Week 31 in Photos & Headlines: Worst Fires in 10,000 years, Hottest July in Shanghai in 140 years, 49K Homeless in N. Korea

Week 31, 2013 – Climate change photos & headlines from across the world.

Happy week 31 of 2013…and welcome to the new normal.


This first story is something I wish everyone understood. It’s such a dramatic tell-tale that so few witness. All the signs are there for us, but with only print and photos trickling their way into our lives it’s easy to ignore the warning signs. Imminent danger ahead:

Siberia (of all places) Experiences Historic Heatwave

Sub-Arctic-Forest-Fire Siberia sparks the imagination with images of frozen landscapes and an archipelago of cruel Gulags where poorly clothed prisoners are worked to death, if they don’t freeze first.  Indeed, it is a region known for its harsh, sub-arctic weather conditions- and one of the last places you’d expect to find a heat wave.  Not anymore.  While a Siberian “summer” usually consists of temperature in the high 60s (Fahrenheit), this summer it’s leapt to 90 degrees.

Sub-arctic regions from Alaska to Siberia are also experiencing increasingly horrible wildfire seasons.  In Alaska’s boreal forest, fire activity is “higher than any other time in 10,000 years” as Tom Yulsman writes in Discover Magazine.

Right now in Siberea, smoke covers an estimated 40,000 square miles and government officials report that at least 7 miles of forest are currently ablaze.

Sources: Discover Magazine, Weather Underground.

China Melts in Record-Breaking Summer Heat

Chinese-Heat-Wave The hottest July in Shanghai since record keeping began 140 years ago was measured this week as temperatures soared across China.  In this city alone, at least 11 people have already died from the heat and hospitals are scrambling to keep up with an influx of heatstroke patients. The Chinese government’s meteorological authority issued a Grade 2 alert due to the heat, the first in the nation’s history since the warning system was designed in 2010.   As a result weather reports are ordered to be more frequent and power/water companies must take measures to insure continued service despite the heat.

This is especially unwelcome for the 12.2 million Chinese already suffering from extreme drought and losing crops in Southern China.

The Shanghai Daily also reports that surfaces outdoors are hot enough to cook raw meat on. Yikes.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Shanghai Daily.

28 Killed, 49,000 Homeless After North Korean Floods

North-Korea-Floods North Korea is accustomed to heavy rains at this time of year, and even expects some flooding as a result of the summer downpours. But as the global climate shifts toward more extreme weather, floods of historic proportions have become more and more common. Global Post reports that the current rainy season has destroyed 13,340 hectares of arable land and a large portion of the country’s crops. As the country struggles to rebuild itself, it will also have to cope with a massive food and fresh water shortage.

Despite the damage and fatalities, this summer could have been much worse. During the summer of 2007, 600 North Koreans were killed in floods after the season’s rains. Climate scientist Ben Habib published a paper in 2008 suggesting that the country’s political regime (not to mention the welfare of the country itself) was imperiled by climate change:

Climate change impacts on North Korea include decreasing crop yield from the agricultural sector, changing precipitation cycles, and increasing incidence of extreme weather events…The state is already weakened from ten years of famine and economic isolation, and is inhibited by a rigid totalitarian political system, crumbling infrastructure and reliance on external aid.

It seems this gloomy prediction from 2008 is beginning to come true…

Sources: Global Post, Al Jazeera, Climate Adaptation.

Brazillian Drought Leaves 400,000+ Households Facing Fresh Water Shortage

Can you imagine going a year without seeing any rain? This is a reality for many families in Northeastern Brazil, which is facing one of the worst droughts, just fifty years after the last one. Selling water is a booming industry- many can make a living by transporting clean water into affected regions by donkey. Poorer families who cannot afford this luxury must rely on government-funded water supplies which often are exhausted within a half hour of opening to the public.

400,000 households are currently facing fresh water shortage after more than a year without rain. Enterprising businesspeople will continue importing water into affected areas, but the situation is grim for those who cannot afford to pay for a share of the dwindling supply. Source: Al Jazeera.

Polar Blast Shocks South America

South-America-Snow More from poor Brazil, where weather weirding is the new normal: Droughts in the North while the South gets flurries of snow. Although some colder temperatures are expected this time of year in South America, some areas saw snowfall for the first time in decades, and in Argentina 6 people are confirmed dead as a result of the cold snap (which got as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit!).

Even the Pope, who at the time was visiting Brazil to speak at Rio, prayed for better weather.

Source: Al Jazeera.

In Other News:

Haliburton Destroyed Evidence In Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Three years ago, 11 people died in what became the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history: the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill. Now Haliburton, a company that BP consulted when designing the doomed rig, is pleading guilty to destroying evidence of its role in the disaster.

Haliburton recommended that BP use 21 centralizers (metal rings surrounding the pipeline casing for stabilization) to strengthen the rig, but BP only used 6. Haliburton ran tests after the 2010 disaster and found that using fewer centralizers had no role in the disaster. This meant that Haliburton could not claim that BP was completely at fault for the spill because it did not follow the recommendation. So Haliburton tried to make this information disappear. Haliburton has plead guilty to the charge of destroying evidence, and we will see how this changes the penalties doled out by the Department of Justice in the coming weeks. Source: US News.

New Study Finds Sea Level Rise Worse Than Originally Predicted

Scientists estimate that the sea level is set to rise about 1 inch every decade based upon current measurements. But this does not take into consideration another factor. As we continue to pump more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, global warming will accelerate (and thus the sea level will rise faster as time goes on). Scientists had previously considered a constant increase of CO2 when measuring the sea level rise rather than a model that takes into account the “snowball effect” of CO2 building in the atmosphere.

With this in mind, some scientists are revising their estimates to almost one foot of sea level rise per decade rather than an inch. Climate Scientist Ben Strauss, in a recent analysis written for Climate Central, also found that:

[It] appears that the amount of carbon pollution to date has already locked in more than 4 feet of sea level rise past today’s levels. That is enough, at high tide, to submerge more than half of today’s population in 316 coastal cities and towns (home to 3.6 million) in the lower 48 states.

He does note that this estimate does not take into consideration the possibility of drastic cuts in emissions worldwide, but that’s cold comfort given how effective such efforts have proven to be thusfar… Source: Climate Central.

Nearly 90% of S&P Global 100 Index Companies Identify Extreme Weather/Climate Change as Business Risks

Looks like businesses are finally starting to catch on… A new report published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions took a close look at how some of the most successful companies on the planet are dealing with climate change (if at all). A surprisingly high number of them are concerned about the effect our changing environment could have on them:

Sixty two percent have either experienced negative impacts of climate change or expect to within 10 years. Their top concerns include damage to facilities, loss of water or power supplies, higher costs and disruption of supply and distribution chains.

Unfortunately the downside of this report is that most companies aren’t sure how to proceed despite their concerns. They just return to business as usual. The CCES stresses the importance of creating analytical tools for assessing the impact of climate change on business so that companies can better understand how to deal with the situation. CCES is not alone in raising concern for business in the wake of climate change: a Worldwatch Institute report published in May found that 69 percent of overall losses and 92 percent of insured losses due to natural catastrophes worldwide occurred in the U.S. last year. While it’s a huge step in the right direction for companies to be aware of climate change, what’s ultimately most important will be a shift towards sustainability rather than only resilience to extreme weather. Source: Environmental Leader.

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