Climatically Speaking: The Best Stories on Climate, Food, Science and Culture, (11th ed.)

Icebergs, Photo by Ghost Presenter from  Pexels

Icebergs, Photo by Ghost Presenter from Pexels

Last updated April 9, 2019

Extreme weather events and climate change; California fires and a fire tornado; Michael Mann on climate change and the future of civilization; 4°C warmer, a map and some data; climate change, wheat and ticks; frolicking goats and an earworm. 


The answer is yes. From fires and floods in Greece, flooding in Japan, an imposing "fire tornado" in California to world-wide heat waves, climate change is linked to some of this summer's most devastating weather events, reports Bob Berwyn at Inside Climate News. Even communities in the Arctic Circle experienced record-breaking high temperatures. As climate scientist Michael Mann says in an article by Damian Carrington at the Guardian, "We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change." 

And then there's this from climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, as noted in a piece by Brandon Miller, CNN, at Click2Houston:

But today, climate change is loading the dice against us, making certain types of extremes, such as heat waves and heavy rain events, much more frequent and more intense than they used to be.
— Katharine Hayhoe, July 23, 2018

Welcome to the 11th edition of Climatically Speaking. The past couple of weeks have been sobering. But one of the most terrifying incidents was a fire whirl that formed during the Carr Fire in Redding, California. Winds exceeded 143 mph! Take a look, below:

To view photos of tornado fire clouds and extreme weather events in Greece and the Arctic, check out this piece by Eric Holthaus at Grist. Also, Alan Taylor at The Atlantic put together a collection of 28 images from the California fires. My favorite is the one of the highway patrol officer and the fawn: I promise you will smile. 

Climate, energy and environment

How does climate change make extreme weather events more extreme?

I'm glad you asked because in this video (to the right) from the Thom Hartmann Program, Michael Mann explains the science and how the world's greenhouse gas emissions could impact the future of civilization. One thing is certain, though: We don't live in boring times. 

What would happen if Earth warmed by 4°C? You don't want to know.

But I'm going to tell you, anyway. And it isn't pretty. There was a map floating around Twitter last week that depicted the habitable areas of Earth after 4°C of warming. But after contacting a climate scientist, I learned that the map doesn't tell the whole story. You can still take a look with the understanding that not only is it outdated but also speculative. For example, scientists now predict that the tropics would not undergo nearly as much desertification as the map represents. Neither would parts of the U.S. Yet, the combination of heat and humidity could make those areas, including the southern states, inhospitable—beyond what humans can safely tolerate. 

You can learn more about living on Earth with four degrees of warming at GreenFacts, here. Also, I found a nice, short summary at Vox. 

Please note: The map of Earth after 4°C of warming was originally published at New Scientist along with an article by journalist Gaia Vince, which you can access through the link to the map, above. 

Is that even possible?

But is 4°C of warming possible? And if so, when? In a piece at The Conversation, Richard Betts, professor of climate impacts at the University of Exeter, notes that without further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, 2.5°C–4°C of warming could occur by 2070, based on the most recent IPCC models. You can read a more detailed report, also by Betts, here, at The Royal Society Publishing. Although 4°C of warming by 2070 is at the far end of the spectrum, it is plausible. How this story unfolds hinges on the world's future CO₂ emissions.   

Food and Farming

Wheat, drought and heavy rains

One of the biggest concerns I have about climate change is food security. And as several journalists report at Reuters, during the recent heat wave, wheat fields in northern Europe were damaged so badly from high temperatures and drought that prices have already soared. In the Black Sea region, a combination of dry conditions followed by heavy rains decreased the quality of crops. Both regions are experiencing declines in wheat production rates this year, while U.S. wheat farmers will likely profit. 


But it's not all gloom and doom. In Boise Idaho, a heard of goats invaded a neighborhood, much to the delight of local residents. Marina Koren at The Atlantic followed up with the full story, here


Science, health and technology

A beast of a yeast

Take your pick: a newly discovered out-of-control yeast, Candida auris, which can "survive on cool external skin and cold inorganic surfaces" or a northward migrating tick. Let's start with the fungus. Controlling C. auris, as Maryn Mckenna reports at Wired, has mystified healthcare professionals around the world with its ability to resist anti-fungal drugs and survive hospital sanitation procedures. And C. auris is emerging concurrently across the globe in unrelated cases. But don't worry too much about it because, so far, it's only infecting patients who have compromised immune systems or preexisting health conditions. Also, once diagnosed, strict infection control, including isolation, can prevent its spread.

Ticks on the move 

Now, about those ticks: As the climate warms and our land-use practices change, deer ticks are inching their way northward across Maine, bringing Lyme and other diseases with them. Writing at The Center for Public Integrity, authors Kristen Lombardi and Fatima Bhojani report that people throughout parts of Maine can see ticks everywhere, " ... encroaching on roads, beaches, playgrounds, cemeteries and library floors." Gross. But not only does the governor of Maine, Paul LePage, dismiss climate change science, as the authors note, he also hasn't supported programs to solve the tick invasion. Though Maine isn't the only state dealing with a rise in deer tick activity; other states are grappling with an increase, too. Interestingly, Minnesota is now one of five states with the highest number of ticks infected with Lyme and other diseases in the U.S. You can read the whole story about ticks, LePage and climate change, here

And to think that just a year ago I was dreaming about moving to Maine! Perhaps, I should rethink that.


Graham Nash has produced a new music video of "Teach Your Children" that depicts social movements from the 1960s and the present. When the video changes from black and white to color, denoting a shift from the past to the present, I confess I cry every time. You can learn more about the inspiration behind the new music video and the artist and cartoonist Jeff Scher, who worked with Nash to produce it, in this piece by Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic.

Closing thoughts

How much more carbon can we put into the atmosphere before Earth warms 2°C?Predicting future planet warming under varying amounts of carbon dioxide emissions is tricky. And I'm aware that some of the information in this post may have left you with many questions. It did me. So, for now, I'm leaving you with an article by Chelsea Harvey at E&E News (reprinted at Scientific American) to explore on your own. It's all about the carbon budget and the complexities of calculating future emissions and temperature. Though if you insist on having data, here's some additional information from Carbon Brief on the carbon budget, including several infographics.

But I think our best option is to arrive at net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible—like, yesterday.