Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Insurance stories in 2007--including climate change

Insurance Journal: ... 2007 marked a turning point on climate change. In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the first of three reports. It confirmed: 1) the temperature in the atmosphere and the oceans has grown warmer and can be expected to continue to do so. 2) The amount of greenhouse gasses, mainly CO2 and some methane, has increased markedly since 1750. 3) These gasses are the most significant cause for the temperature increase. 4) Human activity is primarily responsible for their production. Examinations of the likely impact and the remedial steps needed to slow or reverse it followed.

Al Gore also played a major role in this debate, going from politician to Oscar winning filmmaker — for "An Inconvenient Truth" — to Nobel Peace Prize winner (shared with the IPCC). But his political stances have alienated a lot of people, particularly in the United States. The insurance industry, however, has taken a leading role in documenting climate change and in attempting to halt its advance.

Munich Re and Swiss Re have entire departments dedicated to assessing the impacts. Lloyd's 360 Project recently analyzed the phenomenon. Their actions are driven by the realization that unchecked global warming could eventually wipe out the industry. A report published recently by Risk Management Solutions, the United Kingdom's Tyndall Center, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and France's CIRED, analyzed rising sea levels, coupled with extreme weather events. The conclusion: "Total property and infrastructure exposure is predicted to increase from $3 trillion today — 5 percent of current global GDP — to $35 trillion in the 2070s — 9 percent of the projected global GDP." The United Nations Environment Program sponsored a conference in Bali earlier this month aimed at formulating the world's response to the challenge it faces. At the top of the list are carbon emissions. Only time will tell if the measures the U.N. recommends are widely adopted, and whether they will be enough.

Sea levels may rise 5 feet by 2100

A great post from Climate Progress by Joe Romm: A recent Nature Geoscience study, “High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period,” (subs. req’d) finds that sea levels could rise twice what the IPCC had project for 2100,. This confirms what many scientists have recently warned (and here), and it matches the conclusion of a study earlier this year in Science.

[As an aside, in one debate with a Denier — can’t remember who, they all kind of merge together — I was challenged: “Name one peer-reviewed study projecting sea level rise this century beyond the IPCC.” Well, now there are two from this year alone!]

For the record, five feet of sea level rise would submerge some 22,000 square miles of U.S. land just on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (farewell, southern Louisiana and Florida) — and displace more than 100 million people worldwide. And, of course, sea levels would just keep rising some 6 inches a decade, or, more likely, even faster next century than this century.

The researchers base their finding on their analysis of the rate of sea level rise during the last warm or interglacial period (the Eemian, about 120,000 years ago), when seas rose 1.6 meters (5 feet) per century. Why look at the rate of Eemian sea level rise? Becaause that’s the last time the planet was as warm as it soon will be again: “such rates of sea-level rise occurred when the global mean temperature was 2 °C higher than today, as expected again by AD 2100.”

Indeed, if we don’t reverse emissions’ trends very soon (and stay below 450 ppm of carbon dioxide), the planet might well warm 3°C or more by 2100. The Eemian warming was driven by “changes in orbital parameters from today (greater obliquity and eccentricity, and perihelion), known as the Milankovitch cycle.” Current warming is driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Here is the entire abstract from the article — note that the Eemian is also called “Marine Isotope Stage 5“:

The last interglacial period, Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e, was characterized by global mean surface temperatures that were at least 2 °C warmer than present. Mean sea level stood 4–6 m higher than modern sea level, with an important contribution from a reduction of the Greenland ice sheet. Although some fossil reef data indicate sea-level fluctuations of up to 10 m around the mean, so far it has not been possible to constrain the duration and rates of change of these shorter-term variations. Here, we use a combination of a continuous high-resolution sea-level record, based on the stable oxygen isotopes of planktonic foraminifera from the central Red Sea and age constraints from coral data to estimate rates of sea-level change during MIS-5e. We find average rates of sea-level rise of 1.6 m per century. As global mean temperatures during MIS-5e were comparable to projections for future climate change under the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions, these observed rates of sea-level change inform the ongoing debate about high versus low rates of sea-level rise in the coming century.

If we don’t act now, we are clearly risking catastrophic sea level rise for many, many generations to come.

Rain saves Atlanta from drought record

Newsday (New York): This year was almost one for the record books, but then it rained. A lot. After a fourth consecutive day of rain Sunday, 2007 barely missed becoming Atlanta's driest year on record. That dubious honor goes to 1954, when only 31.80 inches of rain fell.

Atlanta is at the center of a historic drought that has engulfed more than one-third of the Southeast. The affected region includes most of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, as well as parts of Kentucky and Virginia.

Even four days of rain couldn't touch the epic dry spell, but normal rainfall levels over the next few months could help return disappearing lakes, rivers and streams to their former glory, Lynn said. Sunday's showers pushed the city up to 31.85 inches for the year, where it is expected to stay as forecasters say Monday -- the final day of 2007 -- will be mostly dry.

Light rain was possible for counties in north Georgia early Monday morning as a system moved through the region, said Brian Lynn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in Peachtree City. A parade of rainstorms that began the week before Christmas helped Atlanta escape its driest year on record. Rain fell in the city on 10 of the last 12 days.

But the moisture had only a small effect on Lake Lanier, the metropolitan area's main source of drinking water. The reservoir rose only about a foot from the rain after hitting an all-time low earlier last week. "What's falling now won't show up until tomorrow or the next day," said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir. "Anything that stops the level from falling is a good thing," he added. "But we'd like to get a whole lot more."

The lack of rainfall across the region has set off intense fighting between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the federal government's management of water in the region. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked the federal government to release less water from its reservoirs, such as Lanier, but Alabama and Florida are concerned about how that would affect their supplies. Last month, Perdue held a public prayer vigil for rain on the steps of the Capitol.

Weather to worry about

The Record (Canada): If the weird, wild weather Canada experienced in 2007 didn't convince you the climate is changing, probably nothing will. But if you count yourself a global warming skeptic, at least consider with an open mind the strange happenings of the past 12 months.

The year began in a truly unnerving way, with winter arriving later in Ontario and other parts of Eastern Canada than at any other time in recorded history. Early January felt like spring. Ski resorts laid off hundreds. Then, in summer, the dramatic disappearance of a chunk of Arctic sea ice as big as Ontario stunned scientists and northern communities alike.

Meanwhile, the hot, humid summer on the Prairies was described as tropical. At the same time, Ontario was gripped by drought-like conditions as water levels in the Great Lakes fell alarmingly low. And on June 10, the most powerful tornado ever recorded in this country tore through Elie, Manitoba.

"Canadians might remember 2007 as the year that climate change began biting deep and hard on the home front,'' concluded David Phillips, Environment Canada's chief climatologist as he put the year into perspective.

There are many people who, aware of these strange weather patterns as well as repeated warnings from the United Nation's panel on climate change that humans are damaging the environment, are ready to change how they live. Sadly, a disconcertingly large number of skeptics in and outside governments are not.

We would respectfully ask these skeptics two questions: How much more evidence do you need? And isn't it better to do something even if the warnings about climate change are overstated, than to do nothing to stop global warming and risk stumbling into a first-rate, full-blown global catastrophe?

Climate change refugees need help from world

Toronto Star (Canada): So named by the traditional Maasai people who live in its shadows, Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is undergoing a slow but steady transformation – one that threatens everyone around it. The majestic glaciers that cap Africa's tallest mountain are melting, victims of a warming Earth. A third of the ice has disappeared in the past 20 years. In another 20 years, nothing will be left.

And with that goes the primary water source for the Maasai people who live nearby. Tens of thousands of them have given up their long-held pastoral lifestyle to settle under Kilimanjaro, establishing communities along a pipeline that funnels water from the glaciers straight into neighbouring Kenya. When that water runs out, so will the lifeblood of these communities. There will be nothing to sustain crops and the Maasai there will have no choice but to abandon the lives they've made for themselves.

They will join the fast-growing numbers of climate change refugees – people forced to leave their homes by the impact of global warming. The United Nations says there are 20 million climate change refugees, more than those displaced by war and political repression combined. By 2050, that could increase to 150 million.

From the plains of Africa to the islands of the South Pacific, entire towns and communities are being driven away by extended drought, rising sea levels and desertification. While bad weather is nothing new, the rate at which this is now occurring makes it clear that these refugees are the first victims of global warming.

Despite this, climate change refugees remain in legal limbo. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) defines "refugees" as victims of war, persecution or civil conflict who have been forced to flee their countries. This does not include victims of climate change, meaning they are not entitled to the asylum or assistance normally granted to refugees. "In law, `refugee' has a very specific meaning," says Audrey Macklin, assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law.

Even though much of the world's pollution is caused by Western industrialized nations – not the rural developing countries most affected by it – there is no international legal obligation to help climate change refugees, she says.

The UNHCR explanation is that, unlike political refugees, victims of climate change can still appeal to their home governments for help. The organization also says it simply does not have the funds to care for millions of additional people. But that doesn't mean they should be ignored. Macklin says that the impact of climate change is a political issue as much as it is a legal issue, and that there is also nothing forbidding countries from taking the initiative to act.

"There's all sorts of things to do if there is political will," she says. New Zealand, for example, has agreed to take in 11,000 people from Tuvalu, the nearby string of islands threatened with destruction by rising sea levels.

…While prevention is still key, we must now also start learning how to live with climate change.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Indonesia: President urges better forest management amid floods

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged better forest management across the nation Saturday as he toured an area stricken by deadly landslides and floods this week. "That would be a brilliant way to take care of the Earth," he said, according to the state-run news agency Antara, adding that it would help prevent further disasters in the world's fourth most populous nation.

The landslides and floods have killed at least 65 people in heavily populated Central and East Java after torrential rains lashed the region. While activists blame such disasters on the disappearance of trees that stabilise soil and help absorb rain, local officials have insisted the unusually heavy downfalls have destabilised already vulnerable hilly areas. "We don't need to blame the mistakes of the past. What we need now is better care for forests," Yudhoyono said during a visit to Central Java's Wonogiri district.

Local disaster management official Sri Mubadi said rescuers were still hunting for nine missing people in the district. In adjacent Karanganyar district, the number of missing has fallen to seven after it was revealed that some people were found to have been out of town, said district official Heru Aji Pratomo. He said rescuers were continuing their search, which has been hindered by a lack of heavy equipment, amid rainfall. "I hope all the bodies will be retrieved today (Saturday) as their families have been waiting too long for certainty," he said, adding that two of the missing were children.

In East Java, the bodies of two children were recovered on Friday after a bridge was swept away by swelling flood waters. Police initially feared 50 people were missing based on witness accounts of who was on the bridge when it was swamped. Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia during the rainy season, which hits a peak from December to February.

Stories on Cyclone Melanie, as of 1:55 p.m. EST

Madness as huge waves pound coast
Gold Coast News, Australia - 2 hours ago
While the low-pressure system off the Coast could not technically be classed as a tropical cyclone, Mr Matson said it packed a similar punch. ...
Monsoon cyclone threat, but at least the surf's up
The Australian, Australia - 5 hours ago
A MONSOON in northern Australia may become the nation's latest cyclone threat, as strong winds continue to cause havoc on the east and west coasts. ...
Cyclone Melanie is more bark than bite
International Herald Tribune, France - 5 hours ago
By Robert Fenner Bloomberg News Tropical cyclone Melanie, a category 2 storm, isn't expected to cross the coastline of Western Australia state as it ...
Cyclone veers away from Australia's northwest coast
Reuters UK, UK - 8 hours ago
Melanie is the first storm of the November-to-April season to form in Australia's 'cyclone alley', which is also home to the world's biggest iron ore ...

Protecting Cuba's vast ecological resources

Houston Chronicle, via the New York Times: Cuba is a priceless ecological resource. That is why many scientists are worried about what will become of it after Fidel Castro and his associates leave power and, as is anticipated, the U.S. government relaxes or ends its embargo. The island, at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, has mountains, forests, swamps, coasts and marine areas rich in plants and animals. And since the imposition of the embargo in 1962, and with the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba's economy has stagnated.

Cuba has not been free of development. But it has an abundance of landscapes that elsewhere in the region have been ripped up, paved over, poisoned or otherwise destroyed since the Cuban revolution. Once the embargo ends, the island could face a flood of investors eager to exploit those landscapes.

Conservationists, environmental lawyers and other experts, from Cuba and elsewhere, met last month in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss the island's resources and how to protect them. Cuba has done "what we should have done — identify your hot spots of biodiversity and set them aside," said Oliver Houck, a professor of environmental law at Tulane University Law School who attended the conference.

In the late 1990s, Houck was involved in an effort to advise Cuban officials writing environmental laws. But, he said, "an invasion of U.S. consumerism, a U.S.-dominated future, could roll over it like a bulldozer" when the embargo ends. By some estimates, tourism in Cuba is increasing 10 percent annually. At a minimum, Orlando Rey Santos, the Cuban lawyer who led the law-writing effort, said, "we can guess that tourism is going to increase in a very fast way" when the embargo ends.

Cuba offers crucial habitat for birds, like Bicknell's thrush, whose summer home is in the mountains of New England and Canada. It has the most biologically diverse populations of freshwater fish in the region. Its relatively large underwater coastal shelves are crucial for numerous marine species, said Ken Lindeman, a marine biologist at Florida Institute of Technology.

Like corals elsewhere, those in Cuba are suffering as global warming raises ocean temperatures. But they have largely escaped damage from pollution, boat traffic and destructive fishing practices. Diving in them "is like going back in time 50 years," said David Guggenheim, an ecologist on the advisory board of the Harte Research Institute.

Climate proofing: An Indian point of view

Economic Times (India): Why should India pay the price for the wrongs done by the developed countries? High-income OECD countries, which house just 15% of the world population, account for almost half of the world’s total carbon emissions. The global debate on climate change has been warming up in India too. The Indian policy makers, who have fiercely debated the matter in Parliament recently, have acknowledged global warming to be a major menace.

But the bigger threat for India and its buzzing economy is the question of lending its hand to a matter which will need an overhaul of the country’s existing technologies which will require billions of rupees. Should India, which houses 17.4% of the world’s population, but accounts for just 4.6% of global emissions, conform to strict set of rules in the fight against global warming?

The human development report, 2007-’08, prepared by the UNDP, identifies 2 degree celsius as the threshold, above which the damages of the global climate changes will be irreversible. The world needs to change its level of carbon emission in the next one decade, and start living within carbon budget of 14.5 gigatonnes of CO2 per annum for the remaining years of the 21st century.

…If the recently concluded Bali convention on climate changes is any indication, India has been successful in placing its viewpoints quite effectively. India called for encouragement to those nations which are not only preserving the existing carbon stocks, but adding new forest cover which in turn control the carbon emission. A number of countries such as China, Costa Rica, Thailand and Pakistan have strongly supported the Indian approach on compensated conservation.

During the convention, India cited the study carried out by Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Bangalore, that the country would increase its carbon stocks to 9.75 billion tonnes in 2030 from the present level of 8.79 billion tonnes.

Yet, analysts say that India needs to move on a fast-track to achieve its goals towards climate changes. According to the estimates made by ministry of environment and forests, the adverse impacts of current climate have already threatened the livelihoods of many Indians, especially the poorest.

The current government expenditure on adaptation to climate variability, exceeds 2% of the GDP, with agriculture, water resources, health and sanitation, forests, coastal-zone infrastructure and extreme weather events, being the main areas of concern.

At present, the ministry of new & renewable energy, the bureau of energy efficiency, and the technology information forecasting & assessment council, have specific mandates to promote clean energy technologies. What’s more, the integration of climate change in national development is now guided by the newly set-up Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change comprising representatives from key ministries and experts with domain knowledge.

The question arises whether India, which has been leading from the front in WTO talks, could take the same leadership position in climate change negotiations as well.

'Green fatigue' leads to fear of backlash over climate change

Guardian (UK): British people are now convinced about the dangers of global warming but are either baffled about how to stop it or are ignoring the issue. Analysts say few people are taking action to deal with the threat of climate change, although over the past 12 months the vast majority have come to accept that it poses a real threat to the world. Opinion polls reveal much confusion among the public about what Britain should do to combat the problem.

A backlash is now a real threat, said Phil Downing, head of environmental research for Ipsos Mori. 'There's cynicism because on the one hand we're being told [the problem] is very serious and on the other hand we're building runways, mining Alaskan oil; there's a lot going on that appears to be heading in the opposite direction.'

This is particularly evident in the huge public resistance to green taxes. 'There's a cynicism the government is using the green agenda as an excuse for hitting motorists and people who want to fly,' added Downing.

… The report by Ipsos Mori that found that almost nine out of 10 people believe climate change is happening also revealed that there was a lack of understanding about what should be done to counteract it. In particular, it was discovered that there is a general reluctance for people to do anything significant on their own. Although 70 per cent thought 'the world will soon experience a major environmental crisis', virtually nobody said they were prepared to do anything about it beyond trying to reuse plastic bags and recycle some rubbish.

The problem is heightened by the government's own failure to halt rises of carbon dioxide emissions, despite its pledges to cut them drastically. Traffic on UK roads rose in the first three quarters of 2007, peaking at 132 billion vehicle kilometres between July to September. At the same time, numbers of flights worldwide rose 4.7 per cent to nearly 30 million during 2007. In Britain, carbon emissions have risen in five out of the 10 years that New Labour have been in power and are now 2.2 per cent higher than they were in 1997. By any standards the government is doing very badly when it comes to taking effective action to deal with carbon emissions.

There are some encouraging signs with more people taking action into their own hands, for example by insulating their lofts to cut fuel bills, or by joining movements like Transition Towns where communities agree to reduce their dependence on coal, oil and gas. Businesses are investing in more eco-friendly products in expectation, said Richard Lambert, the CBI's director-general. 'They are ahead of the consumer.'

Whether the public becomes more proactive in 2008 when it comes to climate change depends on several issues, added analysts. A key factor will be the weather, said West. 'If we have a nice average year, whatever that means, people will say: "Climate change: what of it?" But if we have either an extreme heatwave or more flooding, I think there's going to be a cumulative effect. The next time we have a national-scale weather-related emergency, people will say: "Enough ... we can't allow this to be normal". In a way, if that happens, it makes our job easier, but clearly I don't want to wish a disaster on anyone.'

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Relentless N. Carolina drought could be devastating in '08

USA Today, via AP: The record-setting drought that has forced the governor to plead for conservation, homeowners to shelve their lawn sprinklers and farmers to drain their ponds for irrigation is only forecast to get worse in the new year. If the predictions come true, convenience won't be the only casualty.

…The rain that fell Wednesday across the state will help, but not much. The Southeast baked under a strong upper-level ridge that persisted through the summer, and without a tropical storm to dump a sudden burst of rain, the average rainfall deficit in North Carolina will be about 14 inches in 2007. The weather wasn't just dry — the Raleigh and Durham area set a record with 83 days in which temperatures hit 90 degrees, more than double the usual 37. When combined with growing demand for water from a surging population, the result was the worst drought since officials began keeping records at the end of the 19th Century.

Officials at Duke Energy are already bemoaning difficulties with some of its water-based electricity generators. Forestry officials say the drought-fueled wildfires charred some 37,000 acres of land — about double the 10 year average — and may get larger and more intense in 2008 as the tinder-dry landscape becomes more susceptible to fires triggered by lightning.

North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said if 2007's weather repeats itself, the state's agriculture business will be devastated. Farmers lost an estimated $382 million in crops in the past year, and Troxler said the ground is now so dry that there isn't enough moisture to germinate crops.…

…"If we, as citizens, do not conserve (water), we jeopardize industry being able to continue, which jeopardizes jobs, and that hurts families," said Gov. Mike Easley while asking residents to cut consumption by at least 30 to 40%. Easley has urged local governments to significantly raise water prices on those who use it excessively.

Forecasters don't expect any immediate relief. The National Weather Service expects the La Nina climate pattern — in which colder water in the tropical Pacific push the jet stream and wet weather north and away from the southeastern USA — to stick around through the spring. La Nina strengthened significantly in December, the weather service said.

That pattern usually brings rainfall of 3 to 5 inches below normal in the six-month span covering winter and spring — a tough forecast in a state that needs steady, above-average rainfall. The weather service puts the chances of North Carolina getting enough rain to ease the drought at less than 10%.

But forecasters also note that the summer months are unpredictable. A tropical system or slightly above average rainfall could alleviate much of the drought conditions, said Doug LeComte, a drought specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. "I don't want to be too pessimistic," LeComte said. "Droughts do end, and sometimes surprisingly quickly. You never hope for a hurricane, but you might hope for the remains of one."

New publication from CSIS, “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change”

A new publication about climate change adaptation has just come out, and Real Climate likes it. A lot: ...The physical impacts of the global warming forecast can be bracketed with some degree of statistical confidence. Biological effects are more difficult to gauge, except in special cases such as the likely demise of polar bears that would result from the demise of Arctic sea ice. The societal effects, however, are nearly uncharted territory, at least to me. Perhaps the topic of global warming suffers from the same sort of cultural divide as university faculties, between the techies and the touchies; that is the sciences and the humanities. A new report called The Age of Consequences, just released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, tries to bring the social sciences, in particular history, geography, and political science, into the forecast of climate change in the coming century. It makes for fascinating if frightening reading.

The report was based on discussions of a group of senior luminaries with a wide range of expertise. I already knew or knew of and respect the climate scientists Mike MacCracken and Bob Correll, and Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy of Sciences. The group also included Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former Chief of Staff to the President John Podesta, and former National Security Advisor to the Vice President Leon Fuerth. (Apparently not all group members, listed in the executive summary on page 8, got writing assignments, so not all of them are listed as authors.)

Images of the future can be constructed based on the lessons of history. The history chapter (beginning on page 26) begins with Table 1, which I will reprint here:

Event Potential deaths
Volcanic eruptions 104
Earthquakes 105
Floods 106
Droughts 107
Epidemics 108

It is sobering to note that the potential horsemen of climate change, floods, droughts, and epidemics, are all at the big end of this list. There is no historical precedent for the type of global multidimensional challenge that changing climate may bring, but there are common elements in societal responses to natural disasters, and many of the impacts of climate change will be regional in scope rather than global, like natural disasters...

Indonesian government hopes to tackle disease with sanitation

Jakarta Post (Indonesia): The government has acknowledged that extreme weather is behind rising numbers of vector-borne human disease cases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and cholera. But a government mitigation effort blueprint has yet to specify strategies for coping with the outbreaks that are becoming more frequent across the archipelago.

It says the government will conduct more public campaigns to promote a healthy environment and prevent climate-linked disease. "With a healthy sanitation system, diseases like malaria, dengue fever and diarrhea, that spread through the air, can be minimized," the action plan says. The government plan also covers research on illness caused by warmer temperatures and development of drugs for the so-called climate-change diseases, using local raw materials.

The government also plans to improve disease surveillance and develop early warning systems for weather-related disasters so people can be prepared for the health consequences.

The state ministry of environment has predicted the outbreak of malaria, dengue fever and diarrhea diseases will worsen due to climate change. By 2070 annual cases of malaria per 10,000 people will be 20 percent higher than in 1989 when there were 2,705 cases, a ministry report predicts. Dengue fever, in 2070, will be at 26 cases per 10,000 people while in 1989 there were only six. Diarrhea cases in that year are predicted to be 934, triple the 311 cases recorded in 1989.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said climate change was estimated to be responsible for approximately 2.4 percent of worldwide diarrhea, six percent of malaria and seven percent of dengue fever in some industrialized countries. It said that cholera and other water-borne diseases are on the rise in coastal countries and may be related to declining water quality, climate and algal blooms.

Climate experts said that higher temperature would be more pronounced in large cities because of urban heat island effects. The direct health impact of higher temperatures on human health is heat stroke mortality, especially for older age groups.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the United Nation's global body for assessing scientific knowledge on climate change -- predicted that by 2100 the global temperature could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees of Celsius, compared to the 1990 level. An IPCC report on human development launched on the sidelines of the Bali climate conference says rising temperatures and more droughts will leave up to 600 million people facing malnutrition.

A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report says about 1.8 billion people may face serious water shortages by 2080. It said up to 332 million people in coastal and low lying areas could be displaced by flooding and tropical storms.

In California, climate change will transform the land, lifestyles

Summit Daily News, via AP: …As the global climate warms, California’s one-of-kind geography and the lifestyle it has made famous will not escape the consequences.…Many of the scientific predictions are gloomy. Some already are coming true.

Among the earliest and most noticeable casualties is expected to be California’s ski season. The snow is likely to continue but is expected to fall for a shorter period of time and melt more quickly. That could shorten the ski season by a month even in wetter areas and perhaps end it in others.

...Because California is a coastal state with myriad microclimates, predicting exactly what will happen across a land mass a third larger than that of Italy by the end of the century is a challenge. But through a series of interviews with scientists who are studying the phenomenon, a general description of the state’s future emerges.

By the end of the century, temperatures are predicted to increase from 3 degrees to as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit statewide. That could translate into even less rainfall across the southern half of the state, which already is under pressure from the increased frequency of wildfires and relentless population growth.

…Farther north, where wet, cold winters are crucial for the entire state, warmer temperatures will lead to more rain than snow in the Sierra Nevada and faster melting in the spring. Because 35 percent of the state’s water supply is stored annually in the Sierra snowpack, changes to that hydrologic system will lead to far-reaching consequences for California and its ever-growing population.

Some transformations already are apparent, stretching from the Sierra high country to the great valleys that have made California the nation’s top agricultural state. The snowline, as it is in many other alpine regions around the world, is receding. Throughout the 400-mile-long Sierra, trees are under stress, leading scientists to speculate that the mix of flora could change significantly as the century grows hotter.

The death rate of fir and pine trees has accelerated over the past two decades. In the central and southern Sierra, the giant sequoias that are among the most massive living things on earth might be imperiled. “I suspect as things get warmer, we’ll start seeing sequoias just die on their feet where their foliage turns brown,” said Nate Stephenson, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who is studying the effects of climate change in the Sierra Nevada. “Even if they don’t die of drought stress, just think of the wildfires. If you dry out that vegetation, they’re going to be so much more flammable.”

Because the Sierra snowpack accounts for so much of California’s water supply, the changes could lead to expensive water disputes between cities and farmers. Without consistent water from rivers draining the snowmelt, farmers in the Central and Salinas valleys could lose as much as a quarter of their water supply.

What will happen along California’s famed coastline will affect the rest of the state, yet is among the biggest unknowns. …Changing seas will present trouble for much of the state’s land-dwelling population, too. A sea level rise of three to six feet will be enough to inundate the airports in San Francisco and Oakland. Many of the state’s beaches are expected to shrink as sea levels rise and winter storms carry away sand. “If you raise sea level by a foot, you push a cliff back 100 feet,” said Jeff Severinghaus, professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. “There will be a lot of houses that will fall into the ocean.”

Deep-sea species' loss could lead to oceans' collapse, study suggests

Science Daily: The loss of deep-sea species poses a severe threat to the future of the oceans, suggests a new report publishing early online on December 27th and in the January 8th issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. In a global-scale study, the researchers found some of the first evidence that the health of the deep sea, as measured by the rate of critical ecosystem processes, increases exponentially with the diversity of species living there.

"For the first time, we have demonstrated that deep-sea ecosystem functioning is closely dependent upon the number of species inhabiting the ocean floor," said Roberto Danovaro of the Polytechnic University of Marche, in Italy. "This shows that we need to preserve biodiversity, and especially deep-sea biodiversity, because otherwise the negative consequences could be unprecedented. We must care about species that are far from us and [essentially] invisible."

Ecosystem functioning involves several processes, which can be summarized as the production, consumption, and transfer of organic matter to higher levels of the food chain, the decomposition of organic matter, and the regeneration of nutrients, he explained.

Recent investigations on land have suggested that biodiversity loss might impair the functioning and sustainability of ecosystems, Danovaro said. …The deep sea also supports the largest "biomass" of living things, including a large proportion of undiscovered species.

…Overall, they added, "our results suggest that a higher biodiversity can enhance the ability of deep-sea benthic systems to perform the key biological and biogeochemical processes that are crucial for their sustainable functioning."

The sharp increase in ecosystem functioning as species numbers rise further suggests that individual species in the deep sea make way for more species or facilitate one another, Danovaro said. That's in contrast to terrestrial-system findings, which have generally shown a linear relationship between diversity and ecosystem functioning, he noted, suggesting complementary relationships among species.

"Deep-sea ecosystems provide goods (including biomass, bioactive molecules, oil, gas, and minerals) and services (climate regulation, nutrient regeneration and supply to the [upper ocean], and food) and, for their profound involvement in global biogeochemical and ecological processes, are essential for the sustainable functioning of our biosphere and for human wellbeing," the researchers concluded. "Our results suggest that the conservation of deep-sea biodiversity can be crucial for the sustainability of the functions of the largest ecosystem" on the planet….

Friday, December 28, 2007

Students of the weather had lessons to learn

Globe and Mail (Canada): A slab of ice about the size of Ontario has disappeared from Canada's Arctic waters, and the big melt was so unexpected that it headed the list of Environment Canada's Top 10 weather stories for 2007. Satellite images taken on Sept. 12 revealed to scientists that there was 23 per cent less sea ice in the Arctic than last recorded in 2005. "When they looked at the satellite imagery," said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, "they said, 'My gosh, this is a shocker. This is something we wouldn't have even ever anticipated.' "

That made it the obvious choice for Environment Canada's No. 1 story, said Mr. Phillips, who has been compiling the Top 10 list for the last 12 years. His criteria include the size of the area affected and the economic impact on Canadians. But although some of the stories on this year's list, notably the Arctic ice melt and another about the steadily lowering water levels in the Great Lakes, connect to big-picture concerns like climate change, the list is still conceived as a kind of entertainment, Mr. Phillips said.

"I don't want people to feel morose about it. The world's not going to come to an end. It's a heads-up," he said. "We celebrate weather in this country, and often the weather that we celebrate is the tough weather. It's that pioneer spirit that still burns." But normal weather occurs less frequently now, he added. "I can't help but thinking, my gosh, it's becoming more difficult to prepare this list, not because of a lack of stories, but because there are too many of them."

Environment Canada's Top 10 for 2007:

1. Vanishing Ice…Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been melting since 1971, but this year's measurements, which are 23 per cent lower than the last recorded amount from 2005, mean that an ice chunk roughly the size of Ontario has disappeared.

2. Flooding in B.C….A buildup of B.C.'s mountain snowpack led to repeated flood warnings from officials when hot weather arrived suddenly in late May. Over the spring, the province experienced a number of significant floods. Notable ones were in the Nechako, Bulkley and Skeena Rivers.

3. Winter previews…A string of early snowstorms hit the country in early December. Canadians in communities from Vancouver Island to St. John's were busy shovelling loads of snow weeks before the official start of winter on Dec. 22.

4. Tropical Prairies…Instead of the usual few weeks of warm, sunny weather, the Prairie provinces experienced a period of intense humidity. Calgary endured its second-hottest July on record and Winnipeg broke its all-time humidex high, suffering damaged crops.

5. A thirsty Ontario…A record warm summer in Southern Ontario brought little rain, and the period from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 was the GTA's second-driest on record. Although not a drought by Prairie standards, the lack of precipitation was not good news for the province's corn crop.

6. Big Bad Noel…Hurricane Noel hit the Atlantic provinces in early November after wreaking havoc in the West Indies. The storm system stretched over a million square kilometres and caused much damage, but took no Canadian lives.

7. The great evaporation…Lake Superior's September water levels were the lowest ever. The lake has been recording levels consistently below average for the past 10 years. Water levels in the other Great Lakes were also low, raising questions about the impact climate change is having on the lake system.

8. A warm winter…Eastern Canada had a record warm winter last year, with cities from Toronto to Charlottetown experiencing lower-than-usual snowfall. Winter finally did hit in the second half of January, and lasted about six weeks.

9. Record Prairie hailers…Last summer, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the highest number of severe weather events ever - 410 storms rained down on the Prairie provinces. Crop-related insurance claims skyrocketed as a result.

10. THE First F5 Tornado… On June 22, a 300-metre-wide tornado touched down for about 35 minutes roughly 40 kilometres east of Winnipeg. With a top wind speed of between 420 and 510 kilometres an hour, the tornado's force scattered debris along streets and fields, but caused no fatalities or serious injuries.

Papua New Guinea's Woodlark Island rainforests to be cleared for oil palm agrofuels

At the recent Bali climate change meeting, Papua New Guinea's representative dramatically criticized the United States for its obstructionist ways. But now, according to Rainforest Portal: The PNG government continues to approve rainforest destruction and diminishment even as they vocally seek to be paid with carbon market funds for their "protection". The oil palm biofuel industry -- the scourge of Asia and the world's rainforests -- is continuing to expand into Papua New Guinea (PNG). Malaysian company Vitroplant has been granted necessary permits by the PNG government to begin clearing 70% of the rainforests on biodiversity rich Woodlark Island, some 60,000 hectares, in order to establish a massive plantation of oil palm trees.

Expansion of oil palm plantations at the expense of primary rainforests runs contrary to PNG's government public support for preserving rainforests for climate and other benefits. An oil palm plantation on Woodlark Island will endanger the island’s flora and fauna, cause environmental upheaval, and result in drastic cultural change. The islanders of Woodlark have worked hard to draw international attention to this issue, and have issued an appeal for the support of international NGOs and citizens to pressure the government to withdraw the project.

Latin America hit by record number of disasters, says UN

Guardian (UK): The UN office that sends experts around the world to help governments deal with natural disasters attended to more such events than ever before in Latin America in 2007, a fact it at least partially blames on climate change.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement that a record nine missions were dispatched to the region this year. This was part of a total of 14 sent around the globe, itself a higher than usual number. "Seventy percent of the total were in response to hurricanes and floods, possibly a glimpse of the shape of things to come, given the reality of climate change," it said.

Rains left most of Mexico's Tabasco state under water for weeks, including large parts of the city of Villahermosa. Tropical storm Noel triggered flash floods in the Dominican Republic that killed dozens, while Honduras faced the category-five hurricane Felix. Uruguay suffered its worst flooding in 50 years and hundreds of thousands of Bolivians were inundated and crops ruined early in the year. A UN disaster team sent to the region went to help with the relief effort following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake along the Peruvian coast.

Aside from the missions to Latin America, the UN also sent teams to Madagascar, Pakistan and Ghana in response to floods, to the Solomon Islands after an earthquake and tsunami, and to Laos to help with disaster preparedness efforts.

Parasites are the hidden face of climate change across Scotland

Scotsman: There is little doubt that climate change is having an impact on the agricultural industry in Scotland. The consensus is that this will lead to drier summers and increased rainfall during the winter. Scientists at the Moredun Research Institute, near Edinburgh, reckon that climate change will have a major impact on the health and welfare of livestock. Dr Philip Skuce has been studying this topic. He said: "Recent data from diagnostic reports clearly shows that the incidence of parasitic gastroenteritis, caused by roundworms, has risen significantly in the last five years.

"Heavy infestations with the brown stomach worm, teladorsagia circumcinta, are now routinely diagnosed in lambs in the spring in the south-east of Scotland. This is believed to be caused by the survival of the free-living larval stages shed in the previous year through the winter on pasture."

In the past farmers were able to combat the various parasites which infect sheep with a range of drugs. The problem is that new parasites are being found. Skuce added: "A very realistic threat is the emergence of haemonchosis in Scottish sheep flocks. This is a highly pathogenic, blood-sucking worm normally associated with more tropical climates, especially in Australia, South America and South Africa.

"The number of outbreaks has also increased in the last decade and it has even been identified on sheep farms in the extreme North-east of Scotland. It is unclear whether the parasite is over-wintering on pasture or surviving in an arrested state within the host until favourable conditions return in the spring.

"In any event, this is a serious development, partly due to the high pathogenicity, but also because of its ability to evolve successful survival strategies. In a similar way nematodirus, traditionally a parasite of young lambs in the early summer, now appears to have changed so that it is now seen in older lambs during autumn and winter."

Liver fluke has long been a scourge of the sheep industry. Traditionally it was more prevalent in the west, but it is now routinely diagnosed in drier parts of Scotland. However, fluke is now being increasingly found in cattle and reports from abattoirs suggest that up to 30 per cent of all livers are rejected

On the broader picture of parasite control, Skuce said: "The sustainable management of livestock parasitism in the face of climate change requires that we remain vigilant and retain the capacity to respond to a changing environment. We urgently need improved surveillance and diagnosis as well as better methods of detecting resistance to the commonly used drugs. Scientists at Moredun, in collaboration with the Glasgow Vet School and the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, have been successful in obtaining substantial funding to pursue this goal.

"We also need to continue our ongoing research towards alternative integrated control strategies such as vaccines, selective breeding and optimised nutrition to remove our reliance of a dwindling supply of effective veterinary products."

The actual cost of parasite infestation in cattle and sheep is difficult to quantify, but it certainly runs to many millions of pounds each year. An increasing trend to low-input systems of animal production means that the overall of supervision is reduced and relatively minor problems which would have been picked quickly in the past can suddenly become serious both in terms of animal health and lack of performance. Prevention comes a lot cheaper than expensive drugs.

China opens 1st air-sea interaction lab to analyze climate change

Xinhua: China opened its first air-sea interaction and climate change laboratory in Qingdao, Shandong Province, to closely observe climate change on the sea and to provide scientific solutions. The newly-built lab in the eastern coastal province, funded and run by the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) First Institute of Oceanography (FIO), would conduct research on climate influencing phenomena of mass, energy, momentum and radiation fluxes across the sea, FIO head Ma Deyi said in the China Ocean News on Thursday.

The lab's research topics mainly included the study of concentration of size distribution of marine aerosol in the boundary layer over the sea surface and in the coastal zone. It would also study atmospheric optical depth over coastal zones and open sea, and modeling of the light field in the atmosphere and ocean, Ma said.

The lab would also act as a nerve center for an underway oceanic monitoring network. This was expected to be completed next year for observing climate change in the Bohai Sea, the South China Sea and sea areas, said vice SOA chief Wang Fei. "We'll strengthen our capability in forecasting weather and analyzing air-sea interactions in deep seas," he said.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new report on the phenomenon earlier this year. It warned the world's average temperature, if left unchecked, could rise by as much as two to four degrees centigrade by 2080. This would probably trigger more natural disasters endangering human beings.…

Sea-weather observation and air-sea interactions analysis were effective in monitoring global climate change. World-leading organizations, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and top universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, have already focused on air-sea interaction to know more about climate change.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The trouble with climate 'adaptation'

Modesto Bee, via Newsweek: Two words: airport runways.

As scientists and policy types figure out what changes will be necessary to cope with global warming, it's obvious that massive sea walls will be required to hold back rising oceans, that enormous reservoirs will be needed to cope with the alternating droughts and deluges that many regions will suffer and that a crash program to develop heat- and drought- resistant crops would be a good idea if people are to keep eating. But it's the less-obvious, yet no-less-necessary, adaptations to climate change that are likely to wreak havoc.

So, runways: hotter air, which we'll have more of in a greenhouse world, is less-dense air (hence, hot air rises). In less-dense air, says Bernoulli's principle, for planes to gain lift and stay aloft, they need to take off faster. Ergo, airport runways will need to be longer to give planes the requisite ground speed before they can take off. Will someone please tell Chicago's massive O'Hare Airport?

… Though some adaptations will be modest and low-tech, such as cities establishing cooling centers to shelter residents during heat waves, others will require such Herculean efforts and be so costly that we'll look back on the era beginning in 1988, when credible warnings of climate change reached critical mass, and wonder why we were so stupid as to blow the chance to keep global warming to nothing more extreme than a few more mild days in March.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which just picked up its Nobel Peace Prize, we are in for a minimum of 90 more years of warming, no matter how many Hummers are junked in favor of Priuses. The reasons are atmospheric (greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide remain aloft for about a century) and political (the world can't summon the will to reduce greenhouse emissions).

…The required adaptations will be much more profound than turning up the air conditioning a notch come summertime. Melting glaciers will trigger "glacier lake outburst floods," warns the IPCC; if you have a child wondering which field to enter, dam-engineering looks like an excellent bet.

Permafrost is melting, so villages and roads in the (once) frozen north that are built on it will have to be relocated. Sea-level rise is inundating the wetlands and mangrove swamps that once absorbed storm surges; sea-wall design and construction also will be a growth industry, at least in areas that can afford it. For the tens of millions of Bangladeshis and other impoverished people living in coastal regions that will be underwater, inland areas can "adapt" by making room for unprecedented waves of environmental refugees.

In a warmer world, the atmosphere holds more moisture. When moist air collides with Arctic air, freezing rain falls. That coats power lines with ice and causes them to snap, cutting power to thousands, as it did last week in the Midwest.

…Money is beginning to trickle into such efforts. The Rockefeller Foundation is putting $70 million into a "climate-change resilience" program to help the developing world cope. A climate bill in Congress would take some of the money raised from auctioning off permits to emit carbon dioxide and use it to fund adaptation research (though some want to give the permits to industry gratis).

Of course, if we do as competent a job adapting to climate change as we've done preventing it, short runways will be the least of our problems.

Samoa’s chief disaster management officer says frequency of cyclones has increased

Radio New Zealand International: Samoa’s chief disaster management officer is warning that climate change has increased the frequency of tropical cyclones in the Pacific region. Sala Sagato Tuafiso says there’s been a 5 per cent increase in the frequency of cyclones because of the changing temperature in the water.

The Newsline newspaper reports that statistical analysis of all tropical cyclones in the last 150 years shows Samoa is likely to be affected by a tropical cyclone with gale force winds of between 60 to 80 kilometres an hour every three years. It also says that a tropical cyclone with winds of up to 80 kilometres an hour and higher is likely to hit the country every six years.

But Sala says climate change is increasing the frequency of tropical cyclones and this is a real disaster for the whole Pacific region. If the Meteorology Division’s predictions are right, Samoa should be bracing itself for a Cyclone this season as Cyclone Heta occurred in 2004 three years ago. Sala says Samoa needs more equipment to increase meteorological observations and satellite images which would help collect information about tropical cyclones.

Stormwater upgrades will help keep Naples Bay clean

Environment News Service: The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has authorized $1.5 million for a city of Naples stormwater improvement project benefiting Naples Bay. The district funds are part of the total $7.7 million effort. The funding will allow the city to implement a broad range of stormwater improvements, including pump station upgrades, storm sewer upgrades, swale restoration, creation of a water quality park and control structure upgrades.

"The City of Naples is taking steps to improve stormwater quality before it enters Naples Bay," said Clarence Tears, director of the management district's Big Cypress Basin Service Center. "The cumulative impacts of each of these incremental projects will greatly benefit our precious coastal communities."

Located in Collier County, Naples extends over nine miles along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. About 16 percent of the city is comprised of bays, waterways, channels and other critically important surface water bodies. Due to the city's location in a low-lying coastal environment, as well as substantial build-out and ongoing redevelopment activities, some areas of the city are more prone than others to nuisance and damaging flooding and also to a degradation of the quality of surface water bodies.

The city of Naples passed a stormwater ordinance effective December 17, 2007 that specifies minimum stormwater design criteria for new buildings and details best management practices for property owners. Chronic flooding in the Naples downtown area is the result of aging and insufficient stormwater infrastructure, said Tears. Improvements to the infrastructure are under way, although stormwater runoff continues to carry pollutants into Naples Bay.

The goals of the proposed stormwater improvements are to prevent flooding through the use of increased retention and detention, and to improve the stormwater collection features, while decreasing the quantity and improving the quality of waters released to Naples Bay. This stormwater improvement project is part of the Naples Bay Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan, approved in 2006, which identifies projects that can be implemented to enhance the health of this impacted system.

Naples is surrounded by major land reserves, including the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Picayune Strand State Forest.

Changes to funding could sink Scottish flood defences

The Herald (Edinburgh): Ministers could be forced to "hand out sandbags" because funding changes have left Scotland more vulnerable to flooding, Labour claimed yesterday. The accusation followed the Scottish Government's concordat with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), a deal that exchanged a council tax freeze for the removal of ring-fencing from many funding allocations.

Labour has been claiming that many of these funding areas required to be specially protected, and on flood prevention Sarah Boyack, shadow environment secretary, was particularly critical yesterday. "The decision to end ring-fencing of flood defence and prevention schemes shows the real lack of importance this SNP government attach to preventing flooding," she said.

However, Environment Minister Michael Russell dismissed the claim, pointing out that spending on flood prevention would increase by more than 40% over the next three years. He said new agreements would replace the old ring-fencing approach. Ms Boyack said: "This issue will not go away, because climate change is happening and instances of heavy rainfall will increase."

The former minister added: "The SNP should put the ring-fence back on flood defence budgets and ensure it gets proper priority, otherwise ministers will be reduced to handing out sandbags to householders if Scotland gets hit by a major flood."

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency estimates there are almost 100,000 properties at risk from flooding, according to Ms Boyack who said money for flood defences rose to a record level of £42m a year under the last Labour/LibDem government. Mr Russell countered: "The Scottish Government has announced funding totalling £126m for flood prevention schemes over the next three years. This represents a 41% increase with schemes funded on an 80/20 basis.

"It is the responsibility of each local authority to allocate its total financial resources based on local needs and priorities. The Scottish Government is in discussion with Cosla on local outcome agreements for each of the 32 local authorities and is keen to ensure flooding issues will be covered in these agreements."

The minister pointed to a passage in the concordat stating: "In 2008-09, local government capital increases by 13% and that increase is then held up to 2010-11. "In total, £2.9bn is being provided over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11 to secure investment in local government infrastructure such as schools, flood prevention measures, roads, waste management, and the police estate and that of the fire and rescue services."

Natural catastrophe figures for 2007: Higher losses despite absence of megacatastrophes, very many loss events

Munich Re: The insurance industry had to cope with far higher natural catastrophe losses in 2007 than in 2006, with its unusually low loss figures. Despite the general absence of extreme events, overall economic losses had reached US$ 75bn by the end of December – an increase of 50% on 2006 (US$ 50bn). However, the loss figures were well short of 2005’s record US$ 220bn. At just under US$ 30bn, insured losses were almost double those of 2006 (US$ 15bn). The number of natural catastrophes recorded in 2007 was 950 (compared with 850 in 2006), the highest figure since 1974, when Munich Re began keeping systematic records in its NatCatService database.

Board member Dr. Torsten Jeworrek: "The figures confirm our expectations and endorse our insistence that risks be consistently written at adequate prices, despite years with comparatively low losses as in 2006. The trend in respect of weather extremes shows that climate change is already taking effect and that more such extremes are to be expected in the future. We should not be misled by the absence of megacatastrophes in 2007."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Climate impacts in Michigan (Michigan): …Snow is deeper than it was in recent Decembers, yet it lacks moisture content needed to recharge groundwater systems. It’s one hint that northern Michigan weather trends are following climate change predictions.

Temperatures in Michigan could increase by about 4 degrees by 2100, according to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Others predict temperature increases as much as 13 degrees by the end of the century. Climate change will impact the state’s fisheries, forests, water resources and human health, the EPA report states.

"The debate is not as to whether or not the earth has risen in temperature," said Abby Rubley, field director for Environment Michigan, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. "The debate comes in as whether or not it’s a bad thing and whether humans are causing it."

A recent report by Environment Michigan indicates heavy rainfalls are up 18 percent in Michigan compared to 60 years ago. "Our 50-year storms are now coming every five to 10 years," Rubley said…

According to Mike Cellitti of the National Weather Service in Gaylord, the discrepancy was due to two intense rainstorms which hit Gaylord. But area rainfall may not bring significant relief to drought-stricken lands. Intense rainfall cannot be absorbed into the earth and rather than relieve drought conditions, it can cause flooding and sewage issues.

If predictions for climate change are correct, the northern Michigan we know could be a very different place for our children and grandchildren. The National Wildlife Federation predicts due to climate change, Michigan forest areas could decline by up to 70 percent; warmer water temperatures would reduce habitat for cold-water fish; waterfowl will lose breeding ground leading to up to 39 percent decline in the duck population; degraded water quality and higher concentrations of ozone will lead to human health problems. Consequently, it could lengthen the growing season and increase yields. But the EPA reports suggests climate inconsistencies will make adapting difficult for farmers.

…The region saw some of the warmest temperatures and driest conditions on record. July and August ranked in the top third of warmest summers on record, and October came in as the fifth warmest on record. As for precipitation, several locations failed to receive even half the normal rainfall, according to National Weather Service data.

…Repercussions from the summer’s weather are continuing to hit local farmers. The alfalfa crop was down about 40 percent, according to Bob Battel, Regional Farm Management Educator for Michigan State University Extension in Osceola County. "Hay supplies are short," Battel said. "The statewide average cost is $135 per ton. In some areas, it’s $200. Last year it was $100." Corn crops fared better than alfalfa.

"Conditions were extremely hot. If corn has heat and rain, it puts on yield," he said. "People were worried, but we were lucky and the rain came when we needed it."

…Gov. Jennifer Granholm has called for the creation of a task force to develop recommendations on how Michigan can address climate change in ways that will have a positive effect on the state’s efforts to grow the economy and generate jobs. An interim report will be presented to the governor by April 2008. The council is expected to submit a final report by December 2008.

2007 one of Tucson's warmest

Arizona Daily Star: You wouldn't have known it if you just flew into Tucson for a vacation last weekend, but this year was one of the hottest on record here. The region's long-term drought, on the other hand, slacked off a bit this year, but Tucson is a long way from proclaiming that it is over.

…A longtime weather service meteorologist said the continued warm weather here is primarily a result of the urban heat-island effect, in which growth increases the number of buildings that block out the cooling air from night skies and provide multiple surfaces for absorbing and reflecting the sun's heat. Six of the 11 warmest years on record came since 1990. Three of the five warmest years came since 2000.

But two University of Arizona climate scientists said that long-term global warming caused by continued emissions of carbon dioxide into the air is another likely cause of the warming weather, although they cautioned that it's too early to say that for sure until more climate information rolls in.

Barring an unlikely year-end deluge, 2007 will end with with 9.78 inches of rain. That's down from 11.81 inches in 2006 and an annual average of 12.17 inches. Compared to spells when wildlife and trees were dying in the desert, 2007 seemed relatively benign, droughtwise. This is only the 38th-driest year on record in Tucson. But it will be the seventh straight year of below-normal rainfall here, said John Glueck, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tucson.

More troublesome is that winter rainfall totals have run further below normal than those in the summer over the past decade or so. Because winter rains are more likely to seep into the ground than the fast-moving summer rains that swim quickly down Tucson's washes and streams, the lack of winter rains makes the forests more vulnerable to fire. Lesser winter rainfalls also mean there's less water replenishing the Tucson underground aquifer, Glueck said.

…If the city is going to be in a long-term drought, officials must plan for it, said Glueck, adding, "It's going to be the big issue for the next five to 10 to 15 to 20 years. We've got to figure out something to do with the water."

…But it isn't just Tucson that's warming, it's the Southwest in general, including non-urban areas, countered Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and director of the University of Arizona Institute for the Study of Planet Earth.

"There is little doubt that what we're seeing is something broader than can be ascribed to urban heat-island warming alone," Overpeck said in an e-mail interview. "The big question relates to what is driving the regional warming — is it human-caused global warming, or some natural variability?"

It's more likely human-caused warming because the higher temperatures are being accompanied by retreat of spring snowpack, decline in springtime river flows and drying of forests, said Overpeck, one of the scientists involved in the warming studies of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. All those phenomena are consistent with what global computer models have projected will happen because of the buildup of human-induced greenhouse gases, he said.

"Natural variability could be playing a role, too, but it's not clear what it is, and thus I suspect it is small," he said. "There is no known natural cycle that should be giving us the warming trend of the last couple decades, both in and outside of urban areas."…