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Frogs swimming in the heated pot

Written By: - Date published: 8:52 am, January 23rd, 2021 - 34 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, farming, food, science - Tags:

For me watching QAnon believers waver in their belief in their idiotic failed guru’s ‘plan’ has as about the same interest value as seeing the US rectify its political mistake of 2016. Amusing short term entertainment.

If you want more relevant short-term news, then recently I’ve been increasingly looking at the climate over the Arctic. That has become increasingly unstable this year after a widely forecast stratospheric warming event over the northern pole actually happened on schedule in early January. As was also expected, it disrupted and weakened the northern polar vortex causing lower level cold air to spin out in the northern hemisphere.

One of the lobes has already brought extreme cold to Siberia, where temperatures in Yakutia, in eastern Russia, haven’t climbed above minus-40 in more than a month, according to the Associated Press. Delyankir, in northeastern Russia, dropped to minus-73 degrees Jan. 18. The concentrated cold has been fierce and extreme, and looks to remain in place in eastern Russia through at least early next week.

Washington Post: “What a ‘wrecked’ polar vortex means for winter-starved Americans

That is ~ -58 Celsius for the rational standard unit world.

A twitter link in the article points out the range of temperature at that location over the last 7 months.

 

While these northern continental latitudes are known for their extreme ranges of temperature, a variation of about 95 degrees Celsius does seem a bit extreme in a single location. Wikipedia records the most extreme temperature range as being 105.8 degrees Celsius in a similar latitude and location. However this was between a low in 1885 and high in 2020 – more than a century apart rather than 7 months.

The point about this is that a large proportion of the world’s supply of food comes from the north of Eurasia and North America. Instability in the northern polar region has nasty effects on producing it.

At present the weakened polar vortex hasn’t caused major disruptions in the polar jet stream. Probably because it is multi-lobed.

“For this event, though we have seen fairly typical influence of the [polar] disruption on the surface in the form of persistent high-pressure systems (or ‘blocking’) over the Arctic, many locations have not yet seen extreme cold,” wrote Amy Butler, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, in an email. “This seems tied to where in particular the blocking has occurred, which may also be affected by tropical influences.”

She also noted that the messy split of the polar vortex may be causing it to play out differently than other years when the vortex was displaced.

“While the polar vortex has become very stretched out and wobbly, it has not displaced as strongly southward or split as clearly into two lobes as in other events,” wrote Butler. “[That] means it might not be able to influence the underlying jet stream quite as well.”

Washington Post: “What a ‘wrecked’ polar vortex means for winter-starved Americans

This kind of Arctic instability is becoming more frequent and as the world climate heats up, paradoxically, the upper northern hemisphere is likely to get more polar blasts as the Arctic sheds its cold to lower latitudes.

Thankfully at present, the course of these kinds of events in the northern hemisphere are entirely unpredictable compared to the southern polar regions. With climate change we can expect to see similar effects over a longer time period.

I’m less concerned about the direct extreme events like cold or heat waves, hurricanes and tropical storms, flooding, tornadoes, sea level rises, wildfires, destruction of habitats and so on.

Ecosystems and humans will adapt at a cost. The trend is always going to be worse for the next couple of centuries. We are just the beginning of that trend.

Researchers say that the influence of climate change on extreme events is strong and likely to continue growing.

“Just like 2019 before it, 2020 has been full of disastrous extremes,” said Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“We have seen all this with a 1C of global average temperature rise, highlighting the sensitive relationship between average conditions and extremes.”

“Ultimately, the impacts of climate change will be felt via the extremes, and not averaged changes.”

“Unfortunately, we can expect more years to look like 2020 – and worse – as global temperatures creep higher.”

While 2021 is likely to bring a similar story of losses from extreme events, there is some sense of optimism that political leaders may be on the brink of taking steps that might help the world avoid the worst excesses of rising temperatures.

BBC: “Climate change: Extreme weather causes huge losses in 2020

Ultimately, I suspect that the increasing costs of insurance and infrastructure repair will educate even the most stupid ideological chumps that they need to harden where they live.

That is discounting the complete idiots. The ones that live in fragile locations like bulldozed fore dunes or in reclaimed swamps and the other daft geological locations that such suckers have built on. At some point, even without climate change, they or their successors will find this to be an educational experience. I just don’t want to pay for the stupidity of people who like to build on the equivalent of a cliff edge..

Stuff: “Auckland home above eroding cliff edge is fifth built on site in 40 years

With climate change, I’m not worried about the moral imperatives that some people seem to feel. What I call the conservation moral ethos. For me, it is too short-term a perspective and too unaware of what the earth is really like. Too embedded in a human-centrist moral awareness without facing the real extrinsic threats in rapid human induced climate changes.

Sure the coral reefs will bleach and become deserts for a while. Then they will be recolonised by species with a different temperature range. We see coral reefs throughout the longer term and in the recent history over thousands of years changing according to climatic shifts.

Studying earth sciences as I did four decades ago, with the time perspectives that requires, drives it home just how chaotically changeable the lithosphere that we live on and the volatile atmosphere and hydrosphere that we live in. You realise after looking at through the geological and biological history of our planet just how odd and rare that a complex biosphere and a civilisation is likely to be. Just how fragile and resilient it is.

What I worry about is somewhat more pragmatic. How it affects us as a civilisation. Mostly what are the effects of climate change on the primary underpinnings of our civilisation. That ultimately rests mostly on our food supply.

The problem is that the last 10 to 11 thousand years since the last glacial period was probably the one of the most stable climatic periods since Antarctica drifted into southern polar region and then froze up in ice sheets about 34-35 million years ago and triggered a sustained ice age with frequent glacial periods. What humans consider to be a ‘normal’ climatic state is less than 0.05% of that time period

During that time as a species and a civilisation we developed the complexity that is our agricultural systems. All built on an illusory ‘stable’ climate where temperature ranges didn’t vary by much and extreme events were minimal.

Our food creating system is the foundation of the most fragile widespread ecosystem in the world. The one that sustains our population and societies.

Yield growth for wheat, maize, and other crops has been declining in many countries due to extreme heat, severe weather, and droughts. By some estimates, in the absence of effective adaptation, global yields could decline by up to 30 percent by 2050. Countries that are already grappling with conflict, pollution, deforestation, and other challenges are likely to suffer the brunt of these impacts. The 2 billion people already without access to sufficient food, including smallholder farmers and other people living in poverty, will be hit hardest.

Already, despite decades of global commitment, hunger and food insecurity persist at staggering rates. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, nearly 750 million people experienced severe food insecurity in 2019 and the number of undernourished or food-insecure people is rising, with climate shocks a major contributor. Unless urgent action is taken, climate change will increase food prices, decrease food availability, and exacerbate instability and conflict because of competition over water and fertile land.

UN Foundation: “Climate change and the future of food

Our world population is still going to be increasing until at least 2050. Food prices, civil and regional wars or conflicts like terrorism activity show little or no respect for national boundaries. This is the real cost of climate change. It strikes at the base of our civilisation, and at the same time at the tools we need to deal with it.

It is hard to shift technologies to reduce future harm as is already happening slowly, when at the same time we’re trying to adapt for previous bad infrastructure and development decisions, and while conflicts over the most basic of resources is threatening instability.

Fools similar to the QAnon idiots will probably think that a human die-back is a good thing while they finger their weapons and fantasise first action shoot-em up games. Others will descend into catastrophic fantasies of drowning in sea level rises that wont happen for centuries and are limited to about 75 metres anyway. And others who get more concerned about smearing blame on the dead or past decisions rather than dealing with the current and future issues.

But perhaps the adults should start just looking at the real and pretty immediate challenges of climate change.


Medium: “The Boiling Frog Syndrome

34 comments on “Frogs swimming in the heated pot ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    During that time as a species and a civilisation we developed the complexity that is our agricultural systems. All built on an illusory ‘stable’ climate where temperature ranges didn’t vary by much and extreme events were minimal.

    Our food creating system is the foundation of the most fragile widespread ecosystem in the world. The one that sustains our population and societies.

    This is the crux of the climate change argument. The solution that I was planning to address in detail in a post lies in the human relationship with the natural world.

    Each step of human evolution, the invention of complex language, the use of fire, the domestication of dogs, the invention of agriculture and stock animals, the discovery of mining and the refining and working of metals, writing, the printing press and the use of coal – are all steps that have gradually decoupled our existence from a pure dependency on nature toward an independence from it.

    The process is far from complete, but at this time in our history at least half of humanity live in cities, more dependent on industrial processes than they are natural ones. While this is not an unalloyed benefit, from the perspective of the natural world, we save nature by not using it.

    It's my sense this means accelerating this decoupling process, moving our food chains away from conventional agriculture (depending as it does on naturally available sunshine, rainfall and nutrients) toward systems that are more technology based, that use less land, depend less on climate and use closed loop nutrient systems.

    In this we achieve two things at once, we reduce our impact on climate and the natural world, and at the same time we reduce our exposure to the risks and instability the natural world poses to us.

    • lprent 1.1

      It's my sense this means accelerating this decoupling process, moving our food chains away from conventional agriculture (depending as it does on naturally available sunshine, rainfall and nutrients) toward systems that are more technology based, that use less land, depend less on climate and use closed loop nutrient systems.

      Effectively a vertical garden system or the equivalent and/or intense agricultural tech. We're getting closer to it with the wider range of power sources – especially renewables which will eventually steadily diminish the cost of power.

      That will be a tall ask technically. Apart from anything else learning to deal with the gradual toxin buildups that suspected to be a feature of all closed loop intense agricultural systems. We'd probably have to run something like a Lagrange point habitat for a few decades to even figure some of that stuff out properly.

      But with the kinds of population growth and potential climate related crop yield problems over the next 3 decades or so. I suspect we're going to have to find this out the ad hoc way.

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        But with the kinds of population growth

        Most of that population growth is going to happen in Africa. Most of the rest of the world has either already or is very close to peak population already.

        Setting aside Africa as a particular development problem in multiple dimensions, I'd suggest the main cause of food insecurity at present is going to be the breakdown in global trade that we're likely to see in the next decade or so.

        Much of the cropland in Africa has increased by output by a factor of five between 1950 – 2000, but this has been entirely on the back on synthetic fertilisers and mechanisation. If the breakdown of the global order means they cannot get reliable access to capital, equipment and inputs, then they will revert back to something similar to where they started in 1950. A similar story plays out in many developing parts of the world.

        There are relatively few places in the world with the right mix of low production costs, local or regional input sources, and stable financial status that will enable them to be long term producers. The first and by far the largest is the USA, after that France and Argentina, Myanmar (rice producer), Australia's Murray Basin (large but weather dependent and erratic) and finally NZ.

        Virtually everywhere else is exposed to the risk of something we've forgotten about – famine. The response will be to reduce their reliance on high volume monocultures and specialisation in order to just to feed their population. A retreat from global trade would mean that long term we could be looking at a catastrophic collapse in the ability of the world to feed itself, and this is before we factor in climate change.

        If this logic does play out, then I’d definitely anticipate a very high incentive to drive food production toward a more technological model.

      • RedLogix 1.1.2

        Apart from anything else learning to deal with the gradual toxin buildups that suspected to be a feature of all closed loop intense agricultural systems.

        Yes, that's a real challenge. The good news is that because most closed loop systems carry the nutrients in a liquid form it's far easier to process them, than they are if they're locked up in solid forms such as soil for example. All it takes is a relatively small plant constantly handling a small bypass feed to remove unwanted toxins. Technically very feasible I’d imagine.

        My starting point for this kind of approach is aquaponics, a balanced blend of now conventional fish farming and hydroponics. Add in high efficiency LED lighting, vertical structures and many more innovations going on in this space – plus the urgent food security drivers involved – I'm seeing a rapid uptake in the upcoming decades.

        • Robert Guyton 1.1.2.1

          RedLogix – is there, anywhere in the non-human world, past or present, anything at all like the system you propose?

          • RedLogix 1.1.2.1.1

            No there isn't really. But then there are so many things about humans that are not found in the non-human world. We will always have a connection to the natural world, but in so many ways we're already the first post-biological species on this planet.

            What I have in mind is does not have to lie opposite to your expertise and passion. It's my sense that in order to make technological based food production work really well, we will need to incorporate all of the observational knowledge and experience we can bring to the table. That means people like you would play a vital role.

            Nor do I imagine humans will ever entirely abandon the planet to a pure binary of wilderness and high tech habitat. There would have to be a place for managed landscapes, part forest, part grazing, part regeneration. Over time our custodial role for the health of the planet will only grow.

            Bear with me here, I understand that we’ll stumble and make mistakes along the way; but I’m willing to hold to an optimistic vision of our pathway.

            • Robert Guyton 1.1.2.1.1.1

              Bear with you, sure; you're presenting an intelligent, nuanced series of proposals but I wonder if your belief that we humans represent a "post-biological" species, is a mistaken one and that no living entity can in fact, leave the biological state; at least, one as biologically-complex as we are. It may be, however, that we can become "hyper-biological" and operate within the framework all other living things are bound by. To do that, we'll have to "tick all the boxes" that have been time-tested by living things on the planet, rather than try to game the system in the belief that we can think of better ways than have so far been demonstrated. Even your fondness for aquaculture has me humming and haaing: I know there are wasps that lay their eggs inside of caterpillars and those won't enjoy the experience of being eaten from the inside out, but that seems a de minimus issue in the big picture, whereas consciously condemning huge populations of fish to an imprisoned life; something I'm sure we uber-efficient humans would do in a world under pressure, just doesn't seem appropriate.

              • RedLogix

                "Hyper-biological". Yes that's a better term than the one I used, and I agree with what your saying on this. We will always retain our biological nature, but we have already layered on top of it great deal of technology and consequent socialisation that takes us well beyond any other non-human species.

                The fish welfare problem is similar to the one with chicken farming; I'd imagine we'd find ways to achieve 'free ranging' the fish as we have for chickens commensurate with their conscious capacity. And the larger the scale the easier it would get. But it's a good question to hum and haa about enlightened.

                I don't know of a good answer to this, and while I'm happy for people to eat less meat generally, total vegan is not an option I'd advocate for the mass of humanity. The good news is that aquaponics generally produces much more plant based food than fish, so that aligns.

                • Snape

                  RedLogix

                  Why not start with what is easiest? A lot of agricultural land is devoted to producing grain for livestock, which is an inefficient use compared to if humans had consumed those grains instead.

                  Meaning less land is required to feed a population of vegetarians than carnivores.

                  • RedLogix

                    Yes I'm not a fan of grain fed livestock for a bunch of reasons, but it's not the predominate practice in NZ. Elsewhere climate is a factor can force stock to be sheltered over winter. And grazing on land that's unsuited for crops seems reasonable enough.

                    Overall I can see a trend away from intensive meat consumption, but I'm not dogmatic about it. I'd not rely on it to 'save the planet' from CO2.

                    • Snape

                      RedLogix,

                      “And grazing on land that's unsuited for crops seems reasonable enough.”

                      Sure, but could you quantify this? For example, in New Zealand, what percentage of the land area used for grazing is actually unsuitable for growing crops?

                    • RedLogix

                      what percentage of the land area used for grazing is actually unsuitable for growing crops?

                      Pretty much all the hill country.

                      This source suggests that arable cropping land is less than 2.5% of our total land area. While total 'meadowland' is a much larger fraction at around 40%

                    • Snape []

                      RedLogix

                      Your source is not suggesting that only 2.5% of New Zealand land area is suitable for growing crops. If you go back to the link and click on ‘definitions’ you will find this:

                      “Arable refers to all land generally under rotation, whether for temporary crops (double-cropped areas are counted only once) or meadows, or left fallow (less than five years). These data are not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable.”

                    • RedLogix

                      Still what matters is the land that is being used to produce crops – and if the 'potentially arable land' is even as much as 5% I'd be surprised.

                      If you're claiming that somehow NZ farmers are leaving vast amounts of land suitable and viable for crops unused you might want to produce some evidence.

                      But stepping back from quibbling this detail, I don't understand your point. In this country grain-fed stock is the exception not the norm, so I don't see how curtailing it would change much. And a huge fraction of farmed land is hill country you can't put machinery on so there is little opportunity to expand cropping to replace grazing.

                      You could argue for a completely different paradigm where NZ turns into a giant food-forest, but you'd need to demonstrate how that would be more productive and viable over what we're doing now.

                    • Snape []

                      “If you're claiming that somehow NZ farmers are leaving vast amounts of land suitable and viable for crops unused you might want to produce some evidence.”

                      No, it was just a hunch. My assumption is that if an acre of land could be used for either crops or pasture, the decision would be entirely market based, nothing to do with which choice produces the most food.

                      Stepping back from this quibble…. “we save nature by not using it.”

                      Ok, so you’re fine with un-arable land being used for grazing livestock, and you’ve noted that that’s the predominant agricultural land use in NZ.

                      My question, then, is how much nature (in terms of land area) is available to be saved by the agricultural ideas you argue for? Less than 5%?

    • gsays 1.2

      Morena RL, when I read your line "The solution that I was planning to address in detail in a post lies in the human relationship with the natural world." this series of clips came to mind.

      The first one is 40 minutes then 4 more at about 20 minutes.

      Mark Cohen, described as an ethnobotanist, amongst other things talks about his various paths that bought him to today. One of his observations was how, deep in our subconscious, we are aware of how untenable our existence is in regards to our carbon footprint, and disconnect from nature. This helps influence the high amount of mental ill health.

      He discusses a mix of anthropology, botany and philosophy. He asks himself the question what is human habitat, one that raises healthy body and minds. He then goes on to study and conduct research to come up with answers.

      I highly recommend this.

      • RedLogix 1.2.1

        I have watched it all. He does delve into why, despite my technological base, I'm never dismissive of the themes he addresses.

        As a keen tramper I was always aware from a very early stage, of the paradox of how much I valued the wilderness, yet how my very presence detracted from it. How the more of us present, the less wild it became.

        I'll also give Cohen credit for being intellectually honest about not knowing what sized population could be carried in his proposed vision. Nor do any of us know of what humanity might discover in years to come. So as the Dust channel says "It's the business of the future to be dangerous".

        But I will align firmly with his thinking on diversity. And in this context a diversity of intellectual and spiritual thinking, the harmonising of science and faith, the of the visible and invisible realities.

        One good question to ask – how many conscious minds are there in the universe? The correct answer is one. Because the complementary and essential idea that must thrive alongside diversity (in it's very widest sense) – is unity.

        Once that thought is established then a path toward integrating all of human knowledge, insight, wisdom and capacity – material and immaterial becomes possible.

        Think of us as an emerging species who have been given a 9 billion piece jigsaw puzzle for our 18th birthday. Each piece is fascinating and necessary, but for the moment the 'completed' picture that came on the cover of the box is hidden to us.

        • gsays 1.2.1.1

          I couldn't agree more with one mind (unity) and diversity.

          It's amazing, the diverse places knowledge comes from. Eg Bill Hicks famous quote:

          " Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Heres Tom with the Weather"

  2. Recommended reading: The End of the Megamachine by Fabian Scheidler. It's a fascinating summary of human history through the lens of economic & ecological exploitation and tyranny.

    Within only 200 years, man has deeply reshaped the Earth’s crust – and triggered off one of the biggest mass extinctions of species in the history of the planet. What has led to this dramatic development? Chapter seven explores how the logics of an endless accumulation of capital and a fossil energy system form an explosive amalgam from which our world today emerges. The consequences were brutal, not only for nature but also for societies: The mechanization of labor and the logics of competition and profit tore apart social networks and turned the worker into an object of global production logistics.

  3. Pat 3

    Potable water….more critical than even food, we are in trouble.

    https://www.seametrics.com/blog/global-water-crisis-facts/

        • RedLogix 3.1.1.1

          One aggregate figure of 70% doesn’t really tell us much about where than water is coming from and what crops it’s been used on, but yes there is no question that agriculture at least in some places in the world does face a water crisis along with all the other issues I outlined above.

          However much more onerous standards apply to water intended for irrigation compared to potable water for human consumption, which means it's considerably easier and cheaper to produce.

          On the demand side I'd agree that trying to use desalination on water intensive crops like rice and cotton is probably not viable in the foreseeable future, but using targeted irrigation systems and high tech closed loop food production, would dramatically reduce the amounts needed. Somewhere I recall that a typical aquaponic system for example uses around 10% of the water needed for the same crop grown conventionally.

          I agree there is a real challenge with fresh water – plenty of people have been signaling this for a while now. But there are reasonable solutions at hand if we choose to use them.

          • Pat 3.1.1.1.1

            There are currently around 20,000 desalination plants in the world and they supply around 1% of current DRINKING water.

            We will not build our way out of these problems, even if you choose to ignore the externalities

            • RedLogix 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Again statistics do not interpret themselves; most desal plants are relatively small, but the article I linked to above describe some rather large ones providing up to 1000MLD (Million Litres/Day). That's more than Auckland's demand from just one plant.

              • Pat

                You continue to miss the point…by all means build another million desalination plants (and the energy capacity to operate them and all in a decade or two) if you think you can but will that provide water for the environment?…no, it MAY provide drinking water to significant proportion of the current population as they move from one devastated environment to another.

                It is not only humans that require potable water

                • RedLogix

                  I agree it's a problem, in some locations it will be a severe one. Potable water for human cities that have the most critical needs will be provided by desalination – as they are already. But such a build out would be a gradual process, there will never be a need to build 'a million' plants all at once.

                  But the point worth noting, is that the more water we provide for ourselves from desalination – the more left over for the natural world.

                  We save nature by not using it.

                  • Pat

                    "there will never be a need to build 'a million' plants all at once."

                    No , I was being generous….closer to 2 million (at current average scale) within the next 20 years to supply close on a 100% of reliable 'drinking' water

                    • RedLogix

                      But why would you assume we would ever need to replace 100% in the foreseeable future? That's apocalyptic thinking.

                    • Pat

                      "And then you'd never get to have to do all of them, most places are at a relatively low risk really."

                      The sourced data from the Seametrics link would suggest otherwise

                  • Pat

                    Your example…If Auckland needs to build a desal plant to ensure its water security will it build one that only provides for 20 or 50% of its needs?….Id suggest not.

                    • RedLogix

                      Not 100% of all the cities in the world will need to replace 100% of their supply all at once. You start with the ones most at risk and then prioritize over time.

                      And then you'd never get to have to do all of them, most places are at a relatively low risk really. Auckland for example would almost certainly draw all it could possibly need from the Waikato long before considering desalination.

  4. Sacha 4

    Visible instability.

  5. Snape 5

    “This kind of Arctic instability is becoming more frequent and as the world climate heats up, paradoxically, the upper northern hemisphere is likely to get more polar blasts as the Arctic sheds its cold to lower latitudes.”

    In theory, yes, but I don’t think there is any long term data to back it up. Sacha posted a roughly 40 day GIF showing instability in the polar vortex. Is there a 40 year GIF that shows the instability has recently become more pronounced?

    This is typical of the uncertainty inherent in climate science: historical observations are often unreliable (or unavailable), and model projections need many years to verify.

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