The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago's hidden depths

Slate explains how Chicago's Deep Tunnel project has relieved the city of the worst effects of rainstorms—but just isn't adequate for the new, wetter climate:

The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.

“The [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District] designed a system of sewers, tunnels, and reservoirs for a city that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Karen Hobbs, a former deputy environmental commissioner in Chicago who oversaw the creation of the city’s climate plan and now works as a policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Metropolitan Chicago is no longer the place it was in 1960. The weather isn’t what it was then either. It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.

“It’s a marvel,” Hobbs adds. “But we have this tendency in this country to think we can build our way out of stuff. And we can’t always build our way out.”

Belatedly, the city has started using porous pavement in alleys and encouraging other ways of keeping water out of the sewers.

Lurching into 2019

The island-nation of Kiritimati just became the first place in the world to enter 2019. Good on 'em.

People may have noticed the Daily Parker tradition of welcoming Kiritimati into the new year. On 30 December 1994, Kiritimati changed time zones from UTC-10 (Hawai'i time) to UTC+14 (ludicrous time), in part so they could become the first place in the world to start the 21st Century. Technically, it worked.

However, since the highest point on the small island (population 6,500) rises only 13 m above the Pacific, the country is completely vulnerable to climate-change-induced sea-level rise. It probably will not be the first place in the world to greet the 22nd century.

So, happy new year, Kiritimati! I hope you outlive me.

My first prediction of 2018 came true

On January 1st, confronted with the coldest New Year's Day in Chicago history, I predicted that every other day in 2018 would be warmer.

I was right.* Even though the overnight low on January 2nd was just as cold (-23°C) as the night before, the day warmed up all the way to -13°C from January 1st's -17°C. Ten days later it hit 15°C, and kept bouncing around like that all winter.

Last I saw, the NCDC predicted the coming winter would be normally wet and slightly warmer than most. I'd link to the page, but thanks to President Trump's infantile temper, I got this instead:

Thanks, Obama Trump!

* Yes, through some supernatural intervention we could have weather 22°C below predictions tonight or tomorrow, but I'm pretty confident the current forecast of -1°C is likelier.

This is always how it would happen

Given the American tradition of publicly saying one thing and privately doing the opposite, even staunchly-Republican businesses learn to behave as if climate change is real. After the company experienced higher-than-expected losses following California wildfires this year, Allstate's CEO put out a press release urging action on climate change:

In a release, CEO Tom Wilson minced no words on his views of the cause of the devastation, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds missing, as well as staggering property loss.

"It's time to address the impact that more severe weather is having on Americans instead of fighting about climate change," Wilson said. "This year there have been approximately 7,500 wildfires in California, Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and a swath of severe weather across the United States, putting our customers in danger and at risk of losing their homes and hard-earned money.”

The financial blow would have been significantly worse had Allstate not shrunk substantially in California. The company said it has cut its California homeowners policies by about half over the past decade.

The catastrophe losses, combined with $60 million in unanticipated pension costs that Allstate also reported last night, will have a dramatic effect on 2018 earnings. Sandler O’Neill & Partners today reduced its 2018 earnings estimate by 15 percent to $7.67 per share from $9.03 per share.

I've predicted this for two decades now, that insurance companies would always be the first to promote climate-change remediation and greenhouse-gas reductions, because they get hurt the most by climate change. Good on Tom Wilson; now maybe he can lobby some sense into the Republican Party.

You can stop laughing now. But eventually, we're going to get there. Just not with the current government.

Stuff to read later

Of note:

Fun times!

Gravely researching climate change

It turns out, cemeteries provide really good observational data on climate change:

[T]he value of this greenspace has only grown as the communities around them have densified and urbanized — leaving cemeteries as unique nature preserves. In the case of Mount Auburn, people have consciously planted diverse trees, shrubs, and flowers from all over the world and cared for them tenderly over decades or even centuries. In other cases, though, plants that might otherwise be replaced by foreign varietals can thrive under a cemetery’s more passive management style, like the prairie cemeteries of Illinois, or even the woodsy outerboroughs of New York City.

At Mount Auburn [outside Boston], a team of interdisciplinary scientists now train volunteers in phenological data collection. In the spring, they look for things like bursting buds, insect onset, and the effect of shifting timescales on migratory birds. Later in the year, they monitor the duration of autumn. To ensure accuracy, the specific trees under observation are marked throughout the cemetery; this dogwood, that gingko. And all of this data is shared with the national network. “What we know is that plants are now flowering about two weeks earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time, and trees are also leafing out about two weeks earlier,” Boston University biology professor Richard Primack told local radio station WBUR. “And we know that birds are arriving a couple of days earlier than in Thoreau’s time.” What we learn next will come from the logs Mount Auburn’s team is making now.

Just an aside, I live in an 800-meter-wide neighborhood situated between two large cemeteries. They share a population of coyotes who frequently use the streets and alleys to move between them. This is the closer of the two:

What we can really expect from climate change

Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump lays it out:

[T]he effects of the increased heat are much broader than simply higher temperatures. In an effort to delineate what scientists expect to see as the world warms, I spoke with Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Direct effects of higher temperatures

Increased health risks. One of the most immediate effects of higher temperatures is an increased threat of health risks such as heat stroke. As noted above, this is probably the most easily understood risk.

Drought. There will be more droughts. For one thing, higher temperatures will lead to faster evaporation of surface water. For another, they will mean less snowfall, as precipitation will be more likely to fall as rain. In some regions, like much of the Southwest, flows of water through the spring and summer are a function of snow melting in the mountains. Reduced snowpack means less water later in the year.

Wildfires. Higher temperatures and drier conditions in some places will also help wildfires spread and lengthen the wildfire season overall.

It gets better from there. So its nice to know that the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to reduce regulations to allow even more emissions.

Warming up to climate change

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming new report this weekend:

The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take “unprecedented” actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.

With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

Meanwhile, the next person to regulate the coal industry in the U.S. will likely come from the coal industry.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and it rains more than ever

This year, Major League Baseball had more weather-related postponements than ever before recorded:

In the 2018 season, 53 games have been postponed because of weather, tied for the second most since Major League Baseball began keeping track in 1986. It wasn't just rain-outs that disrupted the schedule but a lingering April cold snap in the Midwest and Northeast that resulted in 28 games postponed that month — an all-time high.

Although the baseball season got off to its earliest start ever to give players more off days during the 162-game regular season, rest has been elusive for clubs that have had to make up multiple games, including the Cubs, who have had a league-leading nine games scratched for bad weather (tied with the Yankees), the most in more than a decade.

While MLB’s collective bargaining agreement states teams cannot play more than 20 dates without a scheduled day off, the Cubs endured a punishing 30-day stretch of scheduled games in August and September. The make-up games also forced a rigorous travel schedule that, at one point, flung them to three cities, in three time zones, in six days, including scrambling to the East Coast as Hurricane Florence approached.

Scientists have pointed to climate change as a contributing factor to the warming of the atmosphere, carrying the chance for more rain in some areas since warmer air can hold more moisture. According to state climatologist Jim Angel, northern and central Illinois are experiencing warmer, wetter springs. But some scientists believe the rapid warming of the Arctic is causing fluctuations in the polar jet stream that can bring unusual bouts of cold like the region saw in April, Angel said.

Just one more unintended consequence of anthropogenic climate change, and possibly the reason the Cubs are playing a second tie-breaker game today for the right to take their league-topping 94 wins to the playoffs.

Meant to post yesterday

Four articles I read late in the day and wanted to spike here:

And now, I will start working.