Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Jakarta 01

Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia.

Climate change is having more and more dramatic and direct effects on life on earth. One of these effects that climate change is having on humans that I read about just recently is the plan by the Indonesian government to move their capitol, Jakarta.

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Flooding in central Jakarta.

It turns out that Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. A significant portion of the city already lays below sea-level, and with a predicted sea-level rise of between 20 inches and 5 feet in the next century, it is likely that Jakarta will be flooded by 2050.

In order to move the capitol, a new city will have to be built. It is not yet clear if the new city will be somewhere else on Java (the same island that Jakarta is on and the most populous island in Indonesia), or if it will be built on a different island (Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo has been suggested).

A move such as this is a huge and historic example of managed retreat (which I have written about previously here).

This process will take a while. Not only will new government buildings need to be created, but all the people who work in those buildings,, and their families, will need homes to live in, stores to shop in, schools to go to, police and fire departments to protect them, hospitals to care for them, parks to play in, etc., etc. Building a city is a daunting proposition.

But it is a very good thing for the Indonesian government to be thinking about. Very forward thinking, indeed. Just about every country on earth is going to have to consider how it is going to change in response to sea-level rise and other effects of climate change. Doing so before disaster strikes is a much wiser strategy than waiting to scramble after the disaster has already occurred.

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Jakarta at night.

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Climate Risk 02From the Office of the Director of of National Intelligence of the United States of America comes a new Worldwide Threat Assessment by the US intelligence community.

Worldwide Threat Assessments represent the collective insights of the bulk of the US intelligence community on matters that threaten USA lives and interests around the world.

This most recent Worldwide Threat Assessment points out in several places that climate change is a growing national security threat. One way that global climate change poses a threat to US national security is because of how it influences and encourages infectious diseases. The reports finds that the US and world will likely remain vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the flu and other pandemics. Such outbreaks will cause increases in “death and disability, severely impact the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.” It also finds that the work that has been done to control infectious diseases has very much improved the situation, but that these improvements may still be inadequate for addressing more frequent outbreaks of diseases due to rapid and unplanned urbanization, prolonged humanitarian crises, human intrusion into unsettled lands, expansion of international trade and travel, and climate change.

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A second way that global climate change poses a threat to US national security is because of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, etc. One particular area highlighted in the report is the worsening effects of sea level rise on urban areas of Southeast Asia. These effects take the form of damage to infrastructure that is likely to impact military bases, inflict economic costs, and lead to human displacement and loss of life. Another area highlighted in the report are the increasing food insecurities around the world, social injustice, human migration, and interstate tensions in countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Jordan that all result from increasing droughts, heat waves, and floods caused by climate change.


Climate change is real. It is having effects on the entire world now. Many of those effects are dramatically impacting the way humans around the world live, and those impacts are being felt by US citizens now and will only get more drastic as time goes on.

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A group of 13 federal government agencies have been working for the last two years to assess how climate change will impact the USA. The report was released the day after Thanksgiving this year and is called the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States. It outlines some major risks tot he USA environment, economy, and population. A high-level overview of some of the main points can be found here.

One the things that is most striking to me about this report is that it contains some pretty specific numbers. For example, the authors of the report estimate that corn production in the Midwest will drop by ~25%, and soybean production in south could do the same, they also predict that by 2090 the Southeast could lose 570 million labor hours due to severe weather conditions preventing people from getting to work or doing their jobs.

The overarching message of the report is nothing new. Climate scientists have been warning the world that impact of climate change are going to get a lot worse, and we are seeing those predictions coming true all around the world on an almost daily basis. This report is targeted specifically at the USA, and includes predictions based on the best climate data we have. They should not be ignored or taken lightly.

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Managed retreat is a term that I have been encountering more and more frequently in the course of my work over the last few years. It is the idea that in response to sea-level rise, humans will be forced to move away from coastlines, and this can happen in a chaotic way, or a managed way, but it will happen.

Imperial Beach, CA (Photo by JC Monge).

As the atmosphere and oceans warm, sea-level will rise. This is happening now, with a rise of about a half-an-inch each decade, and this number will likely increase over time. Globally, sea-level is predicted to rise by 1.6 to 6.5 feet in the next 100 years. This does not sound like much to a lot of people. What people forget to think about is that the sea does not stay still. Storm surges and king tides account for a large portion of the damage that seas cause to cities. These surges and tides will be much more severe if the sea they are starting from is one to 6 feet higher than it is right now. Imagine some of the footage we have all seen from hurricanes as they sweep across Florida or Texas or Puerto Rice. In those clips reporters are clad in rain gear with trees bending wildly behind them as the wind and rain hammers away. Now add a extra 6 vertical feet of water! The effects then will be much more disastrous than the effects now, and now they are bad enough.

And these effects will be felt all around the world. A large percentage of people around the globe live near coasts. So raising seas will effect a huge number of people. This has the potential to cause social chaos as people struggle to move inland in disorderly and inefficient ways.

To address this impending threat, some communities, cities, and even states are beginning to consider how to move away from the sea.

It is a herculean problem. How can we move a whole city even a short distance? Even a small city is just not portable. However, they are going to have to be, and the more we as a society can think about how to accomplish these moves, the better off we will all be when they have to happen. And that is where managed retreat comes in.

The High Country News published an article on how the small city of Imperial Beach in southern California is starting to think about managed retreat. Even for this small city to move a few blocks away from the ocean will be a huge undertaking. The article is a sobering read, but well worth it since it is something that is gong to effect every person on earth who is alive in 2050 or 2100.

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The Venta Maersk in South Korea

A cargo ship named the Venta Maersk is making history this week as it takes its maiden voyage and becomes the first container ship to bring a load of goods (in this case fish from Russia and electronics from South Korea) from Vladivostok, past the northern coast of Russia in the Arctic Ocean, and in to port in Norway. The ship began its voyage on the 23rd of August, 2018, and is on schedule to pass through the Bering Straight around the 1st of September 2018. A few other commercial vessels have made this trip, but the Venta Maersk will be the first container ship. 

To make the voyage, the Venta Maersk, an ice-class vessel, has been specifically designed to withstand collisions with ice, and it can use specific fuel mixtures to allow it to run more efficiently at temperatures down to -25 degrees fahrenheit.

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The Northern Sea Route

The Northern Sea Route is the name that has been given to the passage that runs from the Bering Straight, over the north coast of Russia, and then to Europe. It is a water route that has been historically impassable due to the fact that the Arctic Ocean used to be completely frozen almost all year long. Now, however, the situation is changing. Over the last couple of decades, human induced climate change has been causing the sea ice to melt more and more. Now the north coast of Russia is ice-free for at least three or four months of the year, and this amount of time is expanding.

The distance from Russia to Europe via the Northern Sea Route is shorter than the current shortest route which is passage through the Suez Canal. More and more international shipping companies are setting plans in motion to use this new shipping route in the future. The Venta Maersk voyage will be a useful test run to see how practically and economically feasible the route is now. Russia intends to charge a passage fee for ships using the Northern Sea Route, so they are hoping it proves feasible, and both Russia and China have plans to develop infrastructure such as roads, towns, ports, etc. to take advantage of the opening of this northern transportation route.

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The Venta Maersk departing from Vladivostok on 8/23/2018.

The fact that companies and nations are taking actions to position themselves so that they are competitive in this new northern arena is additional, and dramatic, evidence that global climate is changing, and that one of these changes is a melting the polar icecaps that climate scientists have been predicting for at least the last three decades. It seems like it is getting more and more difficult to take the stance that global climate change is not happening.

The community of researchers who are studying climate change is pretty huge, and growing. These scientists have been developing more and more accurate hypotheses about the global climate of earth for decades. And the predictions from these hypotheses have been coming true over and over again. Given the hypotheses, their predictions, and then how closely those predictions have matched with reality, it seem reasonable that that the current hypotheses about what will happen in the future should be taken pretty seriously. I certainly hope they will be.




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Adult Brown Booby

Scientists have been making predictions about the effects of climate change for the past couple of decades. One such prediction is that as the earth’s climate becomes warmer the geographic range of species will shift towards the poles and up-slope. This will occur because species will be moving to try to find areas that have the environmental conditions they have evolved to thrive in. So, a species that evolved in a temperate region such as California will be used to the temperatures found in California. As the earth warms, California will warm and the species that are adapted to life here will have move north to Oregon, Washington, or even farther north to find the temperatures they can tolerate.

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Adult Brown Boobies in flight.

Yet another example of these predictions coming true has been found on the Channel Islands of the southern California coast. Sutil Island is a small, rocky formation a little to the southwest of Santa Barbara Island and is part of the Channel Islands National Park. This year it has received a new visitor. About 100 Brown Boobies (Sula leucogaster) were observed by Channel Island biologists roosting on the island. Especially noteworthy was that among those 100 or birds were 4 nests! Brown Boobies are generally thought of as a tropical species, but they have been expanding their range north since the 1990s, and this is the first time they have nested on the Channel Islands. There is little doubt but that they will return next year, and likely in greater numbers.

This is what climate change looks like.

BRBO - Ventura County Star

A Brown Booby preening on Sutil Island.


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NASA image of Earth.

In 1992, a group of about 1700 scientists signed an open letter to humanity warning of the ecological stressors that human activities were putting on the ecosystems of the earth. In the letter, this international group of scientists outline the various aspects of the natural world that are being pushed to the breaking point.

Now, 15 years later, the situation we find ourselves in has not improved. In fact, it has worsened. The suggestions that those 1700 scientists gave on how to avoid the very foreseeable consequences of humanities consumptive behavior went largely ignored. Another group of scientists are hoping that a second attempt might be more compelling now that many of the predictions produced by climate models are actually appearing. In the U.S., these predictions include the record drought that California and other western U.S. states have recently experienced, the increasing frequency of hurricanes seen off the coast of the southeastern U.S., and the increasing frequency and size of wildfires that have burned


Hurricanes Jose (left), Irma (center), and Maria (right) simultaneously sweeping off the Atlantic Ocean towards North and Central America.

across much of the western U.S. To drive the point home, more then 15,000 scientists have signed a second notice to humanity. In this letter, the authors state that “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Too late to shift. Too late to even reduce the impact of the damage of the forces we have already set in motion. We are on a collision course with disaster. The human race is like a person sitting in a car racing towards a stone wall. If the driver sees the wall from far enough away, they can stop the car or turn to avoid a collision all together. If the driver gets closer, there will come a point when a collision becomes certain. But there is still time for that driver to improve the situation. Even if the car is going to crash into the wall, the driver can slam on the breaks to slow the car and possibly only tap the wall. If the driver does not slam on the breaks and only gently taps the breaks, the impact may be significant, but as bad as it could be if the driver does nothing (or steps on the gas!).

Well, humanity has already passed the point where a turn could prevent a collision completely. We saw the wall coming and decided decades ago to keep driving. Now we are in the space where we can slam on the breaks (dramatically reducing CO2 emissions), tap the breaks (somewhat reducing CO2 emissions), do nothing (and continue emitting CO2 at our current levels), or hit the gas (increasing CO2 emissions). But we are not going to be in that space for much longer. In the next few years, we will have committed to the course we are on, and the actions we will have taken will play out across the coming generations.

At present, with the U.S. backing out of the Paris Climate Accord and the current administrations trend toward reducing limits on CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, it is looking more and more like we will hit the wall at the high speed we are currently travelling at, and that massive destruction will be the result.

I think it is very important to remember that the changes in climate that we are seeing across the U.S. and world were predicted to occur. They do not come as a surprise to anyone who has been bothering to pay attention. Now as more predictions are being made about the effects that climate change will have in the future, there should, again, be no surprises if only people would bother to pay attention.


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