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    Japan
     Oct 25, '13


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Abenomics and the climate challenge
By Andrew DeWit

An important and little noted component of Abenomics, Japan's information and communications technology (ICT) growth strategy propounded on June 14, ostensibly aims at the evolution of a new model of efficient, resilient and green urban and rural infrastructures.

General Electric’s leadership in applying ICT, or the "Industrial Internet," to its power systems shows that what you can monitor, you can manage, and that it is possible to realize significant


efficiencies as well as innovate other capacities such as predictivity. [1]

Together with domestic businesses, Japan's central agencies, big local governments, and the Abe regime's regulatory and fiscal initiatives have been working to deploy cutting-edge innovation in a swath of smart city initiatives as well as special zones. Although some observers deride these initiatives as comparable to failed technopolis policies of the 1980s, Japan's initiatives may help us address the very real 21st century challenges of expensive energy, climate change, and the sobering "death" of stationarity (wherein past hydrologic and other data can no longer be used to predict the future). [2]

This latter is of deep concern to planners of water, power and other crucial infrastructures, which represent trillions of dollars of investment annually. The issues take on added urgency in light of climate denial whose effect has been to conceal the scale of the crisis from the academic community and attentive public.

The loss of stationarity means we are essentially in uncharted waters concerning the stressors that our water, power, transportation, and other urban infrastructures need to be resilient against now and over time. The question is whether Abenomics can deal with the death of stationarity and help answer our urgent collective need for sustainability.

Climate change
Global awareness of climate change risks has not kept pace with the science. This awareness deficit was seen in the run-up to, and aftermath of, the September 27 release of the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report's first installment and summary. The release was preceded by a sadly effective "denialist" media campaign that positioned the IPCC report as alarmist while also claiming that it showed the previous decade and a half had seen a "pause" in climate change. [3]

Indeed, a Der Spiegel poll released September 23, 2013 suggested that even the "Germans are losing their fear of climate change", with those expressing fear dropping from 62% in 2006 to 39% in 2013. [4] This disinformation campaign continued after the report's release. [5]

The Der Spiegel poll seems a striking indicator of what might described as an "Alice in Wonderland" era, wherein as august a publication as the New York Times closed its environmental desk at the very moment that scientific evidence of the climate crisis mounted. [6]

The global public debate's incredible disconnect with reality is dispiriting. But this unpleasant fact cannot be ignored here because it influences a wide range of funding and other decisions relevant to Humanities Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). As we shall see, it even shapes many of the HADR agents' understanding of how dire are our collective challenges.

Because of the widely held belief that climate change is only a catastrophe for coming generations (in itself, a morally odious complacency), let us review solid evidence that climate change is very much a present and rapidly worsening peril.

Geographically, the Global Climate Risk Index 2013 shows that the countries most affected in 2011 were Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, El Salvador and the Philippines. [7] A more comprehensive and nearly real-time accounting of climate risk and adaptive capacity has been pioneered since 2011 by the Alliance Development Works/Bundnis Entwichlung Hilft, a coalition of German development and relief agencies. [8]

Working in conjunction with the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security, [9] the Nature Conservatory, [10] and others, they have compiled the World Risk Report. In addition to the worsening effects of climate change, the Report's risk-weighting takes into account social and economic factors relevant to adaptation and disaster response.


Table 1: World Risk Index (Source: WeltRisikoBericht 2013 p 9)

As is evident from Table 1, the World Risk Report 2013, released (in German) [11] in September of 2013, indicated that the countries most at risk from the impacts of climate change were concentrated overwhelmingly in the Asia-Pacific.

Incredibly, Japan's immense wealth - second only to that of the US - was not enough to offset its exposure, and its risk assessment placed it 15th. This is in sharp contrast with the other developed states, as the US is ranked at 127th (3.99%) and Germany is 146th (3.24%).


Figure 1: Sea Level Trends (mm/yr) for 1992 to 201014

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite measurements of trends in sea surface levels provides another arresting indication of the threat level in the Asia-Pacific. Figure 1 is taken from a December 2012 report compiled by the NOAA in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). The SERDP is co-managed by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, serving to bond these agencies, and is thus a key institution in the American military-centered green industrial policy initiative. [12]

These federal agencies continue to expand their collaboration, as we see in this December 2012 report, which was background material for America's 2013 National Climate Assessment. [13] Especially relevant to our purposes here, the SERPD et al. report warns that:
"[A] wide range of estimates for future global mean SLR [sea level rise] are scattered throughout the scientific literature and other high profile assessments, such as previous reports of the NCA [National Climate Assessment] and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Aside from this report, there is currently no coordinated, interagency effort in the US to identify agreed upon global mean SLR estimates for the purpose of coastal planning, policy, and management. This is an important gap because identifying global mean SLR estimates is a critical step in assessing coastal impacts and vulnerabilities."
These agencies' collaboration centers on satellite data and other objective measures. They show that sea-level rise from 1992 to 2010 was not uniform across the world ocean, but rather varied greatly by region. Figure 1 portrays that quite clearly.

The various gradations of blue reveal areas where sea levels decreased from 1992 to 2010, while red indicates areas of sharp increase. To be specific, sea levels in the mid-oceanic area of the Pacific decreased over the relevant period, whereas the Western Pacific and South Asian regions saw dramatic increases. These regions' trends in sea-level rise exceed those recorded elsewhere, and are one powerful indicator of increased vulnerability to storm surges, coastal erosion, and similar threats.

The IPCC report's findings were labeled as alarmist by denialists bent on defining the limits of debate. Would that the IPCC were indeed an exaggerated account of what we collectively confront. But in fact the IPCC process omits from its purview such significant feedback effects as methane release from thawing permafrost, [15] the dramatic increase in "anthropogenic" forest and bushfires, and other factors. [16]


Figure 2: Hot Spots: Global Temperature Rise (Source: Nature. Graphic: Leonard Bernstein and Gene Thorp - The Washington Post. Published October 9, 2013.)

Yet another very pertinent oversight is detailed by urban planning expert Brian Stone in his 2012 book The City and the Coming Climate. He warns that climate scientists rely on about 6,000 weather stations globally, and that scientists deliberately adjust the temperatures recorded at the urban-area stations in order to have them conform to temperature readings in nearby rural areas. Yet this adjustment of the data means that "climate scientists are effectively removing the known effects of land-use changes from the global temperature record".

As a result, their data do not reflect the absolute warming of the planet, but only that due to greenhouse gases. Stone points out that cities comprise only about 3% of the Earth's surface, so this practice of adjusting the data does not mean that we are missing much of the big picture of warming per se. Rather, we are missing what is happening in cities: "global-scale climate trend analyses carried out by GISS [NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies] and other global climate research groups provide little insight into the pace and extent of climate change underway in urban environments".

This oversight seems likely to be of enormous significance over the coming years. Most large cities lie on coasts, or near other bodies of water, and over 50% of the 7 billion global population now live in cities. [17] This share is expected to increase to 60% urban by 2030 and 70% by 2050, the latter number representing some 6.4 billion people. [18]

Thus, under business as usual, most of humanity will be in heat islands close to increasingly dangerous shores. In spite of these sobering statistics, there are no regular surveys of urban-area warming being undertaken to fill in the gap left by the cautious smoothing of the weather-station data. Stone also notes that Tokyo is a special case among urban heat islands, as in midsummer it actually emits more heat than it absorbs from the sun. [19]

Considering the peril implied by this state of affairs, Stone appears right to depict this "approach to climate change monitoring that effectively ignores the most heavily populated regions of the planet" as "an irony seeming worthy of a Seinfeld skit: ask a climate scientist how rapidly the climate is warming and you will get an answer; ask a climate scientist how rapidly your city is warming and you will get a shrug". [20]


Figure 3: Heat Absorption By Terrestrial Climate Systems.

As of October 13, 2013, that shrug can be replaced with a sobering citation. In the wake of the IPCC Report's release, a meta-analyses of climate trends sought to calculate "The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability." [21]

The analyses used historical (1860 to 2005) temperature data for areas of the terrestrial surface, and then ran a meta-analysis of climate models to determine when any given area's coolest monthly temperature would exceed the historical average for the hottest year. They determined that on average, with no mitigation of emissions, temperatures across the globe would exceed the historical norms by about mid-century. As Figure 2 reveals, the Indonesian city of Manokwari is expected to exceed its historic temperature norms by 2020, and Tokyo will follow roughly two decades later.

And contrary to the dangerously distracting denialist claims, there was no pause in climate change. Atmospheric temperatures plateaued at the 1998 peak, but the heat content of the world ocean did not. The ocean is roughly 800 times the density of air at sea level, covers just over 70% of the terrestrial surface, and comprises 98% of the 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water on Earth. [22]

This immensity makes the world ocean the biggest element of the climate system, an element that absorbs well over 90% of the roughly 4 Hiroshima bombs per second of excess heat trapped by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. [23] The percentages are depicted in Figure 3 below, which illustrates heat absorption by major climate system components over the period 1993 to 2003, as calculated by the IPCC's 2007 report (AR4, Section 5.2.2.3.). [24]

The role of the ocean in absorbing heat over time - since 1960 - is portrayed in Figure 4. To repeat: the colossal role of the ocean is due to the fact that water is roughly 800 times the density of air at sea level and there is so much of it. Waves have 1000 times the kinetic energy of wind. [25] These are just a few clues as to why the US Navy is a leader on climate change and renewable energy. It works in the water, and hence understands climate change as an empirical fact.


Figure 4: Trends in Climate System Heat Absorption, 1960-2008.

Figure 5 (below) from the US National Oceanographic Data Center gives an indication of trends in oceanic heat content, together with disturbing evidence of recent acceleration. These data are also confirmed by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts' Ocean Reanalysis System 4 (ORAS4), using buoy and other data inputted into a highly sophisticated model. The ORAS4 assessment cautions that "recent warming rates of the waters below 700m appear to be unprecedented." [26]

With this evidence in mind, the IPCC hardly seems alarmist. Indeed, in a startling demonstration of - to be frank - how hobbled the IPCC's inherently conservative reporting process has become, its scenarios are generally ignored by SERPD and other agencies that require comprehensive and real-time assessments. [27]

The IPCC certainly deserves high praise as humanity's biggest-ever collaborative scientific endeavor, and justly received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its work. But the IPCC compiles its roughly septennial reports from already published research, several years old. It also has to reach a consensus. These and other problems leave it dangerously far behind the curve of scientific discovery.

Hence, military and other institutions that see the world in terms of risk and are compelled to act have turned elsewhere. The global insurance industry, for one, has been emphasizing catastrophe modeling for over a decade, and is moving towards an "open modeling platform". [28]

And as SERPD reveals, "In coordination with the efforts of the other federal science providers, SERDP's goal is to ensure DoD [Department of Defense] has the necessary science and tools to support climate change-related vulnerability and impact assessment. A suite of SERDP projects are developing the methodologies and tools [emphasis added] needed to assess the physical effects of sea level rise and storm surge and the impacts to mission-essential infrastructure over a broad range of both geophysical settings and extant climate conditions." [29]


Figure 5: Five Decades of Global Ocean Heat Content, 0 to 2000 meters.

That point deserves to be underlined. These US federal agencies, with the military at their core, are in the process of constructing analytical mechanisms to appraise and adapt to a multifaceted phenomenon of unprecedented speed and scale. They have good reason to: the current pace of climate change has recently been authoritatively assessed as "at least 10 times faster than any climate shift in the past 65 million years". [30]

Most of the institutions of civil society and public governance - 19th century institutions using 20th century policy to address 21st century crises - are distracted by the well-funded denialist politics of climate change. [31] But climate change's increasingly expensive impact on energy, water and other infrastructure has forced military and other institutions sensitive to atmospheric and oceanic signals to respond.

Most national governments are too beholden to vested interests in large swathes of the economy, leaving militaries, many cities [32] and other actors to implement wide-ranging programs to reduce greenhouse gases and respond to environmental disasters.

Sayonara stationarity
The OECD has provided a glimpse of the scale of the threat posed by the failure of national governments and their international agencies to prepare. Roughly co-incident with the September 2013 release of the IPCC summary, the OECD published the survey "Water and Climate Change Adaptation: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters."



Continued 1 2





Going to extremes to ignore climate change
Oct 8, '13


 

 
 



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