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Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

” … to make landfall anywhere in the world on record” (Capital Weather Gang). This is an image of Super Typhoon Haiyan making landfall on November 8th in the Philippines. I’m not looking forward to more record-breaking weather! Devastating human impacts from such events are obvious, but whether or not they provide the incentive to change our behavior to limit greenhouse gas emissions remains to be seen. UPDATE: Now we know. A terrible tragedy. Some of the most significant climate activism has originated in the Philippines. Their vulnerability has been undeniable all along. 

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 5.57.05 AM

Image courtesy of CWG tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy.

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Predictions for the Big Apple haven’t been so great lately, at least as far as climate is concerned. News from a week ago was that heat-related deaths are predicted to rise by 20% by the 2020s and by nearly 100% by the end of the century. Scientific American summarizes the work published this month in the journal, Nature Climate Change, and includes this quote from one of the authors:

“This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe,” said coauthor Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research.

The record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia, killing some 55,000 people, and the 2003 one in Europe that killed 70,000 are potent examples of the devastation that extreme heat can cause, Horton added.

This week, Scientific American published another warning for NYC and the rest of the East Coast. The climate threat in this case is flooding – the possibility of Hurricane Sandy-like flooding every two years by century’s end! Salon summarizes the SA behind-the-paywall story here.  A few planning details:

Municipalities rarely plan for anything greater than the so-called one-in-100-year storm—which means that the chances of such a storm hitting during any given year is one in 100. Sandy was a one-in-500-year storm. If sea level rises by five feet, the chance in any year of a storm bringing a three-foot surge to New York City will increase to as high as one in three or even one in two, according to various projections. The 100-year-height for a storm in the year 2000 would be reached by a two-year storm in 2100.

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Skimming an article on biomimicry in the NY Times today revealed the usual eye-candy approach to the subject. Beautiful structures inspired by natural forms with claims to greatness, but little more. Two parts of the article, though, are worth noting. Located near the end, it would be easy to overlook these passages. The first references Skygrove (image below), the highrise concept that won first place in MOMA’s Rising Currents competition.

Daniel Williams, a practicing architect in Seattle who specializes in sustainable waterfront design, noted that Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina obliterated nearby mangrove forests in Florida. The trees’ adaptive strategies, like their tendency to clump together and utilize all of the land around them, could be more worthy of emulation than the shape of their roots, he suggsted (sic).

We should look at the ecology and botany and how the tree is functioning, rather than just copying its form,” [emphasis added] Mr. Williams said.

The really funny part, IMHO, are these lines:

When it comes to functioning optimally despite extreme weather, the octopus could be the ultimate model. Rafe Sagarin, a marine ecologist and the author of “Learning from the Octopus,” said a physical readiness to adapt, combined with a thoughtful approach to sudden change, gives the cephalopod its edge.

The octopus has this really strong, powerful brain,” [emphasis added] Dr. Sagarin said. “It’s thoughtful and can plan but also adapts in an automatic way.”

The octopus’ combination of quick and measured thinking could inform coastal cities’ approach to climate change, he said. While government must respond quickly in emergency weather situations, people on the ground can provide the other half of the octopus approach: carefully considered, long-term solutions.

“All these amazing minds out there aren’t activated for certain problems,” Dr. Sagarin said. “But if you can reactivate them, you get the aspects of adaptable systems.”

It is not clear if Sarah Amandolare, the author, meant to be funny, but concluding that the best biomimicry might come from modeling ourselves after another animal with a big brain is just that. Her words are a call for crowd-sourcing really, capitalizing on the multitude of ideas that could come from an informed citizenry, and coupling that with good urban planning.

In other words, the more people who are invested in creating to solutions to climate change, the better. But first, the public needs access to detailed information and hazard maps depicting sea-level rise.

A functional federal government would help too!

Skygrove

Skygrove

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Somehow I missed the new Plant Hardiness Zone Map issued by the U.S.D.A. earlier this year! But now there is word that we, perhaps, should disregard the re-issued and updated map. Our climate is changing so rapidly that the zones published in 2012 are already off by 1/2 to a full zone, depending on your location. It’s the winter minimum lows that are throwing things off, according to Nir Krakauer, professor at the City University of New York, referenced by the New York Times. Professor Krakauer has an online calculator for the additional warming that may affect your location. Syracuse is apparently 1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than the hardiness map indicates.

Plant Hardiness Map of the Northeastern U.S. 2012

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Wondering how bad the current drought in the U.S. is? This Weather Channel post provides the comparisons in a succinct way. Even more succinctly – be thankful for better agricultural practices!

Things are tough all over!

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Edel Rodriguez’s illustration from Rolling Stone

An article in the Sunday NY Times titled “We’re All Climate-Change Idiots” explores the well-worn territory of climate change denial, but it also adds a few details from psychological research into the phenomenon.  The article hints at four strategies:

1. appeal to interest in technological solutions – even climate change deniers perk up at the mention of techno fixes;

2. public health appeals seem to get traction (asthma, etc.);

3. instant feedback, like the letters I get from National Grid telling me how much energy I consume compared to my neighbors, that brings out a sense of competition for behavioral changes; and

4. making changes that people are hardly aware of – like Rutgers changing the default printing on university printers to double-sided.

Are there any landscape and/or land use parallels to these suggestions? I think we can come up with a few – but, frankly, it feels like tinkering around at the edges. I have a hard time investing mental energy into it, especially after just reading Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone. If you haven’t read it yet, you must. In “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” McKibben very simply communicates the enormity of the problem using just 3 numbers. Powerful writing, but the result is a feeling of powerlessness. Hum, what’s a person to do with that? Oh, yes, back to the denial stance! The liberal denial, that is. (See the four points listed above.)

 

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From Al Gore’s blogging gig, an image of the future – and the present. Interesting to compare it to this map – especially the blue swath through Tennessee and Mississippi. The Northeast and these two southern states look like future “best bets.”

1,000 counties in 26 states declared as disaster areas

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