Climate Adaptation


I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature. - FAQs - Follow - Face - Ask - Donations - Climate Book Store

I’m headed to Kazakhstan tomorrow (working on our Climate Resilient Wheat project for USAID and the UN). It will not be warm. Not even a little bit.


A warmer Arctic could permanently affect the pattern of the high-altitude polar jet stream, resulting in longer and colder winters over North America and northern Europe, US scientists say. The jet stream, a ribbon of high altitude, high-speed wind in northern latitudes that blows from west to east, is formed when the cold Arctic air clashes with warmer air from further south. The greater the difference in temperature, the faster the jet stream moves.

According to Jennifer Francis, a climate expert at Rutgers University, the Arctic air has warmed in recent years as a result of melting polar ice caps, meaning there is now less of a difference in temperatures when it hits air from lower latitudes. “The jet stream is a very fast moving river of air over our head, but over the past two decades the jet stream has weakened. This is something we can measure,” she said Saturday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As a result, instead of circling the earth in the far north, the jet stream has begun to meander, like a river heading off course. This has brought chilly Arctic weather further south than normal, and warmer temperatures up north. Perhaps most disturbingly, it remains in place for longer periods of time.  

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio [x]

I have a feeling this was taken out of context.

Nestlé chairman warns against playing God over climate change

Good read, not for everyone though, since it’s from a multi-gabllionaire’s perspective.

“ If we really want to prevent future crises, it’s not going to be a matter of shutting down every time there’s a scary weather forecast, but investing in longer-term solutions to our sprawl. ”


How Atlanta Survived Icepocalypse II
We’re not a national joke anymore. But our city’s still a sprawling mess.
| Politico, 2/14/2014 (via atlurbanist)

Easier said than done. Georgians and southerners love their sprawl, and are deeply averse to urban planning investments that involve participation. Developers know this, and prey on southern states for its cheap land and purchasable politicians. Voters, therefore, need to force their politicians to decouple their relationships with big land developers and engage the public.

Hi Michael, Greetings from Indonesia. I enjoy your blog because I'm interested to learn about environment. As you might heard recently there're two big volcano eruptions in our country. Do you think they can influence the global weather? I've read in a journal that Krakatoa and Tambora eruptions in 19th century created global wheather changes then. Or the two recent eruptions are not significant enough for global weather? (I'm sorry if my English is not well structured) Yeni

A question by xtanti

Hi xtanti,

Your English is just great! Yes, the gas and soot from erupting volcanoes do influence the climate for short periods of time. The volcanoes erupting in Indonesia right now are not getting the media coverage they deserve. Nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated, airports are closed, and the images of ash covering everything are amazing.

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Mike Gunson, atmospheric chemist and director of the Global Change project at NASA has a better answer:

Can one blast from a volcano affect readings over most of the globe for an extended time?

Overall, volcanoes release about 5 percent of the equivalent amount of CO2 released by humans. Quite small. However, about once every 20 years there is a volcanic eruption (e.g., Mt. Pinatubo, El Chichon) which throws out a tremendous amount of particles and other gases. These will effectively shield us enough from the sun to lead to a period of global cooling. They typically dissipate after about two years, but the effect is nearly global.

That said, I’m not sure where to find the estimates of how these two big volcanoes will affect climate. Climate “forcings” are not my area. Maybe JAXA?



Hi Michael, You have an excellent blog, and what sounds like a really cool job! How did you end up in your field and what sort of advice could you offer to someone interested in your line of work? Thank you!

A question by cardinalpearl

Hi CardinalPearl,

I’ve been meaning to add a background blurb to my FAQs page. I suppose I should do that soon… Basically, I worked for a newspaper in Providence Rhode Island and wanted to be a Pulitzer Prize winning environmental journalist. This was back in the early 2000s. Then, with the rise of the internet, newspapers collapsed and I didn’t see a future in enviro-journalism.  So, I went back to school and got two masters degrees, one in environmental law, the other in urban planning. Both focused on aspects of climate adaptation. I consulted governments during school to pay the bills, wrote and published in climate change journals, and positioned myself basically for the (rather humblamazing) job I have now. A bit more background here, and my Reader Mail tag covers this a little if you’re into digging around

Thanks a lot for your nice note!


Hi, I'd like to know if you've seen the recent floods that have hit the UK/Britain and what your thoughts are. A lot of people are blaming the floods on climate change, and I hope more people will take it seriously now, especially by thinking about who they vote for as a result.

A question by Anonymous

Hi Anon,

I have read about the floods a bit. And I was surprised to read reports like this: “British weather scientists link flooding to climate change/.” Pretty remarkable stance, imo.

Interesting, to me, is: Can the British economy withstand regular flooding events? How will the taxpayers pay for all the clean up, year after year?



I am a man-caused-Climate Change (Global Warming) skeptic. Where should I start looking for evidence?

A question by Anonymous

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the question. Skepticism is the basis of science, so I somewhat* respect your point of view.

Note: I’m an adaptation specialist and I manage parts of USAID’s climate adaptation program in over 25 countries. This means I help governments around the world with policies that deal with inevitable impacts from climate change. Basically, I help with natural disaster planning using a bit of climate science, city planning, and environmental law. So, if a city is going to flood, I help a government plan to prevent the flood. If a country’s farming economy is going crash due to drought, I help the government shape a response to prevent crop losses. See what I do, here. Thus, I do not work on carbon or energy policy. I am not an activist. I do not advocate for emissions policies. I’m about as interested in “preventing climate change” as I am interested in becoming the next Dali Lama. That said, this is a very rare instance where I answer a question about carbon, GHGs, and energy. Ok, on to anon’s nice question:

The short answer, anon, is to go here, and probably here. The long (and basic) answer is that you have to contemplate the reason why the earth is warm (vs, say, the moon). The reason is that greenhouse gases (GHGs, e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, etc.) hold a good amount of the sun’s radiation, thus keeping the earth nice and cozy.

Without these gases, the earth would be like the moon - a dead rock that’s freezing and boiling at the same time: +253F (+123C) during the day; -387F (-233C) at night.

There is no disputing this (deniers [unwittingly] admit this when they make arguments about cycles). When there are more gases in the atmosphere, more of the sun’s radiation is held within the atmosphere, creating a warming effect (and very strange changes in weather events).

The vast majority of climate denial arguments have been debunked years ago. For example, here’s a list of common arguments still used today, but answered back in 2004.

In sum, your starting point is: Why is the earth warm? It’s warm due to GHGs in the atmosphere. And humans are adding a never before seen amount of carbon into the atmosphere, which in turn will wreak unbelievable havoc. Deniers bear the rather obscene burden of showing that GHGs do not keep the earth warm, and that increases in carbon do not influence climate. 

I hope those links above help.

All the best,


*A legitimate skeptic applies critical thinking to systematically pick apart arguments. Skeptics do this by analyzing evidence. No one disagrees that GHGs cause warming (even all oil companies on earth admit this, and are searching for solutions to lower GHG emissions). The burden is on you and other deniers to show that greenhouse gases do not influence the earth’s atmosphere. Frankly, in my opinion, this is a rather boring subject. The more interesting subject is that deniers actually do not comprehend their own arguments. In fact, they’re really arguing against *the solutions* to reducing or preventing climate change, which are to raise the costs of fuels and not pay for environmental harm. This gets into societal ethics, personal responsibility, and market capitalism, which are far more (well, marginally) interesting topics.

Aaaaand here we go again… Next week’s forecast…

Connecting the Dots: Adaptation + Mitigation Synergies
Winter Storms and Climate Change, in English

There are few good explanations of how strong winter storms can exist in a warming world. Most explanations, I find, take a defensive posture against climate deniers. I think science writers should just stick to the science, and move away from addressing deniers. Or at least stop weaving denial into articles. The main points get buried, the author looks defensive, and the reader is left exasperated. Climate Communication has a pretty darn good explanation of how winter storms work, and why they could be getting stronger. They stick to the science, and avoid the fray.

Winter Storms

Climate change is fueling an increase in the intensity and snowfall of winter storms. The atmosphere now holds more moisture, and that in turns drives heavier than normal precipitation, including heavier snowfall in the appropriate conditions.1

Heavy snowfall and snowstorm frequency have increased in many northern parts of the United States.2 The heavier-than-normal snowfalls recently observed in the Midwest and Northeast United States are consistent with climate model projections. In contrast, the South and lower Midwest saw reduced snowstorm frequency during the last century.3 Overall snow cover has decreased in the Northern Hemisphere, due in part to higher temperatures that shorten the time snow spends on the ground.

Snowstorms Shift Northward in the Northern Hemisphere

The regional pattern of fewer snowstorms in the southern United States and more in the North corresponds to a similar northward shift of cold-season storms in the entire Northern Hemisphere over the past 50 years. Mid-latitude storms have decreased in frequency (e.g., in the United States overall) while high-latitude storm activity has increased (e.g., in Canada).4 It is likely that human influence contributed to these changes.5

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