Loss, and the acceptance of the new normal of weather extremes.

Over the past decade, I noticed an increase in the general acceptance of significantly above normal temperatures in the winter in the US. People seem to have forgotten the colder winters of the past while almost embracing the new warmer temperatures, especially as related to their ability to spend more time outdoors wearing less insulation. I’ve been surprised by the lack of concern for this new normal. Of course, there are those that are concerned and realize that our Earth system is undergoing profound and dangerous changes, but I’ve sensed less concern and more approval among the general public. New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports my observations. Based on extensive social media analysis, it appears that most individuals have a reference point no more than eight years before the present for assessing current conditions. You can read more here (subscription may be required):

Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change

Associated with these unseasonal temperatures is the loss of days with snow. This is changing the aesthetic of the northern mid-latitudes and sub-polar latitudes, and I often hear people lamenting the lack of snow. As they step into their SUV to go skiing at an energy consumptive resort.

“No concerns about the world getting warmer…
now we can swim any day in November.”
- Sleeping In, The Postal Service

Warmest summers in over 100,000 years revealed by previously unseen Arctic landscapes.

As a geographer, one of the most intriguing questions for me in our rapidly changing climate has been - what new landscapes will climate change create? Research often focuses on shifting vegetation biomes, eroding coasts resulting from higher sea levels, geomorphic changes in the context of watershed adjustments, etc. However, there’s more to climate change than just the alteration of existing environments. Scientists have been observing declining glacial ice worldwide for several decades, but we haven’t known what their absence will reveal and what insights about past environments will be gleaned in the process. In other words, what did the land look like before the glaciers and what can we learn about our past, present, and future by studying the preserved remnants? Recent research by Simon Pendleton (University of Colorado Boulder - INSTAAR) on plants entombed in receding glaciers indicates that our current century’s summers are warmer than any in the last 115,000 years.

Read more of Simon’s findings here:
Rapidly receding Arctic Canada glaciers revealing landscapes continuously ice-covered for more than 40,000 years

Broader Security.

Climate change does not respect border; it does not respect who you are - rich and poor, small and big. Therefore, this is what we call 'global challenges,' which require global solidarity.

- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Our Planet is What We Eat.

I’m watching the rain pouring through another week in January and thinking about what we can do to fix this. More specifically, what can each of us do as individuals to help mitigate the severity of climate change. We have traditionally focused on fossil fuel emissions from transportation and energy production as the primary drivers of anthropogenic climate change. While these remain significant, we now understand that current agriculture is also a significant driver of climate change through its emission of potent greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide. Indeed, if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must fundamentally shift our agricultural systems on a global scale. In other words, what we eat not only impacts our health, but also the health of the planet. I’ve been discussing this relationship in my college courses for several years, and now the popular press is giving it more attention based on the EAT–Lancet Commission’s report released last week. What it recommends is essentially this - eat less meat and sugar, and replace them with plant based foods. While I commend the Commission’s report, it doesn’t quite go far enough for personal health. If you want to reduce your risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and their associated disabilities significantly, you need to do more than what is recommended. Specifically, you need to make sure that no more than 10% of your daily protein comes from meat (including dairy) and do your best to eliminate ALL refined sugars. Naturally, this provides additional benefits for our global environment and improves our economy by reducing the percentage of our income spent on healthcare.

When my students ask me for the “one sentence fix” for our health crisis, healthcare crisis, and environmental crisis, I tell them this - Just. Stop. Eating. Meat. Combined with a significant reduction or elimination of refined sweeteners, we can keep ourselves and our planet away from the doctor’s office.

Learn more from the EAT–Lancet Commission’s report here:

Further recommend reading:
The China Study

Not just drunken trees - changes in human infrastructure from melting Arctic permafrost.

Many discussions of climate change impacts in the Arctic focus on the natural environment. Sea ice decline, shifts in animal migratory patterns, and the increasing number of snow free days are often among them. However, human endeavors are not exempt. Some of the infrastructure used to extract the fossil fuels responsible for climate change is now at risk itself due to melting permafrost. In a recent publication in Nature Communications, Jan Hjort et al. indicate that almost four million people and 70% of current infrastructure will likely be coping with the effects of near surface permafrost melt by the middle of this century. Besides the associated natural hazards and economic impacts, this will likely impact the aesthetic of the built environment in this region as well. From an artist’s perspective, the implication of this research is that historic buildings in older villages, which have been an important part of their local cultural landscape for many decades, are at risk of being damaged or destroyed.

Read the entire article here:
Degrading permafrost puts Arctic infrastructure at risk by mid-century