Climatically Speaking: The Best Stories on Climate, Food, Science and Culture, (5th ed.)

Photo of a glacier and icebergs along the calm water's edge,  Photo by Ghost Presenter from Pexels

Photo of a glacier and icebergs along the calm water's edge, Photo by Ghost Presenter from Pexels

Last updated June 10, 2018

Climate change and hurricanes; the carbon bubble; what farmers are planting in California; on moving to Arizona; the microbiome and gut-brain axis; climate change and art; sea-level rise and Hunts Point Market in New York; a more sustainable future for IKEA; another carbon dioxide milestone; coastal flooding and more. 


Welcome to the 5th edition of Climatically Speaking. Today's climate stories focus on powerful, slow-moving storms and the carbon bubble. Also, I'm starting a new tradition: We'll be tracking weekly carbon dioxide levels via Sammy Roth's Climate Point newsletter. I'll include a link at the end of each post in the Closing Thoughts section. 

Before I share today's stories, though, I would like to correct a mistake from last week's edition: In the study I summarized on intermittent fasting, scientists used rats, not humans. The correction is noted on my website. I loathe making mistakes. So, if you happen to see my editor hiding in a bush or hiking in the hills, please let me know!

New posts from the blog

"Twenty Goldfinches in a Willow Tree"—a poem about the sounds of nature versus the sounds of civilization 

climate, environment and energy

Powerful superstorms of the future might warrant adding a category 6 to the hurricane-intensity scale 

Do we need to add a category 6 to the scale that measures hurricane intensity? Climate scientist Michael Mann thinks so. As Bob Berwyn reports at Inside Climate News, scientists are concerned about the results of a new study that point to a future where powerful superstorms could bring stronger winds and increased flooding from heavier rains and higher storm surges. The study also suggests that areas where storms reach maximum strength are shifting northward and could threaten parts of New England and Europe. Mann believes that adding a category 6 is necessary to help protect lives and property, because even a 10 mph increase in constant wind speeds increases the likelihood of damage by 20 percent.

Yet, as Berwyn at Inside Climate News notes, this data emerges at a time when the Trump administration is removing flood safety standards designed to make communities more resilient. And I probably don't need to remind you that higher levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere trap heat; some of that heat is absorbed by Earth's oceans and increases the odds of more superstorms occurring in the future. 

It's important to note, however, that other factors might also affect the strength of hurricanes, such as wind shear, humidity and aerosols. And scientists don't necessarily expect an increase in the number of powerful storms. You can learn more about the details by reading the full report, here ( But to summarize, I'll leave you with this quote:

We thus expect tropical cyclone intensities to increase with warming, both on average and at the high end of the scale, so that the strongest future storms will exceed the strength of any in the past.
— Stefan Rhamstorf, Kerry Emanuel, Mike Mann and Jim Kossin;, May 30, 2018

the hazards of slow-moving storms 

This is not to be confused with storm strength—but rather, it refers to the forward movement of storms over land and sea. And according to a study in the journal Nature, as reported by Chris Mooney at The Washington Post, over the last 65 years, Earth's hurricanes have slowed 10 percent. This allows them to remain over land for an extended period of time while dumping large amounts of rain on vulnerable communities, which increases the risks of flooding from storm surges and water accumulating inland. As you might remember, this is why Hurricane Harvey caused so much damage in Texas. And although the results are consistent with what scientists would expect to see from climate change, study author Jim Kossin notes that other factors could be at play, too. So, more research is needed before scientists know how much of the slowdown is due to global warming. 

how super storms could impact New York city's food supply

Learn about the risks superstorms pose to Hunts Point Market, a food distribution hub in New York City, in this excellent piece by Sean Patrick Cooper, published at the New Republic. It reads more like a story and takes you in to the heart of the market. But one of the most remarkable things I learned from this piece is that Hunts Point Market is the primary food distribution hub of the New York area, "serving upwards of 22 million people within a 50-mile radius." And it's surrounded by water on three sides; yet, the market is not prepared to weather the next big storm. Though scientists predict that by 2030, people living in the New York region can expect large, powerful storms, like Hurricane Sandy, to strike once every five years. Also, as sea-level rise increases, the risks to New York's food supply become even greater, given the location of Hunts Point Market. But, as Cooper notes, other U.S. cities' food supplies are vulnerable, too. Is your city one of them?

the carbon bubble

Economics is not my strength, even though I got an A in economics 101. But you don't need to be an economics whiz to understand the basics of the carbon bubble. And just to be clear, I'm only reporting on what I've read; It's not my place to give financial advice. Now that I've piqued your interest, exactly what is the carbon bubble? 

I think the best place to start is this piece by Fiona Harvey at the Guardian. The carbon bubble is when fossil fuel investments— "coal mines, oil wells, power stations, conventional vehicles"—lose their value because of decreased demand as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy. Anyone who has a portfolio that includes a lot of fossil fuel investments could, well, lose a lot of money. And people who work in fossil fuel industries would lose their jobs.

As noted in the article, total investments in fossil fuel industries is estimated to be in the trillions. If the bubble bursts abruptly, it could trigger a financial crisis similar to the one in 2008, as Jeff Glorfeld reports at Cosmos.  And as Fiona Harvey also notes in this piece at the Guardian, "A sudden drop in demand for fossil fuels before 2035 is likely, according to the study, given the current global investments and economic advantages in a low-carbon transition." (cited study from the journal Nature Climate Change)

I think the carbon bubble would make an interesting project to explore further in upcoming editions of Climatically Speaking, extended over the next few weeks, because it's a complex topic. And this post is already getting long. So, shall we pick up where we left off next week? You can count me in!

climate, environment and energy in brief

May ushered in another bleak carbon dioxide milestone, with levels exceeding 411 parts per million (Scripps Institution of Oceanography). The article also notes that the rate of increase is speeding up. 

Anna Ringstrom, writing at Reuters, reports that IKEA plans to have a more sustainable business model by 2030, using only recycled and renewable materials in their product lines. You can read more details about what that means, here

A variety of factors, including sea-level rise due to climate change, contributed to last year setting records for coastal flooding around the U.S., as reported by Nicholas Kusnetz at Inside Climate News. 

A recent report suggests that Arizona could be a popular destination (it ranked 6th) for people fleeing from flooded coastal areas. In fact, some of these people have already moved into the Tuscon area. But will Arizona have enough water to support future migrations? There's more to learn in this story by John Upton at Climate Central. 

food and farming

If you love avocados, you might be concerned about what climate change will mean for some of your favorite dishes. In this piece by Nathanael Johnson at Grist, we learn that at least one farmer in California is planting an avocado orchard, despite the dire warnings of California's drier future. It's complicated. No, really, it's simple. Chris Sayer has bills to pay—like, now. And he not only knows how to grow avocados but also how to make frozen guacamole out of the ones that get sunburned. But he's also adapting to future droughts by growing cover crops between rows of avocado trees. And other farmers in California are planning for a drier future, too, which I find heartening. This is an excellent story, told from from the farmer's perspective. You might want to give it a read. 

science, health and technology

If you're interested in how the microbiome affects the brain and health, you'll definitely want to read this piece by Lindsey Konkel at Environmental Health Perspectives. It's excellent and contains so much detailed information that I don't know where to begin. So, I'm bailing on summarizing this one with the hope that you'll take a look. All I know is that I hope for a world where we one day use our knowledge about the microbiome to treat physical and mental illnesses. I suspect that you do too. 

culture: art and climate change

In today's post, I shared stories about the increased likelihood of more powerful, slow-moving storms; how New York City's main food distribution hub could suffer horrendous damage, risking citizens' access to food; and how less demand for fossil fuels could cause an economic crash, similar to the one in 2008. So, where does that leave us? In this thoughtful opinion piece from Ensia, Richard Heinberg emphasizes the important role that artists can play in translating the data-driven stories on climate change into works that express the human component. Perhaps these stories will help more people accept that climate change is, indeed, real and happening now. But also, art allows us to express our feelings about the extraordinary changes taking place. And that is an essential part of being human. 

And artists will have the opportunity and duty to translate the resulting tumultuous human experience into words, images, and music that help people not just to understand these events mentally, but also to come to grips with them viscerally.
— Richard Heinberg, February 1, 2018,

closing thoughts

Whew! For some reason this seemed like an exceptionally difficult post to write. I covered a lot of ground, though, and we all learned a lot about how climate change might affect storms. But, also, don't forget to check out last week's carbon dioxide levels at Sammy Roth's Climate Point newsletter, here. If you click on the graph, it will take you to his most recent post, or you can read it, here, where Sammy writes about what's happening in New Jersey and California with electric vehicles, along with other news on climate, energy and the environment. Until next week, no dancing with hurricanes, please. But do create some art.     —Laura

Please note: My editor took off for the hills and hasn't been seen for years. If you're a journalist or scientist and find mistakes in these summaries, please reach out through the contact form in the menu at the bottom of this page. I don't mind being corrected at all. Thanks!

Please note: Carbon dioxide levels have exceeded 411 ppm. An earlier version of this post, and the email version, indicated 211 ppm.


last week's edition of Climatically Speaking