Climate Cast: Drought a factor in Syrian conflict

To some climate change seems a far off distant future concept. Not to US military and intelligence agencies.

A growing body of evidence suggests climate change and prolonged drought helped sew the seeds of conflict in Syria and western Iraq. Even small shifts in climate in marginal climate zones can have disproportionate impacts.

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US marine Corps/Flickr

Climate Central's Brian Kahn has a good summary of a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that shows climate change and drought are one factor that contributed to the rising conflict in Syria.

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Climate Central

A groundbreaking study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that climate change doubled or even tripled the likelihood of the drought that became part of a cascade of events that have killed and displaced millions, gave rise to Islamic State and left a country in ruins.

“This is maybe the first example of connecting emerging climate change to a modern conflict. This is not an analysis of Mesoamerica or something historical. This is happening today,” said Colin Kelley, lead author of the new study and a PACE postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The study builds on a growing body of literature that has linked climate events such as heat waves and drought to conflict. The findings also reflect the Pentagon’s view that climate change is a threat multiplier that poses “immediate risks.” But rather than focusing on past events, the findings are based squarely in the present.

Join us as MPR's Climate Cast focuses on climate change and national security Thursday at 9:45 am on MPR News. Tom Crann and I will talk with Francesco Femia, Co-Founder and Director of the Center for Climate and Security, and Lawrence Wilkerson retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.

More climate science news

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Mauna Loa Observatory/Scripps Institute of Oceanography

CO2 reaches 400 ppm in February for 1st time: It's like watching spring come earlier every year. CO2 readings high atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii first reached 400 ppm on May 9, 2013. Last year it happened in April. Now CO2 at Mauna Loa averaged 400 ppm for the month of February.

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Scrips Institute of Oceanography

In just a few years global CO2 levels of 400 ppm will be a fond memory as atmospheric CO2 concentrations climb higher.

Here's a good look at the history of global CO2 for the past 800,000 years, and why climate scientists are so concerned with the metrics on our changing atmosphere.


Solar energy boom creating green energy jobs

Renewable energy jobs? What a concept. Here's an eye opening piece from Climate Central on how the boom in solar is fueling job growth in the US.

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Sandia Labs/Flickr

Installing solar panels on home rooftops and in giant multi-megawatt utility-scale solar farms is one of the United States’ fastest-growing ways for both residents and power companies to reduce their climate impact in a warming world.

For the solar industry, helping to reduce America’s carbon footprint means inviting those with skilled hands to apply for a job.

The solar sector is growing so quickly as solar panel costs drop that employment in the industry jumped 21.8 percent in 2014, adding 31,000 new jobs in that time for a total of 174,000 solar workers nationwide, Luecke said. Solar employment is expected to jump by another 36,000 workers this year.

California drought climate change feedback loop: How more heat increases severity of drought

It makes sense. Hotter temperatures cause more evaporation. A new study from Stanford's Noah Diffenbaugh in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows how climate change increases the likelihood and severity of drought in California.

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Boats docked in dwindling water levels on Lake Shasta in 2014. USGS


California is currently in the midst of a record-setting drought. The drought began in 2012 and now includes the lowest calendar-year and 12-mo precipitation, the highest annual temperature, and the most extreme drought indicators on record. The extremely warm and dry conditions have led to acute water shortages, groundwater overdraft, critically low streamflow, and enhanced wildfire risk. Analyzing historical climate observations from California, we find that precipitation deficits in California were more than twice as likely to yield drought years if they occurred when conditions were warm. We find that although there has not been a substantial change in the probability of either negative or moderately negative precipitation anomalies in recent decades, the occurrence of drought years has been greater in the past two decades than in the preceding century. In addition, the probability that precipitation deficits co-occur with warm conditions and the probability that precipitation deficits produce drought have both increased. Climate model experiments with and without anthropogenic forcings reveal that human activities have increased the probability that dry precipitation years are also warm. Further, a large ensemble of climate model realizations reveals that additional global warming over the next few decades is very likely to create ∼100% probability that any annual-scale dry period is also extremely warm. We therefore conclude that anthropogenic warming is increasing the probability of co-occurring warm–dry conditions like those that have created the acute human and ecosystem impacts associated with the “exceptional” 2012–2014 drought in California.

Climate change irony: The wet get wetter in extreme weather

It may seem an irony, but even as drought increases in dry areas, wetter areas are getting wetter. Extreme rainfall evens are on the rise. University of St. Thomas professor Dr. John Abraham looks at how extreme storms are on the rise in this piece in the Guradian.

It is not correct to think these are future changes that will impact our children or their children. Rather, these changes can be detected now. And, as the years progress, we are detecting more significant changes.

This new paper provides up-to-date understanding of how extreme weather is changing in the USA. The paper looks at the USA, partly because there are excellent records there. We show that increases in intense precipitation have occurred in all regions of the continental USA and “further changes are expected in the coming decades”. It is a second of two papers that were published to the community of civil engineers so that future infrastructure can be designed with changing weather patterns in mind.

The physical mechanism that influences changes to precipitation is largely the moisture-carrying ability of the atmosphere. (For those of us who are sticklers for exactness, the atmosphere doesn’t “carry” moisture but this is the common phrase which represents the saturation pressure changes with temperature). Basically, when it gets warmer, the air “has” more water (humidity). But that water doesn’t stay in the atmosphere forever, it rains out quickly.

So, more moisture equals more rain. Not only that but when you increase moisture in the atmosphere, you tend to get heavier downpours. So, when it rains, it really rains.