Tag Archives: Sea Level Rise

Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

Human caused greenhouse gas pollution is heating the Earth and causing the planet’s polar ice caps and other glacial ice to melt. This, along with simply heating the ocean, has caused measurable sea level rise. Even more worrisome is this: the current elevated level of CO2 in the atmosphere was associated in the past with sea levels several meters higher than they are today. Even if we slow down Carbon pollution very quickly, we can expect sea levels to be at least 8 meters higher, eventually. How soon? Nobody knows, nobody can give you a time frame on this because the rate of melting of the major glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic is hard to measure. All we know for sure is that the rate of melting is speeding up, and that in the past, the current level of atmospheric CO2 has typically caused a very large amount of melting.

Bangladesh is low country. A very large percentage of the country is on the Bangladesh Plain, which is almost entirely below 10 meters in elevation. This is where a large portion of the population in that country lives, and where a large portion of the food is grown. The greenhouse gas pollution we have caused so far is sufficient to virtually guarantee that Bangladesh will become a very small country over the next generation or two. Much sooner than that, though, sea level rise in the region will affect, and is already affecting, freshwater reserves. We expect the largest tropical storms to become larger and more intense as an effect of human caused global warming. Sea level rise makes the storm surges from those events worse. So of immediate concern and becoming more of a problem every year is the threat of deadly and damaging tropical storms exacerbated by warming of the seas and increased sea levels.

The deadliest tropical cyclone on record occurred in Bangladesh; that was the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, which killed up to one half of a million people. The second deadliest cyclone known hit Bangladesh and India in great antiquity. Eight of the ten deadliest known tropical cyclones hit the region. So, tropical cyclones are already a problem in Bangladesh, and sea level rise and increased cyclone strength are going to make that much much worse.

Bjørn Lomborg, in a recent interview, told Bangladesh, the country, not to worry too much about global warming, and instead, to focus on other problems. He equated concern over sea level rise in a country where sea level rise is a very significant problem with immorality. While Lomborg may be correct to point out the obvious – that Bangladesh has a lot of problems in public health and other areas to worry about – he is wrong to suggest that sea level rise in that low lying country can be addressed just as the Dutch have managed the sea in The Netherlands.

Lomborg seems to not know much about sea level rise. He once noted that sea level rise had stopped, or even decreased, by referring to a single year’s worth of data (see graphic above). That statement and his suggestion that sea level rise should be a low priority in a country that may be the most threatened by sea level rise in the world (aside from island nations) is reminiscent of a statement by J.R. Spradley, a delegate at an international conference on climate change in 1990, speaking about sea level rise in Bangladesh. He was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “The situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won’t have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish.” (Washington Post, December 30th, 1990.)

Part of Lomborg’s argument is typical for him. He generates a straw man by equating concern over climate change with concern over a meteor about to smash into the earth. In the interview he said,

Projecting scary scenarios are probably unhealthy to deal with real issues. Now, if there was a meteor hurtling towards earth, we should tell people. If there was really something destroying the earth we should definitely be telling people and doing something about it. My point is if you, for instance, look at climate change, it is often portrayed as the end of the world. But if you look at for instance the UN climate panel, they tell us by about 2070 the total cost of global warming is going to be somewhere between 0.2 and 2% of the GDP. And that emphasises what I am trying to say – global warming is real, it is a problem, it is something we should fix, but it’s not the end of the world.

The problem with this is that sea level rise is, essentially, the end of the world, if you are Bangladesh.

The most troubling part of Lomborg’s statements is that he equates the Netherlands with Bangladesh. The Netherlands is about 25% below sea level, but the sea is kept back by dikes. Other than their cheese, chocolate, love of splitting the restaurant tab, this is probably what the Dutch are most known for. Indeed Dutch engineers were drafted into managing water related problems around the world for centuries. So maybe the Dutch can help Bangladesh keep the Indian Ocean off it’s turf when that ocean is 8 meters above the present level. Lomborg looks to the Dutch to do just this:

… how much of a problem is [sea level rise in Bangladesh]? The Dutch has shown us 200 years ago, you can handle sea level rise fairly, easily and cheaply, you can do the same thing here and you will do the same thing here. Remember when people say, global warming is a big problem and we need to put a wind turbine here – any amount of wind turbine or solar panels that we are going to put in the next 50 years, are going to have absolutely no impact on the sea level rise that towards the end of the century. They may make a tiny difference towards the 22nd century, but if want to do anything about sea level rise, it’s all about adaptation. Globally there seems to be actually less ferocious hurricanes, one measure is accumulated cyclone energy, which is sort of a good global estimate and it’s actually been at some of the lowest levels since we started monitoring in the 1970s. There is a theoretical argument that you will see slightly fewer but slightly stronger hurricanes towards the end of the century. Again, this is not by any means the end of Bangladesh.”

The Netherlands is about 41,543 square kilometers in size with about 17% of that reclaimed from the sea, this and other land kept dry by dikes. Bangladesh is about 147,570 square kilometers. The Netherlands does not get tropical cyclones very often. Bangladesh gets the worst of them. There are geological differences between the regions that matter as well. Bangladesh is, essentially, a giant delta (I oversimplify slightly) which means that part of is is sinking all the time even while the sea level goes up. Flooding along rivers becomes a big problem with sea level rise. Both regions have rivers. Bangladesh, however, is a country made out of rivers, and among them is the Ganges, which is the world’s third largest river by discharge. Bangladesh probably has more problems with flooding than any other nation. In 1988, 75% of the entire country of Bangladesh was covered by a flood.

It is estimated that a 1 meter rise in sea level would take about 17.5%, or 25,000 square kilometers, of Bangladesh. I’m a little unsure of that estimate (and others I’ve seen) because different researchers count or don’t count large regions of the country that are already flooded by the sea. Another estimate gives 16% of the land to the sea with a 1.5 meter sea level rise. (You can explore various scenarios here if you like.) In any event, an 8 meter rise in sea level, which is expected long term, would take a very large part of the country, displace most of the population, and destroy most of the agricultural land. In case it is not obvious, let me note that as sea level rise threatens Bangladesh, it also threatens The Netherlands, which might keep the Dutch rather busy in their own homelands.

It is also important to note that sea level does not treat all coastlines equally. Some areas are being affected more than others. A report in CBS news recently noted, “Seas are rising more than twice as fast as the global average here in the Sundarbans, a low-lying delta region of about 200 islands in the Bay of Bengal where some 13 million impoverished Indians and Bangladeshis live. Tens of thousands … have already been left homeless, and scientists predict much of the Sundarbans could be underwater in 15 to 25 years.”

The Dutch reclaimed so much of the sea, and developed defenses against storm surges and flooding, over a period of centuries. During much of this time, The Netherlands was a major player in the European economic theater, acting as a center during the development of the world economic and colonial systems of the 17th and 18th centuries. To suggest that somehow Bangladesh can do what the Dutch did while the entire world is also busy adapting to sea level rise is absurd.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute has done quite a bit of research on the potential effects of sea level rise, focusing on California (see, for example, Heberger M, Cooley H, Herrera P, Gleick P, Moore E (2009) The impacts of sea level rise on the California coast. California Climate Change Center, Sacramento, California. Paper CEC–500–2009–024-F). I asked him what he felt about the Lomborg interview. He said, “So a rich Dane tells poor Bangladeshis to stop whining and just ‘handle’ sea level rise, because that’s what the rich countries do? The reality, of course, is that even in rich countries, the poor will suffer most from sea-level rise. In our analysis of the risks to California from even modest SLR over the coming decades, nearly 500,000 people – disproportionately communities of color and low-income people – will be affected. And the cost of protecting them far exceeds the money available for coastal protection.”

There is also an absurdity to Lomborg’s assertion that we (our species) and Bangladesh (the country) should put off the global project of keeping the Carbon in the ground. We don’t know how long it takes for a warming planet to melt polar glaciers, but we do know that there is a pretty well established relationship between CO2 levels and global temperature, and between global temperature and sea levels. We know this from looking at numerous case studies from the past. It turns out that the relationship, ultimately, between CO2 levels and sea level rise is sigmoidal. Below about 400ppm, as CO2 levels rise, sea levels rise rapidly. Then, between about 400ppm and 650ppm, they rise more slowly, then above that level, the rate increases again.

Now, I want to pause for a second and clarify a very important point. We are now at 400ppm. This does not mean that sea levels will start to rise slowly. The expected sea level stand for 400ppm is probably close to 8 meters above the current level. In other words, the adjustment of sea level to CO2 that we expect should be very rapid, as fast as it generally goes (or nearly so) over coming decades. Once that level is reached, and CO2 continues to increase (and it will), then there may be a slowing down as we approach but have not yet reached about 650ppm.

So, what is absurd about Lomborg’s assertion? If we forestall efforts to keep the carbon in the ground for now, we will power through that range of decreased (but continuing) ultimate increase in sea level rise between the 400 and 650 levels of CO2, and nearly guarantee returning to the higher rate, and ultimately, seeing sea level rises in the tens of meters in coming centuries.

In his interview, as well as in a brief Twitter exchange we had, Lomborg made another error, one we often seen made by lesser informed people engaged in the climate or energy conversations. Lomborg seems to think that there is a fixed amount and class of resources and that one problem must be addressed at a time. But that is not how it works. First, there are resources primarily available for one thing such as public health, while other resources may be more generally applied. Also, we can in fact address more than one problem at once. I asked Professor Michael Mann, climate scientist, what he thought about Lomborg’s interview, and he told me, “Bjorn Lomborg is a master of the false choice, often claiming that dealing with climate change will somehow detract from our ability to deal with other societal problems. In reality, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can and must work on solving numerous societal problems. In reality, climate change exacerbates most of those problems. It is a threat multiplier. Lomborg conveniently ignores that!”

Speaking of the same problem, Peter Gleick told me, “Lomborg’s classic argument that other problems like disease are far more important than climate change and sea-level rise is a common Lomborgian false dilemma. Society can, regularly does, and must tackle multiple problems at once. This is like saying that because a patient has a broken arm the doctors shouldn’t treat her life-threatening pneumonia. Patently nonsense.”

I would add that increased flooding, decreased food supply, the mass exodus of people from inundated regions, etc. will create far more disease and starvation related public health problems than Bangladesh has at the moment. Forestalling or reducing the extent of this sort of disaster has to be a high priority.

Which brings us to the question of development. Bangladesh, like so many other countries, is likely to become more and more electric over time as it develops. Lomborg seems to want that to happen with the use of fossil fuels rather than clean energy sources. But, one of the obstacles to switching from fossil Carbon based energy to clean energy in the developed world is that our infrastructure is already set up to exploit mainly fossil Carbon based sources. In nations or regions where the use of energy is being developed every effort should be made to ensure this is done with clean energy. That is independent of any local or regional issues with sea level rise. This is what makes sense and this is what we have to do.

Lomborg is often wrong. I’ve noted this before (see: Are electric cars any good? Lomborg says no, but he’s wrong. and Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong). Climate Hawks critiques Lomborg’s Bangladesh strategy here noting issues I did not cover above. Scientific American published a stunning takedown of Lomborg’s book here. Recently, Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education expanded on that critique in a note about the support of Lomborg’s approach by the anti-science Discovery Intitute.

And in his statements on Bangladesh, he is wrong again.

ADDED: I’m adding a note to address, collectively and once, a number of comments that have been posted (some moderated) about scales of time.

This post is not about reconciling geological time with day to day time. I make as an assumption, in dealing with sea level rise, the idea that all recent estimates of polar glacial melt are at best minima, and fail to get at the real problem. I feel this is true because of my bias towards paleoclimate. I see in the ancient record changes in sea level stand that seem to occur over time periods that don’t look like a few mm a year of melting. I may be wrong, but the paleo record is pretty hard data while the melt estimates are a very preliminary stab at a very large problem that we are only starting to get a handle on.

This is not the point of the present post, but several commenters, who generally deny the importance of climate change and would prefer that we do nothing about it, seem to feel a) it does matters if large proportions of Bangladesh or other low lying countries are obliterated in 30 years or 300 years. The people who will be affected ten instead of 2 generations from now don’t matter; b) the ultimate multi meter rise in sea level, which will happen, is beyond their level of credulity, so they argue from that position that therefore a one meter rise in a region that is mostly about one meter above sea level does not matter; and c) feel that our ignorance of how to reconcile geological time scales of climate change in paleoclimate (mostly) is somehow evidence that there is not change; d) as usual, failure to accept the muddled yammering that arises from these starting points constitutes a lack of true scientific rational thinking, or a liberal bias, or some other such hogwash.

There is a handful of other annoyances that come with this group of deniers, but that’s mainly it. So, now, the questions you have had, are having now, or may have in the future, have been address in this area.

If you want a higher resolution copy of the graphic at the top of this post, click through to HERE then click on the graphic.

Other posts of interest:

SUNGUDOGO_cover_art_colorFACE-223x300Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

On Sea Level Rise

Sea levels are rising with increasing global temperatures. It seems that whenever there is a new estimate of the rate of melting of one or more major parts of the polar ice caps, that estimate is higher than previously thought. By the end of the century, the most aggressive estimates suggest that we will have close to 2 meters (6 feet) of sea level rise along the coasts.

So,here are three sea level rise items for you.

First, the Obama Administration will begin to plan for sea level rise in all major federal projects to which this variable pertains. See this item in the Washington Post.

The order represents a major shift for the federal government: while the Federal Emergency Management Administration published a memo three years ago saying it would take global warming into account when preparing for more severe storms, most agencies continue to rely on historic data rather than future projections for building projects.

The new standard gives agencies three options for establishing the flood elevation and hazard area they use in siting, design and construction of federal projects. They can use data and methods “informed by best-available, actionable climate science”; build two feet above the 100-year flood elevation for standard projects and three feet above for critical buildings such as hospitals and evacuation centers; or build to the 500-year flood elevation.

Second, not breaking news but something you may want to know about, is the US Army Corps of Engineers report on risk management for coastal communities, here.

Third: you may remember a while back I made a map that showed North American coast lines under the extreme scenario where all of the polar ice on Earth melts. That would represent about 80 meters of sea level rise. Well, the data I used to do that, from the USGS, had a problem, and with new data I’ve redone the map (and focused on the eastern part of the continent because it is more interesting). See: How high can the sea level rise if all the glacial ice melted?

That is all, thank you very much.

How much sea level rise will occur with glacial melting?

PotentialSeaLevelRise2Sea level rise is a serious issue, and the sea is rising because of global warming. How bad can it get?

The USGS has estimated the potential contribution of melting ALL of the glacial ice around the world to sea level rise. This is very rough, because many different factors affect sea level, including ocean temperature, gravity, and current. But this gives a rough idea. If the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses continues apace, we could actually see the eventual melt of all of this ice. If we stop releasing these greenhouse gasses in a reasonable time, it is unlikely that these very large numbers will be achieved. But it is important to realize the potential, to understand that the amount of available ice to melt into the sea is so large that that factor in and of itself will not come to our rescue.

I made a map, which is also very approximate, indicating about where the sea will reach in much of North America, and posted it here.

So, the following data are from the USGS. The total is Continue reading How much sea level rise will occur with glacial melting?

The Hottest Year: 2014

NOAA will announce today that 2014 was the warmest year during the instrumental record, which begins in 1880. The announcement, which addresses findings of both NOAA and NASA, will be made today at 11:00 Eastern. Below is the press release from NOAA.

I talked about this and other climate matters in a radio interview at Green Divas:

Michael Mann has made the following statements regarding this news:

2014 Was Earth’s Warmest Year On Record
Three major climate organizations (JMA, NASA, and NOAA) have now released their official estimates for the 2014 Global Mean Surface Temperature. Both JMA and NOAA conclude that 2014 was substantially higher, i.e. outside the margin of error, of previous contenders (1998, 2005, and 2010) while NASA finds 2014 to be warmest, but within the margin of error of 2005 and 2010 (i.e. a “statistical tie”).

Based on the collective reports, it is therefore fair to declare 2014 the warmest year on record. This is significant for a number of reasons. Unlike past record years, 2014 broke the record without the “assist” of a large El Niño event. There was only the weakest semblance of an El Niño and tropical Pacific warmth contributed only moderately to the record 2014 global temperatures. Viewed in context, the record temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change. It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.

The record temperatures *should* put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause” in Scientific American in global warming. There is a solid body of research now showing that any apparent slow-down of warming during the past decade was likely due to natural short-term factors (like small changes in solar output and volcanic activity) and internal fluctuations related to e.g. the El Nino phenomenon. The record 2014 temperatures underscore the fact that global warming and associated climate changes continue unabated as we continue to raise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

See also:

  • this post by Laurence Lewis
  • <li><a href="http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/01/explainer-how-do-scientists-measure-global-temperature/">Explainer: How do scientists measure global temperature?</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/jan/16/global-warming-made-2014-record-hot-year">Global warming made 2014 a record hot year – in animated graphics</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/01/16/scientists-react-to-warmest-year-2014-underscores-undeniable-fact-of-human-caused-climate-change/">Scientists react to warmest year: 2014 underscores ‘undeniable fact’ of human-caused climate change</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://mashable.com/2015/01/16/2014-earth-warmest-year-not-random/">There is less than a 1-in-27 million chance that Earth's record hot streak is natural</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/01/16/3612351/noaa-nasa-2014-hottest-year-on-record/">NOAA, NASA: 2014 Is Officially Hottest Year On Record, Driven By Global Warming</a>
    <li><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/2014-hottest-year-on-record_n_6479896.html">2014 Was The Hottest Year Since At Least 1880, Government Finds</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2014-hottest-year-on-record/">Interesting graphic at Bloomberg</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://blog.ucsusa.org/born-after-1976-you-have-lived-your-entire-life-on-a-hotter-planet-784">Born after 1976? You’ve Lived Your Entire Life on a Hotter Planet</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/2014-hottest-on-record-0459#.VLlDH4rF-6Z">2014 a Record Hot Year</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/2014-hottest-year">2014: ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://climatecrocks.com/2015/01/16/its-official-2014-hottest-year/">It’s Official, 2014 Hottest Year</a></li>

    The Press Release

    NOAA: 2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record
    December 2014 record warm; Global oceans also record warm for 2014

    The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. The December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was also the highest on record.

    This summary from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    In an independent analysis of the data also released today, NASA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.


        <li>During 2014, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C).</li>
        <li>Record warmth was spread around the world, including Far East Russia into western Alaska, the western United States, parts of interior South America most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific around the Gulf of Alaska, the central to western equatorial Pacific, large swaths of northwestern and southeastern Atlantic, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.80°F (1.00°C) above the 20th century average. This was the fourth highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.03°F (0.57°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 1998 and 2003 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).</li>
        <li>Looking above Earth’s surface at certain layers of the atmosphere, two different analyses examined NOAA satellite-based data records for the lower and middle troposphere and the lower stratosphere.</li>
    <li>The 2014 temperature for the lower troposphere (roughly the lowest five miles of the atmosphere) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.50°F (0.28°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), and sixth highest on record, at 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS).</li>
                <li><li>The 2014 temperature for the mid-troposphere (roughly two miles to six miles above the surface) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.32°F (0.18°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and sixth highest on record, at 0.25°F (0.14°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.</li>
                <li><li>The temperature for the lower stratosphere (roughly 10 miles to 13 miles above the surface) was 13th lowest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.56°F (0.31°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and also 13th lowest on record, at 0.41°F (0.23°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.  The stratospheric temperature is decreasing on average while the lower and middle troposphere temperatures are increasing on average, consistent with expectations in a greenhouse-warmed world.</li></ul>

    According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average annual Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during 2014 was 24.95 million square miles, and near the middle of the historical record. The first half of 2014 saw generally below-normal snow cover extent, with above-average coverage later in the year.

    Recent polar sea ice extent trends continued in 2014. The average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was 10.99 million square miles, the sixth smallest annual value of the 36-year period of record. The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was record large for the second consecutive year, at 13.08 million square miles.

    December 2014

        <li>During December, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.39°F (0.77°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for December in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous record of 2006 by 0.04°F (0.02°C).</li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.45°F (1.36°C) above the 20th century average. This was the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.  </li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.99°F (0.55°C) above the 20th century average. This was also the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>The average Arctic sea ice extent for December was 210,000 square miles (4.1 percent) below the 1981-2010 average. This was the ninth smallest December extent since records began in 1979, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center based on data from NOAA and NASA.</li>
        <li>Antarctic sea ice during December was 430,000 square miles (9.9 percent) above the 1981-2010 average. This was the fourth largest December Antarctic sea ice extent on record.</li>
        <li>According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during December was 130,000 square miles below the 1981-2010. This was the 20th smallest December Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record.</li>

    A more complete summary of climate conditions and events can be found at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2014/13

    Lots of new climate change science stuff

    I just did an interview on Green Diva Radio, and talked about a lot of climate change science news. For those who want to see the sources, here is a quick summary:

    On Friday, NASA and NOAA are expected to announce that 2014 was the hottest year on record. I had been planning to write an extensive blog post going into all sorts of details about how that works, how they calculate it, etc. But then the people at Climate Nexus wrote a post that would have blown mine out of the water with the detail and informtation provided in it. Go here to read this excellent post: 2014: Putting The Hottest Year Ever in Perspective.

    More than one new paper has come out describing new work on melting glaciers, especially in the Antarctic. One of the papers is described by an author, John Abraham, in this blog post: The Antarctic ice sheet is a sleeping giant, beginning to stir. You can get to the original paper via a link in that blog post. Bottom line is that the polar ice sheets are melting faster and faster every time someone looks. There is also some interesting stuff about melting glaciers, gravity, and sea level rise. Very much worth a look.

    There is also a new sea level rise curve. I’ve not looked at this so I have no comments on it, but you can see a write up here: A new sea level curve.

    The first in a series of predictions for the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane seasons has come out: 2015 Hurricane Zone Predictions: Stronger Season with Three U.S. Hot Spots. Bottom line is that it will be a pretty average hurricane season, which, in turn, means more hurricanes and more severe hurricanes than during the last few years, which have been rather anemic. Which, by the way, is probably a side effect of climate change.

    There has been some recent work confirming some earlier work, suggesting that a lot of “small” volcanoes have created a lot of dust contributing to cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere, slowing greenhouse gas caused warming. Despite what at lease one of these items says, we are now pretty sure that most of the surface temperature slowdown is because most of that heat is going into the ocean (see this), but volcanic dust has also made a contribution (as has the sun, being in a somewhat weak phase). So there are two things you should have a look at: Volcanoes may be responsible for most of the global surface warming slowdown and Small volcanic eruptions explain warming hiatus. Imma go out on a limb and guess that a little over 50% of the lack of warming (though it is warming, just slower) is from the ocean taking in more heat, the next biggest contribution is the volcanic dust, and a smaller but still two digit percentage (maybe) is from the sun. Feel free to challenge me on those numbers but do so with evidence please. I’ll be happy to see that estimate refined.

    Important new meta-study of sea level rise in the US.

    This is not a peer reviewed meta-study, but a meta-study nonetheless. Reuters has engaged in a major journalistic effort to examine sea level rise and has released the first part (two parts, actually). It is pretty good; I only found one paragraph to object to, and I’ll ignore that right now.

    There are two reasons this report is important. First, it documents something about sea level rise that I’ve been trying to impress on people all along. The effects of sea level rise do not end at one’s perceived position of a new shoreline. Here’s what I mean.

    Suppose you are standing on a barrier island, and your feet are on a grassy sandy knoll 10 feet above high tide. You are standing next to a climatologist who says “some projections say that the sea level will rise by one foot more than it already has by 2100. You breath a sigh of relief because you are standing 10 feet above high tide, and you realize that one foot of seal level rise is easily accommodated by the sea you see in front of you.

    But you would be a fool to not be worried for several reasons. First, you are standing on a 10 foot high sea cliff. The sea cliff represents erosion that happened since the last bout of sea level rise (and is actually an ongoing process). When the sea rises by one foot that sea cliff will erode away. The land many hundreds of yards behind you may be fine, but the place you are standing will be gone. It is hard to predict how much land will horizontally erode with a given rise in sea level, but it is generally a positive number, rarely zero (there are places where it effectively can be zero but not along the sandy shores). Second, as you stand there looking at the sea, the restaurants and businesses along the road behind you and the residential and commercial properties all across the nearby hinterland are busy lowering the ground water by taking water out for their own use as if it didn’t matter. So, while the sea may rise up one foot by 2011, it may also drop a foot because of the groundwater removal. Third, if the sea rises only a little across certain kinds of sediments, the weight of the sea may further suppress the land. Fourth, if this bit of land you are standing on is along the US Atlantic coast, you probably get more than one foot of sea level rise if the global sea level goes up by one foot. This has to do with the shape of the oceans, wind and water currents, etc. Fifth, one foot of sea level rise means many feet of extra storm surge when that rare tropical storm comes along. The chance of a hurricane hitting a given beach along the Atlantic is low. But we’re talking about the year 2011. Between now and then a hurricane with enhanced storm surge will come along and remove the land you are standing on. Sixth, the climatologist you are standing next to is an optimist. He is referring to “some estimates.” The funny thing about sea level rise estimates, as well as polar ice sheet melt estimates, is that they keep changing over time, always in one direction. Ten years ago the estimate was one foot by 2200. Now, it’s 4 feet, and some estimates suggest 6.6 feet. Also, looking at the paleo record, the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were at their present level plus what we expect to put in the air over the next few decades for good measure, sea levels were so high we used meters instead of feet! Figure 25 feet, maybe 40. The town behind you will eventually be gone, buried deeply in the sea, a nice fishing ground. That probably won’t be by 2100, but is it really your job to throw every human that exists after 2100 under the climate change bus because it is a nice round number? No. No, it isn’t.

    The Reuters report deals with most of those issues (though in a different way), chronicling numerous cases of actual current and ongoing encroachment of the sea on the land. And this brings us to the second key thing about this report. Reuters documents that the humans are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Local business leaders who want to preserve their short term profits are controlling supposedly long-term-thinking state and federal agencies so nothing gets done. Big Science (in the form of NASA) is busy studying glacial melt and sea level rise from rocket-launching bases that are being washed away by the rising ocean, and acting as though they can somehow stop that. Congress. It does nothing. And so on.

    This is the first in a series of reports, it is excellent, and I look forward to the rest of them. You can read it here. By the way, a lot of what is documented by Reuters was covered earlier in this book: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, worth a look!

    (The graphic above is from the National Climate Assessment report of 2014.)

    Humans accepting climate change vs. Jell-O: The Coastal Effect

    There is an old theory in psychology that characterizes humans as a bowl of Jell-O (Jelly for some of you). Life pokes at the Jell-O, the Jell-O jiggles. Eventually the jiggles begin to change the Jell-O, so certain kinds of pokes result in certain kinds of responses. The Jell-O gurgles, babbles, notices things, learns, develops, and eventually becomes self aware.

    That is a great oversimplification of a theory that was, in turn, a great oversimplification of human development, yet it does seem to apply in many ways to human behavior. When it comes to climate change, people seem more accepting of the reality of Anthropogenic Global Warming when it is hot out, less so when it is cool. Nature pokes, or fails to poke, and the Jell-O responds. Sadly, this seems to be how our Big Brains work.

    Climate Change has had, and will have, a very wide range of effects across the entire planet, and most of them have had or will have significant impacts on humans. Imagine a world that is warmed by an average of 3.0 degrees C. This is likely given our current and expected release of fossil Carbon into the atmosphere. That is a warming significantly more than we have experienced so far. One could take the effects that have already occurred and simply extrapolate into the future, and that may work for some effects. But other effects may be fundamental qualitative changes in climate systems that will be more difficult to characterize or predict. For example, 30 years ago it may have been difficult to predict changes in the jet stream that would cause widespread changes in weather patterns, threatening agriculture, water supplies, and causing frequent floods or other disasters. But that seems to have happened. Maybe in a couple of more decades, that effect will go away and something else will happen.

    So, imagine this world with 3.0 degrees greater average heat, and try to estimate what the worst effects will be. Clearly, this is a complicated question. One change in climate may strongly affect people in one part of the world and a different change may strongly affect people in another part of the world, and those different groups of people may have different levels of adaptability owing to economic or infrastructure differences. It is really hard to say what will happen. In a warmer world, high-humidity super-heat waves may happen in which large populations will find themselves experiencing temperatures well above body temperature for several days in a row. People in those areas, not all of them but a noticeable number, will simply die of the heat. Severe continental storms could become more common, so the chances of a community being wiped out by tornadoes or derechos may become extraordinarily high. Perhaps people will truly consider the costs and benefits of living in a “tornado ally” rather than simply knowing that tornado alley is a thing and otherwise more or less ignoring it. Arid regions may become hyper-arid for the long term, so water management simply becomes impossible. Even if California is inundated every few years with repeated pineapples express, if extreme drought becomes the norm a significant breadbasket may simply be a place we no longer grow food. And so on.

    One change that is inevitable is the rise of sea level. The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been associated in the past with sea levels significantly higher than they are now. The sea hasn’t risen to that level yet simply because it takes time, though we really don’t know how much time it takes. If we stopped adding fossil Carbon to the atmosphere today, the sea will still rise, significantly, perhaps several meters. We have accomplished this and we can’t un-accomplish it. But we are very likely to not stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, or any time soon, so it is likely that the maximum amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will will eventually achieve will be associated with even higher sea levels. Coastal cities will be inundated. Small Pacific nations will cease to exist. All of that is going to happen, pretty much no matter what. When you imagine all of the different bad things that may happen in the future, sea level rise may or many not be on the top of your list, and it may in fact not be the worst thing that occurs. But at present, sea level rise is probably the biggest single effect that can be easily identified, won’t not happen no matter what, and can be understood the best; how heat waves, drought, flash floods, etc. work, and what their effects will be is hard to grasp. Losing land to the ocean is not hard to grasp. (Though I quickly add most people still don’t get the level of magnitude of sea level rise that we will experience, eventually.)

    So, where does the bowl of Jell-O fit in to all of this? A recent study, in PLOS One, examines attitudes about climate change in relation to distance from the sea. The study takes place in New Zealand, but references other studies that look at similar things elsewhere. The bottom line is this: The farther a human lives from the sea, the less likely the human is to accept the reality of climate change science. Putting this another way, the father a bowl of Jell-O is from that which may poke it, the less poked it is, and thus, the less it develops, learns, evolves, gets smart.

    Psychologists have examined the many psychological barriers to both climate change belief and concern. One barrier is the belief that climate change is too uncertain, and likely to happen in distant places and times, to people unlike oneself. Related to this perceived psychological distance of climate change, studies have shown that direct experience of the effects of climate change increases climate change concern. The present study examined the relationship between physical proximity to the coastline and climate change belief, as proximity may be related to experiencing or anticipating the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise. We show, in a national probability sample of 5,815 New Zealanders, that people living in closer proximity to the shoreline expressed greater belief that climate change is real and greater support for government regulation of carbon emissions. This proximity effect held when adjusting for height above sea level and regional poverty. The model also included individual differences in respondents’ sex, age, education, political orientation, and wealth. The results indicate that physical place plays a role in the psychological acceptance of climate change, perhaps because the effects of climate change become more concrete and local.

    Another study done in 2011 indicated that Americans are more willing to alter their behavior related to climate change depending on an number of factors. In that study, distance to coast was a significant factor predicting willingness to change, but only one of several factors. Interestingly, knowledge of climate change science and distance to coast had similar levels of effect in that case. Another study done in 2013 “showed in [the] U.S. … that risk from climate change is perceived to be significantly lower for respondents located farther away from the coastline. Indeed, among the other geo-physical variables considered in this study (e.g., relative elevation, sea-level rise/inundation risk, temperature trend), distance to the coast had the strongest association with climate change risk perception.” cited here.

    I live and work in the Upper Midwest. There are no coasts nearby. I imagine the people around me as bowls of Jell-O that are unlikely to be poked by concern over sea level rise, and thus unlikely to accept climate change as real.

    Or are they?

    I frequently give talks on climate change, in the Upper Midwest, and I always talk about sea level rise, partly because I think it is very important and partly because I think there is more certainty about sea level rise (aside from the timing, we are not very certain about that) compared to many other effects of climate change. People get this. Even though we live far from the coast, it is possible to show people how important sea level rise is.

    Do you like rice? Do you have any idea how much of the global supply of rice is grown in regions that will be inundated by even a couple of meters of sea level rise? Do you ever go to Mexico during the winter? Did you ever notice how close to the sea, vertically, the Maya Riviera is? The region is built on coral, essentially, a vast “inland sea” risen temporarily out of the ocean for your pleasure. Temporarily. Are you, or is anyone important to you, in the agricultural business? (Many are around here.) Did you notice that New Orleans is the most important sea port for bringing fertilizer into the region, and bringing produce out? NOLA will not survive even a very modest, not too far in the future, rise in sea level. Were you thinking that a few meters of sea level rise will not happen for centuries, so who cares? Well, first, you don’t know how long it will take any more than anyone else does. Scientists who study these things have been shortening the time scale with almost every study. But forget about that. Are you a patriotic American? Did the founding fathers work out a Constitution that would only apply in their lifetimes, or during the lifetimes of their children? Did god tell Moses that the 10 commandments have an expiration date? Did Jesus die for the sins of people who he knew, AND NOT YOU???? I should mention that a lot of people around here are religious, though frankly, half the talks I give are to groups of godless heathens of which I am a member. But the point still stands. Timing is not everything. Timing is just an excuse.

    I don’t think the goal of climate activists should necessarily be to convince everyone to get on board and stop being dumb about global warming. For one thing, that will never happen. Rather, the goal of climate activists should be to make addressing climate change – which primarily means keeping the fossil Carbon in the ground – normal, part of our social and governmental responsibility, and to do so soon. Most people these days are pretty ignorant about the Ozone Layer, yet somehow we are mostly taking care of the ozone layer, not because we got everyone on board, but because we made taking care of the ozone layer national and international law and set up systems to do that. Climate change is a much bigger challenge, or really, a large number of individual challenges many of which are very big. But we have to meet those challenges with methods and approaches that work and changing human psychology – making humans be something other than bowls of Jell-O – is not going to work in time to matter, if at all. But, getting some more people on board by addressing the psychology of belief, as it were, in the science, needs to happen to bring certain communities and factions to a tipping point.

    Maybe everyone should move to the coast for a few years. Get their feet wet.

    Talk on Climate Change and Religion

    April 27th, I’ll be giving a talk hosted by Minnesota Atheists at the Maplewood Library, 3025 Southlawn Dr, Maplewood, Minnesota. Details are here.


    You may attend any part of the meeting you wish, here’s the schedule:

    1:00-1:15 p.m. – Social Time
    1:15-1:45 p.m. – Business Meeting
    1:45-2:00 p.m. – Break
    2:00-3:30 p.m. – Talk by Greg Laden
    4:00-whenever – Dinner at Pizza Ranch (1845 County Road D East, Maplewood MN)

    This will be a talk about climate change focusing on current and challenging research questions that everyone needs to know about, as well as the relationship between climate change and religion.

    Most of the important events in the Bible are linked to climate change. Genesis describes the creation of a planet with a rapidly changing climate. Noah helped all the animals and his family escape an epic case of sea level rise. We can guess that the seven years of lean following the seven years of abundance associated with the early days of the sons of Israel were a climate effect. The plagues and some of the other major events were a form of “weather whiplash.” Indeed, during the days of Moses, wildfires may have been more common, given the number of burning bushes reported for the time!

    After all this you would think that mainstream Abrahamic religion would be on the forefront of climate change. And, since humans were in one way or another responsible for most of those Biblical events, one would expect to see widespread acceptance of Anthropogenic Global Warming in religious communities. The reality, however, is more complex than that.

    There is a reason that the National Center for Science Education addresses both evolution and climate change curriculum in public schools. But don’t expect the link to be simple or straightforward. Historically, there has been almost as much denial of climate science from the secular community as from the religious community, a situation that has been changing only in recent years. We’ll look at the links, some overt, some more subtle, between efforts lead by the religious right to damage science education and parallel efforts to deny climate science, as well as efforts by Christian fundamentalists to support climate change science.

    This talk will also address the most current thinking–in some cases rapidly changing thinking–about climate change. In particular, how does global warming affect weather extremes? Are the California Drought, recent major floods, and the recent visitation of the Polar Vortex acts of a vengeful god, random events, or the effects of climate change? While climate science is not sure, these are probably the result of one of the last two. And, increasingly, thinking among climate scientists is leaning strongly towards the global warming – weather whiplash link.

    Another area of concern, and timely given that summer is (supposedly) on the way, is the problem of sea level rise caused by melting large masses of ice currently trapped in glaciers. Sea level rise is one of the issues many feel has not been adequately addressed by the well known IPCC, partly because of the discordance between the timing of important research and the production cycle of the IPCC reports.

    Greg Laden writes about climate change, evolution, science education, and other topics at National Geographic Science Blogs and other venues. He is a trained biological anthropologist and archaeologist who has taught at several colleges and universities. Today he mostly engages in climate-change-related science communication. He has done a number of interviews and talks on these various topics for Minnesota Atheists and other groups in the area.

    Abrupt Climate Change

    First, let me note that if you are not a regular reader of Peter Sinclair’s “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” you should be.

    Peter’s latest video is “Abrupt Climate Change, and the Expected Unexpected”

    Senior Scientists discuss the potential for sudden disruptions of human and natural systems as a consequence of climate change.

    Whatever you thought about sea level rise, it’s worse than you were thinking.

    I’ve noted this before. Here is Peter Sinclair’s video on the topic:

    The most sobering evidence of the planet’s response to greenhouse gases comes from the fossil record. New evidence scientists are collecting suggests that ice sheets may be more vulnerable than previously believed, which has huge implications for sea level rise.

    Haiyan is an example of climate change making things worse

    Update on Haiyan/Yolanda Death Toll

    The final figures are not likely in but the numbers have stabilized and we can now probably put a number to the human toll of this storm that will not change dramatically in the future, at least in terms of orders of magnitude. The current “official” death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan is 6,009 with 1,779 missing and 27,022 injured, with the largest concentration of casualties in Eastern Visayas. This comes from a December 13th report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which you can (probably) download here. If you do download it expect to see slightly different numbers as the report seems to be updated dynamically. Wikipedia, which references the same report, gives slightly different numbers (higher for dead and injured, same for missing). Regardless of these smaller changes, we can say that the total casualty number for this typhoon is well over 30,000 with over 6,000 dead. With so many people missing we may guess that the number dead is somewhat over 7,000.

    A few days ago a major typhoon struck the Philippines and then Vietnam, with another smaller storm heading in roughly the same direction. At about the same time, a tropical cyclone hit Somalia and killed at least 100 people there. The United States is not unaffected by the impacts of large tropical storms. There is reason to believe that tragedies like these may become more common or more severe with climate change. We must first address the urgent needs of the people in the affected areas, but it is also true that events like these and the voices of the victims must drive our continued commitment to address climate change preemptively.

    Yeb Saño, the Philippines’ negotiator at the UN Climate Talks, found himself in the position of addressing an international body about the damaging effects of climate change while his own family was living in the affected area. We should take our lead from him. When he gave his address to the gathered representatives from around the world, he announced a hunger strike on behalf of his people which he would continue until the UN group completed the job they had convened to do. Saño’s brother, along with his fellow citizens, was occupied with recovering the dead and helping the survivors while Saño himself sought international recognition of the climate crisis; he was moved to say, “The climate crisis is madness.”

    The exact nature of future storms is uncertain, but there are four lines of scientific evidence that hurricanes will be more of a problem in the future than they were in the past.

    First, sea levels continue to rise, so the same storm ten years from now vs. ten years ago will have significantly greater impact.  Sea level rise was a significant factor with Superstorm Sandy and Katrina, and was likely a factor in the high death toll and extensive damage caused by Haiyan.

    Second, large storms are likely to produce more rain over a broader area because a warmer atmosphere contains more moisture; large storms will bring increased inland flooding, a major cause of damage, injury, and death in tropical storms and cyclones.

    Third, increased sea temperatures may generate more intense storms.  This seems to have happened with Katrina and Haiyan; the sea surface temperature drives the storm’s formation, but in these two storms the sea was unusually warm at a greater depth, several meters, causing those storms to become much stronger than they otherwise might have been. Recent studies have shown a strong association between sea surface temperatures in the Pacific and the cumulative strength of the storms that happen in a given year.

    Fourth, and less certain, is the possibility that there will be more hurricanes and typhoons. One of the best models for predicting past hurricane frequency predicts that this will happen in the future, and by the way, that model predicted the current relatively anemic Atlantic storm season with good accuracy.   Major tropical storms occur with highly varying frequency from year to year, so it is difficult to identify any trend over just a few decades for which there are good records, but the climate models are increasingly accurate and they suggest that globally we can expect an uptick in frequency.

    It is often said that it is impossible to link a given weather event with climate change.  This is no longer true, if it ever was.  The typical climate for a region or a season tells us what weather is “normal.” Climate change is pushing us into a new normal; the climate has warmed, there is more energy in the atmosphere, the jet streams have changed their configuration and are thus more likely to stall weather patterns as happened this year in Calgary and Colorado. This is the new climate, and thus, there is a new normal for the weather in any given region or season.  It appears that the new normal is now, and will increasingly be in the future, one with a significantly greater threat of damage, injury, and death from major tropical storms and other severe weather events.

    There are many approaches to addressing this problem, but most of them start with one initial step: stop denying the importance and reality of the accepted science of climate change. This is something individuals must do, the media must do, and politicians and policy makers must do.  This is something that must start now, and really, should have started years ago.

    Bad storms have always happened. But, to ignore the fact that humans are making them worse is certainly, as Saño put it, “climate madness.”