Sunday, January 28, 2024

How climate change worsens heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods*

1. Hotter, longer heatwaves:   The intense heatwaves that hit southern Europe and the southern US and Mexico in July 2023 would have been "virtually impossible" without human-caused climate change.  And these events are no longer rare. If global warming reaches 2C above the pre-industrial period these events are expected to happen every two to five years.

As well as happening more frequently, heatwaves are becoming longer and more intense in many places.

This can happen as a result of heat domes, which are areas of high pressure where hot air is pushed down and trapped in place, causing temperatures to soar over large areas.  One theory suggests higher temperatures in the Arctic (which has warmed more than four times faster than the global average) are causing the jet stream to slow, increasing the likelihood of heat domes.

2. Longer droughts:  Longer and more intense heatwaves can worsen droughts by drying out soil. This makes the air above warm up more quickly, leading to more intense heat.  Increased demand for water from humans, especially farmers, in hot weather puts even more stress on the water supply.

Climate change has made droughts at least 100 times more likely.

3. More fuel for wildfires:  Climate change is making the weather conditions needed for wildfires to spread more likely. Extreme and long-lasting heat draws more and more moisture out of the ground and vegetation. These tinder-dry conditions provide fuel for fires, which can spread at an incredible speed, particularly if winds are strong.

Rising temperatures may also increase the likelihood of lightning in the world's northernmost forests, increasing the risk of fires. Canada experienced by far its  worst wildfire season on record in 2023, with around 18 million hectares (45 million acres) burned.

Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of the extreme "fire weather" conditions in eastern Canada that allowed the fires to spread, Extreme wildfires are projected to become more frequent and intense in future across the globe. This is due to the combined effects of shifting land use and climate change.

4. More extreme rain:  For every 1C rise in average temperature, the atmosphere can hold about 7% more moisture. The heavy rainfall was made as much as 50 times more likely by climate change, Globally, the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events has increased over most land regions due to human activity. And heavy precipitation will generally become more frequent and intense with further warming,

*Outline of an article by Mark Poynting and Esme Stallard, BBC News Climate & Science


Saturday, January 27, 2024

Impressionist version of Doughnut Economics in a Circular Economy

The Doughnut
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

The circular economy represents a shift from a 'take-make-waste' linear economy to an economic system based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of continuing production in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way, minimizing waste.

Doughnut economics extends this transformation to encompass a double shift – from a linear economy to a regenerative and distributed economy that looks at sustainable development across a number of different vectors.

The Doughnut is the core concept at the heart of Doughnut Economics.  And here’s a more readable explanation of it.

First published in 2012 in an Oxfam report by Kate Raworth, The Doughnut is a guide for human prosperity in the 21st century, with the aim of meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet.

The Doughnut consists of two concentric rings: a social foundation, to ensure that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials, and an ecological ceiling, to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect Earth's life-supporting systems. Between these two sets of boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped space that is both ecologically safe and socially just: a space in which humanity can thrive.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Can tidal power replace diesel?

Blind Channel
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

Blind Channel, on the ‘inside passage’ between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia is scenically spectacular, and may also be a prime location for tidal power production.  Initial testing of the potential for harnessing tidal currents at the Blind Channel off-grid tidal power demonstration project has shown promising results.

The University of Victoria’s Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery (PRIMED) research on tidal turbines and other clean energy sources like wind, solar, and low carbon hydrogen, is supported by the BC government’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund. 

PRIMED is also investigating ways to avoid or surmount the recognized problems associated with tidal energy  ̶  the high cost associated with building tidal power stations, and potentially negative environmental effects on marine life.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Capturing lost data (two or three hundred years) after the fact

 Combatant Col
(based on a Bastian Fleury photo in the Globe and Mail, November 22, 2023)

Charlene Brown

The calculations in my last blog post were based on comprehensive high-altitude precipitation and temperature data collected in the Swiss Alps for over 150 years.

Unfortunately, with few exceptions (eg. Illecillewaet Glacier)  such consistent historic data is not available in North America.

However, early results from research in the Combatant Col, a ‘saddle’ of snow and ice between Mt. Waddington and Mt. Combatant in British Columbia, show it will likely be possible to obtain useful historic climate information going back two or three hundred years.

Glaciologists drilled down more than 200 metres from an elevation of 3000 metres, and shipped one-metre sections of the compacted ice core by helicopter and reefer truck to the Canadian Ice Core Laboratory at the University of Alberta.

Although the ice in these samples is not as old as that in cores obtained on Mt. Logan in the Yukon, coming from about 51 degrees N latitude, the Combatant data relates to the Anthropocene climate effects in more densely populated areas.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Chilling Rise of the Zero-degree Isotherm

Morteratsch Glacier collapse
Charlene Brown

Glaciers in Switzerland are shrinking more quickly every year and have lost 10% of their ice volume in the last two years. Tongues of glaciers such as the one pictured are collapsing and many small glaciers have disappeared completely.

The photo on which this painting was based was taken by Sean Gallup in May of last year, prior to the record-breaking heat wave in Europe. In August, the zero-degree isotherm, below which ice melts, rose to record elevations, well over 5000 metres  ̶  higher than many of the mountain peaks in Switzerland.

The main reason for this chilling development is human-induced climate heating. By the middle of the 21st century, a further rise in the zero-degree isotherm of a catastrophic 400 to 650 m can be expected if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase unchecked.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Two birds with one stone: solving two problems with one incinerator


Fernwärmewerk Spittelau
watercolour, crayon and marker
©2011 Charlene Brown

As I have mentioned before, I am fascinated with the designs of Friedensreich Hundertwasser,  a fabulous painter whose work covers several buildings around Vienna, such as the garbage incinerator/district heating plant, Fernwärmewerk Spittelau, I’ve painted here.  An ardent environmentalist, Hundertwasser only agreed to undertake the incinerator commission when he was promised that the plant would be equipped with the most modern emission-purification technology and that 60,000 apartments would be heated, thus making Vienna's air cleaner.

I have written before about proposals which will mitigate the effects of climate change in more than one way ─ solar vineyards and deciduous firebreaks.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Differing Solutions to Climate Change Problems ̶ Achieving more useful perspectives

Bruce Nuclear Generating Station*
watercolour, crayon and marker
©2023 Charlene Brown

The elusive path to net zero is having a rough ride as various stakeholders have very different ideas about how best to achieve our climate change goals.  Unfortunately, debate among federal and provincial governments, various political parties, environmental protest groups, industry lobbyists etc. has become belligerent. Almost everyone is putting most of their effort into attempting to discredit other’s policies and opinions.

For example, I believe nuclear power generation will be an essential component in the eventual elimination of excessive carbon emissions. However, organizations such as the Green Party, with whose objectives I generally agree, are strongly opposed to this method of producing electricity.  They feel that nuclear reactors’ prohibitively expensive construction and generation of huge amounts of radioactive waste outweighs the environmental benefits, whereas proponents of nuclear power generation have confidence that technological developments such as small modular nuclear reactors and ‘spent’ fuel utilization will soon overcome these objections. They also point out that modular reactors could replace horrendously problematic diesel generation of electricity in remote areas such as the Arctic.

In general, in debating the negatives of various programs, a more useful perspective will be achieved by finding such additional positives to the proposed solutions. 

*NB: Bruce Nuclear, one of the largest reactors in the world, is not an example of a small modular reactor.

Another way of achieving a more useful perspective when confronted with different solutions to climate change problems is to consider that they might be not polarizing, but synergistic!  More progress would be made if the various stakeholders could work cooperatively instead of attempting to cancel each other in the battle against catastrophic climate change:

Instead of:
    transitioning away from fossil fuels vs carbon capture

we should have
    transitioning away from fossil fuels plus carbon capture

I wrote about this in a blog post a year and a half ago

This concept of differing solutions being synergistic rather than polarizing will be a section of the series of essays and illustrations on visualization of the Anthropocene that I am compiling.

Monday, January 8, 2024

One year ago today

Garden of Memories
©2023 Charlene Brown

My cousin Joye, who had lived here in Victoria since retiring in 1996, died exactly a year ago today. She wasn’t my closest relative, but I was hers as she had no brothers or sisters and had never married. Although she had several first cousins, I was the only one living in Victoria, and we were close friends.

In May, I organized a gathering to remember Joye on what would have been her 85th birthday.  The painting shows some of Joye’s friends and family scattering her ashes under a ‘Memory Book’ in the forest on the far side of the lake in the Garden of Memories here in Victoria.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Retro-Shipping into the future

Low carbon transport
©2023 Charlene Brown

Almost 90 years after the Hindenburg disaster ended the golden age of airships, interest in lighter-than-air transport is reviving. With low carbon emissions, and no requirement for expensive ground infrastructure like airports or roads, solar electric-powered airships could be a sustainable solution for cargo and passenger transport.

See below for earlier fantasizing on this topic.

Sailing ships are another old technology that may be reborn as the shipping industry looks to decarbonize. Hypothetically, these giant new sails could be inflated or deflated at the push of a button, and would pivot automatically to catch the wind.

Cobalt Lake (©2012 Charlene Brown): painted on the last day of a heli-painting expedition in the Bugaboos – my best plein air painting day ever!

Originally built for heli-skiing, then high-elevation heli-hiking, the whole system of lodges and helicopters in the Bugaboos is conscientiously designed and operated to minimize the carbon footprint.

However, in my book, Inventing the Future, I couldn’t resist pointing out that fantastic plein air painting days such as this will be even better in the future if transportation to the peaks is by electric airship! 

Saturday, January 6, 2024

The Sahara Rainforest – who knew?

Forest elephants
©2023 Charlene Brown

Forest elephants, an endangered species, play a key role in the survival of the African rainforest. They help sequester carbon as they prefer to eat faster-growing, less carbon-dense types of trees, thus improving conditions for the slower-growing, long-lived species with deep, expansive root systems that sequester carbon most efficiently.

The elephants’ fondness for eating tree fruits, and subsequently dispersing fruit tree seeds, also contributes significantly to species diversification, another important factor in the viability and carbon sequestration capacity of a forest.  

Petroglyphs in Methkandouch, Libya
2006 photo by Charlene Brown

Rock art such as that on the right, depicting forest elephants and other jungle inhabitants, is found in abundance on the northern fringe of the Sahara.  This reflects the habitat before climate conditions changed drastically  ̶  possibly ‘tipped’ by pastoralists and their herds about 10,000 years ago.

Last year I wrote about the encouraging progress being made in a project, launched in 2007, to restore these conditions in the Sahara.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Fifteenth Anniversary of 1150 Words by Charlene Brown! ...and The Plan for 2024

Lake Louise Poppies
watercolour, crayon and Photoshop™
©2023 Charlene Brown

Paint Every Mountain: I will finish and publish a book about hiking and painting in mountains all over the world. The above painting of Lake Louise (Photoshopped ‘aprés Hundertwasser) will be included in one of the chapters on specific crayon colours.

Creative Archaeology:  I have continued to build the series ‘Time Travel with a Bag of Crayons’ equipped with the same plein air painting kit I used for ‘Paint Every Mountain.’  The creative archaeology series, now in chronological order, will include some of the photos and sketches I accumulated in past archaeology-related travel with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the travel study program at the University of Victoria.

Predictive Analytics This has evolved into a series of essays and illustrations of the increasingly drastic climate effects of the Anthropocene.