Climate Adaptation Is Essential, Scientists Warn
By Tim Radford
The probable changes as the world heats are so great that climate adaptation to cope with the inevitable is now essential, scientists are warning.
Forest damage, drought and floods, for example, will all worsen, and tidal ranges are already changing. More than half of all the natural vegetation of California is at risk as temperatures rise.
Even were the U.S. and other nations to honor the promises made in the Paris agreement of 2015, one fourth of California's natural wilderness would be under stress from global warming, a new study shows.
And on top of temperature rise, California is increasingly at risk from severe drought, says a different study. U.S. government scientists believe they have established a link between the retreat of Arctic sea ice and a decline in rainfall in the Golden State.
Drought and Flood
And while California becomes ever more parched, its forests at ever-greater risk of insect attack and wildfire, 43 other U.S. states face a dramatic increase in flood hazard, with a tenfold rise in the numbers of people at risk from the worst river floods.
And—although President Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the Paris agreement to limit the use of fossil fuels—the tide gauges of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the East Coast of the U.S. tell a different story. They confirm that climate change has already begun to affect high and low water tides.
U.S. researchers report in the journal Ecosphere that they looked at the consequences for California if global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate, to go on fueling global warming.
They mapped 30 different vegetation types—California's canopy includes a huge variety of mountain conifer, forest coastal woodland, upland sagebrush scrub, grassland and so on—and considered nine climate and precipitation variables, and then looked at computer models of future global warming, which predict, at worst, a global average rise of 4.5 C by 2100.
"At current rates of emissions, about 45-56 C of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles," said James Thorne of the University of California Davis, who led the study.
"If we reduce the rate to Paris Accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28% of the lands at climatic risk." The research measures only the impact of climate change: not of the accompanying hazards.
During the 2012-2016 Californian drought—the worst on record—more than 127 million trees died of insect infestation, and wildfire devastated huge tracts of forest and scrub.
And according to researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more drought could be on the way. They report in Nature Communications that the steady attrition of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean triggers a change in atmospheric convection over the tropical Pacific, which creates the right conditions for an atmospheric ridge over the North Pacific, which means California gets a lot sunnier, and therefore drier.
"On average, considering a 20-year mean, we find a 10-15 percent decrease in California's rainfall. However some individual years could become much drier, and others wetter," said Ivana Cvijanovic, who led the research. "The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what sea ice-driven precipitation decline should look like."
Elsewhere in the U.S., drought may not be the big problem. German researchers report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated the necessary increase in flood protection over the next 25 years worldwide, as the planet warms.
They looked not just at individual countries but at cities too, to calculate the numbers at hazard of rising rivers, including Europe.
In Germany, the numbers at risk from the worst 10 percent of all floods will rise sevenfold. In North America, the increase will be tenfold. In the U.S. 43 states could see more damage from the worst floods.
Risk Is Greatest in Asia
The overall numbers at risk are greatest in Asia—70 million people now, and 156 million by 2040. The scientists make the case that governments need to think about adaptation. The surprise was that even the most developed nations would be affected.
"The findings should be a warning to decision-makers," said Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and one of the authors. "If they choose to ignore the issue, sadly enough disaster will come."
"The time has come where mitigating future climate change must be accompanied by adapting to the climate change we have already caused. Doing nothing will be dangerous."
And the impact of climate change so far is now backed up by evidence in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Once again, the research is driven by a concern to identify future sources of flooding or erosion.
Oceanographers built a computer model based on a century of measurements of the tides at 15 locations in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the U.S. Eastern Coast. Overall, by 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as a meter.
They found evidence that sea level rise so far has already begun to change the ranges of low and high tides—in some cases by up to 20 percent—which in turn are governed by the contours of the two great river estuaries.
"In the Delaware Bay, as you go upstream toward Philadelphia, the shore lines are converging in a kind of funnel shape, and so we see that amplifies sea level rise's effects on the tides," said Andrew Ross, a meteorologist then at Penn State University, but now at Princeton. "That amplification gets magnified the farther you go upstream."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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