Archive for August, 2012

Shifting the curve

If you haven’t already had enough of the climate change coverage this summer, here is another terrifying clip from NASA highlighting the fact that this isn’t your grandparents’ climate:

Shifting Distribution of Northern Hemisphere Summer Temperature Anomalies, 1951-2011

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The air-conditioning debate

With the record-breaking heat, power outages (both here and abroad), there has been a new debate about the necessity and long-term viability of air-conditioning.  While the United States is, more or less, an air-conditioned land (more than 4 out of 5 homes have it), many developing countries are not.  There is a reasonable expectation that, as they develop, air-conditioning will be one of the many modern conveniences that they choose to adopt.

And who can blame the rest of the developing world (much of which is in the tropics) for wanting to be comfortable?  As with many climate and energy debates, though, the reality is that if everyone consumed like we do in the US, our energy supplies would be taxed and our global carbon footprint would balloon.  So it seems as though we’d be worse off if the rest of the planet followed in our footsteps.

The other side of the story, though, is that much of our successes in the US are owed in part to air-conditioning.  It improves productivity and has allowed our economy to prosper, getting us to a point where we have the technological capacity to make things like solar panels and wind turbines.  Heck, air-conditioning was invented to improve the function of printing press by controlling humidity.  For all its negative consequences, air-conditioning has also had many positive impacts on society.

So, the question becomes this: do we want to be hotter in our houses in a cooler climate, or cooler in a warmer climate? There’s no easy answer.  The march up the energy ladder (more on this in a later post) gets dirtier before it gets cleaner, meaning we’re in store for potentially rising emissions from emerging economies.

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July…

was the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States. Ever.  Here in Virginia, well, this pictue says it all:

It was just that hot.  And dry.  With all this crazy weather, we’re starting to see some great analogies for how climate change affects weather.  First, there are the “loaded dice.”  Basically:

“It´s like a game with loaded dice,” says [Dim] Coumou. “A six can appear every now and then, and you never know when it happens. But now it appears much more often, because we have changed the dice.”

A heat wave or a drought like we saw this summer becomes the six.  We can most likely expect to see more of them in a warming climate.

And then there’s the basketball analogy (because this is America, and we love sports analogies):

“The video — which points to a 118 degrees F day in June in Norton Dam, Kansas — uses a basketball metaphor to illustrate how a warmer atmosphere has “raised the floor …. all plays are starting from a higher level.” Making for more slam dunks and illustrating how “the stats have begun to change.””

The video is worth watching if you have as spare eight minutes.

And one more graph, just for fun:

That’s 2012 in red, in a league of its own right now.

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Speaking of Hickory Hall

Construction is under way.  Check out the video below to see how a modular residence hall is put together (Thanks to Jimmy Whited of E&H for the video and link).

 

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