Friday, July 29, 2016

Future climate emerging: hold onto your hats..

Saguenay, Québec, 27 july, 2016: massive hail storm with local flooding causes considerable damage to autos, windows, building exteriors, crops, gardens and outdoor furniture. One constructor fears that older buildings may have sustained structural damage "which will show up this winter with heavy snow burdens on roofs". The storm has been discribed as a "historic event". In some places golf-ball, tennis ball or baseball sized hail fell to a depth of four inches. 

      Better get used to it folks. This is probably what the weather of the future is going to look like. If you remember your physics, you will recognize that heat is a form of energy. So global warming (GW) will pump more energy into the atmosphere. This produces a whole bunch of interesting "tipping point" phenomena (see note 1). For example, an increased risks of bouts of extreme weather involving precipitation (cloudbursts, hail, high wind velocity summer storms..)

          Swiss RE is a "re-insurer", a mega-insurance company which insures smaller insurance companies against excessive losses (such as a series of natural calamities which could break the bank of an insurance company). "Re-insurance" provides coverage for these situations. The following chart shows total insured costs due to different types of disaster over the last four decades.

            To enlarge image, click on it. Weather related catastrophes are becoming more expensive (red columns). The trend line (grey) for total insured losses is definitely rising over the last 40 years. (Human related disaster costs - grey columns - are also rising.) Seismic disasters (purple columns), on the other hand, show no trend: they simply come in "swarms" or clusters of variable intensity at, more or less, irregular intervals.

              Living in a globally warmed world may be expensive. Undoubtedly, in the seven "wasted decades" following World War II, money was "saved" by refusing to convert to a global renewable energy economy when we had the chance. The "officers" of multinational corporations, their stockholders and the multinationals' "servitor classes" (professionals, administrators, technicians, middle managers) have benefited. (Working class stiffs in industrialized societies and third world peasants have not done so well, though..) But, if I am right, the money thus "saved" will be dwarfed by the increased costs of dealing with extreme weather, unfavorable shifts in regional climates and rampant sea level rise. These costs will be reflected in increased food and insurance expenditures, economic disruption (local, regional and even global, given the globalized nature of mass markets) and socio-political turmoil as climate immigrants push their way into neighboring countries.. In this sense, the Fort Mcmurray fire is a wake up call, a sign of things to be seen more widely in the coming decades.

"The Alberta wildfires torched the Canadian economy in May, driving the country into its worst one-month performance since the darkest days of the Great Recession seven years ago."

           While the Canadian (and world) economy continues to stagnate following the financial crisis of autumn 2008, the fires in Alberta worsened things a bit. Canadian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined more than predicted with the Fort Mcmurray fire indicted on several counts. There were direct local economic impacts: destroyed infrastructure, disruption of business activity, lost work hours, uninsured property losses.. In addition, oil sands production dropped by 22%, contributing to large losses in the natural resources (extractive industry) sector. These fire caused losses add to - and amplify - sustained losses due to recent economic downturns in some large economies: China, Brazil.. 

              Canadian anufacturing was hit too since reduced oil sands production meant that manufacturers had to outsource suppliers of petrochemicals, usually at higher prices. (Don't forget, petroleum is not just burned as a fuel. It is also used as feedstock - raw material - in many industries: plastics, pigments, pharmaceuticals, construction materials..)

             One might say that our world suffers from an Elemental Imbalance: too much water in one place (or at the wrong time), too much fire in another.

             Rising global temperatures are causing northern lands to burn up. For several years, we are witnessing "unprecedented" peat and tundra fires and heat waves in unexpected places like Siberia. A Canadian example is the recent monster fire in the Fort McMurray region of Alberta province. 

           For a general overview of how global warming is affecting our global climate and weather, I can't do better than recommend the work of robbertscribbler:


1- tipping point: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place (from

examples: The "crisis" (or turning point) in an illness; the patient either recovers or dies. The "kindling point" or point of conflagration. If you warm a mixture of gasoline vapor and air, the kindling point is the temperature at which the mixture explosively ignites. Powerful positive feedbacks are implied. Gasoline molecules are combining (burning) with oxygen, releasing heat stored in the chemical bonds of gasoline. At the kindling point the process "runs away": the heat liberated in a small volume of air is sufficient to trigger nearby gasoline molecules to combine with oxygen, liberating more heat, which trigger still more gasoline molecules to burn.. The result: an explosion. Explosions are simply highly dramatic tipping points.

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