Months later, when speaking with the founders of a small organization called Doctors for Planetary Health, Merritt shared the story of his decision to write “climate change” in the patient’s chart. When they asked to use that story in a press release accompanying a planned climate rally, Merritt didn’t think anyone was going to read the press release about this little thing that happened.

But read it they did. Eventually, Merritt’s story was all over the news, often under erroneous headlines claiming he had “diagnosed” a patient with climate change (the phrase appears in her chart as an underlying cause, not a diagnosis). The story was covered by national publications like NBC News, The Hill, The Daily Mail, along with a host of right-wing news sites like GOP USA.

Some praised the decision for bringing necessary awareness to the connection between climate change and health. “When I saw this, I thought, ‘Yes, this is what we need. We need more attention to the social determinants of health,’” says Keisha Ray, an assistant professor at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at UTHealth. Others claimed this was “the latest example of team-left lunacy.” Some columnists argued, incorrectly, that the patient probably didn’t get proper treatment because her doctor “diagnosed her” with something incurable. (Merritt admitted the patient to the emergency room and she was treated for her condition.)

When I read the story, my question was less about Merritt and more about the patient herself. Did she know she was the center of this news blip? Had he talked to her about climate change, or the fact that he was writing it in her chart? Did she give permission to be in the press release? And what are the ethics of turning a patient into a public point?

Doctors use case studies all the time to communicate with one another, and with the press. And for good reason: People connect with and remember stories far better than generalized facts. But using a patient to explain a concept, or to help educate doctors on how to treat someone more effectively, is different from using a patient’s story to make this broader, public point about climate and health. Even Merritt admitted that writing “climate change” in this woman’s chart didn’t do much to help her or other patients suffering during the heat dome. “It’s not like some other doctor was going to look at it and make sure they were never exposed to climate change,” he says. “Practically speaking, it doesn’t really do that much.”

Medicine has a checkered history when it comes to using patient stories and protecting privacy. For decades, doctors paraded patients in front of the public without their consent. In 1906, for example, a famous doctor named Wilfred Grenfell published the story of a 9-year-old boy who had accidentally shot himself in the knee. Grenfell used the boy’s full name, image, and identity, telling the tale with gusto each time he spoke to the public and his colleagues—even distorting the facts of the case, turning “slight” bleeding in the original chart into “shocking” bleeding and a “heterogeneous mass of bloody rags”—in order to entertain donors, make himself seem more heroic, and maintain his status as a celebrity doctor. Fast forward to today, and issues of patient privacy are still very present. In 2012 the ABC show NY Med, which at the time starred celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, broadcast the death of a patient without his family’s consent. His widow won $2.2 million in a suit against the hospital.

Given that history, the question of how much to anonymize a patient in these tales is well-trod territory for medical ethicists. “As long as the physician doesn’t give any kind of identifying information, then it would be ethical. You want to always maintain the patient’s privacy,” says Ray. “But you also have to think about how minor information can be pieced together, where someone can figure out who this patient is.”

In Merritt’s case, the details provided to the press go like this: We know the patient’s age, her background medical conditions, the type of home she lives in, and that she was admitted in June. Kootenay Medical Center, where Merritt works, serves less than 4,000 patients. “That’s a lot of identifying information,” Ray said, when I told her the facts that had been publicly confirmed. “Small towns don’t tend to have a lot of physicians, so you could very well be one of three physicians.”

This feels increasingly important when a story is used in a way that might be construed as political —calling for action on something like racism or climate change. In a world where private citizens can be outed and harassed for being associated with a cause or a side, doctors who want to use a patient’s sickness to make an activist point might need to be a little more cautious. “I worry that the sensationalism of this story may encourage people like journalists to go seek this patient out,” says Ray. “And I also worry that because climate change is still very political and it still is considered a left-leaning idea, that it may encourage conservative media to go and find this person and pit them against each other.”

That hasn’t happened in this case. But Merritt says that if he were to do it over, he might have done things differently. As it unfolded, he didn’t tell the patient he was writing “climate change” in her chart. In fact, they didn’t discuss climate change at all. “If I had known when I had written that in the chart that it was something that I was doing to try and tell the story, I don’t know. I may have talked to the patient more about it and asked their permission,” he says. “But of course, at that time when I did it, I had no idea that it would ever become a story of any kind.” To this day, Merritt believes that the patient has no idea she is the one in the story.

Beyond the specifics of Merritt and his patient, the story raises big questions about how medicine can and should handle systemic impacts on health.

Merritt wrote “climate change” in a bout of frustration, wanting to document what he was seeing in real time. Other doctors have taken different approaches. Nyasha Spears, a physician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, takes nearly the opposite tack that Merritt did—rather than quietly writing in a chart to make a broader point, she talks to her patients constantly about climate change and the environment. “As a family doctor, my jam is habit change. This is what I do,” she says. “So my thought with climate change is, can I start peppering my conversations with patients all the time with an argument that habit change is good for them on a personal level, but also good for the environment?

In the case of Merritt’s patient, this talk might not have done much. There was nothing she could do about her conditions, no habit change she could make to avoid the scorching heat. Like many in her community, she likely couldn’t afford to install air-conditioning in her trailer, and beyond that there was little to be done. In cases like these, Ray says that maybe a climate change talk isn’t warranted. “They can feel helpless because there’s nothing that they can do,” she says. “They are literally living, and just living is making them sick.”

This reality can make things feel bleak for both doctors and patients. And to address these connections between health and structural conditions like climate change and racism, doctors will need to ask not simply what they can do for each individual patient, but also what they can change about medicine to account for and reckon with these links. Today, there is no diagnostic code for climate change, no way to link these cases up or track them in any way, but perhaps there should be.

“There’s all sorts of ICD-10 codes that are completely inane,” says Spears. “If you ever want to entertain yourself, you just start looking at ICD 10 codes. ‘Fall from a spacecraft’ is one. And so it would make perfect sense that there would be an ICD-10 code for climate change illness.” Being able to track these additional, systemic determinants of health could make it easier to prove the links, and do something about them.

Having more data doesn’t always mean making change—the impact that race and income have on health have been well proven for years, but still haven’t adequately been addressed. And Ray says that adding these codes shouldn’t stop with climate. “If you live in a poor area, then you are likely living with more environmental impacts. Are we going to start now having a code for low income? Is there going to be a code for: You don’t have enough money to live in a safe home and so you are experiencing environmental toxins? Is improper housing also going to be coded? So I just wonder how far we are willing to take it.”

This might be the silver lining in the story of Merritt’s patient. When we spoke, he told me he had recently gotten an email from Health Canada, asking to talk to him about creating a diagnostic code for climate change that doctors could use to track these impacts.

Writing “climate change” in one patient’s chart isn’t going to save the world, or even a single life—Merritt is the first to admit that—but it can start a conversation about how much the medical system is willing to adapt to the threats that its patients truly face. “I’ve learned a lot about how big of an impact a story can make,” he says.