“Local Adaptations” Might Be a “Workable Solution” to Global Warming

(p. 5) Around the time of every new and full moon, the sea rushes soundlessly past the trash-strewn shores, up over the single road running along the spine of Batasan, population 1,400, and into people’s homes. The island, part of the Tubigon chain in the central Philippines, is waterlogged at least one-third of the year.

. . .

“People say this is because of the Arctic melting,” said Dennis Sucanto, a local resident whose job is to measure the water levels in Batasan each year. “I don’t understand but that’s what they say.”

. . .

“They wanted us to go to a hilly farming place,” said Rodrigo Cosicol, 66, shaking his head at the affront. “We are fishermen. We need fish.”

“We don’t fear the water anymore,” Mr. Cosicol added. “This is our way of living.”

This unwillingness of people on Batasan to abandon their homes — instead choosing to respond, inch by inch, to a new reality — may hold valuable lessons for residents of other vulnerable island states. Rather than uprooting an entire population, with the enormous trauma and cost that entails, the more workable solution might be local adaptations.

“The climate refugee message is more sensational but the more realistic narrative from the islanders themselves is adaptation rather than mass migration,” said Laurice Jamero, who has researched the Tubigon islands for five years and runs the climate and disaster risk assessment efforts at the Manila Observatory, a research institute.

And Batasan’s residents have adjusted. They have rolled up their hems. They have placed their houses on blocks of coral stone. They have tethered their goats to sheds on stilts. They have moved most plant life from floodable patches of land to portable pots.

There are other concessions. The Roman Catholic priest at the local church declared that parishioners no longer have to kneel for prayer when the tides are high.

“We will find a way to do things because this is our home,” said Annie Casquejo, a local health committee member who once worked off the island but has, like many others, returned to Batasan.

Nature’s constant threat has imprinted resilience on the Philippine DNA.

. . .

Children on Batasan who are lucky enough to own bikes have one option — up and down the main road, the only road.

The concrete strip runs for less than two-thirds of a mile, then peters out in a mangrove swamp near the home of Alma Rebucas, where thigh-high waters regularly infiltrate. She secures the family’s utensils lest they float away. Her dog and goats are swimmers. So is the cat.

Ms. Rebucas said she has no plans to move away.  . . .

She oversees a fishing business, plucking sea cucumbers, crabs and grouper from the shimmering sea. Life here is like a magic trick, Ms. Rebucas said, making something from nothing.

“We don’t need much land,” she said. “We have the whole sea.”

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Life on an Island Being Devoured by the Rising Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2020, and has the title “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Adapting to Rising Seas, Schools Move to the Rafters and Cats Swim.”)

If Jeff Bezos Really Wanted to Reverse Global Warming

(p. A15) Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to fight climate change, which he announced last week, brings to mind an episode of “South Park” that aired during the financial crisis. A succession of characters put their money into the market only to see it go instantly to zero before their eyes.

. . .

There’s one way Mr. Bezos might make a real splash and possibly even a difference. With his Blue Origin venture he adopted a “just do it” attitude toward spaceflight. Mr. Bezos could adopt the same “just do it” approach to testing the hypothesis that warming could be halted by using aircraft to distribute inert aerosols in the upper atmosphere to block a small amount of sunlight reaching the earth. A highly reputable climate warrior, New York University’s Gernot Wagner, estimates that around $2 billion a year would be enough to offset the warming seen so far. Other researchers have produced similar estimates.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; How Bezos Can Influence Climate.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Gernot Wagner’s aerosol injection research has been published in:

Smith, Wake, and Gernot Wagner. “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Tactics and Costs in the First 15 Years of Deployment.” Environmental Research Letters 13, no. 12 (Nov. 23, 2018): 1-23.

Floating Buildings Are Resilient If Global Warming Rises

(p. B6) More developers are building waterborne structures. Floating buildings can alleviate housing shortages in major cities at a time when land is scarce and restrictive zoning makes it hard to build up, said Koen Olthuis, whose Netherlands-based architecture firm Waterstudio specializes in floating structures.

For flood-prone cities like Miami, structures that rise and sink with the sea offer an alternative to waterfront construction that looks increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels. “Climate change has definitely helped us spread our designs and ideas,” Mr. Olthuis said.

. . .

In Rotterdam’s harbor, developer RED Company is building a 54,000-square-foot, three-story, wooden, floating office building. The project, which will serve as the new headquarters of the Global Center on Adaptation, will be energy-neutral and feature solar panels and a floating swimming pool, according to the company.

GCA helps countries, companies and organizations to adapt to climate change. The center’s CEO Patrick Verkooijen said that Rotterdam is threatened by rising sea levels and that the “completely self sufficient floating office is one of many examples of how we must adapt to the realities of climate change to ensure our infrastructure is not only resilient but future proof.”

. . .

Some hope the trend will ultimately lead to floating cities. The Seasteading Institute advocates for communities in international waters as “startup societies” that can make up their own rules. It was founded by investor Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, the grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

For the full story, see:

Konrad Putzier. “Developers Float Answer to Floods.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the title “Are Floating Hotels, Office Buildings the Answer to Rising Sea Levels?”)

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are the Best Environmental Choice

(p. A15) Popular misconceptions have sustained the plastic panic. Environmentalists frequently claim that 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, found that more than 80% of the plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited extinct volcano in the South Atlantic, originated in China. They must have been tossed off boats from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.”

Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86% comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America.

. . .

Yet single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.

For the full commentary, see:

John Tierney. “Plastic Bags Help the Environment.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Nature Communications study mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Lebreton, Laurent C. M., Joost van der Zwet, Jan-Willem Damsteeg, Boyan Slat, Anthony Andrady, and Julia Reisser. “River Plastic Emissions to the World’s Oceans.” Nature Communications 8, no. 1 (June 10, 2017): 1-10.

Dam Could Protect Northern Europe from Rising Waters Due to Global Warming

(p. A13) LONDON — One dam would stretch some 300 miles from the coast of Scotland to Norway. The other, roughly 100 miles, would rise in the waters between northern France and Southeastern England.

Together, the mammoth structures proposed by scientists would completely enclose the North Sea and offer protection for tens of millions of Europeans threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

The scientists behind the proposal, outlined in a paper published on Thursday [Feb. 13, 2020] in the American Journal of Meteorology, said that the scale of the project — which exists only in the broadest outlines at this point — reflected the urgency of the crisis.

. . .

The project would be one of the largest engineering feats ever attempted on the planet and would cost anywhere from $250 billion to $550 billion, according to the proposal — a cost the authors suggest could be covered by more than a dozen Northern European countries that would be protected by the barrier.

. . .

While the depths of waters are manageable in much of the proposed area to be covered, engineers would also have to contend with the Norwegian Trench, which plunges to a depth of nearly 1,000 feet.

The authors say that technology used by fixed oil rigs could be adapted for the dam.

For the full story, see:

Claire Moses. “‘A Plan We Don’t Want’: Damming the North Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 16, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 14, 2020, and has the title “As Sea Levels Rise, Scientists Offer a Bold Idea: Dam the North Sea.”)

The paper mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Groeskamp, Sjoerd, and Joakim Kjellsson. “Need the Northern European Enclosure Dam for If Climate Change Mitigation Fails.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (2020) Published online in advance of print at https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0145.1.

“Dr. Dyson’s Mind Burned Until the End”

(p. B12) Freeman J. Dyson, a mathematical prodigy who left his mark on subatomic physics before turning to messier subjects like Earth’s environmental future and the morality of war, died on Friday [February 28, 2020] at a hospital near Princeton, N.J. He was 96.

. . .

As a young graduate student at Cornell University in 1949, Dr. Dyson wrote a landmark paper — worthy, some colleagues thought, of a Nobel Prize — that deepened the understanding of how light interacts with matter to produce the palpable world. The theory the paper advanced, called quantum electrodynamics, or QED, ranks among the great achievements of modern science.

. . .

Dr. Dyson called himself a scientific heretic and warned against the temptation of confusing mathematical abstractions with ultimate truth.

. . .

Relishing the role of iconoclast, he confounded the scientific establishment by dismissing the consensus about the perils of man-made climate change as “tribal group-thinking.” He doubted the veracity of the climate models, and he exasperated experts with sanguine predictions they found rooted less in science than in wishfulness: Excess carbon in the air is good for plants, and global warming might forestall another ice age.

In a profile of Dr. Dyson in 2009 in The New York Times Magazine, his colleague Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate, observed, “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”

Dr. Dyson’s distrust of mathematical models had earlier led him to challenge predictions that the debris from atomic warfare could blot out the sun and bring on a devastating nuclear winter. He said he wished that were true — because it would add to the psychological deterrents to nuclear war — but found the theory wanting.

For all his doubts about the ability of mortals to calculate anything so complex as the effects of climate change, he was confident enough in our toolmaking to propose a technological fix: If carbon dioxide levels became too high, forests of genetically altered trees could be planted to strip the excess molecules from the air. That would free scientists to confront problems he found more immediate, like the alleviation of poverty and the avoidance of war.

He considered himself an environmentalist. “I am a tree-hugger, in love with frogs and forests,” he wrote in 2015 in The Boston Globe. “More urgent and more real problems, such as the overfishing of the oceans and the destruction of wildlife habitat on land, are neglected, while the environmental activists waste their time and energy ranting about climate change.” That was, to say the least, a minority position.

. . .

Richard Feynman, a young professor at Cornell, had invented a novel method to describe the behavior of electrons and photons (and their antimatter equivalent, positrons). But two other physicists, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, had each independently devised a very different way. Each of these seemed to satisfy the requirements of both quantum mechanics and special relativity — two of nature’s acid tests. But which one was correct?

While crossing Nebraska on a Greyhound bus, Dr. Dyson was struck by an epiphany: The theories were mathematically equivalent — different ways of saying the same thing. The result was QED. Feynman called it “the jewel of physics — our proudest possession.”

. . .

Dr. Dyson’s mind burned until the end. In 2012, when he was 88, he collaborated with William H. Press on a paper about the prisoner’s dilemma, a mathematical concept important to understanding human behavior and the nature of evolution.

In his 90s, Dr. Dyson was still consulting for the government — on nuclear reactor design and the new gene-editing technology called CRISPR. In 2018, the year he turned 95, his book “Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters” was published.

For the full obituary, see:

George Johnson. “Freeman Dyson, 96, Math Genius, Tech Visionary and Writer, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Freeman Dyson, Math Genius Turned Visionary Technologist, Dies at 96.”)

Global Warming Makes Magadan Less Bleak

(p. A4) MAGADAN, Russia — Like many young people in Magadan, a frigid northern Russian city more than 3,600 miles from Moscow, Dinat Yur is fed up with living in a place where winters drag on for six months and the average annual temperature is below freezing.

“I really dream of leaving this place,” said Mr. Yur, a 29-year-old cook. “I can’t wait.”

Born and raised in a city proud of its resilience against climatic and all other odds, Mr. Yur has for the moment found his calling in a defiantly contrarian occupation for a place so cold: He makes ice cream.

. . .

Aside from its bleak weather and even bleaker history, Magadan is, if truth be told, no worse — and in some respects better — than many provincial Russian towns. It has the same crumbling concrete apartment blocks, the same colonnaded theater building, the same central square formerly named after Lenin and the same street slogans celebrating victory in the Great Patriotic War, as Russia refers to World War II.

It also has three movie houses, two indoor public swimming pools, a well-deserved reputation for camaraderie and a huge new Orthodox cathedral with glittering golden domes, an indispensable feature of urban planning in the age of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Another plus is climate change, which is making winters somewhat milder. It did not start snowing heavily this year until late November [2019].

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “RUSSIA DISPATCH; Raising Fists and Hearts to Communism.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 1, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 31, 2019, and has the title “RUSSIA DISPATCH; It’s 50 Below. The Past Is a Horror Show. You’d Dream of Escaping Too.” The online version says that the title of the print edition is “Where a Summery Swirl Just Isn’t Enough to Escape the Chill,” but the title of my National Edition print version was “RUSSIA DISPATCH; Despite Ice Cream, Dreaming of Escaping From Frigid Town.”)