NY Times: As Climate Change Accelerates, Floating Cities Look Like Less of a Pipe Dream

Photo from the Seasteading Institute: A rendering of the artificial floating island project in French Polynesia. The project has raised about $2.5 million from more than 1,000 interested donors.

The New York Times: You might call it a Noah’s Ark for an era of melting polar ice sheets — An audacious plan to respond to climate change by building a city of floating islands in the South Pacific is moving forward, with the government of French Polynesia agreeing to consider hosting the islands in a tropical lagoon.

The project is being put forward by a California nonprofit, the Seasteading Institute, which has raised about $2.5 million from more than 1,000 interested donors. Randolph Hencken, the group’s executive director, said work on the project could start in French Polynesia as early as next year, pending the results of some environmental and economic feasibility studies.

“We have a vision that we’re going to create an industry that provides floating islands to people who are threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr. Hencken said.

The group’s original founders included Peter Thiel, a billionaire investor and prominent supporter of President Trump, although Mr. Thiel is no longer donating to the institute, Mr. Hencken said.

Mr. Hencken said that the project’s pilot islands would cost a total of $10 million to $50 million and house a few dozen people and that the initial residents would most likely be middle-income buyers from the developed world. He added that the institute was seeking to build the islands in what would be a nautical version of a special economic zone and that it would showcase innovations in solar power, sustainable aquaculture and ocean-based wind farms.

NOAA: 2016 marks three consecutive years of heat for the planet

Fort McMurray Wildfire – Chris Schwarz, Alberta

The following report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) details findings that the past three years have seen record highs in global average temperatures, with 2016 as the warmest year on record. Read the full report on NOAA’s website >>

With a boost from El Nino, 2016 began with a bang. For eight consecutive months, January to August, the globe experienced record warm heat.  With this as a catalyst, the 2016 globally averaged surface temperature ended as the highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F or 1.69 degrees F above the 20th century average. This surpassed last year’s record by 0.07 degrees F. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

Despite the cooling influence of a weak La Nina in the latter part of the year, the year ended with the third warmest December on record for the globe, with an average temperature 1.42 degrees F above the 20th century average.  In a separate analysis of global temperature data released at the same time, scientists from NASA also found 2016 to be the warmest year on record.

More noteworthy findings from 2016:

  • The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record, 1.35 degree F above average.

  • The globally averaged land surface temperature was the highest on record, 2.57 degrees F above average.

  • North America had its warmest year on record; South America and Africa had their second; Asia and Europe had their third; and Australia had its fifth.

  • The average Arctic sea ice extent for the year was 3.92 million square miles, the smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

  • The average Antarctic sea ice extent for the year was 4.31 million square miles, the second smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

SLSC faculty publishes on changing environments due to sea level rise

news-neoliberalism-and-miami%c2%b9s-fragmented-urban-space_c1SLSC Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. in the Department of Journalism + Media has published a new co-authored book on Miami spaces during a time of changing environments due to sea level rise. The book also includes a Foreword by SLSC Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Juliet Pinto, Interim Executive Director of the School of Communication + Journalism. The book is coauthored by Dr. Moses Shumow.

News, Neoliberalism, and Miami’s Fragmented Urban Space (https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498501996/News-Neoliberalism-and-Miami’s-Fragmented-Urban-Space) uncovers and interrogates how news media – in an era of globalization and the rapid acceleration of free market ideologies – are both harnessed by and are complicit in the capture and re-appropriation of spatial consciousness throughout South Florida.

At the center of this critique of neoliberalism’s role in the transformation of Miami’s neighborhoods and the city’s mediatized geographies is an emphasis on the role of news media as a means for promoting very specific, and yet often veiled, political and economic agendas. The book’s focus on Miami’s changing environment places the neoliberal messages as critical to understanding during massive alterations to how people live and work in South Florida today and tomorrow.


Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change

NAS drought cropA report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes it is now possible to estimate the influence of climate change on some types of extreme events. The science of extreme event attribution has advanced rapidly in recent years, giving new insight to the ways that human-caused climate change can influence the magnitude or frequency of some extreme weather events. This report examines the current state of science of extreme weather attribution, and identifies ways to move the science forward to improve attribution capabilities.

Confidence is strongest in attributing types of extreme events that are influenced by climate change through a well-understood physical mechanism, such as, the more frequent heat waves that are closely connected to human-caused global temperature increases, the report finds. Confidence is lower for other types of events, such as hurricanes, whose relationship to climate change is more complex and less understood at present. For any extreme event, the results of attribution studies hinge on how questions about the event’s causes are posed, and on the data, modeling approaches, and statistical tools chosen for the analysis. More information >>

TED: Al Gore’s case for optimism on climate change

al-gore-with-drought-imagesIn his latest TED talk, Al Gore, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, poses three questions that will determine the future of our planet – and why there’s good reason to be optimistic.

Under the rubric “Ideas worth spreading,” each year, the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference brings together a collection of the world’s most compelling, surprising, and original thinkers to connect and explore the themes, factors, and forces shaping our world today – and pointing to our world of tomorrow.

The theme of this year’s conference in Vancouver, British Columbia – which ran February 15—19 – was “Dream.” TED curators invited Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore to headline the “Nightmares” session. But instead of focusing exclusively on the terrifying aspects of climate change, Chairman Gore turned the topic on its head, outlining why he’s optimistic and why – even in the face of rising seas and melting glaciers – we can dare to dream of a safe and sustainable future planet. For more info and to watch the full video, click here >>

John Englander responds to NASA’s latest report about slowed rates of sea level rise: “Good science, terrible communication”

John-Englander1-smTaken from John Englander’s climate change blog, where he responds to a recent report by NASA about slowed rates of sea level rise (see his full response here):

I really like NASA. As nearly everyone agrees, they do great science — both about the cosmos and about our home planet. Having gotten that well deserved compliment out in front, I am screaming mad at something they just published.

Headlines from sources such as the very reputable SCIENCE magazine are carrying headlines such as: Thirsty continents are slowing down expected sea level rise, scientists say

Here is what the actual NASA story says, and where it is misleading.

  • Essentially it says that global warming (aka, climate change) — warmer than in centuries — has dried the soils so that they are absorbing more water.
  • That water would have gone to the ocean, raising sea levels.
  • Overall the effect is about 20% of the average global sea level rise.

Those facts are fair and decent science. But the way it’s all presented, it leads most readers to believe that climate change could slow rising sea levels, which is just flat out wrong!

According to Englander, this is what the article should have said:

  1. The Earth is getting drier, even parched, as the planet warms. The dry soils are absorbing more water in many locations. That is reducing the amount of water that would find its way to the sea but there is a limit to this phenomenon.
  2. Global sea level is now rising about 3 mm a year, about an eighth of an inch a year, but NASA measurements show the rate of sea level rise is accelerating rapidly when looked at on a scale of decades.
  3. Presently the dry soil absorption is reducing global sea level rise by roughly 20%, or about half a millimeter — roughly the thickness of a few sheets of paper, barely measurable.
  4. That effect is both temporary (as the article stated), and relatively immaterial in the larger picture of the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica melting and accelerating. This absorption phenomenon is almost certainly limited to fractions of an inch, where the sea level rise from the melting glaciers and ice sheets will be many feet of height.
  5. This finding is important in terms of accurately reconciling sea level measurements for scientists at the sub millimeter level, but should not be promoted to the public unless it is carefully framed, as it could be taken out of context to erroneously suggest that a warming planet will reduce global sea level rise.

NASA: sea levels are rising slower than exected

glacierIdyllic islands and bustling cities such as Venice and Miami may be spared from rising sea levels in the near future because parched land is absorbing some of the water released by melting glaciers, and preventing it from ending up in the oceans.

The planet’s continents have soaked up and stored about 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, according to NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory.

The agency analyzed satellite measurements collected over the past decade to show the rate of sea level rise has slowed by 22 per cent – although the effect may be temporary. Read more >>


COP21 Final Days and Results

COP21 RSFollow Ryan Stoa — a Senior Scholar with FIU’s College of Law, who recently attended the climate talks in Paris — as he breaks down the last days of COP21; After months of preparations and weeks of negotiations, a Final Draft Agreement has finally been reached. The process isn’t over, however, as countries still need to ratify the agreement through their own domestic political processes, and then begin to implement their commitments to climate action. But for now, the mood surrounding the climate talks is optimistic, as this event marked a historic gathering of world leaders to face a complex, global environmental issue. Read more >>

Energizing Cognitive Dissonance: The G20’s Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

IMG_2488 (1)At the opening remarks on Monday by the heads of state, 150 heads of state promised to move forward in positive ways for the climate, building on the 2009 promises to phase out fossil fuels. But those words masked innate contradictions. As Maeve McLynn from Climate Action Network–Europe said, “That can only be achieved if their own governments stop financing dirty fossil fuels, and there is really minimal movement in that direction. In fact, the main contradictions to decarbonization are the huge subsidies that governments give to fossil fuel industries.”

Indeed, at a panel on the subsidies developed countries currently offer fossil fuel companies, the G20 average for fossil fuel producers from 2013-2014 was more than $450 billion. As the panelists noted, subsides can include everything from direct government spending, to tax breaks, state-owned infrastructure, grants, loans and more. Every subsidy creates an incentive to keep producing fossil fuels, from locking in carbon risk by building infrastructure (particularly offshore oil rigs), to keeping coal mines running in the face of declining prices, to masking the risk for financial managers and creating incentives to keep investing in fossil fuels.

At the same time, the science is clear: Both the carbon we already have in the atmosphere, as well what we continue to put there, is a huge risk. As former vice-president Al Gore said today, “The climate crisis is the 800-pound gorilla running right through the middle of the world economy.”

To help the world understand this contradiction, civil society talks have focused on the gap between the remarks by 150 world leaders on Monday, all acknowledging the climate crisis and pledging to forge an agreement to meet the enormous challenges of global warming, with the actual behaviors and actions by those same governments in incentivizing fossil fuel production, elaboration and consumption.

For example, various studies have shown quite clearly that these subsidies, in some cases, are what are keeping fossil fuel production going. One example cited today was the Powder River Basin coal production, where U.S. coal subsidies accounted for 39 percent of total production. That translates into more than 2 gigatons of emissions, not an insignificant number.

Panelists from various think tanks emphasized that if developed countries truly plan to decarbonize, the dollar amounts spent on these subsidies could be easily transitioned to clean energies. As it stands, clean energy producers are currently unable to compete with fossil fuel producers, as the playing field is so structurally unequal, and fossil fuel companies are paying much lower costs of capital than they should be.

In terms of the COP talks, while the focus for G20 countries is mitigation, they also must provide for developing countries to not only mitigate, but also adapt to the impacts of climate change. In fact, the area that the G77 countries are focusing on most heavily now is adaptation, as the developing world is who primarily bears the brunt of the impacts of climate change. As I’ve mentioned previously, the chief fund to aid developing countries with not only the transition away from fossil fuels, but also mitigation and adaptation, is the Green Climate Fund. Panelists today noted the hypocrisy with which Annex I nations have failed to adequately fund the GCF, but yet the billions of dollars they pour into fossil fuel subsidies.

So I conclude my COP21 experience by circling back to how I began it: cognitive dissonance. I live in a G20/Annex I country, whose leader wants a strong climate legacy. At the same time, I live in Miami, a city on the front lines of sea level rise, which in the context of climate change is accelerating and poses a grave threat to the well-being of this community. The United States provides billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

I, like so many others, struggle to reconcile these notions as I watch G20 world leaders speak of “solving” climate change, but whose own governments give away billions of dollars to the carbon-producing industries. How can this be? What will the outcome of COP21 be? The world is watching Paris.

Geography and Community

imgresGeography has a lot to do with how communities experience climate change and its impacts, and it has a lot to do with negotiating the terms of adapting to and mitigating them. I was reminded of that this morning when speaking with an attendee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He asked about my work and what I’ve learned this week. When I mentioned my work on sea level rise, it barely registered; he was much more interested in the panel I had attended on deforestation. Disappearing forests are much more of a problem in the DRC than sea level rise. Obviously, for my own experience in South Florida, the opposite is true.

Here at COP21, geographical distinctions are emphasized in every moment: what the Russians are saying, how the U.S. is arguing a point, what the agenda of the Saudis is, how the Chinese want something worded. All distinct experiences, all distinct agendas, multifaceted perspectives colliding in this event called the Conference of the Parties for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At a panel today, “A Tale of Three Cities,” at the U.S. Center, the successes and challenges of three distinct geographies were discussed. Kotzebue, Alaska; Oakland, California; and Copenhagen, Denmark are (technically speaking) a village and two cities that could not be more different geographically and culturally, but all share a common thread. They have political leaders focused on making their spaces environmentally sustainable in the face of accelerating climate change.

In Kotzebue—which I mentioned in a previous post as an example of the impacts of climate change, such as coastal erosion, sea ice loss and food security issues—Councilwoman Maija Lukin was back to recount the ways the residents of the towns and villages came together as a group to adapt to their changing climate. Kotzebue, a town of 3,200 people that lies 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and has an average winter temperature of negative 24 degrees Celsius, was a town facing extinction, as waves ate away at the land, the sea ice thinned as the temperature rose, and native species hunted for food disappeared with the changes. Seals, for example, a major source of iron, could no longer be hunted on the thin ice, and the local health center reported a sharp rise in dangerously high rates of anemia among the townsfolk.

In the absence of any outside assistance, the residents themselves met as tribes and community members and decided best practices for adaptation practices to allow them to continue living in Kotzebue, as well as maintaining their traditional cultural practices. For example, they employed community based management of the dwindling caribou populations, an important food source of protein for residents. So the townspeople, as a community, came together and decided that any family who needed a caribou would get one, and harvests would be managed and shared.

The main road along the beach was eroding away, not only putting in risk the homes and buildings of the town, but also affecting fish stocks by silting the nurseries. Lukin learned it would cost $45 million to build a 4,500-foot road to shore up the coast. She said she was laughed at when she went to ask legislators for $45 million for a road for 3,200 villagers in a remote part of Alaska (the high cost of building in the Arctic). Who could politically justify that expense for so few constituents?

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 3.48.06 PM

So once again, the community came together: Lukin said she worked to get every stakeholder in Kotzebue, including tribal members, village businesses and regional organizations, and they focused on making the road the top priority for absolutely everyone. They went to Washington, DC, and used contacts there to argue for the road. They learned about how they could get funding from different pots of funding from federal and state sources, including for dust mitigation and road rehabilitation.

“We could not afford to wait for funding,” Lukin said. “We knew we had to act now, to work together, with the understanding we all serve the same people.” The road was completed in 2009, and President Obama visited Kotzebue this year, the first sitting U.S. president to travel past the Arctic Circle, to draw attention to the impacts of climate change.

In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf, detailed how Oakland went from slightly sustainable to highly sustainable, with 68 percent lower carbon emissions than the average U.S. city. Not only are they sustainable, but they’ve made a conscious effort to have these efforts help those in low-income neighborhoods first, as a means of boosting the entire city. They installed clean energy rapid bus routes from lowest income neighborhoods to the downtown job area; they required all ships coming into the large Oakland port to plug into electrical outlets instead of idling their diesel engines, helping to reduce fumes at a nearby low income neighborhood that had been suffering from high asthma hospitalization rates; and they changed regulations so that people could grow their own fruits and vegetables and sell them, if they wished. And Schaaf noted that various of these initiatives paid for themselves, such as the cost savings from installing LED lights for all street and traffic lights.

Of course, Copenhagan is well known as a sustainable city. But what is surprising is that Mayor Jorgen Abilgaard noted the financing for their green initiatives—which are on track to make the city carbon neutral by 2020—is largely private money. “For every time we use $1 in our city budget, we use $100 of private investment,” Abilgaard said. “And of that, we use $10 directly to invest in infrastructure.” He noted that partnerships with the private sector and universities was key to their success.

And so I wonder what Miami’s journey will be, as we move toward the challenges of climate change impacts in the 21st century. Based on experiences from other geographies, one thing is sure: We must come together as a community and engage all stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and public-private partnerships that result in significant action, and this must happen soon.

Images from http://kotzpdweb.tripod.com/city/shoreave.html and whitehouse.gov.