Naming Heat Waves is Hype

 

Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather Founder and CEO writes Throwing cold water on extreme heat hype. Excerpts in italics with my bolds H/T John Ray

A story came to my attention recently that merited comment. It appeared in London’s The Telegraph, and was headlined, “Give heat waves names so people take them more seriously, say experts, as Britain braces for hottest day

The story’s leaping-off point was a press release from the London School of Economics (LSE), which noted, “A failure by the media to convey the severity of the health risks from heat waves, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change, could undermine efforts to save lives this week as temperatures climb to dangerous levels.” .” Is it time to start naming deadly heatwaves?

It added, “So how can the media be persuaded to take the risks of heat waves more seriously? Perhaps it is time … to give heat waves names [as is done] for winter storms.”

We disagree with some of the points being made.

First, and most important, we warn people all the time in plain language on our apps and on AccuWeather.com about the dangers of extreme heat, as well as all hazards. Furthermore, that is the reason we developed and patented the AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature and our recently expanded AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature Guide, to help people maximize their health, safety and comfort when outdoors and prepare and protect themselves from weather extremes. The AccuWeather RealFeel Temperature Guide is the only tool that properly takes into account all atmospheric conditions and translates them into actionable behavior choices for people.

Second, although average temperatures have been higher in recent years, there is no evidence so far that extreme heat waves are becoming more common because of climate change, especially when you consider how many heat waves occurred historically compared to recent history.

After June 2019 was recognized by a number of official organizations as the hottest June on record, July may have now been the hottest month ever recorded. That’s according to the Copernicus Centre for Climate Studies (C3S), which presented its data sets with the announcement that this July may have been marginally hotter than that of 2016, which was previously the hottest month on record.

New York City has not had a daily high temperature above 100 degrees since 2012, and it has had only five such days since 2002. However, in a previous 18-year span from 1984 through 2001, New York City had nine days at 100 degrees or higher. When the power went out in New York City earlier this month, the temperature didn’t even get to 100 degrees – it was 95, which is not extreme. For comparison, there were 12 days at 95 degrees or higher in 1999 alone.

Kansas City, Missouri, for example, experienced an average of 18.7 days a year at 100 degrees or higher during the 1930s, compared to just 5.5 a year over the last 10 years. And over the last 30 years, Kansas City has averaged only 4.8 days a year at 100 degrees or higher, which is only one-quarter of the frequency of days at 100 degrees or higher in the 1930s.

Here is a fact rarely, if ever, mentioned: 26 of the 50 states set their all-time high temperature records during the 1930s that still stand (some have since been tied). And an additional 11 state all-time high temperature records were set before 1930 and only two states have all-time record high temperatures that were set in the 21st century (South Dakota and South Carolina).

So 37 of the 50 states have an all-time high temperature record not exceeded for more than 75 years. Given these numbers and the decreased frequency of days of 100 degrees or higher,

it cannot be said that either the frequency or magnitude of heat waves is more common today.

Climate scientist Lennart Bengtsson said. “The warming we have had the last 100 years is so small that if we didn’t have meteorologists and climatologists to measure it we wouldn’t have noticed it at all.”

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To Save the Earth, Get Down in the Dirt

Family Farmed is proud of the blossoming Good Food movement in their hometown of Chicago

Activists are directing school children to the streets to protest for more action against CO2 and their fear of global warming/climate change. In their desire to feel good about saving the planet, they ignore what is being done, and they march rather than picking up shovels and hoes and literally caring for the earth under their feet.

Overlooked is our potential to enhance the performance of the biosphere in capturing CO2 and greening the land. The soil itself is second only to the oceans, and the plant biomass is an additional sink for CO2. Below is an overview of the win-win proposition for humans to sequester carbon in the soil and restore its health and productivity at the same time. H/T Mark Krebs for suggesting this topic and providing resources from his own research and teaching.

Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soil by Robert J. Zomer, Deborah A. Bossio, Rolf Sommer & Louis V. Verchot 2017.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and titles.

Overview

The role of soil organic carbon in global carbon cycles is receiving increasing attention both as a potentially large and uncertain source of CO2 emissions in response to predicted global temperature rises, and as a natural sink for carbon able to reduce atmospheric CO2. There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential. Croplands worldwide could sequester between 0.90 and 1.85 Pg C/yr, i.e. 26–53% of the target of the “4p1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”. The importance of intensively cultivated regions such as North America, Europe, India and intensively cultivated areas in Africa, such as Ethiopia, is highlighted. Soil carbon sequestration and the conservation of existing soil carbon stocks, given its multiple benefits including improved food production, is an important mitigation pathway to achieve the less than 2 °C global target of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Soil as Both Sink and Source

Soils, however, can act as both sources and sinks of carbon, depending upon management, biomass input levels, micro-climatic conditions, and bioclimatic change. Substantially more carbon is stored in the world’s soils than is present in the atmosphere. The global soil carbon (C) pool to one-meter depth, estimated at 2500 Pg C, of which about 1500 Pg C is soil organic carbon (SOC), is about 3.2 times the size of the atmospheric pool and 4 times that of the biotic pool. An extensive body of research has shown that land management practices can increase soil carbon stocks on agricultural lands with practices including addition of organic manures, cover cropping, mulching, conservation tillage, fertility management, agroforestry, and rotational grazing. There is general agreement that the technical potential for sequestration of carbon in soil is significant, and some consensus on the magnitude of that potential.

This diagram of the fast carbon cycle shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans in billions of tons per year. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes, red are human contributions, white indicate stored carbon.

Croplands Are Key

On this basis, the 4p1000 initiative on Soil for Food Security and Climate, officially launched by the French Ministry of Agriculture at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change: Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 21) in Paris, aims to sequester approximately 3.5Gt C annually in soils. Croplands will be extremely important in this effort, as these lands are already being actively managed, and so amenable to implementation of improved practices. Furthermore, because almost all cropped soils have lost a large percentage of their pre-cultivation SOC, they potentially represent a large sink to re-absorb carbon through the introduction and adoption of improved or proper management aimed towards increased SOC.

Multiple Benefits of Soil Organic Carbon (SOC)

However, carbon is rarely stored in soils in its elemental form, but rather in the form of organic matter which contains significant amounts of other nutrients, above all nitrogen. Nutrients, biomass productivity, the type of vegetation and water availability, among other constraints therefore can be major limiting factors inhibiting increases in soil carbon sequestration. Further imperative to sequester carbon in soils arises from the multiple co-benefits that are obtained from sequestration of carbon in soils that have been depleted of their organic matter. Soil fertility, health, and functioning are immediate consequences of the amount of soil organic matter (and hence carbon) a soil contains; this is even more important for highly weathered soils, as is the case for the majority of soils in the humid lowland tropics. Increasing carbon in soils also means improving its physical properties and related ecosystems services, such as better water infiltration, water holding capacity, as well as potentially increasing agricultural productivity and ecological resilience.

Reversing Lost SOC

An implicit basic assumption is that in general, 50 to 70% of soil carbon stocks have been lost in cultivated soils, such that the SOC status of almost all cultivated soils can be increased. It is expected that these cropped soils will be able to sequester carbon for at least 20 years before reaching saturation points and new SOC equilibriums, while meta-analysis of field studies suggests that in some instances significant sequestration can continue for 30 or even up to 40 years before reaching new equilibriums.

Where Lies the Greatest Potential

The regions of North America, Eurasia (Russia) and Europe currently store the greatest amount of carbon on cropland, each with more than 21 Pg C, and all together accounting for over 50% of all SOC stocks on cropland globally. By contrast, Central America, North Africa, and the Australian/Pacific region have very low amounts of stored SOC, together comprising 6.48 Pg C or just over 4.6% of the global total. Western Asia, South Asia, Southeast East Asia and East Asia each have moderate amount ranging from 4.38 Pg C to 9.14 Pg C, but together accounting for just less than 2% of global total.

The Top 30 cm are Vital

On these croplands adoption of improved management practices offers the opportunity to sequester significant amounts of carbon in the near term, and potentially to make an important contribution to global mitigation efforts. The 4p1000 Initiative has identified an aspirational sequestration target of 3.5 Pg C/yr to provide substantive global mitigation. Our estimates suggest that from 26% up to 53% (0.90–1.85 Pg C) of this target could be reached in the top 30 cm of cropland soils alone, and continue over at least 20 years after adoption of SOC enhancing management, such as incorporation of organic manures, cover cropping, mulching, conservation tillage, some types for agroforestry practices, rotational grazing, or other practices known to increase soil carbon at the decadal scale.

Carbon Smart Agriculture

Given the large amount of cropland potentially available, sequestering carbon via increases in the soil component on agricultural land is an achievable and potentially effective route to quickly increasing CO2 sequestration in the near term. For comparison, above-ground losses due to tropical land use conversion are currently estimated at 0.6–1.2 Pg C yr-1. A strategy of enhancing agriculture with soil carbon enriching improved practices, e.g. via appropriate policy mechanisms, thus offers significant potential to mitigate land use related carbon emissions and provide an opportunity for agricultural production to positively contribute to global mitigation efforts. SOC may be either enhanced by, or enhance above- and below-ground biomass carbon on agricultural land, allowing for synergistic increases in on-farm carbon stocks. Agroforestry systems and planting trees, for example, may increase soil carbon sequestration.

Productivity and Resilience as well

The benefits of increasing soil organic matter in croplands goes far beyond climate change mitigation potential. Facilitation of increased SOC through improved farming and soil conservation practices, enhancing resilience through improved fertility status and water holding capacity, also provide important adaptation benefits. It is generally recognized that changes in the moisture regime (e.g. drought or heavy precipitation events) can significantly impact crop productivity. These climatic conditions are mitigated by SOC, which adds structure, improves water infiltration and holding capacity, increases cation exchange capacity, and impacts soil fertility, a major controlling factor of agricultural productivity and both regional and household food security. Soil conditions have dramatic effects on the abundance and efficiency of N-fixing bacteria, which are vitally important in cropping systems that lack fertilizer inputs. Thus increased SOC through improved management practices is likely to add substantial resilience to croplands and farming systems, particularly during drought years or increased seasonal variability, helping to avoid edaphic (soil related) droughts that result from land degradation.

Better than the Alternatives

For the most part, agricultural practices that increase soil organic matter are supportive of enhanced food production and other ecosystem services. This is in contrast to other proposed negative emission strategies, such as afforestation (plantations of fast growing trees) and BECCS (bioenergy and carbon capture and storage) that will entail destruction of huge amounts of natural ecosystems or productive agriculture land if implemented at scales large enough to impact CO2 in the atmosphere. Given that hundreds of millions of small farmers for their subsistence depend upon croplands around the world, mitigation benefits of enhanced SOC storage must be recognized as only one significant component of an array of multiple benefits to achieve.

It Won’t be Easy, But We Can Do This

Despite the large technical potential to sequester carbon in soils, there are often significant limitations to achieving that potential in any particular place and within specific farming systems, including lack of biomass and other inputs. In addition, there may be tradeoffs with productivity, food security or hydrologic balances, as well as concerns regarding other GHGs, such as N2O. As with any efforts to sustain notable changes in practice significant understanding of cultural, political and socioeconomic contexts are required.

Humans Should Maximize the Benefits of Global Warming and Rising CO2

Numerous studies are referenced at the NIPCC chapter on CO2, Plants and Soils. While our knowledge of the biosphere CO2 sink is incomplete, much is known to scientists and the information points not to alarm but to opportunity. The surplus CO2 from burning fossil fuels represents an occasion for us to assist nature to replenish soils depleted of the carbon content plants need to achieve their potential. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Assist Forests to benefit even more from rising CO2.

1.2.1 Forests pg. 45

Forests contain perennial trees that remove CO2 from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis and store its carbon within their woody tissues for decades to periods of sometimes more than a thousand years. It is important to understand how increases in the air’s CO2 content affect forest productivity and carbon sequestration, which has a great impact on the rate of rise of the air’s CO2 concentration. 

Where tropical forests have not been decimated by the targeted and direct destructive actions of human society, such as the felling and burning of trees, forest productivity has been growing ever greater with the passing of time, rising with the increasing CO2 content of the air. This has occurred despite all concomitant changes in atmospheric, soil, and water chemistry, including twentieth century global warming, which IPCC claims to have been unprecedented over the past one to two millennia.

The planet is greener with the rise in CO2.

Forest growth rates throughout the world have gradually accelerated over the years in concert with, and in response to, the historical increase in the air’s CO2 concentration. As the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration rises, forests likely will respond by exhibiting significant increases in biomass production, and thus likely will grow much more robustly and significantly expand their ranges, as is already being documented in many parts of the world.

As the air’s CO2 content rises, therefore, saplings growing beneath the canopies of larger trees will likely increase their rates of photosynthesis under both high and low light conditions characteristic of intermittent shading and illumination by sunflecks. Moreover, because elevated CO2 concentrations allow saplings to maintain higher rates of photosynthesis for longer periods of time when going from lighted to shaded conditions, such trees should be able to sequester greater quantities of carbon than they do now. So powerful is this phenomenon, in fact, the two researchers state current estimates of the enhancement of long-term carbon gains by forests under conditions of elevated atmospheric CO2 “could be underestimated by steady-state photosynthetic measures.”

In contrast to frequently stated assumptions, old growth forests can be significant carbon sinks, and their capacity to sequester carbon in the future will be enhanced as the air’s CO2 content rises.pg 75

What has put the planet’s trees on this healthier trajectory of being able to sequester significant amounts of carbon in their old age, when past theory (based on past observations) decreed they should be in a state of no-net-growth or even negative growth? The answer is rather simple. For any tree of age 250 years or more, the greater portion of its life (at least two-thirds of it) was spent in an atmosphere of much reduced CO2 content.

Zhou et al. (2006), “conducted a study to measure the long-term (1979 to 2003) dynamics of soil organic carbon stock in old-growth forests (age > 400 years) at the Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve in Guangdong Province, China.” and “measurements on a total of 230 composite soil samples collected between 1979 and 2003 suggested that soil organic carbon stock in the top 20-cm soil layer increased significantly during that time (P < 0.0001), with an average rate of 0.61 Mg C ha-1 year-1.” 

Manage the land to enhance soil health and productivity

As the CO2 content of the air increases, nearly all plants, including those of various forest ecosystems, respond by increasing their photosynthetic rates and producing more biomass. These phenomena allow long-lived perennial species characteristic of forest ecosystems to sequester large amounts of carbon within their trunks and branches aboveground and their roots below ground for extended periods of time. These processes, in turn, significantly counterbalance CO2 emissions produced by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

Elevated CO2 enhances photosynthetic rates and biomass production in forest trees, and both of these phenomena lead to greater amounts of carbon sequestration. Elevated CO2 also enhances carbon sequestration by reducing carbon losses arising from plant respiration and in some cases from decomposition. Thus, as the air’s CO2 content rises, the ability of forests to sequester carbon rises along with it, appropriately tempering the rate of rise of the air’s CO2 content.

It would appear the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content will not materially alter the rate of decomposition of the world’s soil organic matter. This means the rate at which carbon is sequestered in forest soils should continue to increase as the productivity of Earth’s plants is increased by the aerial fertilization effect of the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. 

“The accumulation of refractory organic carbon in soils that developed after the deglaciation of the American Pacific Northwest is ongoing and may still be far from equilibrium with mineralization and erosion rates.” This further suggests, in their words, “the turnover time of this carbon pool is 10,000 to 100,000 years or more and not 1,000 to 10,000 years as is often used in soil carbon models.” Smittenberg et al.

These independent experimental observations suggest claims to the contrary have no backing in empirical science. Both the aerial fertilization effect of atmospheric CO2 enrichment and the soil fertilization effect of the increase in nitrogen mineralization induced by global warming increase carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems, providing a strong, double-barreled, negative-feedback brake on the impetus for warming created by the enhanced greenhouse effect of the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content. Pg 98

Warming has produced bumper crops most everywhere.

Grasslands

Most of Earth’s terrestrial plant life evolved around 500 to 400 million years ago, when the katmospheric CO2 concentration was possibly 10 to 20 times higher than it is today. As a consequence, the biochemical pathways and enzymes involved in carbon fixation should be better adapted to significantly higher-than-present atmospheric CO2 levels, which has in fact been demonstrated to be the case. As the atmosphere’s CO2 content has dropped from that early point in time, it has caused most of Earth’s vegetation to become less efficient at extracting carbon dioxide from the air. However, the recent ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration is gradually increasing photosynthetic rates and stimulating vegetative productivity and the terrestrial sequestration of carbon around the globe. 

In a five-year study of a grassland growing on a moderately fertile soil at Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in central California— which utilized 20 open-top chambers (ten each at 360 and 720 ppm CO2)—Hu et al. (2001) found a doubling of the air’s CO2 content increased both soil microbial biomass and plant nitrogen uptake. With less nitrogen left in the soil to be used by a larger number of microbes, microbial respiration per unit of soil microbe biomass significantly declined in the elevated CO2 environments; with this decrease in microbial decomposition, there was an increase in carbon accumulation in the soil.pg.114

Jasper Ridge outdoor laboratory at Stanford.

Thus, as the atmosphere’s CO2 content rises, carbon sequestration in the soils of Mediterranean grasslands likely will increase for two reasons. First, it should rise as a consequence of the greater retention times conferred upon the carbon in older soil organic carbon pools, which represent the largest reservoir of terrestrial carbon on Earth. Second, even though soil microbes exhibit a preference for newer carbon under CO2-enriched conditions, it should rise because of the great increase in the amount of carbon going into newer soil carbon pools due to CO2-enhanced root exudation, root turnover, and other types of litter production. Pg.115

How much extra carbon can be sequestered in the planet’s grassland soils as a result of a doubling of the air’s CO2 content? A good first approximation at an answer is provided by Williams et al. (2000), who studied this phenomenon for eight years in a Kansas (USA) tallgrass prairie. . . Extrapolating this value to all of Earth’s temperate grasslands, which make up about 10% of the land area of the globe, Williams et al. calculate the CO2-induced increase in soil carbon sequestration could amount to an additional 1.3 Pg of carbon being sequestered in just the top 15 cm of the world’s grassland soils over the next century. Pg 114

Restore barren land to natural or managed productivity.

1.2.5 Soils 1.2.5.1 Bacteria • Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations likely will allow greater numbers of beneficial bacteria (those that help sequester carbon and nitrogen) to exist in soils and anaerobic water environments. This two-pronged phenomenon would be a great boon to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Pg.132

Nearly all of Earth’s plant life responds favorably to increases in the air’s CO2 content by exhibiting enhanced rates of photosynthesis and biomass production. Consequently, these phenomena tend to increase soil carbon contents by increasing root exudation of organic compounds and the amount of plant litter returned to the soil. Thus, it can be expected that CO2-mediated increases in soil carbon content will affect soil bacterial communities.

The great deserts of Africa and Asia have a huge potential for sequestering carbon, because they are currently so barren their soil carbon contents have essentially nowhere to go but up. The problem with this scenario, however, is that their soils blow away with every wisp of wind that disturbs their surfaces. The ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content could do much to reverse this trend. At higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, nearly all plants are more efficient at utilizing water

The end result of all these phenomena working together is greater carbon storage, both above- and below-ground, in what was previously little more than a source of dust for the rest of the world. And therein lies one of the great unanticipated benefits of the CO2-induced greening of the globe’s deserts: less airborne dust to spread havoc across Earth.

“It’s possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystems.” Environmental film maker John D. Liu documents large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China, Africa, South America and the Middle East, highlighting the enormous benefits for people and planet of undertaking these efforts globally.

Educate and enable gardeners and farmers to apply practices that sequester CO2 and enhance soil health and productivity.

Various programs and initiatives are underway promoting land management practices that improve soil health by enhancing its storage of carbon. One example comes from Mark Krebs, master gardener, who conducts seminars encouraging people to apply these principles to plots of land on their property or publicly available for such care.  They educate the public on how soil is degraded and how it can be regenerated.

As well practical methods are recommended to restore the health and productiviy of the soil, as well as increase its carbon storage.  Various associations offer resources, for example:

The Living Soil

 

International CSA (Climate Smart Agriculture) initiative

Conclusion

Rather than protesting the use of fossil fuels essential to modern life and to social and economic development in our age, people who want to make a difference should get down in the dirt.  The soil is starved for carbon and it is more and more available in the air.  Nature is already accessing this renewed source of CO2,  We humans should claim this unique opportunity to help the land regenerate and recover its productivity.

See also CO2 Fluxes, Sources and Sinks

Carbon Sense and Nonsense

 

Alarmists Fret, while Farmers Adapt

 

Update April 18 at End

This latest alarm is about the eastward shift of the above climate zone boundary, which historically was located upon the 100th meridian. The narrative by alarmists is along the lines of “OMG, we are screwed because drylands are replacing wetlands. There goes our food supply.” Some of the story headlines are these:

As World Warms, America’s Invisible ‘Climate Curtain’ Creeps East

The arid US midwest just crept 140 miles east thanks to climate change

America’s Arid West Is Invading the Fertile East

A major climate boundary in the central U.S. has shifted 140 miles due to global warming

From USA Today

Both population and development are sparse west of the 100th meridian, where farms are larger and primarily depend on arid-resistant crops like wheat, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies said. To the more humid east, more people and infrastructure exist. Farms are smaller and a large portion of the harvested crop is moisture-loving corn.

Now, due to shifting patterns in precipitation, wind and temperature since the 1870s — due to man-made climate change — the boundary between the dry West and the wetter East has shifted to roughly 98 degrees west longitude, the 98th meridian.

For instance, in Texas, the boundary has moved approximately from Abilene to Fort Worth.

According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Seager predicts that as the line continues to move farther East, farms will have to consolidate and become larger to remain viable.

And unless farmers are able to adapt, such as by using irrigation, they will need to consider growing wheat or another more suitable crop than corn.

“Large expanses of cropland may fail altogether, and have to be converted to western-style grazing range. Water supplies could become a problem for urban areas,” the Earth Institute said.

The studies appeared in the journal Earth Interactions, a publication of the American Meteorological Society.

What They Didn’t Tell You:  Context Makes All the Difference

This is another example of misdirection to push FFF (Fear of Fossil Fuels) by ignoring history and human ingenuity, while kowtowing to climate models as infallible oracles. The truth is, we didn’t get here by being victims, and lessons from the past will serve in the future.

First, the West Was Settled by Adaptive Farmers

One of the best researchers and historians is Geoff Cunfer, who with Fridolin Krausmann wrote Adaptation on an Agricultural Frontier: The Socio-Ecological Metabolism of Great Plains Settlement, 1875-1936.  Excerpts with my bolds.

The most important agricultural development of the nineteenth century was a massive and rapid expansion of farmland in the world’s grasslands, a process that doubled global land in farms. Displacing indigenous populations, European settlers plowed and fenced extensive new territories in North America’s Great Plains, South America’s campos and pampas, the Ukrainian and Russian steppes, and parts of Australia and New Zealand. Between 1800 and 1920 arable land increased from 400 million hectares to 950 million, and pasture land from 950 to 2,300 million hectares; much of that expansion occurred in grasslands. These regions became enduring “breadbaskets” for their respective nations and fed the nineteenth century’s 60 percent increase in world population. Never had so much new land come into agricultural production so fast. This episode was one of the most extensive and important environmental transformations in world history.

Most agro-ecologists and sustainability scientists focus on the present and the future. This article adapts their approach in order to understand agricultural change in the past, integrating socio-economic and physical-ecological characteristics that reveal both natural and cultural drivers of change. Socio-ecological profiles embrace land use, soil nitrogen, and food energy as key characteristics of agricultural sustainability. Ten descriptive measures link biophysical and socio-economic processes in farm communities to create socio-ecological profiles revealing human impacts on nature as well as environmental endowments, opportunities, constraints, and limitations that influenced settlers’ choices.

Tracing these characteristics from the beginning of agricultural colonization through sixty years reveals a pattern of expansion and growth, maturity, and adaptation. Agricultural systems are seldom static. Farmers interact with constantly varying natural forces and with social processes always in flux. The Kansas agricultural frontier reveals adjustments and readjustments to an ever-changing world and, especially, to environmental  forces beyond settlers’ control. Three distinct socio-ecological profiles emerged in Kansas: a) high productivity mixed farming; b) low productivity ranching; and c) market-oriented dryland wheat farming. The following narrative addresses each profile in chronological order and from east to west across the state, revealing settlers’ rapid adaptation to environmental constraints; accompanying figures allow simultaneous spatial comparison.

Second, Farming was Sustained through Environmental Changes

Cunfer wrote a book On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment review here).  Some excerpts with my bolds.

Though it may seem inconceivable to characterize the history of Great Plains land use as stable, Cunfer uncovers a persistent theme in his research: Great Plains farmers surprisingly found an optimal mix between agricultural uses (in particular, plowing vs. pasture) quickly and maintained this mix within the limits of the natural environment for a surprisingly long period of time. Only occasionally, in particular during the mid 1930s, did farmers push the boundaries of this regional environment; however, they quickly returned to a “steady-state” land-use equilibrium.

In particular, Cunfer blends together these two extreme approaches and summarizes Great Plains agricultural history in three components: (1) the rapid build-up of farm settlements from 1870-1920, which substantially altered the surrounding environment; (2) relative land-use stability from 1920 to 2000; and (3) the occasional transition in agricultural techniques which resulted in a quick shift away from this land-use equilibrium.

The Dust Bowl still remains an important environmental crisis and it is often a rallying point for federal government conservation programs. Cunfer adds to this literature by applying GIS maps to the entire Great Plains and interpreting comparative sand, rainfall, and temperature differential data to conclude that “human land-use choices were less prominent in creating dust storms than was the weather” (p. 163).[1] The localized portion of the Great Plains where dust storms were magnified contained substantially more sandy soil, only a small percentage of land devoted for crops, and the greatest degree of rainfall deficits from past trends. This non-exploitative argument contradicts the conventional wisdom which maintains that a massive plow-up followed the trail of increasing wheat prices and low cost of farming.

Our Ancestors Prevailed and We have Additional Advantages

Just as pioneer colonization inscribed a new cultural signature onto a plains landscape constructed by Native Americans, industrial agriculture began to over-write the settlement-era landscape. Fossil fuel-powered technologies brought powerful new abilities to deliver irrigation water, apply synthetic fertilizers, control pests, and reconstruct landscapes with tractors, trucks, and mechanical harvesters. A new equilibrium between environmental alteration and adaptation emerged. Industrial agriculture’s remarkable ability to alter and manage natural systems depends on a massive mobilization of fossil fuel energy. But until the early twentieth century farmers accommodated and adapted to natural constraints to a considerable extent.

Fig. 1 An energy model of agroecosystems, optimized for estimation based on historical sources (adopted from Tello et al. 2015)

Summary

It is disrespectful and demeaning for the activist media types to pretend we are unprepared and incapable of adapting to changing environmental and climate conditions.  Present day knowledge of agroecosystems is highly advanced, supported by modern technologies and experience with crop selections and choices for diverse microclimates.  Confer and colleagues discuss the possibilities in a paper Agroecosystem energy transitions: exploring the energy-land nexus in the course of industrialization

A previous post at this blog was Adapting Works! Mitigating Fails. discussing how farmers pushed the extent of wheat production 1000 km north through adaptation and innovation.

Warming has produced bumper crops most everywhere.

Update April 18

Dr. Roy Spencer has also weighed in on these scare stories, and adds considerable perspective.  He challenges the claim that the eastward shift has happened.

Since I’ve been consulting for U.S. grain interests for the last seven or eight years, I have some interest in this subject. Generally speaking, climate change isn’t on the Midwest farmers’ radar because, so far, there has been no sign of it in agricultural yields. Yields (production per acre) of all grains, even globally, have been on an upward trend for decades. This is fueled mainly by improved seeds, farming practices, and possibly by the direct benefits of more atmospheric CO2 on plants. If there has been any negative effect of modestly increasing temperatures, it has been buried by other, positive, effects.

And so, the study begs the question: how has growing season precipitation changed in this 100th meridian zone? Using NOAA’s own official statewide average precipitation statistics, this is how the rainfall observations for the primary agricultural states in the zone (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma) have fared every year between 1900 and 2017:

100th-meridian-states-jja-precip

What we see is that there has been, so far, no evidence of decreasing precipitation amounts exactly where the authors claim it will occur (and according to press reports, has already occurred).

Spencer’s post is The 100th Meridian Agricultural Scare: Another Example of Media Hype Exceeding Reality

 

 

 

Adapting Plants to Feed the World

Credit: Edwin Remsberg Getty Images

Writing in the Atlantic, Charles Mann raises an important question: Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People? Humanity has 30 years to find out.  Excerpts below with my images and bolds.

Context

In 1970, when I was in high school, about one out of every four people was hungry—“undernourished,” to use the term preferred today by the United Nations. Today the proportion has fallen to roughly one out of 10. In those four-plus decades, the global average life span has, astoundingly, risen by more than 11 years; most of the increase occurred in poor places. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have lifted themselves from destitution into something like the middle class. This enrichment has not occurred evenly or equitably: Millions upon millions are not prosperous. Still, nothing like this surge of well-being has ever happened before. No one knows whether the rise can continue, or whether our current affluence can be sustained.

Today the world has about 7.6 billion inhabitants. Most demographers believe that by about 2050, that number will reach 10 billion or a bit less. Around this time, our population will probably begin to level off. As a species, we will be at about “replacement level”: On average, each couple will have just enough children to replace themselves. All the while, economists say, the world’s development should continue, however unevenly. The implication is that when my daughter is my age, a sizable percentage of the world’s 10 billion people will be middle-class.

Like other parents, I want my children to be comfortable in their adult lives. But in the hospital parking lot, this suddenly seemed unlikely. Ten billion mouths, I thought. Three billion more middle-class appetites. How can they possibly be satisfied? But that is only part of the question. The full question is: How can we provide for everyone without making the planet uninhabitable?

Two Schools of Plant Development: Followers of William Vogt and Norman Borlaug

Both men thought of themselves as using new scientific knowledge to face a planetary crisis. But that is where the similarity ends. For Borlaug, human ingenuity was the solution to our problems. One example: By using the advanced methods of the Green Revolution to increase per-acre yields, he argued, farmers would not have to plant as many acres, an idea researchers now call the “Borlaug hypothesis.” Vogt’s views were the opposite: The solution, he said, was to use ecological knowledge to get smaller. Rather than grow more grain to produce more meat, humankind should, as his followers say, “eat lower on the food chain,” to lighten the burden on Earth’s ecosystems. This is where Vogt differed from his predecessor, Robert Malthus, who famously predicted that societies would inevitably run out of food because they would always have too many children. Vogt, shifting the argument, said that we may be able to grow enough food, but at the cost of wrecking the world’s ecosystems.

I think of the adherents of these two perspectives as “Wizards” and “Prophets.” Wizards, following Borlaug’s model, unveil technological fixes; Prophets, looking to Vogt, decry the consequences of our heedlessness.

Even though the global population in 2050 will be just 25 percent higher than it is now, typical projections claim that farmers will have to boost food output by 50 to 100 percent. The main reason is that increased affluence has always multiplied the demand for animal products such as cheese, dairy, fish, and especially meat—and growing feed for animals requires much more land, water, and energy than producing food simply by growing and eating plants. Exactly how much more meat tomorrow’s billions will want to consume is unpredictable, but if they are anywhere near as carnivorous as today’s Westerners, the task will be huge. And, Prophets warn, so will the planetary disasters that will come of trying to satisfy the world’s desire for burgers and bacon: ravaged landscapes, struggles over water, and land grabs that leave millions of farmers in poor countries with no means of survival.

What to do? Some of the strategies that were available during the first Green Revolution aren’t anymore. Farmers can’t plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use. Nor can the use of fertilizer be increased; it is already being overused everywhere except some parts of Africa, and the runoff is polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. Irrigation, too, cannot be greatly expanded—most land that can be irrigated already is. Wizards think the best course is to use genetic modification to create more-productive crops. Prophets see that as a route to further overwhelming the planet’s carrying capacity. We must go in the opposite direction, they say: use less land, waste less water, stop pouring chemicals into both.

The Rub is Rubisco

All the while that Wizards were championing synthetic fertilizer and Prophets were denouncing it, they were united in ignorance: Nobody knew why plants were so dependent on nitrogen. Only after the Second World War did scientists discover that plants need nitrogen chiefly to make a protein called rubisco, a prima donna in the dance of interactions that is photosynthesis.

In photosynthesis, as children learn in school, plants use energy from the sun to tear apart carbon dioxide and water, blending their constituents into the compounds necessary to make roots, stems, leaves, and seeds. Rubisco is an enzyme that plays a key role in the process. Enzymes are biological catalysts. Like jaywalking pedestrians who cause automobile accidents but escape untouched, enzymes cause biochemical reactions to occur but are unchanged by those reactions. Rubisco takes carbon dioxide from the air, inserts it into the maelstrom of photosynthesis, then goes back for more. Because these movements are central to the process, photosynthesis walks at the speed of rubisco.

Alas, rubisco is, by biological standards, a sluggard, a lazybones, a couch potato. Whereas typical enzyme molecules catalyze thousands of reactions a second, rubisco molecules deign to involve themselves with just two or three a second. Worse, rubisco is inept. As many as two out of every five times, rubisco fumblingly picks up oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, causing the chain of reactions in photosynthesis to break down and have to restart, wasting energy and water. Years ago I talked with biologists about photosynthesis for a magazine article. Not one had a good word to say about rubisco. “Nearly the world’s worst, most incompetent enzyme,” said one researcher. “Not one of evolution’s finest efforts,” said another. To overcome rubisco’s lassitude and maladroitness, plants make a lot of it, requiring a lot of nitrogen to do so. As much as half of the protein in many plant leaves, by weight, is rubisco—it is often said to be the world’s most abundant protein. One estimate is that plants and microorganisms contain more than 11 pounds of rubisco for every person on Earth.

The Promise of C4 Photosynthesis

Evolution, one would think, should have improved rubisco. No such luck. But it did produce a work-around: C4 photosynthesis (C4 refers to a four-carbon molecule involved in the scheme). At once a biochemical kludge and a clever mechanism for turbocharging plant growth, C4 photosynthesis consists of a wholesale reorganization of leaf anatomy.

When carbon dioxide comes into a C4 leaf, it is initially grabbed not by rubisco but by a different enzyme that uses it to form a compound that is then pumped into special, rubisco-filled cells deep in the leaf. These cells have almost no oxygen, so rubisco can’t bumblingly grab the wrong molecule. The end result is exactly the same sugars, starches, and cellulose that ordinary photosynthesis produces, except much faster. C4 plants need less water and fertilizer than ordinary plants, because they don’t waste water on rubisco’s mistakes. In the sort of convergence that makes biologists snap to attention, C4 photosynthesis has arisen independently more than 60 times. Corn, tumbleweed, crabgrass, sugarcane, and Bermuda grass—all of these very different plants evolved C4 photosynthesis.

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Balinese Rice Fields

The Rice Consortium Moonshot

In the botanical equivalent of a moonshot, scientists from around the world are trying to convert rice into a C4 plant—one that would grow faster, require less water and fertilizer, and produce more grain. The scope and audacity of the project are hard to overstate. Rice is the world’s most important foodstuff, the staple crop for more than half the global population, a food so embedded in Asian culture that the words rice and meal are variants of each other in both Chinese and Japanese. Nobody can predict with confidence how much more rice farmers will need to grow by 2050, but estimates range up to a 40 percent rise, driven by both increasing population numbers and increasing affluence, which permits formerly poor people to switch to rice from less prestigious staples such as millet and sweet potato.

Funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the C4 Rice Consortium is the world’s most ambitious genetic-engineering project. But the term genetic engineering does not capture the project’s scope. The genetic engineering that appears in news reports typically involves big companies sticking individual packets of genetic material, usually from a foreign species, into a crop. The paradigmatic example is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean, which contains a snippet of DNA from a bacterium that was found in a Louisiana waste pond. That snippet makes the plant assemble a chemical compound in its leaves and stems that blocks the effects of Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used herbicide. The foreign gene lets farmers spray Roundup on their soy fields, killing weeds but leaving the crop unharmed. Except for making a single tasteless, odorless, nontoxic protein, Roundup Ready soybeans are otherwise identical to ordinary soybeans.

What the C4 Rice Consortium is trying to do with rice bears the same resemblance to typical genetically modified crops as a Boeing 787 does to a paper airplane. Rather than tinker with individual genes in order to monetize seeds, the scientists are trying to refashion photosynthesis, one of the most fundamental processes of life. Because C4 has evolved in so many different species, scientists believe that most plants must have precursor C4 genes. The hope is that rice is one of these, and that the consortium can identify and awaken its dormant C4 genes—following a path evolution has taken many times before. Ideally, researchers would switch on sleeping chunks of genetic material already in rice (or use very similar genes from related species that are close cousins but easier to work with) to create, in effect, a new and more productive species. Common rice, Oryza sativa, will become something else: Oryza nova, say. No company will profit from the result; the International Rice Research Institute, where much of the research takes place, will give away seeds for the modified grain, as it did with Green Revolution rice.

Directing the C4 Rice Consortium is Jane Langdale, a molecular geneticist at Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences. Initial research, she told me, suggests that about a dozen genes play a major part in leaf structure, and perhaps another 10 genes have an equivalent role in the biochemistry. All must be activated in a way that does not affect the plant’s existing, desirable qualities and that allows the genes to coordinate their actions. The next, equally arduous step would be breeding rice varieties that can channel the extra growth provided by C4 photosynthesis into additional grains, rather than roots or stalk. All the while, varieties must be disease-resistant, easy to grow, and palatable for their intended audience, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

“I think it can all happen, but it might not,” Langdale said. She was quick to point out that even if C4 rice runs into insurmountable obstacles, it is not the only biological moonshot. Self-fertilizing maize, wheat that can grow in salt water, enhanced soil-microbial ecosystems—all are being researched. The odds that any one of these projects will succeed may be small, the idea goes, but the odds that all of them will fail are equally small. The Wizardly process begun by Borlaug is, in Langdale’s view, still going strong.

Summary

To Vogtians, the best agriculture takes care of the soil first and foremost, a goal that entails smaller patches of multiple crops—difficult to accomplish when concentrating on the mass production of a single crop. Truly extending agriculture that does this would require bringing back at least some of the people whose parents and grandparents left the countryside. Providing these workers with a decent living would drive up costs. Some labor-sparing mechanization is possible, but no small farmer I have spoken with thinks that it would be possible to shrink the labor force to the level seen in big industrial operations. The whole system can grow only with a wall-to-wall rewrite of the legal system that encourages the use of labor. Such large shifts in social arrangements are not easily accomplished.

And here is the origin of the decades-long dispute between Wizards and Prophets. Although the argument is couched in terms of calories per acre and ecosystem conservation, the disagreement at bottom is about the nature of agriculture—and, with it, the best form of society. To Borlaugians, farming is a kind of useful drudgery that should be eased and reduced as much as possible to maximize individual liberty. To Vogtians, agriculture is about maintaining a set of communities, ecological and human, that have cradled life since the first agricultural revolution, 10,000-plus years ago. It can be drudgery, but it is also work that reinforces the human connection to the Earth. The two arguments are like skew lines, not on the same plane.

My daughter is 19 now, a sophomore in college. In 2050, she will be middle-aged. It will be up to her generation to set up the institutions, laws, and customs that will provide for basic human needs in the world of 10 billion. Every generation decides the future, but the choices made by my children’s generation will resonate for as long as demographers can foresee. Wizard or Prophet? The choice will be less about what this generation thinks is feasible than what it thinks is good.

Feeding the World Requires Cutting-Edge Science and Institutions

 

Doomsday was predicted but failed to happen at midnight.

Climate Adaptation Economics

The Dutch solution to floods: live with water, don’t fight it. The same thing applies to climate change.

This post returns to the theme: Adapt, Don’t Fight Climate Change.  Matthew Kahn is Professor of Economics at USC and one of the more interesting thinkers with this POV. While IPCC scientists foresee climate change coming, Kahn and other economists foresee how societies will react to such forecasts by reallocating capital and shifting priorities.

More than once he has warned against listening to climatists when they make economic forecasts because they misunderstand how economic systems work. He is also critical of economists who forecast climate impacts while assuming societies and individuals are static victims, lacking any freedom to shift priorities, investments and locations, in other words to adapt as humans have always done.

Kahn resists any temptation to address the consensus understanding of the climate system, but rather sticks to his forte: The competition for resources under conditions of changing climate expectations. The result is much more hopeful and optimistic than the gloom and doom dished out by climatologists.

His blog is usually worth a visit to read posts like this recent one Austrian Empirical Economics? even when the title seems obscure. Excerpts below with my bolds.

Sherwin Rosen was one of the greatest University of Chicago economists. While he did not win a Nobel Prize (he died at age 62 during the year when he was the President of the American Economic Association), his student Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize and his student Kevin Murphy has won multiple major economics honors. I was not his best student but he continues to teach me new lessons about economics. I just read his 1997 paper on Austrian Economics. I now see that my Climatopolis work is a type of Austrian Economics.

My 2010 book (see link below) argues that the combination of rising urbanization, human capital and innovation together will allow us to adapt to climate change. Cities compete for the skilled and those cities that successfully adapt to the challenge of climate change will gain in human capital. Home prices (and thus income effects) will fall in areas that fail to adapt. This competition and the potential for migration creates a more overall resilient economy. While I cannot tell you today which cities will win this competition, I am very confident in this “Austrian” vision.

From Kahn’s synopsis of Climatopolis: How will climate change impact urbanites and their cities?

In my new book, Climatopolis: How Our Cities will Thrive in Our Hotter Future (Basic Books 2010), I study how urbanites around the world will cope and adapt as climate change unfolds. The UN predicts that by the year 2030 over 60% of the world’s population will live in cities. While I do not have a crystal ball for predicting exactly how hot Moscow will be in 2012 or how much rainfall Los Angeles will receive in 2030, the basic tools of microeconomics prove to be quite useful for understanding and predicting how diverse households, firms, and governments will respond to the scary and uncertain challenges posed by climate change.

Due to differences in geography, historical circumstances, and national institutions, different cities will face different challenges. At the same time, there are some basic commonalities across cities with regards to common adaptation challenges. Basic incentive theory offers many insights into how adaptation will unfold and the role that capitalism will play in facilitating adaptation.

In the case of climate change, increased risk to a specific city such as San Diego is likely to be a permanent shock. The owners of land in such cities will suffer an income loss but mobile urbanites can protect themselves by moving to another city. This optimistic logic hinges on the assumption that climate change’s impacts on different cities are not perfectly correlated.  A city such as Detroit could enjoy an amenity improvements (warmer winter) at the same time that Phoenix is suffering.

If more of the US population seeks to move to more northern cities such as Seattle then these cities will face increased demand. The recent housing supply literature has highlighted that housing supply regulation and topography determine housing supply (Saiz 2010). In those increasingly desirable cities where housing supply is inelastic, land owners will gain because of climate change induced migration. Within the EU, similar dynamics are likely to play out. Of course, this claim merits further empirical investigation.

My optimism about the role that migration can play in protecting the populace hinges on the assumption that climate change will be gradual. Cities are long-lived durable capital and it takes “time to build” the infrastructure necessary for a city ranging from housing, commercial buildings, transportation infrastructure, sewer systems, electricity generation. We can’t move whole cities over night.

The billions of people who will be affected by climate change create a large market opportunity for entrepreneurs who can serve this market. Acemoglu and Linn (2004) demonstrated that the extent of the market for new drugs triggers endogenous innovation. In the presence of fixed costs to developing new products, the scale of the market is a key determinant. Their logic holds in the case of climate change. If billions of people seek an energy efficient air conditioner to offset hot summers, then there will be sharp incentives to invest in developing such products. Some of these producers will succeed and in a globalised world market, the pay-off to the successful entrepreneur will be huge.

The anticipation that cities will be at risk from climate change encourages innovation. My UCLA colleague Thom Mayne is working with Brad Pitt in New Orleans to design floatable homes that could be sold for less than $200,000. These homes are intended to allow residents to literally float in the midst of the next Hurricane Katrina. Such innovative new products are just the tip of the iceberg. Climate change will create numerous such opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Rotterdam old port protected by dikes for over a century.

In my own past research, I have documented that richer nations suffer fewer deaths from similar natural disasters (Kahn 2005). If climate change increases the frequency and intensity of floods and hurricanes, then poor nations will suffer more deaths from these disasters. Economic development is likely to play a causal role in shielding the population from such risks by providing households and governments with the resources to build higher quality infrastructure, to enforce zoning laws and to provide better ex-post medical care.

In this sense, economic development offers the best strategy for poor cities to cope. A salient example of the role of economic development in protecting the population from public health threats exacerbated by climate change is offered by Thomas Schelling (1997). He contrasts malaria rates in Singapore and Malaysia. Singapore, the richer “geographical twin”, has a much lower malaria rate than Malaysia.

Summary

Researchers seek out “credible research” designs to estimate “b” (impact from climate change). This slope represents the current marginal effect of climate on an economic outcome. This research ignores cross-elasticities. If the climate is bad in Kansas but great in Oklahoma and expected to remain so, the negative shock to Kansas will actually create a boom in Oklahoma. This is a migration (zero sum game) effect. Yes, a migration cost must be paid but this is a 2nd order effect.

Given my read of Sherwin Rosen’s paper, I now see that Austrian Economics focuses on the evolution of the economic system. Entrepreneurs intuit that there is emerging demand for this product (think of Uber) and begin the experimentation to develop it. Some succeed and some fail. The system evolves to economize on scarce resources (signaled by prices) that may becoming increasingly scarce.

My book stresses a fundamental irony. Urban economic growth has caused climate change (think of the billions of people who are achieving the “American Dream”) but it will also help us to adapt to climate change. My optimism about urbanites’ ability to continue to thrive in the face of climate change is based on our ability to migrate and innovate. Free markets play a central role here in determining new investment patterns that will help us to adapt.

More on Climate Adaptation rather than Mitigation:

Adapt, Don’t Fight Climate Change

Adapting Works, Mitigating Fails

Crunching Climate $$$

Climate Policies Gouge the Masses

 

 

Partying in Paris instead of Preparing in Houston

Waves pound the shore from approaching Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017 in Corpus Christi, Texas.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“We are not ready for a return to 1950’s weather, let alone something unprecedented.”

As evidence of the above, we have Hurricane Harvey as a case in point.  While elected officials blather about “zero-carbon” footprints, nothing is done to prepare for weather events that have happened before and can always happen again. International accords and conferences like the last one in Paris do nothing for a vulnerable place like Houston.

Consider this article A Texas newsroom predicted a disaster. Now it’s close to coming true. published at Columbia Journalism Review.  Excerpts below.

THE TEXAS TRIBUNE AND PROPUBLICA last year published a multi-part investigation looking at what would happen if Houston was hit by a major hurricane.

The reporters partnered with scientists at several universities in Texas to conduct simulations, gaming out various storm scenarios for the country’s fourth-largest city, with its rapidly growing population, huge stores of oil and natural gas, and a major NASA facility.

The conclusion: The city and region were woefully unprepared for a major hurricane, with inadequate infrastructure for evacuation and flood control. A major storm would inflict catastrophic damage, bringing “economic and ecological disaster.” The series won awards, including a Peabody and an Edward R. Murrow, but it didn’t lead to substantive policy changes or big new investments in infrastructure.

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country. It’s home to the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, where billions of gallons of oil and dangerous chemicals are stored. And it’s a sitting duck for the next big hurricane. Learn why Texas isn’t ready. March 3, 2016

A house is engulfed in flames as water and waves inundate homes on Galveston Island as Hurricane Ike approaches the coast Sept. 12, 2008.

Now the same journalists are watching nervously as Hurricane Harvey inches closer to the Texas shoreline. While landfall is expected between Corpus Christi and Houston, one of their worst-case scenarios could still come true.

“Unfortunately it might take a disaster,” Shaw adds, “before Texas wakes up and realizes we need to send some real money to protect one of the nation’s biggest ports, where we keep most of our oil and chemicals.” If Houston was directly hit by a storm of Harvey’s magnitude, Shaw says, the environmental damage would exceed the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

After the series appeared, the reporters reached out to the state’s entire congressional delegation and both of its US senators, one of whom, Ted Cruz, ran for president. “So none of them can say nobody could anticipate the calamity a large storm could inflict upon their constituencies,” Klein wrote.

“Ike was supposed to be that wake-up call to do something about this,” Shaw says. “All I can hope for is that this will be another wake-up call, and Texas will ask for more action before the ‘big one.’”

A short video explaining in 2011 how to protect the area from the next big one.

See also Climate Adaptive Cities: The Smart Way Forward

Climate Adaptive Cities: The Smart Way Forward

A recent post Renewables Hypocrisy described the vain and empty spectacle of Mayors of major cities lining up to get badges claiming “100% Renewable Energy”. This post provides the alternative to such posturing. Matthew Kahn is a microeconomist studying and writing on the more rational and productive response to future climate change possibilities. His thinking is explained in a recent paper is Will Climate Change Cause Enormous Social Costs for Poor Asian Cities? Asian Development Review September 2017. There is much wisdom packed in this document, not only regarding Asia but everywhere.  Some excerpts below give the flavor.

Overview

Climate change could significantly reduce the quality of life for poor people in Asia. Extreme heat and drought, and the increased incidence of natural disasters will pose new challenges for the urban poor and rural farmers. If farming profits decline, urbanization rates will accelerate and the social costs of rapid urbanization could increase due to rising infectious disease rates, pollution, and congestion. This paper studies strategies for reducing the increased social costs imposed on cities by climate change.

Cities face a practical challenge and many have not embraced it

While Asia’s poor face major new risks because of climate change, there are countervailing forces in play as well. With the rise of big data, governments and individuals have greater access to real-time information about emerging threats. Increased international flows of capital have given local governments the capacity to fund public infrastructure projects.

An open question concerns the incentives for mayors and city governments in developing countries to take costly steps to improve the quality of life of the urban poor. Such investments will ultimately increase the migration of rural poor to these cities. Anticipating this effect, some mayors and city governments are discouraged from making such investments. Feler and Henderson (2011) present evidence of this dynamic in Brazil.

Asia’s collective ability to adapt to anticipated but ambiguous new climate risks hinges on the well-being of the urban poor. If this group can successfully adapt to new challenges, then Asia’s overall urbanization experience is more likely to yield long-term economic growth and improvements in living standards.

The campaign to mitigate (prevent) global warming by reducing CO2 emissions is typified by the Paris accord, an ongoing political theater providing cover for elected officials.
Mitigation is not only useless, it distracts from real efforts to prepare for the future. Kahn:

Given that climate change directly impacts city quality of life, one surprising fact is that many leaders from around the world appear to devote more effort to seeing their city become a low-carbon city rather than a resilient city. To an economist, greater effort being devoted to mitigation rather than adaptation is surprising. With the former, there is a free-rider problem. Each city only contributes a small amount of the world’s total emissions; even if a city’s emissions are reduced to zero, its efforts will make no real difference in mitigating climate change.

Therefore, self-interest should drive adaptation efforts. Climate change can be perceived as a medium-term threat that will intensify after today’s leaders are no longer in power. It remains an open question whether elected officials are rewarded for tackling medium-term challenges. If real estate markets are forward looking, then current prices should reflect future threats. If a city develops a reputation for having a declining quality of life, then it will have more trouble attracting and retaining skilled workers. The threat of a brain drain (and lost tourism receipts) should incentivize local leaders to act.

It is also a case where one size does not fit all

In the spatial economics literature, cities differ with respect to their locational characteristics. Some cities feature cold winters, while others feature mountains. Real estate prices and rents adjust across cities so that those with better quality of life have higher rents and lower wages as compensation differential for living there (Rosen 2002). Climate change affects a city’s attributes. For example, a city that has enjoyed a temperate summer climate may now be much warmer during summer months.

In the typical urban economics model, a city’s attributes are all common knowledge. When considering the urban consequences of climate change, a city’s future attributes should be thought of as a random vector. For example, we do not know exactly what challenges Singapore will face in the year 2025 resulting from higher temperatures and/or rising sea levels. We can form expectations of these random variables, but we know that we do not know these future outcomes.

Facing uncertainty about how the quality of life will evolve in different cities, the theory of option value suggests it is important that Asia’s urban poor have as many possible destinations to move as possible. Such a menu of cities protects individuals and creates competition. Every city and country features locations of “higher ground” that are ostensibly more protected from the impacts of climate change. Advances in spatial mapping software can pinpoint such areas. If cities change their land use patterns to allow for higher densities in such areas, then adaptation is promoted.

If a population can self-protect from emerging threats using affordable technologies and real-time information, and if local governments can do a better job protecting urban residents from risk, then the historical relationship between risk and negative outcomes can be attenuated. This is a new version of the “Lucas critique,” which argues that as governments change the rules of the game, economic agents reoptimize and past relationships between consumption and income no longer hold (Lucas 1976).

In the case of climate adaptation, Mother Nature changes the rules of the game and economic actors change their decision making to reduce their risk exposure. Forward-looking households and firms should be making investments to become more nimble in the face of increased exposure to heat, drought, and climate volatility. The net effect should be that B1 in equation (1) shrinks toward zero over time.

Summary

Two schools of thought regarding future climates:

Mitigation: Cut down on use of fossil fuels to mitigate or prevent future global warming.
Adaptation: As changes occur, adapt our methods and practices to survive and prosper in new conditions.

The Paris Agreement and various cap-and-trade schemes intend to Mitigate future warming. Lots of gloom and doom is projected (forecast) by activists claiming mitigation is the only way. But the facts of our experience say otherwise. Building Adaptive Cities means investing in resilience, preparing for future periods both colder and warmer than the present. Key objectives include reliable, affordable energy and robust infrastructure.

See also: Adapt, Don’t Fight Climate Change

Mitigation is Bad for Us and the Planet

 

 

 

Reasoning About Climate

As the stool above shows, the climate change package sits on three premises. The first is the science bit, consisting of an unproven claim that observed warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part rests on impact studies from billions of research dollars spent uncovering any and all possible negatives from warming. And the third leg is climate policies showing how governments can “fight climate change.”

It is refreshing to see more and more articles by people reasoning about climate change/global warming and expressing rational positions. Increasingly, analysts are unbundling the package and questioning not only the science, but also pointing out positives from CO2 and warming. And as this post shows, essays are challenging the policy proposals advanced by climate activists. David R. Henderson and John H. Cochrane published at WSJ on July 30, 2017 Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World  Even if world temperatures rise, the appropriate policy response is still an open question.  Complete text below (my Bolds)

Climate change is often misunderstood as a package deal: If global warming is “real,” both sides of the debate seem to assume, the climate lobby’s policy agenda follows inexorably.

It does not. Climate policy advocates need to do a much better job of quantitatively analyzing economic costs and the actual, rather than symbolic, benefits of their policies. Skeptics would also do well to focus more attention on economic and policy analysis.

To arrive at a wise policy response, we first need to consider how much economic damage climate change will do. Current models struggle to come up with economic costs consummate with apocalyptic political rhetoric. Typical costs are well below 10% of gross domestic product in the year 2100 and beyond.

That’s a lot of money—but it’s a lot of years, too. Even 10% less GDP in 100 years corresponds to 0.1 percentage point less annual GDP growth. Climate change therefore does not justify policies that cost more than 0.1 percentage point of growth. If the goal is 10% more GDP in 100 years, pro-growth tax, regulatory and entitlement reforms would be far more effective.

Yes, the costs are not evenly spread. Some places will do better and some will do worse. The American South might be a worse place to grow wheat; Southern Canada might be a better one. In a century, Miami might find itself in approximately the same situation as the Dutch city of Rotterdam today.

Rotterdam–Ninety years thriving behind dikes and dams.

But spread over a century, the costs of moving and adapting are not as imposing as they seem. Rotterdam’s dikes are expensive, but not prohibitively so. Most buildings are rebuilt about every 50 years. If we simply stopped building in flood-prone areas and started building on higher ground, even the costs of moving cities would be bearable. Migration is costly. But much of the world’s population moved from farms to cities in the 20th century. Allowing people to move to better climates in the 21st will be equally possible. Such investments in climate adaptation are small compared with the investments we will regularly make in houses, businesses, infrastructure and education.

And economics is the central question—unlike with other environmental problems such as chemical pollution. Carbon dioxide hurts nobody’s health. It’s good for plants. Climate change need not endanger anyone. If it did—and you do hear such claims—then living in hot Arizona rather than cool Maine, or living with Louisiana’s frequent floods, would be considered a health catastrophe today.

Global warming is not the only risk our society faces. Even if science tells us that climate change is real and man-made, it does not tell us, as President Obama asserted, that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. Really? Greater than nuclear explosions, a world war, global pandemics, crop failures and civil chaos?

No. Healthy societies do not fall apart over slow, widely predicted, relatively small economic adjustments of the sort painted by climate analysis. Societies do fall apart from war, disease or chaos. Climate policy must compete with other long-term threats for always-scarce resources.

Facing this reality, some advocate that we buy some “insurance.” Sure, they argue, the projected economic cost seems small, but it could turn out to be a lot worse. But the same argument applies to any possible risk. If you buy overpriced insurance against every potential danger, you soon run out of money. You can sensibly insure only when the premium is in line with the risk—which brings us back where we started, to the need for quantifying probabilities, costs, benefits and alternatives. And uncertainty goes both ways. Nobody forecast fracking, or that it would make the U.S. the world’s carbon-reduction leader. Strategic waiting is a rational response to a slow-moving uncertain peril with fast-changing technology.

Global warming is not even the obvious top environmental threat. Dirty water, dirty air and insect-borne diseases are a far greater problem today for most people world-wide. Habitat loss and human predation are a far greater problem for most animals. Elephants won’t make it to see a warmer climate. Ask them how they would prefer to spend $1 trillion—subsidizing high-speed trains or a human-free park the size of Montana.

Then, we need to know what effect proposed policies have and at what cost. Scientific, quantifiable or even vaguely plausible cause-and-effect thinking are missing from much advocacy for policies to reduce carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “scientific” recommendations, for example, include “reduced gender inequality & marginalization in other forms,” “provisioning of adequate housing,” “cash transfers” and “awareness raising & integrating into education.” Even if some of these are worthy goals, they are not scientifically valid, cost-benefit-tested policies to cool the planet.

Climate policy advocates’ apocalyptic vision demands serious analysis, and mushy thinking undermines their case. If carbon emissions pose the greatest threat to humanity, it follows that the costs of nuclear power—waste disposal and the occasional meltdown—might be bearable. It follows that the costs of genetically modified foods and modern pesticides, which can feed us with less land and lower carbon emissions, might be bearable. It follows that if the future of civilization is really at stake, adaptation or geo-engineering should not be unmentionable. And it follows that symbolic, ineffective, political grab-bag policies should be intolerable.

Climate science, impacts and policies also appear as a house of cards.

Mr. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. Mr. Cochrane is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

More about Climate Policy Failures

Speaking Climate Truth to Policymakers

Climate Policies Failure, the Movie

Climatists Wrong-Footed

Climate Costs in Context

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A recent publication by the Manhattan Institute looks at the costs of proposed climate change policies versus the estimated benefits.  Note that positive effects from warming are not included, only the benefits of reduced damages from assumed future warming.  Even on that narrow basis, the costs of “fighting” climate change are vastly greater than simply adapting to a changing climate.  The paper is entitled: Climate Costs in Context (here).  Excerpts below

Uncertain Greenhouse Effects

.The chain of causation from greenhouse gas emissions to human impacts is lengthy: economic growth, the energy intensity of economic activity, and the emissions profile of energy use all combine to determine emissions levels. Those emissions then produce a concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from which climate models can offer projections of temperature increase. Other models must translate any given temperature increase into estimates of natural-world effects, such as sea-level rise, drought, or ecosystem disruption. And another set of models and qualitative analyses must try to estimate how those changes in the natural world will affect the society that emitted the greenhouse gases in the first place.

Scientific assessments vary widely at each of these steps. However, climate researchers have settled broadly on an expected temperature increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 if efforts are not made to reduce emissions.

Climate Costs According to IPCC

To estimate the economic cost of warming, researchers use “Integrated Assessment Models” (IAMs), which translate a given level of warming into estimates of natural-world impacts and then economic costs. Such analysis requires as much art as science, and, especially for larger temperature increases, the results are highly speculative. Still, they offer the best available estimates and should indicate at least the relative magnitude of the threat.

These models indicate that for 3°–4°C of warming, global GDP in the year 2100 will be 1%–4% lower than in a world with no warming.

These are large costs—all three models estimate that global GDP will have grown to at least $500 trillion by 2100 versus a 2015 total of approximately $75 trillion. So if climate change reduces GDP in 2100 by 3%, that would represent $15 trillion—nearly the size of the entire American economy today. But by the standards of 2100, the cost is manageable.

Exaggerated Popular Notions of Climate Impacts

Such modest economic estimates seem incompatible with the severe disruptions popularly assumed to accompany climate change. However, it is generally the popular assumption rather than the detailed economic research that is in error. For instance, while descriptions of sea-level rise often depict large scale melting in Greenland and Antarctica producing several meters of sea-level rise, such scenarios are forecast to play out only over the course of several centuries or even millennia.

The IPCC itself offered an estimate of what this might cost: “Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.”In other words, even for those poorest and most vulnerable countries, damage still amounts to only the small share of future wealth forecast in the economic models.

The pattern repeats itself across other potential effects of climate change. For instance, researchers call attention to the prospect of widespread ecosystem disruption and species extinction. The IPCC emphasizes: “With 4°C warming, climate change is projected to become an increasingly important driver of impacts on ecosystems.” But the actual magnitude of these impacts will only “becom[e] comparable with land-use change”—the disruption the world is already experiencing from human development. That disruption has not been costless—in either economic or less tangible terms—but neither has it produced widespread or insurmountable challenges to continued growth and prosperity.

Conclusion: Adapt Rather than Fight

Analyses consistently show that the costs of climate change are real but manageable. For instance, the prosperity that the world might achieve in 2100 without climate change may instead be delayed until 2102.

All these costs—both economic and noneconomic—are substantial and have the potential to cause significant damage and disruption. Policymakers should take them seriously and seek to reduce or prepare for them when the expected benefit of action exceeds the cost. However, none are outside the range of other challenges facing society, and none support the apocalyptic rhetoric of many politicians and activists.

Footnote:

The world is currently spending a lot fighting climate change:

  • UN and governmental agencies and conferences;
  • Research funding to claim alarming impacts;
  • Advocacy by foundations and NGOs;
  • Subsidies for renewable energy and low carbon technologies.

This climate alarm industry, Climate Crisis Inc., is estimated to cost at least 1.5 trillion US$ each year.  That is 2% of present global GDP, and alarmist leaders say it isn’t making a difference.

Looking into the future, IEA expects additional spending just in the energy sector to meet climate change targets on the order of $35-trillion over the period 2015 to 2030. All this remarkable growth comes in a market for non-solutions to the non-problem of global warming.

For more on Uncertainties of Integrated Assessment Models:
https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/quiet-storm-of-lucidity/

Further comments by Oren Cass, author of the Mannhatton paper:

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/442685/climate-costs-context

Adapt, Don’t Fight Climate Change


The Dutch solution to floods: live with water, don’t fight it. The same thing applies to climate change.

Recently visiting again in the Netherlands, I was reminded that adapting is the only way to contend with natural forces. Praying or paying indulgences like carbon taxes does not stop nature, so we humans must prepare for the most probable extremes that can come our way.

Top-down, global initiatives like the IPCC and the Paris Accord are called “Mitigation”, an attempt to prevent warming of temperatures by reducing fossil fuel emissions. In fact, the 1 degree Celsius warming over the past 150 years has been a blessing for human civilization, and a further 1 degree will also be beneficial.

It was warmer than now in the Medieval Warm Period, warmer still in the Roman Warm Period, and warmest of all in the Minoan Warm Period.  Before that was the Holocene Optimum lasting many centuries with still higher temperatures.  Evidence indicates that 7000 years ago the Sahara desert was a savannah with several large lakes.  Human life and the biosphere prosper in warm ages, and we are presently sub-optimal. Cold is the greatest threat to the biosphere and the longer term trend is in that direction.

Even in the unlikely event that the Paris Accord results in lowering emissions, it is additionally uncertain how temperatures will be affected. It is rational to argue that we should burn more fossil fuels if we are sure that warming will result.

In any case, leaders and alarmists have in the past repeatedly declared deadlines for stopping climate change (oh, what hubris). With Trump’s election there is now the opportunity for rational climate policy. History shows us that there will be future periods both warmer and colder than the present, and prudent policy makers should prepare for both.

Trump and his advisers should not cede the high ground to climatists. Instead this administration should announce that it is serious about protecting the American people against future climate extremes, especially the cold.

The US has been blessed recently with tranquility instead of typical levels of hurricanes and tornadoes. That can not be expected to continue, and the first priority is to rebuild a robust infrastructure, suitable to at least confront a return of 1950’s weather. I am pleased to see PE Trump already talking about this.

The second key to adapting is ensuring reliable and affordable energy. It is now obvious that electrical power grids are crippled by shackling them with intermittent, expensive feed-ins from windmills and solar panels. Rational energy policy will rely on clean coal, nuclear and hydro for electricity, oil and gas for transportation, with various other energy sources added on when and where they make economic sense. It appears Trump’s advisers are also on top of this priority.

Let them not say they will do nothing about climate change;  they will do the only thing that makes sense.  Trump has the potential to become the real environmental president, who makes the EPA get results on its real mission: Clean Air and Clean Water without actual pollutants.

More on Dutch Adaptation:

“The Dutch are extremely proud of their water management and we have eight million people [almost half the population] living below sea level who depend on it. We have learned a lot from floods in the past, especially from 1953, the big flood which Britain also had, when we had a lot of damage and 1,800 casualties. We started the delta programme then and put a lot of flood protection in place.

“Our organisation is very important. We have regional water boards with their own tax system who are in charge of dredging and of the programmes of dyke maintenance. We have adapted climate change into urban planning, and development on flood plains has not been allowed since the 80s. More and more we are working with nature – on the coast, management is about building up the sand dunes and beaches.

More evidence that Adapting Works, Mitigating Fails