Climate Change as an ‘Important Driver’ of Temperatures
Was the temperature in your city on a given day influenced by climate change?
A new tool can answer that question for more than 1,000 cities around the world. The Climate Shift Index, developed by scientists at Climate Central, uses long-term observations and trends at locations combined with global climate models to determine whether the temperature at a given location on a given day was made more or less likely by global warming.
The tool uses methods established in the field of attribution science to look at the frequency of temperatures in our current climate, which has warmed nearly 1.3 degrees due to human-caused carbon emissions. Scientists are able to model an alternative scenario where there is no global warming and compare how often that day’s temperature would likely occur under that scenario. The Climate Shift Index will put out a number as low as negative-5 (signaling the temperature was made 5 times less likely under climate change), as high as positive-5 (signaling the temperature was made 5 times more likely under climate change), or if climate change had no detectable influence on the temperature, a zero.
Distinct weather events cannot be said to be “caused” by climate change—weather varies widely, even without increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But this tool allows us to still talk about how climate change is making extreme conditions more common in a scientifically accurate way, said Andy Pershing, director of climate science at Climate Central.
“There’s been a lot of work done to figure out how you can look at a particular set of weather conditions and try to figure out how climate change influenced those conditions,” he said. “Any weather event is going to have a lot of causes, but climate change is an important driver. And we can see that signal in a lot of days and a lot of conditions.”
Climate Central released an analysis along with the debut of the new tool this week which showed that climate change affected temperatures experienced by 96 percent of the global population in the last year. Cities near the equator and on small islands experienced the strongest climate-influenced temperatures, the analysis found.
“One of the goals of this tool is to be able to help them give the media a tool for supporting this conversation,” Pershing said, “an objective, scientifically peer-reviewed way of saying this weather condition actually has a detectable climate fingerprint.”
Greetings from California, the Wildfire State
The postcards you spot in a gift shop or a gas station on your next road trip may show stunning waterfalls, epic mountain vistas and cheery beach scenes. But what if these souvenirs instead showed vacation spots after climate change?
That’s the inspiration of artist Hannah Rothstein’s “50 States of Change.” The postcards from each of the 50 United States show a country plagued by wildfire, drought, floods, insects and algal blooms. Rothstein said she selected each state’s disaster based projections from the National Climate Assessment and Climate Central’s States at Risk.
“Postcards come from an era that’s really nostalgic in America; I believe they’re from the ‘40s and ‘50s—a sort of a golden period that people idealize,” Rothstein said. “This is taking that and flipping that feeling and that concept on its head in order to make a stronger point about where we are now.”
Rothstein partnered with the environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace to revive the act of writing a postcard through a letter-writing campaign to politicians urging action on climate change.
Much of Rothstein’s art revolves around climate change. It’s an issue that art is essential in helping to solve, she said, as art can bring emotion and meaning to hard facts and neutral language found in science.
That’s why, despite the tragic scenes she illustrates, Rothstein acknowledged that her work is still beautiful. “It doesn’t immediately turn people off, it draws them in,” she said. “It makes them want to look harder. And it in a sense provides an easement into thinking about the harder questions.”
Storm Warnings, Across Geographies and Dialects
When Hurricane Ida struck the northeastern United States last year, several people drowned in basement apartments. Many of these victims were of Asian descent and did not speak fluent English or Spanish—the languages that warnings were issued in.
The tragedy made clear that hurricane warnings from the National Weather Service must be disseminated in multiple languages. The agency is now working with artificial-intelligence translation start-up company Lilt to get warnings quickly translated into languages like Chinese to help save lives.
Lilt takes in English-language warnings and has them translated by both humans and the computer. The computer’s artificial intelligence learns from the human translators to understand terminology and context within the weather-related vernacular and improves in quality the more that it is used.
“When you’ve got people working in it, they’re going to keep the model current,” said Phil Stiefel, an executive at Lilt. “So you get a more accurate translation, which goes to that goal of reducing the risk of mistranslation, which could get somebody hurt.”
A misunderstanding of a weather alert can cause someone to behave in the opposite way that they should—they may evacuate when they are better off staying put, or vice versa, Stiefel said.
Lilt contributed translations for this year’s big storms, including Fiona and Ian. In the future, Stiefel said, the company hopes to expand to other kinds of weather warnings and products to navigate how best to translate warnings in a way that will be interpreted correctly and with the appropriate sense of urgency.
“We’ve got our professional services team as well as the technology engaged to help them find solutions for these problems,” he said, “and start bringing in words that spur the right sense of action and are understandable across the widest possible audience, across geographies and across dialects.”
Plastics Are Everywhere. Now, Add Classrooms to the List
In most social movements, young people are the ones leading the charge and pushing for progress. But first, they need to learn that there is a problem to be solved.
That’s why the organization Break Free From Plastic wants to make sure children learn about the plastic pollution crisis at a young age. The organization has launched a new training for teachers that provides curriculum and certifications that will help them integrate lessons about plastics into their classrooms for students ages 5 through 18.
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More than 50 teachers from 19 different countries are participating in the training that began this month and will continue until December. They will learn how to build an age-appropriate curriculum covering topics such as the life-cycle of plastics, how plastic affects society and the environment and how to advocate for systems that prevent plastic waste.
“A lot of teachers were keen on learning more about how they can extend these lessons for students to create more action even outside of school,” said Tiara Samson, a movement building associate with Break Free From Plastic.
The training is geared toward teachers in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which Samson said have been underrepresented in the plastic waste movement. Yet these nations, especially those in southeast Asia, tend to bear the brunt of plastic pollution as they serve as destinations for recycled waste.
The next steps after teachers go through this training, Samson said, is to present the program’s takeaways to government agencies to see if there is interest in making this education more widespread.
“We will show how easy it is and possibly propose these changes in national curriculums,” she said. “It’s a long way to go, but that’s kind of the direction we’re going.”