Archive for June, 2010

15
Jun
10

look out, here comes the flood

One of the many ironies in the debate over global warming is that the chickens have already come home to roost but few have noticed, except climate scientists of course, but then it’s clear that almost no one is listening to them anyway.

The epic and record-breaking Nashville flood in the U.S. this past spring is only one of the most recent, yet virtually invisible examples of climate change hitting home. “But wait,” I can already hear you saying.  “You can’t connect any one extreme weather event to climate change.”   That line is a well-worn argument, a blunt weapon that skeptics have used to bully climate advocates for years, ever since Katrina.  It’s also wrong.

The record-breaking “once in a thousand years” precipitation that drove the Nashville flood is part of the long-term trend of increasing heavy precipitation events in the Southeastern United States that has been documented and firmly attributed to climate change.  Maybe you can’t say this single event was caused by climate change, but you sure can say it fits the trend.  It’s also an example of the kind of flooding science tells us that we will see even more frequently in the future if global warming goes unchecked.  However, (and here’s the silver lining) it’s also the kind of poster-child event that could help get America to finally wake up and smell the coffee.

It’s clear the current political logic in the U.S. (and elsewhere) must be changed in order to secure the scale of change required to avoid a planetary train wreck. It’s no short-term task, to be sure, which is a scary prospect given that science also tells us that global emissions absolutely must peak in the next few years and then rapidly decline.

An important step in that direction will be to put a face on climate change, to help create that “BP moment” for global warming.  One of the tools needed for that task is a global database of climate change impact reports: the science reports but also the newspaper stories, photos, and eyewitness accounts that make the event come alive.

The major challenge in mounting such an initiative is finding, tagging and collecting all the reports.  However, social media may provide the answer.  Check out www.ClimateSignals.org, a global database of climate change impact reports set-up [by yours truly] to be crowd sourced through social bookmarking.  Anyone in the world affiliated with the project can submit a climate change impact report simply by bookmarking it from their browser.

The site is in beta mode at the moment.  But testers are welcome.

01
Jun
10

the heat on climate negotiators

As delegates negotiate here in Bonn, India is suffering through a record heat wave pushing thermometers towards 125° and setting new temperature records – a hallmark of climate change. Hundreds have died, a tragic reminder that adaptation has its limits. Pakistan, too, has lost lives to the heat wave gripping South Asia.

Other countries are also suffering this week through events that make for a grim fit with the trend of ever more extreme weather driven by global warming. Tropical storm Agatha has ravaged Central America, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands and taking over a hundred lives in epic flooding driven by record heavy rains, another classic fingerprint of global warming which draws more moisture into storms. The mounting death toll has made that storm one of the top ten deadliest Eastern Pacific tropical cyclones on record. In Alaska, temperature records are tumbling and wildfires are raging in an unprecedented early start to the 2010 Alaskan fire season that has already witnessed 193 fires and emptied every smokejumper base in the state. Again, the change in timing and intensity of the fire season speaks to the changing climate.

With negotiators now staring at each other over the tables in Bonn, six months removed from Copenhagen, the question of the day is whether they have a political mandate from their home capitols to get a move on, or whether we will witness two weeks of rhetoric and no action. The climate has already delivered its mandate, but will politics trump science?