Changing Seasons, Climates: On Hurricanes, Wildfires, Disease, NOAA’s Arctic Report Card and What’s Good for the Goose…

Mid-October and fall is in full swing here in Chicago. With the last 80 degree day behind us and first frost just ahead, it’s a speed up to a slow down. Leaves blush and blow away. Birds fly off. Even earthworms wriggle to cozy safe havens beneath the frost line. It’s migrate, hibernate or pull out the Polartec.

As perfectly seasonal as it all seems, 10,000 years ago – a blink in geologic time – my neck of woods was under a mile of ice. No leaves, or birds, and certainly no earthworms. The “seasons” were cold and colder. It took a warming world to melt the ice, which left behind the puddles of the Great Lakes and land that is still springing back from a glacial grip so many millennia later.

These sorts of changes are supposed to take thousands, or at least hundreds, of years. But according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) latest Arctic Report Card, they’re happening in Greenland at a breathtaking pace right now. In 2007, Greenland’s ice sheet “lost at least 100 cubic km (24 cubic miles) of ice, making it one of the largest single contributors to global sea level rise.” Autumn temperatures are up about 5 degrees Celsius (~9 degrees Fahrenheit). Greenland is turning…green.

“Sea Ice 2008,” NASA

Half of the six categories NOAA tracks – “Greenland,” “Sea Ice” and “Atmosphere” – are rated code red, indicating climate change plays the dominant role. The other three categories – “Biology,” “Ocean” and “Land” – are code yellow, meaning other factors, including natural seasonal variations, are also at work.


Climate change has quickly emerged as a major them on TrackerNews, with several recent links to research on climate as a driver of hurricanes, wildfires and disease spread. Bottom line: Brace for more and worse of all the above.

Now, ironically, frozen global credit markets may thwart efforts to cool the planet down.

The global downturn could scupper plans for a landmark “son of Kyoto” deal to combat climate change, green campaigners have warned.

The warning came after the European Union’s ambitious plans to combat climate change were left in disarray at the close of its summit in Brussels yesterday. Some member states are calling for the programme to be watered down on the grounds that it cannot be afforded in a downturn.

Sharp divisions over whether or not the EU’s flagship goal to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 can be afforded in a downturn forced the Brussels summit to put off a decision on a route map for achieving it.

(read full article from the London Independent)

But cutting carbon emissions isn’t a luxury. Not doing anything comes at a price, too. Insurance giant Munich Re’s cost estimate for natural disasters during first half of 2008 was US$50 billion. That included the tally for the earthquake in China – a climate-neutral catastrophe – but missed the hurricane season. Fully 75% of the 400 disasters analyzed through June were weather-related.

Figuring a cost of US$100 billion per year (a conservative estimate), inaction is the equivalent of a Congressional Bail-out Bill every seven years. (For more on costs, see “Humanitarian Implications of Climate Change: Mapping emerging trends and risk hotspots,” a report released last August by CARE International, UNOCHA and Maplecroft)


The news from NOAA isn’t completely bleak…if you happen to be a goose. Expanding habitat, along with fewer hunters and wild predators, has helped the global goose population nearly double to just over 21 million over the last ten years. Even here, though, news is mixed. About a third of Arctic goose populations are actually in decline.

But the flocks in Chicago certainly look happy enough. They honk and streak across brilliant fall skies in V formations, like Nature’s own computer cursors pointing south. If only the rest of us could adapt as easily.

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