Tropical cyclone rapid intensification (RI) ratio trends. a, b Observed trends in the rapid intensification ratio of ADT-HURSAT (black) and IBTrACS (blue) over the 28-year period 1982–2009 using a) global and b) Atlantic data. RI ratio is defined as the number of 24-h intensity changes above 30 knots divided by the total number of 24-h intensity changes. Trends in the time series of the annual mean RI ratio are denoted by dashed lines. The slopes of the trend lines as well as their 90% confidence intervals are provided. The slopes and confidence intervals are calculated using 1000 randomly perturbed samples of the observational data. Shading represents the 5th and 95th percentiles of the 1000 regressions with these randomly perturbed observational data. Graphic: Bhatia, et al., 2019 / Nature Communications

By Dr. Jeff Masters
13 February 2019

(Weather Underground) – Atlantic hurricanes showed “highly unusual” upward trends in rapid intensification during the period 1982 – 2009 that can only be explained by including human-caused climate change as a contributing cause, according to research published last week in Nature Communications. The study, led by NOAA/GFDL hurricane scientist Kieran Bhatia, is titled, Recent increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates.

The paper used two different data sets to study historical tropical cyclone intensification rates: a relatively coarse-resolution satellite data set (HURSAT), and a higher-resolution “best track” data set (IBTrACS) that included all available data, including satellite and hurricane hunter data. Both data sets found that for the Atlantic, there was a significant increase in the proportion of 24-hour intensification rates greater than 30 knots (35 mph) between 1982 and 2009. The greatest change was seen for the strongest 5% of storms, whose intensification rates increased by 3 – 4 knots per decade.

For tropical cyclones across the entire globe, the two data sets disagreed. The “best track” data set showed a significant increase in 24-hour intensification rates, while the satellite-only data set did not. The authors theorized that the satellite-only data set was faulty, likely because of well-documented problems judging tropical cyclone intensities during formation of the eye. Due to this discrepancy in the two data sets, the authors were unable to make conclusions on how tropical cyclone intensification rates might be changing globally.

By itself, a 28-year upward trend in one measure of hurricane intensification does not necessarily mean that human-caused climate change is to blame. Natural variability of the climate system, like the decades-long natural cycle in Atlantic hurricane activity called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), could be to blame. To see if this was the case, the authors used one of the best global climate models available for studying long-term trends in Atlantic hurricanes, the HiFLOR model. [more]

Recent increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates

Anthropogenic forcing’s effects on tropical cyclone rapid intensification (RI) ratio in HiFLOR. a–c Simulated changes in RI ratio by the 1940CTL (a), 1990CTL (b), and 2015CTL (c) relative to the 1860CTL. Percent difference in RI ratio between HiFLOR 1860CTL and each climate change simulation is plotted in each 5° × 5° grid box. Data is only plotted in a grid box if at least one TC passes through the grid box every 50 years in the two experiments used to calculate percent difference. Red (blue) squares indicate grid boxes where a larger (smaller) percentage of 24-h intensity changes exceed 30 knots in the climate change simulations than in the 1860CTL. Grid boxes that achieve a p value of 0.05 using a binomial proportion test are considered statistically significant. White “Xs” are located in grid boxes that are not statistically significant. Graphic: Bhatia, et al., 2019 / Nature Communications

ABSTRACT: Tropical cyclones that rapidly intensify are typically associated with the highest forecast errors and cause a disproportionate amount of human and financial losses. Therefore, it is crucial to understand if, and why, there are observed upward trends in tropical cyclone intensification rates. Here, we utilize two observational datasets to calculate 24-hour wind speed changes over the period 1982–2009. We compare the observed trends to natural variability in bias-corrected, high-resolution, global coupled model experiments that accurately simulate the climatological distribution of tropical cyclone intensification. Both observed datasets show significant increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates in the Atlantic basin that are highly unusual compared to model-based estimates of internal climate variations. Our results suggest a detectable increase of Atlantic intensification rates with a positive contribution from anthropogenic forcing and reveal a need for more reliable data before detecting a robust trend at the global scale.

Recent increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates

Annual rate of decline of the three major insect taxa studied (percentage of species declining per year) and of insect biomass. Graphic: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuys, 2019 / Biological Conservation

12 February 2019 (University of Sydney) – A research review into the decline of insect populations has revealed a catastrophic threat exists to 40 percent of species over the next 100 years, with butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bees, ants, and dung beetles most at risk.

Author of the review, Dr Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, an honorary associate with the Sydney Institute of Agriculture in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said that habitat loss from intensive agriculture alongside agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are the main drivers behind the collapse in insect populations.

“As insects comprise about two thirds of all terrestrial species on Earth, the trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting life forms on our planet,” write Dr Sanchez-Bayo and co-author Dr Kris Wyckhuys from the University of Queensland and the Institute of Plant Protection, China Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing.

Their study was published this week in Biological Conservation. It involved a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the globe, systematically assessing the underlying drivers of the population declines.

“Because insects constitute the world's most abundant animal group and provide critical services within ecosystems, such an event cannot be ignored and should prompt decisive action to avert a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems,” the report said.

Proportion of insect species in decline or locally extinct according to the IUCN criteria: vulnerable species (>30 percent decline), endangered species (>50 percent decline) and extinct (not recorded for >50 years). A) terrestrial taxa; B) aquatic taxa. Graphic: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuys, 2019 / Biological Conservation

“We are realists”

Speaking to ABC television in Australia, Dr Sanchez-Bayo said: “We are not alarmists, we are realists. We are experiencing the sixth mass extinction on Earth. If we destroy the basis of the ecosystem, which are the insects, then we destroy all the other animals that rely on them for a food source.

“It will collapse altogether and that’s why we think it’s not dramatic, it’s a reality.”

To address this threat to insect species, the study said humanity needs to rethink “current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically based practices”.

Dr Sanchez-Bayo said this is urgently needed to slow or reverse these current trends to “allow the recovering of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide”.

The four major drivers of decline for each of the studied insect taxa according to reports in the literature. Graphic: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuys, 2019 / Biological Conservation

Impact could be “unimaginable”

Dr Tanya Latty is also from the Sydney Institute for Agriculture and works in the Social Insects Lab in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences. She was not connected to the Biological Conservation study.

Dr Latty said: “Insects are absolutely vital to our ecosystems: they are pollinators, pest controllers and waste managers. They are food to countless birds, reptiles, mammals and fish. Left unchecked, the ongoing loss of insects will impact our daily lives in ways that are almost unimaginable.

“Insects are resilient and it's not too late to stop and even reverse declines. But we need to care enough to do something. I hope Dr Sanchez-Bayo’s study gets people to stand up and take notice of what we are losing - and what can still be saved.”

Reporting of the research has gone global, with reports by the BBC, CNN, The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, El Pais, the New York Post, New Scientist and many others. The Guardian in London, which broke the story, has also penned an editorial on the subject.

Social media was also lit up, with people expressing dismay at the conclusions of the study.


Marcus Strom, Media Adviser, +61 2 8627 6433, +61 423 982 485,

Insect population faces 'catastrophic' collapse: Sydney research

Main factors associated with insect declines. Graphic: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuys, 2019 / Biological Conservation

ABSTRACT: Biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. Here, we present a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the globe, and systematically assess the underlying drivers. Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades. In terrestrial ecosystems, Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera and dung beetles (Coleoptera) appear to be the taxa most affected, whereas four major aquatic taxa (Odonata, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, and Ephemeroptera) have already lost a considerable proportion of species. Affected insect groups not only include specialists that occupy particular ecological niches, but also many common and generalist species. Concurrently, the abundance of a small number of species is increasing; these are all adaptable, generalist species that are occupying the vacant niches left by the ones declining. Among aquatic insects, habitat and dietary generalists, and pollutant-tolerant species are replacing the large biodiversity losses experienced in waters within agricultural and urban settings. The main drivers of species declines appear to be in order of importance: i) habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation; ii) pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; iii) biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and iv) climate change. The latter factor is particularly important in tropical regions, but only affects a minority of species in colder climes and mountain settings of temperate zones. A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide. In addition, effective remediation technologies should be applied to clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments.

Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers

Aerial view of the area where the Trump border wall will be built on National Butterfly Center land, 1.2 miles inland from the Rio Grande River. It will bisect NBC property and leave 70 percent of it between the wall and the river (the actual international border). Photo: National Butterfly Center

10 December 2018 (National Butterfly Center) – Congress funded 33 new miles of Border Wall in the 2018 omnibus Appropriations Act  and contracts for the first 6 miles have been awarded to SLSCO . The real kicker is, the border wall is not being built on the border, but over 2 miles inland, moving the border of Mexico NORTH of the Rio Grande River (the actual border) and placing more than 6,000 acres of private property and public lands behind it in the newly created subdivision we've named MEXIGRO.

We need your help to protect our property!

The issue is not whether butterflies can fly over a wall, but whether  private property (farms, businesses, homes) should be seized and destroyed for a project that does not serve the greater good or enhance national security; rather, it pushes the boundaries of Mexico north of the Rio Grande and makes America smaller.

At the National Butterfly Center  in Mission, Texas, 70% of the land belonging to the nonprofit project of the North American Butterfly Center will be forfeited, to create a landing and staging area for illegal traffic on the shores of the United States.

In this land set aside for the protection of a remnant of native habitat, endangered species such as the ocelot, and the graves of Native American people who were present before the U.S. existed, everything will be desecrated, bulldozed, and cut off from access by citizens and landowners; where gunboats could more easily be placed on the river to actually prevent traffic from setting foot on our soil.

Moreover, the federal government has waived 28 laws  in order to expedite this.

The fact that we now live in a country where the laws duly passed by Congress may be waived for political expediency, eliminating all protections for people, water, wildlife and more,  should terrify all Americans.

Please join us, today, to preserve and defend the National Butterfly Center, the only entity in Texas to sue the Trump Administration over this outrageous land grab!

A bobcat that lives on National Butterfly Center land that is soon to be cut off by Trump's border wall. Photo: National Butterfly Center

Read the most recent developments  in our ongoing battle against the seizure of private property for the border wall, here, and subscribe to our e-newsletter  for updates.

Funds will be used for expenses associated with our on-going lawsuit against the federal government (travel expenses, depositions, filing and document fees, etc.); all efforts related to publicizing and resisting this atrocity; clean up and remediation of the damage, if we can't stop it (because the government's private contractors are NOT going to do that); and tearing down the wall, as soon as we're able!  Your support is invaluable to our efforts to fulfill our mission, preserve our property, and restore it after construction, if it cannot be stopped.  BUT IT'S NOT OVER, not by a long shot.


UPDATE:  $100,247 of $100,000 goal reached on 14 February 2019. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Protect the National Butterfly Center

Share of wealth owned by the 400 richest Americans compared with the bottom 60 percent. The 400 richest Americans — the top 0.00025 percent of the population — have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s. Data: Gabriel Zucman / World Inequality Database. Graphic: Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post

By Christopher Ingraham
8 February 2019

(The Washington Post) – The 400 richest Americans — the top 0.00025 percent of the population — have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s, according to a new working paper on wealth inequality by University of California at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman.

Those 400 Americans own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution, who saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 5.7 percent in 1987 to 2.1 percent in 2014, according to the World Inequality Database maintained by Zucman and others.

Overall, Zucman finds that “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.” That shift is eroding security from families in the lower and middle classes, who rely on their small stores of wealth to finance their retirement and to smooth over economic shocks like the loss of a job. And it’s consolidating power in the hands of the nation’s billionaires, who are increasingly using their riches to purchase political influence.

Zucman, who advised Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on a recent proposal to tax high levels of wealth, warns that these numbers may understate the amount of wealth concentrated in the hands of the rich: It has become more difficult to account for the true wealth of the ultra-rich in recent decades, in part because many hide their assets in offshore tax shelters. […]

American wealth is highly unevenly distributed, much more so than income. According to Zucman’s latest calculations, today the top 0.1 percent of the population has captured nearly 20 percent of the nation’s wealth, giving them a greater slice of the American pie than the bottom 80 percent of the population combined. That bottom 80 percent figure includes the 1 in 5 American households that has either zero or negative wealth, meaning that its debts are greater than or equal to its assets. According to NYU’s Wolff, the share of U.S. households with zero or negative wealth has risen by roughly one-third since 1983, when it was 15.5 percent.

The top 10 percent of individuals, meanwhile, own more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth, more than twice the amount owned by the bottom 90 percent. The top 10 percent have increased their share of wealth by about 10 percentage points since the early 1980s, with a concomitant decline in the share of wealth owned by everyone else. In some ways, Zucman finds, the distribution of wealth in the United States more closely resembles the situation in Russia and China than in other advanced democracies such as the United Kingdom and France. […]

Weath share of the top 10 percent of individuals in the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China. Data: Gabriel Zucman / World Inequality Database. Graphic: Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post

Rising wealth inequality may not necessarily be a zero-sum game: The rich gobbling up a larger share of the national wealth pie may not be a problem if there’s still more pie left for everyone else, relative to several years or decades ago. There’s good reason to suspect that this may be the case for income: While incomes at the top have risen dramatically over the past few decades, incomes in the middle have risen, too, albeit much more slowly.

But the same dynamic is not occurring with household wealth. According to Wolff, the median household wealth in the United States in 2016 ($78,100) was slightly lower, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was three decades ago in 1983 ($80,000). Over the same time period, the average wealth of the top 1 percent of households more than doubled, from $10.6 million to $26.4 million.

The wealthy are becoming wealthier, in other words, and there’s good reason to think it’s happening at the expense of everyone else. As Zucman notes, this has very different implications for different groups of people. “For everybody except the rich,” he writes, wealth’s “main function is to provide security.” Middle-class families tend to use their wealth to save for rainy-day expenses or to draw down on for retirement.

But “for the rich, wealth begets power,” according to Zucman. Our electoral system is highly dependent on outside financing, creating numerous opportunities for the wealthy to convert their money into influence and tip the political scales in their favor. As a result, politicians have become accustomed to playing close attention to the interests of the wealthy and passing policies that reflect them, even in cases where public opinion is strongly trending in the opposite direction.

“Wealth concentration may help explain the lack of redistributive responses to the rise of inequality observed since the 1980s,” Zucman writes. The interplay between money and power, in other words, may be self-reinforcing: The wealthy use their money to buy political power, and they use some of that power to protect their money. [more]

Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research

Share of American wealth owned by the top 1 percent, the top 0.1 percent, and the bottom 80 percent of U.S. adults. Data: Gabriel Zucman / World Inequality Database. Graphic: Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post

ABSTRACT: This  article  reviews  the  recent  literature  on  the  dynamics  of  global  wealth  inequality.  I  first reconcile available estimates of wealth inequality in the United States. Both surveys and tax data show  that  wealth inequality  has  increased  dramatically  since  the  1980s,  with  a  top  1%  wealth share around 40% in 2016 vs. 25–30% in the 1980s. Second, I discuss the fast growing literature on  wealth  inequality  across the  world.  Evidence  points  towards  a  rise  in  global  wealth concentration:  for  China,  Europe,  and  the United  States  combined,  the  top  1%  wealth  share  has increased  from  28%  in  1980  to  33%  today,  while the  bottom  75%  share  hovered  around  10%. Recent  studies,  however,  may  under-estimate  the  level and  rise  of  inequality,  as  financial globalization  makes  it  increasingly  hard  to  measure  wealth  at  the top.  I  discuss  how  new  data sources  (leaks  from  financial  institutions,  tax  amnesties,  and  macroeconomic statistics  of  tax havens) can be leveraged to better capture the wealth of the rich.

Global Wealth Inequality [pdf]

An airplane hangar at Tyndall Air Force Base, which was not included in DOD's climate change report, is damaged from hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, Thursday, 11 October 2018. Photo: David Goldman / AP Photo

By Paulina Glass
5 February 2019

(Defense One) – The Pentagon’s latest climate-change report was so bad that it didn’t even meet legal requirements, say House lawmakers who on Wednesday ordered the military to redo the document by 1 April 2019.

The report “lacks key deliverables,” according to the 25 January 2019 letter from House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. released last week.

The Pentagon’s 2019 climate report opens with the line: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”

But the report goes downhill from there, said David Titley, the Navy meteorologist-turned-Penn State professor.

“The highlight of the report was the first sentence of the opening paragraph where it did clearly state that climate change was one of the risks the DOD needs to be concerned about,” Titley said. “That’s about as good as I can say.”

The report, “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” released four weeks late on 16 January 2019, was required by the Langevin Amendment, part of the 2018 Defense Authorization Act.

Spearheaded by Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., the bill ordered the Pentagon to list the top 10 military installations most vulnerable to climate change, mitigations needed to maintain resiliency, and the potential effects on DOD missions.

Titley, a former Oceanographer of the Navy who now teaches  Pennsylvania State University, said he would have awarded DOD between a C- and a D+. “If you assign a 1,500-word essay, sometimes students will just put down 1,500 words. It doesn’t mean they answered the question,” he said.

Langevin and Smith, who serve on the House Armed Services Committee, blasted the report soon after its release.

“It is unacceptable that the Department has ignored the clear instructions provided by law, and it is unacceptable that our service members and readiness will suffer as a result,” Langevin said in a statement.

John Conger, a former DOD deputy comptroller who now directs the Center for Climate and Security, said the assignment was clear, and had been written to help DOD address the issues climate change presented.

“I think Congress was looking for specific analysis that would help them prioritize resources and then try and look at where to direct investments and resilience,” Conger said. “This report is less helpful in doing that than they intended it to be.”

In the report, which DOD said cost $329,000 to produce, Pentagon officials looked at whether 79 bases were currently experiencing or might in the future experience five natural phenomena: recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. It also described efforts to mitigate threats, listing studies commissioned on wildfire risk in 2014 in sensors that determine subsurface ice levels at northern bases.

But critics said the report left out a lot of required elements. For example, it mentions Tyndall Air Force Base, which was decimated by Hurricane Michael in 2018, but does not evaluate its climate risk. The 79 bases include no overseas bases, nor any that belong to the Marine Corps. Most striking to Conger was the absence of the list of the top 10 most vulnerable installations, a list specifically requested in the amendment.

“Even if they thought it would be too difficult to do, they don’t explain why they didn’t answer the question,” he said. “There are gaps.” [more]

Lawmakers Tell Pentagon: Revise and Resubmit Your Climate-Change Report

By Steven Silverberg
21 January 2019

(Silverberg Zalantis LLP) – Last week the Department of Defense (“DOD”) released a report concerning the impacts of climate change on 79 of its installations, as well as DOD operations. The report found increasing effects from sea level rise, wild fires and other aspects of climate change.

The Military Departments noted the presence or not of current and potential vulnerabilities to each installation over the next 20 years, selecting from the events listed below. Note that the congressional request established the 20-year timeframe.

Climate-Related Events

  • Recurrent Flooding
  • Drought
  • Desertification
  • Wildfires
  • Thawing Permafrost

Some of the issues related to sea level rise and flood include:

Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE-Langley AFB), Virginia, has experienced 14 inches in sea level rise since 1930 due to localized land subsidence and sea level rise. Flooding at JBLE- Langley, with a mean sea level elevation of three feet, has become more frequent and severe.

Navy Base Coronado experiences isolated and flash flooding during tropical storm events, particularly in El Niño years. Upland Special Areas are subject to flash floods. The main installation reports worsening sea level rise and storm surge impacts that include access limitations and other logistic related impairments.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Report notes significant incidents of drought since the early 2000s.

Specific to military readiness, droughts can have broad implications for base infrastructure, impair testing activities, and along with increased temperature, can increase the number of black flag day prohibitions for testing and training. Drought can contribute to heat- related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, outlined by the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Energy consumption may increase to provide additional cooling for facilities.

Several DoD sites in the DC area (including Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, Joint Base Andrews, U.S. Naval Observatory/Naval Support Facility, and Washington Navy Yard) periodically experienced drought conditions – extreme in 2002 and severe from 2002 through 2018. In addition, Naval Air Station Key West experienced drought in 2015 and 2011, ranging from extreme to severe, respectively. These examples highlight that drought conditions may occur in places not typically perceived as drought regions.

Drought conditions have caused significant reduction in soil moisture at several Air Force bases resulting in deep or wide cracks in the soil, at times leading to ruptured utility lines and cracked road surfaces.

The report also notes increasing incidents of wildfires that impair DOD operations.

Due to routine training and testing activities that are significant ignition sources, wildfires are a constant concern on many military installations. As a result, the DoD spends considerable resources on claims, asset loss, and suppression activities due to wildfire. While fire is a key ecological process with benefits for both sound land management and military capability development, other climatic factors including increased wind and drought can lead to an increased severity of wildfire activity. This could result in infrastructure and testing/training impacts.

The report goes on to discuss many other impacts of climate change on operations of the DOD, including humanitarian responses, rescue efforts in the Arctic region. [more]

Defense Department Report on Effects of Climate Change

Total marginal effect of Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) on conflict for the 2010–2012 period. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

23 January 2019 (UEA) – Research involving a University of East Anglia (UEA) academic has established a link between climate change, conflict, and migration for the first time.

In recent decades climatic conditions have been blamed for creating political unrest, civil war, and subsequently, waves of migration, but scientific evidence for this is limited.

One major example is the ongoing conflict in Syria, which began in 2011. Many coastal Mediterranean countries in Europe have also seen the arrival of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in Africa.

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, including Dr Raya Muttarak, also of UEA’s School of International Development, sought to find out whether there is a causal link between climate change and migration, and the nature of it. They found that in specific circumstances, the climate conditions do lead to increased migration, but indirectly, through causing conflict.

The findings, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, suggest that climate change played a significant role in migration and asylum seeking in the period 2011–2015, with more severe droughts linked to exacerbating conflict.

Dr Muttarak, a senior lecturer in geography and international development at UEA, said: “The question of how climatic conditions can contribute to political unrest and civil war has drawn attention from both the scientific community and the media. We contribute to the debate on climate-induced migration by providing new scientific evidence.

“The effect of climate on conflict occurrence is particularly relevant for countries in Western Asia in the period 2010–2012, when many were undergoing political transformation during the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. This suggests that the impact of climate on conflict and asylum seeking flows is limited to specific time periods and contexts.”

The political uprisings of the Arab Spring occurred in countries including Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and Syria, where the conflict led to an ongoing civil war.

In Syria particularly, long-running droughts and water shortages caused by climate change resulted in repeated crop failures, with rural families eventually moving to urban areas. This in turn led to overcrowding, unemployment and political unrest, and then civil war. Similar patterns were also found in sub-Saharan Africa in the same time period.

Asylum seeking flows by world region, 2006–2010 and 2011–2015. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

Co-author Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, of IIASA and Vienna University of Economics and Business, said: “Climate change will not cause conflict and subsequent asylum-seeking flows everywhere. But in a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.”

The researchers, who also include Guy Abel (IIASA and Shanghai University) and Michael Brottrager (Johannes Kepler University Linz), say that concerns relating to climate change-induced conflict leading to migration should be considered in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At present the link between climate change and migration is not explicit, and they are not treated as interrelated. Further research is needed to more fully understand migration flows.

Asylum seekers are more likely to be influenced by conflict than usual migrants, so the researchers used data from asylum applications from 157 countries from 2006-2015 to study the patterns. This data was obtained from the United Nations High Commissions for Human Rights (UNHCR).

As a measure of climate conditions in the asylum seekers’ original countries, the team used the Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), which measures droughts, compared to normal conditions, through identifying the onset and end of droughts, and their intensity, based on precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, and climatic conditions such as temperature. To assess conflict, the team used data on battle-related deaths from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP).

These datasets were fed into the researchers’ modelling framework, along with various socioeconomic and geographic datasets. These included the distance between country of origin and destination, population sizes, migrant networks, the political status of the countries, and ethnic and religious groups.

New study establishes link between climate change, conflict, and migration

Conceptual model of climate, conflict, and migration. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

ABSTRACT: Despite the lack of robust empirical evidence, a growing number of media reports attempt to link climate change to the ongoing violent conflicts in Syria and other parts of the world, as well as to the migration crisis in Europe. Exploiting bilateral data on asylum seeking applications for 157 countries over the period 2006–2015, we assess the determinants of refugee flows using a gravity model which accounts for endogenous selection in order to examine the causal link between climate, conflict and forced migration. Our results indicate that climatic conditions, by affecting drought severity and the likelihood of armed conflict, played a significant role as an explanatory factor for asylum seeking in the period 2011–2015. The effect of climate on conflict occurrence is particularly relevant for countries in Western Asia in the period 2010–2012 during when many countries were undergoing political transformation. This finding suggests that the impact of climate on conflict and asylum seeking flows is limited to specific time period and contexts.

CONCLUSIONS: […] Our results indicate that there is no empirical evidence backing the existence of a robust link between climatic shocks, conflict and asylum seeking for the full period 2006–2015. The estimates of our model support these causal linkages only for the period 2010–2012, where global refugee flow dynamics were dominated by asylum seekers originating from Syria and countries affected by the Arab spring, as well as flows related to war episodes in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Excluding these regions from the analysis provides further statistical evidence, that the link between climate shocks, conflict and subsequent migration flows might rather be interpreted as a local phenomenon and therefore very specific to these regions. Indeed, our study shows that an increase in drought episodes can drive outmigration through exacerbating conflict in a country with some level of democracy. This is confirmed by the finding that climate contributes to conflict only in a specific period of 2010–2012 and specifically to certain countries, particularly those in Western Asia and Norther Africa experiencing the Arab Spring. Climate change thus will not generate asylum seeking everywhere but likely in a country undergoing political transformation where conflict represents a form of population discontent towards inefficient response of the government to climate impacts.

Climate, conflict and forced migration

Bushfire in Huon Valley, Tasmania, 5 February 2019. Bushfires burnt out more than 180,000 hectares in Tasmania in summer 2019. Photo: Claude Road Fire Brigade

By Ange Lavoipierre and Stephen Smiley
5 February 2019

(The Signal) – At the moment, Townsville is more or less underwater and large parts of Tasmania are on fire.

Summer in Australia has always been extreme, but some corners of the country are experiencing climate-driven disasters that are worse than ever — and more of them every year.

Those stories are told in extraordinary detail as they unfold, but once the world looks away, there's the question of who'll pay the bill.

So with fires, floods and crazy weather becoming more frequent and severe, is Australia on its way to being uninsurable?

The clean-up can take years and cost millions

Tasmania is no stranger to bushfires, and the town of Dunalley was all but destroyed by the Tasman Peninsula bushfire in 2013.

The Mayor of Tasmania's Sorrell Council, Kerry Vincent, said the fires caught a lot of people who were underinsured off guard.

"When you have a disastrous event, like whether it's a flood or a bushfire, you don't expect it to keep continuing," Mr Vincent said.

"It starts off very small and it just builds, it's like a steamroller. It just seems to go forever."

But the media attention died away within a matter of weeks, he said.

"You're left with a very raw feeling of loneliness as part of the recovery," he said.

"After that initial major bushfire where we lost 115 structures, it seemed to be really a two-year period."

After a disaster like that, it's common to hear reports of spiking premiums.

In the aftermath of the Lismore floods in 2017, in northern New South Wales, there were anecdotal reports of premiums reaching $30,000.

Aerial view of flooding in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, 5 February 2019. A truck drives along a flooded road in Townsville. Photo: Nick Gatehouse

So what impact does a climate-driven disaster have on local insurance premiums? And could it ever reach a point where insurance is no longer offered in certain areas?

Could we become too disaster-prone to insure?

The director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Australia Institute, Richie Merzian, says it's a very real risk.

"We will get to a certain point, somewhere between say 3 degrees or 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and a world like that will see situations where cities, entire coastlines, do become uninsurable," he said.

Mr Merzian said in that case "the basic safety net that's provided by the private sector just becomes too prohibitively expensive".

He said in that instance, the burden will fall back on the taxpayer.

"The Government is always the insurer of last resort and then you see these odd situations where everyone will have to pay to keep these towns operating," Mr Merzian said.

"And we saw that with the Queensland flood levy, where the damages were so big the insurance industry couldn't possibly cover it." […]

"There's $88 billion at risk in terms of damage from coastal erosion in Australia … but no local council wants to go and tell people who have million-dollar beach houses, 'you shouldn't have built here'," he said. [more]

Could climate change make it harder to get insurance in Australia?

Temperature anomaly reconstructions by five different sources, 1880-2018. This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, as recorded by NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest. Graphic: NASA Earth Observatory

6 February 2019 (NASA) – Earth's global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018's temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017, and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). This warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused by human activities, according to Schmidt.

Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced similar amounts of warming. NOAA found the 2018 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the 14th warmest on record.

Warming trends are strongest in the Arctic region, where 2018 saw the continued loss of sea ice. In addition, mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continued to contribute to sea level rise. Increasing temperatures can also contribute to longer fire seasons and some extreme weather events, according to Schmidt.

“The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation, and ecosystem change,” said Schmidt.

NASA’s temperature analyses incorporate surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations.

These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heat island effects that could skew the conclusions. These calculations produce the global average temperature deviations from the baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences has some uncertainties. Taking this into account, NASA estimates that 2018’s global mean change is accurate to within 0.1 degree Fahrenheit, with a 95 percent certainty level.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but with a different baseline period and different interpolation into the Earth’s polar and other data poor regions. NOAA’s analysis found 2018 global temperatures were 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit (0.79 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average.

NASA’s full 2018 surface temperature data set — and the complete methodology used to make the temperature calculation — are available at:

GISS is a laboratory within the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA uses the unique vantage point of space to better understand Earth as an interconnected system. The agency also uses airborne and ground-based monitoring, and develops new ways to observe and study Earth with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. NASA shares this knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science missions, visit:

The slides for the 6 February 2019 news conference are available at:

NOAA’s Global Report is available at:


2018 Fourth Warmest Year in Continued Warming Trend, According to NASA, NOAA

Fish kill on Colombia's Cauca river, caused by Medellin energy company EPM taking emergency measures to close the second of two floodgates on 5 February 2019 to fill the Hidroituango dam reservoir. The fish kill occurred in the municipality of the Guaranda subregion of the Morana Sucreña, 689 kilometers from the dam. Photo: Alirio Uribe Muñoz / Twitter

By Taran Volckhausen
7 February 2019

(Mongabay) – Colombia’s environmentalists have declared an ecological disaster after the country’s second most important river, the Cauca, was reduced to less than 10 percent of normal flow after the country’s largest hydroelectric dam project Hidroituango took emergency measures earlier this week.

Medellin energy company EPM took emergency measures to close the second of two floodgates on Tuesday to fill the Hidroituango dam reservoir. The dam was supposed to start producing power in 2018, but it has been plagued by disasters after a machine room collapsed in April of last year, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Isabel Zuleta, an activist for environmental organization Rios Vivos that works with communities alongside the Cauca, released a video filmed beside the once powerful river that now more closely resembles a slow-moving creek, denouncing EPM for what she described as “the greatest environmental crime that has ever happened in Colombia.”

Environmental activists, politicians and journalists have taken to social media to share photos and videos sent from the frontline defenders and local communities around the river. Fishing communities who depend on the river for their main source of income as well as food security have denounced the mega-project for threatening their livelihoods.

“They took away the little that we had, they took away our peace and brought us worries. The majority of the fisherman are without work, we don’t have anything we can do,” fisherman Jairo Taborda said in an interview with local media Caracol television.

Environmental licensing authority ANLA announced that it had not been informed about the emergency operation until hours before engineers closed the engine room tunnel that had provisionally discharged water after the original discharge tunnels were blocked last year. ANLA has already opened sanctions against EPM for failing to protect the ecological basin located below the dam.

Jorge Londoño, EPM CEO, said the decision was made to protect communities living downstream from the dam. “If we do not close it, it would mean the loss of water control and this could generate, in the medium term, a greater deterioration of the entire internal infrastructure, with a potential impact on the safety and lives of the communities downstream.”

Zuleta rejected the arguments made by EPM that the closure of the floodgates was made in the interest of the communities downstream who she argued were unlikely to be flooded because of dry season and El Niño conditions had lowered water levels. “The worst part about this is that they’re saying they’re shutting down the water in the name of the communities when in reality they’re only doing it to protect their own interests.”

Two members of the activist group Rios Vivos were killed near the Hidroituango dam project within a one-week period in May of last year, bringing the total to five activists who were killed while opposing the dam. [more]

Colombia’s disaster-ridden hydropower project runs second largest river dry


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