Estimated rainfall trends around the Seattle area, 1890-2017. By-station estimates for trends in location parameter of maximum likelihood estimated GEV regression model using NWS data, 3-day duration. Graphic: Rath, et al., 2018 / Tetra Tech Inc. / Seattle Public Utilities

By Daniel Beekman
3 February 2018

(The Seattle Times) – Attention, Seattle residents: Have you noticed more steady, long-lasting rainstorms in a city better known for gray skies, short showers and drizzle? Turns out you’re on to something.

Over the last 15 years, the city’s had more extreme rain, according to a new study by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) officials, who say the weather is a climate-change preview.

“This confirms our anecdotal evidence,” said James Rufo-Hill, an SPU meteorologist. “For years, people have been saying, ‘I think the rain is getting worse around here,’ and now the data shows that.”

SPU has been measuring rainfall for about four decades with gauges in 17 locations across the city, such as Magnuson Park, the Maple Leaf Reservoir, Fauntleroy Ferry Dock, and Aki Kurose Middle School.

The information from the gauges helps SPU plan and design drainage and sewage projects, Rufo-Hill said.

The last major rainfall study was in 2003, so SPU had some catching up to do. The sprinklings most common in Seattle aren’t going away, according to Rufo-Hill. And the city’s rare flash storms aren’t necessarily worsening.

Seattle has a longer-than-average rainy season, but is only 44th nationally in total accumulation, less than such cities as Atlanta, Houston and New York.

That’s partly because our typical rain comes from low, layered clouds rather than high, dense clouds. And that may be a reason why many of us are umbrella-averse.

“Most of the rain we get hasn’t changed,” Rufo-Hill said.

But according to the SPU study released in December, “extreme” rainstorms have become more common — and more extreme.

What exactly does that mean? SPU measures storms by how long they last and how much rain they dump, and then categorizes those storms based on how often they can be expected to occur.

What used to be considered a once-in-a-century storm for a 24-hour period — 4 inches — can now be expected once every 25 years, according to Rufo-Hill. The new standard for a once-in-a-century storm for a 24-hour period is more than 5 inches.

Another example based on the addition of 15 years of data: What used to be a once-in-a-century storm for a 6-hour period — 1.86 inches — can now be expected every 25 years, according to SPU’s modeling.

Also becoming more robust are rainstorms lasting six hours and those lasting three days with levels of precipitation expected every five or 10 years. Another, more poetic name for these superstorms: “atmospheric rivers.”

“Our definitions of extreme and normal have changed,” Rufo-Hill said. [more]

‘Extreme’ rainstorms becoming more common in Seattle, says city meteorologist

15 February 2018 (EDF) – Methane emissions from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas sites may be more than five times higher than what oil and gas companies report to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), according to a new analysis from Environmental Defense Fund.

Methane is both a powerful climate pollutant and the primary ingredient of natural gas. The EDF analysis estimates Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operators emit more than 520,000 tons of methane a year, primarily from leaky, outdated and malfunctioning equipment. This wasted gas causes the same near-term climate pollution as 11 coal-fired power plants, and results in nearly $68 million worth of wasted energy resources.

The EDF analysis is based on peer-reviewed scientific research conducted at the state’s oil and gas sites in order to estimate the total amount of methane industry emits. The state’s published methane inventory, on the other hand, is based on data reported to DEP by operators, which significantly underestimate emissions, as not all facilities are required to report their pollution and operators who do report tend to use outdated methods for estimating emissions.

Pennsylvania’s methane history

DEP announced it will finalize methane reduction requirements for new and modified oil and gas facilities by the end of March. The department also committed to regulating emissions from thousands of existing unconventional facilities within the next two months. EDF’s analysis finds this could reduce the state’s emissions by 25% — making bold action all the more urgent.

“We are pleased that the Wolf administration continues to promise bold action on methane. Pennsylvanians have known for quite some time that unchecked oil and gas pollution is making air quality and climate change worse, and now we have new insight as to just how severe and urgent this problem is,” said Andrew Williams, Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund. “There is a clear, reasonable and cost-effective path forward for reducing the health, climate and economic risks of oil and gas emissions, and we look forward to working with Governor Wolf to make it happen for Pennsylvania’s communities.”

The EDF analysis also estimates oil and gas companies emit more than 54,000 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – nearly nine times more than oil and gas operators report to the state. VOCs contribute to higher ground-level ozone or “smog” levels in the region and can trigger asthma, respiratory illness and other health problems, particularly for people living in close proximity to oil and gas sites.

Continuing state progress

While the Wolf administration has committed to acting on methane pollution from unconventional wells, DEP has not made any proposal to address pollution from older, conventional wells. According to the EDF analysis, conventional wells are responsible for a significant part of the industry’s methane emissions, and suggests some level of state intervention will be necessary to significantly reduce this harmful pollution in the long term.

Methane pollution from unconventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, projected emissions, 2018-2025. Graphic: EDF

The analysis concludes Pennsylvania can reduce 60% of industry’s methane emissions by implementing a series of strategies already required in other oil- and gas-producing states. Without additional regulatory action from the state, more than five million tons of methane pollution could be emitted by the year 2025.

Visualizing data, exploring solutions

The EDF emissions analysis includes an online toolkit developed by Spherical Analytics that allows users to get a county-by-county view of pollution levels, as well as access information about nearby well sites and the number of schools and medical facilities located near oil and gas operations. Users can also compare the state’s reported emissions with EDF’s science-based estimates.

The interactive tool includes a feature that allows users to compare and model a variety of different pollution control tactics. They are based on real, cost-effective solutions other states have implemented in order to significantly reduce pollution, including:

  • Check equipment for unintentional gas leaks at least once a quarter;
  • Replace high-emitting equipment with new technologies that pollute less;
  • Apply emission controls to future and existing facilities.

The full report is now available online at edf.org/PennsylvaniaMethane.

Report estimates Pennsylvania oil and gas methane emissions nearly five times higher than state’s figures

GFS 500mb geopotential height and anomaly (dam) over the eastern seaboard of the U.S., 21 February 2018. The spectacularly strong upper-level high centered just off the southeast U.S. coast at 12Z (7 am EDT) Wednesday, 21 February 2018. Colors show the departure in decameters (tens of meters) from the average height of the 500-millibar pressure surface at this time of year. Graphic: tropicaltidbits.com

Dr. Jeff Masters
22 February 2018

(Weather Underground) – Astonishing summer-like heat cooked the Eastern U.S. on Wednesday, smashing all-time records for February warmth in cities in at least ten states, from Georgia to Maine. At least 24 cities recorded their hottest February temperature on record on Wednesday, including New York City (78°), Hartford, CT (74°) and Concord, NH (74°). According to Weather Underground weather historian Christopher C. Burt, February 20 - 21 marked the most extraordinary heat event to ever affect the Northeastern quadrant of the U.S. during the month of February, since official records began in the late 1800s. He catalogued the following eight states that tied or beat all-time February state heat records over the past two days, noting that in the case of Maine and Vermont, “It is simply amazing to beat a state temperature record by some 8°F!”:

  • Pennsylvania: 83° at Capitol City (ties old record for the state)
  • New York: 79° at La Guardia Airport (old state record 78°)
  • Vermont: 77° at Bennington (old state record 68°)
  • New Hampshire: 77° at Manchester (old state record 72°)
  • Maine: 77° at Wells (old state record 69°)
  • New Jersey: 83° at Teterboro (old state record 80°)
  • Massachusetts: 80° at Fitchburg (old state record 73°)
  • Ohio: 80° at Cincinnati Lunken Airport (ties old record for the state) […]

A ridge to remember

The record February heat was caused by an unusually pronounced kink in the jet stream that brought a big trough of low pressure over the Western U.S. (accompanied by very cold temperatures) and a record-strength ridge of high pressure that locked in over the eastern half of the U.S. This ridge brought exceptional warmth miles above the eastern U.S. and northwest Atlantic. All else being equal, warmer air is less dense than cooler air, so a deep, warm air mass raises the heights of various benchmark heights such as 500 mb (roughly the midpoint of the atmosphere’s density, almost four miles up). As shown in Figure 2 below, the 500-mb map at 12Z Wednesday (7 am EDT) was simply mind-blowing for mid-February.

To verify just how unusual this ridge was, Lance Bosart (University at Albany, State University of New York) dug through the radiosonde climatology compiled by the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center. The dataset goes back to the start of routine radiosonde launches in the late 1940s. At nearly every site along the U.S. East Coast, the weather balloons launched at 12Z Wednesday found a 500-mb surface higher than anything on record for January or February—and in some cases across even longer seasonal spans, as shown below. [more]

Summer in February! 80° in Massachusetts, 78° in NYC

WWF's Nikhil Advani and Wayuphong Jitvijak, and a park ranger in Thailand's Kui Buri National Park, where WWF is working to secure freshwater for elephants and other wildlife. Photo: Luke Duggleby / WWF-US

By Jennifer Fabiano
21 February 2018

(AccuWeather) – While most are familiar with the impact of climate change and rising temperatures on animals such as polar bears, few are aware of one of the biggest threats to endangered animals: the climate change coping mechanisms initiated by humans.

A serious, mostly unknown impact of climate change on animals is the way in which humans react to climate change, according to Nikhil Advani, a lead specialist on climate, communities and biodiversity at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Humans and wildlife compete for diminishing sources of water and, according to Advani, this is happening in many places around the world.

Advani has found that certain human actions are negatively affecting at-risk species, including giant pandas, snow leopards and mountain gorillas.

Due to rising temperatures, communities are shifting their activities to higher elevations, according to Advani. This movement causes people and agriculture to encroach on giant panda territory. Giant pandas, which are considered vulnerable, live at these higher elevations mainly in the mountains of western China.

The “human component,” as Advani calls it, is also an issue for snow leopards, which are considered vulnerable. Communities are taking their animals to higher elevations, and as a result there is increased competition for snow leopard prey as well as more opportunities to contract diseases.

The mountain gorilla, which is critically endangered, also suffers due to human actions. “We’ve found a number of reports of people entering the park to collect water because the rivers that feed their villages used to flow year-round, now during the dry season they dry up,” Advani said.

When people enter protected parks for water, they often set snares targeted for animals such as antelope but often catch mountain gorillas instead. “When your entire population comprises of 880 individuals, even removing just a few is a really big deal,” Advani said.

“It’s a very complicated thing but in many of these cases the driver is changing temperatures or changing rainfall, and so in cases like this you see human's coping mechanisms to climate change affecting species.” [more]

How human coping mechanisms for climate change are impacting endangered animals

Coal piles are seen at a warehouse of the Trypillian thermal power plant, owned by Ukrainian state-run energy company Centrenergo, in Kiev region, Ukraine, 23 November 2017. Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / REUTERS

By Alessandra Prentice, with additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, and Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by David Stamp
19 February 2018

KIEV (Reuters) – For the first time in Ukraine’s history, U.S. anthracite is helping to keep the lights on and the heating going this winter following a deal that has also helped to warm Kiev’s relations with President Donald Trump.

The Ukrainian state-owned company that imported the coal told Reuters that the deal made commercial sense. But it was also politically expedient, according to a person involved in the talks on the agreement and power industry insiders.

On Trump’s side it provided much-needed orders for a coal-producing region of the United States which was a vital constituency in his 2016 presidential election victory.

On the Ukrainian side the deal helped to win favor with the White House, whose support Kiev needs in its conflict with Russia, as well as opening up a new source of coal at a time when its traditional supplies are disrupted.

Trump’s campaign call to improve relations with the Kremlin alarmed the pro-Western leadership in Ukraine, which lost Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still fighting pro-Moscow separatists.

However, things looked up when President Petro Poroshenko visited the White House on June 20 last year. “The meeting with Trump was a key point, a milestone,” a Ukrainian government source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

The Americans had set particular store by supplying coal to Ukraine. “I felt that for them it is important,” said the source, who was present at the talks that also included a session with Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite Trump’s incentives, U.S. utilities are shutting coal-fired plants and shifting to gas, wind, and solar power. Ailing U.S. mining companies are therefore boosting exports to Asia and seeking new buyers among eastern European countries trying to diversify from Russian supplies.

Trump, who championed U.S. coal producers on the campaign trail, pressed the message after meeting Poroshenko. “Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons right now,” he said in a speech nine days later. “We want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need it.”

The deal with Kiev was sealed the following month, after which U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: “As promised during the campaign, President Trump is unshackling American energy with each day on the job.” […]

Neighboring Poland, which Trump visited in July, is also turning increasingly to U.S. coal. Its imports from the United States jumped five-fold last year to 839,000 tonnes, data from the state-run ARP agency showed.

In July Ukrainian state-owned energy company Centrenergo announced the deal with U.S. company Xcoal for the supply of up to 700,000 tonnes of anthracite. [more]

How a U.S. coal deal warmed Ukraine's ties with Trump

Illustraton of the Rev. Richard Cizik, from 'How six Americans changed their minds about global warming'. Graphic: Louisa Bertman / The New York Times

By Livia Albeck-Ripka
21 February 2018

(The New York Times) – The Rev. Richard Cizik used to believe climate change was a myth. The science had to be rigged, he thought; those who believed in it were just tree-huggers. But in 2002, a friend convinced Mr. Cizik to go to a conference about climate change, and there, he said, “the scales came off my eyes.”

Nearly 70 percent of Americans now say that climate change is caused mainly by human activity, the highest percentage since Gallup began tracking it two decades ago. The number of Americans who say they worry “a great deal” about climate change has risen by about 20 percentage points.

But people don’t change their minds easily about controversial issues. So what is behind this trend?

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said Americans’ opinions about global warming have fluctuated over the years, shifting along with partisan fissures, extreme weather events and messages from political and religious figures. But the overall upward trend in opinion, he said, was strongly tied to the fact that more people are beginning to relate to climate change as a personal issue.

There are certainly many Americans who remain undecided or doubtful. Toby Wilder, a salesman from Seattle, said he found it hard to imagine that human-caused climate change was anything but a hoax propagated by elites who fly private jets. “If they are wasting more fuel in a month than I do in my lifetime, then how can I believe it?” he asked.

Greg Sandmeyer, a social studies teacher at Timberline High School in Boise, Idaho, is also unconvinced. “It’s one thing to say it’s happening, but it’s another to make laws that will affect me,” he said.

But the broader shift in public opinion, however gradual, has moved toward acceptance of human-caused global warming. In order to learn more about the attitudes that are fueling this change, we spoke with dozens of people. Here are six of their stories. […]

The Evangelical Leader

Richard Cizik, 66, Fredericksburg, Va.

In 2002, the Rev. Richard Cizik would have described himself as “a faithful member of the religious right,” he said. So when the Rev. Jim Ball, a founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, invited him to a climate change conference that year, Mr. Cizik was hesitant.

“I heard the evidence over four days, did a fist to the forehead and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, if this is true, everything has changed,’” said Mr. Cizik, who was then vice president for government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. “I liken it to a religious conversion, and not just because I saw something I’d never seen before — I felt a deep sense of repentance.” […]

“If you’ve never changed your mind about something, pinch yourself, you may be dead,” Mr. Cizik said. “If we don’t change our mind about this subject, we will die.” [more]

How Six Americans Changed Their Minds About Global Warming

(a) Change (difference) in the percentage of summer (May-September) days classified as heat-wave days in Europe. (b) Change in the maximum daily maximum temperature for days classified as heat-wave days. Both shown for a low (10th percentile) impact scenario (top), a medium (50th percentile) impact scenario (middle) and a high (90th percentile) impact scenario (bottom) for each European city. The changes are calculated between the historical period (1951–2000) and the future period (2051–2100). Graphic: Guerreiro, et al., 2018 / Environmental Research Letters

21 February 2018 (Newcastle University) – A landmark study shows the impact of flooding, droughts and heatwaves by 2050-2100 will exceed previous predictions. The research, by Newcastle University, UK, has for the first time analysed changes in flooding, droughts, and heatwaves for all European cities using all climate models.

Published today in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters, the study shows:

  • a worsening of heatwaves for all 571 cities
  • increasing drought conditions, particularly in southern Europe
  • an increase in river flooding, especially in north-western European cities
  • for the worst projections, increases in all hazards for most European cities
  • Cork, Derry, Waterford, Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, Chester, and Aberdeen could be the worst hit cities in the British Isles for river flooding
  • Even in the lowest case scenario, 85% of UK cities with a river are predicted to face increased river flooding

Increase in “heatwave days” for all European cities

Using projections from all available climate models (associated with the high emission scenario RCP8.5 which implies a 2.6°C to 4.8°C increase in global temperature), the team showed results for three possible futures which they called the low, medium and high impact scenarios.

The study shows that even the most optimistic of these - the low impact scenario – predicts both the number of heatwave days and their maximum temperature will increase for all European cities.

Southern European cities will see the biggest increases in the number of heatwave days, while central European cities will see the greatest increase in temperature during heatwaves - between 2°C to 7°C for the low scenario and 8°C to 14°C for the high scenario.

For changes in droughts and floods, the cities which are affected depend on the scenario. For the low impact scenario, drought conditions only intensify in southern European cities while river flooding only worsens in north-western ones.

Worst flooding in the British Isles

The British Isles have some of the worst overall flood projections. Even in the most optimistic scenario, 85% of UK cities with a river – including London – are predicted to face increased river flooding, while for the high scenario, half of UK cities could see at least a 50% increase on peak river flows. The cities predicted to be worst hit under the high impact scenario are Cork, Derry, Waterford, Wrexham, Carlisle, and Glasgow, and for the more optimistic, low impact, scenario are Derry, Chester, Carlisle, Aberdeen, and Glasgow.

By 2051-2100, for the low impact scenario, cities in the south of Iberia, such as Malaga and Almeria, are expected to experience droughts more than twice as bad as in 1951-2000. While for the high impact scenario, 98% of European cities could see worse droughts in the future and cities in Southern Europe may experience droughts up to 14 times worse than today.

“Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point,” Dr Selma Guerreiro, lead author, explains.

“Furthermore, most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks.”

The implications of the study in terms of how Europe adapts to climate change are far-reaching, says Professor Richard Dawson, co-author and lead investigator of the study.

“The research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions.

“We are already seeing at first hand the implications of extreme weather events in our capital cities. In Paris the Seine rose more than 4 metres above its normal water level.  And as Cape Town prepares for its taps to run dry, this analysis highlights that such climate events are feasible in European cities too.”

80% increase in peak river flows

Of the European capitals, Dublin, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius and Zagreb are likely to experience the most extreme rise in flooding. For the high impact scenario, several European cities could see more than 80% increases on peak river flows, including Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Braga and Barcelos in Portugal and Derry/ Londonderry in the UK.

Stockholm and Rome could see the greatest increase in number of heat-wave days while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increase in maximum temperatures during heat-waves. Lisbon and Madrid are in the top capital cities for increases in frequency and magnitude of droughts, while Athens, Nicosia, Valleta and Sofia might experience the worst increases in both drought and heatwaves.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognised the important role cites must play in tackling climate change and next month will hold its first Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, in Edmonton, Canada.

“A key objective for this conference,” explains Professor Dawson, who sits on the Scientific Steering Committee for the IPCC Conference, “is to bring together and catalyse action from researchers, policy makers and industry to address the urgent issue of preparing our cities, their population, buildings and infrastructure for climate change.”

Dr Guerreiro adds:

"Our analysis does not preclude the need for detailed climate change impact assessment for each city.  But it does provide comparable information for different impacts and cities that can be used to prioritise national and European adaptation investments and guide more detailed adaptation studies."

Reference:

Future heat-waves, drought and floods in 571 European cities”. Selma Guerreiro, Richard Dawson, Chris Kilsby, Elizabeth Lewis and Alistair Ford. Environmental Research Letters. Jan 2018

Europe’s cities face more extreme weather than previously thought


Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate risks due to their agglomeration of people, buildings and infrastructure. Differences in methodology, hazards considered, and climate models used limit the utility and comparability of climate studies on individual cities. Here we assess, for the first time, future changes in flood, heat-waves (HW), and drought impacts for all 571 European cities in the Urban Audit database using a consistent approach. To capture the full range of uncertainties in natural variability and climate models, we use all climate model runs from the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) for the RCP8.5 emissions scenario to calculate Low, Medium, and High Impact scenarios, which correspond to the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentiles of each hazard for each city. We find that HW days increase across all cities, but especially in southern Europe, whilst the greatest HW temperature increases are expected in central European cities. For the low impact scenario, drought conditions intensify in southern European cities while river flooding worsens in northern European cities. However, the high impact scenario projects that most European cities will see increases in both drought and river flood risks. Over 100 cities are particularly vulnerable to two or more climate impacts. Moreover, the magnitude of impacts exceeds those previously reported highlighting the substantial challenge cities face to manage future climate risks.

FuturFuture heat-waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities

End of the Boom: Millennials are worse off on average than the generation born between 1966 and 1980. Graphic: Bloomberg / Resolution Foundation

By Andrew Atkinson
19 February 2018

(Bloomberg News) – The income boom enjoyed by people born between 1966 and 1980 has turned to “bust” for the generation that followed them, according to a report published Monday.

In an analysis of eight high-income countries, the Resolution Foundation think tank found that millennials in their early 30s have household incomes 4 percent lower on average than members of so-called Generation X at the same age.

Britain and Spain stand out. In the U.K., Generation X were 54 percent better off than baby boomers born between 1946 and 1965. By contrast, millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, had incomes just 6 percent higher than those of Generation X at the same age.

The U.K. is also notable for the fall in rates of home ownership. For millennials in their late 20s, the figure is 33 percent compared with 60 percent for baby boomers at the same age. Smaller declines are found in Australia and the U.S.

“It’s no secret that the financial crisis hit the vast majority of advanced economies hard, holding back millennial income progress in countries around the world,” said Daniel Tomlinson, a policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation. “But only Spain echoes the U.K. experience -- a ‘boom and bust’ cycle where significant generation-on-generation gains for older generations have come to a stop for younger people.”

Adjusted for inflation, pay for British millennials has fallen by 13 percent, a decline surpassed only by Greece, the think tank estimated. [more]

Boom Turns to Bust for Millennials Across Advanced Economies


Percentage change in typical (median) real equivalised disposable household income between generations, unweighted average across seven advanced economies: 1969-2014. Countries included are Norway, the UK, Finland, Denmark, the US, Italy and Spain. Graphic: Intergenerational Commission / Resolution Foundation

By Daniel Tomlinson and Fahmida Rahman
19 February 2018

(Resolution Foundation) – Joni Mitchell’s lyrics may refer to her first trip to Hawaii, but they could just as easily apply to UK trends in generational living standards that the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission has uncovered. That’s particularly so in light of new analysis comparing these trends internationally.

While there are huge living standards differences between high-income countries, there is also much shared ground, with the financial crisis and demographic patterns putting pressure on younger generations’ living standards everywhere. But the UK also stands out. With the partial exception of Spain, no other country in living memory has experienced as large a ‘boom and bust’ in generation-on-generation progress across both incomes and home ownership rates.

On incomes, the millennials (born 1980-2000) who have reached their early 30s are just 6 per cent better off than generation X (born 1966-80) when they were the same age. This is very small progress indeed when compared with the progress older generations are enjoying – baby boomers (born 1946-65) in their late 60s are 29 per cent better off than the silent generation (born 1926-1945).

These sorts of slowdowns have occurred in most countries, but not to the same extent. In the US, millennials in their early 30s are doing 5 per cent worse than their predecessors, but this compares to relatively modest 11 per cent gains for generation X relative to the baby boomers. In fact, in the US – despite higher levels of income – the absence of generational progress is what stands out. Typical incomes in the US for those aged 45-49 are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the early 1920s.

Back to the UK, the ‘had it then lost it’ story is also clear when we look at housing. Our previous research has shown that young people in the UK face much higher housing costs (relative to incomes) than older generations did when they were making their way in the world. In a large part this is driven by the rise and fall of home ownership.UK home ownership rates surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-1926) and the baby boomers but this generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials. Their home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is 27 percentage points lower than the rate for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent).

This fall between generations is much smaller in other countries in which housing is a key areas of concern such as Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). As with incomes, the UK shows the strongest ‘boom and bust’ – large generation-on-generation gains for today’s older cohorts followed by stagnation or declines for younger ones.

Let’s be clear though, the UK is a relatively good place to grow up. Ours is one of the most advanced economies in the world, with high employment rates for all age groups. In other advanced economies, young people have suffered immensely as a result of the financial crisis. For example, in Greece millennials in their early 30s are a shocking 31 per cent worse off than generation X were at the same age. In Spain today the youth (15-30) unemployment rate is still above 30 per cent, over three times higher than it is in the UK.

But, if everything is relative – before the parking lot came the paradise – then the UK’s situation isn’t one to brush away. Small income gains are, obviously, better than big income falls. But what matters for a young person in the UK today probably isn’t how well they’re doing relative to a young person in Italy but how this compares with their expectations – which have been shaped by the outcomes of their parents and grandparents. It’s no surprise that the UK is one of the most pessimistic countries about the prospects for today’s young.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In other parts of the world and at other times, large generation-on-generation progress has happened. Building more homes, having strong collective bargaining and delivering active labour market policies that incentivise work are things we know make a difference. As politicians attempt to tackle the UK’s intergenerational challenges, they should remember to look overseas for lessons.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” – UK generational trends in an international context


Percentage change in typical (median) real equivalised disposable household income between generations at given ages across nine advanced economies, 1969-2014. Graphic: Intergenerational Commission / Resolution Foundation

By Daniel Tomlinson and Fahmida Rahman
19 February 2018

(Resolution Foundation) – In this report – the fifteenth for the Intergenerational Commission – we explore the extent to which the UK’s generational living standards challenge is replicated in other high-income economies, focusing on trends in household income and experiences in the labour and housing markets.

Public concern about the living standards of young adults compared to those of their parents’ generation is evident across high-income countries, and our findings indeed point to many areas in which the generational challenge appears shared. These range from ageing populations driving fiscal pressures; to a financial crisis affecting younger workers in particular; to housing cost pressures shifting increasingly towards households in working age.

Overall, the pace of generation-on-generation growth in household income – a common benchmark of day-to-day living standards – has slowed across high-income countries. It is common for millennials (born 1981-2000) who’ve already reached their early 30s to have experienced little or no income improvement on generation X (born 1966-80).

However, our findings also mark the UK out in terms of the degree of reversal in young adults’ fortunes. With the partial exception of Spain, the UK is the only advanced economy in which large generation-on-generation progress on both household income and home ownership rates was a feature of the 20th century but has failed to materialise for younger generations so far in the 21st. While young adults in other high-income countries face many challenges that are not seen in the UK, not least those in southern Europe where youth unemployment has rocketed, this generational boom and bust is arguably what has driven the recent salience of UK intergenerational debates.

Many of the contextual factors underpinning the UK’s intergenerational debate are observed across advanced economies

Pessimism about the living standards prospects of younger generations is common across high-income countries, with the UK more downbeat than most. Both long-run trends and more recent developments provide the backdrop to this public concern.

In all high-income economies, the post-war baby boom and increases in life expectancy have acted together to bring about population ageing in the coming decades in particular. It’s not just UK politicians who have to face up to the fiscal implications of this shift.

Those in their late teens and early 20s are less likely to vote than older people across advanced economies, with the turnout gap larger in the UK than elsewhere. The evidence suggests that this difference remained sizeable in the UK’s 2017 general election, although turnout increased markedly for a slightly older group in their 30s and early 40s. While age is by no means the only determinant of whether policies appeal to people, turnout patterns combined with fluctuating cohort size suggest some commonalities in the relative political sway of different generations across high-income countries.

It’s not just long-term issues that are shared. The most acute challenge in recent years – perhaps particularly for those at the beginning of careers and so more exposed to shocks – has been the experience and aftermath of the financial crisis. Falling GDP per capita is a common feature (Australia excepted) across the countries featured in this report.

Generation-on-generation income gains have declined everywhere, but the UK is one of a small number of countries to have had then lost them

In common with the UK experience, millennials and members of generation X have real incomes little or no higher than their predecessors at the same age in almost all of the countries covered by this analysis.

Variation emerges, however, when we look at the shape of generational progress over the past half-century. The UK stands out as one of a small number of countries in which large generational income gains for today’s older generations when they were younger have been replaced by a lack of progress for today’s younger generations. It is this reversal in the fortunes of generations alive today that perhaps drives the pessimism with regards young people’s prospects that we have identified in the UK.

In the US and Germany (albeit measured over a shorter time-period), generation-on-generation income gains have been minimal, or non-existent, for a long time. Median income for older members of generation X in the US (those born in the late 1960s) is currently no higher than median income for the youngest members of the greatest generation (those born in the early 1920s) when this group was also aged 45-49. Of course, the level of median income is higher in the US than in all other large advanced economies, but nonetheless this long-standing lack of generational progress stands out, reflecting economic weaknesses that pre-dated the financial crisis and rising inequality.

In southern European economies, the financial crisis has clearly had a large detrimental effect on the prospects of younger generations. It’s not just that the millennials and generation X in these countries haven’t enjoyed as rapid income growth in recent years as their predecessors did, but rather that their income growth has been all but non-existent.

As such, in Spain, Italy, and Greece those millennials who have so far reached their 30s have significantly lower incomes than generation X had at the same age. In Greece, this fall isn’t confined to the young – the baby boomers are also currently worse off than the generation that preceded them. The story is Spain is similar to that in the UK, in so far as today’s weakness follows a period in which strong generational income progress was the norm.

Labour market responses to the crisis were far from uniform – younger cohorts in the UK have experienced among the worst pay performance

Household income is shaped by a number of factors, none more important than the labour market. Since the financial crisis, the UK labour market has outperformed expectations in terms of employment but underperformed, particularly for the young, in terms of real earnings growth.

We find that between 2006 and 2014 cohort-on-cohort progress in real earnings went into reverse for all working-age cohorts in the UK and Greece. In 2014, the UK cohort born in the years around 1980 earned 13 per cent less than the cohort born around 1970 did in 2006. In Greece this decline was 25 per cent.

In Spain and Italy cohort-on-cohort falls in real earnings between 2006 and 2014 were smaller than in the UK, some of which is likely to reflect falling labour market participation rates changing the composition particularly of younger cohorts. In the US and France cohorts were earning similar amounts in 2014 to their predecessors in 2006. Meanwhile in Nordic economies, real earnings progress for younger cohorts has continued over the years since the financial crisis.

The other side of the UK’s weakness on earnings is relatively healthy employment performance. The increase in the youth unemployment rate – though significant in the UK – has not been anywhere near as large or persistent as in a number of southern European economies. In these countries youth unemployment is still a very long way from pre-crisis lows, a very different experience to that in the UK where youth unemployment has now returned to similar levels as last experienced in the 2000s.

Looking across advanced economies and comparing changes in youth unemployment rates and youth earnings between 2006 and 2014, we find that experiences were not uniform even among countries with similarly-sized economic shocks. Real earnings for adults aged under 30 fell much further in the UK than in the US or Denmark, despite a similar economic backdrop and similar youth unemployment experiences. The large post-crisis depreciation in Sterling is part of why the UK underperformed on earnings, but it can’t explain why younger cohorts fared worse than older ones. Real earnings fell twice as fast between 2006 and 2014 for the under 30s in the UK than for those in their 50s – a bigger age divide than recorded in any other country with pronounced earnings declines overall.

Structural labour market trends that have borne down on younger cohorts’ pay in the UK are seen in certain other advanced economies

It’s not just post-crisis effects that have held back generation-on-generation earnings progress in the UK. Longer-term trends have also shaped the extent to which our labour market has delivered for young people.

Job-to-job moves – a key mechanism by which workers secure big pay rises, particularly when young – have followed a similar path in the US and the UK over the past two decades. In both countries there is clear evidence of pre-crisis structural declines in mobility, and job moves also fell sharply during the crisis for all age groups in both countries. However, the job mobility rate for young people is still substantially lower than it was in the early 2000s in the UK, whereas in the US it has recovered. This will be acting as a continued drag on pay growth for younger workers in the UK.

The sort of work that young people do has also been changing since long before the crisis. In the UK and some other northern European countries there is evidence of a structural rise in part-time working particularly among young men. The proportion of young men (aged 15-29) working part time increased by 7 percentage points between 1996 and 2016 in the UK, with over half of this increase taking place between 1996 and 2007. Elsewhere, the same trends have been more of a cyclical phenomenon – 80 per cent of the increase in young men working part time in Spain since 1996 has taken place since 2007.

Though some young men might be actively choosing to work part-time and these trends may reflect a more equal sharing of working and family responsibilities across the sexes, UK evidence shows that much of the increase is involuntary and associated with low pay.

A final long-run consideration is the timing of increases in educational attainment. Cohort-on-cohort educational gains, measured in terms of the percentage increase in the proportion of each cohort with a tertiary-level qualification, have slowed in almost all advanced economies. The increase in the share of people with tertiary-level qualifications between the 1960s and 1970s birth cohorts was larger in the UK than anywhere else. The rate of increase between later cohorts is significantly smaller, implying that the boost that educational improvements provide to earnings growth will have shrunk more here than in many other economies.

Older generations in the UK have experienced the greatest historical gains in home ownership, while younger generations are experiencing the largest falls

Since the crisis home ownership rates have declined in a number of high-income countries. But, in the UK and Australia home ownership declines have been longer–standing. This has resulted in a reversal of generational progress starting with generation X in the UK and the baby boomers (born 1946-65) in Australia.

In recent years, generational falls in home ownership rates have been larger in the UK than in other countries where housing was cited as a top concern for young people’s living standards prospects. In the UK, home ownership rates for millennials at ages 25-29 are 27 percentage points lower than they were for the baby boomers when they were the same age. This is compared to a 5 percentage point fall at the same age in Australia.

These large falls have occurred against a backdrop of large generation-on-generation improvements in home ownership for older generations in the UK. The increase in home ownership rates from the greatest generation (born 1911-1925) to the baby boomers, at 29 percentage points, was far larger in the UK than elsewhere. As was the case with incomes, the reversal of progress for generations alive today perhaps underpins perceptions that we face an acute intergenerational challenge here.

Since housing is a major determinant of wealth, falling home ownership has contributed to declines in cohort-on-cohort wealth progress in both the UK and the US. Reflecting the UK’s longer-standing housing problems, these declines started earlier and run deeper in the UK, whereas in the US they appear largely crisis-related.

Underpinning declining home ownership has been large historical increases in house prices relative to people’s incomes – a trend that has occurred across high-income countries. The UK is among the worst performing countries with an average increase in its house price to income ratio of 1.4 per cent a year between 1987 and 2016. A key driver of this outcome has been low levels of housing stock relative to population size and sluggish levels of house-building since at least the 1990s compared to other high-income countries.

As well as affecting longer-term asset accumulation, the key implication of these housing trends in the UK has been increases in the share of income spent on housing at every age for all generations alive today. The UK certainly ranks highly among advanced economies in terms of its housing costs challenge, but is by no means unique. It has the third-highest working age housing cost to income ratio of the countries studied here (behind Greece and Denmark), and is one of a number of countries where housing costs as a share of incomes have increased faster for working age households than retired households since 2005.

Ultimately, this report shows that although generational progress on incomes and housing is lacking in the UK for younger generations, it is something that existed (to varying degrees) in the recent past here and overseas.

Large variations in generational outcomes were evident before the financial crisis, suggesting that, with the right focus and informed policy decisions, generational progress can be achieved. It is to this challenge that forthcoming policy options papers for the Intergenerational Commission will turn.

Cross countries: international comparisons of intergenerational trends

This vista, shot from a vantage point called Sugarloaf, looks down on the lower Paradise Valley and Stevens glaciers, now largely vanished. Above: U.S. Forest Service image from National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle, WA, shot in 1934. Below: The same vista in 2017, from John Marshall and The Nature Conservancy. Photo: USFS / John Marshall / The Nature Conservancy

By Sandi Doughton
21 February 2018

(The Seattle Times) – A series of panoramic photographs taken during the Great Depression is offering a new view of ecological change across the Pacific Northwest, including the dramatic retreat of glaciers on the region’s most iconic peak.

In 1934, when a young Forest Service photographer lugged his 75-pound camera to Anvil Rock high on the southern flank of Mount Rainier, the vista he captured showed the curling sweep of the Cowlitz Glacier snaking down the valley below.

When Wenatchee-based photographer John F. Marshall re-created the same image with modern equipment 83 years later, the valley stretched out bare and empty of ice.

“The value of comparative photography is that it tells a much more complete story,” said Marshall, who has been re-creating the so-called Osborne panoramas for several years. “Photography is a very powerful way of explaining long-term change.”

A selection of “before-and-after” glacier scenes will be featured Wednesday evening in a program called “Art Meets Science atop Mount Rainier’s Glaciers” at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture. Focused on glacial loss and its consequences, the program is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, which has helped support Marshall’s quest to make the historic photos more widely available and capture contemporary versions. […]

For The Nature Conservancy in Oregon, Marshall scanned and uploaded more than 1,200 images, now available through an online archive.

At Rainier, the high-angle shots offer a different perspective on the well-documented retreat of glaciers, said Paul Kennard, regional geomorphologist for the Park Service.

The 1934 scene from a promontory called Sugarloaf Rock at 7,789 feet on the route to Camp Muir is dominated by the white expanse of the lower Paradise and Stevens glaciers. By 2017, both ice rivers had essentially vanished.

At least four other glaciers also have disappeared, Kennard said, and all of the others are in retreat.

“It’s not just a little trend,” he said. “It has been pretty much doing this nonstop since the mid-1800s.”

The Nisqually Glacier is losing nearly a quarter of a mile in length a year, Kennard added. [more]

See how Mount Rainier glaciers have vanished over time, with this eye-opening photo project

 

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