Category Archives: Economy

Bad new for whoever wins: Financial crisis ahead


While Democrats are nursing hopes of control of one or both houses of Congress, victory might contain a poison pill that could redound to the Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans benefit two years down the road.

Make no mistakes. The warning signs are already quite clear, as embodied in this series of 10-year graphs we’ve assembled from the marvelous resources of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

First up, housing prices are soaring again, already reaching well above the levels of the 2007-9 Great Recession [indicated by the shaded areas of the charts], a crash triggered by shady mortgage lending by the nation’s leading banks [click on the images to enlarge]:

And as housing prices rise, so does mortgage debt, which has also topped pre-Great Recession levels as the Trump Administration slashes protection passed under the Obama administration::

Credit card debt is also soaring:

Yet another form of debt is also rising as states and the federal government slash colleges and university  funding, sending tuition rates through the roof:

The next graphs is particularly ominous.

While Donald Trump claims that under his administration, unemployment levels have hit record lows.

But that’s only because soaring numbers of folks have simply given up and dropped out of the labor force:

For our final graph we look at the growing amount of U.S. debt held overseas, trillions of dollars that could explode in the face of Donald Trump’s self-declared trade wars:

And now, with this graphic introduction we turn to a very important documentary from VPRO Backlight, a creation of producer Marije Meerman for Dutch public television and a warning of dark times ahead:

Lessons from Lehman and the Coming Crash

Program notes:

Have we learned the Lessons from Lehman and could we have predicted the Coming Crash? Ten years ago, the crash on Wall Street took us by surprise when Lehman Brothers’ bank went bankrupt. The financial crisis that followed this crash on Wall Street was like a chain reaction; a pole dancer with her five mortgages turned out to be connected to the huge gap in the Greek national budget. Is it possible to predict the coming crash? What are the lessons learned from the collapse of Lehman Brothers? Can we predict the coming crash of Wall Street by looking back to the last 10 years and take a lesson from Lehman?

Sometimes, it is important to look back in order to predict what we might be heading for. Ten years ago, we were taken by surprise when Lehman Brothers’ investment bank went bankrupt. In the followinf months, banks needed saving. Millions of tax payers money was used. Worldwide, banks, villages, cities, and even countries went bankrupt or were hanging by a thread. Few, if any, bankers were convicted. Crypto currencies like bitcoins thrived on the growing suspicion towards banks and governments. Finally, central banks around the world set up buying asset purchasing programmes in order to create cash out of nothing. A strategy to pump money into the financial system, hoping to keep it afloat. What have we learned from this crash and its consequences? Over a period of ten years, VPRO Backlight reported on the snowballing financial crisis. It turned out that a journalist, a former banker and an economist had predicted the 2008 credit crash and are now warning against a new crash. We pay them another visit to find out what they had seen, where many others were blind.

If we look hard enough, can we see why we are now in the calm before the next crash?

With: Nomi Prins [author and former banker for Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers], Ann Petifor [economist] and Isabella Kaminska [journalist for the Financial Times] with cameos by Jim Rogers [super investor], Roger Ver [bitcoin-evangelist], Joris Luyendijk [journalist], and Yanis Varoufakis [former Greek Minister of Finance].

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Charts of the day II: The dying American Dream


From “The American Economy Is Rigged,” a new analysis by Nobel Laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in Scientific American:

Climate change threatens oceans, food supplies


As the earth heats up, the oceans, the source of all life, are undergoing rapid, ominous changes capable of dramatically altering the context of human existence.

We begin with a briefing from the World Bank:

Billions of people worldwide —especially the world’s poorest— rely on healthy oceans to provide jobs and food, underscoring the urgent need to sustainably use and protect this natural resource.

According to the OECD, oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annually in value-added to the overall economy. The FAO estimates that around 60 million people are employed in fisheries and aquaculture, with the majority of those employed by capture fisheries working in small-scale operations in developing countries. In 2016, fisheries produced roughly 171 million tons of fish, with a “first sale” value estimated at US$362 billion,  generating over US$143 billion in exports. Moreover, fish provided about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average intake of animal protein, even more in poor countries [emphases added].

Healthy oceans, coasts and freshwater ecosystems are crucial for economic growth and food production, but they are also fundamental to global efforts to mitigate climate change. “Blue carbon” sinks such as mangroves and other vegetated ocean habitats sequester 25 percent of the extra CO2 from fossil fuels and protect coastal communities from floods and storms. In turn, warming oceans and atmospheric carbon are causing ocean acidification that threatens the balance and productivity of the oceans.

While ocean resources have the potential to boost growth and wealth, human activity has taken a toll on ocean health. Fish stocks have deteriorated due to overfishing — the share of fish stocks outside biologically sustainable levels rose from 10 percent in 1974 to 32 percent in 2013, while in the same year approximately 57 percent of fish stocks were fully exploited. Fish stocks are affected by illicit fishing, which may account for up to 26 million tons of fish catches a year or more than 15 percent of total catches. . . Fish habitats are also under pressure from pollution, coastal development, and destructive fishing practices that undermine fish population rehabilitation efforts.

Oceans are also threatened by marine plastic pollution and each year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans, with microplastics becoming part of the food chain. Five countries produce the highest volumes of plastic waste and researchers estimate that a 75 percent reduction in plastics pollution in just China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam could reduce the flow of plastic into the ocean globally by almost 45 percent.

Threats from over-fishing

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2018 notes that “Zones of moderately heavy to heavy fishing intensity now wrap around every continent, affecting all coastal areas and many parts of the high seas. This implies that fishing activities have exposed shallow coastal marine ecosystems to potential long-term damage, notably by trawling.” The report cites the particularly heavy intensification in the global South and East over the past six decades, with the greatest intensification in South East Asia.

This map from the report reflects the changes globally [click on the image to enlarge]:

AVERAGE ANNUAL CATCHES OF THE WORLD’S MARITIME FISHING COUNTRIES IN THE 1950s COMPARED TO THE 2000s.
Blue indicates zero or very minute catches, and yellow indicates light or no fishing. Zones of moderately heavy [ orange] to heavy fishing intensity [red] now wrap around every continent, affecting all coastal areas and many parts of the high seas.
Almost 6 billion tons of fish and invertebrates [e.g. crustaceans and molluscs] have been extracted from the world’s oceans since 1950. Annual catch increased dramatically from 28 million tons in 1950 to more than 110 million tons in 2014. However, since peaking in 1996 at about 130 million tons, catch has been decreasing at an average rate of 1.2 million tons per year.

Coral reef bleaching levels hit new heights as seas warm

Marine coral reef bleaching may be the greatest immediate threat, as rising temperatures upset the balance of the delicate reefs which serve as breeding grounds for much of the fish so vital to the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest peoples. [Also see our previous posts on the subject]

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a look the recent escalation of the crisis and what it might mean:

Historically, global-scale coral bleaching has been associated with El Niño events, which generally raise global temperatures. The first mass coral bleaching was observed during the strong El Niño in 1983, and the first truly global event coincided with the strong El Niño of 1998. The world’s tropical reefs were stressed again during a moderate-strength 2010 El Niño.

The coral-bleaching event of 2014–2017 was unusual not just for its long duration, experts say, but also because it wasn’t entirely due to El Niño. Though an El Niño was anticipated in 2014, it didn’t really materialize until March 2015, yet bleaching-level heat stress was already well underway by that time. A strong El Niño arrived in 2016, and heat stress occurred at 51 percent of the world’s coral reefs into early 2017, when a La Niña was in place.

The 36-month heatwave and global bleaching event were exceptional in a variety of ways. For many reefs, this was the first time on record that they had experienced bleaching in two consecutive years. Many reefs—including those in Guam, American Samoa, and Hawaii—experienced their worst bleaching ever documented. In the Northern Line Islands in the South Pacific, upwards of 98 percent of the coral at some reefs were killed. Reefs in the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef that had never bleached before lost nearly 30 percent of their shallow water corals in 2016, while reefs a bit farther south lost another 22 percent in 2017.

All told, more than 75 percent of Earth’s tropical reefs experienced bleaching-level heat stress between 2014 and 2017, and at nearly 30 percent of reefs, it reached mortality level. The scientists summarized the event in stark terms:

More than half of affected reef areas were impacted at least twice. This global event has punctuated the recent acceleration of mass bleaching. Occurring at an average rate of once every 25–30 years in the 1980s, mass bleaching now returns about every six years and is expected to further accelerate…. Severe bleaching is now occurring more quickly than reefs can recover, with severe downstream consequences to ecosystems and people.

The accompanying map reveals the sheer extent of coral reef bleaching:

Many coral reefs experienced mass bleaching back-to-back in 2015 [top] and 2016 [bottom]. The likelihood of coral bleaching depends on how high the temperatures are above the annual monthly maximum and how long the unusual heat persists. Scientists track these conditions using satellite-based estimates of Degree Heating Weeks. Alert 1 means coral bleaching is likely. Alert 2 means widespread bleaching and significant mortality of corals are likely. Severe coral bleaching was reported in areas circled in white.

And to make matters worse, yet another heat spike is expected in the coming year, one that might be even worse.

Reef bleaching dramatically impacts fish behavior

Way back in out college days, an anthropology prof described the Three Fs of behavior: Feeding, Fucking, and Fighting. The three were often related, he added, as humans often fought for food and sex.

Fish, it seems, are much the same.

Professor Stéphan G. Reebs of Canada’s University of Monckton specializes in animal behavior and has written extensively about fish, including their aggressiveness, the focus of a 2008 paper:

Competition is a fact of life. It can take many forms, but biologists usually recognize two broad categories. In the first one, called exploitative or scramble competition, the contests are like races. The most food goes to the animal that eats the fastest, the best shelter is occupied by whoever reaches it first, and the largest share of eggs are fertilized by those males which produce the most sperm. There is usually little aggression displayed in such cases. However, in the second category, which is called interference or defense competition, animals fight among themselves for the right to monopolize food, to occupy alone a shelter or a territory, or to secure exclusive access to a mate.

And now we learn that coral reef bleaching has marked effects of fishy behavior, effects we suspect could have long-term cascading impacts on the world’s food supply.

From the University of Vermont:

A research team, including University of Vermont scientist Nate Sanders, found that when water temperatures heat up for corals, fish “tempers” cool down, providing the first clear evidence of coral bleaching serving as a trigger for rapid change in the behavior of reef fish.

Publishing in Nature Climate Change [$8.99 to read for non-subscribers],the researchers show how the iconic butterflyfish, considered to be sensitive indicators of reef health, can offer an early warning sign that reef fish populations are in trouble.

The international team of scientists spent more than 600 hours underwater observing butterflyfish over a two-year period encompassing the unprecedented mass coral bleaching event of 2016. Led by marine ecologist Sally Keith of Lancaster University, the team examined 17 reefs across the central Indo-Pacific in Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

During the initial data collection, the researchers were unaware that the catastrophic bleaching event was on the horizon. Once underway, the researchers realized that this serendipitous “natural experiment” placed them in a unique position to see how fish changed their behavior in response to large-scale bleaching disturbance.

The team sprang into action to repeat their field observations, collecting a total of 5,259 encounters between individuals of 38 different butterflyfish species. Within a year after the bleaching event, it was clear that, although the same number of butterflyfish continued to reside on the reefs, they were behaving very differently.

“We observed that aggressive behavior had decreased in butterflyfish by an average of two thirds, with the biggest drops observed on reefs where bleaching had killed off the most coral,” said Keith. “We think this is because the most nutritious coral was also the most susceptible to bleaching, so the fish moved from a well-rounded diet to the equivalent of eating only lettuce leaves—it was only enough to survive rather than to thrive.”

Early warning

“This matters because butterflyfishes are often seen as the ‘canaries of the reef,'” said Nate Sanders, director of UVM’s Environmental Program and professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “Due to their strong reliance on coral, they are often the first to suffer after a disturbance event.”

Such changes in behavior may well be the driver behind more obvious changes such as declining numbers of fish individuals and species. The finding has the potential to help explain the mechanism behind population declines in similarly disrupted ecosystems around the world.

By monitoring the fishes’ behavior, “we might get an early warning sign of bigger things to come,” said co-author Erika Woolsey of Stanford University. And the new work shows that  animals can adjust to catastrophic events in the short term through flexible behavior, “but these changes may not be sustainable in the longer-term,” said co-author Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

But it’s not a problem, right?

At least that’s what the White House would have us believe.

Charts of the day: Billionaire wealth soars again


UBS Group AG, together with Credit Suisse, hold a legal monopoly on all private banking in Switzerland, and is one of the leading global players in private banking for much of the world’s elite.

Every year the bank issues a fascinating document called the UBS PwC Billionaires Report, detailing the growth of the fortunes of the global financial elite.

This year’s report reveals the the rich are getting richer at an accelerating rate, as exemplified in this graphic charting the growing wealth of billionaires, as comparing that acceleration with the MSCI World Index, a measure of global stock market capitalization:

From the report summary:

Billionaire wealth returned to growth in 2016 after falling the year before.

  • Billionaire wealth expanded in 2016. Globally, the total wealth of billionaires rose by 17 percent to USD 6.0 trillion, double the rate of the MSCI World Index.
  • For the first time, Asian billionaires outnumbered their US counterparts. On average, a new billionaire was created in Asia every two days, with the total number of Asian billionaires rising by almost a quarter to 637, compared to 563 in the US and 342 in Europe. The US still retains the greatest concentration of wealth, growing by 15 percent from USD 2.4 trillion to USD 2.8 trillion, driven by technological innovation, financial services and materials.

Josef Stadler, Head Global Ultra High Net Worth, UBS, said: “This year we have seen not only a return to growth for billionaire wealth, but also a significant shift in its geographic dimensions. Dramatic growth in Asian wealth shows it could overtake the US in just four years.”

But what about the rest of us?

While the rich are getting richer, the rest of us, at least in the U.S., are struggling to break even, as illustrated in this graphic from the Pew Research Center:

From the accompanying report:

The disconnect between the job market and workers’ paychecks has fueled much of the recent activism in states and cities around raising minimum wages, and it also has become a factor in at least some of this year’s congressional campaigns.

Average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in July were $22.65, up 3 cents from June and 2.7% above the average wage from a year earlier, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s in line with average wage growth over the past five years: Year-over-year growth has mostly ranged between 2% and 3% since the beginning of 2013. But in the years just before the 2007-08 financial collapse, average hourly earnings often increased by around 4% year-over-year. And during the high-inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, average wages commonly jumped 7%, 8% or even 9% year-over-year.

After adjusting for inflation, however, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

Quotes of the day: On FDR’s unfulfilled vision


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like Donald Trump, was born into wealth and power. While the rump wealth came from , the son of wealthy parents whose fortunes dated back to colonial days [the Roosevelts descended Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam [New York], while his mother’s family, the Delanos, arrived on the Mayflower.

A cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, unlike Trump, grew up with a sense of noblesse oblige, the belief that haves bear an obligation toward have-nots.

Educated at all the best schools — Groton, Harvard, and Columbia Law — he abandoned a lucrative law career to enter politics, serving as New York state senator, then as Assistant Secretary f the Navy during World War I, two terms as governor of New York, and finally as the only man elected to serve four terms as President of the United States.

He entered the White House in 1933 as the Great Depression was tearing the nation apart.

Once in office, he introduced seeping reforms, embodied in his New Deal agedna, including the creation of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, asnd the Federal eposit Insurance Corporation.

He lea the nation through the planets second great global conflagration, and played a seminal role in creation of the United Nations.

But his greatest vision would remain unfulfilled,m an agenda he laid out in his 1944 State of the Union Address, given on 11 January 1944.

With the war’s end in sight, he spelled out his agenda in a call for second Bill of Rights, the Economic Bill of Rights:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

After winning  a fourth term in 1944, he returned to his agenda in his final State of the Union address on 6 January 1945:

An enduring peace cannot be achieved without a strong America– strong in the social and economic sense as well as in the military sense.

In the state of the Union message last year I set forth what I considered to be an American economic bill of rights.

I said then, and I say now, that these economic truths represent a second bill of rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all–regardless of station, race or creed.

Of these rights the most fundamental, and one on which the fulfillment of the others in large degree depends, is the “right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.” In turn, others of the economic rights of American citizenship, such as the right to a decent home, to a good education, to good medical care, to social security, to reasonable farm income, will, if fulfilled, make major contributions to achieving adequate levels of employment.

The Federal Government must see to it that these rights become realities–with the help of States, municipalities, business, labor, and agriculture.

His death and replacement by the much more conservative Harry S Truman spelled the defeat of his agenda.

Our final quotation shws just how much we have failed. It comes from Lelani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Adequate Housing in a new report focusing on one aspect of FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, revealing just how much the U.S. has failed in the fulfillment of Roosevelt’s agenda laid out 74 years ago:

Attempting to discourage residents from remaining in informal settlements or encampments by denying access to water, sanitation and health services and other basic necessities, as has been witnessed by the Special Rapporteur in San Francisco and Oakland, California, United States of America, constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights, including the rights to life, housing, health and water and sanitation. Such punitive policies must be prohibited in law and immediately ceased. Following expressions of concern from the Human Rights Committee, the United States federal Government introduced funding incentives for municipalities to rescind by-laws that criminalize homelessness. More robust measures, however, are required.

Charts of the day: The secret of Trump’s success


We begin with a question and answer from Martin Longman, writing in the Washington Monthly:

How do you say that someone is a billionaire but he’s not an elite?

Well, you can say that if the billionaire talks at your level and your level is not elite. Many people might not realize that Trump is resonating with them in large part because he doesn’t use any hifalutin language that makes them feel inadequate in some way, but at least some of them are aware of this and don’t mind mentioning it as one of things about Trump that they find appealing.

Strangely, it makes them want to have a beer with him even though he doesn’t drink beer and claims to have never touched a drop of alcohol in his life. It makes them think that he understands and cares about their problems even though Trump was a millionaire by the time he was eight years old and has shown no sincere signs of caring about anyone but himself in his entire life.

It might be exasperating for college graduates, but Trump’s mangling of the English language and his fifth grade way of expressing himself has helped him form a strong bond with a lot of people who actually want a president that doesn’t challenge them intellectually.

The secret may be that Donald Trump is a man of few words, words he pounds out in endless streams of intolerance, resentment and sheer malice.

The numbers tell an interesting tale

Consider the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Formula, and the associated Automated Readability Index and the Fog Count.

Back in the 1970s, the U.S. Navy grew concerned that technical manuals used to train sailors were too complex for trainees, so they looked for ways to evaluate texts. They took the three measures and modified them after evaluating the accessibility of existing texts based on tests of recruits at four naval training facilities.

The tests went on to become so popular that they’re now integrated into software programs like Microsoft Word.

Basically, the test focus on two areas, the was actually developed for the military in the 1970s as a way to check that training materials were appropriate and could be understood by its personnel. It is used as a measurement in legislation to ensure documents such as insurance policies can be understood.

There are a number of competing algorithms. They use different approaches, but all try to do one of two things, measuring the text according to the educational grade level needed to grasp the content of a text, and a second measure, reading ease. Which sets the grade level according to nationwide statistics.

Factba.se is the free consumer version of commercial software developed by FactSquared designed to process texts, PDFs, video, and audio to and anaylze the resulting data.

They turned their skills on the verbal output of Trump and his nine memediate predecessors and discovered that Agent Orange is unique, speaking at the lowest grade level, using both the smallest vocabulary and words of the fewest syllables:

In terms of word diversity and structure, Trump averages 1.33 syllables per word, which all others average 1.42 – 1.57 words. In terms of variety of vocabulary, in the 30,000-word sample, Trump was at the bottom, with 2,605 unique words in that sample while all others averaged 3,068 – 3,869. The exception: Bill Clinton, who clocked in at 2,752 words in our unique sample.

The following graphics from the Factba.se report tell the tale.

First up, the grade level attainment needed to understand the pronouncements of fifteen consecutive Chief Executives [click on the images to enlarge]:

And next, two charts reflecting [top] the average number of syllables in words employed presidentially and [bottom] the size of the vocabularies deployed:

Our final graphic comes from Branding in a Digital Age, a presentation by Marshall Kingston, Senior Brand Manager at Tetley, the British-born, Indian owned global tea giant:

Kingston writes:

If you think that’s his natural vocabulary you’re wrong, Trump uses repetition, short sentences, he repeats himself constantly ad uses the most basic form of a word instead of nuances. Our tendency is to think that consumers are becoming more. . .well read and want the cold hard facts. But simplicity is actually more memorable, more comprehendible and more compelling to the decision processing part of our brain.

In other words, Trump is following a rule also developed, like those used to create those charts we’ve just seen, by the U.S. Navy, and more than a decade earlier, the KISS Principle, for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Some observations from academia

Then consider this, from a 7 January 2017 Washington Post story:

Trump is a “unique” politician because he doesn’t speak like one, according to Jennifer Sclafani, an associate teaching professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics.

“He is interesting to me linguistically because he speaks like everybody else,” said Sclafani, who has studied Trump’s language for the past two years. “And we’re not used to hearing that from a president. We’re used to hearing somebody speak who sounds much more educated, much smarter, much more refined than your everyday American.”

>snip<

Sclafani, who recently wrote a book set to publish this fall titled “Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity,” said Trump has used language to “create a brand” as a politician.

“President Trump creates a spectacle in the way that he speaks,” she said. “So it creates a feeling of strength for the nation, or it creates a sense of determination, a sense that he can get the job done through his use of hyperbole and directness.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an American-born Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, is an expert on bombastic authoritarianism, evident in countless academic papers and a shelf full of books on the subject [including the forthcoming Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall].

In a 4 November 2016 New Yorker interview, she compared Trump to Benito Mussolini, the vigorously verbose Il Duce:

“These people are mass marketers. They pick up what’s in the air,” Ben-Ghiat said. The film reel was to Mussolini as Twitter is to Trump. “They give the impression of talking directly to the people,” she said. They can be portentous and relentlessly self-assertive. In a way, authoritarians have to be, Ben-Ghiat explained, since they’re selling a paradox: a savior fashioned as the truest, most authentic expression of the masses. Trump summed it up baldly at the Convention: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” The authoritarian makes the contradiction fall away, like an optical illusion.

She expanded on her views in an 10 August 2016 essay she wrote for the Atlantic

Italians learned in the 1920s what Americans are learning in 2016: Charismatic authoritarians seeking political office cannot be understood through the framework of traditional politics. They lack interest in, and patience for, established protocols. They often trust few outside of their own families, or those they already control, making collaboration and relationship building difficult. They work from a different playbook, and so must those who intend to confront them.

The authoritarian playbook is defined by the particular relationship such individuals have with their followers. It’s an attachment based on submission to the authority of one individual who stands above the party, even in a regime. Mussolini, a journalist by training, used the media brilliantly to cultivate a direct bond with Italians that confounded political parties and other authority structures and lasted for 18 years.

Trump also cultivates a personalized bond with voters, treating loyalty to the Republican Party almost as an afterthought. It’s why he emphasizes the emotional content of his events—he “feels the love,” or fends off “the haters.” Early on, he introduced a campaign ritual more common in dictatorships than democracies: an oath pledging support to his person, complete with a straight-armed salute. Securing this personal bond is a necessary condition for the success of future authoritarian actions, since it allows the leader to claim, as does Trump, that he embodies the voice and will of the people.

Mussolini’s rise to power also exemplifies another authoritarian trait America has seen during this campaign: The charismatic leader who tests the limits of what the public, press, and political class will tolerate. This exploration begins early and is accomplished through controversial actions and threatening or humiliating remarks toward groups or individuals. It’s designed to gauge the collective appetite and permission for verbal and physical violence and the use of extralegal methods in policing and other realms. The way elites and the press respond to each example of boundary-pushing sets the tone for the leader’s future behavior—and that of his followers.

Implications and lessons learned

As President with strong Congressional support and a stacked Supreme Court, the real estate developer and pop culture figure has used his ill-gotten gains to forge a populist cultural phenomenon.

He grasps the art of the unifying message, spelled out in visceral barroom language, rather than the bureaucrat phrases so often mouthed by his opponents.

Trump wasn’t going to do a restructuring of the roles and hierarchies of federal agencies. No, he was vowing to drain the swap, three short syllables that were o so memorable.

Like 20th Century fascist leaders, he flies across the realm, holding rallies, selling uniforms to make his followers readily recognizable — both to themselves and to others. Instead of Hitler’s Brown Shirts and Mussolini’s Black Shirts, TrumpTrolls sport red MAGA hats. But the leaders of all three groups hail followers who beat journalists.

In a system already rigged against folks who feel power should be based in the people, rather than in corporations and financial giants and the plutocrats who reap all those ever-grander and increasingly offshored profits.

To combat Trump and the system that put him in office, the Left needs a unifying, simply yet powerfully expressed message: Public good trumps private profit, and the Americans whose labor produce so much of that wealth are entitle to a greater share.

We need to recognize that soaring economic disparities create anger and uncertainty, states of arousal that make us vulnerable to manipulation, a task made easy by website cookies, email records, telephone tracking, television sets with embedded systems to spy on viewers, omnipresent surveillance cameras — just of tools available to governments, politicians, lobbyists, and others eager to find ways to identifying and manipulating our vulnerabilities for the private profit of the privileged phew.

As skilled general and rulers of old lined realized, your worst enemy is the best teacher, and Donald J. Trump is a pedagogical prodigy for those who would only listen and learn.

How about a first simple message to Dirty Don:

Kick Him Out!

Trump fiddles while the world drowns and burns


the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] has warned that we have 12 years to  act of climate change before the globe hits a critical tipping point.

From the Independent:

Greenhouse gas emissions must be cut almost in half by 2030 to avert global environmental catastrophe, including the total loss of every coral reef, the disappearance of Arctic ice and the destruction of island communities, a landmark UN report has concluded.

Drawing on more than 6,000 scientific studies and compiled over two years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings, released this morning, warn enormous and rapid changes to the way everyone on Earth eats, travels and produces energy need to be brought in immediately.

Though the scientists behind the report said there is cause for optimism, they recognised the grim reality that nations are currently nowhere near on track to avert disaster.

Yet the scientists are also clear that we can still hold the line on further damaging change – if we’re prepared to act fast and invest a great deal of money. By reducing CO2 emissions by nearly half from their 2010 levels, we could give ourselves a fighting chance; by planting millions of trees and using technology to further capture carbon dioxide too, we might just do it.

But in all honesty it is hard to feel optimistic about the world’s ability to make that happen. The World Wildlife Fund’s lead climate change scientist, Chris Weber, says “the difference between possibility and impossibility is political will”, which in present circumstances is unnerving, to say the least.

The only way to avoid the coming catastrophe would be a 40 to 50 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, followed by a complete cap on net CO2 emissions by 2050.

And that’s highly unlikely, given the intransigence of the Trump administration, as the Smithsonian reports [emphasis added]:

Currently, a few experimental methods exist that can snatch carbon dioxide directly out of the air, but at up to $1,000 per ton of carbon dioxide, the price tag of such carbon capture is staggering—and billions of tons await extraction.

“The best way to remove carbon dioxide from the air,” explains MIT engineer Howard Herzog in his book Carbon Capture, is “to not release it into the air in the first place,” Joyce reports.

But the hurdles to clear aren’t just technological. As Davenport reports, the new study’s authors have already conceded that dampening the rise in temperature is probably “politically unlikely.” President Donald Trump announced intent to withdraw from the United States from the Paris agreement in 2017; it is now the only country publically opposing the accord. A recent U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report estimated that maintaining the administration’s current course will yield a 4-degree Celsius (7-degree Fahrenheit) rise in temperature for the planet as a whole by the end of the current century. The report explicitly acknowledges the human impact on climate, but instead uses the data to justify continued non-action. In other words, the administration is arguing that our “fate is already sealed,” reports The Washington Post.

While Donald Trump portrays climate scientists as political hacks, the sheer scope of input to the IPCC report belies his hucksterism. As the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, the report was compiled by experts from 80 counties over the course of six years, with no fewer than 830 acknowledged scientific experts drawing on the work of more than a thousand other scientists, and 2,000 more experts who reviewed more than 140,000 comments by still more experts.

A telling graphic from the IPCC report charts the observed rise in global temperatures from 1850 to 2015, with the broad orange band depicting the change already directly attributable to human activity:

But the IPCC report may, in fact, be overly optimistic, as the guardian notes:

Tipping points merit only a few mentions in the IPCC report. Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said: “The IPCC report fails to focus on the weakest link in the climate chain: the self-reinforcing feedbacks which, if allowed to continue, will accelerate warming and risk cascading climate tipping points and runaway warming.”

He pointed to water vapour in the air, which traps heat in the atmosphere, as well as the loss of polar ice, the collapse of permafrost, and the migration of tropical clouds towards the poles.

Ice melting at the poles is known to be of particular danger. The Earth’s ice caps act as reflectors, sending some of the sun’s rays back into space and cooling the planet. When sea ice melts, it reveals dark water underneath, which absorbs more heat and in turn triggers greater warming, in a constant feedback loop.

Ice on land, such as in Greenland and under much of the Antarctic, may contain yet another feedback loop; when the ice melts, water percolates to the land below where it lubricates the slide of ice over rock and could accelerate the collapse of glaciers into the surrounding sea.

Given the critical threshold at hand, we thought we’d post a collection of recent scientific reports outlining the extent of damage already caused as well as some ominous predictions for what lies ahead.

New study highlights extent of sea level rises

And it’s even worse than expected.

From Rutgers University:

Global average sea-level could rise by nearly 8 feet by 2100 and 50 feet by 2300 if greenhouse gas emissions remain high and humanity proves unlucky, according to a review of sea-level change and projections by Rutgers and other scientists.

Since the start of the century, global average sea-level has risen by about 0.2 feet. Under moderate emissions, central estimates of global average sea-level from different analyses range from 1.4 to 2.8 more feet by 2100, 2.8 to 5.4 more feet by 2150 and 6 to 14 feet by 2300, according to the study, published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources [$32 to read].

And with 11 percent of the world’s 7.6 billion people living in areas less than 33 feet above sea level, rising seas pose a major risk to coastal populations, economies, infrastructure and ecosystems around the world, the study says.

Sea-level rise varies over location and time, and scientists have developed a range of methods to reconstruct past changes and project future ones. But despite the differing approaches, a clear story is emerging regarding the coming decades: From 2000 to 2050, global average sea-level will most likely rise about 6 to 10 inches, but is extremely unlikely to rise by more than 18 inches. Beyond 2050, projections are more sensitive to changes in greenhouse gas emissions and to the approaches for projecting sea-level change.

“There’s much that’s known about past and future sea-level change, and much that is uncertain. But uncertainty isn’t a reason to ignore the challenge,” said study co-author Robert E. Kopp, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and director of Rutgers’ Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Carefully characterizing what’s known and what’s uncertain is crucial to managing the risks sea-level rise poses to coasts around the world.”

Scientists used case studies from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and from Singapore to discuss how current methods for reconstructing past sea-level change can constrain future global and local projections. They also discussed approaches for using scientific sea-level projections and how accurate projections can lead to new sea-level research questions.

A large portion of sea-level rise in the 20th century, including most of the global rise since 1975, is tied to human-caused global warming, the study says.

Kopp led the review with Benjamin P. Horton, a former Rutgers professor now at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Co-authors include Andra J. Garner, an assistant research professor in Rutgers’ Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and other scientists at Boston College and Nanyang Technological University.

Consider, for example, the impacts of an eight-foot increase in sea level on two major metropolitan regions, via NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer:

First, a look at the New York City metro area [or “Bye-Bye Bayonne”]:

And a look at the San Francisco Bay Area [or “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, first get a canoe]:

If you live in any U.S. city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, you ca access a new — and free — University of Notre Dame database for you can get a more detailed look at climate impacts on your community, including, as the university reports:

  • A rich, open-source dataset covering more than 40 indicators for over 270 cities.
  • Risk and readiness scores for each city in the event of flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, sea-level rise and drought.
  • Projected cost and probability of climate-related hazards in 2040.
  • Assessment of risks due to climate-related hazards.
  • Evaluations of readiness to implement adaptation measures.

California impacts may slash state’s agricultural water

California agriculture accounts for the largest single sector in the Golden State’s economy. with annual sales of more than $50 billion. And, yes, the state’s most lucrative crop is cannabis, at an estimated $7.7 billion in green for the green [both legal and illegal], followed by dairy products, nuts and grapes — all heavily dependent on abundant water supplies.

And California is by far the country’s leading agricultural producer, easily leading all those Midwestern states most folks think of when it comes to growing things for the table.

But with climate change now posing a major threat to the state’s already imperiled water supply, that may soon change.

From the University of California, Irvine:

An estimated three-quarters of the water used by farms, ranches and dairies in California originates as snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but the future viability of that resource is projected to be at heightened risk due to global climate change.

In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [$10 to read], University of California, Irvine researchers argue that a 1.0 degree Celsius increase in the global average winter temperature will lead to a 20 percent jump in the likelihood of below-average snow accumulation in the high country, resulting in lower spring runoff. In this article, the authors describe how snow water equivalent, an important measure of water availability, and the elevation of the snowpack respond to different levels of warming.

The scientists from UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering said that historically, 2.0 degrees of average winter warming can cause the probability of below-average snow water equivalent to climb to 40 percent.

“Changes in average temperature around the world will have an impact on how widespread and long lasting the seasonal mountain snowpack will be,” said lead author Laurie Huning, UCI postdoctoral scholar in civil & environmental engineering. “In general, we have found that warmer conditions will decrease the amount of water stored in the mountain snowpack, forcing its center of mass to higher elevations.”

The researchers analyzed historical data to quantify the volume and the extent of the Sierra snowpack, finding that warmer temperatures should cause the bulk to gradually shrink and be concentrated at higher elevations over time. For example, under a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase, there is a nearly 80 percent likelihood that the center of mass of the mountain snowpack will inch above 8,300 feet in elevation; the probability goes to 90 percent with 2.0 degrees of heating.

“The Paris Agreement calls for nations to band together to keep this century’s temperature increases within a global 2 degree Celsius threshold above pre-industrial levels,” said Huning. “Our results show that even a change in the Sierra Nevada’s winter temperature from 1.0 to 1.5 degrees Celsius can threaten the natural water storage capability of the range. Similar responses may also been seen in other mountain ranges that provide melt runoff to much of the western United States.”

The researchers said the impact will vary depending on what sector of the Sierra Nevada range is being observed, identifying the northwestern quarter to be most threatened.

“In addition to the resources used in the state’s agricultural sector, the Sierra Nevada snowpack also provides about 60 percent of the water supply for the people of Southern California,” said co-author Amir AghaKouchak, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering, and Earth system science. “Our study has shown that this important natural water storage mechanism that supports our economy and the lives of millions is highly sensitive to change from global warming.”

This project was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the California Energy Commission.

And lack of snow spells increased water pollution

While decreased snowfall spells major trouble for America’s  West and Southwest , what water remains becomes more polluted, spelling further woes for both urban dwellers and farmers, according to new research {$10 to read] published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

One in 10 Americans depends on the Colorado River for bathing and drinking. Last fall’s record-high temperatures reduced Colorado snowpack in winter 2018 to 66 percent of normal, sparking concern over water shortages downstream and leaving water managers fearful of a repeat.

Diminishing snowpack isn’t all that affects water reserves. At many sites across the West where the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service measures the amount of water contained within snow, this snow-water equivalent was less than half of median values from 1981 to 2010. At the same time, snow is melting near the Colorado River’s headwaters almost a month earlier than it did 25 years ago. This earlier melt alone has caused shifts in plant communities that function to absorb nutrients, process pollutants, and filter sediment as water moves downstream – increasing the odds that water quality, not just water supply, will be put at risk by a warming atmosphere.

Hydrological science expert and geochemist Bhavna Arora is part of a team at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) studying the changes to these plant communities in a research area along the East River catchment near the Upper Colorado River headwaters. The team’s studies, part of the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area (SFA) program, are useful for predicting how disturbances to mountainous watersheds – like floods, drought, changing snowpack and earlier snowmelt – impact the downstream delivery of water, nutrients, carbon, and metals.

Q. Does anything concern you about what your team is observing at the East River watershed?

A. Snow is melting an average of 26 days earlier than it did 25 years ago – a phenomenon that’s forced a dramatic shift in plant communities in and around the Upper Colorado River. When snow melts far sooner than expected, nitrates produced naturally beneath snow can be released much earlier in the watershed. Regional plants that historically functioned synchronously within the ecosystem to absorb nutrients from water within snowmelt have been replaced or risk being replaced by more drought-resistant plants that may not be so adept at taking up nitrogen.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the USDA, monitors snowpack and related climatic data at more than 700 sites in 11 western states. This snow map shows how snow depth in January 2018 across the West compared to median snow depth values recorded during January from 1981 to 2010 at these sites. (Photo Courtesy of USDA NRCS)

At the East River, Colorado, catchment site that is the project test bed, a community of deep-rooted shrubs has replaced grasses and wildflowers, which rapidly take up nitrogen and other elements from water within snowmelt. It’s not yet clear if these new plants can quickly assume the roles of their predecessors and prevent nitrates or other elements from entering the river and traveling downstream.

In just under two short years since our team began studying there, we’ve witnessed earlier snowmelt accompanied by the diminished snowpack that has become so familiar across entire regions of the mountainous West. We wanted to quantify the influence of changes in snowmelt timing and snowpack depth on nitrogen fluxes and plant phenology at our study site.

We’re using remote sensing and wells that penetrate deep into the bedrock to continuously monitor vegetation, seasonal soil temperatures, water availability, and chemistry throughout the soil and subsurface at the East River site. Our observations and computer simulations show that an earlier and larger nitrate peak occurs with early snowmelt in comparison to a normal snowmelt scenario. We also found that differences in snowpack depths change the under-snow nutrient buffer and ammonia concentration. In both scenarios of early snowmelt and decreased snowpack, shrubs have replaced grasses and wildflowers as the dominant vegetation.

Although much more study needs to be done, this is an excellent example of the complexity of nature.

Q: Do these observations spell trouble for the water that ends up as irrigation water for crops or as drinking water for residents downstream?

A. Headwaters catchments like the East River represent a section of river that has not been impacted by land use changes such as agriculture. What’s troubling is not the concentrations we’re seeing at these pristine research sites but what that means for water as it moves downstream. The peaks in nitrates after a long, extended drought are particularly worrisome because the risks of excess nitrates to human health are well-known and worthy of our attention. Intense rainfall like we’ve experienced leads to excess nitrates being leached into the river, which could put downstream water supplies at risk.

Without investigating many more sites over multiple years, it’s far too soon to say how increased nitrate concentration in headwater catchments could impact runoff as it moves downstream. But it’s reasonable to believe that it could. Take agricultural regions, for example. Historically we’ve added nitrogen to farmland soils as fertilizer. As a result, there’s been a build-up of groundwater nitrates and nitrous oxide emissions to the air across major agricultural regions. So, while excess nitrates in the water near our remote research site might not pose a significant threat to human health, we can’t be sure that the same is true downstream in waters in and around lands that are intensively used.

Q. We started out discussing the record drought and heat in Colorado and across the Western U.S. If summer temperatures and lack of precipitation are any indication, it seems unlikely that we can expect fall and winter to be more in keeping with the historic norm. Are these erratic patterns of concern?

A. Snowmelt timing is critical to plant growth and growing season duration, setting the starting point for when plants emerge from their winter dormancy and begin to grow. The exact timing of snowmelt is also critical to our work as it represents one of the most important and dynamic times of the year – a period when there’s a lot to study and understand.

Geochemical modelers like me benefit from having access to quality data about snow patterns, temperature, humidity, and other factors likely to cause changes within mountainous watersheds. For decades, hydrologists could time their field observations according to the relatively predictable timing of snowmelt and depth of snowpack based on historic patterns. Relative consistency in precipitation and temperature also allows us to predict future watershed response to these factors based on previous trends, in addition to current observations.

Huge fluctuations in snow accumulation and melt have required us to develop a network of sensors that autonomously measure soil temperature and soil water and continuously capture video of the surface of the snow. In this way we can “observe” the start of snowmelt through changes in water and temperature and predict the likely date range of snow-free conditions a week or two in advance. Then we mobilize our teams and equipment and get out there!

With shifts in plant communities due to early snowmelt, we don’t yet know how well those new plant communities will work together to absorb nitrogen and other nutrients. Since those new plant communities may take years to become established, we need to use computer models to predict what might happen. With the shift in snowmelt timing from historic trends – and in flux even from year to year, it becomes even more difficult to predict what changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will mean for the water supply in two years, much less 10 or 50 years.

Our best hope is to build the best computer models possible that can numerically explore all of these factors (snowmelt timing, drought, monsoons, plant species, etc.) combined, and test those models with data from the field. In this way we hope to predict the future quantity and quality of our water as it flows downstream and impacts users and ecosystems far removed from its origin in the Upper Colorado River.

Warming accelerates ominous trends in the Arctic

We’ve posted extensively about the radical loss of Arctic sea ice, and things are no better this year, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, and the news this year is of no consolation:

From the report:

Arctic sea ice likely reached its annual minimum extent on September 19 and again on September 23, 2018, according to researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA. Analyses of satellite data showed that the Arctic ice cap shrank to 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles), tied for the sixth lowest summertime minimum on record. Researchers at NSIDC noted that the estimate is preliminary, and it is still possible (but not likely) that changing winds could push the ice extent lower.

Arctic sea ice follows seasonal patterns of growth and decay. It thickens and spreads during the fall and winter and thins and shrinks during the spring and summer. But in recent decades, increasing temperatures have led to significant decreases in summer and winter sea ice extents. The decline in Arctic ice cover will ultimately affect the planet’s weather patterns and the circulation of the oceans.

The map above shows the extent of Arctic sea ice as measured by satellites on September 19, 2018. Extent is defined as the total area in which the ice concentration is at least 15 percent. The yellow outline shows the median September sea ice extent from 1981–2010. The second image is a mosaic that was compiled by the Canadian Ice Service using data collected between September 18 and 24 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites.

The 2018 minimum is 1.63 million square kilometers (629,000 square miles) below the 1981–2010 average ice minimum. NASA scientists Claire Parkinson and Nick DiGirolamo have calculated that Arctic sea ice has lost roughly 54,000 square kilometers (21,000 square miles) of ice for each year since the late 1970s—equivalent to losing a chunk of sea ice the size of Maryland and New Jersey for every year.

Collapse of Arctic sea ice may also mean the collapse of the region’s Polar Bear population, massive, regal critters who stand at the apex of the food chain on the land and the ice, according to a new study $6 for 48-hour access] published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. According to the university:

Polar bears likely survived past warm periods in the Arctic, when sea ice cover was low, by scavenging on the carcasses of stranded large whales. This food source sustained the bears when they were largely restricted to land, unable to roam the ice in search of seals to hunt.

A new study led by the University of Washington found that although dead whales are still valuable sources of fat and protein for some polar bears, this resource will likely not be enough to sustain most bear populations in the future when the Arctic becomes ice-free in summers, which is likely to occur by 2040 due to climate change. The results were published online Oct. 9 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“If the rate of sea ice loss and warming continues unmitigated, what is going to happen to polar bear habitat will exceed anything documented over the last million years. The extremely rapid pace of this change makes it almost impossible for us to use history to predict the future,” said lead author Kristin Laidre, a marine biologist at the UW’s Polar Science Center and associate professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Read the rest. . .

But wait! It’s even worse than you thought

Consider the findings of yet another new study [open access], this one by scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory published in Environmental Research Letters and reported by the lab:

A new collaborative study has investigated Arctic shrub-snow interactions to obtain a better understanding of the far north’s tundra and vast permafrost system. Incorporating extensive in situ observations, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists tested their theories with a novel 3D computer model and confirmed that shrubs can lead to significant degradation of the permafrost layer that has remained frozen for tens of thousands of years. These interactions are driving increases in discharges of fresh water into rivers, lakes and oceans.

“The Arctic is actively greening, and shrubs are flourishing across the tundra. As insulating snow accumulates atop tall shrubs, it boosts significant ground warming,” said Cathy Wilson, Los Alamos scientist on the project. “If the trend of increasing vegetation across the Arctic continues, we’re likely to see a strong increase in permafrost degradation.”

The team investigated interactions among shrubs, permafrost, and subsurface areas called taliks. Taliks are unfrozen ground near permafrost caused by a thermal or hydrological anomaly. Some tunnel-like taliks called “through taliks” extend over thick permafrost layers.

Results of the Los Alamos study published in Environmental Research Letters this week revealed that through taliks developed where snow was trapped, warmed the ground and created a pathway for water to flow through deep permafrost, significantly driving thawing and likely increasing water and dissolved carbon flow to rivers, lakes and the ocean. Computer simulations also demonstrated that the thawed active layer was abnormally deeper near these through taliks, and that increased shrub growth exacerbates these impacts. Notably, the team subtracted warming trends from the weather data used to drive simulations, thereby confirming that the shrub-snow interactions were causing degradation even in the absence of warming.

The Los Alamos team and collaborators from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments Arctic program, which funds this project, used a new Los Alamos-developed fine-scale model, the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS). It incorporates soil physics and captures permafrost dynamics. The team repeatedly tested results against experimental data from Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.

“These simulations of through talik formation provide clues as to why we’re seeing an increase in winter discharge in the Arctic,” said Los Alamos postdoctoral research associate Elchin Jafarov, first author on the paper.

This model is the first to show how snow and vegetation interact to impact permafrost hydrology with through talik formation on a slope—prevalent across Alaskan terrain. The team, including collaborators from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Alaska, investigated how quickly through taliks developed at different permafrost depths, their impact on hydrology and how they interrupted and altered continuous permafrost.

The fire next time?

Given that the Grand Old Party has laid claim to the allegiance of he nation’s Christian Fundamentalists , it’s hardly surprising that the White House and the Orange Crusher keep focusing on the claim that the world is actually growing colder, given a key New Testament passage, II Peter, verse 3, describing the Apocalypse:

[T]he day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

And according to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, a report from the state’s Office of Planning and Research, the Natural Resources Agency, and the California Energy Commission, fire may pose as extreme a danger as coastal flooding and agricultural impacts as rising temperatures lead to ever-greater conflagrations in California’s mountains and drylands.

Consider this graphic from the report and the probability of more and vaster fires in years to come:

Global warming wipes out Puerto Rico’s insects

Life for for humans and four-legged critters depends to a great extent on critters with four legs, species which play a vital role in everything from pollination of the food we eat to the breakdown of biological waste.

As a major study [open access] reported in the open access scientific journal PLOS One last year:

Loss of insects is certain to have adverse effects on ecosystem functioning, as insects play a central role in a variety of processes, including pollination, herbivory and detrivory, nutrient cycling and providing a food source for higher trophic levels such as birds, mammals and amphibians. For example, 80% of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination, while 60% of birds rely on insects as a food source. The ecosystem services provided by wild insects have been estimated at $57 billion annually in the USA. Clearly, preserving insect abundance and diversity should constitute a prime conservation priority.

That study, which looked at declines in insect populations in Germany, came to an alarming conclusion:

[W]e used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna. Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.

One graphic from the study shows why scientists are alarmed:

Temporal distribution of insect biomass at selected locations.
(A) Daily biomass (mean ±1 se) across 26 locations sampled in multiple years (see S4 Fig for seasonal distributions). (B) Distribution of mean annual rate of decline as estimated based on plot specific log-linear models (annual trend coefficient = −0.053, sd = 0.002, i.e. 5.2% annual decline).

Insect decline soars as Puerto Rico grows hotter

Another study [open access], this one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute charts the decline in an American territory already ravaged by a massive hurricane that left thousands dead in its wake [despite the claims of the hubristic Orange Crusher]:

While temperatures in the tropical forests of northeastern Puerto Rico have climbed two degrees Celsius since the mid-1970s, the biomass of arthropods – invertebrate animals such as insects, millipedes, and sowbugs – has declined by as much as 60-fold, according to new findings published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The finding supports the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warnings of severe environmental threats given a 2.0 degree Celsius elevation in global temperature. Like some other tropical locations, the study area in the Luquillo rainforest has already reached or exceeded a 2.0 degree Celsius rise in average temperature, and the study finds that the consequences are potentially catastrophic.

“Our results suggest that the effects of climate warming in tropical forests may be even greater than anticipated,” said Brad Lister, lead author of the study and a faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “The insect populations in the Luquillo forest are crashing, and once that begins, the animals that eat the insects have insufficient food, which results in decreased reproduction and survivorship and consequent declines in abundance.”

Climate Driven Declines in Arthropod Abundance Restructure a Rainforest Food Web” is based on data collected between 1976 and 2013 by the authors and the Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research program at three mid-elevation habitats in Puerto Rico’s protected Luquillo rainforest. During this time, mean maximum temperatures have risen by 2.0 degrees Celsius.

Major findings include:

  • Sticky traps used to sample arthropods on the ground and in the forest canopy were indicative of a collapse in forest arthropods, with biomass catch rates falling up to 60-fold between 1976 and 2013.
  • The biomass of arthropods collected by ground-level sweep netting also declined as much as eightfold from 1976 to 2013.
  • As arthropods declined, simultaneous decreases occurred in Luquillo’s insectivorous lizards, frogs, and birds.
  • The authors also compared estimates of arthropod abundance they made in the 1980s in the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve in western Mexico with estimates from 2014. Over this time period, mean temperature increased 2.4 Celsius and arthropod biomass declined eightfold.

Cold-blooded animals living in tropical climates are particularly vulnerable to climate warming since they are adapted to relatively stable year-round temperatures. Given their analyses of the data, which included new techniques to assess causality, the authors conclude that climate warming is the major driver of reductions in arthropod abundance in the Luquillo forest. These reductions have precipitated a major bottom-up trophic cascade and consequent collapse of the forest food web.

Given that tropical forests harbor two thirds of the Earth’s species, these results have profound implications for the future stability and biodiversity of rainforest ecosystems, as well as conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of climate forcing.

Andres Garcia, of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, was co-author on the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this graphic from the study is worth many, many more:

Mean dry-weight arthropod biomass per 100 sweeps taken in the same sample area in the Luquillo rainforest during July 1976, January 1977, July 2011, and January 2013. One SE around the mean biomass is shown for each bar. Total sweeps taken in each period was 800, except for July 1976, when 700 sweeps were taken.

While most die, some thrive, catastrophically

From the University of New Hampshire:

As winter in New England seems to get warmer, fall lingers longer and spring comes into bloom earlier, areas like northern New Hampshire and western Maine are seeing an unusual continued increase in winter ticks which are endangering the moose population. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found that the swell of infestations of this parasite, which attaches itself to moose during the fall and feeds throughout the winter, is the primary cause of an unprecedented 70 percent death rate of calves over a three-year period.

“The iconic moose is rapidly becoming the new poster child for climate change in parts of the Northeast,” said Pete Pekins, professor of wildlife ecology. “Normally anything over a 50 percent death rate would concern us, but at 70 percent, we are looking at a real problem in the moose population.”

In the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, researchers outline the screening of 179 radio-marked moose calves (age nine to 10 months) for physical condition and parasites in the month of January over three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016. They tracked new calves for four months each winter and found that a total of 125 calves died over the three-year period. A high infestation of winter ticks was found on each calf (an average of 47,371 per moose) causing emaciation and severe metabolic imbalance from blood loss, which was the primary cause of death.

Most adult moose survived but were still severely compromised. They were thin and anemic from losing so much blood. The ticks appear to be harming reproductive health so there is also less breeding.

The researchers say winter tick epidemics typically last one to two years. But, five of the last 10 years has shown a rare frequency of tick infestations which reflects the influence of climate change. They point out that right now these issues are mostly appearing in southern moose populations, but as climate change progresses they anticipate this issue to reach farther north.

“We’re sitting on a powder keg,” said Pekins. “The changing environmental conditions associated with climate change are increasing and are favorable for winter ticks, specifically later-starting winters that lengthen the autumnal questing period for ticks.”

Fall is considered “questing” season for winter ticks. They climb up vegetation and look to attach to a host. Once they attach, they go through three active life stages (larvae, nymph, and adult) by taking a blood meal and feeding on the same animal. The ticks will feed and remain on one host during their subsequent molts until spring when adult females detach and drop to the ground. Their preferred hosts are moose and other mammals, including deer, elk, caribou, and occasionally horses and cattle. Winter ticks rarely bite and feed on humans.

Co-authors include Henry Jones and Daniel Ellingwood both of UNH, Lee Kantar and Matthew O’Neal of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Inga Sidor of New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at UNH, and Anne Lichtenwalner of the University of Maine Animal Health Laboratory.

Funding was provided through New Hampshire Fish and Game and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration, UNH and the Safari Club International Foundation.

Here’s a video report on the UNH research:

 

Program notes:

The iconic moose, driver of hunting and tourism economies in New Hampshire’s North Country, is in decline, due to a tiny tick that infests them by the tens of thousands. University of New Hampshire professor Pete Pekins leads a team of undergraduate and graduate students as they track radio-collared moose and their calves to chart their survival.

Special thanks to Jay Lamell for all calf and mother footage.

But, hey, it’s all fake news, right?

After all, that’s what our Fearless Leader says:

Trump altered his tune during a 60 Minutes interview Sunday night, as BBC News reports:

During Sunday’s interview, Mr Trump cast doubt on making any changes, saying the scientists “have a very big political agenda”.

“I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference,” he told journalist Lesley Stahl.

“But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this. I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.”

Mr Trump added that temperatures “could very well go back” – although he did not say how.

Feel better?

And a warning to the Trump base. . .

Given the images we’ve seen from Trump rallies, we suspect that apart from the occasional cup of tea,

Now consider this stunning graphic from Decreases in global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat, a new study [open access] published in Nature Plants looking at the range of beer price increase scenarios projected under a variety of climate change regimes from 2010 to 2099 based on degree of political will of nations to implement mitigation measures.

One thing is certain, according to two University of California, Irvine researchers who participated in the multinational investigation: Prices will rise as drought and heat waves parch the lands currently yielding the wheat and barley used to whip up all those tasty barrels, bottles, and cans.

The prices in the chart look at projected rises in European nations, Canada, and Japan:

Maybe that’ll motivate some of the MAGA crowd to rethink that whole climate change thing. . .