The Definitive Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) Thread — General Discussion and Questions

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  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 08:41am

    #21

    jrf29

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    Interesting

Thank you for your response.  Very interesting. 

Of course, I agree that being in a predicament doesn’t mean we get to throw up our hands and trust in fate.  Shielding your face and tucking your head into your chest is the perfect example of working to mitigate an outcome.  On a societal scale outcome mitigation requires creativity and a willingness to act decisively.  In fact, I would argue that planning ahead for effective climate outcome mitigation requires far greater will than desultory efforts at implementing “feel-good” solutions, because the former course requires that we be brutally honest with ourselves and accept that we cannot avoid pain . . . which is all the more reason why I tend to think that mitigation efforts will not come out of national politics! 

Most people (and environmental organizations) I see are hoping for more coordinated international efforts on the issue, about which I am, like you, pessimistic.  Some enlightened nations may demand action on carbon emissions today, but (a) they have free access to Asian markets where fossil fuels are still burned with impunity, enabling them to avoid much of the economic pain, and (b) there aren’t more pressing problems on their plates. 

As peak energy puts the explosive economic growth of the past century into a slow reverse, governments will have their hands full with problems of existential dimensions.  As a consequence, I expect that over the next few centuries, as energy grows ever more scare, nation states will do anything necessary to slow the rate of economic contraction today, even if it comes at the expense of “a little more” climate change tomorrow.  International agreements tend to fall apart in this environment.

Effective mitigation strategies, then, will likely come at the regional level.  And l doubt that humanity will ever think of these actions in terms of “global warming mitigation.”  Probably it will be “drought mitigation,” or “flood mitigation,” or “famine mitigation” : palpable problems that humans can understand and wrap their arms around.

I think we will end up putting out fires as they break out.  Disappointing in one sense.  But in another sense, in “fighting fires” humans will be in the situation where our admirable abilities are at their strongest.  It is rapidly developing acute situations which bring out humans’ immense ingenuity, flexibility, potential for cohesive action, generosity, and singleminded determination.

  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 11:52am

    #22

    Damnthematrix

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    Getting out of here

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Mike,

Assuming you are in the US, if you can give me a vague location (state), I can probably provide you with an interesting plot of the seasonal temperature and precipitation changes over the last 60 years to see how it corresponds with your bones!

Actually Mark, I’m in Australia, SE QLD to be more precise….. I was interested to see you’re studying our neck of the woods as well as the US…

Mike

  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 06:21pm

    #23

    Mark Cochrane

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    Down Under

Mike,

I spent time in your backyard twice last year, One stint in Brisbane and another working the back country from NSW to Rockhampton. Beautiful country.

I have just acquired all the met station and gridded climate for Australia and have it being worked up with colleagues in Tazzie. I’ll get it back here within a month or so and intend to run similar anlayses that I’ve got ongoing for the US data so hopefully I will still be able to post something to check your bones against!

Mark

  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 08:27pm

    #24

    Mark Cochrane

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    Recipe for disaster (450ppm)

I actually read Heinberg’s book ‘Blackout: Coal, Climate and the last energy crisis” last year. Definitely an important part of the peak energy discussion. With regard to the climate implications, first a few points to make.

 1. The target of 2 degrees celsius warming is not a magic number. There is nothing that say that if we can hold that line that everything will work out alright. What it is, is the most conservative target where pretty much everyone working on the IPCC science summary could agree that anything higher would produce unimaginable societal consequences.

2. 450ppm CO2 does not equal 2 C of global warming – the science of climate change is continually evolving. Every year we get better paleoclimate data, more historical data and better understanding (or discovery) of feedbacks in the climate system. For those who don’t know, feedbacks can be positive (meaning making things continue in the direction of change) or negative (meaning making things return toward their initial conditions). Almost everything we’ve discovered in the last decade shows we have underestimated the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Trying to achieve a global temperature increase of no more than 2C, when accounting for feedbacks, has led to shifting targets for CO2 levels. The most recent target has been placed at 350ppm, which is a problem since we are already at 392ppm and rising about 2ppm per year.

4. Peak energy – I have been trying to wrap my head around what this means for climate for the last year. In principle it means that we probably can’t achieve the worst case scenarios of the IPCC(A2, A1F1) unless we find a new source of more fossil fuels (clathrates anyone?) or trigger more feebacks than we’ve already noticed. So the climate of 2100 and beyond may not be as extreme as the business as usual (BAU) scenarios. However, it has little to do with what we can already expect in the next 30-50 years.

5. Aerosols – atmospheric pollution is shielding us from much of global warming. This is one of the more underappreciated facts of climate science. At its simplest, all of the particulates we pump into the atmosphere act to make things a bit hazy like a fine shade cloth over the planet. This reflects a chunk of the sunlight and acts to cool the planet, shielding us from the full effects of greenhouse gas-related warming. What this means is that as we cut our emissions levels (whether through clean air acts or peak oil limitations) the rate of climate change will accelerate. We are stuck in a damned-if-you-do, more-damned-if-you don’t situation. CO2 increases last 100+ years in the atmosphere while particulates last only weeks to months. Based on the existing literature, I have generally assumed that if we could suddenly stop all emissions tomorrow (think of the History Channel’s ‘Life after people’) then the planet would double its warming within weeks. However, if the most recent work by Hansen et al. (December 2011 – see pdf here) is correct, then the situation is even more dire. We have bought the equivalent of sovereign negative energy bonds and we now have to either 1) keep printing more (polluting) at an ever less sustainable value, or default (pollute less) and face the true costs of our greenhouse gas-related energy retention debt.

For a more lucid and well referenced treatment of why 450 pmm is not a ‘safe’ target limit see this piece at Skeptical Science (link). In short, peak energy doesn’t do anything to “solve the problem of global climate change”, all it does is indicate more clearly when the final bill will come due unless we choose to default and pay the price (reduce energy use-related emissions) earlier. Just like you can’t escape Student Loans” through bankruptcy in the US, this condition has no loop holes. The debt must be paid, the only question is how much of it will land on our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond.

Mark

  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 09:08pm

    #25

    Damnthematrix

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    Getting out of here

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Mike,

I spent time in your backyard twice last year, One stint in Brisbane and another working the back country from NSW to Rockhampton. Beautiful country.

I have just acquired all the met station and gridded climate for Australia and have it being worked up with colleagues in Tazzie. I’ll get it back here within a month or so and intend to run similar anlayses that I’ve got ongoing for the US data so hopefully I will still be able to post something to check your bones against!

Mark

Hi Mark…..  I’m partiularly interested in what you might think of our idea to move from Queensland to Tassie…  Here I am thinking very long term, past our own lifetimes, organising a lifeboat of sorts for our kids and their potential families.

Mike

  • Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 11:12pm

    #26

    Mark Cochrane

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    Tassie

Mike,

I should be able to tell you more on that before too long. The preliminary Aussie regional future climate workup is a bit concerning due to the way the currents are moving. I dumped the materials on one of my grad students but as I recall the east side may have a substantial climate shift which could push the vegetation outside of its functional niche (in other words, there might be a type shift). Balmier but not necessarily good for the native vegetation. I got the climate reports on a confidential basis because they hadn’t been officially released but this information came up in a public meeting, if the’ve done the official release I’ll see if I can get you the link.

As a lifeboat location I’d say it’s a bit of a mixed bag due to demographics (low population density) and economics (highly dependent on resource extraction) but you probably know more than I on that score. Climatically, I think that if you are taking the long-term view it probably gets better for agriculture over time. In the next 2-3 years, we should have a better handle on what the changes mean for the fire regimes and native vegetation in general (or we’ll have to answer to a few funding agencies…). As for all locations, timing and the particular dystopian future scenario you envisage colors what one thinks. Personally, I love the place though I’ve only been there a few times. Given that it is the birthplace of permaculture there is a lot to like.

Cheers,

Mark

 

  • Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 02:25am

    #27

    jrf29

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    Re: Recipe for disaster

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the detailed answer.

Mark Cochrane wrote:

What this means is that as we cut our emissions levels (whether through clean air acts or peak oil limitations) the rate of climate change will accelerate. We are stuck in a damned-if-you-do, more-damned-if-you don’t situation. CO2 increases last 100+ years in the atmosphere while particulates last only weeks to months.

Just fantastic.  That’s the best news I’ve heard since my pet goldfish died last week.

Mark Cochrane wrote:

clathrates anyone?

  I’d heard of the theory of bulk methane releases from beneath a melting arctic permafrost, but I didn’t know about methane clathrates until your mention of the word caused me to read about them.  Interesting substances (although the diagrams are giving me horrible flashbacks to organic chemistry!)  I’m not prone to fright, but the clathrate gun hypothesis is pretty scary.

Mark Cochrane wrote:

The most recent target has been placed at 350ppm, which is a problem since we are already at 392ppm and rising about 2ppm per year.

  Yes, if our goal is to meet the target, then that situation does sound like a slight “problem.”  The scientific penchant for understating conclusions can be hilarious sometimes.

ABC World News wrote:

FLASH: WORLD LEADERS PRODUCE INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT ON NEW CO2 TARGETS.

  • Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 04:27am

    #29

    Stan Robertson

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    Hi Mark

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Hello Stan,

Thanks for the post. Having an honest assessment of the science is what I am aiming for. I’d like to assess what level people want this discussion at? As I see it we have everything from idle curiousity to well-informed posters. Some want a ‘spare me the math’ coverage and others want very detailed information. To the extent possible I’d like to provide materials at a level that works for most everyone. I do my best to demistify the science.

You ask for verifiable data, fair enough. In what form would that have to be? My stock and trade is peer reviewed publications. You throw out a lot of matter of fact conclusions that I am unaware of in the peer-reviewed literature. Which proxy data are you deriving your conclusions from? Tree rings, bore hole temperatures, sediment or ice cores? If you want the discussion that your post asks for then please repost your material with the same level of fidelity that you are requesting. I can then respond appropriately.

I can guarantee you that I don’t have a policy agenda to push and I’d prefer it if the thread stayed more on the science and less on the political agendas of various ideologies. In case you are unaware of it, I’d like to point out that recently even the ‘skeptical scientists’, doing a detailed analysis addressing most of the supposed flaws in previous climate science have proven that the planet is warming in line with or even more rapidly than NASA, NOAA and the UK Met have indicated (BBC link)

Mark

Hi Mark,

I doubt that you will find any credible skeptic who would argue that the earth has not warmed in recent times. That is not the issue. The issues are what are the reasons, what can we expect in the future and what, if anything should we do about it. I think most would agree that if a global warming of only 1 – 2 C is in prospect, then adaptive measures might be our best response. If caused by CO2 and more than 2 C, it might be best to try to combat it. The reason that cap and trade or direct carbon taxes are presently going nowhere is that the case for catastrophic warming has not been made and the reason it has not is that it is pretty clear that what we have seen so far is not beyond the bounds of normal climate variability. Anyone who is interested in climate science needs to study the historical climate and weather records carefully.

Let’s start with any peer review studies that you might have that contradict any of the “matter of fact” things that I wrote. Do you have anything beside’s Michael Manns’ fraudulent hockey stick graph that would contradict a large number of peer reviewed studies that verify the medieval warm period? Greenland had a thriving agricultural community during that period. That is pretty strong evidence that the current warming in the arctic is not beyond normal climate variability.

Are you familiar with Milankovitch cycles? If not, where did the CO2 come from as deglaciations have occurred? Do you have any peer reviewed studies that show that droughts, floods, severe storms, etc, of recent decades are exceptional when compared to data for the last two hundred year? I have some that show that they are not.

Surely you won’t argue with the 1.3 C direct warming affect that the UN IPCC calculated for a doubling of CO2.  The more catastrophic levels of warming that they have projected are due to positive feedback effects. Both positive and negative effects exist and they should have been active over the past two hundred years, during which we have had about 0.7 C warming. This alone suggests a relatively low climate sensitivity to additional CO2. In the parlance of climate science, we have have had about 3 watt/m^2 of positive climate “forcing” from addition of all greenhouse gases since about 1750, along with a negative forcing of about 1 watt/m^2 due to soot and sulfate aeorosols. During that period the CO2 concentration has changed from about 280 ppmv to 390 ppmv. If all of the 0.7 C warming over that period is due to additional greenhouse gases, we should have a sensitivity of about 0.7/(3-1) = 0.35 C/watt/m^2. The climate models indicate that we should expect about another positive 3.5 watt/m^2 forcing from additional greenhouse gases as CO2 levels are doubled and about negative 1.1, again from aerosols. Thus we should expect a temperature change of about 0.35x(3.5-1.1)xlog2/(log390/280) = 1.8C. If solar or other variability contributed some of the warming since 1750, then the sensitivity would be lower than the 0.35 C/watt/m^2. and the expectation would be for a temperature increase less than 1.8 C.

Stan

 

  • Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 05:51am

    #28

    jrf29

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    Let’s bring it home

OK.  If I can beg just a little bit more of your time, I want to capitalize on our agreement that humanity is potentially facing a predicament.  At some point, then,  we’ll have to ask ourselves, “OK.  If all this global warming stuff is true, then what exactly can we do about it?”

Since you have read Blackout (I have not), let’s assume that we are facing a “Heinbergian” future where, even barring global climate change, there are credible threats to the existence of industrial civilization looming on the horizon. Let’s ditch the rose-colored glasses for a little while and make some unpleasant assumptions:

(a)  Climate science is roughly correct in its current conclusions.

(b)  Humanity will achieve noteworthy, but limited, success in curtailing fossil fuel use over the next 50 years.

(c)  By 2040 AD, many of the world’s governments will increasingly have their hands full dealing with serious problems including domestic unrest and even starvation among segments of their populations, caused by declining energy resources.  National ability to control CO2 emissions will deteriorate more rapidly after 2060. (Hubbert modelling suggests that by 2040, U.S. domestic oil production will have fallen to 10% of its current levels, placing us firmly in Third-World nation territory in terms of per capita oil use, assuming that imports are no longer available.)

(d)  Increases in availability and efficiency of alternative energy and energy storage will continue.  However there will be no massive breakthrough on the order of fusion power.  Alternative energy sources will continue to suffer from intermittency and portability limitations, and lack of adequate storage as noted in “A Nation-Sized Battery” by Dr. Murphy (noting that it would require 6x known global lead reserves to construct a lead-acid battery with sufficient storage capacity to allow the U.S. to supply just 10% its total power needs though wind and solar energy for 5 years).  These limitations, and our progressively impaired capacity to build new infrastructure, will necessitate continued dependency on fossil fuels, especially for war and agricultural operations, including food transport and maintaining the necessary transportation infrastructure.

(e)  Atmospheric CO2 concentration will ultimately come to rest somewhere slightly above 450ppm, as currently available fossil fuel sources are used, whether slowly or quickly.

(f)  Even if the enormous energy subsidy of fossil fuels could somehow be replaced through alternative sources, soil erosion (currently proceeding at more than 10x replacement rate on arable lands), depletion of non-renewable resources vital to food agriculture (e.g., phosphorous, aquifers), and depletion of other non-renewable resources such as uranium and other metals (increasing energy costs putting currently viable ore grades, such as the Bingham Canyon Mine referred to in the Crash Course, well beyond our reach).  All these factors depict an Earth with a long-term carrying capacity that is significantly less than seven billion humans.  While we may not be in danger of a die-off this century, conditions will nevertheless grow streadily more miserable for large swaths of the world population, particularly in the latter years of the century.

If any of these assumptions seems so completely implausible that is is not worth discussing, please say so.  Otherwise, since our assumptions are of a Heinbergian world, we’ll remember that, as Mr. Heinberg says, “Scenarios are not forecasts; they are planning tools.”

Conclusions:

1).  Things can get pretty dreary when you forswear optimism.

2).  To me it seems that climate change is simply a “+1” to each of the major problems that humanity is already facing, such as our ability to grow food, and our ability to maintain the infrastructure that currently comprises our major cities and our transportation networks. 

In short, it seems that in preparing for resource depletion, we would already be doing most of the things necessary to prepare for climate change (e.g., increase both individual and community resiliency and redundency, increase energy efficiency, compact community development, multiple transportation choices, mixed land uses, practices to conserve green space, etc).

— If we are above the age of 60, then we can probably focus almost exclusively on financial preparations (and physical preparations for possible events consequent to a financial crisis) and say, “So long, suckers!” to the younger generation.

— If we are in our 20’s, then we may have to prepare ourselves for a future of increasingly more frequent shortages, disruptions, and “black swan” events.  Some home solar panels couldn’t hurt.  Neither could a small garden, a bicycle, good dental care, and good relations with our community.  Avoiding a permanent home in Manhattan or New Orleans might be a good idea.

The question:

So, is the best individual and community  response to resource depletion the same as the best response to global warming?  What twists does climate change add?  Everybody on this site already knows that we need to get ready for a future with a lot less energy.

What definite information can climate science currently give us that would further inform our actions in preparing ourselves and our descendents for the future?  The one obvious twist that global warming adds to the recipe is the rise in sea level.  It is useful to know that at some point (when?) Manhattan will be under water most of the time.  It might be useful to know if the area you are currently living in could be a desert in 40 years.  In what other ways does an understanding of the likely effects of global warming effect or change our plans?

 

  • Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 11:23pm

    #30

    Mark Cochrane

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    Home indeed…

Thanks for a comprehensive post summing up our current dilemma, capped off with a question for the ages. Let’s see what I can do with it…

First, let me say that I have no major differences of opinion with your assumptions other than that I think you are a bit optimistic about our population potential during the energy wind down, even without climate change. Various long term carrying capacity estimates have been made but are generally about 1 billion, though we’ve been eating our seed corn, so-to-speak, so that may still be an optimistic number. This doesn’t mean we necessarily have to die off like flies. We could follow the inverted demographic pyramid of fewer children than adults in each generation to ramp down. Realistically, a rapid power down process means we cannot feed ourselves and do an even worse job of distributing food from places that can to places that can’t.

Back to the climate question though. The, as if I didn’t already have enough to worry about problem. You ask a good question because if you can’t do anything about something (climate change) there is no point in worrying about it. The best individual and community response leaves a lot of room to cover since each person and community have a different host of abilities and problems. For myself, I feel I have the training and therefore obligation to try to make a difference at a global level through my research, and a more personal level through my students and interaction like this. That said, most people haven’t chosen my path (probably wise). I won’t throw out the normal platitudes of call your congressperson and buy green (whatever that means). Given the framing of your question and the basic preparation/resilience mindset of our community here, I will speak to why this might matter to your preparations and planning.

Things to take into account.

1. On average the temperature is going to go up – BUT we don’t live in the average world. Average global temperature increase numbers are nice travel-sized descriptions of climate change but they tell you effectively nothing about the reality that you will experience. Peak oil etc probably means that we won’t achieve the worst case scenarios of 5-6 C change in global temperature by 2100. What does that number even mean? Let’s put it this way, since the depths of the last ice age until today we have warmed about 5 C. If we add another 5 C we are effectively punching the wayback machine for 30+ million years to before Antarctica had ice. The glaciers wouldn’t respond all at once but it would be a fait accompli for an eventual 70 meters or so of sea level rise. Note, the current IPCC (2007) predictions are for 18-59 cm by 2100 but they are wrong and they knew they were wrong but they couldn’t use data from after 2005 due to the rules (yes they exist), the common figure given now is 2m but with an uncomfortable possibility of up to 5 meters (pdf). Incidentally, just because the models end at 2100 doesn’t mean the warming does. Planetary response times vary due to different components of the Earth system with about 40% of the temperature impact in a decade, reaching 60% by a century after the emissions. The other 40% will play out over a millennium or so. In the mean time what should you know/do? Realize that temperatures will go up but that night time temperatures will rise faster than daytime temperatures. This means heatwaves are more oppressive because you don’t get to cool down at night. It also means higher dew points which equates to more time with wet leaves for your crops and a corresponding increased likelihood of disease.

2. Weather is going to be a lot more variable. Climate chaos is one of the current buzz words (for example). Climate is average weather, if the climate changes it doesn’t mean that everything shifts nicely in one direction or acts the same in each location or through time. In most places what this means is that ‘unusual’ events will become increasingly common. For eample, where I live we had our ‘wettest ever year’ just over a year ago. Now we have had just about the driest 6 months on reacord (actually 0.01 inches higher). On average the weather may be fine but your crops won’t grow during the average year very often. The take home message is plant more and expect less. If you are a commercial farmer (at least in the US) take advantage of crop insurance. It is currently a federal subsidy that doesn’t reflect actual increasing risks. If you are depending on ‘the system’ for food, expect volatility in prices or availability, especially if globalization stops and/or the economy crashes and regions depend on increasingly local supplies.

3. Major climate and weather events are likely to become more common. The graphic below isn’t from scientists, it comes from the people (Munich Re) who insure the insurance companies! Supposedly the U.S. suffered 14 billion-dollar weather disasters last year (link). We aren’t alone, the rest of the world is getting the same treatment or worse (just ask DTM about Queensland last year). Nowadays if we have an event like this they send in the troops with aid. If our world gets a lot more local then we have to help ourselves. How do you prepare? Build stronger, pick your sites carefully, store more longterm food supplies – meaning more than you already are doing.

4. We better understand why things work not just what worked in our plantings. The knowledge of things on a family farm which has been operated for generations will be eroded much as inflation erodes your savings if you simply keep doing what always worked in the past. A kid born in Vermont in 2000 could be buried in the climatic equivalent of today’s South Carolina in 2080, even if he never left the farm. The apple orchard might be peaches with oranges getting increasing consideration. Growing zones will be changing a lot more. New things (plants, animals, diseases) will invade, existing vegetation will be increasingly stressed. Stressed vegetation gets sick/attacked much as you do when you are stressed.

The Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) is currently on a spree across the west, attacking mostly lodgepole, ponderosa, sugar and white pines. It’s not new but the synchronicity of outbreaks all over is. British Columbia has been particularly hard hit. Note that little thumb sticking out in Canada. The temperature warmed enough for the beetles to get over the Canadian Rockies. They’ve recently been confirmed to have developed a taste for Jack Pine. This means they can now spread across the boreal forest towards the Atlantic. The only thing slowing them down now is the extreme arctic cold that often covers the region.  The point being that bugs, disease and fire are nature’s way of clearing the landscape of vegetation that is no longer suitable for a location. Normally changes lke this would play out over millennia, we are compressing it into decades. Ecosystems aren’t designed to change this fast. What can you do? Mitigate change if you can, adapt if you cannot.

5. We are all promoted to ecosystem managers. Like it or not, we have collectively chosen to manage the entire planet’s ecosystems. We haven’t got a clue of how to build a functioning ecosystem but we are going to get a lot of on the job training in the coming centuries. If what normally grows in your region won’t anymore and nothing else can get there quick enough, we will either have to select the ‘winners’ and work to get them established or face the consequences. We don’t have a stellar record in this area so far (rabbits in Australia come to mind). The point here is that there is nothing inherently better or worse between today’s climate or that of the distant future. We and especally our decendants, no longer live in either though. The problem will be traversing this period of climate transition. What can you do? Keep track of your local weather as it changes and keep an open mind about what you try to plant over time.

6. Some places will become drier, others wetter but everywhere a greater percentage of the rain will come down in intense events. As we warm the planet, the air takes up more water. Raindrops get bigger, erosion increases and gully washers become more common. If you’ve experienced a tropical downpour you know just how much water can come down very quickly. Getting a months worth of rain in a week is a very different event than getting it in an hour. Places that never used to flood will do so. Placid little streams may change character quickly. There is going to be a lot of work for bridge builders going forward (whether or not we’ll have the materials is another question). If you have a rainwater storage system (good!), just make sure that you have as part of your design a spillover in case the rate or amount overwhelms your system so that the excess is channeled where you want it to go.

I could probably go on but I think I have said enough for the moment. On a cheerier note, just because we can’t imagine how we will live in a world unlike what we know, this doesn’t mean we can’t. Once we stop trying to get back to the past, we will become a lot more innovative as we look forward. Our predicament brings problems a plenty crying out for solutions.

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