Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Wacky weather lately? Suck it up, more's coming...
GW - global warming
The jet streams are four high speed wind currents circulating the globe at high altitude. They are important because they act like conveyor belts moving masses of air at lower altitude around, thereby creating our weather. Persistent - recurrent - jet stream patterns occur on a seasonal (annual) basis and form the "infrastructure" of the various climatic zones around the world. Persistent jet stream patterns have blessed humanity with the recurrent - hence predictable - weather patterns upon which traditional agricultural systems have been based. The Monsoons of Asia, Africa and South America are cases in point.
One of the big - and difficult to estimate - risks posed by global warming (GW) is the modification of traditional jet stream patterns. Modified jet stream patterns will modify traditional weather patterns thereby disrupting customary agricultural patterns established for centuries, in not millennia. Such weather-induced food insecurity is, potentially, a very dangerous agent of geopolitical destabilization, something an overpopulated, strife-torn planet possessing nuclear weapons does not need.. really does not need..
In reality, GW is not a uniform process. For a number of reasons, the polar regions warm faster than the tropics. This phenomenon has already been well documented:
zonal temp changes; 1979 - 2014
The upper graph shows a clear trend toward rising temperatures in northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere. A smaller rising trend line is seen in the bottom graph (Southern Hemisphere polar regions). Little overall rise in the tropics is seen yet (middle graph).
Decreasing the temperature difference between the poles and the equator leads to a weakening (and more erratic) jet stream pattern. This is because pole / equator temperature differences drive the jet streams (this is where their energy comes from, like the positive and negative poles of a battery). Weakening jet streams become more variable in their structure and movement which in turn leads to erratic wacky weather (such as we have been experiencing in the Northern Hemisphere lately).
Everything you wanted to know about GW and jet steam modification (but were afraid to ask):
11 minute video: basic science
So where does all this leave us? Well, it leaves us, me think, in a very vulnerable position for several reasons.
- karmic payback: what goes round, comes round. We are now facing the "karmic debt" of centuries of unsustainable economic "development" (based on non-renewable resources and, most egregiously, on non-renewable energy sources. Dependance on non-renewable energy is dangerous - not to mention insane and suicidal - because, as for any living organism, energy is ultimately what drives any human society, hunter gatherer or "post-modern", "post-industrial" cultures..)
- increased vulnerability. As peak oil is demonstrating, non-renewable resources run out.. duh.. (Actually, the cheap stuff gets extracted and burned. What is left may be voluminous but is unexploitable because it is either inaccessable with current technology or is prohibitively expensive to explore, mine, transport, process and re-transport the finished products. In reality, humanity has been on one hell of a binge for a few centuries of cheap fossil energy. But all binges end - with a hangover proportionate to the binge.. "I woke up sick as a dog. Vomit, vomit, vomit.. I was scared I was going to die! And then it just went on and on and on. Then I really got scared I wasn't going to die." Ah, yes! Our university years, don't we cherish them..)
Increased vulnerability to GW arises from a climate which is 1- different from the one we built our infrastructure to withstand and 2- inherently more variable, chaotic. Overpopulation and increased non-renewable prices increase our vulnerability.
Technically speaking, their are reasons for arguing that our earth is already overpopulated. This means that climate and economic refugees have few and fewer and few places to escape to - observe the pressures caused in neighboring countries by refugees fleeing conflict in Syria. 4,000 years ago, much of the earth was virgin territory. Now it's standing room only. Climate adaptation measures - seawalls, displacing population, building bearms (earth walls), reforestation, etc - require energy but it is exactly (cheap) energy (and non-renewable resources like metals) that future generations will lack. They will have reduced capability to adapt to the future climate change we have bequeathed them (I sometimes wonder: will people 500 years from now curse us and spit on the ground when they speak of us, living today?)
- chain reaction effects. A falling domino tips the next one in line. Such cascading breakdowns threaten to greatly amplify the (relatively small) effects of GW. Consider: a change in monsoon regimes could lead to starvation in Asia which could lead to geopolitical destabilization (think of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York city. Now amplify that a factor of 10 or so..) See, for example, the rather scary - but realistic - projected effects of a modest 2 C (about 4 degree Fahrenheit) rise in global temperature during this century:
overheated - book review
"Blowback": the unintended - generally negative - consequences of an action or policy.
Some of the Known Unknowns:
and the Unknown Unknowns (the increased variability of jet stream patterns on an annual basis. In North America, our last few winters are crap shoots - a dice game)
serbian floods spring 2014
These "unprecedented" floods themselves have followed closely on the heels of a pretty hairy winter:
slovenian ice storm winter 2013 / 14
"They" say a picture is worth a thousand words..
slovenian ice storm photos 2014