Climate Change Tagged ‘Climate Change’

How Cities are Taking Action

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Want to See How Governments Are Making Real Progress? Look to the Cities Tackling Our Biggest Problems

New energy is transforming our cities into hotbeds of democracy and progressive innovation.
Amanda Winter biking by Martha Williams

Photo by Martha Williams.

If you’ve been looking to the federal government for action on big challenges such as poverty, climate change, and immigration, this has been a devastating decade. Big money’s dominance of elections, obstructionism by the Tea Party, and climate denial have brought action in Washington to a near standstill. But while the media focuses on the gridlock, a more hopeful story is unfolding. Cities are taking action.

Cities can’t afford to wait for the ideological wars to play out.

Climate change is a case in point. Cities are already experiencing the damage caused by an increasingly chaotic climate. Many are located along coastlines, where rising sea levels coupled with giant storms bring flooding and coastal erosion. Some low-lying areas are being abandoned.

Others cities face protracted water shortages due to diminishing rainfall and shrinking snowpack. And cities are subject to the urban heat island effect that can raise temperatures to lethal levels.

Cities can’t afford to wait for the ideological wars to play out.

On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast, flooding lower Manhattan, filling subway tunnels, twisting up the boardwalk along the beaches in the Rockaways, and turning Long Island and New Jersey communities into disaster zones.

Just two weeks later, Munich Re, a major insurance company, reported that weather-related disasters in North America had increased five-fold over the previous three decades, causing $1.06 trillion worth of damage. And the disasters are just starting, the report said.

While Congress debates whether climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy, Houston is spending $200 million to restore wetland ecosystems in anticipation of increased flooding. The 4,000-acre Bayou Greenways project will absorb and cleanse floodwater while creating space for trails and outdoor recreation.

“Houston’s best defense against extreme climate events and natural disasters is grounded in its local efforts to leverage … its bayous, marshes and wetlands,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in a press release.

In Philadelphia, if you look up while waiting for a bus, you might find you are standing under a living roof. Philadelphia is dealing with excessive storm water runoff by encouraging rain gardens, green roofs—large and small—and absorbent streets that allow water to soak through into the soil.

Given the threat posed by runaway climate change, one would expect ambitious national and international action to reduce greenhouse pollution. But cities are out in front, taking action to reduce their own climate impacts with or without federal support. From New York to Seattle, cities are adopting efficient building standards, taxing carbon, switching to energy-efficient street lighting, promoting local food, and financing building-scale conversion to solar energy.

Cities are responsible for a new surge in bicycling, not just on the crunchy West Coast, but in old industrial cities. In September, Bicycling Magazine named New York the number-one U.S. city for bicycling, noting its hundreds of miles of bike lanes, ambitious bike-share program, and long-term commitment to cycling. “One million more people will come to New York City by 2030, and there’s simply going to be no more room for cars,” Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, told Bicycling.

Chicago, named number two, is set to meet its goal of creating 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015, and it will soon have the nation’s largest bike-share program.

These developments are in part thanks to enlightened city officials, including those looking for low-cost ways to attract young, entrepreneurial residents.

But cities are getting more bike-friendly in large part because of persistent pressure by activists. For more than 20 years, Critical Mass bike rides have taken over streets in more than 300 cities around the world, with large groups riding together and claiming the right to a safe ride.

Kinzie bike lane by John Greenfield

Chicago will have built 100 miles of protected bike lanes by next year, and the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 calls for a 645-mile network of bikeways, up from the current 215 miles, to be in place by 2020. The goal is to make sure every city resident is within a half-mile of a bike path. Photo by John Greenfield.

A citizens’ group in Minneapolis made the point about bike safety by building pop-up bicycle-only lanes, using DIY plywood planters to separate the bike riders from automobile traffic. Bicycle advocates in Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Calif., Fargo, N.D., and Lawrence, Kans., followed suit.

These urban climate solutions are not only homegrown. Increasingly, cities are sharing their best climate innovations. In September, the mayors of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Houston announced the Mayors National Climate Change Action Agenda. The initiative will be built on other urban collaborations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Responsive to the poor and excluded

Cities are leading in other realms, too, where the federal government has failed to act.

Immigration reform is stalled at the national level. But Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and New York City are issuing identification cards to undocumented residents, allowing them to open bank accounts, sign leases, and access city services.

On issues of poverty and inequality, cities have a mixed track record. Some neglect poor and minority neighborhoods or steer polluting projects and noisy highways to those areas. Others promote policies that displace the most vulnerable residents, making desirable land available to the wealthy and well-connected. Some cities have even criminalized homelessness.

But in many cities, strong people’s movements are electing leaders with a greater connection to the poor and middle class.

The top 1 percent of New Yorkers took in 32.3 percent of the city’s total personal income; the bottom 50 percent shared just 9.9 percent.

New York City, one of the most unequal cities in the country, is a case in point. The top 1 percent of New Yorkers took in 32.3 percent of the city’s total personal income in 2009, according to the city’s comptroller. The bottom 50 percent shared just 9.9 percent.

But organizations like the Working Families Party have spent years building a grassroots power base, and their work paid off when they helped elect Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2013. Today, de Blasio is working to boost the minimum wage and is requiring developers to offer affordable housing. And thousands of new prekindergarten slots opened up this fall, with the goal of universal access to free pre-K.

Richmond, Calif., and Newark, N.J., also have progressive mayors elected in cities with strong popular movements. Both were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis and the predatory lending that especially targets poor people and people of color. And both cities are now exploring using eminent domain to reduce home mortgages to current market value and restructure loans so that current homeowners can retain ownership.

Seattle is leading the nation by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, following a successful grassroots initiative in the nearby city of Sea-Tac, and an insurgent city council race that focused on a higher minimum wage. Popular movements across the country are pressing for better pay and human rights for the working poor.

Why cities?

What is it about cities that enables them to move forward while the nation as a whole is stalled?

Benjamin Barber, political scientist and author of If Mayors Ruled the World, thinks a lot about what makes urban leaders effective problem solvers.

City leaders can’t afford to be ideologues, Barber said in an interview with YES! Magazine. “Their job is to pick up the garbage, to keep the hospitals open, to assure fire and safety services and that police and teachers do their jobs.”

This pragmatism requires civility. “Mayors simply can’t afford to trade in bigotry,” he said. “A businessman like [former New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg has to deal with the unions, and a progressive like de Blasio has to deal with business and developers.”

“Cities are points of intersection, communication, sharing, and travel. Cities have always contained multitudes.”

Perhaps this focus on getting work done explains why nearly two-thirds of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center have a favorable view of their local government, at a time when just 28 percent approve of the federal government.

Along with pragmatism, cities have the advantage of multiculturalism and the innovative spark that goes with it, Barber says. “Cities are points of intersection, communication, sharing, and travel,” he said. “And cities have always—to paraphrase Whitman—contained multitudes.”

Nations, on the other hand, are a more recent idea, more oriented around independence than interdependence, and more competitive. “The last 400 years of nation-states ruling the world has gone very badly, with war, genocide, rivalry, and very little social justice as a consequence,” Barber said.

Cities are solving problems while nation-states are failing, Barber said. So it’s time to put cities in charge. Of the whole world.

Barber laid out a plan for a global parliament of mayors in his recent book, and now he’s working with city officials on bringing the idea to reality.

Should cities rule the world?

Mention global governance, and some people imagine black helicopters. But Barber insists he is not proposing a top-down system. Instead he sees mayors and other city leaders reaching consensus on solutions and then bringing the policy ideas home. The result, he said, would be a sort of horizontal, pragmatic, noncoercive form of global governance.

Cities could agree on a universal minimum wage, for example. Such a move would remove incentives for companies to relocate to low-wage regions. Metropolitan regions are where most economic activity is happening, Barber said. So if enough cities agreed on a minimum wage, companies would just have to pay it, thus helping to alleviate poverty and inequality.

If Detroit were redefined to include the well-off suburbs, it would be the fourth most prosperous U.S. metropolitan region.

A first step in making this vision a reality is to incorporate the suburbs and central cities into metropolitan regions. Such a move would make sense for cities whether or not they rule the world. If Detroit, for example, were redefined to include the well-off suburbs, instead of being bankrupt, it would be the fourth most prosperous metropolitan region of the United States, Barber said.

From that foundation, cities could lead even in arenas like immigration that are not normally part of urban decision-making. If more cities begin issuing their own immigration documents, “you’re going to have a fast track to citizenship inside cities, since 85 or 90 percent of undocumented workers are in cities,” Barber said.

A global parliament of cities “is a means to regulate the global economy, address climate change, deal with immigration and global trade,” he said.

It’s a bold idea that is capturing the imagination of an international group of urban leaders. On Sept. 19, mayors, city planners, and others met in Amsterdam. If all goes as hoped, Barber said, 600 mayors could join him in London in September 2015 to launch a pilot parliament.

Not everyone thinks cities are up to the challenge. Following the Amsterdam meeting, Reinier de Graaf, a Dutch architect and city planner, wrote in European Magazine, “The current vitality of cities is largely based on the luxury that more heavy duty political responsibilities are kept at bay.”

But British journalist Misha Glenny found the proposal intriguing. In a column for the BBC he wrote: “This group of can-do politicians may end up rewriting constitutions across the globe … by doing what they always have—getting on with the job.”

The idea is worth exploring when so much else isn’t working, Barber said.

“In a time of pessimism about democracy, pessimism about government, a sense of too many problems, I believe the cities movement is a powerful note of hope and optimism,” he told YES!

“Moving the focus from states to cities is a new brief for democracy,” he said. “It’s a new brief for hope. And a new sense that maybe we can, after all, control some of the forces that seem to be pushing us toward an unsustainable, unjust world, so we can move instead in the direction of the more sustainable and more just world.”


Sarah van Gelder bio picSarah van Gelder wrote this article for Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is co-founder and editor in chief of YES! Magazine.

from:    http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/cities-are-now/look-to-the-cities-tackling-our-biggest-problems

GAIA is ALIVE

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

The Earth is a Sentient Living Organism

http://themindunleashed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/the-earthhh.jpg

Contrary to the common belief that the Earth is simply a dense planet whose only function is a resource for its inhabitants, our planet is in fact a breathing, living organism. When we think of the Earth holistically, as one living entity of its own, instead of the sum of its parts, it takes on a new meaning. Our planet functions as a single organism that maintains conditions necessary for its survival.

James Lovelock published in a book in 1979 providing many useful lessons about the interaction of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes on Earth.

Throughout history, the concept of Mother Earth has been a part of human culture in one form or another. Everybody has heard of Mother Earth, but have you ever stopped to think who (or what) Mother Earth is?

What is Gaia?

Lovelock defined Gaia as “…a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.”

Through Gaia, the Earth sustains a kind of homeostasis, the maintenance of relatively constant conditions.

The truly startling component of the Gaia hypothesis is the idea that the Earth is a single living entity. This idea is certainly not new. James Hutton (1726-1797), the father of geology, once described the Earth as a kind of superorganism. And right before Lovelock, Lewis Thomas, a medical doctor and skilled writer, penned these words in his famous collection of essays, The Lives of a Cell:

“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.”

John Nelson illustrated the Breathing Earth,” (below) which are two animated GIFs he designed to visualize what a year’s worth of Earth’s seasonal transformations look like from outer space. Nelson–a data visualizer, stitched together from NASA’s website 12 cloud-free satellite photographs taken each month over the course of a year. Once the images were put together in a sequence, the mesmerizing animations showed what Nelson describes as “the annual pulse of vegetation and land ice.”

BreathingEarth1-3b

As the climate changes, the planet comes alive. Earth appears to breathe when ice cover grows and melts–in and out, in and out.

White frost radiates out from the top of the globe and creeps south in all directions. It travels through Siberia, Canada, and northern Europe, heading towards the equator located around the circle’s edge, but ends before the top of Africa. The Mediterranean Sea is the visible body of water on the top left hand side, and the Great Lakes make up a small network of dark blue shapes on the land mass to the right.

The Earth acts as a single system – it is a coherent, self-regulated, assemblage of physical, chemical, geological, and biological forces that interact to maintain a unified whole balanced between the input of energy from the sun and the thermal sink of energy into space.

In its most basic configuration, the Earth acts to regulate flows of energy and recycling of materials. The input of energy from the sun occurs at a constant rate and for all practical purposes is unlimited. This energy is captured by the Earth as heat or photosynthetic processes, and returned to space as long-wave radiation. On the other hand, the mass of the Earth, its material possessions, are limited (except for the occasional input of mass provided as meteors strike the planet). Thus, while energy flows through the Earth (sun to Earth to space), matter cycles within the Earth.

The idea of the Earth acting as a single system as put forth in the Gaia hypothesis has stimulated a new awareness of the connectedness of all things on our planet and the impact that man has on global processes. No longer can we think of separate components or parts of the Earth as distinct. No longer can we think of man’s actions in one part of the planet as independent. Everything that happens on the planet – the deforestation/reforestation of trees, the increase/decrease of emissions of carbon dioxide, the removal or planting of croplands – all have an affect on our planet. The most difficult part of this idea is how to qualify these effects, i.e. to determine whether these effects are positive or negative. If the Earth is indeed self-regulating, then it will adjust to the impacts of man. However, as we will see, these adjustments may act to exclude man, much as the introduction of oxygen into the atmosphere by photosynthetic bacteria acted to exclude anaerobic bacteria. This is the crux of the Gaia hypothesis.

One of the early predictions of this hypothesis was that there should be a sulfur compound made by organisms in the oceans that was stable enough against oxidation in water to allow its transfer to the air. Either the sulfur compound itself, or its atmospheric oxidation product, would have to return sulfur from the sea to the land surfaces. The most likely candidate for this role was deemed to be dimethyl sulfide.

Published work done at the University of Maryland by first author Harry Oduro, together with UMD geochemist James Farquhar and marine biologist Kathryn Van Alstyne of Western Washington University, provides a tool for tracing and measuring the movement of sulfur through ocean organisms, the atmosphere and the land in ways that may help prove or disprove the controversial Gaia theory. Their study appears in this week’s Online Early Edition of the  (PNAS).

The Story of Water by Alick Bartholomew, is another unique publication in that it reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the principles of whole geophysical systems, which helps us understand the Earth as an integrated Gaia system that sustains us. The book begins by describing our usual view of water based on Western science and then deftly moves on to the frontier sciences that embrace water as the source of life in terms of biological systems, quantum energy fields, etheric fields, spirals, vortices, and as a medium for communications and memory. An understanding of these principles can lead to strategies for treating our water in ways that guarantee a sustainable future for humankind.

How Does Gaia Work?

The homeostasis regulated by the Earth is much like the internal maintenance of our own bodies; processes within our body insure a constant temperature, blood pH, electrochemical balance, etc. The inner workings of Gaia, therefore, can be viewed as a study of the physiology of the Earth, where the oceans and rivers are the Earth’s blood, the atmosphere is the Earth’s lungs, the land is the Earth’s bones, and the living organisms are the Earth’s senses. Lovelock calls this the science of geophysiology – the physiology of the Earth (or any other planet).

To understand how the Earth is living, let’s take a look at what defines life. Physicists define life as a system of locally reduced entropy (life is the battle against entropy). Molecular biologists view life as replicating strands of DNA that compete for survival and evolve to optimize their survival in changing surroundings. Physiologists might view life as a biochemical system that us able to use energy from external sources to grow and reproduce. According to Lovelock, the geophysiologist sees life as a system open to the flux of matter and energy but that maintains an internal steady-state.

Beyond the scientific importance of what we have discussed here, we might do well to consider some of the more poetical thoughts of the originator of the theory:

“If Gaia exists, the relationship between her and man, a dominant animal species in the complex living system, and the possibly shifting balance of power between them, are questions of obvious importance… The Gaia hypothesis is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the Earth and the life it bears, and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here. It is an alternative to that pessimistic view which sees nature as a primitive force to be subdued and conquered. It is also an alternative to that equally depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling, driverless and purposeless, around an inner circle of the sun.”

The strong Gaia hypothesis states that life creates conditions on Earth to suit itself. Life created the planet Earth, not the other way around. As we explore the solar system and galaxies beyond, it may one day be possible to design an experiment to test whether life indeed manipulates planetary processes for its own purposes or whether life is just an evolutionary processes that occurs in response to changes in the non-living world.

About the Author

Liz Bentley is a graduate in geology, professional photographer and freelance journalist with an acute insight into fossil records and climatology.

from:    http://themindunleashed.org/2014/05/earth-sentient-living-organism.html

Positive Trends for 2014

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come

Beyond the headlines of conflict and catastrophe, this year’s top stories offered us some powerful proof that the world can still change—for the better.
by Sarah van Gelder
posted Dec 27, 2013
2014 photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.

In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.

CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.

Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.

Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.

But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.

1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue

In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.

The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.

A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”

The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.

If that happens, the companies’ reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.

2. Native peoples took the lead in the fossil fuel fight

In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.

And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.

In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.

Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice

Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.

Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.

The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.

4. A new economy is in the making

At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.

And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.

And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.

5. U.S. military strikes didn’t happen

The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.

The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.

On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.

6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor …

…and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

In his “Evangelii Gaudium” he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.

7. Gays and lesbians got some respect

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.

Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.

8. There were new openings for a third party

Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.

But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.

New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.

9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works

Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.

But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.

10. An education uprising began

The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.

Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)

We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.

There’s not a moment to lose.


Sarah van Gelder newSarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Sarah is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of YES!

from:    http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/10-things-that-happened-in-2013

Huge Jump in Amazon Deforestation

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Amazon deforestation jumps 28% in a year

Deforestation has risen exponentially after years of decline, with environmentalists attributing this change to the easing of laws in Brazil.
By Ananth Baliga   |   Nov. 15, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Deforestation in the Amazon has reached a new high after years of declining numbers, owing to the easing of environmental laws in Brazil.(CC/Alex Rio Brazil)
Nov. 15 (UPI) — Brazil has acknowledged a 28 percent rise in deforestation of the ecologically sensitive Amazon forest, between August 2012 and July 2013.The rise has been blamed on changes made to Brazil’s forest protection law. The country uses to sattelite imagery to track the decline of the country’s forest cover and is particularly shocking considering it recorded its lowest deforestation levels last year.

Initial statistics point to 2,255 sq miles of forest lost as compared to 1,765 sq miles lost in the previous 12 months. This rise ends a streak of declining deforestation which began in 2009 but does not come close to the loss in 2004 — nearly 10,500 sq. miles of forest were lost.

Environmentalists say the controversial reform of the forest protection law in 2012 is to blame for the trend in Brazil. The changes reduced protected areas in farms and declared an amnesty for areas destroyed before 2008.

Environment Minister Izabella Teixeir called the destruction of the Amazon “unacceptable” and a “crime,” but denied allegations that President Dilma Rousseff‘s administration was to blame.

“This swing is not related to any federal government fund cuts for law enforcement,” she said.

A majority of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions has been linked to the rapid deforestation of the Amazon. These figures undermine the pledge made by Brazil in 2009 to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80% by the year 2020.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Blog/2013/11/15/Amazon-deforestation-jumps-28-in-a-year/9911384535388/#ixzz2kx1HIZBk

Ice Cap Melt Can Lead to Tsunamis

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Underwater Avalanche! Melting Ice Caps Could Trigger Tsunamis

Charles Q. Choi, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor   |   August 16, 2013
Our-amazing-planet
Example of a submarine landslide complex along the southern New England continental margin
 Example of a submarine landslide complex along the southern New England continental margin, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Cape Cod, Mass. The 3D perspective includes the seafloor seismic imaging. The image highlights the relationships between the seafloor structure along the continental slope, such as shallow faults (black lines), and underwater landslides. Data used to construct this image were collected by the USGS and NOAA.
Credit: Daniel Brothers

If melting ice caps trigger rapid sea level rise, the strain that the edges of continents could experience might set off underwater landslides, new research suggests.

Submarine landslides happen on every continental margin, the underwater parts of continental plates bordering oceanic plates. These underwater avalanches, which can happen when underwater slopes get hit by earthquakes or otherwise have too much weight loaded onto them, can generate dangerous tsunamis.

A staggering half of all the Earth moved by submarine landslides over the past 125,000 years apparently happened between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago. “This time period coincides with the period of most rapid sea level rise following the end of the last ice age,” said study co-author Daniel Brothers, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass.

Since these prehistoric disasters coincided with changes in climate, previous research suggested natural global warming might have been their cause, but what exactly the link might be was unclear. To learn more, Brothers and his colleagues generated 3D computer models of the effects of 395 feet (120 meters) of sea level rise on the continental margins off North Carolina and Brazil’s Amazon coast

The rapid sea level rise that happened between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago was due to melting ice caps, which were originally hundreds to thousands of feet high. These glaciers placed weight on the planet’s rocky surface, building stress on faults in the Earth for millennia. The later thinning and retreat of these glaciers raised sea levels by about 395 feet, increasing the amount of pressure these critically stressed faults experienced across their entire length by an amount similar to that of the average human bite. This would be enough pressure to set off the faults, triggering underwater landslides, the models showed.

The scientists added that such underwater landslides could have helped release vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas, from the seabed. This could have, in turn, driven profound changes in the oceans and the atmosphere, such as the warming of the climate.

Brothers and his colleagues Karen Luttrell and Jason Chaytor detailed their findings online July 22 in the journal Geology.

from:    http://www.livescience.com/38886-melting-icecaps-trigger-submarine-landslides.html

Greece & Chemtrail Action

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Greeks reject US doublespeak on chemtrails and climate change

by  • 

Wayne Hall, a Greece chemtrail activist, takes a look at how the US steers the discussion of climate change and geoengineering in this 15-minute video:

The surest way not to understand what is happening with geoengineering is to become involved in the contrails versus chemtrails debate. Rather than debate whether chemtrails are contrails, one should point out the parallel with what happened with genetically modified food production: the corporations and their laboratories and their lobbyists decide to introduce a change, so at the same time they start a public relations campaign to deny that any change has occurred.

In the case of genetic modification the key word was “substantial equivalence”. Genetically modified foods are not the same as non-genetically modified foods, chemically, nutritionally or in any other way. Sometimes they look the same. “Substantial equivalence” means that they have to be treated as if they are the same. Soon laws are introduced to make it illegal to make any distinction between them or to say that they are not the same.

Something similar has happened with geoengineering: a decision was taken to change aircraft emissions and turn them from being an unwanted side-effect of flying jet aircraft into being a deliberate means for changing the temperature and the chemistry of the atmosphere. So naturally it was denied that any change had occurred.

Almost fifteen years after the implementation of a massive increase in the use of climate modification on a planetary scale, people are still conducting the chemtrails versus contrails debate. This is NOT what is happening with genetic modification. Ecologists are mostly not wasting their time arguing with corporation spokespersons over whether there is substantial equivalence between genetically modified and non-genetically modified food. The same should have happened with geoengineering, and if it hasn’t happened it should happen now.

Chemtrails do not serve a single purpose, of increasing albedo, cooling the planet, or whatever. They also serve the purpose of increasing the conductivity of the atmosphere to facilitate the operations of Alaskan ionospheric heater HAARP, and the similar smaller installations that exist in other countries.

HAARP was the subject of a report in the European Parliament in 1998, the work of the Swedish anti-nuclear campaigner Maj Britt Theorin. Mrs Theorin’s report is entitled “On the Environment, Security and Foreign Policy”. It describes HAARP as “weapons system which disrupts the climate” and concludes that “by virtue of its far-reaching impact on the environment it is a global concern. Its legal, ecological and ethical implications must be examined by an international independent body before any further research and testing.”

The European Commission said that it could not act on the report or try to implement it, because the European Commission does not have authority over defence questions, which are the responsibility of NATO.

There are two things to say about this: firstly this contradicts the United States’ representation of what HAARP is, because US government says that HAARP is an ionospheric research programme, not a weapons system. Secondly the European Commission’s acceptance of the status of not having responsibility for the defence of European citizens, and accepting that this should be entrusted to NATO, is intolerable.

A new organization called Skyguards includes Green activists from Sweden, Spain and Cyprus, among others, is continuing the work started by Mrs. Maj-Britt Theorin in 1998. Americans, as much as Europeans and the people of the rest of the planet, need this work to be continued, because they are not being defended by their own government. They are being attacked by their own government.

Wayne Hall is a Greek citizen, born in Australia, graduate of the University of Sydney, teacher and freelance translator. In the nineteen eighties he was a member of European Nuclear Disarmament, the non-aligned British-based anti-nuclear-weapons movement. His website in Greece is http://www.enouranois.gr

from:        http://foodfreedomgroup.com/2013/06/23/greeks-reject-us-doublespeak-on-chemtrails-and-climate-change/

Benefits of Range Grazing Cattle

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Grazing Livestock May Hold the Secret to Reversing Climate Change

Farm_Cattle14th June 2013

By Carolanne Wright

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

Allan Savory is a controversial figure with a shocking message: Global warming and desertification can be radically reversed by grazing large herds of animals.

The antithesis of accepted thought on climate change, Savory’s solution has rubbed many in the scientific community the wrong way. But the question remains — can his method save us from imminent environmental doom?

Standing ovation for a radical message

After Allan Savory’s presentation “How to Green the Desert and Reverse Climate Change” at the 2013 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) global conference, “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.“, he received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience.

This was not the typical parched scientific lecture on global warming. The TED talk explored the disturbing trend of desertification, described by Savory as “a fancy word for land that is turning into desert,” and the implications this holds.

The devastation of habitat, usable land and waterways are the stark realities of spreading deserts. Climate change is also accelerated.

Due in part to the widespread practice of burning dry grasslands in an attempt to revitalize the soil, global warming is also aggravated by the carbon and moisture loss from exposed soil. Considering the burning of a single hectare of land “gives off more and more damaging pollutants than 6,000 cars,” said Savory, better solutions are urgently needed.

Keep in mind that Africa alone burns over one billion hectares a year.

According to Savory, if carbon remains in the ground instead of rising into the air, the soil is healthy and can sustain plant life. Waterways are preserved as well. The ramifications are enormous. Not only is the land fertile for agriculture and livestock but entire communities also have access to water, curbing disease along with starvation. And global warming is rapidly reversed too.

Holistic land management 101

Developed over 40 years ago, Holistic Management is a system that “results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world’s grasslands … [It] teaches people about the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands,” as stated by the Savory Institute.

Allan Savory discovered through years of observation, study and failure that when herd animals are removed from the land, the soil dies. Yet, when domesticated animals are properly managed to mimic natural herd migrations and grazing, the soil and surrounding ecosystem spring back to life.

He realized herd animals play a crucial role in easing desertification by providing dung and trampled plant matter. A protective layer is formed through this process, trapping moisture and carbon in the soil. The results are truly staggering — lush and healthy grasslands, waterways and communities replace barren desert.

Too good to be true?

Critics of Savory’s method are quick to point out thorough scientific research is lacking. They also maintain that livestock grazing, regardless of management, remains destructive to the environment and atmosphere. Savory counters that his proof is in the outcome. One of the many stunning success stories is found with the rangelands in Dimbangombe, Zimbabwe.

When all is said and done, the end result is what counts. Environmentalist Bill McKibben observes, “Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere’s oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that’s on the same scale as the problem of global warming.”

from:    http://wakeup-world.com/2013/06/14/grazing-livestock-may-hold-the-secret-to-reversing-climate-change/

Dr. Jeff Masters on Climate Extremes

Friday, May 24th, 2013

In 2011, a series of violent severe storms swept across the Plains and Southeast U.S., bringing an astonishing six billion-dollar disasters in a three-month period. The epic tornado onslaught killed 552 people, caused $25 billion in damage, and brought three of the five largest tornado outbreaks since record keeping began in 1950. In May 2011, the Joplin, Missouri tornado did $3 billion in damage–the most expensive tornado in world history–and killed 158 people, the largest death toll from a U.S. tornado since 1947. An astounding 1050 EF-1 and stronger tornadoes ripped though the U.S. for the one-year period ending that month. This was the greatest 12-month total for these stronger tornadoes in the historical record, and an event so rare that we might expect it to occur only once every 62,500 years. Fast forward now to May 2012 – April 2013. Top-ten coldest temperatures on record across the Midwest during March and April of 2013, coming after a summer of near-record heat and drought in 2012, brought about a remarkable reversal in our tornado tally–the lowest 12-month total of EF-1 and stronger tornadoes on record–just 197. This was an event so rare we might expect it to occur only once every 3,000 – 4,000 years. And now, in May 2013, after another shattering EF-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, residents of the Midwest must be wondering, are we back to the 2011 pattern? Which of these extremes is climate change most likely to bring about? Is climate change already affecting these storms? These are hugely important questions, but ones we don’t have good answers for. Climate change is significantly impacting the environment that storms form in, giving them more moisture and energy to draw upon, and altering large-scale jet stream patterns. We should expect that this will potentially cause major changes in tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Unfortunately, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are the extreme weather phenomena we have the least understanding on with respect to climate change. We don’t have a good enough database to determine how tornadoes may have changed in recent decades, and our computer models are currently not able to tell us if tornadoes are more likely to increase or decrease in a future warmer climate.

Video 1. Remarkable video of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27, 2011, part of the largest and most expensive tornado outbreak in U.S. history–the $10.2 billion dollar Southeast U.S. Super Outbreak of April 25 – 28, 2011. With damage estimated at $2.2 billion, the Tuscaloosa tornado was the 2nd most expensive tornado in world history, behind the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado. Fast forward to minute four to see the worst of the storm.


Figure 1. Will climate change increase the incidence of these sorts of frightening radar images? Multiple hook echoes from at least ten supercell thunderstorms cover Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee in this radar image taken during the height of the April 27, 2011 Super Outbreak, the largest and most expensive tornado outbreak in U.S. history. A multi-hour animation is available here.

Changes in past tornado activity difficult to assess due to a poor database
It’s tough to tell if tornadoes may have changed due to a changing climate, since the tornado database is of poor quality for climate research. We cannot measure the wind speeds of a tornado directly, except in very rare cases when researchers happen to be present with sophisticated research equipment. A tornado has to run over a building and cause damage before an intensity rating can be assigned. The National Weather Service did not begin doing systematic tornado damage surveys until 1976, so all tornadoes from 1950 – 1975 were assigned a rating on the Fujita Scale (F-scale) based on old newspaper accounts and photos. An improved Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale to rate tornadoes was adopted in 2007. The transition to the new EF scale still allows valid comparisons of tornadoes rated, for example, EF-5 on the new scale and F5 on the old scale, but does create some problems for tornado researchers studying long-term changes in tornado activity. More problematic is the major changes in the Fujita-scale rating process that occurred in the mid-1970s (when damage surveys began), and again in 2001, when scientists began rating tornadoes lower because of engineering concerns and unintended consequences of National Weather Service policy changes. According to Brooks (2013), “Tornadoes in the early part of the official National Weather Service record (1950 – approximately 1975) are rated with higher ratings than the 1975 – 2000 period, which, in turn, had higher ratings than 2001 – 2007.” All of these factors cause considerable uncertainty when attempting to assess if tornadoes are changing over time. At a first glance, it appears that tornado frequency has increased in recent decades (Figure 2). However, this increase may be entirely caused by factors unrelated to climate change:

1) Population growth has resulted in more tornadoes being reported. Heightened awareness of tornadoes has also helped; the 1996 Hollywood blockbuster movie Twister “played no small part” in a boom in reported tornadoes, according to tornado scientist Dr. Nikolai Dotzek.

2) Advances in weather radar, particularly the deployment of about 100 Doppler radars across the U.S. in the mid-1990s, has resulted in a much higher tornado detection rate.

3) Tornado damage surveys have grown more sophisticated over the years. For example, we now commonly classify multiple tornadoes along a damage path that might have been attributed to just one twister in the past.


Figure 2. The total number of U.S. tornadoes since 1950 has shown a substantial increase. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.


Figure 3. The number of EF-0 (blue line) and EF-1 and stronger tornadoes (maroon squares) reported in the U.S. since 1950. The rise in number of tornadoes in recent decades is seen to be primarily in the weakest EF-0 twisters. As far as we can tell (which isn’t very well, since the historical database of tornadoes is of poor quality), there is not a decades-long increasing trend in the numbers of tornadoes stronger than EF-0. Since these stronger tornadoes are the ones most likely to be detected, this implies that climate change, as yet, is not having a noticeable impact on U.S. tornadoes. Image credit: Kunkel, Kenneth E., et al., 2013, “Monitoring and Understanding Trends in Extreme Storms: State of Knowledge,” Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 94, 499–514, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00262.1


Figure 4. Insured damage losses in the U.S. due to thunderstorms and tornadoes, as compiled by Munich Re. Damages have increased sharply in the past decade, but not enough to say that an increase in tornadoes and severe thunderstorms may be to blame.

Stronger tornadoes do not appear to be increasing
Tornadoes stronger than EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (or F0 on the pre-2007 Fujita Scale) are more likely to get counted, since they tend to cause significant damage along a long track. Thus, the climatology of these tornadoes may offer a clue as to how climate change may be affecting severe weather. If the number of strong tornadoes has actually remained constant over the years, we should expect to see some increase in these twisters over the decades, since more buildings have been erected in the paths of tornadoes. However, if we look at the statistics of U.S. tornadoes stronger than EF-0 or F-0 since 1950, there does not appear to be any increase in their number (Figure 3.) Damages from thunderstorms and tornadoes have shown a significant increase in recent decades (Figure 4), but looking at damages is a poor way to determine if climate change is affecting severe weather, since there are so many human factors involved. A study in Environmental Hazards (Simmons et al., 2012) found no increase in tornado damages from 1950 – 2011, after normalizing the data for increases in wealth and property. Also, Bouwer (BAMS, 2010) reviewed 22 disaster loss studies world-wide, published 2001 – 2010; in all 22 studies, increases in wealth and population were the “most important drivers for growing disaster losses.” His conclusion: human-caused climate change “so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters.” Studies that normalize disaster data are prone to error, as revealed by a 2012 study looking at storm surge heights and damages. Given the high amount of uncertainty in the tornado and tornado damage databases, the conclusion of the “official word” on climate science, the 2007 United Nations IPCC report, pretty much sums things up: “There is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist in small scale phenomena such as tornadoes, hail, lighting, and dust storms.” Until a technology is developed that can reliably detect all tornadoes, there is no hope of determining how tornadoes might be changing in response to a changing climate. According to Doswell (2007): “I see no near-term solution to the problem of detecting detailed spatial and temporal trends in the occurrence of tornadoes by using the observed data in its current form or in any form likely to evolve in the near future.”


Figure 5. Wind shear from the surface to 6 km altitude in May on days with days with higher risk conditions for severe weather (upper-10% instability and wind shear) over the South Central U.S. has shown no significant change between 1950 – 2010. Image credit: Brooks, 2013, “The spatial distribution of severe thunderstorm and tornado environments from global reanalysis data”, Atmospheric Research Volumes 67-68, July-September 2003, Pages 73-94.


Figure 6. Six-hourly periods per year with environments supportive of significant severe thunderstorms in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. The line is a local least-squares regression fit to the series, and shows no significant change in environments supportive of significant severe thunderstorms in recent decades. Image credit: Brooks, H.E., and N. Dotek, 2008, “The spatial distribution of severe convective storms and an analysis of their secular changes”, Climate Extremes and Society

How are the background conditions that spawn tornadoes changing?
An alternate technique to study how climate change may be affecting tornadoes is look at how the large-scale environmental conditions favorable for tornado formation have changed through time. Moisture, instability, lift, and wind shear are needed for tornadic thunderstorms to form. The exact mix required varies considerably depending upon the situation, and is not well understood. However, Brooks (2003) attempted to develop a climatology of weather conditions conducive for tornado formation by looking at atmospheric instability (as measured by the Convective Available Potential Energy, or CAPE), and the amount of wind shear between the surface and 6 km altitude. High values of CAPE and surface to 6 km wind shear are conducive to formation of tornadic thunderstorms. The regions they analyzed with high CAPE and high shear for the period 1997-1999 did correspond pretty well with regions where significant (F2 and stronger) tornadoes occurred. Riemann-Campe et al. (2009) found that globally, CAPE increased significantly between 1958 – 2001. However, little change in CAPE was found over the Central and Eastern U.S. during spring and summer during the most recent period they studied, 1979 – 2001. Brooks (2013) found no significant trends in wind shear over the U.S. from 1950 – 2010 (Figure 5.) A preliminary report issued by NOAA’s Climate Attribution Rapid Response Team in July 2011 found no trends in CAPE or wind shear over the lower Mississippi Valley over the past 30 years.


Figure 7. Change in the number of days per year with a high severe thunderstorm potential as predicted by the climate model (A2 scenario) of Trapp et al. 2007, due to predicted changes in wind shear and Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE). Most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains is expected to see 1 – 2 additional days per year with the potential for severe thunderstorms. The greatest increase in potential severe thunderstorm days (three) is expected along the North and South Carolina coast. Image credit: NASA.

How will tornadoes and severe thunderstorms change in the future?
Using a high-resolution regional climate model (25 km grid size) zoomed in on the U.S., Trapp et al. (2007) and Trapp et al. (2009) found that the decrease in 0-6 km wind shear in the late 21st century would more than be made up for by an increase in instability (CAPE). Their model predicted an increase in the number of days with high severe storm potential for most of the U.S. by the end of the 21st century, particularly for locations east of the Rocky Mountains (Figure 7.) Brooks (2013) also found that severe thunderstorms would likely increase over the U.S. by the end of the century, but theorized that the severe thunderstorms of the future might have a higher proportion causing straight-line wind damage, and slightly lower proportion spawning tornadoes and large hail. For example, a plausible typical future severe thunderstorm day many decades from now might have wind shear lower by 1 m/s, but a 2 m/s increase in maximum thunderstorm updraft speed. This might cause a 5% reduction in the fraction of severe thunderstorms spawning tornadoes, but a 5% increase in the fraction of severe thunderstorms with damaging straight-line winds. He comments: “However, if the number of overall favorable environments increases, there may be little change, if any, in the number of tornadoes or hailstorms in the US, even if the relative fraction decreases. The signals in the climate models and our physical understanding of the details of storm-scale processes are sufficiently limited to make it extremely hazardous to make predictions of large changes or to focus on small regions. Projected changes would be well within error estimates.”


Figure 8. From 1995 (the first year we have wind death data) through 2012, deaths from high winds associated with severe thunderstorms accounted for 8% of all U.S. weather fatalities, while tornadoes accounted for 13%. Data from NOAA.

Severe thunderstorms are capable of killing more people than tornadoes
If the future climate does cause fewer tornadoes but more severe thunderstorms, this may not end up reducing the overall deaths and damages from these dangerous weather phenomena. In 2012, the warmest year in U.S. history, the death toll from severe thunderstorms hit 104–higher than the 70 people killed by tornadoes that year. Severe thunderstorms occur preferentially during the hottest months of the year, June July and August, and are energized by record heat. For example, wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt called the number of all-time heat records set on June 29, 2012 “especially extraordinary,” and on that day, an organized thunderstorm complex called a derecho swept across a 700-mile swath of the Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic, killing thirteen people and causing more than $1 billion in damage. The amount of energy available to the derecho was extreme, due to the record heat. The derecho knocked out power to 4 million people for up to a week, in areas where the record heat wave was causing high heat stress. Heat claimed 34 lives in areas without power in the week following the derecho. Excessive heat has been the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S since 1995, killing more than twice as many people as tornadoes have. Climate models are not detailed enough to predict how organized severe thunderstorm events such as derechos might change in a future warmer climate. But a warmer atmosphere certainly contributed to the intensity of the 2012 derecho, and we will be seeing a lot more summers like 2012 in coming decades. A future with sharply increased damages and deaths due to more intense severe thunderstorms and derechos is one nasty climate change surprise that may lurk ahead.


Figure 9. Lightning over Tucson, Arizona on August 14, 2012. A modeling study by Del Genio et al.(2007) predicts that lighting will increase by 6% by the end of the century, potentially leading to an increase in lightning-triggered wildfires. Image credit: wunderphotographer ChandlerMike.

Lightning may increase in a warmer climate
Del Genio et al.(2007) used a climate model with doubled CO2 to show that a warming climate would make the atmosphere more unstable (higher CAPE) and thus prone to more severe weather. However, decreases in wind shear offset this effect, resulting in little change in the amount of severe weather in the Central and Eastern U.S. late this century. However, they found that there would likely be an increase in the very strongest thunderstorms. The speed of updrafts in thunderstorms over land increased by about 1 m/s in their simulation, since upward moving air needed to travel 50 – 70 mb higher to reach the freezing level, resulting in stronger thunderstorms. In the Western U.S., the simulation showed that drying led lead to fewer thunderstorms overall, but the strongest thunderstorms increased in number by 26%, leading to a 6% increase in the total amount of lighting hitting the ground each year. If these results are correct, we might expect more lightning-caused fires in the Western U.S. late this century, due to increased drying and more lightning. Only 12% of U.S. wildfires are ignited by natural causes, but these account for 52% of the acres burned (U.S. Fire Administration, 2000). So, even a small change in lightning flash rate has important consequences. Lightning is also a major killer, as an average of 52 people per year were killed by lightning strikes over the 30-year period ending in 2012, accounting for 6% of all U.S. weather-related fatalities.

Summary
We currently do not know how tornadoes and severe thunderstorms may be changing due to climate change, nor is there hope that we will be able to do so in the foreseeable future. It does not appear that there has been an increase in U.S. tornadoes stronger than EF-0 in recent decades, but climate change appears to be causing more extreme years–both high and low–of late. Tornado researcher Dr. Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma said in a 2013 interview on Andrew Revkin’s New York Times dotearth blog: “there’s evidence to suggest that we have seen an increase in the variability of tornado occurrence in the U.S.” Preliminary research using climate models suggests that we may see an increase in the number of severe thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes over the U.S. late this century, but these thunderstorms will be more likely to produce damaging straight-line winds, and less likely to produce tornadoes and large hail. This will not necessarily result in a reduction in deaths and damages, though, since severe thunderstorms can be just as dangerous and deadly as tornadoes–especially when they knock out power to areas suffering high-stress heat waves. Research into climate change impacts on severe weather is just beginning, and much more study is needed.

from:    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

Climate Change & the Oklahoma Tornado

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Is Climate Change to Blame for the Oklahoma Tornado?

The six least active and four most active tornado seasons have been felt over the past decade–which could show the influence of climate change.

—By

Tue May. 21, 2013

tornado damage moore oklahomaDestroyed buildings and overturned cars left in the wake of the huge tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, near Oklahoma City, on May 20, 2013. Gene Blevins/LADailyNewsZuma

The story first appeared on the Guardian website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Global climate change and politics are linked to each other—for better or worse. No clearer was that the case than when Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island gave an impassioned speech on global warming in the aftermath of Monday’s deadly Oklahoma tornado, and the conservative media ripped him. Whitehouse implied that at least part of the blame for the deadly tornado should be laid at the feet of climate change.

Is Whitehouse correct? It’s difficult to assign any one storm’s outcome to the possible effects of global climate change, and the science of tornadoes in particular makes it pretty much impossible to know whether Whitehouse is right.

Let’s start with the basics of what causes a tornado. A piece from my friend (and sometimes co-chatter) Andrew Freedman two years ago sets out the basics well.

First, you need warm, humid air for moisture. The past few days in Moore have featured temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, with relative humidity levels regularly hitting between 90 percent and 100 percent and rarely dropping below 70 percent.

Second, you need strong jet stream winds to provide lift. As this map from Weather Underground indicates, there were definitely some very strong jet stream winds on Monday in the Oklahoma region.

jet stream

Image: Weather Underground

Third, you need strong wind shear (changing wind directions and/or speeds at different heights) to allow for full instability and lift. This mid-level wind shear map from the University of Wisconsin shows that there were 45 to 50 knot winds, right at the top of the scale, over Oklahoma on Monday.

wind shear

Image: University of Wisconsin

Fourth, you need something to ignite the storm. In this case, a frontal boundary, as seen in this Weather Channel map, draped across central Oklahoma, did the trick.

front boundary

Image: Weather Channel

The point is that all the normal ingredients were there that allowed an EF-4 tornado to spawn and strike. (Examination of the storm site may cause an upgrading to EF-5.) It happened in tornado alley, where warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico often meets dry air from the north and Rocky Mountains for maximum instability. There wasn’t anything shocking about this from a meteorological perspective. It was, as a well-informed friend said, a “classic” look.

The long-term weather question is whether or not we’ll see more or less of these “classic” looks in our changing meteorological environment. It turns out that of all the weather phenomena, from droughts to hurricanes, tornadoes are the most complex to answer from a broader atmospheric trends point of view. The reason is that a warming world affects the factors that lead to tornadoes in different ways.

Climate change is supposed, among other things, to bring warmer and moister air to Earth. That, of course, would lead to more severe thunderstorms and probably more tornadoes. The issue is that global warming is also forecast to bring about less wind shear. This would allow hurricanes to form more easily, but it also would make it much harder for tornadoes to get the full about lift and instability that allow for your usual thunderstorm to grow in height and become a fully fledged tornado. Statistics over the past 50 years bear this out, as we’ve seen warmer and more moist air as well as less wind shear.

Meteorological studies differ on whether or not the warmer and moister air can overcome a lack of wind shear in creating more tornadoes in the far future. In the immediate past, the jet stream, possibly because of climate change, has been quite volatile. Some years it has dug south to allow maximum tornado activity in the middle of the country, while other years it has stayed to the north.

Although tornado reporting has in prior decades been not as reliable as today because of a lack of equipment and manpower, it’s still not by accident that the six least active and four most active tornado seasons have been felt over the past decade. Another statistic that points to the irregular patterns is that the three earliest and four latest starts to the tornado season have all occurred in the past 15 years.

Basically, we’ve had this push and pull in recent history. Some years the number of tornadoes is quite high, and some years it is quite low. We’re not seeing “average” seasons as much any more, though the average of the extremes has led to no meaningful change to the average number of tornadoes per year. Expect this variation to continue into the future as less wind shear and warmer moister air fight it out.

The overall result could very well be fewer days of tornadoes per Harold Brooks of the National Storm Center, but more and stronger tornadoes when they do occur. Nothing about the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, or tornadoes over the past few decades break with this theory.

None of it proves or disproves Whitehouse’s beliefs, either. Indeed, we’ll never know whether larger global warming factors were at play in Monday’s storms. All we can do at this moment is react to them and give the people of Oklahoma all the help they need.

from:     http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/05/climate-change-oklahoma-tornado

Here’s Some Real Stuff to Worry About

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

5 Things Really Worth Worrying About

—By

| Sun Dec. 9, 2012

From a million-foot level, what are the biggest problems we have to worry about over the next four or five decades? For no real reason, I thought I’d toss out my short list. Here it is:

  1. Climate change. Needs no explanation, I assume.
  2. Robots. Explanation here. Even Paul Krugman is tentatively on board now.
  3. Immortality. Laugh if you want, but it’s hardly impossible that sometime in the medium-term future we’ll see biomedical breakthroughs that make humans extremely long-lived. What happens then? Who gets the magic treatments? How do we support a population that grows forever? How does an economy of immortals work, anyway?
  4. Bioweapons. We don’t talk about this a whole lot these days, but it’s still possible—maybe even likely—that extraordinarily lethal viruses will be fairly easily manufacturable within a couple of decades. If this happens before we figure out how to make extraordinarily effective vaccines and antidotes, this could spell trouble in ways obvious enough to need no explanation.
  5. Energy. All the robots in the world won’t do any good if we don’t have enough energy to keep them running. And fossil fuels will run out eventually, fracking or not. However, I put this one fifth out of five because we already have pretty good technology for renewable energy, and it’s mainly an engineering problem to build it out on a mass scale. Plus you never know. Fusion might become a reality someday.

These are the kinds of things that make the solvency of the Social Security trust fund look pretty puny. They also make it clear why it’s not worth worrying too much about whether it’s solvent 75 years from now. We might all be rich beyond our most fervid imaginations; we might be in the middle of massive die-offs thanks to spiraling global temperatures; or we might all be dead. Kinda hard to say.

Image: April Cat/Shutterstock; Arcady/Shutterstock; Neyro/Shutterstock; Vladislav Gurfinkel/Shutterstock

from:    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/12/five-big-things-look-forward-or-worry-excessively-about