Giving Up is Not an Option: Let’s Focus on What We Still Can Do

KoeppiKderivative work: Newwhist (Bridge_played_cards_after_game.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Bridge used to be one of my favorite social activities (when my free time was a bit more abundant). To those not familiar with the rules, the basic structure is simple: one deck of cards, two teams of two. Wikipedia gives a pretty good explanation:

The game consists of several deals,[b] each progressing through four phases. The cards are dealt to the players, and then the players auction or bid to take the contract, specifying how many tricks the partnership receiving the contract (the declaring side) needs to take to receive points for the deal. During the auction, partners communicate information about their hand, including its overall strength and the length of its suits, although conventions for use during play also exist. The cards are then played, the declaring side trying to fulfill the contract, and the defenders trying to stop the declaring side from achieving its goal. The deal is scored based on the number of tricks taken, the contract, and various other factors which depend to some extent on the variation of the game being played.[4]

The player who wins the auction knows the exact cards that he and his partner were holding (his partners card are laid on the table for everybody to see) but the only information that he has about the holdings of his opponents’ cards is what he could deduce during the bidding. Naturally it is not a complete knowledge. A “golden” rule of bridge (as conveyed to me) is to play based only on information that can help you immediately and ignore everything else, even if it might impact your ultimate success.

I came to realize that such a strategy is essential for survival in this age of climate change and there is no better time to start implementing it than now.

The academic year starts in less than three weeks. I will teach close to 100 students (in two sessions) in my course on climate change (see the July 18, 2017 blog). My teaching philosophy is as follows:

In a global epoch dominated by humans (Anthropocene) politics cannot be left out of the classroom. I have touched on this topic many times [Politics (May 3 and May 17, 2016) and Education (May 24June 14, 2016) in the Anthropocene]. I firmly believe, however, that this teaching should be balanced, anchored on first principles, and not used as a recruitment opportunity for a particular party or dogma.

This clearly should satisfy the concerns of Messrs. James Inhofe, James Lankford, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul (July 31, 2018 blog) who want to make sure that federal funding directed at science will not go to indoctrinating poor students in the hearsay of climate change.

However, I cannot expect to retain credibility with my students without referring to what has been taking place this summer. The reality is indeed bleak on a number of fronts and my students need to be familiar with it. Hopefully that knowledge will incentivize them to learn the science and be receptive to how they can contribute to a better world – i.e. help us survive.

Courses will start with a set of reading assignments documenting some of this summer’s climate events. We will begin with The New York Times Magazine article, “Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change” by Nathan Rich with photographs by George Steinmetz.

CUNY students get free subscriptions to The New York Times, so this should not constitute a hardship. The magazine piece sheds light on the debate in the US that took place between 1979 and 1989 on what to do about the sharp rise in carbon dioxide concentrations recorded in the atmosphere that resulted from the increased global use of fossil fuels. The piece has a strong message (should we say it’s trying to indoctrinate?) and was written to impart a sense of missed opportunity. Obviously, Al Gore is a major player in this history. At that time he was a young congressman who was given a small subcommittee to manage:

Gore was granted his first leadership position, albeit a modest one: chairman of an oversight subcommittee within the Committee on Science and Technology — a subcommittee that he had lobbied to create. Most in Congress considered the science committee a legislative backwater, if they considered it at all; this made Gore’s subcommittee, which had no legislative authority, an afterthought to an afterthought. That, Gore vowed, would change. Environmental and health stories had all the elements of narrative drama: villains, victims and heroes. In a hearing, you could summon all three, with the chairman serving as narrator, chorus and moral authority. He told his staff director that he wanted to hold a hearing every week.

Mr. Rich decided to adapt Mr. Gore’s strategy in his writing. In his own “narrative drama,” the heroes are Rafe Pomerance (environmental activist) and Jim Hansen (a physicist with NASA), the villain is John Sunumu (Chief of Staff of President H. W. Bush), and the rest of us are the victims. The result is a readable piece that invariably asks the question of what went wrong and how things could have come out better. It also puts the political debate on the same footing as the scientific one.

The piece is accompanied by a somewhat frightening collection of images – two full pages worth of aerial photographs of major devastation caused recently by extreme climate events, including:

  • The Western Greenland ice-sheet melting
  • The algae cover of Lake Tai in China
  • Windswept desert sand covering Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania
  • The dwindling penguin populations on the rocky shores of Deception Island off the coast of Antarctica
  • Environmental refugees looking for shelter in flooded Bangladesh
  • Fire devastation in California
  • Shark Bay in Western Australia where sea grass is disappearing because of extreme heat
  • Texas after hurricane Harvey
  • The disappearing snow on the Swiss Alps

These images immediately raise the questions: can it happen here? and can it happen to me?

This is a decent background for us to start discussing the science.

The history in the NYT Magazine piece is more than 35 years old, meaning that these events took place before any of my students were born. That means it is vital to also compile what happened globally this summer because that makes it more personal. Horror stories are still coming out on a daily basis. The Economist counted up some of them:

EARTH is smouldering. From Seattle to Siberia this summer, flames have consumed swathes of the northern hemisphere. One of 18 wildfires sweeping through California, among the worst in the state’s history, is generating such heat that it created its own weather. Fires that raged through a coastal area near Athens last week killed 91 (see article). Elsewhere people are suffocating in the heat. Roughly 125 have died in Japan as the result of a heatwave that pushed temperatures in Tokyo above 40°C for the first time.

Yet as the impact of climate change becomes more evident, so too does the scale of the challenge ahead. Three years after countries vowed in Paris to keep warming “well below” 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels, greenhouse-gas emissions are up again. So are investments in oil and gas. In 2017, for the first time in four years, demand for coal rose. Subsidies for renewables, such as wind and solar power, are dwindling in many places and investment has stalled; climate-friendly nuclear power is expensive and unpopular. It is tempting to think these are temporary setbacks and that mankind, with its instinct for self-preservation, will muddle through to a victory over global warming. In fact, it is losing the war.

Two weeks ago, I did a similar compilation of recent disasters but I haven’t been able to keep up with the ongoing spate here while also discussing other topics. It’s not too difficult though, for students to follow up and ask their own questions as to attribution.

Next week I will focus on an article published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that describes an Armageddon. Almost immediately, newspapers from all over the world duplicated it almost verbatim, with one main goal: to scare us all. I will discuss the paper and my view that the more we scare people, the more likely it is that they will view the issue as hopeless and give up on trying to mitigate or even adapt to the situations.

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Climate Change and Federal Government Funding

Last week I looked at four Republican senators’ efforts to terminate government funding for television meteorologists who mention climate change as part of the forecast. I also discussed the issue in light of the global heat wave and the havoc it is wreaking all around the world – namely, how exactly are meteorologists supposed to discuss the destructive and increasingly frequent manifestations of all these deadly extreme events without referencing climate change?

The NYT announced that the Trump administration has finally nominated a Science Adviser: “Kelvin Droegemeier, a well-regarded meteorologist, has a long research record. But his views on climate change are not well known.” Even so, he has made his reputation by investigating extreme weather events and studying computer simulations of weather systems. These are the same tools that most scientists are now using to figure out human attributions to extreme weather events.

The last article I linked to in my last post talked about work taking place in some of the best British universities, where they are using exactly these tools with the goal that, “Weather forecasters will soon provide instant assessments of global warming’s influence on extreme events.” These are the people that the abovementioned four distinguished senators want to deny access to any research on such topics.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the senators’ focus on TV meteorologists is arbitrary; they would prefer to terminate all government efforts to understand and find ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Considering this is (unfortunately) a likely possibility, it might help to get an idea about how the US Federal government is currently involved in activities related to climate change. Figures 1 and 2, taken from the Government Accountability Office site (GAO), summarize the efforts both in terms of involvement of agencies and $ values.

 Figure 1 – Reported Federal Climate Change Funding by Category, 1993-2014

Federal funding for climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation has increased from $2.4 billion in 1993 to $11.6 billion in 2014, with an additional $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. As shown in figure 1, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has reported federal climate change funding in three main categories since 1993:

  • technology to reduce emissions,

  • science to better understand climate change, and

  • international assistance for developing countries.

Figure 2 – Selected Coordination Mechanisms for Federal Climate Change Activities

As illustrated in figure 2, many federal entities manage programs and activities related to climate change. Each of these federal departments and agencies is operating under its own set of authorities and responsibilities and addresses climate change in ways relevant to its mission. In the context of providing climate-related information, the National Research Council observed that no single government agency or centralized unit could perform all the required functions, and that coordination of agency roles and regional activities is a necessity.

As a result of climate-related risks, fiscal exposure for the federal government has increased in many areas, including federal property and infrastructure, supply chains, disaster aid, and federal insurance programs. Consequently, Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 2013.

Over the past several years, federal agencies have made progress toward better organizing across and within agencies and among the various levels of government. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, for example, is a confederation of the research arms of 13 federal departments and agencies that carry out research and develop the nation’s response to climate change. In 2014, it published the National Climate Assessment report, which reviews observed and projected changes in climate in the United States, the effects of these changes, and options for responding.

These extended efforts don’t even account for the government involvement in education. In a few weeks, my school’s academic year will start (along with most other schools in this country), at which point I will have close to 100 students (registration is still ongoing) in my course on climate change. This summer I dedicated most of my time to original research on some of the issues I’ve been mentioning. Next week I will try to describe my efforts to distinguish between indoctrination and teaching science.

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Science or Indoctrination?

Earlier this month (July 3rd and 10th) I wrote two blogs about a heat wave that was affecting my home of NYC and how it impacted me. The weather here now is lovely (around 85oF, with bearable humidity and no flooding), but thanks to the torrents of available information, I am fully aware that the situations in many other places throughout the world are dire. Yet some of our government representatives are placing their focus on meteorologists. Below is a piece from The New York Times about these concerns:

When Did Talking About the Weather Become Political?

By Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain

Take the battle in Congress over the renewal of a grant to help television meteorologists incorporate climate change into their weather reporting. Four Republican senators have called for an investigation, calling it indoctrination. Democrats last week moved to protect the funding, which is administered through the National Science Foundation.

“Research designed to sway individuals of a various group, be they meteorologists or engineers, to a politically contentious viewpoint is not science — it’s propagandizing,” the senators wrote to the foundation’s inspector general.

The four Republicans — James Inhofe and James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky — requested an investigation into whether the grants, which have been in place for almost ten years, violated federal law.

The first part of my morning routine is to read about recent events in the Economist Espresso. It curates and summarizes 5 news items each day under “The World in Brief.” Here’s one that showed up on Thursday:

Too hot to handle: the global heatwave

From the Arctic Circle to Japan, via Europe and America, the northern hemisphere is sizzling. In parts of Finnish Lapland temperatures recently hit 32.1ºC (89.8ºF), some 12ºC warmer than is typical for July. In Japan, where a record 41.1ºC has been reached, at least 65 people have died and a natural disaster has been declared. Wildfires have raged in Sweden and Greece. There looks to be no let-up to the swelter over the coming days—weeks perhaps. That will please sun-seekers. But heatwaves mostly bring problems, especially in the developing world: crops are ravaged, food spoils and workers become less productive. Studies even suggest that violent crime rises. Such extreme weather was a once-a-millennium outlier. But man-made climate change makes it more likely. Humans are getting better at living with heatwaves, from installing air-conditioning to painting shanty-town roofs white. Better to deal with the cause of the problem.

Nothing in that list is new to me – all the events mentioned took place over the span of at least several days and they are all in various stages of development that have been covered throughout – but the piece summarizes them nicely.

After breakfast I scanned my morning paper (NYT). The front section had four major articles on extreme climate events, including some of those mentioned in The Economist. Each of these took up a full print page:

“Yosemite National Park Evacuated Amid Threat From Fire”

“In Japan, Deadly Heat Wave Tests Endurance of Even the Most Stoic”

“In Laos, a Boom, and Then, ‘The Water Is Coming!’”

“In Greece, Wildfires Kill Dozens, Driving Some Into the Sea

The Economist piece and all of the NYT articles above had opening photographs. I chose to copy the one depicting the heat wave in Japan because it addresses people’s attempts to cope with the extreme weather. The picture also demonstrates the issue that facilities for such coping methods are becoming a bit crowded.

It is interesting to try to figure out how Messrs James Inhofe, James Lankford, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul want TV meteorologists to explain the globalization and increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events without invoking climate change. I’d also like to know their definitions of science and indoctrination and their expertise in differentiating between the two.

Following this line of thought, here’s an excerpt from an article in Slate:

“Can We Blame the Summer Heat Wave on Global Warming?” The relationship between weather and climate is complicated.

By Irineo Cabreros

The questions are as important as they are difficult. The long-term effects of climate change–such as the rising sea levels that will eventually displace tens of millions of people–are only a part of the story. Climate change also affects humans through an increased frequency of extreme weather: hurricanes, floods, droughts, and heat waves, some of it occurring right now. At least, it’s likely. A growing field of science is starting to emerge to help us understand the precise relationship between the slowly changing global climate and the variable weather we experience daily: extreme event attribution.

Or as Michael Wehner puts it: “probabilistic” extreme event attribution. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, seemed careful not to frame his field as a magic bullet for assigning undisputable blame to individual weather events. “It’s not: Climate change flooded my house,” explained Wehner. “It’s: Climate change changed the chances of flooding my house.”

To understand what extreme event attribution does, it’s helpful to think about it through a simplified analogy. There’s a bucket full of balls: Some are blue, and some are red. If we draw a blue ball, the weather will be moderate. If we draw a red ball, the weather will be extreme. Before global warming, the bucket contained almost entirely blue balls with a handful of red ones mixed in. Global warming is slowly swapping a few blue balls for red ones. If today there’s a hurricane, we know that a red ball was drawn. But we don’t know if it was one of the original red balls or one of the new ones contributed by climate change. What extreme event attribution does allow us to do is estimate how many red balls were added to the bucket.

Is that analogy good enough to account for all these climate disasters?

Updates from the weekend:

Continuing coverage of California fires and record heat: “Death toll mounts as wildfires rage across California

‘Furnace Friday:’ Ill-Equipped for Heat, Britain Has a Meltdown

Air-conditioning is a luxury here. Not only do most homes not have it, but they are built to keep the heat in, experts say. As a result, the demand for fans has skyrocketed, leaving most stores in London out of stock.

“Droughts, Heat Waves and Floods: How to Tell When Climate Change Is to Blame”

Be safe and stay tuned!!!

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Location Sensitivities of Other Biota

My last blog ended with a promise that I would look into location sensitivity of other foods and drinks – after all, humans can’t survive on wine alone.

When I Googled “climate change impact,” these were my top results:

  • Marine Ecosystem
  • Real Estate
  • Global Food Security
  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem

With the exception of real estate, all of these directly relate to living systems. I have covered the impacts on the flora and fauna of a few habitats in previous blogs, including the repercussions on fisheries. In that blog I emphasized the conflict between fishermen and regulators in Maine regarding how best to address the crisis of fishing in the state. Populations of fish in specific places are thinning out, many migrating to better places – e.g. north to cooler water (January 20 and 27, 2015). Fishermen all over the world use a localized concept similar to the French terroir system I explained last week. In years past, the fishermen of Maine found plenty of fish in their coastal waters and assumed that this would stay true in the future. That is no longer the case.

Nor is the issue specific to Maine. Figure 1 gives a quantitative assessment of the movement of individual fish species in the US, as compiled by NOAA:

Figure 1 – NOAA estimates of movement of individual fish species in the US coastal zones per year

Fish can move quickly so the changes are relatively fast. The population of blackbelly rosefish shifted ~8.53km (more than 5 miles) in one year, which is a significant change. But the migration to cooler water is obviously not a guaranty for successful adaptation. The fish then have to find edible food in their new location or adapt to consume different food. Such adaptation usually takes time and works along the Darwinian principle, i.e. self-selection for species that can best survive the conditions.

Crops (including the vines that produce the right grapes for good wine production) don’t pick up and move but plants have other mechanisms for spreading to new locations – namely, pollinators. The Guardian published an op-ed about the impact of climate change on various garden plants:

From my perspective as caretaker of this little plant community, the problem is also that many of the seasonal understandings that have been basic to gardening in Toronto can no longer be assumed. Lavender might not survive the winter without wrapping. Tomatoes might need to be shaded in order to survive what is forecast to be an especially hot summer. Plants that require specialist pollinators may find their calls unanswered because the short-lived insects on which they rely may now have lives out of sync with the blooms.

Obviously the same issues hold true for growing all the agricultural products (indirectly including the meat that we consume) that make up our sources of food, a process that also constitutes most of the employment in developing countries. The impacts on these vital crops aren’t limited to temperature changes; the main concern is how the changing temperature affects a farm area’s water cycle.

For those of us that sometimes forget, we are all part of the biota. We are feeling the impacts not only via our food and drink supply but also through our ability to survive the changing climate. Since the impacts are even worse within poor nations, many of people are using the same method of adaptation as the fish – trying to migrate to better places. Just type, “environmental refugee” into the search box to find out how often I address this issue.

In an earlier blog I discussed claims that we are in the middle of the Sixth Mass Extinction, according to the quantified decline in population of many species (September 19, 2017). The measurement of declining species is also territorial. We measure where we think that these species are (or have been) most abundant – migration in most cases is difficult to follow.

When I started writing about the impact of climate change on wine I ran across a relevant article in The New York Times:

5 Plants and Animals Utterly Confused by Climate Change: Global warming is causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late in many places, and not all species are adapting at the same rate.

By Livia Albeck-Ripka and Brad Plumer

The article references a scientific paper from 2010.

Scientists who study the changes in plants and animals triggered by seasons have a term for this: phenological mismatch. And they’re still trying to understand exactly how such mismatches — like the blooming of a flower before its pollinator emerges — might affect ecosystems.

I was unfamiliar with the term, “phenological mismatch,” so I referred to the original paper. Here is the abstract, along with a key figure that explains the impact of climate change on reproduction:

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Oct 12; 365(1555): 3177–3186.

The effects of phenological mismatches on demography

Abraham J. Miller-Rushing,1,2,* Toke Thomas Høye,3 David W. Inouye,4,5 and Eric Post6


Climate change is altering the phenology of species across the world, but what are the consequences of these phenological changes for the demography and population dynamics of species? Time-sensitive relationships, such as migration, breeding and predation, may be disrupted or altered, which may in turn alter the rates of reproduction and survival, leading some populations to decline and others to increase in abundance. However, finding evidence for disrupted relationships, or lack thereof, and their demographic effects, is difficult because the necessary detailed observational data are rare. Moreover, we do not know how sensitive species will generally be to phenological mismatches when they occur. Existing long-term studies provide preliminary data for analysing the phenology and demography of species in several locations. In many instances, though, observational protocols may need to be optimized to characterize timing-based multi-trophic interactions. As a basis for future research, we outline some of the key questions and approaches to improving our understanding of the relationships among phenology, demography and climate in a multi-trophic context. There are many challenges associated with this line of research, not the least of which is the need for detailed, long-term data on many organisms in a single system. However, we identify key questions that can be addressed with data that already exist and propose approaches that could guide future research.

A schematic outline of how climate change may affect reproduction. Changes in the environment at the time of decision-making may affect the timing of reproduction via the response mechanism. For example, changes in temperature might affect the timing of breeding or flowering. However, changes in the environment at the time of selection (e.g. egg hatching or fruit maturation) will affect the fitness consequences of breeding at a particular date. Conditions at the time of decision-making may have historically provided reliable cues of conditions at the time of selection. Changes in climate may change the historical relationship and lead to maladaptive decisions. Adapted from Visser et al. (2004).

Figure 2

Given that the paper itself didn’t give much of a description of “phenology” either, here is Wikipedia’s definition of the term:

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation)

In other words, a phenological mismatch is when related parts of an ecosystem are no longer in sync. We still don’t know the scope or scale of this climate change-based phenomenon but we’d better get familiar with the terminology and its significance to humans.

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Cheers – Let’s Drink to the Future of Wine!

I am finally getting around to writing the blog I promised about wine. Reuters recently summarized the current state of the wine industry:

Wine production totaled 250 million hectoliters last year, down 8.6 percent from 2016, data from the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) released on Tuesday showed.

It is the lowest level since 1957, when it had fallen to 173.8 million hectoliters, the OIV told Reuters.

A hectoliter represents 100 liters, or the equivalent of just over 133 standard 75 cl wine bottles.

All top wine producers in the EU have been hit by harsh weather last year, which lead to an overall fall in the bloc of 14.6 percent to 141 million hectoliters.

The OIV’s projections, which exclude juice and must (new wine), put Italian wine production down 17 percent at 42.5 million hectoliters, French output down 19 percent at 36.7 million and Spanish production down 20 percent at 32.1 million.

Is this decline connected to climate change or is it just related to normal natural fluctuations? A wine industry publication examined the association with climate change:

The Effects of Climate Change on The Global Wine Industry: A Meta-Analysis for SOMM Journal

Rising global temperatures will ultimately lead to an upward shift of the ideal grape-growing zone throughout the world, markedly changing local wine industries either for the worse in the case of those already teetering on being too hot for grapes, or for the better for those that were historically too cold but now are within that 10oC range for quality wine grape growth. Models also predict that brand new areas could be suitable for wine grape growing that had not been considered in the past.

If no attempts to mitigate climate change are made, by 2100 the US will likely see an 81% reduction in suitable wine grape acreage (White et al, 2006), with upwards of half of the current acreage in Napa and Santa Barbara counties lost by 2040 (Diffenbaugh et al, 2011).

The issue is global but it becomes most transparent and predictable as we focus on French wines. Wikipedia provides some background on the classification of French wines: 

French wine is produced all throughout France, in quantities between 50 and 60 million hectolitres per year, or 7–8 billion bottles. France is one of the largest wine producers in the world.[1] French wine traces its history to the 6th century BC, with many of France’s regions dating their wine-making history to Roman times. The wines produced range from expensive high-end wines sold internationally to more modest wines usually only seen within France such as the Margnat wines were during the post war period.

Two concepts central to higher end French wines are the notion of “terroir“, which links the style of the wines to the specific locations where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, and the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system, replaced by the Appellation d’Origin Protégée (AOP) system in 2012. Appellation rules closely define which grape varieties and winemaking practices are approved for classification in each of France’s several hundred geographically defined appellations, which can cover entire regions, individual villages or even specific vineyards.

Terroir is the basis of the French wine appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system, which is a model for wine appellation and regulation in France and around the world. The AOC system presumes that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site (the plants’ habitat). The extent of terroir’s significance is debated in the wine industry.[2]

The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC; French pronunciation: ​[a.pɛ.la.sjɔ̃ dɔ.ʁi.ʒin kɔ̃.tʁo.le]; “protected designation of origin”) is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheesesbutters, and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government bureau Institut national des appellations d’origine, now called Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO). It is based on the concept of terroir.

There are currently over 300 French wines entitled to the designation AOC on their label.

Legislation concerning the way vineyards are identified makes recognizing the various AOCs very challenging for wine drinkers not well-acclimated to the system. Often, distinguishing classifications requires knowledge of esoteric label laws such as “Unless the wine is from a Premier Cru vineyard, the vineyard name must be printed in characters no more than half the height of the ones used for the village name”[4]

On the other hand, while the process of label approval is enforced to the millimetre, the quality control for the wine in the bottle is much less strict. While a blind taster must approve the wine for it to receive AOC classification, this tasting often occurs before the product is even bottled, and by a local expert who may well have ties to the local vintners. Even if the taster is objective, the wine sample may not be representative of the actual product, and there is almost no way to verify that the finished bottled product is the same as the original AOC sample.[4]

Such sensitivity to location is global; Figure 1 shows the distribution of wine-producing regions.

Figure 1 – Global distribution of wine-producing regions

I was confronted with the power of this narrow geographical distribution during my recent visit to New Zealand. I love New Zealand’s white wine, so we went to visit some of the wineries on the South Island, not far from Christchurch. I knew that wine production in New Zealand could be traced to the mid-19th Century when the British were in control. Britain has never been known for its wine production, so I asked the owner how the tradition came about. He smiled and told me to have a look at a map. Many of the residents’ ancestors came from Europe; they knew where Bordeaux was in the northern hemisphere and they figured that since they were in a similar location within the southern hemisphere it was worth a try. Figure 1 is not very high resolution but one can see that he was approximately right. The decision was location-based.

Now that climate change is shifting various regions’ climates, the terroir system will have to be adjusted.

Next week I will try to look at the impact of climate change on the location sensitivities of other foods and drinks.

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I wrote my last blog in the middle of a heat wave that covered the city where I live along with great swaths of the East Coast and other parts of the world. The heat wave lasted almost a week; by Thursday, July 5th, peak temperature here in NYC was still above 90oF. Last time, I promised to examine the impacts of climate change on the global wine industry but I have decided to postpone the topic by another week. When I was writing my last post, I experienced a feeling that many might find familiar – guilt about the way I live.

Last week I included some of the ways I was handling the heat, namely: air conditioning and visiting family who live in the suburbs and have a pool.

I emphasized that these options are available to me but not to billions of people all around the world – including many other New Yorkers and Americans. However, I didn’t mention the ways in which these luxuries that make my life more comfortable actually contribute to the warming of the climate. These aspects include my drive out to the suburbs and the massive amount of power required for my nonstop use of air conditioning at home. There are ways in which I could have done everything I wanted without contributing to climate change, but I didn’t bother to try. I use my classes and my blog to teach and (mostly inadvertently) preach about the dangers of climate change but often forget to listen to my own message. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this dilemma.

On October 4, 2016 I wrote a blog about similar practices by Al Gore – probably the US’s greatest advocate for mitigating our emissions that cause climate change:

Al Gore is now a rich and famous man. A short internet search brings up images of his mansion in California, which puts the Nashville one to shame, but the sheer size of these buildings requires a lot of energy. If the energy use approximately matches the average energy mix in the US, it generates large amount of greenhouse gases. I didn’t follow up on his efforts to cut down on energy usage and replace his energy sources with a more sustainable mix. However, the message from his personal life certainly undermined his message to society and, if nothing else, served as a combustible weapon in the hands of climate deniers who refuse to heed his plea.

I am guilty of the same hypocrisy on a smaller scale.

I showed the following graph in previous blogs (December 10, 2012 and September 26, 2017) to illustrate climate sensitivity (increase in global temperature as a function of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide):

IPCC equilibrium global mean temperature increaseFigure 1

The graph shows the expected rise in temperature as a function of possible rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, in the form of a broad band bisected by a dark line. I have already discussed the origin of the band and how it represents the uncertainty in estimating the exact value of the temperature rise. This is because two thirds of the driving forces behind the temperature rise do not come from direct exposure to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide but rather feedback to the direct heating. The feedback comes from physical heat-dependent driving forces such as changes in the atmospheric water vapor, clouds, snow melt, permafrost melt, changes in solubility of carbon dioxide in the ocean, etc. The J. Hansen et. al. manuscript, “Climate Sensitivity: Analysis of Feedback Mechanisms” (1984), is an excellent early paper on many of these feedback mechanisms.

The extent of these feedback mechanisms cannot yet be predicted quantitatively.

To my knowledge, human feedback – as in the repercussions of the actions we take to make our lives a bit more bearable when the impacts strike – has never quantified in comparison to the above-mentioned natural feedback to direct heating. There is no question in my mind that its importance will increase along with the direct impact, thus accelerating the damage.

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Heat Wave

My school’s academic year is over and the summer break has started in full swing. Usually I take this time for a vacation and some new research initiatives. It is not surprising that I have far more flexibility now than during the academic year. This enables me to keep in contact with family and friends. Last week was no different. Wine drinking is not uncommon on such occasions. But during such happy times, questions often arise regarding the future of wine making as climate change takes its toll. This issue is particularly important in the context of French wine because it is based on the notion of “terroir,” which links the style of wine to a specific location. If we drink Bordeaux wine it means that the grapes and the winery are from the Southwest region of France around the city of Bordeaux; Champagne comes from the Champagne wine region in Northern France, etc. Since climate change shifts the climatic regions, such an affiliation will start to be problematic, so it is a valid question how much of this shift is already happening. Well, this sounded like a great topic for a blog. I started to collect the material and was ready to start writing on Friday (June 29th). I got up early, picked up my phone, and the first thing that I saw was an urgent warning from a weather application powered by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration):

Heat Advisory in effect from Saturday, 12:00 PM EDT until Saturday, 9:00 PM EDT. Source: U.S. National Weather Service

It had some specific notes for the place where I live:



The National Weather Service in Upton has issued a Heat Advisory, which is in effect from noon to 9 PM EDT Saturday.

* HEAT INDEX VALUES …In the upper 90s. Heat index values will be at least a few degrees higher on Sunday.

* TIMING …Highest heat indices in the mid to late afternoon.

* IMPACTS …Extreme heat can cause illness and death among at- risk population who cannot stay cool. The heat and humidity
may cause heat stress during outdoor exertion or extended

I immediately went to a site that gave me more specifics in terms of combining heat and humidity to provide me with the “heat index” mentioned above. Figure 1 shows this conversion, followed by definitions that translate the warnings into more specific terms.

Figure 1


Heat Wave:  At least 3 consecutive days with high temperatures of at least 90 degrees.

Highest Temperatures:  Mid July through mid August across interior locations.

Heat Index:  An estimate of how hot it feels when air temperature and humidity are combined.

Heat Advisory:  Issued when the heat index is forecast to reach 95 to 99F for at least 2 consecutive days or 100 to 104F for any length of time.

Excessive Heat:  Issued when heat index values are forecast to reach or exceed 105°F for at least 2 consecutive hours.
Watch is issued 24 to 48 hours of the event.
Warning is issued within 24 hours of the event.

The warning focused on Friday and Saturday and hinted that Sunday would be worse. Further searching made it clear that this weather was not confined to NYC. Figure 2 shows the weather projections over the Eastern parts of US and Canada and the map is almost solid red.

Figure 2

Shortly after this on Friday morning, I had my breakfast and read my local morning paper and found the following piece:

Climate change could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people in South Asia, a region that is already home to some of the world’s poorest and hungriest people, if nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the World Bank warned Thursday in an ominous new study.

The study noted that some of the hottest parts of the region are getting hotter, faster. From 1950 to 2010, for example, western Afghanistan and southwestern Pakistan have already seen average temperatures rise in the range of 1 degree Celsius to 3 degrees per year.

By contrast, some of the cooler countries of the region, like Nepal, will not be sharply affected by rising temperatures. But that will not necessarily make up for the risks those countries face from extreme weather events, the study concluded.

The intensity of outcomes vary depending on future measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, across South Asia annual average temperatures are projected to rise by 2.2 degrees Celsius (3.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 under a high emissions scenario, and by 1.6 degrees Celsius if steps are taken to reduce global emissions.

Half a planet away the situation is similar, with hundreds of millions of people subjected to equal miseries but they lack the resources to protect themselves with air conditioning and other comforts that many of us here have at our disposal.

Friday evening I had plans in the city. I took the subway, which was air-conditioned and comfortable, as was the theater that I visited. On Sunday I had a family engagement in the suburbs. My family has a small swimming pool that we were invited to share. That was great while you were in the pool itself but getting in and out, walking on the concrete floor was impossible. Driving to and from the suburbs in an air-conditioned car was a pleasure. The car’s external thermometer recorded an outside temperature around 102oF (39oC) both ways. Back home, my apartment has a thermometer that records outside temperature. During the last 4 days it floated between the upper 90s (F) and lower 100s. I had no way to directly measure the outside humidity aside from knowing it was high but Figure 1 tells me that the heat index was around 110o.

I grew up in Israel so I am used to high temperatures and humidity. This was not a big deal for me because I am well equipped to handle it, unlike many people in NYC or even more around the world. Such people can become desperate, sick, or even die. Leaving climate change on its current trajectory will make life for all of us much more uncomfortable and dangerous.

The impact on wine will wait for next week.

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Vulnerabilities: Coral Reefs

In one of my earliest blogs (July 31, 2012), I talked a little bit about the start of my interest in man-made contributions to global climate change. Up until that time my main academic interest was focused on energy use. I grew up in Israel, where energy played an important role in political development: almost all the energy that people used was powered by fossil fuels, a significant amount of which came out of Arab countries that were in a state of war with Israel. Many Israeli scientists worked hard to develop alternative energy sources, reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and their suppliers. Sustainability didn’t play much of a role in these considerations because the resources seemed almost limitless.

Suddenly, in 1992 the world became aware of the impact of carbon dioxide on the climate. The Earth Summit (see the November 3, 2015 blog) and the famous Keeling-Whorf curve (December 1, 2015 blog) of the accelerating accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere showed CO2 levels to have major impacts on changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, driving changes in the planetary energy balance with the sun. I spent the next five years after the Energy Summit trying to figure out how I could contribute to the study of this occurrence. In 1996–97 the world press was full of stories that a significant increase in sea-surface temperature affects almost all coral species, leading to global coral bleaching and mortality. Some of the bleached corals were more than 1,000 years old. 1997 was also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Year of the Coral Reef. At that time I had already decided that since the main imbalance in the carbon dioxide concentration comes from our use of fossil fuels, the only way that we can impact these emissions is by shifting our energy sources away from fossil fuels. I was also sure that these changes must be global and include as many people as possible in the decision making process. I started to work on a book to try to explain climate change to the general public, making sure to include descriptions of the bleached corals.

At that time I was already an advanced-middle-aged guy. My wife was younger but not by much. In the summer of 1997 she happened to have a conference in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. I went along. We manage to find the time to take a diving course that gave us a diving certificate. The next year we went to Northern Queensland in Australia to spend a week diving around the Great Barrier Reef.

Figure 1 shows a photograph that my wife took of a bleached coral. The photograph ended up in my book (Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now – Momentum Press) in the chapter dedicated to early signs.

   Figure 1 – A bleached coral

Since that time, some of the corals were able to recuperate but then more heat waves came, adding to the carnage.

Two recent pieces from The Economist summarize most of the impact:

The impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef

Under prolonged stress corals can expel algae, causing them to starve and die. About a fifth of the reef’s corals died from the 2016 bleaching. In the northern region, where bleaching was most intense, the coral mortality figure was alarming: about two-thirds. Depending on different coral species’ capacity to resist stress, and the distribution of heat patterns through waters, reefs can revive over several years. The difference this time, say experts, is that back-to-back bleaching from two successive seasons of extreme heat have given the reef no time to recover, and have lowered its corals’ stress tolerance. It is too early to measure coral deaths from the 2017 bleaching, but the Climate Council predicts “high mortality rates”.

The second piece examines the long-term history of the impact. It’s based on new research by scientists from the University of Sidney, published in Nature Geoscience:

Australia’s coral barrier reef keeps dying and coming back

Figure 2

Figure 3

The reality of the Great Barrier Reef’s existence is that it is a movable feast. Reef-forming corals prefer shallow water so, as the world’s sea levels have yo-yoed during the Ice Ages, the barrier reef has come and gone. The details of this have just been revealed in a paper published in Nature Geoscience by Jody Webster of the University of Sydney and her colleagues. The authors examined cores drilled through the reef in different places. They discovered, as the chart shows that it has died and then been reborn five times during the past 30,000 years. Two early reefs were destroyed by exposure as sea levels fell. Three more recent ones were overwhelmed by water too deep for them to live in, and also smothered by sediment from the mainland. The current reef is therefore the sixth of the period.

Figures 2 and 3 show that the history goes back around 30,000 years, and cover the last ice age’s drastic impacts on sea level changes. Following these changes, the corals died when their habitat went dry and revived when the sea levels rose again to create a new habitat. These changes took thousands of years but they show that over a long period of time corals can adapt to major environmental changes. However, none of these previous changes mimic those that we are inflicting upon the oceans now.

Nor are the impacts restricted to the Great Barrier Reef; they are global. Figure 4 shows the global distribution of the thermal stress.

Figure 4

Here is how the World Resources Institute explains this figure:

Mapping of past thermal stress on coral reefs (1998–2007) suggests that almost 40 percent of reefs may have been affected by thermal stress, meaning they are located in areas where water temperatures have been warm enough to cause severe bleaching on at least one occasion since 1998. This figure shows the estimated percentage of reefs per region that experienced thermal stress based on the satellite-detected thermal stress and coral bleaching observations shown in Map 3.2: Thermal Stress on Coral Reefs, 1998-2007.

The stress is not limited to the thermal impact. Acidity changes due to absorption of carbon dioxide in the water inflict stresses of their own that I will cover in a separate blog. None of us will live to see the reversibility of the coral’s decline.

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Uncertainties Can Bring The Best Possible Outcomes, The Worst Possible Outcomes, and Everything In Between: Ocean Currents

I have addressed uncertainty on a number of previous occasions (December 10, 2012; May 16, 2017; January 9, 2018; and other blogs) but some important work came to light recently that put this idea to a test. Most of the uncertainty in predicting impacts of climate change originates from positive feedbacks to direct heating of the planet (such feedback takes various forms, such as increased humidity, melting ice, melting frozen tundra, changes in the ability of oceans to store carbon dioxide, etc.). The impacts of these feedbacks and their extensions vary. Deniers use the ambiguity as an excuse to do nothing, saying that they will take actions to save the world once they are sure of what’s happening. Attempts to show that by the time we can be “certain” it will be too late have met with limited success.

I, along with the IPCC, and most other scientists, am working hard to try to convince people of the above point. Wikipedia defines risk management in the following way:

Risk management is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks (defined in ISO 31000 as the effect of uncertainty on objectives) followed by coordinator and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability or impact of unfortunate events[1] or to maximize the realization of opportunities. Risk management’s objective is to assure uncertainty does not deflect the endeavor from the business goals.[2]

Almost every respectable business above a particular size employs people to estimate risks and advise management on strategies for addressing them. When unexpected disaster strikes, all eyes go to these people: what were their expectations? Did they give management warnings? How did management react to these warnings?

Who is in charge of risk management in the US government?!

The important work that I am addressing here refers directly to predictions of key impacts of climate change, as expressed in the IPCC’s 4th Report (AR4). I addressed some of these in my April 24, 2018 blog, including, “ecosystem changes due to weakening of the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC).” The IPCC predicts the most serious effects to be triggered as global temperature rises by 4.5oC. Business as usual scenarios calculate that this temperature rise will not take effect until the end of the century. Here are some of the impacts of such changes, according to AR4: Possible changes in the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC)

Potential impacts associated with MOC changes include reduced warming or (in the case of abrupt change) absolute cooling of northern high-latitude areas near Greenland and north-western Europe, an increased warming of Southern Hemisphere high latitudes, tropical drying (Vellinga and Wood, 2002, 2006; Wood et al., 2003, 2006), as well as changes in marine ecosystem productivity (Schmittner, 2005), terrestrial vegetation (Higgins and Vellinga, 2004), oceanic CO2 uptake (Sarmiento and Le Quéré, 1996), oceanic oxygen concentrations (Matear and Hirst, 2003) and shifts in fisheries (Keller et al., 2000; Link and Tol, 2004). Adaptation to MOC-related impacts is very likely to be difficult if the impacts occur abruptly (e.g., on a decadal time-scale). Overall, there is high confidence in predictions of a MOC slowdown during the 21st century, but low confidence in the scale of climate change that would cause an abrupt transition or the associated impacts (Meehl et al., 2007 Section 10.3.4). However, there is high confidence that the likelihood of large-scale and persistent MOC responses increases with the extent and rate of anthropogenic forcing (e.g., Stocker and Schmittner, 1997; Stouffer and Manabe, 2003).

The editorial in the April 2018 volume of Nature (Nature, vol. 556, page 149 (2018)), written by Sammer K. Praetorius, examined two papers published in the same issue. AMOC refers to the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation:

North Atlantic circulation slows down: Evidence suggests that the circulation system of the North Atlantic Ocean is in a weakened state that is unprecedented in the past 1,600 years, but questions remain as to when exactly the decline commenced. See Article p.191 & Letter p.227

Given the importance of the AMOC to heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere, the varying strength of this system is thought to have major impacts on the global cli­mate, and has been implicated widely in some of the most remarkable and abrupt climate changes of the past2. Direct measurements of the mod­ern AMOC flow rates show a decline in its strength in the past decade3. Reconstructions of the natural vari­ability and long-term trends of the AMOC are needed, however, to put these recent changes in context. In this issue, Caesar et al.4 (page 191) and Thornalley et al.5 (page 227) report on past AMOC variability using dif­ferent approaches. Both conclude that the modern AMOC is in an unusually subdued state, but they diverge in the details of how and when the AMOC’s decline commenced.

The researchers found that the strength of the AMOC was relatively stable from about ad 400 to 1850, but then weakened around the start of the industrial era. This transition coincides with the end of the Lit­tle Ice Age — a multi-centennial cold spell that affected many regions of the globe10. Thornalley and colleagues infer that the weakening of the AMOC at that time was probably a result of the input of fresh water from the melting of Little Ice Age glaciers and sea ice. They estimate that the AMOC declined in strength by about 15% during the industrial era, relative to its flow in the preceding 1,500 years. This is remarkably similar to Caesar and co-workers’ estimate, despite the different time periods on which they base their estimates.

However, the roughly 100-year dif­ference in the proposed timing of the start of the AMOC decline in these two studies has big implications for the inferred trigger of the slowdown. Caesar et al. clearly put the onus on anthropogenic forcing, whereas Thornalley et al. suggest that an earlier decline in response to natural climate variability was perhaps sustained or enhanced through further ice melting associated with anthropogenic global warming. Nevertheless, the main culprit in both scenarios is surface-water freshening.

The two studies are classic examples of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches, and so it is unsurpris­ing that there is some misalignment between them. Caesar et al. take the top-down approach: their inferences of changes in the AMOC strength are made from reconstructions of regional and global SSTs that are derived from direct measurements of temperature. It is possible that regions other than the North Atlantic in which there has been decadal-scale variability in SSTs could influence the mean global SST from which the AMOC strength is calculated — although the authors do attempt to quell such doubts by showing that the subpolar-gyre SST anomaly is robust relative to the global mean SST for a subset of time periods (see Extended Data Fig. 2 in ref. 4).

Figure 1 shows a good representation of global ocean currents, otherwise known as the Global Conveyor Belt, with key focus on the North Atlantic current.

The figure also provides a short description of the roles that these currents play in the storage of carbon dioxide. Once these currents stop, the carbon dioxide that cannot be stored locally will end up in the atmosphere, adding to the feedback and amplifying the impact.

Figure 1

Using two different research approaches, the two papers show that the impacts are not relegated to some distant future (in a human time scale) but are already well underway. There is a difference in their findings (not surprising given the dissimilar methodologies) as to the start of the weakening of these currents, meaning they also present different views of the role that anthropogenic climate change plays in the process. There is no dispute, however, that climate change, with its associated melting of polar ice and homogenization of ocean temperature, has a large role in amplifying this impact. With uncertainty, the worst probable outcome can, and often does, come to pass.

Slowing of ocean currents is not the only climate change impact that is “worse than predicted.” The last few weeks brought a global response to new research published in Nature that the polar ice in Antarctica is melting at a much faster pace than previously predicted and is causing major changes in the resulting predictions for global sea level rise.

Stay tuned!

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The Economic Impacts of Ocean Decline

Last week’s blog about the Ocean Health Index stressed the importance of including the sustainability of human impacts in any discussions about ocean health (this accounted for about 50% of the indexing). This blog will focus on the economic impacts of our declining oceans. For quite some time, I was thinking it would have been convenient if the World Bank had compiled a study of the “blue economy” as a separate indicator that would allow us to do a comparative economic and environmental analysis. We have done similar comparisons with “employment in agriculture” and “agricultural value added” in a previous blog (March 27, 2018). In principle, we can use the Ocean Health Index for this purpose but as yet, it suffers some problematic deficiencies – namely that it focuses on territorial waters and its understanding of “sustainability” is driven by human needs rather than human deeds.

The World Bank recognized this earlier omission and published a report on April 6, 2018, focused on some of these issues: “Oceans, Fisheries and Coastal Economies.” It includes some detailed examples of what the World Bank is doing to address some of the specific issues listed below. The data in this section of the report were taken from FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nation), which incorporates the UN data on fisheries and other oceanic activities.


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 fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10-12 percent of the world’s population with more than 90 percent of those employed by capture fisheries working in small-scale operations in developing countries. In 2014, fisheries produced roughly 167 million tons of fish and generated over US$148 billion in exports, while securing access to nutrition for billions of people and accounting for 17 percent of total global animal protein — even more in poor countries.

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. In fact, poor fisheries management squanders roughly US$80 billion annually in lost economic potential and 11 percent in catch potential. 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. Scientists estimate that without urgent action, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.  While complex, the issue of ocean plastic waste is a solvable challenge. Five countries are responsible for more than 50 percent of total plastic waste in the oceans (China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand). We also know that an estimated 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution originates from inadequate land-based solid waste management.

Proper management of fisheries, investment in sustainable aquaculture and protection of key habitats can restore the productivity of the ocean and return benefits to billions in developing countries while ensuring future growth, food security and jobs for coastal communities.

The report highlights the global picture, estimating that the oceans contribute $1.5 trillion annual added value to the global economy (out of $76 trillion in current US dollars); fisheries and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 10-12% of the world population, with more than 90% of those employed by capture fisheries working in small-scale operations in developing countries. The report also emphasizes that the captured fish secure access to nutrition for billions of people, accounting for 17% of total globally consumed animal protein – a percentage even higher in poorer countries.

Going back to the original 2016 FAO report, Figure 1 shows some of the data for the distribution of production of aquaculture.

Figure 1

Here is what this report says about employment in this sector:

Many millions of people around the world find a source of income and livelihood in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. The most recent estimates (Table 10) indicate that 56.6 million people were engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture in 2014. Of this total, 36 percent were engaged full time, 23 percent part time, and the remainder were either occasional fishers or of unspecified status.

Table 10 in the report indicates 47.7 million people (out of the global 56.6 million) employed in aquaculture activities are in Asia, 5.7 million in Africa, 2.4 million in Latin America and the Caribbean’s and the rest from Europe, Oceania and North America. Converting these numbers to percentage yields: 84% in Asia, 10% in Africa, 4% in Latin America and 2% from the rest of the world.

Table 11 in this report indicates that China (30% of Asian fisheries) and Indonesia (13%) are the two largest practitioners.

Figure 2 illustrates the changes in global aquaculture production in the context of the increase in global (human) population.

Figure 2

Comparison of global activities of aquaculture production with those of individual countries is difficult. One reason for this difficulty is the multitude of definitions of what constitutes ocean economy. The 2014 paper, “Rebuilding the Classification System of the Ocean Economy” (Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics: Vol. 2014: Iss. 1, Article 4.), attempted to compare some of these definitions:

Definition of the Ocean Economy by Country

Nevertheless, I find it instructive to compare the extent of the US ocean economy with the global one as depicted by the World Bank and the United Nations. The data describing the US ocean economy are taken from the Surfrider Foundation and are summarized in Figures 3 and 4

Source: State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies, National Ocean Economics Program, 2009

Figure 3

Source: State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies, National Ocean Economics Program, 2009

Figure 4

As can be seen in these two figures, the tourism and recreation industries dominate the ocean economy – both in terms of GDP contribution and especially with regards to employment. More data focused on the US ocean economy can be found within a NOAA-financed report.

I started this series of blogs focusing on the human impact on the oceans, citing a recent study that attributes the 4th mass extinction to the suffocation of ocean life due to lack of oxygen. The biggest question is what will happen if history repeats itself. If we create similar conditions by raising the temperature, increasing the acidity, exhausting the oxygen content, or combination these inputs within the oceans we will cause such drastic changes in conditions we might eradicate all life within them. Will life on land follow?

People all around the world are starting to think about these issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most are less focused on decreasing the damage and more interested in how best to harvest resources in the deeper parts of the oceans that have so far been spared most of the destruction.

Stay tuned.

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