Does global warming make for milder winters? What about specifically North America?
(You often hear people extol global warming for giving us mild winters. Is there evidence of a causal link?)
Two examples claims of global warming causing mild winters in New York, and Tibet are linked in the comments. However, my question is whether this is a global phenomenon.
This is a tricky question to answer because weather, what you experience at your house right now, is not really that same thing as climate, the patterns of global air and sea movements that bring weather.
So milder winters can be a possibility in certain locations, as they will be exposed to an overall warming of the entire atmosphere. But colder winters can be experienced.
Since the mid 1970s, global temperatures have been warming at around 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. However, weather imposes its own dramatic ups and downs over the long term trend. We expect to see record cold temperatures even during global warming. Nevertheless over the last decade, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows. This tendency towards hotter days is expected to increase as global warming continues into the 21st Century.
Vladimir Petoukhov, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has recently completed a study on the effect of climate change on winter. According to Petoukhov,
These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia. Recent severe winters like last year’s or the one of 2005-06 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it.
Weather being a local response to climatic conditions means that you have to understand what has changed in the climatic patterns in your region. What are your local weather drivers? How have they changed since the 1970s?
Thus, you could end up with some areas experiencing colder winters; due to greater moisture levels in the air, more precipitation of snow, greater heat loss at night due to clear skies, etc. Or you could have an area that will experience milder temps in winter due to warmer air currents, warmer oceans, localised heat island impacts, etc.
For further information you should investigate the weather and climate agencies publications for your area.
Farmers are some of the most innovative Australians – since 1970 they have lost 7.5% of arable land, but they’ve found ways to increase production by 220%. They’re also some of the most conservative, expressed in their reluctance to accept the science of climate change. So what will win as they face a changing climate: innovation or conservatism?
The agriculture industry has been developing for the past 10,000 years, but it could be argued that the biggest advances have come in the last 50 to 60 years. Since 1970, the world population has doubled, yet farming area has stayed the same.
Essentially farmers and the research that has supported them have been fantastic. A recent Conversation article highlighted this. But now agriculture faces, possibly, its biggest challenge: climate change.
Australian agriculture: the greatest story never told.
Research in Western Australia found that over half (52%) were uncertain whether human-induced climate change was occurring. This is in sharp contrast to the 97% of climate scientists who agree that humans are causing global warming. Only 31% thought climate change represented a major threat to the future of their farm businesses. Results also showed that only 33% of all respondents found climate change information easy to understand.
In Western Australia since July 2010, the Farm Business Resilience program has, in part, been seeking to educate farmers about climate change. Before the initial sessions, farmers were surveyed by Chris Evans for their perceptions, knowledge and attitudes to climate change. Only 33% reported that they agreed climate change was occurring and just 19% believed climate change was human induced. Surveys at the end of the course assessed perceptions, knowledge and attitudes again, now showing that 80% of the farmers understood the impact of climate change and variability change on their businesses.
This was a staggering improvement, considering the difficulties that communicators face when they’re trying to correct misinformation. Numerous social studies have found misinformation is notoriously difficult to dislodge and debunking myths can sometimes have the effect of reinforcing them (known as the backfire effect). The backfire effect is particularly potent when presenting climate science to conservative audiences. If myths are not replaced with an alternative, plausible explanation, their influence can persist like returning weeds.
The key to the program’s success came down to knowing how to contextualise information. An example is that most scientists present science to the public but fail to make their knowledge understandable. The authors know how important it is to explain that information and doing so in a program like this allows clear explainations and discussion. The advantage of speaking with farmers about climate is that they live and breathe it. Million dollar business decisions often hinge on seasonal outlooks, so farmers usually have a good knowledge base to work with.
So why is it important to educate farmers about climate change? Because successful farming is really important. Need proof? Don’t eat for a week.
Even without climate change, farmers have a lot to deal with in the next few decades. There are pressures on productive land from:
There are also social and political pressures for chemical usage, access to technology and production practices. The current debates over access to GM technologies and use of pesticides are just two examples of social pressures on farming. There are also the ever-present economic pressures, as returns decline and costs increase – the cost price squeeze.
Under all of this pressure, agriculture has to supply increasing food demands, all while climate change is forcing down productivity. Given that most of the world’s agriculture is rainfed (73%), agriculture has a lot to lose with changes in rainfall resulting from climate change.
A recent article on The Conversation highlighted how little people outside of agriculture know about where and how their food is produced. It is important for everyone to understand how modern agriculture works, to see the science and technology that is involved. Just as farmers need to know about climate change and how it will impact them, the wider community has to understand what agriculture needs into the future.
Without community support, farmers will not have access to the latest technologies, trade agreements will be jeopardised and production will leave our nation without needed food security. And without more knowledge about farming, the wider public won’t understand proposed strategies for agriculture under climate change.
So the agriculture industry needs to be involved in an informed discussion of its future. Having farmers and the wider public meet will also help non-agricultural people understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. The better this link between producer and consumer, the better the industry will be. Through programs like Farm Business Resilience we can improve agriculture. But it can’t stop there: if farming doesn’t come to grips with climate change, it will affect us all.
This article was co-authored by Tim Scanlon. Tim is a scientist who is primarily involved in the agriculture industry as an extension specialist. His current focus is in climate change extension to rural Australia as part of a national program being trialed in Western Australia.
John Cook does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The simple answer is yes. The more complex answer is that the number of deaths is nothing in comparison to other man made structures and the risks from climate change.
There have been several studies done to find the environmental impact of wind farms on birds. Generally birds lack the ability to dodge humans and their quest for global supremacy. From the American Bird Conservancy there are a list of deaths related to sources as deaths per year in the US:
Feral and domestic cats – Hundreds of millions
Power lines – 130-174 million
Windows – 100 million to 1 billion (NB the high end seems too large to me)
Obviously wind turbines aren’t as popular as cars, cats and windows, but with the expected increase in wind energy generation, the impacts will likely increase. The thing that has to be borne in mind is that the wind turbines are on an order of magnitude smaller impact than other bird killers. It also has to be remembered that the studies are also showing that newer wind power plants are having less impact on birds due to design upgrades, better placement and better ecological planning.
The real issue here is climate change. Coal power plants kill birds, in fact, they are threatening to wipe out entire species. According to a study reported in Scientific American, at least 950 entire species of terrestrial birds will be threatened with extinction as a result of climate change under several scenarios, even at the lower estimate of temperature gains, just counting species of non-sea birds in the higher latitudes; outside the tropics. Birds in the tropics will be impacted by habitat loss, which brings the total species wiped out to ~1800 (Jetz, Wilcove, and Dobson 2007).
The take home point is that we need clean energy sources to save bird species. Those that fly into turbines each year will be minimised with better designs and locations of turbines. In the meantime, worry about the cats and climate change.
Update: recent studies have shown that birds of prey are more prone to injury and death from wind turbines. Essentially, birds of prey spend a lot of time looking down for prey and not enough time looking where they are going. The usual bird collision rate is 0.08 birds per turbine per day on average (range 0.05–0.19), whilst the ‘smarter’ Eagles are colliding at a rate of 0.112 to 0.133. The study also suggests that bird size and speed of flight are important determinants of collision rates, hence why gliding and hovering prey birds are colliding more often. It is worth bearing in mind that both of these collision rates (that often result in death) still indicate an avoidance rate of 99%.
This avoidance rate is important to compare to the relative deaths per gigawatt-hour of the power sources to realise that wind power is still a very good option. This study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per gigawatt-hour. Thus, wind turbines could do with some investigation into how to make them safer for birds, but they are already a much better option than fossil fuels.
Update #2: an Australian researcher has recently done an interview on Ockham’s Razor (an ABC science show) to dispel some of the bird myths surrounding wind turbines.
Update #3: Teale commented via Facebook that the upscaling of power generation by wind hasn’t really changed the annual bird deaths per MW/hr despite the increase in the number of wind turbines and areas with wind farms. The bird deaths are ~33,000 pa, which is still in the range cited by the American Bird Conservationists from a few years ago, and the power generated has increased to ~4%. Again we come back to the point above about what other power generation and mining does to birds is a much larger impact. Remove them and the wind turbines can get a lot more prevalent and still not have the same impact. (NB: there may be some circular referencing going on between the sources in this article, so if this is the case, please send through any revised data sources, especially on data changes with time).
I wrote a little satirical book review about a notorious science journal called Energy & Environment, which is the go-to place for people who think the Earth is flat and that climate change isn’t happening. I’ve written a few articles on the topic myself and I’m also rather active in promoting climate science and renewable energy (just read my Twitter and Facebook feeds). As a result the author of the Infographic below – Allison Lee – contacted me. So enjoy a few climate facts from the graphic below and share it to continue to raise awareness.
Edited by Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are a lot of publications out there that specialize in short fiction. One that has stood tall amongst the Science Fiction community is the publication Energy & Environment. Published 8 times per year, this periodical prides itself on its consistent quality of short stories. It has become a renowned publication in the sci-fi community, with contributing authors often writing about an alternate reality universe, where the rules of physics do not apply.
Luminaries of the Science Fiction community have been known to publish stories in E&E, notable examples include: Dr Willie Soon, Prof Bob Carter, Prof Ian Plimer, Dr Tim Curtin, Prof Richard Lindzen, Dr Roger Pielke Sr; a veritable who’s who of the Science Fiction world. Energy & Environment attract such great writers because of the favourable editorial standards, allowing startling new sub-genres of Science Fiction to emerge. Some of the most revered works of Science Fiction have been published in Energy and Environment in the last decade as a result of the publication’s regard in the sci-fi community.
Energy & Environment is often regarded as hard sci-fi, due to its heavy use of figures and tables within the stories. These illustrations help to conjure up a vivid impression of the wonderfully weird worlds the stories are based in. Having a science background, these elements of hard sci-fi were an entertaining aside, but most sci-fi fans would be able to enjoy the fictional universes without having to take them in.
Contributors are also known to win the prestigious Heartland Institute award. This is a notable Science Fiction award given by the Heartland Institute to encourage sci-fi writers to continue their work. The award comes with a cash stipend, generously given by Heartland funders such as Exxon. A notable Australian sci-fi author, Bob Carter, is a current recipient of the award, the $1600 a month stipend helping him write sci-fi stories full-time.
If you are looking for funny, entertaining and challenging Science Fiction, then Energy & Environment has a story for you.