Medieval Irish scholars: What can’t they do for us? Having already “saved civilization,” they’re now providing important insights into how geological activity can cause weather events, expanding our understanding of global climate change.
In a paper published by Environmental Research Letters, a team of U.S. and Irish researchers use the Irish Annals — documents of recorded events written by scribes in Irish monasteries from the fifth to the 17th centuries — as a dataset for the occurence of rare weather events. Specifically, the authors are interested in evidence for the theory that atmospheric ash from volcanic eruptions was responsible for known climate anomalies from the period — in particular the so-called “little ice age.”
The Irish accounts are particularly useful because of their descriptive detail and specificity of dates. In total, 83 unique cold events were reported in the Annals, 65 of which were considered reliable.
Here’s one such account from the Annals of Ulster, written in 818:
There was abnormal ice and much snow from the Epiphany to Shrovetide. The Boyne and other rivers were crossed dry-footed; lakes likewise. Herds and hunting-parties were on Loch Neagh,(and) wild deer were hunted. The materials for an oratory were afterwards brought by a large company from the lands of Connacht over Upper and Lower Loch Erne into [Leinster]; and other unusual things were done in the frost and hail.
And from the Annals of Connacht in 1465:
Exceeding great frost and snow and stormy weather this year, so that no herb grew in the ground and no leaf budded on a tree until the feast of St. Brendan, but a man, if he were the stronger, would forcibly carry away the food from the priest in church, even though he had the Sacred Body in his hands and stood clothed in Mass-vestments.
The authors found that 53.6 percent of the identified cold events correspond with known volcanic events, which they say is nearly impossible to attribute to coincidence.
Why does this matter? The authors write that “determining the extent to which human activity drives future climatic variation requires knowledge of past climate, allowing us us to ascertain the boundaries of natural variability and to test the veracity of models preciting future climate.” Developing accurate climate records for particular regions can tell us more about how “individuals and societies experience climate and plan for extreme weather.” These days we’re more worried about unusual warming than cooling, but the local priests may still want to keep an eye on the kitchen during the Feast of St. Brendan.
Can we get the Irish monks on the eurozone crisis next?
Via National Affairs
Opinion: Shell, with its enthusiastic embrace of fracking, has a credibility problem
‘Shell faces up to climate change challenge” ran the headline in this paper last week. I wish it were true but the company has a credibility problem when it comes to the issue. It is betting everything on the presumption that we will keep burning the fossil fuels that it keeps pulling up out of the ground.
It is hard for Shell to be talking climate one minute and a new “golden age of gas” the next. It is a major player in the energy game and that cannot but affect how it sees our energy future.
It makes sense when Shell says that the capture and storage of carbon in power stations will be one of the solutions we will need, but relying on that crutch is not enough of a response to the scale of crisis we face. Its own New Len s Scenarios analysis recognises as much.
Shell’s scenario planning is always very professional, which makes its latest document all the more scary to read. No matter what way it slices and dices the future, it cannot seem to find a way to keep the global temperature increase beneath the 2-degree safety barrier that scientists say we should not pass.
My only hope is that Shell is missing out on what might be possible because as a fossil fuel company it cannot imagine what it might be like for us to live fossil-free. The company is sceptical that renewable power supplies can provide the energy we will need, but solar power has increased 100-fold in the last 10 years.
In Ireland, wind power alone could power our computers, run our cars and heat our homes. The price of solar and wind power is consistently falling and the finance gurus in Bloomberg New Energy Finance say that 70 per cent of all investment in power generation between now and 2030 is going to go into renewables. There is a war raging for who will be our preferred power supplier and I think Shell is backing the wrong horse. However, it is winning the PR battle hands down. The European council of energy ministers met in Dublin last month. They came out of with nothing but fear on their lips about the competitive advantage that the US now has as it fracks its way to energy independence. North Dakota is visible from space at night, as the oil companies flare off their excess natural gas. Shell is heading into the Arctic to drill and is chasing the shale gold rush right across the US and China.
It is a risky bet, not just for climate reasons but also for the known unknowns that surround the whole shale revolution. No one is certain what the long-term supply will be, whether there will be enough clean water to flush the gas out and what the real economic price of the gas is. Europe could try to beat the Americans at the shale game by drilling across the Continent or we could instead lead the alternative energy efficiency and renewables revolution.
The Shell scenario planning estimates that we will be able to bring the level of carbon emissions down to sustainable levels by the end of this century, but that might be a couple of decades too late. Is it beyond possibility that we could bring that change forward and create a stable economic system that will work as long as the sun still shines?
Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party and a former minister for energy
Progressives should know the disinformers’ most commonly used arguments — and how to answer them crisply. Those arguments have been repeated so many times by the fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign that almost everyone has heard them — and that means you’ll have to deal with them in almost any setting, from a public talk to a dinner party. You should also know as much of the science behind those rebuttals as possible, and a great place to start is SkepticalScience.com. BUT most of the time your best response is to give the pithiest response possible, and then refer people to a specific website that has a more detailed scientific explanation with links to the original science. That’s because usually those you are talking to are rarely in a position to adjudicate scientific arguments. Indeed, they would probably tune out. Also, unless you know the science cold, you are as likely as not to make a misstatement. Physicist John Cook has done us a great service by posting good one-line responses and then updating them as the science evolves and as people offer better ways of phrasing. Below I have reposted the top 99 with links to the science. You can find even more here. Everybody should know the first 20 or so. For instance, if somebody raises the standard talking point (#1 on the list) that the “climate’s changed before,” you can say, “Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing.” That is actually quite similar to what was my standard response, “The climate changes when it is forced to change, and now humans are forcing it to change far more rapidly than it did in the past” (see “Humans boosting CO2 14,000 times faster than nature, overwhelming slow negative feedbacks” and “New Science Study Confirms ‘Hockey Stick’: The Rate Of Warming Since 1900 Is 50 Times Greater Than The Rate Of Cooling In Previous 5000 Years“). Working in the “humans are now the dominant forcing” part is a good idea. Cook explains the origin of these one-liners in a 2010 post, “Rebutting skeptic arguments in a single line.” I have included the longer ‘paragraph’ rebuttals, which any CP reader who plans to speak out on this subject — in public or just with friends and associates — should also be familiar with.
Skeptic Rebuttal One Liners
via 99 One-Liners Rebutting Denier Talking Points — With Links To The Full Climate Science | ThinkProgress. via 99 One-Liners Rebutting Denier Talking Points — With Links To The Full Climate Science | ThinkProgress.
How climate change looks — and feels — in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
KISANGANI – The searing heat of the last few months in this northern city of the Democratic Republic of Congo is taking its toll. Newborns, the elderly and albinos are the first victims, while others will feel the effects of the crop damage expected from one of the worst heat waves in memory.
Over the past three months, average temperatures in Kisangani have risen from 25°C to 38°C. “This is a first. The city has never known a level over 32°C,” says one veteran meteorologist.
Still, last year there was also a rise in temperatures, and some experts are blaming global warming. Climate expert Emmanuel Kasongo from Kisangani University points the finger at deforestation, which he says “diminishes the frequency of rainfall, modifies the agricultural calendar and produces greater heat.” He exhorts the woodland farmers as well as the population to plant trees.
Beyond the longterm impact, locals are feeling the heat right now. Babies are the first victims. One naked infant of three months is lying face down on a sofa, crying. Her mother tries to take her in her arms to calm her down but it’s useless. “She’s having trouble sleeping because of this red patch,” says the woman. “I’ve been using this ointment the doctor prescribed but it doesn’t work.”
These last three months, the local pediatric center of Alabul has taken in three times as many dehydrated babies as it did during the same period in 2012. Head nurse Alphie Kahambu blames it on the rising temperatures: “Obviously, when it’s 32°C the babies feel 38°C. It results in spots and severe itching sensations. As the infants don’t know how to scratch, they cry a lot, which leads to dehydration.”
Albinos without sunblock
The significant populaiton of albinos are the most affected, since the sun rays cause lesions on their skin. According to the figures provided by the Association for the Protection of Albinos (APRODEPA), “80% of the albino population suffers from minor wounds on their skin and mouth because of the high temperatures,” explains association president Severin Ndumba. “The situation is getting worse since we have no sunscreen to protect us at this time of year.”
The pharmacists refuse to order those products since they don’t sell well on the local market. “No one buys sunscreen. I threw away a whole case of a hundred last year,” says one pharmacist. Another complains that the products are expensive “and most albinos, or their parents, are poor.”
The sheet metal roofs used in local building turn the houses into virtual ovens and many families choose to sleep outside with the doors and windows wide open. One family was robbed recently, but the mother says they have no choice. “It’s too hot inside. My kids caught a heat rash on their backs because of it.”
The plants are also taking a hit. “Every crop is affected by the excessive heat and the harvests have been dropping the last two years,” explains Quadratus Muganza, president of the peasant union for development (UPDKIS). “We used to harvest between 800 and 1000 kilograms of white rice per hectare in 2010, but it plummeted to 400 or 600 in 2011 and 2012.”
Tomatoes are withering under the sun. “We are losing serious money!” says a tomato farmer in front of his field by the river Tshopo. She’s already lost ten patches of large tomatoes since March.
Ever wonder what, in a world where the media took its cues from peer-reviewed science rather than energy industry shills, the front covers of even our business magazines might look like?
Well, wonder no more. Below, is the amazing cover of Bloomberg Business Week, dated November 5-11, 2012 in the aftermath of the so-called Frankenstorm, Sandy. Maybe it helps that its proprietor, the eponymous Mike Bloomberg is also Mayor of the benighted New York city. Either way, this is extraordinary not in its self-evident message, but rather, in the fact that a major US publishing house owned by a high-profile politician is prepared to stick its head above the rising flood waters and call this (latest) mega-disaster for what it is…