Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Climate change: "2016 showed us that the most stable, wealthy and apparently resilient places are also going to lose out."

It was very hot last year:
No, You Weren't Imagining It: 2016 Was Very, Very Hot | The Huffington Post
Climate change on the march as scientists tip 2016 as hottest year - The Australian

And it looks as though it's going to get even hotter:
Heat Is On for 2017, Just Not Record-Setting | Climate Central

It's not just a question of things getting a bit more uncomfortable:

Climate change is going to be very bad for the global economy

David Rotman, MIT Technology Review Jan. 2, 2017

Extreme heat, it turns out, is very bad for the economy. Crops fail. People work less, and are less productive when they do work. That's why an increase in extremely hot days is one of the more worrisome prospects of climate change.

To predict just how various countries might suffer or benefit, a team of scientists at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, have turned to historical records of how temperature affects key aspects of the economy. When they use this data to estimate how various countries will fare with a warming planet, the news isn't good.

The average global income is predicted to be 23% less by the end of the century than it would be without climate change. But the effects of a hotter world will be shared very unevenly, with a number of northern countries, including Russia and much of Europe, benefiting from the rising temperatures.

The uneven impact of the warming "could mean a massive restructuring of the global economy," says Solomon Hsiang, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, one of the researchers who have painstakingly documented the historical impact of temperature. Even by 2050 (see map), the variation in the economic fates of countries is striking.

Because poorer countries, including those in much of South America and Africa, already tend to be far hotter than what's ideal for economic growth, the effect of rising temperatures will be particularly damaging to them. Average income for the world's poorest 60% of people by century's end will be 70% below what it would have been without climate change, conclude Hsiang and his coauthors in a recent Nature paper. The result of the rising temperatures, he says, "will be a huge redistribution of wealth from the global poor to the wealthy."

Hotter weather is just one of the effects of climate change; shifts in rainfall and an increase in severe weather like hurricanes are among the others.

But by analyzing temperatures alone, Hsiang and his coworkers have provided more precise estimates of how climate change could affect the economy. It turns out, Hsiang says, that temperature has a surprisingly consistent effect on different economic inputs: labor supply, labor productivity, and crop yields all drop off dramatically between 20 °C and 30 °C.

"Whether you're looking at crops or people, hot days are bad," he says. "Even in the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world, you will see [the negative effects]," he says, citing data showing that a day over 30 °C in an average U.S. county costs each resident $20 in unearned income. "It's real money."

Of course, the idea that hot temperatures affect agriculture and the way we work and feel is not new. Indeed, Hsiang points to studies done in the early 20th century on the optimum temperatures for factory workers and soldiers. But he and his colleagues have quantified how changes in temperature alter overall economic productivity for entire countries.

Hsiang and his coworkers examined both the annual economic performance in each country and the average yearly temperatures from 1960 to 2010. Then they used advanced statistical techniques to isolate temperature effects from other variables, such as changes in policies and financial cycles. Such analysis, he says, is possible because much more historical data is available, and computational power has increased enough to handle it. Then, by using climate models to project future temperatures, the researchers were able to estimate economic growth over the rest of the century if these historical patterns hold true.

Hsiang has also looked at how hot temperatures affect social behaviors and health, concluding that they increase violence and mortality (see charts). What he calls his "obsession" with the social effects of temperature can be traced to his training in the physical sciences. Temperature plays an essential and obvious role in chemistry and physics, but its effects on society and human behavior have been less appreciated.

And yet, as his recent work has confirmed, the climate "is fundamental to our economy," says Hsiang. Now he's hoping to provide new understanding of just how an increasingly hot world will affect our future prosperity.

Read the original article on MIT Technology Review. Copyright 2017.

Here's a view from the other side of the world:

2016 in review: climate change continues its deadly march

Karl Mathiesen December 29, 2016 

When I arrived to visit my family in Tasmania, Australia, in early February, something was obviously, terribly wrong. No one could remember a drought this bad. The hydroelectric dams, long the majority electricity suppliers, were at their lowest in history and a back-up cable that sends brown coal-driven electrons in times of need had mysteriously failed. Diesel generators had to be dusted off and switched on.

Along the coast, millions of oysters suddenly died of disease as a massive wave of hot water washed down from the north. Many oyster farmers lost their jobs. As they discussed the weirdness they had observed around them, people had a panicked look.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, the El Niño weather cycle that periodically lifts huge quantities of warm water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, released stored heat into the atmosphere. That extra heat dialled up the global temperature, already elevated by about 1°C due to greenhouse gases, by another 0.1°C-0.2°C.

Meteorological organisations have crowned 2016 as the hottest year ever recorded. This trounces 2015’s record and means that each of the 16 years since the turn of the millennium are among the hottest 17 ever recorded. Droughts, floods, fires and intolerable heat visited every habitable continent. But it’s all just numbers until you lose something dear.

In Tasmania, the sense of a looming crisis was realised when a massive lightning storm set fires burning across the land. The Central Plateau – normally a wet boggy forest – was set ablaze. While the fires rampaged, I visited a devastated valley in the World Heritage protected area. Blackened, 1,000-year-old trees stood like victims of war, strung up as a warning that the new regime will be brutal.

For many Tasmanians, myself included, climate change had long been a faraway problem. Mostly, it seemed, the tragedy would strike in countries that were poor and vulnerable. But in 2016, climate change entered our intimate world. It feels glib to focus on the loss of a forest, when people are dying or losing homes. Right now, 40 million people are short of food in southern Africa because the rains have failed.

Of course, these disasters outweigh the thousand smaller cuts those lucky enough to avoid them might experience. But 2016 showed us that the most stable, wealthy and apparently resilient places are also going to lose out.

Even in the Gulf, with all the wealth brought by oil industries, countries cannot be insulated from extreme heatwaves of 50°C and above, which could make them almost uninhabitable. Nowhere will be unaffected.

This is something worth considering as the largest developed economy on Earth places its faith in a president who appears to see little connection between greenhouse gas emissions and the well-being of his people.

Donald Trump’s climate agenda is unknown. But his election cast a shadow over UN climate talks in Marrakech in November. The talks were supposed to be a joyful gavelling-in of the newly-ratified Paris agreement, which was formally joined by more than 100 nations within a year of its creation. In comparison, its predecessor the Kyoto Protocol, took eight years to gather enough members to become law.

Negotiators at the conference however, watched as serious climate heavyweights in the United States diplomatic team left for the last time. US secretary of state John Kerry flew to Morocco to deliver an emotional speech and a defiant message that the process was "bigger than one person, one president".

Certainly, the more US citizens can make connections between events at home and the warnings of scientists, the harder Trump will find it to follow through on his threats.

When we start looking, we can find the effects of climate change everywhere. Towards the end of the year I returned to Tasmania. Newly-licensed to scuba dive, I hoped to see the last remaining giant kelp forests on the island’s east coast. This great ecosystem once stretched along hundreds of kilometres of that shore. The trees, sometimes more than 40-metres tall, create a magical, waving underwater playground. Divers go misty-eyed in recounting the wonders of flying through the canopy.

But the trees are disappearing. In the past few decades, warm, nutrient-poor waters have starved the giant weeds. The great expanse has been reduced to a single patch in the corner of one bay. Knowing it might be my last chance, I had planned to visit it in November. But when I called Mick Baron, who runs diving tours to the forest, he told me the trees were gone; wiped out by a huge storm after the most intense underwater heatwave anyone on the coast could remember. "It won’t be long before I’m doing other things," said Baron, who has been diving for more than 40 years.

Global warming is changing the fundamental conditions that have underpinned entire lives, entire societies. There is a word for the mental anguish experienced by those whose environment is changing or lost – solastalgia. The definition is very specific. It only happens when the environment is one to which the sufferer relates to on an intimate and familiar level – when it is home.

El Niño’s most recent temperature shock has sent climate change blundering through my reality, and the things I love and hold dear are not safe. Fighting climate change is no longer is an altruistic pursuit, if it ever was one. In 2016, a year that broke new ground across the globe, I imagine there are many others around the world who have had this experience.

Each lake, farm or forest, each vegetable patch or coastal walking path, city park or fishing spot is part of someone’s home.

What is most dear to you? The idea that these fundamental elements are threatened may seem far-fetched. But that’s what I thought a year ago.

Karl Mathiesen is an environmental journalist based in London.

2016 in review: climate change continues its deadly march | The National

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