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Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream

On the is an image of the global circulation pattern on a normal day. On the right is the image of the global circulation pattern when extreme weather occurs. The pattern on the right shows extreme patterns of wind speeds going north and south, while the normal pattern on the left shows moderate speed winds in both the north and south directions. Credit: Michael Mann, Penn State

On the is an image of the global circulation pattern on a normal day. On the right is the image of the global circulation pattern when extreme weather occurs. The pattern on the right shows extreme patterns of wind speeds going north and south, while the normal pattern on the left shows moderate speed winds in both the north and south directions. Credit: Michael Mann, Penn State

Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain—extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream.

https://phys.org/news/2017-03-extreme-weather-events-linked-climate.html

“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events,” said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. “Short of actually identifying the events in the climate models.”

The unusual weather events that piqued the researchers’ interest are things such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heatwave, the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave and drought and the 2015 California wildfires.

The researchers looked at a combination of roughly 50 climate models from around the world that are part of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), which is part of the World Climate Research Programme. These models are run using specific scenarios and producing simulated data that can be evaluated across the different models. However, while the models are useful for examining large-scale climate patterns and how they are likely to evolve over time, they cannot be relied on for an accurate depiction of extreme weather events. That is where actual observations prove critical.

The researchers looked at the historical atmospheric observations to document the conditions under which extreme weather patterns form and persist. These conditions occur when the jet stream, a global atmospheric wave of air that encompasses the Earth, becomes stationary and the peaks and troughs remain locked in place.

“Most stationary jet stream disturbances, however, will dissipate over time,” said Mann. “Under certain circumstances the wave disturbance is effectively constrained by an atmospheric wave guide, something similar to the way a coaxial cable guides a television signal. Disturbances then cannot easily dissipate, and very large amplitude swings in the jet stream north and south can remain in place as it rounds the globe.”

This constrained configuration of the jet stream is like a rollercoaster with high peaks and valleys, but only forms when there are six, seven or eight pairs of peaks and valleys surrounding the globe. The jet stream can then behave as if there is a waveguide—uncrossable barriers in the north and south—and a wave with large peaks and valleys can occur.

“If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.

The structure of the jet stream relates to its latitude and the temperature gradient from north to south.

Temperatures typically have the steepest gradients in mid-latitudes and a strong circumpolar jet stream arises. However, when these temperature gradients decrease in just the right way, a weakened “double peak” jet stream arises with the strongest jet stream winds located to the north and south of the mid-latitudes.

“The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here,” said Mann. “The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions.”

Theoretically, standing jet stream waves with large amplitude north/south undulations should cause unusual weather events.

“We don’t trust climate models yet to predict specific episodes of extreme weather because the models are too coarse,” said study co-author Dim Coumou of PIK.

“However, the models do faithfully reproduce large scale patterns of temperature change,” added co-author Kai Kornhuber of PIK.

The researchers looked at real-world observations and confirmed that this temperature pattern does correspond with the double-peaked jet stream and waveguide patter associated with persistent extreme weather events in the late spring and summer such as droughts, floods and heat waves. They found the pattern has become more prominent in both observations and climate model simulations.

“Using the simulations, we demonstrate that rising greenhouse gases are responsible for the increase,” said Mann. The researchers noted in today’s (Mar. 27) issue of Scientific Reports that “Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability.”

“We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events,” said Mann.

While the models do not reliably track individual extreme weather events, they do reproduce the jet stream patterns and temperature scenarios that in the real world lead to torrential rain for days, weeks of broiling sun and absence of precipitation.

“Currently we have only looked at historical simulations,” said Mann. “What’s up next is to examine the model projections of the future and see what they imply about what might be in store as far as further increases in extreme weather are concerned.”

 

Weather extremes: Humans likely influence giant airstreams

The increase of devastating weather extremes in summer is likely linked to human-made climate change, mounting evidence shows. Giant airstreams are circling the Earth, waving up and down between the Arctic and the tropics.

These planetary waves transport heat and moisture. When these planetary waves stall, droughts or floods can occur. Warming caused by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels creates favorable conditions for such events, an international team of scientists now finds.

“The unprecedented 2016 California drought, the 2011 U.S. heatwave and 2010 Pakistan flood, as well as the 2003 European hot spell all belong to a most worrying series of extremes,” says Michael Mann from the Pennsylvania State University in the U.S., lead author of the study published in Scientific Reports.

“The increased incidence of these events exceeds what we would expect from the direct effects of global warming alone, so there must be an additional climate change effect. In data from computer simulations as well as observations, we identify changes that favor unusually persistent, extreme meanders of the jet stream that support such extreme weather events. Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity.”

How sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave

“If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, or lasting rains can lead to flooding,” explains co-author Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany. “This occurs under specific conditions that favor what we call a quasi-resonant amplification that makes the north-south undulations of the jet stream grow very large. It also makes theses waves grind to a halt rather than moving from west to east. Identifying the human fingerprint on this process is advanced forensics.”

Air movements are largely driven by temperature differences between the Equator and the Poles. Since the Arctic is more rapidly warming than other regions, this temperature difference is decreasing. Also, land masses are warming more rapidly than the oceans, especially in summer. Both changes have an impact on those global air movements. This includes the giant airstreams that are called planetary waves because they circle Earth’s Northern hemisphere in huge turns between the tropics and the Arctic. The scientists detected a specific surface temperature distribution apparent during the episodes when the planetary waves eastward movement has been stalling, as
seen in satellite data.

Using temperature measurements since 1870 to confirm findings in satellite data

“Good satellite data exists only for a relatively short time—too short to robustly conclude how the stalling events have been changing over time. In contrast, high-quality temperature measurements are available since the 1870s, so we use this to reconstruct the changes over time,” says co-author Kai Kornhuber, also from PIK. “We looked into dozens of different climate models—computer simulations called CMIP5 of this past period—as well as into observation data, and it turns out that the temperature distribution favoring planetary wave airstream stalling increased in almost 70 percent of the simulations since the start of the industrial age.”

Interestingly, most of the effect occurred in the past four decades. “The more frequent persistent and meandering Jet stream states seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which makes it even more relevant,” says co-author Dim Coumou from the Department of Water and Climate Risk at VU University in Amsterdam (Netherlands). “We certainly need to further investigate this—there is some good evidence, but also many open questions. In any case, such nonlinear responses of the Earth system to human-made warming should be avoided. We can limit the risks associated with increases in weather extremes if we limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

More information: Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller, Dim Coumou (2017): Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events.

Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep45242 , http://www.nature.com/articles/srep45242

Donald Trump will scrap Barack Obama’s plan to halt global warming, reveals EPA chief Scott Pruitt

Activists have vowed to fight the president’s new order

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-barack-obama-global-warming-plan-undo-epa-scott-pruitt-paris-talks-environment-a7652386.html

Environmentalists have denounced a plan by Donald Trump – who has said climate change is a hoax – to sign an executive order that will take apart his predecessor’s efforts to try and slow the warming of the planet.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, said the order will undo Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an environmental regulation that restricted greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The 2015 regulation has been on hold since last year while a federal court hears an appeal filed by Republican-controlled states and more than 100 companies.

Over the weekend, Mr Pruitt said Mr Trump’s plan would help create jobs and lower the cost of electricity.

“We’ve penalised ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally,” he told ABC News.

But environmentalists have condemned the proposal, saying the move will not only undo more than an a decade of fighting climate change, but will also not provide the sort of jobs Mr Trump has said he will create.

“Trump’s trying to undo more than a decade of progress in fighting climate change and protecting public health,” said David Doniger, director

“But nobody voted to abandon America’s leadership in climate action and the clean-energy revolution. This radical retreat will meet a great wall of opposition.”

Bloomberg News said Mr Trump’s plan involved some measures that would be undertaken immediately and said that could take years to be completed.

The order will compel federal agencies to quickly identify any actions that could burden the production or use of domestic energy resources, including nuclear power, and then work to suspend, revise or rescind the policies unless they are legally mandated, it said.

UK landmarks join big switch-off for Earth Hour

People are being urged to join UK landmarks and famous sites around the world as they switch off their lights for an hour on Saturday night to back action on climate change.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/uk-landmarks-join-big-switchoff-for-earth-hour-35564205.html

Despite the terror attack in Westminster on Wednesday, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are joining more than 270 landmarks across the UK in switching off the lights for conservation charity WWF’s Earth Hour.

Buckingham Palace, Blackpool Tower, Brighton Pier, the Senedd Building in Cardiff, the Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk and Edinburgh Castle are among those also taking part.

Starting in Samoa and ending 24 hours later in The Cook Islands, people in 184 countries will send a message calling for action to protect the planet by tackling climate change, WWF said.

Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, New York’s Empire State Building, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the Egyptian Pyramids and Tokyo Tower will be switching off the lights during their Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.

Members of the public are also being encouraged to take part by switching off their lights for the hour.

Colin Butfield, director of campaigns at WWF, said: “Today, hundreds of millions of people will be showing global unity on climate change during Earth Hour. Climate change is impacting us here and now.

“We are seeing it across the globe, from the Great Barrier Reef suffering mass bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row, to more severe weather in Britain.

“Following the tragic events in London earlier this week, we are inspired and grateful to hear that the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben will be switching off their lights to show support for global action on climate change.”

He added: “Earth Hour is the world’s biggest climate change event. All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour to join hundreds of millions around the world to send a clear signal that we must act and we must act now.”

As well as the big switch off, people are kicking off Earth Hour in various ways including a pedal-powered cinema night arranged by Exeter University students on Gylly beach and a musical display at the Senedd.

Causeway Bay has worst air in Hong Kong, statistics show

District exceeded the WHO’s limit on the concentration of small particulates in the air on 227 days of 2016

http://www.atimes.com/article/causeway-bay-worst-air-hong-kong-statistics-show/

Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island, had the poorest air in the city in 2016, followed by Tuen Mun in the New Territories West and Mong Kok in Kowloon, according to chief of the city’s Environment Bureau, citing from analyses by the Environmental Protection Department.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a written reply to the Legislative Council on Wednesday regarding concern over high-level air pollution in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines state that the concentration of small particulates PM2.5 over a 24-hour period should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

In 2016, Causeway Bay exceeded the limit on 227 days of the year, while for Tuen Mun and Mong Kok the numbers were 173 days and 171 days respectively. Other locations in Hong Kong monitored by the government averaged 100 days.

Pollution from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province and tropical cyclones are often blamed for Hong Kong’s poor air quality.

Over 80% of high pollution days were said to be caused by the downdraught effect of tropical cyclones, which results in the accumulation of ozone and fine suspended particulates in the Pearl River Delta. Wong explained that the pollutants are then brought to the city by westerly or northwesterly winds.

How supercomputing power is helping with anti-pollution plans like city-wide car bans

A modeling tool developed at Barcelona’s Supercomputing Center is busy predicting levels of atmospheric pollutants in Spain, Europe, and now Mexico.

http://www.zdnet.com/article/how-supercomputing-power-is-helping-with-anti-pollution-plans-like-city-wide-car-bans/

Caliope runs on Spain's most powerful supercomputer, the MareNostrum in the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

Caliope runs on Spain’s most powerful supercomputer, the MareNostrum in the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

In about 80 percent of the cities around the world, air pollution exceeds safe levels, according to the World Health Organization, which also says about 92 percent of citizens live in these polluted areas. By far the biggest culprit for the air pollution is traffic.

Named after the Greek goddess of eloquence and the muse of epic poetry, the Calliope air-quality forecast system in Spain can determine levels of the main atmospheric pollutants, such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and airborne particles. It provides air-quality forecasts for Europe down to the square kilometer and by the hour.

To be able to achieve those levels of detail, it brings together several systems. These include the Hermes emission model, the WRF-ARW meteorological model, the BSC-Dream8b model, and the CMAQ chemical transport model, all running together on Spain’s most powerful supercomputer, the MareNostrum in the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, whose Earth Sciences Department developed the modeling tool.

To generate a set of predictions covering 48 hours, Caliope needs to run the software on about 300 CPUs for six hours.

Using this computational power, researchers are able to alert authorities to upcoming peaks in pollution. Caliope’s predictions are not only crucial in supporting decisions about improving air quality but also help develop simulations to assess the impact on cities of certain measures, such as restricting traffic at times of high health risk.

But there is inevitably an element of uncertainty “because the atmosphere is chaotic and because predictions are not perfect”, says professor Carlos Pérez Garcia-Pando, head of the Atmospheric Composition at BSC Group.

So a big part of his job is to educate authorities on “the capacities of the model and its usefulness”, so that administrations can inform citizens and weigh up what measures to take. What measures might be the most effective is a different question.

At Smart City Expo World Congress, held in Barcelona last November, a representative from the Greater London Authority confessed that the congestion charge to limit the number of cars coming to the city hasn’t worked.

Paris and Madrid are also restricting traffic when a grey veil of dirty air blurs their skylines, because high levels of pollutants can cause asthma, allergies, and circulatory and respiratory diseases.

Pérez García-Pando, whose research focuses on understanding the physical and chemical processes controlling atmospheric aerosols, and evaluating their effects on climate, ocean biogeochemistry, air quality and health, is convinced that solutions need to be “technical and not ideological”.

Although he acknowledges that solutions inevitably come from process of a trial and error, he says precise data is crucial. This is why he and his team are working on improving the accuracy of Caliope’s predictions down to the street level in Barcelona.

The Catalan government is discussing using Caliope in the Catalan region, in collaboration with Catalan meteorology service Meteocat and the Barcelona City Council. The main goal is getting data on the impact of certain measures to see whether it is possible to make decisions about restricting traffic, similar to those taken in Paris and Madrid.

The European Commission recently sent final warnings to Spain to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, especially in Madrid and Barcelona.

Meanwhile, the Environment Secretariat of the Government of Mexico City, SEDEMA, announced that it is adopted Caliope to predict air quality in the Mexican capital and evaluate measures to reduce pollution levels.

The system, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is also providing services to small private initiatives, and is available via web and an app for iPhone and Android.

It has the potential to improve its performance when BSC’s MareNostrum supercomputer increases its computational power 12-fold to achieve 13.7 petaflops during the first trimester of 2017.

Waste disposal charge will cost a typical Hong Kong family HK$51 a month

Environment minister reveals range of fees intended to meet target of a 40 per cent reduction in household waste by 2022

Hong Kong’s households will have to shell out around HK$33 to HK$51 a month to dispose of their rubbish when a long-awaited quantity-based charging scheme designed to change behaviour and reduce waste comes into force in two years.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said on Monday that charges for municipal solid waste – rubbish generated from homes, offices, factories and restaurants, a third of which comes from kitchens – would be imposed on all sectors in one go for the sake of fairness and in line with the “polluter pays” principle.

“Quantity-based waste charging aims to create financial incentives to drive behavioural changes in waste generation,” Wong said. “The biggest aim is to reduce overall waste disposal, not to increase government revenues.”

Residential buildings, village houses and street-level shops that use government refuse collection services will be required to buy one of nine types of rubbish bags of varying size, priced at an average 11 cents per litre. The charge will be 30 cents for the smallest, 3-litre bag, while the biggest 100-litre bag will cost HK$11.

A three-person household opting for the standard 15-litre bag – roughly the same size as a supermarket plastic bag – will pay about HK$1.70 a time, running a tab of about HK$51 per month. It will cost HK$1.10,or HK$33 per month, for 10-litre bags.

Oversized items that cannot fit into any of the nine designated bags must be tagged with a label that costs HK$11 for disposal.

Sold in packs of 10, the bags will be available at 4,000 sales points, including convenience stores, post offices, petrol stations and special vending machines.

Commercial and industrial buildings using private collection services will pay a landfill “gate fee”, based on the weight of the rubbish they produce. The tip fees will be set between HK$365 and HK$395 per tonne.

Details of the charging scheme were revealed by the Environmental Protection Department on Monday after years of public engagement. A bill will be tabled at the Legislative Council before the summer and, following its passage, the public will be given 12 to 18 months to prepare for the charging scheme. Full implementation is expected in the second half of 2019.

The average Hongkonger throws out about 1.39kg of household waste per day. A target was set in 2014 to slash that figure by 40 per cent by 2022. Wong said the city’s municipal solid waste had increased by over 80 per cent over the past 30 years, far outpacing the population growth of 34 per cent.

He said the government would step up enforcement at refuse collection stations and bin sites. Legislation could also empower public officers to carry out enforcement and spot checks within common areas of private residential estates.

waste-price

Fixed penalties for non-compliance have been set at HK$1,500.

Wong said the charges – which will be in place for three years – were “acceptable” and in line with practices in Taipei City and Seoul, both of which have seen significant waste reduction since levies were introduced.

World Green Organisation policy advocacy manager Angus Wong Chun-yin welcomed the scheme but said the departments involved would need to be clearer about how to divide labour and monitor and carry out enforcement in estates. “It still seems a bit clumsy,” he said.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the charging scheme’s impact would be greater if rates were set higher.

“At this rate, I believe it will be difficult for the government to meet the 2022 waste targets,” he said.

“But as a starting point, we can acquiesce.”

He said the government also needed to consider how property management companies of commercial buildings will divide tip fee costs equitably among tenants.

“What if I produce very little waste, why should I help pay for others? This is something they will need to think about.”
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2080508/11-cents-dump-1-litre-trash-hong-kong-government?_=1490065597228

David Suzuki, climate science’s caustic Dr Doom, rips into consumerism, hails China’s green tech

Japanese-Canadian geneticist offers gloomy prognosis of looming catastrophe, and rubbishes the idea that humanity can innovate its way out of its problems

http://www.scmp.com/print/lifestyle/article/2079813/david-suzuki-climate-sciences-caustic-dr-doom-rips-consumerism-hails

David Suzuki is a force of nature. The Canadian geneticist turned celebrity champion of the environment is operating on severe jet lag, two hours’ sleep and an ever-heightening world-weariness. But he fires off epithets, facts and acerbic quips with a vigour that’s as implausible as the ageless glow of his skin.

“Humans value growth; that’s like cancer cells,” Suzuki, 80, says. We’re overpopulated and live in a finite world but are deluding ourselves that the opposite is true, he says.

“We’re an invasive species,” he adds, forecasting that a Spanish-flu-like epidemic might cut back swelling populations in the near future.

The developing world is a target of his ire for its booming populations, a position he admits is controversial. “We don’t talk about how these populations are growing too fast because we’re told it’s racist to say that.”

Touching down in Hong Kong to deliver a rallying speech at City University that kicks off its inaugural lecture series on sustainability, Suzuki does not mince words on stage nor during interviews, in which he refuses to suffer optimists.

He has a reputation as a fearsome figurehead of Canada’s environmentalists, having, on occasion, responded to detractors in expletives, and proved a slightly scary interviewee. At times, he emanates a grandfatherly warmth; at others, a wry impatience that veers on the grouchy.

“Yeah, humans are just so smart, we’re just so, so smart,” he says, rolling his eyes at the suggestion that humanity might save itself through its own inventiveness. This quality, though marvellous in some respects, is what enabled us to develop in ways that are unsustainable.

“We have the internet, that’ll fix things,” he says sarcastically. He finds effusive optimism of this sort not only deeply distasteful, but also dangerous, as it vindicates inaction in the face of creeping adversity.

That man-made solutions to climate change’s increasingly disastrous impact, by way of geoengineering, or conquering new planets as recently proposed by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, might be just around the corner, are beliefs he calls delusional. The answer lies not in new inventions, but in scaling back big time and pushing for others to do the same.

The solution to our problems goes far beyond paltry gestures such as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, he says, but doesn’t offer any specific suggestions besides a total overhaul of the status quo, and mobilising society to campaign for its rights to clean resources.

“Since I arrived in Hong Kong people keep saying ‘free the market, you gotta free the market’,” Suzuki says, waving his arms flamboyantly. “The market” is a human construct, he adds. It’s not a preternatural force that’s beyond the control of humans – it can be tamed.

Needless to say, Suzuki is no proponent of deregulated capitalism, nor is he hopeful about the future prospects of mankind within the current framework of the global economy. “Corporations don’t give a s*** about us,” he says.

He argues that what’s happened is that we imbue “the market” with an almost transcendental power while relegating the natural world to a position of servitude. This sanctions our plundering of the Earth with ever greater and prospectively more dangerous ingenuity.

On China, he has a nuanced take: “I vowed never to go back because of the air pollution. Now China has invested in green technology because it’s had to – the pollution is killing people. It’s becoming a world leader in green tech.”

On recently elected US President Donald Trump he is far more critical: “We’ve moved from a biocentric point of view to an anthropocentric one. It’s all about me, me, me – and Trump is the cultural expression of that,” he says.

We once respected nature and bowed to its demands. Now we expect it to do our bidding and plunder its resources with an absurd expectation that they are infinite and a grandiose sense of entitlement.

“There’s no limit to what we want,” he says. “You walk down the street and see people in jeans that companies have ripped for them. I think that’s disgusting.”

Suzuki, a Vancouverite and third-generation Japanese-Canadian, rose to prominence as a TV presenter and environmental activist during and after the decades he spent as a research scientist.

His family suffered internment during the second world war, and, in its aftermath, were forced to relocate to the east of the Rocky Mountains after the government sold off their dry-cleaning business.

Suzuki attributes to his parents’ need to scrimp and save his own distaste for the materialist values that flourished after the war.

“My parents taught me not to run after money,” he says.

The fledging scientist earned his PhD in biology from the University of Chicago, and later became professor of a genetics department at the University of British Columbia, specialising in fruit flies.

He went on to host several documentaries, radio and TV shows, among them the internationally popular science programme The Nature of Things, which cemented his place as a household name.

“When I started doing those shows, Canadians were scientifically illiterate,” he recalls. “I had hoped that by helping disseminate information people would get better about making the right decisions.

“I’ve had to alter that belief – now we have the internet and access to so much information, we just read the stuff we want to believe.”

In the late 1970s, during the shooting of The Nature of Things, he interviewed the indigenous people of the Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia about protests they were holding against the cutting down of their forest.

These encounters proved life-changing for Suzuki, who has since campaigned tirelessly for the rights of indigenous cultures and has been adopted into one tribe.

“I’ve been welcomed into the eagle tribe – I’m an eagle,” he says. His adoptive tribe sees men and animals as one and the same, an idea Suzuki says is supported by recent research showing that humans and animals share many chromosomes.

He believes they are among the only societies who live sustainably, within their means and with respect for the natural world. He says science now backs many of their conceptions of man’s place in the world as part of an interconnected matrix.

With 55 books under his belt, a foundation in his name, and environmental campaign work spanning decades, Suzuki admits he’s exhausted, angry and prone to moments of despondency.

He has been a particularly active force when it comes to debunking climate deniers and the industry lobby groups that support them. “Companies that put their own profit over the survival of the planet – that’s evil.”

The past year has been a particularly bad one for his ilk. Deadline upon deadline set by climatologists and transnational alliances to offset climate change’s increasingly palpable impact have been flouted.

And what has emerged is an increasingly polarised world, unverifiable information chaos and a climate change denier at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation.

Suzuki remembers the evening of last year’s US elections. A party with his wife and friends in Massachusetts had disbanded early when the results became apparent. “I left that night worried that some of my friends might kill themselves,” he says.

A few weeks later he would find himself reading a particularly dismal report from an environmentalist’s research project that forecast climatological doom in our near future owing to methane being released from the Arctic as the permafrost thaws.

“I couldn’t move for a week after I read that,” he says. “My grandchildren have a very uncertain future.”

A family man with five children – three from his first marriage – he admits that for a proponent of population control his ecological footprint isn’t the most admirable.

“You have one kid, and you think, this is great, let’s have another,” he says. “And grandchildren are even better.”

His daughter, Severn, is like her father. At the age of 12, she travelled to Rio to give a speech at the summit and has since followed in her father’s footsteps by becoming a prominent environmental activist. When Suzuki needs to escape he retreats to the Haida Gwaii reservation, where Severn now lives with her husband and two sons.

“My grandchildren keep me from despair,” he says. “My grandchildren are what keep me fighting. Because we’ve got to keep fighting, otherwise – what’s the point?”

Arctic sea ice, Eurasia snow, and extreme winter haze in China

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Our Cataclysmic Planet

How mass extinctions inform our understanding of human-caused climate change

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/clams-totally-have-it-figured-out/519432/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-daily-031517

If you could have been there, somewhere in Siberia at the end of the Paleozoic Era nearly 252 million years ago, you would have witnessed an apocalyptic horror that rarely visits our planet.

Also, I mean, you would have been doomed. Almost certainly. It was a bad scene. Mass extinction is a real shitshow.

But let’s say, somehow, you could have watched this madness unfold—without succumbing to the monstrous cloud of carbon dioxide belched up from the volcanoes of the Siberian Traps, without being incinerated by an ocean of lava, without starving in the ruins of the global acid rain that destroyed the ecosystems on land, and without being burned alive in the wildfires that scorched the earth.

If you could have lived through all of this, which, by the way, you wouldn’t have, you would have been among the few creatures to survive what paleontologists now refer to as the Great Dying. It’s a good name for what happened.

There have only been five mass extinction events, that we know of, on Earth. The mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs was the most recent—but it wasn’t the most devastating. The Great Dying, which preceded the demise of the dinosaurs by about 180 million years, was by far the worst: The planet warmed rapidly— roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit over a 60,000-year period. Some 90 percent of all living creatures went kaput. It then took 10 million years for life on Earth to bounce back, which was a curiously long recovery period, even for an extinction of that magnitude.

“What interested us was how long it took life to recover afterward,” said William Foster, a professor of geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and the lead author of a new study about the Great Dying, published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday. “Because not only was this the worst mass-extinction event, but recovery took millions of years.”

Foster wanted to know: Did the recovery of life on Earth take so long after the Great Dying because the extinction event itself was so cataclysmic? Or was something else going on?

To find out, he and his colleagues traveled to the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy that’s known for its long geologic record of the Triassic, the period that came just after the Permian, which was capped by the Great Dying. The team examined marine invertebrate fossils, and from that work produced the most continuous dataset ever collected from the region.

The fossils they found showed that there were two additional extinction events in the recovery period after the Great Dying—not so major as to be deemed “mass extinctions,” but bad enough to slow the recuperation of life on Earth. Foster and his colleagues found that during that 10 million year recovery period marine invertebrates peaked then died off two times in association with carbon isotope shifts, which correlated with volcanic pulses from the Siberian Traps. In other words, just as life seemed to be bouncing back from the Great Dying, another extinction event derailed it—twice.

“This is not only interesting from an evolutionary point of view,” Foster says, “but also because those environmental conditions that life had to adapt to, to survive back then, are similar to those predicted for future climate warming scenarios.”

Similar, maybe, but not the identical. And thank goodness for that.

The volcanic eruptions that marked the start of the Great Dying were absolutely monstrous. The entire area of what is now China was covered in some 40 feet of lava. Those same volcanoes released a huge amount of gas, which set off the atmospheric deoxygenation that led to dramatic climate change. For context, it’s borderline ridiculous to compare the magnitude of this event to the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, one of the deadliest and most violent volcanic eruptions in recorded history. “Krakatoa is very, very, very small compared to what happened at the Siberian Traps,” Foster said. Krakatoa killed some 36,000 people.

The magnitude of the volcanic eruptions 252 million years ago may be difficult to comprehend today, but what’s happening to the atmosphere is familiar.

“This is what makes it so interesting,” Foster told me, “Because you have this huge volcanic eruption that releases all these gases, and then you look at what’s happening today [with climate change] and they’re all the same gases. They’re causing the same effects. So we can say, ‘This is what it did in the past and this is what we might be looking at for the future.’”

The natural next question is: Where’s the threshold, in terms of planetary warming, for setting off a mass extinction like the Great Dying? “For most animals we don’t know the threshold,” Foster said. “It’s really, really hard to reconstruct values that far back in the past, but it’s what we’re trying to develop: What are our thresholds? What sorts of temperatures are we talking about?”

Looking at the human activity that is spiking global temperatures today, we’re still nowhere near the deoxygenation that took place 252 million years ago. “We don’t think we will reach the threshold we reached in the Great Dying,” Foster told me. “Or, we hope we won’t, anyway.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, average global temperatures are likely to increase by at least 3 degrees within the next 80 years. In some places, they might increase by nearly 9 degrees—still substantially below the 50-degree increase that began after the eruptions of the Siberian Traps. (Even a difference of one or two degrees, however, can yield extraordinarily different outcomes for the planet.) There’s clear scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change today. What happens to our species as a result is less certain.

The Earth has reinvented itself at least five times before. In each mass extinction, planetary life was very nearly wiped clean. Microscopic organisms, insects, furry beasts, and reptilian land monsters have all been destroyed at one point or another.

There are survivors, of course. Even the Great Dying spared some clams, sea snails, urchins, brittle stars, and seed shrimp. These creatures didn’t just survive, they also became the most abundant animals in our oceans, a reminder that the story of life on our planet isn’t the story of a single species at the top of the food chain, but ultimately a tale of relentless adaptability.

“Big cool things like dinosaurs are pretty rare to find compared with clams,” says Peter Brannen, the author of The Ends of the World. And from one mass extinction to the next, there’s remarkably constancy on one hand—same magmatic systems on the same planet orbiting the same ole star. Yet there’s staggering newness, too.

“The world looks totally different before and after a mass extinction,” Brannen told me. “Sixty-seven million years ago, you had mosasaurs and big non-bird dinosaurs, and 15 million years later you have whales and giant land-mammals.”

“In one way it’s scary that we’re even in the same conversation as major mass extinction events,” Brannen added, referring to climate change. “But the Earth has seen way worse than we could ever dish out and it still recovers. The Earth, in the long run? The Earth will be fine.”

Humans, maybe not so much.