ABOUT  •  ARCHIVE  •  RSS FEED

memo.ryecroft



Thanks for visiting. To get a sense of what memo is about, browse the archives, or head back to the front page for the most recent thoughts.

Follow memo.ryecroft via RSS and on Twitter.

22 June 2009

filed under:
, , ,

A City Lost Under Water

This weekend passed with a sarcastic tone…the calendar laughing at me as it quietly stated “Summer Begins.” As I looked out the window, all I could think about was of images of Junes past. A warm June. A Dry June. A lost June.

In this lost city of New York, a shower or thunderstorm has been expected -  every. single. day.

Heavy Rain Hits New York: Jenn Ackerman/The New York Times

I don’t think this is just a strange fluke of the weather. I wonder when the collective will stop wondering why it’s raining so much and begin to realize that erratic weather is now the norm? The climate is changing and I believe the new pattern is one of unpredictable and unseasonable weather from here on.

I’m no Gary England, but this is crazy. Back in the old days, it was cold when it was supposed to be cold, and warm when it was supposed to be warm, and men were men, etcetera etcetera.

I’m old enough now to remember when we used to have “seasons.” In the winter, it was cold and there was snow. And it was cold every day. In the summer, it was warm. Every day. Fall involved cool temperatures and a football. Spring involved sirens, tornadoes and flowers. As a little tike, I was taught that this predictable weather was called “climate,” and that things like that allowed farmers to predict when to plant their crops, and other similar old school vocations. But its all changing now.

The Obama Administration issued a report the other day projecting what climate change looks like in the next century here in the U S of A. (You can read more about it here.) For New York, it’s not looking awesome.

Increased Flood Risk in Lower Manhattan

But the result isn’t just a new Venice on the Atlantic. The Gulf Coast in particular — responsible for 30 percent of the nation’s crude oil production and 20 percent of its natural gas production — is very vulnerable to disruptions in energy production from hurricanes and the like (as evidenced by Katrina, Rita and Ivan in recent years).

And it’s not about a “Global Warming” where everything is like a tanning bed.

Remember that movie where New York looks like the North Pole and wolves start eating people until Dennis Quaid saves us all? That was Global Warming. It causes rain, snow, drought, starvation, unhappiness and war. Don’t believe me? Let the brass at the Pentagon persuade you. I could enter into a debate about ecological issues, oil companies, etc – but I don’t need to. The military has been getting serious about this issue. It’s clear that climate change will be one of the most urgent national security issues of this century.

UPDATE:

Climatologist James Hansen, who is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the creator of one of the first climate models that predicted global warming, is convinced that the problem of climate change caused by humans is much more dire than is generally thought (subscribers only link; abstract).

Hansen has now concluded, partly on the basis of his latest modeling efforts and partly on the basis of observations made by other scientists, that the threat of global warming is far greater than even he had suspected. Carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already there. Unless immediate action is taken-including the shutdown of all the world’s coal plants within the next two decades-the planet will be committed to climate change on a scale society won’t be able to cope with. “This particular problem has become an emergency,” Hansen said.

Hansen is so adamant about this belief that he has begun participating in protests around the globe, an unusual level of activism for such a respected and high-ranking government official. The last sentence of the piece reads:

He said he was thinking of attending another demonstration soon, in West Virginia coal country.

Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of the piece above, reports that Hansen not only attended that demonstration but got arrested.


6 Comments

Posted by
Blair
22 June 2009 @ 5pm

Interesting that, as far as I can tell, nowhere in the administration’s Global Climate Change Impacts report does it reference human-made or anthropogenic climate change. This past week I was arguing for the importance of low-emission sources of energy, mass transit, CO2 reduction, etc; and was challenged on this point. Since then I have tried to find proof, but to no avail. Though it seems generally accepted within academic circles – such as that found at DUSP – that humans are, at least, part of the problem; I have still, as of yet, been unable to find a paper or study that shows a link between humans and climate change. Further, I must say, that Dr. William Gray makes a strong case as to why the changes we are seeing are not abnormal.

Climate change certainly remains a major issue for the future of cities. Strategies that prepare cities for these changes are definitely in order, but we may need to rethink existing efforts to curb human behavior thought to contribute climate change. Saving a tree is a good thing, but the absence of anthropogenic climate change certainly changes the cost-benefit analysis.

Of course, I am not (yet) an expert on the topic, so forgive my ignorance if this proves to be off base. I would appreciate it if anyone would be so kind as to point me to articles/studies that would benefit my understanding of the human role in all this.

If not, then I will unfortunately be forced to tell my dad he is correct once again.


Posted by
ryecroft
22 June 2009 @ 7pm

I have to admit that I have been torn on this issue. For one, I agree in part with Dr. William Gray’s thoughts when he says:

“There is nothing we humans can do to prevent natural climate change…We have no choice but to adapt to future climate changes…We need to keep the western world economies vibrant if for no other reason than to be able to afford the needed large technical research funding that will be required to develop future non-fossil fuel energy sources. We should not be distracted by a false threat that is mostly just due to natural changes in climate.”

The last sentence is where I take issue. It’s not a “false threat.” Things are changing and he says it himself, we have to adopt to climate change… It’s happened before with the “Little Ice Age” and it’s believed that the lack of adaptation threw us back to the bottom of the hierarchy of needs and into a literal dark age of intelligence and progress.

Yes, the human species may/may not be directly responsible for “climate change,” (depending on how you want to argue it) but everything we do is inter-related, even if it is on a very small scale. Like you said, we still are a part of it. I tend to hope that there is just reason in the statement of “do no harm.” We adhere to that when it comes to our children and our personal property, but there is a hurdle to overcome when issues of the cost-benefit analysis are pulled into the mix. Why do we not see the environment as part of our property and its protection a legitimate “benefit?”

Is Dr. William Gray wrong? Is your dad wrong? No…but I don’t believe that they are completely right. Even Dr. Gray, who has been studying climatic issues for over 50 years, stated that they don’t fully understand and can’t model what is happening with oceanic and weather currents – its too complex. Until then, I hold firm that we are a part of the system, and our continued course of action is only exasperating the current imbalance of things.

I’m doing some research on this end to gather some more data for you…if only to help discuss all sides of the issue.


Posted by
ryecroft
22 June 2009 @ 8pm

Hopefully these two reports can help start some further research:

The Global Climate Change Impact Report by The USGCRP does state that

The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices, and other activities. [pg 13]

But what I find most interesting is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their most recent report. In its opening summary, they also state that:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal…Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

The best part is that this IPCC report had to go through multi-national proofing and has received criticism from both sides: Some arguing (former members of the USDoE and studies by NCAR) that it understated the issues we face and others like Chinese and US negotiators formally requesting certain text be taken out that overstated climatic issues. More on the US Response.

Even during the Bush administration in 2007, they accepted statements that there is a 90% chance that human activity is warming the planet, and that global average temperatures will rise another 1.5C to 5.8C this century depending on emissions. (That should cover both sides of the aisle if this is a purely political debate.) We know that the climate is changing and we know that carbon dioxide, methane, and a host of other GHG have impacts on the climate. GHG also stays in the atmosphere for decades, with changes now only having a slight effect. Most scientist believe we are at 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and are closing in on 450ppm. With CO2 levels rising, ocean temperatures warming, rising and acidifying…and 1/2 of the worlds population living near a coastline, there is a potential problem. Climate change is a reality, unfortunately as Dr. Gray stated, no one knows what the future will look like.


Posted by
Blair
22 June 2009 @ 9pm

Good deal. Send some research my way.

I agree with the “do no harm” philosophy. Cost-benefit is great when things can be easily measured, but when it comes to issues involving a range of complex externalities, it is difficult to trust the results and the analysis itself often obscures values built into the assumptions. Thus, practicing stewardship in all things seems like the way to go.

We should definitely plan for change, not ignore the realities of climate change no matter what the cause. Unfortunately, the issue continues to be bogged down in a game of political point scoring that leads many, including my peers at MIT, to waste time solving phantom problems.

Anyway, look forward to learning more.


Posted by
Blair
22 June 2009 @ 9pm

I had that comment queued up for awhile and didn’t realize you had already responded with more. I will take a look at it. Thanks.


Posted by
ryecroft
23 June 2009 @ 9am

I think you summed up the biggest problem we have to overcome. It isn’t the changing climate, its our own ineptitude at accepting the uncertainty as to why things are happening and instead we focus on being “correct” -ie the “political point scoring that leads many to waste time solving phantom problems.”

I continue to fall back on “do no harm.” We know that our actions have detrimental repercussions – whether micro or macro – and those should change. You should check out Intercon. It’s run by a friend of mine and focuses on sustainability and the much larger breadth of inter-connectivity that it should be addressing.


Leave a Comment

You can follow any responses to this entry through the comment feed.

« Previously: Next: »