Climate Crisis: Visualizing the Effects of Climate Change

future-summer-heat-20140709-001Climate Change means more than just on average hotter temperatures year round. There are also numerous consequences for sea levels, glaciers, weather patterns, weather stability, crop growth, fisheries, wildlife, forest fires, disease, parasites, rivers and fresh water tables. Explaining it can be a challenge, which is why visual tools like tables, maps and charts are so very useful.

Unfortunately, these too can seem bland and technocratic, and fail to capture the true extent and critical nature of Climate Change. Luckily, this past summer, a season that has been marked by uncharacteristically cool and hot temperatures, two particularly useful visual aids have been produced that seek to remedy this. By combining data-driven predictions with aids that are both personal and global in outlook, they bring the consequences of Climate Change home.

1001-blistering-summersThe first is known as 1001 Blistering Future Summers, a tool produced by the Princeton-based research and journalist organization Climate Central. This interactive map illustrates much hotter summers will become by the end of the century if nothing is done to stem global warming. Users simply type in the name of their hometown and the map compares current temperatures in their town to how high they will be and finds the geographic equivalent.

On average, according to Climate Central, daytime summer temperatures will be 4 to 6° Celsius (7 to 10° Fahrenheit) warmer across U.S. cities. That translates to most cities in the U.S. feeling like Florida or Texas feel in the summer today. For example, in the future, Boston will feel like North Miami Beach. And Las Vegas, where temperatures are projected to an average of 111 degrees, will feel more like Saudi Arabia.

dynamics_ccAs you can imagine, changes like these will have drastic effects that go far beyond scorching summers and inflated AC bills. Furthermore, when one considers the changes in a global context, and they will be disproportionately felt, they become even more disconcerting. And that is where the series of maps, collectively known as the “human dynamics of climate change”, come into play.

Developed by the U.K. Met Office (the official British weather forecast service) with the U.K. Foreign Office and several universities, they start with a “present-day” picture map – which shows trade in various commodities (wheat, maize, etc), important areas for fishing, routes for shipping and air freight, and regions with high degrees of water stress and political fragility.

dynamics_ccwThen the maps get into specific issues, based on climate forecasts for 2100 that assume that nothing will be done to stop global warming. You can see, for example, how higher temperatures could increase demand for irrigation water; how parts of the world could see increases and decreases in water run-off into rivers; how different areas are set for more flooding; and how the warmest days in Europe, parts of Asia, and North America are projected to be 6°C warmer.

The poster also has summaries for each region of the world. North Africa, for instance, “is projected to see some of the largest increases in the number of drought days and decreases in average annual water run-off.” North America, meanwhile, is forecast to see an increase in the number of drought days, increasing temperatures on its warmest days, and, depending on the region, both increases and decreases in river flooding.

climate-changeThe overall impression is one of flux, with changing temperatures also resulting in vast changes to systems that human beings heavily rely on. This is the most frightening aspect of Climate Change, since it will mean that governments around the world will be forced to cooperate extensively to adapt to changes and make do with less. And in most cases, the odds of this aren’t good.

For instance,the Indu River, a major waterway that provides Pakistan and India with extensive irrigation, originates in Pakistan. Should this country choose to board the river to get more use out of its waters, India would certainly attempt to intervene to prevent the loss of precious water flowing to their farmers down river. This scenario would very easily escalate into full-scale war, with nuclear arsenals coming into play.

climate_changetideThe Yangtze, China’s greatest river, similarly originates in territory that the country considers unstable – i.e. the Tibetan Plateau. Should water from this river prove scarcer in the future, control and repression surrounding its source is likely to increase. And when one considers that the Arab Spring was in large part motivated by food price spikes in 2010 – itself the result of Climate Change – the potential for incendiary action becomes increasingly clear.

And Europe is also likely experience significant changes due to the melting of the Greenland’s glaciers. With runoff from these glaciers bleeding into the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream will be disrupted, resulting in Europe experiencing a string of very cold winters and dry summers. This in turn is likely to have a drastic effect on Europe’s food production, with predictable social and economic consequences.

Getting people to understand this is difficult, since most crises don’t seem real until they are upon us. However, the more we can drive home the consequences by putting into a personal, relatable format – not to mention a big-picture format – the more we can expect people to make informed choices and changes.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2), climatecentral.org, metoffice.gov.uk

Cyberwars: Cutting Off An Entire Continent

undersea_internet1Many people thought the Cyberbunker attack was impressive, a massive spam attack that clogged up the internet with a mind-boggling 300 gigabits per second. But at the same time, another cyberattack took place in a different part of the world, one which threatened to cut off an entire continent from the internet –  a connection equaling 1.28 terabits of information. But what’s especially impressive about it is that the men who attempted this relied on nothing more than an axe.

Yes, according to the Egyptian coastguard, three men were intercepted off the coast of Alexandria a few weeks ago who were attempting to sever the SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cable with an axe. This cable is one of the main connections between Asia and Europe, running from France to Malaysia and linking Italy, north Africa, the middle east and south Asia. Though the identities and motives of the men have not yet been released, Egyptian authorities were clear that they were getting to the bottom of it.

undersea_internetThough unsuccessful, this recent attempt at info-terrorism is a startling reminder that the internet is not the ethereal thing, and still depends upon real, physical connections. With the expansion in recent years of wireless networks and cloud computing, people seem to have forgotten this very thing. For the most part, nations and continents are connected thanks to thousands of underground and undersea cables which are quite vulnerable to sabotage and natural hazards.

And while most big countries have several redundant cables running to their shores, the loss of even a single one means that all the traffic must be jammed through remaining connections, causing congestion. And there is nothing to stop determined attackers from targeting several cables at once. Indeed, since many cables go through geographic chokepoints like the Suez, it wouldn’t be difficult to disrupt a whole bunch of connections in a brief period of time.

undersea_internetcableWorse yet, this last attack seems to be one of many such attacks targeting cables running to the coast of Egypt last month. Several cables were reported severed during the last week of March, and authorities initially suspected it was the result of shipping. The cables were part of the Seacom, a network of cables that serve much of Africa, the Persian Gulf and India.

SEACOM-map-largeThis latest attack seems to establish that this is a part of a pattern designed to cut Egypt off from the internet, which in many ways mirrors a series of incidents that took place back in 2008. The damage has since been repaired, but given recent events in the country, one has to wonder what agenda could be behind it all.

The most obvious possibilities include radical elements that want to cut off Egypt from foreign influence, or pro-government, pro-conservative elements that want to sever support for pro-democratic and opposition groups abroad. The success of the Arab Spring in Egypt was due in no small part to a number of social media campaigns that channeled support to the Eyptian people. Perhaps someone wants to avoid a similar situation in the future…

undersea_cable_mapDifficult to say. What seems most important though is the example this could set for extremists in other parts of the world. As the map above demonstrates, there are many fiber optics networks worldwide, and many of them pass through territory which could be easily accessed by terrorists or those looking to shut down the world wide web. Considering the effect this could have on the global economy, not to mention on geopolitical relations, it’s something to be on the lookout for!

Sources: qz.com, itnewsafrica.com