Will the weather get worse this year?

Stormy weather. Image: Getty.

Last year unleashed some catastrophic weather across the world. At the beginning of 2017, Australia experienced one of the hottest summers on record in Sydney and Brisbane, followed by a killer summer heatwave across southern Europe and wildfires triggered by heat in California.

The Atlantic hurricane season was particularly active, recording three mighty category 5 hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – resulting in significant casualties. The cost of the damage across the American continent was in excess of $260bllion.

At the same time, the 2017 monsoon season brought considerable rains to the Indian subcontinent, and resulted in devastating floods in parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh (one of the most flood vulnerable countries in the world), causing more than 1,000 deaths.

Monsoon flooding in the Himalayan foothills of India, Bangladesh and Nepal affected more than 40m people last year. Image: EPA/creative commons.

At the end of 2017, we could look back at the statistics and see that globally it was the warmest non-El Nino year on record. El-Nino is the warming part of the El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle which affects global ocean and atmospheric currents and can create powerful storms and hurricanes.

In a world that is getting warmer, what does that mean and what might 2018 hold for weather across the globe? Are we destined to see more and more of these “unusual” and catastrophic weather events which result in significant devastation? What effect will climate change have on our weather and will this become the new norm?

Looking at the facts

First, we need to untangle the difference between weather and climate change, something president Trump seems to confuse. In a nutshell, the difference is time. Weather is the conditions in the atmosphere over a short period of time. Climate is how the atmosphere behaves over a longer period of time. When we talk about climate change, that generally means changes in long-term averages of daily levels of temperature and rainfall. So we may see a change in average or typical weather over a number of years, but we can still experience extremes in any one year.

Source: YouTube/CNN.

Recently, scientists have used robust event attribution where natural or human influences on particular events are studied to understand the role climate change may play in particular weather events. This can help support future regional contingency planning.

This also helps us to understand the role climate change has played in past events such as heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, or extreme flooding and some of their large-scale drivers such as ocean and atmospheric patterns of warming and cooling, like El-Nino.

Looking at the past there are many factors which control the onset, spread and eventual impact of a big weather event. But not all of these factors are climatic and many relate to things such as urbanisation, engineering interventions or land-use changes.

What the future looks like

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, an international body set up to assess the science of climate change, we can continue to expect an increase in the average global temperature. That means we will be experiencing warmer years in the future.

But at the same time, we may see changes to the extremes, which could become more frequent in the case of high temperature or heavy rainfall, or less frequent in the case of extreme cold. This means that the distribution, occurrence and expected averages of our weather (for example, temperature and rain) throughout the year may change, resulting in warmer years on average with more extreme hot days, and fewer extreme cold days in the future.

Heavy snowfall on the US eastern seaboard seriously disrupted cities like New York this winter. Image: EPA/creative commons.

This pattern has a direct link to such phenomena as heatwaves, which are caused by more extreme temperatures. The links to droughts or periods of extreme low flows in rivers are more complex. Global Circulation Models (GCMs) – a collection of numerical models that provide a 3D analysis of global climate interactions such as atmosphere, oceans, ice and land – predict increases in temperatures for some regions, such as southern Europe.

In terms of tropical cyclones, the effects of climate change on these phenomena is an active area of research as the processes are complex. For example, the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship which can be related to the water vapour-carrying capacity of the atmosphere, may have an impact on the strength and intensity of such storms.


The relationship states that for every degree rise in temperature, the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by 7 per cent, so in a warming ocean, the air above the water has a much greater capacity to hold water and thus store more rain that can feed more powerful storms.

But sinking cold air from the upper atmosphere may prevent storms from rising in the first place. If this happens more frequently with climate change then we can expect fewer such storms. That means in the future there may be fewer tropical cyclones forming, but those that do will be stronger and more intense.

Wet wet wet

In a warming world, we can expect it to get wetter. The distribution of the rainfall throughout the year could change as we experience longer, drier spells, although when rain falls it may be in intense bursts. Recent research by Newcastle University analysed the results from finer scale GCMs climate projections and suggests we may expect more intense summer rainfall in the UK in future. New climate projections from GCMs are being prepared for the UK to help predict what the future climate may look like.

Flooding from intense rainfall or river sources has many complex drivers which cause the damage in catchment areas. For example, land use changes (such as intensive farming practices or deforestation) and the degree of urbanisation both play a part in flood risk. Recent research for the UK suggests that we will see an increase in the frequency of extreme river flooding.

Source: KSBY News/YouTube.

So what can we expect for 2018? Already Australia is experiencing extreme heat, while the eastern seaboard of the US is suffering a severe cold spell, and the west coast devastating mudslides that have killed 17 people. So far 2018 seems to be picking up right where 2017 left off.

The ConversationGovernments need to recognise and absorb that extreme weather across the globe is likely to become more common and start to adapt accordingly, rather than treat it as shocking one-off events. Otherwise, we risk increasing loss of life and environmental damage in the future.

Lindsay Beevers, Professor/Chair Futures Forum, Heriot-Watt University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.