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Visit yes, but do you want to live there?

Posted on January 27th, 2013 in Climage Change,Science by Robert Miller

Fig 1. Projected changes in median runoff for 2041-2060, relative to a 1901-1970 baseline, are mapped by water-resource region. Colors indicate percentage changes in runoff. Hatched areas indicate greater confidence due to strong agreement among model projections. White areas indicate divergence among model projections.

We have entered into a phase of global climate change where our ability to predict future weather patterns can no longer be based on past weather experience. We will still have four seasons, but an earlier intrusion of spring, an extended fall,  warmer winters, and hotter summers are likely to become even more pronounced in the coming decades. The time with which we might have mitigated and reversed the forces behind global climate change has passed. We are now faced with the challenge of adapting to the coming changes brought about by the anthropogenic  carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere that began to accumulate with the dawn of the industrial revolution. Our incapacity to alter the level of greenhouse gases endangers our planetary future, as we have entered into the phase where we must adapt to the inevitability of climate change, with only hints so far at the full range of the problems we must address to keep our economy in high gear, while we transition to a culture more compatible with the many changes we face that are just now on the horizon. Obama’s inaugural speech indicated a fresh commitment for addressing these problems, but serious obstacles remain in our political system of governance that will make significant changes difficult to achieve; we will receive an early indication about the seriousness of Obama’s commitment when he decides whether to continue with the XL pipeline project.

The National Research Council (NRC; a division of the National Academy of Sciences) has recently released a report, encouraged by a contingent of Federal Agencies that requested an analysis on how to improve weather forecasting and facilitate shared modeling information on a broader scale, with decadal weather modeling rather than the millennial models that are generally produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This recent report emphasizes the need for broader sharing of data from different modeling strategies and the development of application tools (APPS) that can be used to convert results from one modeling strategy into a form of data that can be more widely shared and serve as input data for other models. As we move into the period in which historical weather patterns are less useful, models based on continuously updated meteorological data, will have to be developed to help guide farmers to optimize crop selection and whole societies that must become more acutely aware of changes in sea levels and plan accordingly. An increase in sea level was certainly a factor in the destructive force of hurricane Sandy last year. Information such as this is also useful for appropriate selection of our vacation sites for both time and location as well as the regions where we want to live. Water availability and water quality will become more critical and undoubtedly issues such as the privatization of water will move from the back sections of our newspapers to the front pages. Water wars are already underway and water priorities (farmers vs urban dwellers) will have to be renegotiated. Can we abandon irrigation water for farmers to insure adequate water supplies for urban dwellers? These are unavoidable issues if these trends continue as projected.

Another source of useful information is the United States Global Climate Change Research Program (USGCRP) from whose 2009 report, Fig 1 was taken; this figure also appeared in the new NRC report. It shows the midcentury projections (2141-2160) for runoff (meaning the source of river runoff) from modeling data based on the current trends of global warming conditions and compared to the records for runoff from 1901-1970. What stands out is the projection for Southwest region of the country in general, but more specifically, the state of Arizona seems particularly vulnerable to changes in runoff water. Arizona is already a parched land, but it is projected to become even more so with a 20 to 40 percent decline in runoff. Currently Arizona gets its water from intrinsic runoff through the Salt River Project (SRP), which includes contributions from the Salt, Verde, Gila and Agua Fria rivers, from the Colorado River Basin (Central Arizona Project; CAP) that also supplies many other states in the Southwest and ground water aquifers that currently supply 43 % of the water for Arizona residents.  A loss of 20 to 40 percent in river runoff is a big number and a decline of that magnitude will impact on all the current sources of water for Arizona.  As the air warms, it can hold more moisture, such that the dry air of the Southwest will increasingly remove moisture from the already arid conditions of the soil, which, through precipitation (and a seemingly unholy alliance), will contribute to increased runoff in other regions of the country, including the Northeast and Midwest, areas projected to see an increase in runoff water. Hot air moisture absorption will also accelerate evaporation from water storage in dams, and decrease water availability in aquifers (the water table will go down, such that many wells will demand deeper drilling). Note that the Southern region of the United States is not colored because different models don’t converge sufficiently to make midcentury projections meaningful: more work is needed for runoff projections of the South. Some people will look at this map and conclude that water has to be moved from the Midwest to the Southwest and plans have already been drawn up to pump Mississippi flood water to the Colorado region to compensate for the decline in the Colorado River basin runoff that supplies water to much of the Southwest. Whether this will ever be built is an open question.  Perhaps some may look at these figures and still conclude that Arizona will forever be a great place to live and that someone will make sure that there will always be sufficient water. Others however will look at these projections and decide that Arizona is a great place to take a winter vacation, while moving the state far down the list of desirable places to live. I fall into the latter category: if nothing else, the threats of global climate change have forced upon our brains additional pressure to think more longitudinally! If we don’t annihilate ourselves as a species, perhaps this new pressure for long-term thinking will evolve bigger brains in humans and then everyone will realize the true threat we face for planetary survival of Homo sapiens and act with a more uniform dedication to the mission in front of us. The coming changes we can anticipate from the forced warming of our planet are not just related to water, but involve a whole panoply of new challenges ranging from the loss of coral reefs from acidification of the oceans, dramatic changes in forest species, more wildfires especially in the Southwest and threats to the survival of many different species. One can hope that as the threats from  global climate change come more sharply into focus, they will become a force for unifying the country to mobilize our energies like we did during WW II. Right now we live in a destabilized society. The science of global climate change has become so politicized, that we react to devastating storms only after they have occurred and so far, we are doing very little to either adapt or minimize their intensity in the future. Hurricane Sandy will force adaptation on the part of some home owners because insurance rates will become high enough that some will no longer afford to live there. But are we willing as a society to have the sole means of adaptation delivered to us through changes in insurance rates? Are insurance companies the pied pipers of global climate change?



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Hottest year on record

Posted on January 9th, 2013 in Climage Change by Robert Miller

Temperature Reports from NYT January 8, 2013

It’s not even close—2012 was the hottest year on record since temperature records were monitored beginning in 1895; the average 2012 temperature of 55.3 degrees beat the previous 1998 record by a full degree. More than 34,000 hottest daily temperatures ever recorded were reported at weather stations throughout the country last year. This is covered in the NYT today and it seems that just about everyone had a bad weather year (some regions along the West Coast were less impacted), from drought in the Midwest that is now threatening barge traffic along the Mississippi River due to record low water levels, to low crop yields throughout a large swath of the country, with Hurricane Sandy, generated at a time when warm waters in the Atlantic gave the storm a booster shot to  and revealed how vulnerable we are to large hurricane forces that fall on our major urban centers. It was largely a storm surge that did most of the damage, creating record flood levels that have never been seen in New York and along the Jersey Shore.  As the Times reports, the ratio of record lows to record highs was roughly in balance through the 1970s, but is now way out of whack created by far more numerous record highs compared to lows.

While 2012 was the hottest on record for the United States, it probably won’t set the high water mark globally. For one thing 2012 was a La Niña year, which produces a more mild climate condition such that it might rank 8th or 9th when the numbers are all reported, but for the United States, a full degree difference over past years is quite remarkable. If these preliminary reports hold up, it will mean that ten of the last fifteen years are the hottest years on record.


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Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States”

Posted on January 7th, 2013 in History,War by Robert Miller
Henry Wallace Featured in Time Magazine

Henry Wallace Featured in Time Magazine

The cable channel Showtime is currently airing Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States.” This is a ten part series, each of which is one hour, broadcast every Monday; the series is focused on the history of the United States during and after the Second World War. Oliver Stone narrates each episode, but he collaborated with historian  Peter Kusnick to create the series and together they have written a 784 page book “The Untold History of the United States” published by Simon and Schuster.  Kusnick also contributed substantially to the writing for each piece.  Stone and Kusnick have been interviewed on Democracy Now about their collaborative effort and you can learn more about the series by visiting Oliver Stone’s website, where you can also find his response to criticisms of the documentary. The television series consists of collages of old movie reels and images and explores recently declassified documents; it progressively moves through each President of the United States, but begins  with WW II. It is a colossal undertaking and was four years in the making.  My own view of Stone’s series so far (not over yet), is that it more or less represents the history of the United States in the postwar period that we all had to dig out on our own, not the version that we learned through history lessons in public schools and the propaganda movies, documentaries and scare tactics that we went through by learning to hide underneath our school desks during atom bomb air raid practices. As children we learned that we were in a titanic struggle with the Soviet Union and that they wanted to dominate the world with an evil system called communism. The mask of America as the “Shining City on the Hill” comes off in this series and it is hard to imagine trying to put it back on, certainly not until we do some significant repair work. But of course in the aftermath of WW II, we created a city, Washington D.C., whose mission is to continuously promote a delusional  version of postwar America that is quite different from reality (I often think of it as the Washington “Delusional Center” rather than the “District of Columbia”). The most obvious current delusional interpretation relates to our policies in the Middle East, as we align ourselves against the world, but on the side of Israel.

Stone begins the Untold History with the development of the atom bomb and shows footage, new to me, of Robert Oppenheimer preparing for the first bomb test. It is the success of the atom bomb and its use against Japan that Stone attributes to the beginning of the militaristic, security state that we have today, though it was 9/11 that gave us the securitized part. According to Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, who built the Pentagon before he headed the Manhattan project that developed the atom bomb, we used the bomb against Japan, not to force Japan into surrendering, but to show the Russians that we had a big advantage over them through our new military hardware. Groves believed that the atom bomb would give us a lead over the Soviet Union that would last for forty years, while scientists involved in the Manhattan project believed it would only take a few years before the Russians had their own device and they feared that America’s attitude about the bomb (scientists wanted to share the information openly) would lead to a nuclear arms race, which is exactly what happened; since 9/11 we live in fear of a nuclear terrorist bomb threat that we will have to live with, as long as nuclear weapons are around and my own guess is that if a nuclear device is ever detonated in an American city, God forbid, it will probably be one of our own. We have too many.

The morality of dropping the atom bomb on the Japanese is a theme in Stone’s history series. He suggests however that Japan agreed to our “unconditional surrender demand” (there was one condition that we agreed to which was that they could keep their emperor), not because of the two atom bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because Russia had entered the war against them and they feared that they would be annihilated by the Red Army, which by that time had acquired a reputation as a powerful, invincible military machine. After all, they had single-handedly defeated the vaunted German army.  I have written previously on Oppenheimer and the bomb culture that we unavoidably created through our romantic commitment to the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. We are still in the bomb culture mentality we created for ourselves, believing that we are invincible through our impressive military weapons systems, even though experiences such as Vietnam mean we have a hard time proving our military invincibility.

It will come as a surprise for most Americans to acknowledge that it was the Russians who won WW II. The Russian army inflicted more than 90 per cent of the total casualties inflicted on the German Army and the Russian people probably lost more than 27 million who died in their titanic struggle with Hitler’s invading army. It was clear from the beginning that Hitler wanted to wipe the Russians off the face of the earth. In response to the invasion, Stalin moved and recreated industrial cities by dismantling factories and moving them further inland. These efforts recreated an industrial nation that began to manufacture improved tanks and planes that were effective against the Germans. By the time we invaded Europe in 1944, the Russian Army had the Germans retreating back towards Germany and were destroying it in the process. The Sixth German Army led by  Friedrich von Paulus, had already surrendered at Stalingrad (January 1943). If Hitler had not attacked Russia, dislodging him from Europe would have cost far more American lives than what we suffered. According to the Untold History, at one time Russia had to engage 200 German divisions, while the most the allies confronted at any one time was about 10.  While Stalin was involved in a life and death struggle for the survival of his people, Churchill invaded Africa and induced the Americans to do the same, followed by our invasion of Sicily. Churchill continued to postpone plans to invade Europe, perhaps because he was afraid of confronting Hitler’s army given his experience at the beginning of the war, but he also wanted to avoid creating a superpower in the form of Russia at the end of the conflict. Churchill was determined to preserve the British empire and reassemble it after the war. It was Roosevelt that finally forced Churchill to plan and execute the invasion of Europe, and he did so because he felt an obligation to provide some relief for the Russian Army. Roosevelt saw and responded to the terrible suffering of the Russian people, while Churchill saw value in allowing the Russians and the Germans to degrade each other so the Russia would be less effective in projecting hegemonic power at the end of the war.

Truman never acknowledged the Russian effort in winning the war and less than two weeks after FDR died, he became President and started the Cold War by talking sternly to Russian minister Molotov over some of the challenges related to how Russia was handling Poland. Thus it was the Americans that started the Cold War, not the Russians and the real hero who ended the Cold War was not Ronald Reagan, but Mikhail Gorbachev. Had Ronald Reagan agreed to Gorbachev’s proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons, perhaps they would not pose the threat that they do today, a prospect made more horrifying by the events of 9/11.

Stone spends some time early on describing the events of the 1944 Democratic Convention; he emphasizes that if Henry Wallace had been the Vice President to Roosevelt rather than Truman, we would not have had the Cold War and we would not have dropped the atom bomb on the Japanese. Wallace had been Roosevelt’s Vice President from 1940-1944, and next to Roosevelt, he was a very popular Vice President. If his name had been entered appropriately at the convention, he would have won the VP nomination handily. But hardliners in the party insisted on a more conservative Vice President in the 1944 election and as a result, Roosevelt got Truman, whom he never brought into the loop, as he held him with low regard. Roosevelt only lived a few months into his fourth term and Truman suddenly found himself immersed in a set of bewildering decisions, one of which would soon determine America’s future—whether to drop the atom bomb on Japan. Unfortunately, for Truman, this decision was already made for him by the conservatives whose advice and counsel he sought.

Henry Wallace was a progressive, ingenious farmer from Iowa who appreciated science and the arts, was into Buddhism and had a passionate appreciation for what the Russian people had been through during WW II. He expressed the opinion that rather than have a confrontational stand with the Russians, we should live with them peacefully and allow a healthy competition between the two systems to see which one was best. You can imagine how this went over with the capitalists and the Southern Democratic leaders. There are no Henry Wallaces in the Federal Government today. If any did exist, they were expunged by McCarthyism. Stone has a deep appreciation for Wallace and continuously comes back to his theme that if Wallace had become President in 1945, the Cold War and the militaristic society we have become could have been avoided. That much is self-evident given all of the positions that Wallace famously took.

The untold history is well worth watching. Even if you think you know some of the events, you will always learn something new and Stone tries to avoid conspiracy theories, though he leaves the issue of Kennedy’s assassination open to question (don’t we all). It is still astonishing to me, that given the debt we have to the Russians for their role in defeating Germany in WW II, we did not formally recognize their contribution until John Kennedy, as President, addressed their sacrifice and bravery in a commencement speech he gave at the American University in June, 1963, months before he was assassinated.  Of course that speech, one of his best, was given to help promote a peaceful and productive round of nuclear test ban talks, which Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian Premier, had proposed earlier. Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” reminds us of this debt, that we have never recognized with sufficient gratitude; we are not talking about communism vs capitalism here, but rather an incredible sacrifice that the Russian people made that directly benefited us in shortening both the war in Europe and the war against Japan. We cannot get our head around 27 million people or the ingenious manner in which they built a new more modern industrial state to confront the German Army, achieved within 2 years after the beginning of the German invasion.


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