Yep, That’s Climate Change

Kumquats

With Tess on the East Coast we’ve heard all the caterwauling that keeps getting broadcast by denizens of the right-coast every time a slow moving low pressure system pushes its way across the area. Here is the thing folks, they’re all “polar vortices”. That’s right every last low pressure system that has crossed any door step on the east coast in the last 250 years was, without question, a circumpolar whirl.

But here is the fun part, due to the long-term, transformative effects of lowered polar albedo, increased thermal mass, and a tossed salad of other contributing factors ranging from ash/dust build up on permanent ice sheets to increased freshwater run-off and subsequent mixing in the North Sea any low pressure system (or contra rotating high) headed your way will likely stick around longer and thus result in greater temperature extremes.

Arctic amplification of the long term, hemispheric weather pattern (sometimes known as the “jet stream”) has gradually resulted in this effect. Major media outlets seem content to tell you that this is unusual and “unexpected”. They’ve even repackaged each occurrence, somewhat un-creatively, with the sound bite-sized nom de plume “Polar Vortex”.

But you should know that “scientists have observed that the reduced temperature difference between the north pole and the tropics is associated with slower west to east ‘jet stream’ movement, and a greater north-south dip in its path.” In fact, not only have they noticed this, they predicted it, then modeled it, then verified those models, and then tried (usually repeatedly) to warn anyone  who might listen that soon we’d be freezing our kumquats off, only to have them roast up like raisins as soon as the tropical warm air chases the ice down the storm drain. You can expect more of this, lots and lots more of this kind of weather.

I’m tempted to say “I told you so,” but this sort of seems a little snide and mean-spirited, especially when I’m on the threshold of joining you all on the east coast. Thus, I’ll leave you with this, buy some good, wool long-underwear and a thick, long coat and make certain your pipes are well insulated.

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Climate Engineering

Can we alter the climate? Man on bike in the smog in Harbin, China (LA Times)

We’ve heard all the reasons not to engineer Earth’s climate. Of these I think my favorite is the idea that man simply does not have what it takes to change things significantly. When I hear or read this excuse for not addressing climate change directly, I chuckle. It is also probably the single most common admission that a person is failing to pay attention to their surroundings. And, ultimately, it makes anyone foolish enough to let words like “that’s just mankind’s hubris” or “we could never embark on a project that large” appear at once poorly informed and lacking imagination.

SPOILER ALERT: While writing Counterfeit Horizon, my first novel-length science fiction book, I’ve been researching a variety of technological solutions that the backscatter emergent intelligence might be able to deploy on its own accord in an effort to control humanity’s headlong nose dive into rapid climate change. In the book, people are too concerned with all the little details of out day-to-day lives to see the big picture. And humanity’s failure to cope with the impacts of its incremental changes must be dealt with by an improbable protagonist who requires the continued existence of the third chimp for its own well being.

Injecting sulfer dioxide into the upper stratosphere “is a brutally ugly technical fix” (Keith, 2013) that gets used liberally in the book. The emergent intelligence conscripts a fleet of autonomous drones and unsuspecting markets to rein in climate change, but here in the real world there is no such magical intercession for keeping oceanic clathrates intact or containing the millions of years of preserved organic gasses frozen in permafrost.

Wikipedia defines climate engineering as  the “deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climatic system”. Take a look around: we’ve already developed this infrastructure, folks. Every time you flip on a light or turn over your car’s ignition you are engineering the climate.

Just as it has been possible to heat the planet by injecting two-hundred and fifty years of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, it is possible for us to change things back in our favor.

“It is possible to cool the planet by injecting reflective particles of sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere where they would scatter a tiny fraction of incoming sunlight back to space, creating a thing sunshade for the ground beneath. To say that it’s “possible” understates the case: it is cheap and technically easy. The specialized aircraft and dispersal systems required to get started could be deployed in a few years for the price of a Hollywood blockbuster.

“I don’t advocate such a quick-and-dirty start to climate engineering, nor do I expect any such sudden action, but the underlying science is sound and the technological developments are real. This single technology could increase the productivity of ecosystems across the planet and stop global warming; it could increase crop yields, particularly those in the hottest and poorest parts of the world. It is hyperbolic but inaccurate to call it a cheap tool that could green the world.

“Solar geoengineering is a set of emerging technologies to manipulate the climate. These technologies could partially counteract climate change caused by the gradual accumulation of carbon dioxide. Deliberately adding one pollutant to temporarily counter another is a brutally ugly technical fix, yet that is the essence of the suggestion that sulfur be injected into the stratosphere to limit the damage caused by the carbon we’ve pumped into the air.”

A Case for Climate Engineering”, David Keith, MIT Press Books, 2013 ISBN 9780262-019828

But it is my firm belief that there is no need for such a dirty compromise. Climate engineering up to this point has been a large scale byproduct of collective behavior. Change the direction of the behavior and our climate changing will also shift.

Washed Out

Here comes another one, here it comes again.

About this time last week I was faced with a decision: prepare to head out for my weekly visit to the LittleSpec writing group, or believe the forecasters and stay home to prep for potential flooding. I chose the latter and at the time I experienced a few pangs of regret. Fourmile Creek, directly behind our townhouse, was flooding while I prepared dinner with drizzle wafting down from the heavens, but that only meant it had become a ditch compared to its usual summer trickle.

Topaz, just a little west of us.

However, by about 22:00 that night, my trust in those brave men of science (responsible for forecasting weather) was affirmed. The water had completely covered the bike path that is situated between the creek and the flood wall just beyond our back patio and was continuing to rise rapidly.

It was the late walk for the dogs and as soon as the door was open I realized the difference. The rain no longer fell like a gray mist. Instead, it poured from the sky like there was a pressure pump pushing from behind. The creek roared like a line of jets waiting for clearance on a runway. And I had to put leashes on both the dogs to get them to go outside. If you have ever met my girls you might understand that this is not normal behavior.

Keeping it real during a lull along Fourmile Creek.

From that point on I felt compelled to stand vigil over my house and family. I think what bothers me most about this is the certain knowledge that had the water come over the flood wall I would have been equally powerless in dealing with it; the vigil was totally self serving and completely useless.

During the down time we lost power briefly a couple of times. I turned it off every time I heard that there was a “wall of water” headed down the drainage. Ootek was packed and ready to leave in the moment we realized that sheltering in place might not be a good idea. Throughout I slept only fitfully, with the window cracked and the sound of torrential rains and First Responder sirens blaring throughout the night.

Boulder Creek sort of passing beneath Broadway. This is a lull in flow.

The good news is that some writing got done. Lots of cleaning and plenty of playtime was had. We tried to watch out for our neighbors too, and hopefully in the process improved our relationship with the people who live closest to us.

Right now, there is a storm system moving in from the west (different direction than the systems that have constantly hit us for the past week). I’m listening to the sound of rat fans running across the street as people try to dry out their houses. That and the sound of thunder whipcracking the Flat Irons.

Scouting by Fat-Bike up stream from the house. This bridge was pretty much all that remained from this intersection of bike path, street and civic improvements. I had to turn around and try another way.

We got so lucky this last week, I’m not even sure I will ever fully realize the scale of our fortune. We are seemingly located on an island in a flood plain. So my message at this point is to count your blessings wherever you may find them.

Landslides in the foothills click to see a close up

Just so the offer is made crystal clear: I also know that we have been lucky compared to friends and family nearby. If you need help I have tools, a strong back, a good set of work boots and gloves, and an awesome truck. Please let me know when and where.

National Guard Chinook bringing survivors in from Lyons, CO.

Santorum on Climate Change Deniers

Ice floats atop the East Siberian Sea in the North Pole. (Photo: Getty Images)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better deal with climate change deniers and obstructionists.  The rational argument with piles of evidence is not changing the hearts and minds of too many.  The simple fact of the matter is that there are competing, well resourced interests which for their own reasons do not want you or I or anyone else to change, even slightly, the way in which we might be living.

Ultimately, I feel like there are some people I share this planet with who are holding a clathrate gun to the heads of my children.  While they are entitled to their narcissistic and selfish points of view, there is no reason that this sort of nonsense should even be part of the debate any longer.  But this is what happens when belief and opinion gain assumed equality with the scientific method and reasoned thought.

Recently an interview and article by my friend Ramez Naam, which appeared in Yahoo!’s financial publication, brought this notion into sharp focus.  One of the things I like most about Mez is that he has both a data driven road map to deal with climate change and a message of hope despite news and science which seems to indicate that we may have passed the threshold where we can still cling to such a pipe dream.

My mistake was in participating, even briefly, in the comments section appended to the article.  I just scanned through the top couple of responses and despite the rational and well reasoned call to switch to cleaner (lower carbon emitting technologies) the greatest majority of the comments (nearly 1,000 at last count) indicate that Naam’s message of hope is not necessarily being heard.

People do not seem to be getting the message.  Or if they are getting a message they’re unable to fully assimilate that information.  Rabid ignorance is the character of most of these posts.

Then there are the fringe political elements which do not understand that the only conspiracy at hand is the one that they are theorizing.

To put it bluntly, I feel humiliation because of people who think this way.  Neither one of these commenters bothered to read or even watch the interview, that’s obvious.  And while they have formed opinions which they are more than happy to trumpet, they obviously lack any real understanding of the science or the situation concerning climate change or clean technologies.  “Cheap energy” for that matter.

But its not a couple of nobodies on the internets that bother me, rather it is the fact that these sorts of uninformed opinions have such great reach.  Within the US at least, this is a pervasive norm which constantly impedes any meaningful change.

There’s not sound science to support some of the initiatives that the President, I think, is committed to. We know that some of the research was faulty and it drove a lot of the agenda for a long time. and then it turned out there were some questions about the validity of that research….I don’t see a lot of the green initiatives that are being talked about being supported by scientific data, but more supported by political agendas.

– Rick Crawford, R-Arkansas

The simple and plain fact of the matter is that the science is out there. Its out there and easily consumable, peer reviewed and vetted, lacking emotional influence, desire for power, or greed. It is out there, ready and waiting to be understood, and made of use.  And, just so I’m completely clear at this point, its not that there is a difference of opinion between Climate Change science and the Obstructionist block; rather its that the CCD&O crowd constantly hamper, stall, or shout down any attempt that does not agree with their miserably skewed world view.

It is my firm belief that Climate Science needs to move beyond its current mode of communicating, it needs to influence policy and thus behavior.  Visionaries like Naam and economic wiz-kids such as Andrew Birch can help us form the foundation of a meaningful adaptive response, but this is a project that requires a fundamental change in the way humanity operates.  All walks of life will be affected as the consequences of nearly 300 years of fossil carbon being dumped in the atmosphere unfold.  And thus, all walks need to be part of the response.

Today, I encountered a new method for dealing with those worthy of ridicule.  Actual ridicule, stark and in the public’s full view.

The environmental activists at 350.org have created a petition and program to change the naming convention of Atlantic hurricanes, which have demonstrably become more intense and destructive as the climate has changed, to the names of public figures who persist in their pigheaded denial of climate change. This video is well worth watching and I suggest that you sign the petition as well (5 seconds).


Shame is a powerful tool, many in the CCD&O crowd are firm believers of doctrines that use shame as a primary tool for altering behavior.  I will prognosticate the following, if a campaign of ridicule becomes a primary means of exposing the ridiculous in the the CCD&O crowd than those interests which back these people will seek power and control through other avenues.  Esteemed members in the halls of Congress will once again be worthy of esteem, because they will, at least on this issue, not have their hands tied by an outmoded and non-adaptive minority rich with resources used to manipulate.

Politics are, much like the internet, a popularity contest.  Rick Santorum learned this the hard way when he took on Savage Love.  It cost him his political career and will haunt him until he is dead and gone.  And I’d argue, while the things he said about the LGBT community were wrong, ill-informed, and prejudiced, they are only minor transgressions compared to some of the material that spews from the CCD&O crowd.  People we live in a target rich environment, get ready to laugh yourself silly.

Don’t Read the Comments

Just read a story about how we’re on the “edge” of a climate crisis. Immediately, I’m thinking the edge was a long time ago — back when there were only 350 PPM of CO^2 in the atmosphere and > +1 degree rise in average global temperature. So I finish the story, in which the author talks about critical anthropogengic emission levels without actually naming them, because, well we passed that threshold a long time ago and it wouldn’t make his story seem like there was impending doom if the doom were already upon us (anyone else noticed the steady stream of drought stories seeping in from all parts of North America as well as most of the Northern Hemisphere? Me too.).

Anyway, I fired up after reading this article that should have been written back in 2001 so I space bar it down to the comments section thinking “I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.” There is the text form where I can. I begin to type away, eventually exhausting my anger and frustration. I hit publish. Then, possibly to be sure I’m a human who might feel rage, I have to hit publish again. Finally my little two paragraph moment in the sun appears — right above some crack pot who believes that climate change is caused by “solar super storm”, I mean look at Pluto.

ARGH! I tell you I can’t take this any longer. Who among you bothers to read anything any more. Shit man, did you make it this far into this rage-o-gram? So lesson learned, don’t read the comments section of unmoderated news outlets. Rather take a moment, collect your senses when a news article tweaks your nose, and post about it here. When the crack pots come a’callin never fear, you can introduce them to the circle file.

Thank You Twitter

Normally I would have missed something like this, but today while reading snippets of information from my twitter feed I noticed a recommendation that immediately caught my attention. A not-for-profit out of the Seattle area called Undriving. Their intent is to reduce car use for individuals as well as around the world.

Asian Brown Cloud

With stories like this one popping up daily I think its important to address this problem. Asia is currently experiencing a car boom which is resulting in 2.1 million people dying early in that region. Often from preventable diseases. Oddly enough, its fairly easy to look at Asia and say “well yea”. But hold on there twinkle toes, while this is an emergent issue on the east side of the Pacific Rim, its a well established issue here in the west.

LA’s Daily Dose of Smog

So while its easy to blame folks over the Pacific Ocean for pollution we’re unlikely to see, we’re equally if not increasingly responsible for the same kind of climate altering, child killing air pollution.

So, back to my super enjoyable twitter discovery. Much of the air pollution that contributes to conditions such as asthma or, take your pick, climate change is a direct result of vehicle exhaust. Recognizing this and taking individual responsibility for the pollution you produce is THE first step in controlling this chronic problem. Better for me too, then I don’t have to breath your car farts.

Undriving is attempting to get you to think about how and where you drive. How you might take some responsibility to reduce your car use. And making you aware of what some alternatives might be to help you get around otherwise. I really like their approach too, it doesn’t rely on scaring the bejesus out of you in order to prompt a change.

If you’re interested in making a change or even considering your options (and its almost the New Year, you’re going to need some resolutions) Undriving is a great place to start. Go take a look!