“There is no planet B”. This slogan has become widely mentioned recently in relation to COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris. The slogan highlights that the debate about climate change relates to much more than simply a changing climate. The underlying processes have a lot to do with our lifestyles and the related patterns of consumption and waste which cause severe damages to the environment (including the global climate). Carbon emissions are therefore one major trigger of climate change, but are also an effect of our unsustainable ways of life. The ecological footprint shown in the following map is a measure that looks at the impact that humanity has on our planet:
The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties and the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol is held from 1 to 12 December. For COP 20 / CPM 10 delegates from around the world increased their carbon footprint by heading to Lima, Peru, to hopefully produce more than just hot air. So again it is time to speak about the weather…or climate.
In the face of unprecendented occurences of extreme weather, loss of species, and pollution, it is clear that climate change is affecting our planet. We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This quote from the Earth Day 2013 website outlines the theme for this year’s Earth Day campaign which runs under the motto Climate change has many faces.
As the Earth Day campaign points out, the stories of the impact of climate change are extremely diverse: “A man in the Maldives worried about relocating his family as sea levels rise, a farmer in Kansas struggling to make ends meet as prolonged drought ravages the crops, a fisherman on the Niger River whose nets often come up empty, a child in New Jersey who lost her home to a super-storm, a woman in Bangladesh who can’t get fresh water due to more frequent flooding and cyclones.”
All these tales have one thing in common: They are a story of our impact on planet Earth, but equally of the impact of a changing planet on human’s lives. Our species has become one that is not just living in the natural environment, but is one factor that changes the environment to a level that no other species did before. This is happening to an extent that geologists discuss whether this can be seen as a new geologic era. Nobel Prize laureate Paul Crutzen started promoting the idea of the so-called Anthropocene, a concept that has now left the scientific world and is increasingly entering the public debate regarding issues of global sustainability and humanity’s impact. Anthropocene.info is a project initiated by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) that aims to “to help visualize and better understand humanity’s geographic imprint in recent time.” Not only is it important to find better ways of understanding the complex interrelations of humans and their natural environment, to which visualisation can contribute, but also is it important to create a public understanding of issues relating to the challenges connected to global change.
Here is one example of a more challenging view existing knowledge that demonstrates how changing the view can make us rethink the way our natural environment is shaped. According to research by the US National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, “[t]he strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth’s climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most hurricanes do not reach their maximum potential intensity before weakening over land or cooler ocean regions. However, those storms that do approach their upper-limit intensity are expected to be slightly stronger in the warmer climate due to the higher sea surface temperatures.”
This is relevant due to the impact of more frequent flooding and cyclones on humans mentioned earlier. So where are these spaces where this is relevant. We know from historic records where there are tropical storm tracks, and the emerging pattern on a normal world map may be familiar to some of us (see here). But what if we change the perspective and focus on the actual areas that have the highest density of tropical storm occurrences. Using the records from 1945 to 2008, this intensity can be turned into quantities which are suitable for visualisation using the gridded cartogram technique. The following map shows a gridded cartogram of tropical storm intensity visualised over land based on a 0.25 degree grid. The larger a grid cell, the more tropical storm activity has there been over the past >60 years, indicating where the most affected areas of tropical cyclones (with a sustained wind speed of ver 40 mp/h) has been and how the climate patterns shape the world in a highly relevant issue of the Anthropocene:
While much of Europe has been denied a white Christmas, many of us were still having a white snow cover while the clocks went forward for ‘summer’ time this weekend. But although it appears that this winter is never-ending, it mainly comes very late this year. The coldest of temperatures and the main snowfall arrived in February and March, while the early winter months were even above average in some areas of central Europe.
Regular observations are collected regularly by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, which records data about the land surface temperature (i.e. “how hot the ‘surface’ of the Earth would feel to the touch in a particular location“, a different measure than the air temperature we see on the weather reports every day). This map shows the land surface temperature anomaly this March compared to the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980 projected on a gridded population cartogram where every grid cell is resized according to its total population. The projection used in this visualisation shows, how the world’s population was exposed to the temperature anomalies in the late spell of winter last month:
In the year 2000 there were approximately 15 million square km of cropland and 28 million square km of pasture which are represented in the two main maps. These are equal to 12% respectively 22% of the ice-free land surface. This is according to estimates of a study on the geographic distribution of global agricultural lands by Ramankutty et al (published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2008) who used a methodology of combining agricultural inventory data and satellite-derived land cover data to come to these figures (data can be accessed via Columbia University’s SEDAC). Continue reading
Starting today the world gathers in Durban for the COP17 climate change summit. In times where economic growth is more anticipated than a decline in carbon emissions, the prospects for a successful successor to the Kyoto protocol (coming to an end in 2012) is quite unlikely, and it will be interesting to see, what ‘success’ the delegates have to announce for saving the world from mad and often also tragic consequences of changing climate patterns. Continue reading