Archive for the ‘Desertification’ Category

Valley fever blowin’ on a hotter wind

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

– I pity the American Southwest where I grew up and where my older son and his family still remain.   It is squarely in the cross hairs of Global Climate Change and one only has to look at Australia to see what the future holds.   10+ million people living in the L.A. basin on what is, at bottom, simply coastal scrub desert that would barely be able to support a few tens of thousands without the massive influx of food and water delivered there daily from elsewhere.  This story about Valley Fever, is just one of many gathering force now for the Southwest.   Can you say, “Water”?

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PHOENIX – It’s high noon, and the 112-degree summer heat – up from a decade ago – stalks Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. By late afternoon, dark clouds threaten, and monsoon winds beat the earth into a mass of swirling sand. Thick walls of surface soil blind drivers on the Interstate.

Some health experts believe new weather conditions – hotter temperatures and more intense dust storms fueled by global warming – are creating a perfect storm for the transmission of coccidioidomycosis, also known as valley fever, a fungal disease endemic to the southwestern United States.

How do cocci spores infect the body? Propelled by winds, thousands of soil particles and cocci spherules are inhaled. People – particularly those older or immune-compromised – may experience flu-like symptoms that can turn into pneumonia. If the infection disseminates, the pathogens can target any organ – mostly the nervous system, skin, bones and joints – and become life threatening.

Each year, according to the American Academy of Microbiology, about 200,000 Americans contract valley fever, and 200 of them die. But some experts believe the disease is vastly underreported. Between 1991 and 1993, healthcare costs for valley fever exceeded $66 million, according to the Pan American Center for Human Ecology and Health.

The group Physicians for Social Responsibility says global warming will multiply the incidence due to increased airborne dust and sandstorms. Higher wind speeds and drought upped Arizona’s yearly count from 33 cases of valley fever per 100,000 in 1998 to 43 per 100,000 in 2001, said Dale Griffin of the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The number of cases in Arizona more than quadrupled from 1997 to 2006, according to a Mayo Clinic study. During that same period, incidence rates in California jumped from 2.5 to 8.4 cases per 100,000 people.

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What will global warming look like? Scientists point to Australia

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

“Farmers who once grew 60% of the nation’s produce are walking off their land or selling their water rights to the state and federal government. With rainfall in the region at lower than 50% of average for more than a decade, Australia is witnessing the collapse of its agricultural sector and the nation’s ability to feed itself.”

Reporting from The Murray-Darling Basin, Australia — Frank Eddy pulled off his dusty boots and slid into a chair, taking his place at the dining room table where most of the critical family issues are hashed out. Spreading hands as dry and cracked as the orchards he tends, the stout man his mates call Tank explained what damage a decade of drought has done .

“Suicide is high. Depression is huge. Families are breaking up. It’s devastation,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve got a neighbor in terrible trouble. Found him in the paddock, sitting in his [truck], crying his eyes out. Grown men — big, strong grown men. We’re holding on by the skin of our teeth. It’s desperate times.”

A result of climate change?

“You’d have to have your head in the bloody sand to think otherwise,” Eddy said.

They call Australia the Lucky Country, with good reason. Generations of hardy castoffs tamed the world’s driest inhabited continent, created a robust economy and cultivated an image of irresistibly resilient people who can’t be held down. Australia exports itself as a place of captivating landscapes, brilliant sunshine, glittering beaches and an enviable lifestyle.

Look again. Climate scientists say Australia — beset by prolonged drought and deadly bush fires in the south, monsoon flooding and mosquito-borne fevers in the north, widespread wildlife decline, economic collapse in agriculture and killer heat waves — epitomizes the “accelerated climate crisis” that global warming models have forecast.

With few skeptics among them, Australians appear to be coming to an awakening: Adapt to a rapidly shifting climate, and soon. Scientists here warn that the experience of this island continent is an early cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

“Australia is the harbinger of change,” said paleontologist Tim Flannery, Australia’s most vocal climate change prophet. “The problems for us are going to be greater. The cost to Australia from climate change is going to be greater than for any developed country. We are already starting to see it. It’s tearing apart the life-support system that gives us this world.”

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World’s water supplies at risk, UN says

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, a landmark UN report said on Thursday. Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.

Water is part of the complex web of factors that determine prosperity and stability, it said.

Lack of access to water helps drive poverty and deprivation and breeds the potential for unrest and conflict, it warned.

“Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets,” the third World Water Development Report said.

“Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world are resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity at various levels.”

The report pointed to a double squeeze on fresh water.

On one side was human impact. There were six billion humans in 2000, a tally that has already risen to 6.5 billion and could scale nine billion by 2050.

Population growth, especially in cities in poor countries, is driving explosive demand for water, prompting rivers in thirsty countries to be tapped for nearly every drop and driving governments to pump out so-called fossil water, the report said.

These are aquifers that are hundreds of thousands of years old and whose extraction is not being replenished by rainfall. Mining them for water today means depriving future generations of liquid treasure.

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More Australian Weather Records Tumble

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

“We’ve had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn’t have was climate change,” said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. “I’d be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure”, warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.

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Biofuels Boom Could Fuel Rainforest Destruction, Researcher Warns

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Farmers across the tropics might raze forests to plant biofuel crops, according to new research by Holly Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

“If we run our cars on biofuels produced in the tropics, chances will be good that we are effectively burning rainforests in our gas tanks,” she warned.

Policies favoring biofuel crop production may inadvertently contribute to, not slow, the process of climate change, Gibbs said. Such an environmental disaster could be “just around the corner without more thoughtful energy policies that consider potential ripple effects on tropical forests,” she added.

Gibbs’ predictions are based on her new study, in which she analyzed detailed satellite images collected between 1980 and 2000. The study is the first to do such a detailed characterization of the pathways of agricultural expansion throughout the entire tropical region. Gibbs hopes that this new knowledge will contribute to making prudent decisions about future biofuel policies and subsidies.

Gibbs presented her findings in Chicago on Feb. 14, during a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The symposium was titled “Biofuels, Tropical Deforestation, and Climate Policy: Key Challenges and Opportunities.”

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Climate scenarios ‘being realised’

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

The worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised, say scientists at an international meeting.

In a statement in Copenhagen on their six key messages to political leaders, they say there is a increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts.

Even modest temperature rises will affect millions of people, particularly in the developing world, they warn.

But, they say, most tools needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions already exist.

More than 2,500 researchers and economists attended this meeting designed to update the world on the state of climate research ahead of key political negotiations set for December this year.

New data was presented in Copenhagen on sea level rise, which indicated that the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made two years ago were woefully out of date.

Scientists heard that waters could rise by over a metre across the world with huge impacts for hundreds of millions of people.

There was also new information on how the Amazon rainforest would cope with rising temperatures. A UK Meteorological Office study concluded there would be a 75% loss of tree cover if the world warmed by three degrees for a century.

The scientists hope that their conclusions will remove any excuses from the political process.

Dr Katherine Richardson, who chaired the scientific steering committee that organised the conference, said the research presented added new certainty to the IPCC reports.

“We’ve seen lots more data, we can see where we are, no new surprises, we have a problem.”

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Drought warning as the tropics expand

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, warned on Thursday that his state “is headed toward one of the worst water crises in its history”.

Now new research suggests that the three-year drought in the Golden State may be a consequence of the expanding tropics, which are gradually growing as human emissions of greenhouse gases warm the planet.

Climate scientists have documented a slow progression of low-latitude weather systems towards the poles, and this has been matched by rising temperatures in many temperate regions. Deciding whether this broadening of the tropical belt is linked to the greenhouse effect has been difficult, however.

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Climate Fears Are Driving ‘Ecomigration’ Across Globe

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Adam Fier recently sold his home, got rid of his car and pulled his twin 6-year-old girls out of elementary school in Montgomery County. He and his wife packed the family’s belongings and moved to New Zealand — a place they had never visited or seen before, and where they have no family or professional connections. Among the top reasons: global warming.

Halfway around the world, the president of Kiribati, a Pacific nation of low-lying islands, said last week that his country is exploring ways to move all its 100,000 citizens to a new homeland because of fears that a steadily rising ocean will make the islands uninhabitable.

The two men are at contrasting poles of a phenomenon that threatens to reshape economies, politics and cultures across the planet. By choice or necessity, millions of “ecomigrants” — most of them poor and desperate — are on the move in search of more habitable living space.

There were about 25 million ecomigrants in the world a little more than a decade ago, said Norman Myers, a respected British environmental researcher at Oxford University. That number is now “a good deal higher,” he added. “It’s plain that sea-level rise in the wake of climate change will inundate the homelands of huge numbers of people.”

In Bangladesh, about 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters — and the low-lying country is likely to experience more intense flooding in the future. In several countries in Africa’s Sahel region, bordering the Sahara, about 10 million people have been driven to move by droughts and famines.

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The fight to get aboard Lifeboat UK

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

– James Lovelock, again, tells it like it is.  What he says here is what I’ve felt for a long time without being able to articulate it nearly so well as he has.  Indeed, it is why I’ve secured the right of permanent residency in New Zealand; as a hedge against the future he’s painting.

– I see people drawing word pictures of the world around us at all levels.   The local and the mundane, the national and the global.   But most of their pictures are fragments at best; partial renderings of realities far more complex and dark than they’ve drawn or imagined.

– Lovelock paints the canvas behind all their canvases.   They are, perhaps, the projected moving pictures on the screen.  Whereas, his is the screen upon which theirs cavort.  In rings speak, ‘One vision to rule them all’.

– There are big changes, nearly unimaginably big changes, coming.   And most of us, if we are not in denial, are engaged in building sandcastles in a losing battle to stem the sea.   His analogies about 1939 are so apt.   And time is getting so late.

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Last week she played in the snow, but what will Britain be like when she grows up? James Lovelock, the Earth guru, foresees a land where blizzards are long forgotten and national survival depends on a new Winston Churchill

When someone discovers, too late, that they are suffering from a serious and probably incurable disease and may have no more than six months to live, their first response is shock and then, in denial, they angrily try any cure on offer or go to practitioners of alternative medicine. Finally, if wise, they reach a state of calm acceptance. They know death need not be feared and that no one escapes it.

Scientists who recognise the truth about the Earth’s condition advise their governments of its deadly seriousness in the manner of a physician. We are now seeing the responses. First was denial at all levels, then the desperate search for a cure. Just as we as individuals try alternative medicine, so our governments have many offers from alternative business and their lobbies of sustainable ways to “save the planet”, and from some green hospice there may come the anodyne of hope.

Should you doubt that this grim prospect is real, let me remind you of the forces now taking the Earth to the hothouse: these include the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture, including gases from natural ecosystems damaged by global heating in the Arctic and the tropics. The vast ocean ecosystems that used to pump down carbon dioxide can no longer do so because the ocean turns to desert as it warms and grows more acidic; then there is the extra absorption of the sun’s radiant heat as white reflecting snow melts and is replaced by dark ground or ocean.

Each separate increase adds heat and together they amplify the warming that we cause. The power of this combination and the inability of the Earth now to resist it is what forces me to see the efforts made to stabilise carbon dioxide and temperature as no better than planetary alternative medicine.

Do not be misled by lulls in climate change when global temperature is constant for a few years or even, as we have seen in the UK in the past week, appears to drop and people ask: where is global warming now?

However unlikely it sometimes seems, change really is happening and the Earth grows warmer year by year. But do not expect the climate to follow the smooth path of slowly but sedately rising temperatures predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where change slowly inches up and leaves plenty of time for business as usual. The real Earth changes by fits and starts, with spells of constancy, even slight decline, between the jumps to greater heat. It is ever more at risk of changing to a barren state in which few of us can survive.

The high-sounding and well-meaning visions of the European Union of “saving the planet” and developing sustainably by using only “natural” energy might have worked in 1800 when there were only a billion of us, but now they are a wholly impractical luxury we can ill afford.

More…

– research thanks, again, to Robin S.

Thinking about a thousand-year depression

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

– An excellent piece from The Automatic Earth; a Blog I’ve just started following.

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Cyclical terms like “recession” and “depression” are looking less appropriate by the day. It’s like calling the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance a “depression”.

I know the our situation is vastly different from the state of the world in Roman times, but the idea that we could be on the brink of a fundamental reset of civilization is intriguing, to say the least.

I’ve been convinced for several years that we are looking at the convergence of a set of wicked interlocking global problems — ecological problems (climate chaos, the death of the oceans, fresh water shortages etc.), energy shortages due to fossil fuel depletion, and overpopulation with the resulting pressure on the global food supply. This convergence is happening under the umbrella of the current global financial collapse that constrains our ability to respond to any of these problems individually, let alone any further problems that might emerge from interactions between them.

This unfortunate collision makes the future of our civilization very murky indeed. Writers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker and Sharon Astyk (along with people like Stoneleigh and Ilargi at The Automatic Earth) have been warning about the possibility of a generalized, unrecoverable collapse of modern civilization for a while now. They have generally been derided by the mainstream as millennialist prophets of doom — driven more by their own subconscious fears and dark desires, their research full of confirmation bias.

The events unfolding around us now, however, cast their optimistic mainstream critics in a somewhat different light. None of them — even the Roubinis and Krugmans – have fully appreciated the severity of the world’s financial predicament. Their comforting bromides (and even their more pessimistic utterances) have been overwhelmed by events on a weekly basis. It has become clear that for all their careful analysis of trunks and tails, nobody truly understood the shape of the entire elephant.

This evident failure of comprehension brings their entire analysis into disrepute. And that should make us ask – if they failed to comprehend the underpinnings of a calamity in their own domain, what does that say about the possibility that they also failed to understand the dangers being trumpeted by the doomers they have derided?

After all, we are seeing the same outcome in the climate crisis as in the financial one – the trends are uniformly negative, and are unfolding much faster than the professionals in either field predicted. There are new signs from world bodies like the International Energy Agency that the same situation is developing with respect to the world’s oil supply – the more pessimistic members of the Peak Oil crowd appear to be heading for vindication.

So, following a “major, rapid contraction” (aka collapse), could our civilization end up staying on the mat, unable to rise from the ashes of our former glory? That’s unknowable of course, but hardly inconceivable. Several factors give that speculation some foundation.

The first confounding factor is the spectre of irreversible climate change. That could irreparably damage the world’s food production capacity through shifts in rainfall and the reduction of snow and glacial cover that supplies much of the world’s fresh water for agriculture.

The second factor is the permanent depletion of the compact, high-density, transportable energy supply represented by fossil fuels. We’re putting a lot of effort into developing electrical alternatives, of course. There are two major challenges in the way, though. The first is the relative infancy of the industry, and the fact that it will require both capital and fossil fuels to enable its continued growth. The second longer term problem is that the use of electricity requires a higher level of technology in the infrastructure needed to manufacture, distribute, store and convert it into work. This may not seem like much of a a problem today, but if our global industrial civilization goes into a decline, growing parts of the world may find the maintenance of such infrastructure increasingly difficult.

A third factor that may get in the way of recovery is the depletion of easily-recoverable resources such as metals. The decline in the average quality of various ores being mined today is well documented, and is likely to continue. While recycling can recover much of the metal currently discarded as waste, recycling facilities capable of producing enough output to feed our civilization’s needs do not yet exist. They would face the same hurdles as the build-out of electrical supplies I described above.

You might think that such a situation will take so long to develop that we will be able to address the situation before it gets quite that dire.

One consideration that works against that hope is that human beings are not, for all their cleverness, fully rational creatures. Research has shown that most of our “rational” decisions are made at a deeply unconscious level, to be dressed up with rational justifications only upon their emergence into the conscious mind some time later. The truth of this proposition can be seen all around us in the competition between environmental remediation and economic imperatives, in the obstruction of alternative energy development, in our repeated creation of financial bubbles — in all the myriad ways in which we as a society work tirelessly against our own best interests as individuals and as a species.

Even worse, events have recently shown a terrifying ability to outstrip our expectations, in both speed and severity. We may not have nearly as much time left as we think. A lack of time coupled with an inability to respond rationally (or even to accept the evidence of our eyes) does not bode well for the future of this civilization.

It’s conceivable that our current civilization will never regain its feet after this storm has burst upon us. We will endure as a species no matter what happens, of course, and it’s even probable that we will rise to new heights. It’s also quite possible that the rebirth of this Phoenix will take a long, long time and that those new heights will be unrecognizable to someone raised in today’s world of 401(k)’s, Credit Default Swaps, automobiles and gigantic concrete cities.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kael for this.