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Storm and Drought

What a great report!

The US National Climate Assessment is clear, definitive, and very straightforward.

The warnings are stark, and will be no surprise to BCSEA readers. If we fail to act, and to do so decisively, the increase in heat waves will become even more brutal.

Parts of the US southwest will become a permanent dustbowl as soil moisture falls. The deluges of rain will become more frequent. The sea level could rise by up to four feet by the end of the century, threatening the homes of five million people.

The temperature rise of two degrees Fahrenheit so far could rise by as much as ten degrees. And all because of fossil fuels, and a few other things.

What makes it a great report is not just the clarity of its reporting, but that it is designed for electronic reading, and that it is interactive.

Interactivity Stimulates the Mind

If you go to its website at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov, click on ‘Explore the Highlights,’ and then on ‘Overview,’ you will come to the first interactive graphic, where you can click to see the observed increase in temperature, compare it to the modeled historical increase, and see the projections of where the temperature is going.

Scroll down further and you can click to see how computer simulations show the climate would have changed if it was being affected by natural factors alone; how it would have changed when we include human factors (burning fossil fuels etc); and how the actual observations fit the curves. As the notes say, “Only with the inclusion of human influences can models reproduce the observed temperature changes.”

Continue to scroll down, and you can interactively explore the changes in very heavy precipitation.

Next, with frightening clarity, you can explore the way the rising CO2 tracks the fall in ocean pH, making the ocean more acidic as it absorbs the rising carbon dioxide. (Our current output of anthropogenic CO2 is a thousand tonnes a second. The ocean is absorbing 30%, or 300 tonnes every second.)

What's Causing the Rise in Emissions?

If you go back to the full report, click on ‘Responses,’ and then on ‘Mitigation,’ there’s a fascinating interactive graph that explores what’s causing it all. First click on every box to clear the system, and then click on population: the carbon rises.

Then click on ‘Per Capita Income,’ and it rises more dramatically. So for the US, the increasing greenhouse gas emissions have two fundamental causes: more people are earning more and consuming more.

But what about the things people are consuming? Click on ‘Energy Intensity,’ and you will see a falling graph, meaning we are becoming more efficient in the way we use energy.

Click on ‘CO2 intensity,’ and the curve also falls, meaning we are slowly decoupling carbon from the things we consume.

Click on ‘Structural Change” (which is not explained), and you will also see a falling curve.

Then click on  ‘Sum of Factors,’ and you will see that increasing consumption is far outweighing the other factors—and that does not include the carbon in products imported from China.

It’s not a report on the solutions, so there’s not a lot to dig into on that front; the P word (for Politics) and the D word (Denial) have a lot to do with that. If there were to be a report on solutions, I would hope that it would also be fully interactive or available through other media such as video.

But having praised the report for its interactivity, there is still an awful lot of regular plain text in it that may not be appreciated by all of its intended readers. 

A Future Possible Interactive Website for Solutions

Imagine being able to load an illustrative representation of a city or region, and click to see its current GHG emissions. Now imagine being able to click on ‘Transportation,’ for instance, and then on different transportation solutions, from great bike lanes to electric cars, and see how it affects GHG emissions.

Then imagine being able to choose one of the solutions, such as the bike lanes, and be able to do four things: (1) join a cycling lobby organization; (2) send a letter to the key local and state politicians; (3) sign a petition; and (4) tell your friends what you are have just done on social media.

It’s totally doable: there could be a version for each city; each state or province; and each country. The solutions to climate change are there—but they are locked up in voluminous reports, and books that few people read, however good they are.

The US National Climate Assessment has made a good start toward bringing the climate dangers out of their academic, report-laden box. Now we need to do the same for the solutions.

I can visualize such a website, which tells me it is possible. Now we just need to inspire someone with deep pockets to create the global template, which could be populated by local groups and organizations.