Fiction, Global Warming, and the Writer

Any writer worth his or her syntax how should be considering how global warming and the resulting change in our climate impacts the story and plot.
This includes the positions taken by deniers and the political debate that swirls around the topic.
I'm not going to take a stand on this other than to say that researchers have determined that the less a person knows about global warming and climate change, the more likely they are to deny the science behind the phenomenon. They are something like the old 19th Century "Know-nothing" political party in the U.S. which took the position toward slavery and their rapidly changing economy, "If I keep my head in the sand, maybe it will go away."  It didn't, as you know.
Unfortunately, it looks we're just at the beginning of the impacts.  Consider these three releases from August 1st of this year, and think of how these results can impact your characters and your story lines.
*  *  *  *  *
Climate Change Occurring Ten Times Faster
Than at Any Time in Past 65 Million Years
Aug. 1, 2013 — The planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct. But what might be even more troubling for humans, plants and animals is the speed of the change. Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years. 
The planet experienced a 5 degree Celsius hike in temperature 20,000 years ago, as Earth emerged from the last ice age. This is a change comparable to the high-end of the projections for warming over the 20th and 21st centuries.
The geologic record shows that, 20,000 years ago, as the ice sheet that covered much of North America receded northward, plants and animals recolonized areas that had been under ice. As the climate continued to warm, those plants and animals moved northward, to cooler climes.
Some of the strongest evidence for how the global climate system responds to high levels of carbon dioxide comes from paleoclimate studies. Fifty-five million years ago, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was elevated to a level comparable to today. The Arctic Ocean did not have ice in the summer, and nearby land was warm enough to support alligators and palm trees.
Record-setting heat
Researchers reviewed results from two-dozen climate models to describe possible climate outcomes from present day to the end of the century. In general, extreme weather events, such as heat waves and heavy rainfall, are expected to become more severe and more frequent.
For example, the researchers note that, with continued emissions of greenhouse gases at the high end of the scenarios, annual temperatures over North America, Europe and East Asia will increase 2-4 degrees C by 2046-2065. With that amount of warming, the hottest summer of the last 20 years is expected to occur every other year, or even more frequently.
By the end of the century, should the current emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked, temperatures over the northern hemisphere will tip 5-6 degrees C warmer than today's averages. In this case, the hottest summer of the last 20 years becomes the new annual norm.
Story Source: N. S. Diffenbaugh, C. B. Field. Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions. Science, 2013.
Cool Heads Likely Won't Prevail in a Hotter, Wetter World:
Climate Change Will Likely Exacerbate Violence
Aug. 1, 2013 — Should climate change trigger the upsurge in heat and rainfall that scientists predict, people may face a threat just as perilous and volatile as extreme weather -- each other.
Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California-Berkeley report in the journal Science that even slight spikes in temperature and precipitation have greatly increased the risk of personal violence and social upheaval throughout human history. Projected onto an Earth that is expected to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, the authors suggest that more human conflict is a likely outcome of climate change.
The researchers analyzed 60 studies from a number of disciplines -- including archaeology, criminology, economics and psychology -- that have explored the connection between weather and violence in various parts of the world from about 10,000 BCE to the present day. During an 18-month period, the Princeton-Berkeley researchers reviewed those studies' data -- and often re-crunched raw numbers -- to calculate the risk that violence would rise under hotter and wetter conditions.
They found that while climate is not the sole or primary cause of violence, it undeniably exacerbates existing social and interpersonal tension in all societies, regardless of wealth or stability.
"We attained a huge amount of the data that was available and we used the same method on all of the data so that we could directly compare studies," the lead researcher said. "Once we did that, we saw that all of the results were actually highly consistent -- previously they just weren't being analyzed in a consistent way."
The researchers examined three categories of conflict:
  1. "personal violence and crime," which includes murder, assault, rape and domestic violence;
  2. "intergroup violence and political instability," such as civil wars, riots, ethnic violence and land invasions; and
  3. "institutional breakdowns," which are abrupt and major changes in governing institutions or, in extreme cases, the collapse of entire civilizations.
Extreme climatic conditions amplified violence in all three categories, regardless of geography, societal wealth or the time in history. An aberrant climate coincided with incidents including spikes in domestic violence in India and Australia; increased assaults and murders in the United States and Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia; land invasions in Brazil; police using force in the Netherlands; civil conflicts throughout the tropics; the collapse of ancient empires; and wars and displacement in Middle-Ages Europe.

"We find the same pattern over and over again, regardless of whether we look at data from Brazil, Somalia, China or the United States," Miguel said. "We often think of modern society as largely independent of the environment, due to technological advances, but our findings challenge that notion. The climate appears to be a critical factor sustaining peace and wellbeing across human societies."

And the climate does not have to deviate much to upset that peace and wellbeing researchers concluded.  These are pretty moderate climate changes, but they have a sizable impact on those societies.

"There's a large amount of evidence that environmental conditions actually change a person's perception of their own condition, or they also can change the likelihood of people using violence or aggressive action to accomplish some goal," lead researcher Solomon Hsiang ended. 

Story Source: Solomon M. Hsiang, Marshall Burke, and Edward Miguel. Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict. Science, 1 August 2013

More Accurate Model of Climate Change's Effect On Soil
Aug. 1, 2013 — Scientists from UC Irvine and the National Center for Atmospheric Research discovered that in cases of increased carbon input to soil (such as carbon dioxide or nutrient fertilization), microbes actually released the added carbon to the atmosphere, and does not store it as traditional thinking assumes. Story Source: William R. Wieder, Gordon B. Bonan, Steven D. Allison. Global soil carbon projections are improved by modeling microbial processes. Nature Climate Change, 2013

The volume of serious research on climate change is difficult to keep up with as new studies are released almost daily.  It's not unusual that two, three, four, or more studies as released on a single day.

Looking for a good, well researched, and accepted primer on global warming and climate change?  Consider this selection from our friends at Powell's Books, the largest independent bookstore.



  1. "Cli fi, genero literario que va mas alla de la cierca ficcion" - email me danbloom AT gmail DOT com


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