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Posts Tagged ‘climate

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself”*…

The world’s largest permafrost crater, Batagay, Russia, 2017

The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that Russia, one of the world’s largest petro-states, will be a relative winner in climate change; but a new book argues that the country will find itself in deep trouble. Sophie Pinkham unpacks the lesson’s in Thane Gustafson’s Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change

Thane Gustafson, a longtime specialist on Russian energy, wrote Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change before the [Ukraine] invasion, when the Covid pandemic seemed the great unexpected event complicating every prediction. Yet with its focus on the future of Russia’s energy, grain, and metals markets, all of which have been reconfigured by the war and the new sanctions, Klimat could hardly be more timely. Gustafson argues that Russia’s days of hydrocarbon-funded might are numbered. Unfortunately, the end of this era will not come soon enough for Ukrainians, or for the planet.

Russia is warming 2.5 times as fast as the world on average, and the Arctic is warming even faster. The cliché, avidly promoted by Moscow, is that the country will be a relative winner in climate change, benefiting from a melting and accessible Arctic shipping route, longer growing seasons, and the expansion of farmland into newly thawed areas. Gustafson counters, with a dry but persuasive marshaling of facts, that in the redistribution of wealth and power that will result from climate change, Russia is doomed. After reading Klimat, Russia’s attack on Ukraine begins to look like the convulsion of a dying state.

About two thirds of Russia is covered in permafrost, a mixture of sand and ice that, until recently, remained frozen year-round. As permafrost melts, walls built on it fracture, buildings sink, railways warp, roads buckle, and pipelines break. Anthrax from long-frozen reindeer corpses has thawed and infected modern herds. Sinkholes have opened in the melting ground, swallowing up whole buildings. Ice roads over frozen water, once the only way to travel in some remote regions, are available for ever-shorter periods. The Arctic coast is eroding rapidly, imperiling structures built close to the water…

Russia’s forests are the largest in the world, accounting for a fifth of Earth’s trees, but they are being grievously damaged by fire, drought, and disease, all of which are caused or exacerbated by climate change. Smoke has choked Siberian cities. During the 2019 fires that burned about 10,000 square miles of forest in Siberia, the Internet lit up with protest, and Russian singers and actors took part in a flash mob called “Siberia Is Burning.” President Putin sent in military units to help extinguish the fire, but he was soon rescued by rain. The problem was forgotten. As burning, dying, clear-cut forests become carbon producers rather than carbon sinks, they make the problem of climate change even worse. The same is true of melting permafrost, which releases methane, another potent greenhouse gas…

Imperialism originates in a struggle for resources; the ideology justifying the brutality of conquest and control is secondary. Oil has been one of the most coveted resources of the modern era, but the oldest and most essential resource is food. Ukraine’s famously fertile “black earth,” desired by many invaders and colonizers over the course of the country’s history, may also be among the motivations for Russia’s new aggression. According to recent reports, Russia has been commandeering or destroying Ukrainian grain stores and making off with Ukrainian agricultural equipment, smuggling the stolen grain to Syria for sale in the Middle East. Gustafson points out that as shortages become more frequent, food will become an increasingly significant tool of geopolitical influence…

Eminently worth reading in full: climate change is coming for Russia: “A Hotter Russia,” from @sophiepinkhmmm on @ThaneGustafson in @nybooks.

Lest American readers feel complacent: “The challenging politics of climate change,” from @BrookingsInst.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt

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As we get serious, we might send imperial birthday greetings to the man Vladimir Putin seems to wish he was: Pyotr Alekséyevich, also known as Peter I, and best known as Peter the Great; he was born on this date in 1672. But even as Putin is trying to turn back the cultural clock, Peter was the Tsar who modernized Russia and grew it into an empire, capturing ports at Azov and the Baltic Sea, laying the groundwork for the Imperial Russian Navy, ending uncontested Swedish supremacy in the Baltic, and beginning the Tsardom’s expansion into a much larger empire that became a major European power.

Peter led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, Westernised, and based on the Enlightenment. His reforms had a lasting impact on Russia, and many institutions of the Russian government trace their origins to his reign. He adopted the title of Emperor in place of the old title of Tsar in 1721, and founded and developed the city of Saint Petersburg, which remained the capital of Russia until 1917.

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“The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve.”*…

Jeff VanderMeer is a master of teasing out the weird in the service of critiquing our relationship with nature; his novels– e.g., Annihilation, Hummingbird Salamander— are entertaining, illuminating cautionary tales. In a recent essay, he turned his attention to his native Florida…

About the size of Greece, Florida is the jewel in the crown of the amazingly biodiverse Atlantic Coastal Plain. The state has 1,300 miles of shoreline, 600 clear-water springs, 1,700 ravines and streams, and over 8,000 lakes. More than 3,000 native trees, shrubs, and flowering plants are native to Florida, many unique to our peninsula and also endangered due to development. Our 100 species of orchid (compared to Hawai’i’s three native orchids) and 150 fern species speak to the moist and subtropical climate across many parts of the state. Florida has more wetlands than any other conterminous state—11 million acres—including seepage wetlands, interior marshes, and interior swamp land. Prior to the 1800s, Florida had over 20 million acres of wetlands.

As Jen Lomberk of Matanzas Riverkeeper describes it, Florida’s aquifer is unique because it is “so inextricably connected both underground and to surface waters. Florida’s limestone geology means that pollutants can readily move through groundwater and from groundwater to surface water (and vice versa).” In a sense, the very water we drink in Florida lays bare the connections between the often-invisible systems that sustain life on Earth and reveals both the strength of these systems and their vulnerability.

[But Floridians aren’t stewarding these unique resources…]

Most of this harm has been inflicted in the service of unlimited and poorly planned growth, sparked by greed and short-term profit. This murder of the natural world has accelerated in the last decade to depths unheard of. The process has been deliberate, often systemic, and conducted from on-high to down-low, with special interests flooding the state with dark money, given to both state and local politicians in support of projects that bear no relationship to best management of natural resources. These projects typically reinforce income inequality and divert attention and money away from traditionally disadvantaged communities.

Consider this: several football fields-worth of forest and other valuable habitat is cleared per day in Florida, with 26 percent of our canopy cut down in the past twenty years.  According to one study, an average of 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation worldwide.

The ecocide happening here is comparable for our size to the destruction of the Amazon, but much less remarked upon. Few of the perpetrators understand how they hurt the quality of life for people living in Florida and hamstring any possibility of climate crisis resiliency. Prodevelopment flacks like to pull out the estimates of the millions who will continue to flock to Florida by 2030 or 2040 to justify rampant development. Even some Florida economists ignore the effects of the climate crisis in their projects for 2049, expecting continued economic growth. but these estimates are just a grim joke, and some of those regurgitating them know that. By 2050, the world likely will be grappling with the fallout from 1.5- to 2-degree temperature rise and it’s unlikely people will be flocking to a state quickly dissolving around all of its edges

An accelerating race to destroy Florida’s wilderness shows what we value and previews our collective future during the climate crisis: “The Annihilation of Florida: An Overlooked National Tragedy,” from @jeffvandermeer in @curaffairs. Eminently worth reading in full.

* “The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve. Every time I write a scene that I think is the sickest thing I have ever dreamed up, it is surpassed by something that happens in real life.” – VanderMeer’s fellow Floridian Carl Hiaasen

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As we contemplate consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1626 that Peter Minuit, the new director of “New Netherland” for the Dutch West India Company, in what we now know as Manhattan, “purchased” the island from the the Canarsee tribe of Native Americans for a parcel of goods worth 60 guilders: roughly $24 dollars at the time, now roughly $1,000. 

In the event, Native Americans in the area were unfamiliar with the European notions and definitions of ownership rights. As they understood it, water, air and land could not be traded. So scholars are convinced that both parties probably went home with totally different interpretations of the sales agreement. In any case, the Carnarsees were happy to take payment in any meaningful amount pertaining to land that was mostly controlled by their rivals, the Weckquaesgeeks.

220px-Verkoopakte_Manhattan

1626 letter from Pieter Schaghen (a colleague of Minuit) reporting the purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders [source]

“Managed retreat is not just a last resort. It is not a failure to adapt at all. It is actually an active decision to adapt.”*…

Community High School, Valmeyer, Illinois

The town of Valmeyer, Illinois relocated decades ago after devastating floods. It may have lessons for communities forced to consider a managed retreat from climate impacts today…

In the summer of 1993, the southwestern Illinois town of Valmeyer took the brunt of a massive flood when, not once but twice in a month, the swollen Mississippi River topped its levee system. The village was engulfed in up to 16ft (5m) of floodwater that lingered for months, damaging some 90% of buildings.

Faced with either rebuilding the town and risking yet another disaster, or simply scattering to other towns or states by themselves, the 900 residents of this tight-knit farming community made a bold choice: to pack up everything and start over on new ground.

In the years that followed, hundreds of people moved out of the floodplain as the entire town was rebuilt from scratch on a bluff a mile uphill. In doing so, the town has become an early example of one of the most radical ways a community can adapt to a warming world: moving people and assets out of harm’s way.

Known as managed retreat, or planned relocation, the approach is often framed as a last resort to be pursued only when no other alternatives exist. But as the effects of climate change intensify, exposing more and more people across the globe to the risk of catastrophic flooding, devastating fires and other calamitous natural hazards, the concept is increasingly making its way into the mainstream as a viable – and necessary – adaptation strategy…

When one can’t resist the effects of climate change (e.g., with a sea wall to hold back rising water levels), or accommodate it (e.g., using air cooling and “greening” to combat rising temperatures), the remaining option is retreat: “The Illinois town that got up and left,” from @BBC_Future.

See also: “Managed Retreat in the United States.”

Miyuki Hino

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As we rethink relocation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that rain storms led to floodwaters from the Great Miami River reaching Dayton, Ohio– causing the Great Dayton Flood, which lasted another five days. The volume of water that passed through Dayton during this storm equaled the monthly flow over Niagara Falls; downtown Dayton was submerged up to 20 feet.

More than 360 people died; 65,000 were displaced; nearly 1,400 horses and 2,000 other domestic animals died. 20,000 homes were destroyed and buildings were moved off of their foundations. Property damage to homes, businesses, factories, and railroads was estimated at more than $100 million in 1913 dollars (more than $2 billion in today’s dollars).

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“Human nature scares the hell out of me”*…

Henry Gee, paleontologist and senior editor of Nature, argues that we Homo sapiens are setting ourselves up for collapse. He cites population decline, a lack of genetic variation, our socioeconomic fixation on growth (and the way that that’s plundered the planet), among other factors. But he singles out one phenomenon in particular…

 The most insidious threat to humankind is something called “extinction debt.” There comes a time in the progress of any species, even ones that seem to be thriving, when extinction will be inevitable, no matter what they might do to avert it. The cause of extinction is usually a delayed reaction to habitat loss. The species most at risk are those that dominate particular habitat patches at the expense of others, who tend to migrate elsewhere, and are therefore spread more thinly. Humans occupy more or less the whole planet, and with our sequestration of a large wedge of the productivity of this planetwide habitat patch, we are dominant within it. H. sapiens might therefore already be a dead species walking.

The signs are already there for those willing to see them. When the habitat becomes degraded such that there are fewer resources to go around; when fertility starts to decline; when the birth rate sinks below the death rate; and when genetic resources are limited—the only way is down. The question is “How fast?”…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Humans Are Doomed to Go Extinct,” from @EndOfThePier in Scientific American (@sciam).

For chorus effect, see also “Headed for a sixth mass extinction? MIT geophysicist warns oceans are on the brink.”

And for a look at the (possible) aftermath, explore “The Earth After Humans.”

* Neil deGrasse Tyson

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As we remind ourselves that “hope is a discipline,” we might send expansively-creative birthday greetings to Freeman Dyson; he was born on this date in 1923. A theoretical and mathematical physicist, mathematician, and statistician, he made material contributions– both processes and concepts— in quantum field theory, astrophysics, the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and engineering.

He will forever be remembered by SciFi fans as the originator of the idea of (what’s called) the Dyson Sphere (or Dyson Shell): he proposed that a highly advanced technological civilization would ultimately completely surround its host star with a huge shell to capture 100% of the useful radiant energy. This Dyson Sphere would have a gigantic cluster of artificial planetoids (“Dyson cloud”) with billions of billions of inhabitants who would make use of the energy captured by the Dyson Sphere. He also made the intriguing speculation that a Dyson Sphere viewed from other galaxies would have a highly distinctive, unnatural light. He suggested astronomers search for such tell-tale colored stars, which should signify advanced, intelligent life.

Dyson was skeptical of some climate science, believing that the advantages of global warming (e.g., greater crop yields) were underweighted and that climate models were underdeveloped (and thus untrustworthy). Still he sounded the alarm (in a way resonant with Gee’s, above) as to the possibility of humanity poisoning its own future:

In the near future, we will be in possession of genetic engineering technology which allows us to move genes precisely and massively from one species to another. Careless or commercially driven use of this technology could make the concept of species meaningless, mixing up populations and mating systems so that much of the individuality of species would be lost. Cultural evolution gave us the power to do this. To preserve our wildlife as nature evolved it, the machinery of biological evolution must be protected from the homogenizing effects of cultural evolution.

Unfortunately, the first of our two tasks, the nurture of a brotherhood of man, has been made possible only by the dominant role of cultural evolution in recent centuries. The cultural evolution that damages and endangers natural diversity is the same force that drives human brotherhood through the mutual understanding of diverse societies. Wells’s vision of human history as an accumulation of cultures, Dawkins’s vision of memes bringing us together by sharing our arts and sciences, Pääbo’s vision of our cousins in the cave sharing our language and our genes, show us how cultural evolution has made us what we are. Cultural evolution will be the main force driving our future…

Biological and Cultural Evolution– Six Characters in Search of an Author

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“History is humankind trying to get a grip. Obviously its not easy. But it could go better if you would pay a little more attention to certain details, like for instance your planet.”*…

A blast from the past…

In 1938, 20-year-old filmmaker Richard H. Lyford directed and starred in As the Earth Turns, a science-fiction silent movie about a mad scientist who purposely induces climate change as a way to end world violence.

But the 45-minute film became “lost,” only to resurface 80 years later, in 2018, when Lyford’s grandniece, Kim Lyford Bishop, discovered it. (After creating the film, Lyford went on to work at Disney and earn an Oscar for the 1950 documentary “The Titan: Story of Michelangelo.”)

Bishop then asked music composer Ed Hartman, who was her daughter’s percussions teacher, to score it.

Although “As the Earth Turns” was finally released in 2019 and took part in 123 film festivals, it will finally premiere on television on Halloween night, this Sunday on Turner Classic Movies at 9pm PST…

From The Seattle Times:

… “As the Earth Turns is the work of an exuberant, ambitious young man: Lyford wrote, directed and shot the film, and managed to corral a stable of actors and crew to capture his vision. You can see his fascination with the craft of filmmaking: Lyford experiments with miniatures and models (then used in Hollywood films, and a remarkable accomplishment for a barely-out-of-his-teens hobbyist), explosions, earthquakes and special makeup effects, all on a budget of next to nothing.”

A 1938 sci-fi film about climate change was lost. It’s making its TV debut 83 years later,” from Carla Sinclair (@Carla_Sinclair) and @BoingBoing.

* Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140

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As we ponder prescience, we might recall that it was on this date in 2012 that Hurricane Sandy (AKA Superstorm Sandy) hit the east coast of the United States, killing 148 directly and 138 indirectly, wreaking nearly $70 billion in damages, and causing major power outages. In New York City streets, tunnels, and subway lines were flooded.

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