You Must Read This!

I have an enormous amount of respect for Stuart Staniford, who I think is one of the best minds working on our collective ecological crisis. That said, we've had some serious debates, because I've tended to think that our situation, particularly our longer term food situation, is more serious than Staniford has - but those debates on my end have always included just a profound gratitude for the kind of analytic work he does.

days over 100 degrees.png
(Days over 100 degrees in projected high emissions scenarios)

Staniford has done a fabulous review (Note: apologies for linkage problems, they should now be fixed!) of a report that got buried "Global Climate Impacts on the United States" and gets right to the central point - that climate change in the US is going to be a very, very hard thing to adapt to. A lot of us know this intellectually, but it is very hard to grasp exactly how radically our world is slated to change. I think information like this is precisely why I'm less optimistic than Staniford has been - because how do you do agriculture in a nation that looks a lot like the mojave desert?

projected precip change.png

I think it is important to point out that while Staniford observes that it is possible there are errors that make this either less or more awful, I think the aggregate of the evidence from what we are seeing is that it is likely to be more awful - that is, almost all of the material evidence we have for how climate change is occurring suggests that we have been understating the dangers. Moreover, the report in question uses older estimates of climate sensitivity than the emerging understanding, now accepted by the IPCC - that is, it may not take emissions nearly as high as projected to achieve the worst outcomes:

This is not to say that it will be right in all respects - clearly the planet as an entire system is so complex that scientists may not have successfully understood and modeled all the important physics, chemistry, and biology, and there may be surprises as additional effects show up. Anyone paying attention to climate science is aware that there have already been significant surprises - it turned out that the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets started melting much faster than had been expected, and the Arctic sea ice appears to have been melting faster than climate scientists expected. So I don't dismiss the possibility of things either being better or worse than climate science currently predicts.

This ties into Staniford's excellent work on China's transportation growth and emissions which make projected high emissions scenarios more likely.

You really need to read this stuff. You won't enjoy it, but you need it.


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Sharon - Can you link to the original source?

Done, sorry about that - I'm trying to get my material up early in the mornings so I can concentrate on the book, and I find I'm making more mistakes because of the need for speed.


Hi Sharon, the link to the review of the report isn't quite working. It looks like you have an extra period on the end. Looks like great information though!

Our weather here in central Ohio is already falling into the pattern indicated in this chart: stormy, wet winters and hot, dry summers (last summer's cool, wet weather being a clear exception to the pattern of the last several years). It's almost as if our climate is turning into a Mediterranean type climate.

Our climate in Virgina is changing to match those projections as well. I've noticed the increases.... used to be (20 years ago) most of August was high 90's with a day or two over 100'. Now, it's low 100's with several days over 105'.

Interestingly, we've had winter precipitation reduced in the Midwest during my lifetime, whereas this projection shows it increasing during the future.

The heat projection is the scary one. Going from 10 or 15 to 60 or 75 100-degree days per year in itself would be hard on people and on crop yields, even if precipitation increases as some projections show for much of the U.S. But the worse effect is that it would enormously increase the frequency of heat waves with even hotter temperatures or several days and nights of relentless heat - the type of events that outright kill both crops and old folks. I'm afraid the world we're leaving our descendants will be one where famine is a regular threat again.

Looks like in my area (Texas), people will have to shift from spring/summer planting to fall/winter planting. We've been leaning this direction anyway since we can't keep anything alive in the garden past July and generally have mild winters. But we did have snow last week (for 1 day!)

Hm... looking wetter in the Northeast. Certainly the past couple of summers have been kind of challenging for getting the hay in! We're better off than folks down in the valley so far, but.... L and I were talking the other day about how maybe we should find out if there's a type of rice we can grow up our way. Something that likes wet soil, but I don't want to have to flood the field.

By Heather G (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

You know, when I look at maps like those you've linked here, I don't think "oh woe is us! how shall we eat?" I think, "oh, the poor native flora and fauna. they are so totally and completely screwed." Well, they pretty much are already anyway, since we've paved over most of their landscape and fouled what's left. But still. What little chance they might have had to eke out an existence on the remaining island scraps of non-asphalt is pretty much gone. Well, except for the cockroaches.