In this country, scientists have been historically averse to link weather disasters -- such as flooding caused by huge storms -- to climate change.
The scientific cliche is well-known: No single meteorological event can be caused by climate change.
A leading theorist of climate communications, Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego argues that the general public is desperate for leadership on the subject of climate change, and that by always qualifying away the linkage between climate and meteorology, scientists are undermining their own authority.
In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last year after Typhoon Haiyan, she wrote:
When we emphasize the uncertainty, we appear to justify a course of no action on climate.
Instead, we might focus on the reality of the threat that warming poses, even though we can't say with any certainty that it caused the particular case in front of us. We might focus on the fact that we expect warming to cause exactly this type of extremely intense typhoon to occur more often — as well as a range of other harmful and irreversible consequences, some of them quite certain.
Well, In the UK this year, after the worst flooding in 248 years, Dame Julia Sligo -- the chief scientist of the Met Office -- did exactly what Oreskes counseled,and bluntly warned that climate change means more such disasters to come, and unapologetically linked climate change to the flooding.
Climate change is almost certainly to blame for the severe weather that has caused chaos across Britain in recent weeks, the Met Office's chief scientist has said.
Dame Julia Slingo said there was not yet "definitive proof" but that "all the evidence" pointed to a role for the phenomenon.
Climate change is almost certainly to blame for the severe weather that has caused chaos across Britain in recent weeks, the Met Office's chief scientist has said [to Rupert Murdoch's SkyNews network].
Dame Julia said the southerly track of the storms had been something of surprise.
She said: "They have been slamming into the southern part of Britain. We also know that the subtropical, tropical Atlantic is now quite a lot warmer than it was 50 years ago.
"The air that enters this storm system comes from that part of the Atlantic where it is obviously going to be warmer and carrying more moisture.
"This is just basic physics.'"
To an audience at the American Geophysical Union a couple of years ago, Dame Sligo said that her office was working on ways to forecast extreme events. Be interesting to find out if that system worked for the UK this year.
Here's a picture of one creature that might actually enjoy flooding -- in Worcester last week, from the Daily Mail.
For an upcoming fellowship in health reporting at USC's journalism school, I'm working on a couple of long-form stories. This is the first of them -- a look at how a federal grant aims to balance the scales of health for poor people in Ventura County. Hope it's of interest.
In Ventura County, which lies just north of Los Angeles in the sprawl of Southern California, great wealth -- in towns such as Thousand Oaks or Ojai -- can be found not far from great desperation, in towns such as Oxnard or Santa Paula.
Some of the contrasts startle. In Santa Paula, for example, about 14 percent of married couples live in poverty. In Ojai, a comparable in size community less than twenty miles to the north, 0 percent of married couples live in poverty, according to Census Bureau numbers.
Overall the statistics -- from a report backed by the Centers of Disease Control -- show that wealthy Ventura County residents eat better, they have better access to exercise, their lives are less stressful, and they live longer – almost nine years longer on average.
And a chart -- the heart of the piece in some ways. [Click to enlarge]:
Sometimes the news you would like to cover is not the news you encounter in a day at work -- but it's still news.
Here's just such a fact which tumbled, unannounced, from a 127-page assessment of Ventura County's overall health by its healthcare agency, in a major report released in December (2013), whose funding was backed by a substantial grant from the Centers for Disease Control:
Much of climate science is settled and doesn't need repeating. We know that injecting increasing amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere leads to warming, for instance.
But how that warming will play out in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, although often discussed, remains to be seen.
Several past studies suggested warming could lead to a weakening of trade winds over the Pacific, but, as Richard Allan of the University of Reading discusses in a fascinating new post on a major new study from Nature Climate Change, that might be all wrong. Maybe warming will lead to a strengthening of these trade winds, as the new study argues, which could feed into exisitng ocean circulation patterns.
Other studies have suggested that the warming expected in the atmosphere has been diverted into the ocean: this study posits a mechanism to explain that.
It's complicated as this -- no doubt simplified -- diagram shows:
But especially fascinating for us on the West Coast are the implications, which Allan discusses in an offhand style near the end of his post:
Such conditions are basically equivalent to the flip-side of El Niño, known as La Niña. In other words, the slowing of global warming may relate, at least in part, to the tendency for more frequent La Niña-like conditions in recent years. That gives us stronger trade winds in the eastern tropical Pacific, more burial of heat below the ocean surface, colder tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures, and slightly cooler global average temperatures than we might otherwise have seen.
The $64,000 question, then, is whether this increased tendency for La Niña-like conditions over the past decade is entirely natural in origin, or whether it might instead in some way be tied to climate change itself.
For California, especially Southern California, the 64k question is whether we will be seeing more La Nina conditions, or if this apparent tendency will pass. (As opposed to the question of global temps.) More on this and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation as the news comes in.
A couple of years ago Judith Thurman had a great piece in The New Yorker about pine nuts (sadly still not available to non-subscribers). She off-handedly included a great cauliflower recipe with a dirty secret. (Here's Gustiamo's version of that recipe.) She says the dirty secret is pine nuts: I say it's anchovies.
Regardless -- here it is.
Boil a cauliflower for about seven minutes. Let it cool: heat six tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron fry pan: add a minced onion, cook until translucent, five or ten minutes. (Start some pasta at this point.)
Add the cooked florets, a little saffron, and -- for grittiness -- some anchovies. Mash and mix them with the cauliflower and onions. Roast the pine nuts a little first for some extra toastiness, then mix in about one-quarter cup pine nuts and one-quarter cup golden raisins or currents. In a little chicken broth gently simmer the mix, stirring well so the anchovies disappear into the whole.
It's a unique recipe -- sweet, salty, healthy, inexpensive. Top with toasted breadcrumbs for the grit of appetite, sated.
The past is never dead. The past is not even past.
When William Faulkner wrote that, he was thinking of human history, but it's true on here on planet earth as well. Cycles repeat. For that reason, and because they were troubled by the drought they saw in the deep time record, paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram and a fellow researcher at UC Berkeley set out to present the full record of climate extremes in the Southwest to the public in a new book, The West Without Water.
In an an introductory op-ed in the LA Times this week, they write:
How extreme is this year in California's climate history? To answer this, we need to look back further than the 119 years we have on record, to the geologic past. Based on the growth rings of trees cored throughout the Western United States, AD 1580 stands out as the driest year in the last half a millennium, drier than 1976-77. It was so devastatingly dry in 1580 that the giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada essentially failed to grow at all; the cores show either extremely thin or absent tree rings. If the current drought continues in California through Oct. 1, this water year will be the driest not only in our modern records but in half a millennium.
But that's actually a little bit reassuring, because it implies that this sort of drought, when eventually it is over, at least will not return soon. For perhaps as long as 500 years.
If you look at the archaeological record, you see that the Native American population in the West expanded in the wet years that preceded those long droughts in the Medieval period. Then during the droughts, they were pretty much wiped out. There was the so-called Anasazi collapse in the Southwest about 800 years ago. In some ways, I see that as an analogy to us today. We’ve had this wetter 150 years and we’ve expanded. Now we’re using up all the available water, yet our population is still growing.
We’re vulnerable just like they were, but on an even larger scale.
[Image of groundwater levels in Central Valley from GRACE, NASA's gravity-measurement satellite. Red line shows groundwater levels from l962 based on USGS measurements -- green line shows satellite measurements since 2003]