Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Birthday Climate Update

Does it mean anything that my first climate update is on my birthday? Probably not. 29 today! That means, like I told my mom earlier, this is my last year before I'm officially old. May as well make the best of it ;-)

h/t for most of this.

Triage: US Army Corps of Engineers Floods 130,000ac of Farmland, Saves Small Town

These sort of decisions will be made increasingly more frequently.
The Army Corps exploded the Birds Point levee near Wyatt, Mo., after nightfall Monday, potentially sacrificing 130,000 acres of rich farmland and about 100 homes in Missouri to spare the town of Cairo, Ill., with its 2,800 residents, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
But even as the Corps carried out its bid to save the city, floodwaters were rising downriver, including in Memphis, Tenn. And the breach in the Birds Point levee wasn’t expected to ease those flooding concerns.
Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, who made the decision to blast, said it was a heart-wrenching but necessary move.
The fact that the Army Corps is intentionally causing 1/3 of billion dollars in damage is stark evidence of just how serious this flood is. The Birds Point levee has been demolished only once before, during the 1937 flood.

Defending the Atmosphere

Starting on May 4, young people in the United States and several other countries will file petitions and lawsuits in an effort to force public officials into protecting us all from climate change.

The international legal intervention – the sponsors call it guerrilla law – is believed to be the first of its kind. It is being organized by Our Children’s Trust in Eugene, Oregon. It’s part of a broader campaign that will include “iMatter” marches by young people around the world May 7-14, the brainchild of 16-year-old Alec Loorz of California.

Behind these demonstrations and legal actions is a principle that goes back to Roman law: the “public trust doctrine”. The doctrine holds that government officials are “trustees of the commons” with a fiduciary responsibility to protect critical natural resources on behalf of present and future generations. Attorneys working on the campaign will ask the courts to rule that the atmosphere is one of those critical resources.

More concretely, the lawsuits will ask that public officials be required to create plans to return atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, the level scientists such as NASA’s Jim Hansen say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

The court action is meant to empower young people who have the most to lose from climate change but are too young to vote. Loorz explains it this way:
Young people will be affected most by decisions that are made today and yet we can’t vote and we don’t have money to compete with lobbyists. We do, however, have the moral authority and the legal right to insist that our future be protected.
Global Sea Level to Rise At Least 3.05.2 feet by 2100

That's enough to make refugees out of several million people on the East Coast alone (Boston, NYC, Philly, Miami, etc.). I'd also consider that a minimum, not a maximum.
A major new multi-country scientific assessment of the Arctic has concluded that on our current greenhouse gas emissions path, we face 3 to 5 feet of sea level rise — far greater than the 2007 IPCC warned of.  This is fully consistent with several recent studies (see “Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100“).
Growing Dust Bowl in Midwest Worse Than in 1930s

For those who think the impacts of climate change are in the future, you are sorely mistaken. Quoting from a recent (and terrible) New York Times piece:
While tornadoes and floods have ravaged the South and the Midwest, the remote western edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle is quietly enduring a weather calamity of its own: its longest drought on record, even worse than the Dust Bowl, when incessant winds scooped up the soil into billowing black clouds and rolled it through this town like bowling balls.

With a drought continuing to punish much of the Great Plains, this one stands out. Boise (rhymes with voice) City has gone 222 consecutive days through Tuesday with less than a quarter-inch of rainfall in any single day, said Gary McManus, a state climatologist. That is the longest such dry spell here since note-keeping began in 1908.
This is just the beginning, sad to say.

The Dust Bowl itself maintained a severity of around -3, though it briefly spiked to -6. (source)

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