The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Personal travel "should die:" New Republic

Chuck Thompson understands why we travel, but still thinks we shouldn't:

As evidence piles up about the deleterious impact of global tourism, the travel media charade is starting to feel like the almost comical hypocrisy of Trump surrogates ginning up increasingly contorted justifications on cable news for a worldview that’s becoming more detached from reality by the day.

All motorized transport is a problem—cruise ships generate 21,000 gallons of sewage per day, much of it flushed into the ocean—but the primary offenders are airplanes. According to U.K.-based Earth Changers, another outfit dedicated to “sustainable tourism,” aviation emissions account for 3.2 percent of total global carbon emissions. That figure could rise to 12 percent by 2050.

Short of regulations and fuel taxes on a scale that would restructure the entire global market, people probably aren’t going to stop traveling. More likely, as the world becomes ever more distressed by over-tourism—the 145 million annual overseas trips currently taken by Chinese tourists alone is expected to surpass 400 million by 2030—the travel journalists we rely on for hot tips and insider advice will simply conjure new ways of assuaging our guilt. That may serve the interests of their airline underwriters, but it won’t be doing the planet any favors.

I take no joy in saying so. I like travel as much as you do, and I’m not stopping either. Where’s the line between hypocrite and addict? I suspect we’re all going to find out sooner than we’d like.

And to think, I just got a brand-new passport...

Taking a beating on the shore

Lake Michigan continues its record-high levels this month. As of yesterday, the Michigan-Huron system was at 177. 4 m above sea level, 51 cm above last year's level and more than a full meter above average January levels. This has caused massive erosion and the loss of entire beaches in Chicago:

Since 2013, the lake has risen nearly 2 meters, going from a record low to near-record high levels last summer. On Saturday, waves nearing 6 meters pummeled an already drowning shoreline.

A 1-meter wave can pack the power of a small car. A 6-meter wave? Maybe a freight train.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is evaluating the impacts of the storm at Morgan Shoal from 48th to 50th streets and working with the Army Corps to install boulders, according to spokesman Michael Claffey. The work is expected to begin in the coming months.

They'd better get to it. Typically, lake levels are lowest January through April, but so far this month the lake is only 6 cm lower than last July's all-time-record high average.

Hottest decade in history

Data released today by NOAA and NASA confirm a frightening fact scientists had already guessed:

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years....

According to NOAA, the globe is warming at a faster rate than it had been just a few decades ago. The annual global average surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 Fahrenheit) per decade since 1880, NOAA found. However, since 1981, that rate has more than doubled since.

Alaska also had its hottest year on record in 2019. It included an alarming lack of ice cover during the winter in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and in the summer the temperature at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport hit 32°C for the first time.

Still, even as millions of protesters have taken to the streets to demand action, world leaders have so far shown little ability to move as fast as scientists say is necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In a bleak report last fall, the United Nations warned that the world had squandered so much time mustering the willpower to combat climate change that drastic, unprecedented cuts in emissions are now the only way to avoid an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences. The U.N. report said global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century, and that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 to meet the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord.

But hey, the President wants to make sure your shower and dishwasher waste more water, so that'll help.

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Lake Michigan-Huron water levels at record highs, again

Climate change has caused water levels in the Lake Michigan-Huron system to swell in only six years, creating havoc in communities that depend on them:

In 2013, Lake Huron bottomed out, hitting its lowest mark in more than a century, as did Lake Michigan, which shares the same water levels, according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Around that time, the lake withdrew so far from the shore around Engle’s resort — then a collection of 12 rustic cabins and three docks — that mud was all that remained beneath his boathouse.

In just 3½ years, levels rose more than 1.3 m and last summer peaked at nearly 1.9 m above the record low.

Climate change is amplifying variability in lakes that are naturally predisposed to fluctuation. Unlike lakes Ontario and Superior, which are regulated by dams and binational regulatory boards, lakes Michigan and Huron, measured as one body of water because they are connected at the Straits of Mackinac, have no such controls and consequently have experienced the greatest variation from record low to high in the Great Lakes.

As the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases has spiked over the past century, the Earth’s warmer atmosphere is capable of holding additional moisture, which scientists say is resulting in more frequent and severe storms. Across the Great Lakes region, precipitation has increased 14%, and the frequency of heavy storms has risen 35% since 1951, contributing to widespread flooding. In the past two years, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio each have endured a string of 12 consecutive months that have been the wettest in 124 years.

Here is the latest water-level chart from NOAA. Notice that last year's levels hit record highs during the summer and ended the year just below the record for December--meaning they started January considerably higher than the record for the month:

At least we have a lot of fresh water nearby. That might come in handy someday...

Lunchtime reading

Not that anything has happened lately...

Finally, the New York Times had a feature yesterday on new architecture for Antarctic research stations. Cool stuff (ah ha ha).

Wild weather continues

Yesterday we broke a heat record; today the temperature feels more or less normal for late December; this weekend it will get warm again. Welcome to Chicago:

The record-breaking warmth comes on the heels of another historic ranking. With a high of 57 Wednesday, this year now ranks No. 2 on the list of warmest Christmas Days in Chicago since the mid-1800s, when records started being kept. The warmest Dec. 25 ever in Chicago was 17°C degrees in 1982.

But after the daytime high pushes the record for warmest Dec. 26 further out of reach, the city should brace for a rollercoaster of cold and warm days, [meteorologist Mark] Ratzer warned.

“Very late afternoon, it looks like probably just after dark, so between 5 and 7, a front will go through, and we’ll cool down markedly,” Ratzer said. “We’ll drop pretty quickly into the single-digits Celsius, which isn’t that bad, but overnight we’ll be back around freezing.”

After a brisk Friday, the temperature again will rebound into the low-teens Celsius in time for a mild and comfortable weekend, although it will be rainy, he said.

“Then we’ll cool off again by Monday,” Ratzer said.

Parker did not like the change at all, moping around on his two walks today like the ancient dog he has become. Maybe this weekend he'll feel more spring in his step again?

I love this car

A year ago today, I got this lovely plug-in hybrid:

Because she (her name is Hana, or 初夏) has an on-board computer (well, probably a couple dozen, to be honest), I know exactly how well she did:

Total distance 6,969.4 km
Total fuel consumed 186.7 L
Fuel economy 2.7 L/100 km
Farthest north 43.68°N
Farthest south 41.32°N
Farthest east 79.37°W
Farthest west 87.96°W

Sad to see she never made it all the way to the 88th meridian, given that I live only about 21 minutes east of it. But she did make it to five states and one Canadian province, with trips to Toronto and Cleveland.

In all, I filled up the car six times, five of those on road-trips, and spent only $130.77 on gasoline all year.

As I suspected when I went car shopping a year ago, a plug-in hybrid is the perfect car for me. On average I drove 18.6 km per day overall, which is deceptive because I didn't drive on 228 days of the last 366. On the 138 days I did drive, I averaged 50.5 km per day. Which again doesn't paint the full picture, because I only crested 50 km on 19 occasions, 100 km on 10, and 200 km on 4. Take those 19 days out and I averaged just 21 km per day.

In other words, out of 366 days, I needed to use gasoline about 30 times, and usually only a few centilitres per trip. Hana can go about 40 km on a charge in winter and 50 km in summer (because the heater uses more power than having the windows down).

For an urban dweller who primarily uses public transportation, but who occasionally needs to haul a big old dog somewhere or go out of town, a plug-in hybrid makes a ton of sense. And it's fun to drive, too.

Hot time down under

(Say it with me: "Under where?")

Australia just hit a record temperature—for the whole country:

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reports preliminary data showing that for Dec. 18, the nationally averaged maximum temperature was 41.9°C. This beat the old record of 40.9°C, which had been set the day before. Before this heat event, the country’s hottest day was Jan. 7, 2013, which had an average high temperature of 40.3°C.

Human-caused global climate change is making heat waves such as this one more likely to occur, more severe and longer-lasting. An early analysis of the ongoing heat event shows that climate change may have made the Australian national heat record at least 20 percent more likely to occur now than in a climate that had not been influenced by human emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s possible that forthcoming research will show that this event could not have occurred without human-caused global warming, as previous analyses of other events have found.

That's insane. Not to mention the extensive brush fires—including the largest ever recorded in Australia—that have rendered Sydney almost uninhabitable.

Another long-predicted climate change force is confirmed

The US government's 2019 Arctic Report Card finds that melting permafrost has made the arctic a net producer of greenhouse gasses:

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic already may have become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming. Ted Schuur, a researcher at Northern Arizona University and author of the permafrost chapter, said the report “takes on a new stand on the issue” based on other published work including a study in Nature Climate Change in November.

Taking advantage of the new studies — one on regional carbon emissions from permafrost in Alaska during the warm season, and another on winter season emissions in the Arctic compared to how much carbon is absorbed by vegetation during the growing season — the report concludes permafrost ecosystems could be releasing as much as 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.

Only, if you can believe, it's worse than that. Because the microbes also produce methane, which gram-for-gram causes about 4 times more warming. And as the region gets warmer, more microbes produce more gas, in a negative spiral.

Happy Wednesday.