Climate Adaptation

CLIMATE ADAPTATION

I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.


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What is your personal opinion on The Nature Conservancy? Seems like an ideal environmental non-profit to work for.

A question by Anonymous

Hey Anon,

TNC has a great reputation. They have high-turn over though, so they act more as a stepping stone for experienced and mid-level environmental careerists (any readers at TNC? Is this perspective accurate??). I’m also not clear on how successful they are at meeting their mission or campaign goals - though I’m sure this information is readily available on their website.

Cheers,

Michael

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.

View image on Twitter

Image via.

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?

Best,

Michael

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!

Michael

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,

Michael


*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.

Not sure if this is something up your alley that you've ever had experienced with or even think positively of, but I was looking for websites and places that allow you to "buy an acre of the rainforest", save trees etc etc. Do you know of any trustworthy and respectable organizations that foster something like this?

A question by Anonymous

Hi anon,

Interesting question and I’m embarrassed I don’t completely know the answer. I’d investigate conservation land trusts that work internationally - stick to organizations that conserve and protect land in a variety of contexts, not just rainforests. World Land Trust looks excellent, but honestly I do not know this organization. The Nature Conservancy has a rainforest program, but knowing what I know about the NC, there are organizations who would use your donation much more effectively.

I am biased toward smaller, leaner, non-profits with a clear mission and a long track record.

My favorite charity/org is the Turtle Survival Alliance. It’s a small organization with very big impact. They help conserve and protect land for turtles, influence conservation policy, help stop illegal turtle trading, and they have a phenomenal turtle breeding program.

You may want to consider The Smile Train (have a tissue nearby) or Doctors Without Borders.

Follow up with me, I’m curious what you decide…

Michael

We're hiring!

I work for a government contractor. We service USAID, mostly in the environment, energy, and agriculture sectors. Work is international, and you have to have donor experience. Most positions are senior, but some are mid to junior. Good salaries, good people.

Let me know if you apply so I can put in the good word!

Home office positions:

2014-6416   BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, EEM 

2014-5995   COMMUNICATIONS AND ONLINE EVENTS SPECIALIST

2014-6170   INFORMATION UNIT MANAGER (GIS RELATED)

2015-6112   ASSOCIATE, COMMUNICATIONS

2014-6114   PRACTICE AREA TEAM LEADER - AGRICULTURAL ENTERPRISE AND FOOD SECURITY

2013-5400   SENIOR ASSOCIATE - AGRICULTURE VALUE CHAINS, ENR           

2013-4481  SENIOR MANAGER, AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY             

2013-5268  MANAGER, CLEAN ENERGY EXPERT       

2013-3972  ENERGY CONSULTANT

 

Project based openings:

2014-5838  COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST/WRITER, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION, LEARNING AND OUTREACH PROJECT (ECO)

2013-5647  ELECTRICAL LINEMAN TRAINING SPECIALIST PAKISTAN PDP       PK-Islamabad

2013-5643  ENGINEERING DEPUTY TEAM LEAD PAKISTAN PDP          PK-Islamabad

2013-5621  SENIOR ADVISOR, TRAINING AND CAPACITY BUILDING                PK-Islamabad

2013-5261  WATER SERVICES & TECHNICAL PERFORMANCE TEAM LEADER  JO-Amman

 

Positions for proposals (looking for candidates to bid):

2014-5840  CHIEF OF PARTY, TIMOR LESTE

2014-5983  PAKISTAN AGRICULTURE SENIOR TECHNICAL EXPERT

2014-5837  MONITORING AND EVALUATION COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, Rwanda

2013-5417  EVALUATION TEAM LEADER - PPL/LER   KG-Bishkek

2013-5033  JORDAN TOURISM - CHIEF OF PARTY (COP)        JO-*City Not Listed

2013-4597  CHIEF OF PARTY/DEPUTY CHIEF OF PARTY SOUTH SUDAN AGRICULTURE PROJECT           SD-Juba

2013-4601  EAST AFRICA AGRICULTURE TECHNICAL EXPERTS             SD-Juba

2013-4609  ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING AND KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT ADVISOR         US-IA-Undisclosed

2013-3962   PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER               US-DC-Washington

2013-3964   GRANTS/AGREEMENT SUPERVISOR       US-DC-Washington

2013-3965   DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNANCE/CIVIL MILITARY AFFAIRS EXPERTS      

How did they know the global average temperature in 1880? -a curious science follower

A question by Anonymous

Hey anon,

Great question! Simplest answer: thermometers. Simple instruments such as thermometers and barometers have been used for centuries. Governments began to collect data from these instruments beginning in the early 1700s. (There are early data sets, but these focused on local or route specific locations rather than globally. For example, shipping companies collected ocean temperatures during the 1600s along specific routes to report conditions to insurance companies.).

The old-school instruments were placed in locations all around the world (locations ranged from trees, church steeples and clocks, tall poles, cliff faces, to just stuck in the ground). Governments collected the temperatures typically for military, farming, and shipping purposes.

The U.S. Weather Bureau, established in 1735, was sporadically managed by a few individual states (rather than the Federal Government). The bureau collected local information - not global.

In 1814, the U.S. Federal Government established the U.S.’s first nation wide weather service. Army doctors and ‘war’ hospitals were instructed to keep diaries of local weather. But, again, this was not a global system.

In 1870, President Ulysses Grant established the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS):

The beginning of the National Weather Service we know today started on February 9th, 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. This resolution required the Secretary of War:

to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms

After much thought and consideration, it was decided that this agency would be placed under the Secretary of War because military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations. Via NOAA

The NWS worked internationally. It collected data from its own instruments, and also from data shared by other countries, such as Denmark, France, India, and the U.K.

The NWS’s information was collected over time, and digitized into big data sets. These sets are used today!

The chart below shows temperature data over 1,000 years. (NOTE: This chart is from wikipedia entry “Temperature record of the past 1,000 years." I do not endorse this chart. I’m posting for illustrative purposes to help answer anon’s question about records from 1880).

Note the black line (far right). It shows collected instrument data from 1850 to 2004. Data prior to 1850 is collected by climate proxies.

image

Finally, if you’re interested, you can read about the weather data sets collected in the 1850s. This paper, Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850, covers the history of that data, as well as issues with using it in modern climate models.

Hope that helps!

Cheers!

Michael

Do you know of key journal articles, open access or not, for getting a science inclined person acquainted with the climate change response field? i.e. not focused on super technical details but also not hand waving?

A question by unstable-equilibria

Hi unstable-equilibria!

Sorry for the epic delay and happy 2014! Go with these three:

  1. RealClimate.org. Bookmark and read often. It’s written by some of the top climate scientists in the world, and there is nearly zero hand-waving or advocacy. Just the facts.
  2. IPCC Fifth Assessment. Hands down the best climate science on the planet.
  3. U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Little known, the USGCRP is the US government’s climate science program. It’s was established by law in 1990. They publish tons of climate science that’s easy to read. Their reports contain great bibliographies, too.

These are the best of the best. There are a ton of rabbit holes to get lost in on the above sites, so I advise taking a gentle-but-steady approach - focus on reading one report per month rather than click click clicking your way around… 

Keep in touch and let me know how it goes over the next year…

Michael

Do you think this new EO will have an effect on green energy funding? Could we see another wind energy boom like the one back at the beginning of Obama's first term?

A question by impulsivefarmer

Hey impulsivefarmer!

Thanks for following me all this time. Honestly, I don’t know. The new EO is mostly focused on infrastructure and disaster preparedness. Things like how the Federal Government can help communities better prepare for inevitable climate impacts that will occur, such as wild fires, health impacts, coastal erosion, economic resilience. Things like that. 

So, this particular Executive Order is focused on adaptation and resilience for cities, and doesn’t really focus on prevention. In fact, there’s a package of resilience actions that the President has taken published right on the White House website: “Climate Change Resilience | The White House”.

I don’t focus on prevention, so I’ll have to direct you to Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which has several energy initiatives that might interest you.

Cheers!

Michael

Hi! I'm a Science of Economics major hoping to eventually specialize in environmental economics and I was wondering if there were any major books/courses you'd recommend looking into? I'm already taking Enviro econ, Enviro Law, Enviro Policy (separate classes where I am), and some public policy classes before I graduate.

A question by westerosbaptistjerks

Hey spiritsintheclocktower!

Thanks for the question. Check out my climate book list, here. Highest book recommendation is definitely Merchants of Doubt.

Looks like you’re taking some pretty serious classes. I’d round that list out with some history of architecture, drawing, advanced writing, and maybe a class focused on one of the great philosophers, like Plato (these will serve you through life, I assure you!).

Cheers!

Michael

Hi! Denser city living now seems to be the best solution for the billions of people added to the earth. But many prefer to live in big houses in the suburbs (than in tiny apartments), and would rather drive long distances to their workplace (than experience overcrowding on public transports). What do you propose would be the best way in encouraging both denser city living whilst having good neighbourhood satisfaction? Thanks

A question by lin-deng

Hi hello-linny!

This is incredibly complicated and I’m not really going to answer your question directly. There are a variety of design and urban planning techniques to help cities be more dense while being more livable. Form Based Code, Smart Growth, sustainable planning, etc., are very common, easily replicable, and very flexible solutions to this.

The problem with these solutions are that people are not staying in one place for very long. This trend of people moving to cities will slow a bit, and cities can adapt and absorb the influxes.

The real question, to my mind, is how to make them stay? These new people rarely participate in local government. They rarely stay or invest in a place, typically using the city as a catalyst to elevate their socioeconomic standing.

This is fine, but cities will suffer in the next demographic swing. As it stands, most cities are planning for the next 10-20 years using a stable or growing tax base. This is just not true. Tax receipts will not continue to grow, they’ll be more volatile, creating deeper dips and higher spikes in local economies.

Tax receipts, which are used for things like water, health, education, environment, security, business development, and transportation, will (probably) implode.

Detroit (or the entire country of Japan) is a good example of this. Both based their planning goals on false demographics.

So, while most cities are scrambling to provide design solutions, they really should be pivoting towards investing in the people. How? Diversity in education systems. Having a strong public school system is great, creating a system that includes charter, specialty, religious schooling options is even better. Assisting people with their health care options should include increased focus on mental health. Study after study has shown that when people improve their mental health, their physical health and relationships with communities greatly improves. Investment in parks, environmental quality, and conservation areas consistently (in nearly every country) show economic and health resiliency.

Here’s a sweet little report discussing some of these solutions: Demographic change in European cities: City practices for active inclusion.

There are tons of other things, like creating a Happiness Index, which measures how happy people are in the current situations. If there are dips and swings to this index, government can nudge the bar in one direction or the other.

Thanks for the interesting question!

Michael

In an ideal world, what would you ask at the UN meetings to happen in terms of mitigation and adaptation, if you could implement absolutely anything?

A question by Anonymous

Hey anon,

You’re referring to the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change “Conference of the Parties.” This year will mark the 19th COP, this one to be held in Poland in November. If I recall, the “Parties” comprise of 192 countries (of the world’s 194), and each voluntarily signed on to meet every year to discuss solutions to climate change impacts.

So, at these COP meetings, countries negotiate what to do about climate change. The Kyoto Protocol - a voluntary treaty to lower emissions - is one example of a collective solution.

I think at the COP19, the “Parties” will vote to either continue or alter the Kyoto Protocol.

Ideally I’d like for decision at future COPs to be legally enforceable. As it stands, decisions and actions are voluntary. If a country pledges to lower emissions or invest in adaptation projects, they have no actual, legally enforceable obligation to carry out their promises.

This happens all the time. For example, at the COP15 held in Copenhagen in 2009, countries agreed to a laundry list of provisions, called the Copenhagen Accord. One major pledge was for countries to donate $100 billion USD per year to the Adaptation Fund, which would help poor countries with natural disaster planning.

It didn’t happen.

So, a legally enforceable mechanism would be a significant improvement over volunteering. Penalties, enforcement, and the governing body of law would be hashed out by the parties.

The second thing is a greater focus on the climate impacts on the disadvantaged, such as children, women, and the elderly. The UNFCCC COP has a group dedicated to resolving gender and health issues, but this group is weak, underfunded, and sort of an add-on.

So, this needs to be flipped around - gender and health issues should be at the center of the COP, and the rest of the negotiations aim to support and resolve those issues.

Cheers,

m