Climatically Speaking: The Best Stories on Climate, Food, Science and Culture, (9th ed.)

Icebergs, Photo by Ghost Presenter from  Pexels

Icebergs, Photo by Ghost Presenter from Pexels

California fires; heat domes and power outages; twice as hot and higher sea levels at 2°C; underground greenhouse video; vitamin C and scurvy; formaldehyde and leukemia; interview with Roy Scranton; and reducing your carbon footprint.


Welcome to Climatically Speaking. Last weekend, the biggest fire in California was raging in Yolo County—my county!—in the hills to the west of us. It's 83 percent contained, now. But why is California's fire season off to such a blazing start? One reason is because the 2012–2017 drought killed so much flora and all that dead plant matter is still around. In addition to that, the winter of 2017–2018 was drier than normal. You can learn more about California's fire season in this story by Paul Rogers at the Mercury News.

Though due to record-setting high temperatures and power outages, the Los Angeles area made the news last weekend, too. Because of LA's temperate climate, people who live there don't often need (or have) air conditioning. But during the recent heatwave, temperatures in Los Angeles reached 111°F. And farther inland and to the south, temperatures ranged between 114°–120°F. Imagine 120°F without AC! Interestingly, climate scientists predicted years ago—writes Jason Samenow in the Washington Post—that intense heat domes over Southern California would put excessive strain on the power grid. And it's happening. 

But the recent heatwave wan't just limited to Southern California; it extended to other parts of North America, too, breaking high-temperature records in Denver and causing dozens of deaths in Montreal. What's even worse, though, is that scientists foresee that this is only the beginning of hot spells that will become more severe by the end of the century. Welcome to climate change. 

Climate, environment and energy

Twice as hot and higher sea levels than first predicted under 2°C climate goal

A new study suggests that even if we keep global temperatures below a 2°C increase, the target set by the Paris Agreement, sea levels could rise by nearly 20 feet (6 meters) and global temperatures could be twice what scientists originally predicted, as Alvin Stone writes in this piece at UNSW Sydney Newsroom. Results of the study are based on several warming periods during Earth's geological past; however, it's important to note that because of present-day CO₂ emissions, our planet is warming at a much faster rate than it did during past events. And, then, there's this: 

The research also revealed how large areas of the polar ice caps could collapse and significant changes to ecosystems could see the Sahara Desert become green and the edges of tropical forests turn into fire dominated savanna.
— Alvin Stone, UNSW Sydney Newsroom

Food and farming

Below, is a fascinating video of an underground greenhouse in Nebraska. And given future climate predictions—and that includes what we don't know, too—I wonder if these will become commonplace. But you won't even believe how old the farmer is! He reveals it at the end of the video. Maybe I should take up gardening.

(Video published by Kirsten Dirksen, May 27, 2018)

Science, health and technology


In the mid 1700s, a Scottish scientist discovered that citrus prevented scurvy, a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency and one that plagued sailors on long voyages. After the discovery, all Royal Navy ships were stocked with lime juice. So why, then, did scurvy present a challenge to Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to Antarctica in 1911? One clue is that even though scientists figured out through experiments that citrus cured scurvy, vitamin C had not yet been discovered. But I would be doing a disservice to author Maciej Ceglowski at Idle Words if I gave away the whole story. And it is, indeed, a captivating one. Enjoy.

Please note: I heard about this piece from David Wallace Wells (@dwallacewells) on Twitter. 

Formaldehyde, leukemia and the EPA

Also, learn about a report that links formaldehyde exposure to leukemia and the EPA's failure to inform the public of the risks, in this piece by Eric Levitz at New York magazine, here.  


Amy Brady interviews author Roy Scranton about his new book, "We're Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change," in this piece at Guernica magazine. Interestingly, the first book I read on climate change was also by Scranton: "Learning to Die in the Anthropocene." Here's a quote from the interview: 

What we need to do is face the unpleasant facts. We need to come to terms with the seriousness of our situation, recognize it, and accept our fear, because we should be afraid.
— Roy Scranton in an interview with Amy Brady at Guernica magazine; Roy Scranton: Some New Future Will Emerge

Scranton goes on to say that he doesn't think governments can save us but that working at the local level is likely to be most effective. Scranton's new book is most definitely on my reading list. You can take a look at all his publications, including how to order his new book, on his author website


CO₂ levels beginning the week of July1, 2018, were 409.38 ppm, as per Sammy Roth's Climate Point newsletter (USA TODAY) and NOAA's website, here. The most recent edition of Climate Point includes stories about the declining health of our soils and how that impacts the nutritional quality of our food; the new EPA chief; how Trump's Supreme Court pick would affect environmental policy; and more. You can sign up for Climate Point, here. It's free.

Closing thoughts

What steps have I taken to reduce my carbon footprint? Well, I can't fly less because I only fly about once every ten years. In fact, I think I should be flying more! I'm not having enough fun. Just kidding. 

And I can't drive much less, but I could save a little gas by planning my trips to the grocery store, which requires being more organized in the kitchen. Sigh. Though now that it's summer, I've managed to go nearly a month on a half a tank of gas! But I live in a small town where everything I need (and want) is within a three-mile radius of my apartment. And that's probably not true for most of you. Also, during the school year, my 14-year-old son takes the bus home with his buddies.

I use renewable energy certificates through Arcadia Power in addition to the renewable energy my community provides. You may have local providers where you live. If not, I encourage you to check out Arcadia Power. I wrote a post about them, here, but I haven't updated it in a while. So, they may have even more options than before. (Please note: I don't earn credits or money from the link, above, to Arcadia Power.)

That leaves buying stuff.  It takes a lot of energy, aka fossil fuels, to manufacture and ship goods around the planet. So anything you can do to live more simply and repurpose goods is helpful, although don't tell Wall Street I told you so! The last thing I want to do, though, is lecture you on the value of frugality and self-denial. I love clothes and furniture—electronics, not so much. But based on what I read—and I read a lot—we'll need to change our consumption habits in order to reduce global CO₂ emissions. 

Yet, at this point, no one who understands the seriousness of climate change is at the helm steering us to a safer planet; no one has a master plan. For now, that leaves you and me—and communities around the world that do have plans. And, hopefully, for the sake of our kids and future generations, the U.S. and other countries will hop on the bandwagon before it's too late because Earth will recover—no matter what we do. This isn't about Earth; it's about all the plants and animals that live on it.     —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!