Climate Change: Our Greatest National Security Threat?

The climate century is upon us: the earth is warming, humans are to blame, and we must take immediate action now to prepare for climate change’s massively disruptive consequences. Indeed, both the congressionally-mandated 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) and United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereports make clear that the window to take collective action to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is shrinking. And advances in the field of climate attribution science demonstrate that climate change plays a major role in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

No longer can climate change be categorized solely as an environmental issue—it is a grave threat to national security. Indeed, it may be the threat. While there are many national security challenges facing the nation and the world, climate change is an aptly described “super wicked” problem that exacerbates and accelerates already existing threats. It is also manifestly unjust. In a cruel irony, the poorest nations of the world that contributed the least to global warming will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. What we, as a society, choose to do (or not do) now will define the health and welfare of future generations. Their fate is increasingly shaped by climate change’s dramatic, erratic, and catastrophic national security effects.

This article explains our current predicament and offers three reasons to hope that we may yet be able to address climate security.

We must think bigger and bolder about the national security threats posed by climate change

Beyond what we can read in the best peer-reviewed climate scientific reports, we can see firsthand climate change’s massively destabilizing effects. Consider the damage to national security infrastructure at military bases this last hurricane season, costing taxpayers billions and harming military readiness.

Consider, too, climate change’s outsized impact in the Arctic region, opening up new maritime trade routes, oil and gas extraction, and the looming potential for a heavily militarized Arctic region. And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic: permafrost and methane emissions significantly harm the environment while causing significant sea level rise throughout the world. Ice-free Arctic summers are coming soon.

How fast is the ice melting in the Arctic? If we are honest, we don’t truly know. Past estimates of warming and ice loss in the Arctic have been widely underestimated. Indeed, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the Arctic has 3-5 degrees Celsius of warming locked inirrespective of future greenhouse gas mitigation effort. Make no mistake: we need to be prepared for a physically transformed Artic region in our lifetime, however fast the ice melts.

White House Climate Inaction Fueled by Denialism 

Yet the current Administration has stepped backwards in the face of its own government’s best peer-reviewed science, the collective wisdom of the international scientific community, and the already-evident physical destruction wrought by climate change. Unfortunately, the United States is increasingly an international climate-outlier: it has already announced its intent to withdraw from the near universally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement (that the last administration played a leading role in negotiating) and has failed to advance a meaningful domestic climate agenda. Indeed, it has effectively stepped away from the world’s climate leadership stage and has removed all mention of climate change from both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1991, then-President Bush assessed that climate change “respects no international boundaries” and contributes to political conflict in his 1991 National Security Strategy.  Climate change has been consistently mentioned in national security policy guidance since then.  Recently, the White House took the remarkable step of proposing the creation of a closed-door task force to determine the validity of the National Climate Assessment’s national security discussion.

But outside the executive branch — if you look closely enough — the climate landscape is shifting. If our political will can align with our scientific understanding, then a solution to the “super-wicked” climate security problem may just be possible. Consider the following three areas that provide hope in our fight against climate change.

  • The Intelligence Community and Military Strike Back

The intelligence and national security communities have begun to speak up louder and actively engage with the world’s most authoritative climate science reports in their own threat assessments.  Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a new, clear-eyed threat assessment report that highlighted climate change’s destabilizing effects. It stated that the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change will impact human security challenges, threaten public health, and lead to historic levels of human displacement.” Specifically, the ODNI report noted:

global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.  Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.

The intelligence community—composed of sober-minded, non-partisan professionals—brings enormous credibility and perspective when weighing the complex security threats facing the nation.

Further, congressional hearings on climate security continue to occur at a steady pace.  Just last week, General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, cited the conflict in Syria as an example of how climate change’s impact is already destabilizing some nations. His remarks came two days after the commanders of U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command voiced similar views before Congress.  The military has the responsibility to prepare for future threats, however defined—this includes climate change.

  • Congress Awakens

Congress, too, has slowly awoken from its climate slumber, including provisions in the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that address climate adaptation efforts within DoD. It recently required that DoD report on military installations especially vulnerable to climate change. While the details of the DoD report fell shortof expectations, it signaled congressional willingness to actively engage on this issue.  Congress also addressed climate adaptation efforts, recently placing restrictions on military construction in the riskiest floodplain areas.

Earlier this week, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel (former Senators and Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively) testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on the national security implications of climate change. We should look for more action in the climate security space as Congress holds hearings on climate change’s national security impacts and looks to include provisions in the annual DoD budget bill.

Finally, the Green New Deal – though it may not be on a fast track to becoming law – does not shy away from climate change’s security implications, explicitly stating that climate change:

constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States . . .by impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world and by acting as a threat multiplier.

While Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that would require the United States to meet the emission reduction goals the last administration set in joining the Paris Agreement — and the Obama-era Clean Power Plan was halted by the Supreme Court — the groundwork may be in the process of being laid for such action in the national security arena.

  • Innovative Legal Solutions to Combat Climate Change

As a general matter, most of our domestic law environmental statutes suspendenvironmental protections for reasons of national security. For example, the Clean Air Act—the major environmental statute governing EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions—authorizes the President to suspend regulation of stationary sources (such as coal-fired power plants) if it is in the “paramount interest of the United States” to do so.

But what if climate change is the underlying emergency and we needed greater authorities to decrease GHG emissions?

While there is no “break glass in case of climate emergency” statute, Congress has delegated broad powers to the President possesses in the 1976 National Emergencies Act. In the aftermath of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall, commentators have begun to speculate that future Presidents could use similar legal authorities to declare climate change a national emergency. The term “emergency” is undefined in law. Moreover, there should be little debate that as a scientific matter, climate change does present an extraordinary threat to the security of the United States. There are certain authorities that could potentially be actuatedpursuant to a “climate emergency” declaration, from reducing oil drilling to restricting car emissions to investing in climate adaptation measures. While I do not argue for this approach at this time, we must begin to think innovatively about all the legal authorities available.

Internationally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has shown a renewed willingness to discuss climate change’s multifaceted impacts on peace and security.  Under Article 39 of the UN Charter, the UNSC has special authorities to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, [or] breach of the peace.” While the UNSC has not (yet) formally declared climate change a threat to international peace and security — thereby actuating legal authorities under Chapter VI and VII — scholars have begun to assess the implications of doing so.

David Wallace-Wells, in his recent book the Uninhabitable Earth, foreshadows a world where tens of millions of climate refugees flee drought, food insecurity, and extreme weather. Yet these “climate refugees” lack legal protections, including under the 1951 Refugee Convention. How should international law account for and safeguard future refugees fleeing from the disruptive effects of climate change? And if you are a citizen of a small island developing state that may not be habitable due to climate change, what is a more pressing issue facing you?  The Security Council may yet need to step in to resolve some of these vexing questions.

Looking Ahead

Let me be clear: we need domestic climate legislation, re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, and massive governmental investment in renewable energy technology before we actuate these innovative climate legal solutions. However, there is some good news:  we have made enormous strides in clean energy technology in recent years and climate denialism and inaction policy have helped energize the electorate. The technology is there; but the political will among our current leaders is not.

And in a twist of fate, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until November 4, 2020—one day after the next Presidential election.  Whether climate change is on the ballot as a core issue in 2020 still remains to be seen.  But the electoral landscape, too, may be changing.  Governor Inslee of Washington is seeking the Democratic nomination based upon a climate change platform and Mayor Pete Buttigeig spoke at length about the climate security challenge in his announcement for his Presidential bid on Sunday, explicitly stating“let’s pick our heads up to face what might be the great security issue of our time, climate change and disruption.”

As I have argued before, climate change cannot be wished away and we are already paying a “do nothing” climate tax on our economy and environment. Indeed, if “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it” we must meet the climate century head on. It’s time to get moving on climate action. If not now, when?

Sea Creatures Store Carbon in the Ocean – Could Protecting Them Help Slow Climate Change?

April 17, 2019
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A sperm whale goes down for a dive off Kaikoura, New Zealand. (Photo by Heidi Pearson, CC BY-ND)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the prospect of catastrophic effects from climate change becomes increasingly likely, a search is on for innovative ways to reduce the risks. One potentially powerful and low-cost strategy is to recognize and protect natural carbon sinks – places and processes that store carbon, keeping it out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Forests and wetlands can capture and store large quantities of carbon. These ecosystems are included in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that 28 countries have pledged to adopt to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement. So far, however, no such policy has been created to protect carbon storage in the ocean, which is Earth’s largest carbon sink and a central element of our planet’s climate cycle.

As a marine biologist, my research focuses on marine mammal behavior, ecology and conservation. Now I also am studying how climate change is affecting marine mammals – and how marine life could become part of the solution.

A sea otter rests in a kelp forest off California. By feeding on sea urchins, which eat kelp, otters help kelp forests spread and store carbon. (Photo by Nicole LaRoche, CC BY-ND)

What is marine vertebrate carbon?

Marine animals can sequester carbon through a range of natural processes that include storing carbon in their bodies, excreting carbon-rich waste products that sink into the deep sea, and fertilizing or protecting marine plants. In particular, scientists are beginning to recognize that vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals, have the potential to help lock away carbon from the atmosphere.

I am currently working with colleagues at UN Environment/GRID-Arendal, a United Nations Environment Programme center in Norway, to identify mechanisms through which marine vertebrates’ natural biological processes may be able to help mitigate climate change. So far we have found at least nine examples.

One of my favorites is Trophic Cascade Carbon. Trophic cascades occur when change at the top of a food chain causes downstream changes to the rest of the chain. As an example, sea otters are top predators in the North Pacific, feeding on sea urchins. In turn, sea urchins eat kelp, a brown seaweed that grows on rocky reefs near shore. Importantly, kelp stores carbon. Increasing the number of sea otters reduces sea urchin populations, which allows kelp forests to grow and trap more carbon.

Scientists have identified nine mechanisms through which marine vertebrates play roles in the oceanic carbon cycle. (Image by GRID ArendalCC BY-ND)

Carbon stored in living organisms is called Biomass Carbon, and is found in all marine vertebrates. Large animals such as whales, which may weigh up to 50 tons and live for over 200 years, can store large quantities of carbon for long periods of time.

When they die, their carcasses sink to the seafloor, bringing a lifetime of trapped carbon with them. This is called Deadfall Carbon. On the deep seafloor, it can be eventually buried in sediments and potentially locked away from the atmosphere for millions of years.

Whales can also help to trap carbon by stimulating production of tiny marine plants called phytoplankton, which use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make plant tissue just like plants on land. The whales feed at depth, then release buoyant, nutrient-rich fecal plumes while resting at the surface, which can fertilize phytoplankton in a process that marine scientists call the Whale Pump.

And whales redistribute nutrients geographically, in a sequence we refer to as the Great Whale Conveyor Belt. They take in nutrients while feeding at high latitudes then release these nutrients while fasting on low-latitude breeding grounds, which are typically nutrient-poor. Influxes of nutrients from whale waste products such as urea can help to stimulate phytoplankton growth.

Finally, whales can bring nutrients to phytoplankton simply by swimming throughout the water column and mixing nutrients towards the surface, an effect researchers term Biomixing Carbon.

Fish poo also plays a role in trapping carbon. Some fish migrate up and down through the water column each day, swimming toward the surface to feed at night and descending to deeper waters by day. Here they release carbon-rich fecal pellets that can sink rapidly. This is called Twilight Zone Carbon.

These fish may descend to depths of 1,000 feet or more, and their fecal pellets can sink even farther. Twilight Zone Carbon can potentially be locked away for tens to hundreds of years because it takes a long time for water at these depths to recirculate back towards the surface.

‘Marine snow’ is made up of fecal pellets and other bits of organic material that sink into deep ocean waters, carrying large quantities of carbon into the depths.

Quantifying marine vertebrate carbon

To treat “blue carbon” associated with marine vertebrates as a carbon sink, scientists need to measure it. One of the first studies in this field, published in 2010, described the Whale Pump in the Southern Ocean, estimating that a historic pre-whaling population of 120,000 sperm whales could have trapped 2.2 million tons of carbon yearly through whale poo.

Another 2010 study calculated that the global pre-whaling population of approximately 2.5 million great whales would have exported nearly 210,000 tons of carbon per year to the deep sea through Deadfall Carbon. That’s equivalent to taking roughly 150,000 cars off the road each year.

A 2012 study found that by eating sea urchins, sea otters could potentially help to trap 150,000 to 22 million tons of carbon per year in kelp forests. Even more strikingly, a 2013 study described the potential for lanternfish and other Twilight Zone fish off the western U.S. coast to store over 30 million tons of carbon per year in their fecal pellets.

Scientific understanding of marine vertebrate carbon is still in its infancy. Most of the carbon-trapping mechanisms that we have identified are based on limited studies, and can be refined with further research. So far, researchers have examined the carbon-trapping abilities of less than 1% of all marine vertebrate species.

The brownish water at the base of this humpback whale’s fluke is a fecal plume, which can fertilize phytoplankton near the surface. Photo taken under NMFS permit 10018-01. (Photo by Heidi Pearson, CC BY-ND)

A new basis for marine conservation

Many governments and organizations around the world are working to rebuild global fish stocks, prevent bycatch and illegal fishing, reduce pollution and establish marine protected areas. If we can recognize the value of marine vertebrate carbon, many of these policies could qualify as climate change mitigation strategies.

In a step in this direction, the International Whaling Commission passed two resolutions in 2018 that recognized whales’ value for carbon storage. As science advances in this field, protecting marine vertebrate carbon stocks ultimately might become part of national pledges to fulfill the Paris Agreement.

Marine vertebrates are valuable for many reasons, from maintaining healthy ecosystems to providing us with a sense of awe and wonder. Protecting them will help ensure that the ocean can continue to provide humans with food, oxygen, recreation and natural beauty, as well as carbon storage.

Thawing Siberian permafrost could see anthrax and prehistoric diseases come back to life as temperatures warm rapidly

 and create a breeding ground for dormant spores, scientist claims

  • Thawing Siberian permafrost may release viral spores buried for 2,500 years  
  • Buried mass animal graves that died of the disease could unleash an epidemic
  • Anthrax spores can lie dormant until temperature rises to 15°C  
  • ‘Methane bombs’ found in the region further accelerate disease spread 

The coldest city on Earth may unleash vast prehistoric stores of anthrax and other ancient diseases as the permafrost trapping its deadly spores slowly thaws out thanks to global warming.

Yakutsk, in north-east Russia, is completely frozen for 12 months a year but is currently being subjected to soaring global temperatures.

It is also home to ancient permafrost which has entombed and trapped prehistoric animals such as the now extinct species of wild horses and woolly mammoths.

These animals may have died from anthrax and other hideous prehistoric diseases and some scientists fear these the spores may be lying dormant, waiting for warmer temperatures to melt the ice and release them into the 21st century.


A disease outbreak in 2016 killed thousands of reindeer and hundreds of people were hospitalised due to the ‘revival’ of ancient anthrax spores in the region.

Scroll down for video 

The city of Yakutsk pictured)  in the region of Yakutia in Siberia, known as the coldest city on earth where temperatures can reach below -60°C in the winter. It may be revealing its long-frozen secrets due to warming Arctic temperatures that could risk an epidemic being unleashed

The city of Yakutsk pictured)  in the region of Yakutia in Siberia, known as the coldest city on earth where temperatures can reach below -60°C in the winter. It may be revealing its long-frozen secrets due to warming Arctic temperatures that could risk an epidemic being unleashed

Around two-thirds of Russia is made up of permafrost – including almost all of the area known as Yakutia.

As permafrost continues to thaw, more ancient bacteria could be released. Permafrost is able to preserve for hundreds of thousands of years – possibly even a million.

Boris Kershengolts, a Yakutsk biologist told the Telegraph: ‘Anthrax spores can stay alive in the permafrost for up to 2,500 years. That’s scary given the thawing of animal burial grounds from the 19th century.

He added: ‘It would be a disaster not just for the Arctic.

‘The catastrophe could exceed Chernobyl.’

The ice in the Siberian region can be hundreds of feet deep and the top layer is known as the ‘active layer’ which freezes and refreezes throughout the year.

In recent years, researchers have found that this layer is not only thawing earlier in the year, it is also melting to greater depth, causing scientists to be concerned of potential collapses.

Increased snow precipitation experienced by most of the region in the last few decades also insulates the ground permafrost which is then a higher temperature than air temperature.

Current levels of permafrost shrinkage in the region is at the scale of up to two inches (5cm) a year.

The threat of epidemic is real, as a 2016 outbreak of Anthrax – the first outbreak for 70 years – in the Arctic in Yamal in Northwest Sibera was linked to thawing permafrost.

Scientists managed to isolate the Anthrax strains Bacillus anthracis and had independently isolated the strain in Yakutia in 2015, although no outbreak occurred there.

Scientists have compared a potential epidemic to being more 'catastrophic' than the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Ancient Siberian permafrost burying mass animal graves and a former Anthrax lab in the coldest city on Earth Yakutsk, could throw up dormant viral spores if it continues to melt

Scientists have compared a potential epidemic to being more ‘catastrophic’ than the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. Ancient Siberian permafrost burying mass animal graves and a former Anthrax lab in the coldest city on Earth Yakutsk, could throw up dormant viral spores if it continues to melt


Anthrax is the name of the potentially-deadly disease caused by the spores of bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

As the disease can survive in harsh climates, Anthrax spores have been weaponised by at least five countries: Britain, Japan, the United States, Russia and Iraq.

The disease can be contracted by touching, inhaling or swallowing spores, which can lie dormant in water and soil for years.

It is most deadly, however, when the spores are inhaled, which is why the threat of a letter containing the disease is taken very seriously by authorities.

About 80 per cent of people who inhale the spores will die, in some cases even with immediate medical intervention.

Sources: NHS and US Centers for Disease Control

Thawing permafrost is worsened by the presence of so-called ‘methane bombs’ underground.

They release large volumes of the natural gases which speeds up the melting of the permanently frozen land.

This creates vast crater-like structures which can trigger explosions and release heat.

Methane contains 30 times more energy than carbon dioxide and is a key greenhouse gas.

Permafrost - ground that has been frozen for at least two years - covers 25 per cent of the Northern Hemisphere, keeping ancient bacteria, viruses and carbon preserved and locked away, much like a freezer does. Pictured is a map of permafrost extent across Arctic region

Permafrost – ground that has been frozen for at least two years – covers 25 per cent of the Northern Hemisphere, keeping ancient bacteria, viruses and carbon preserved and locked away, much like a freezer does. Pictured is a map of permafrost extent across Arctic region

'Methane bombs' found locally could further aggravate the problem with by accelerating temperature rises and therefore the spread of disease. After the explosion they lead to the formation of bizarre Arctic craters. Pictured is a crater formed by a recent permafrost explosion in the Russian arctic

‘Methane bombs’ found locally could further aggravate the problem with by accelerating temperature rises and therefore the spread of disease. After the explosion they lead to the formation of bizarre Arctic craters. Pictured is a crater formed by a recent permafrost explosion in the Russian arctic


Permafrost, mostly found in high-latitude regions like the Arctic, stores large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, which are released into the atmosphere if the soil melts and decomposes.

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change.

But other threats posed by melting permafrost include:

  • Release of ancient microbes: In late August, an anthrax outbreak in Siberia caused 72 people to become sick, and killed a 12-year-old boy. This was because an anthrax-infected reindeer had thawed, releasing the bacteria.
  • Damaged landscapes and roads: When the ice in the permafrost thaws, the water runs off and the ground above can slump, deform, or fall apart. TheAlaska Dispatch News has reported that thawing permafrost is warping roads in Bethel, Alaska.
  • Loss of historical records: Thawing permaforst could also threaten natural historical records. For example, ‘Otzi’, a 5-300 year-old dead man found in the Alps, would not have been so well preserved if he had thawed.
As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere which cause warming, permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases such as methane and CO2, leading a positive feedback loop that worsens climate change

Climate ChaosIs Coming —and thePinkertons Are Ready

A Pinkerton active-shooter simulation. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

As they see it, global warming
stands to make corporate
security as high-stakes in the
21st century as it was in the 19th.

The Pinkertons wanted me to picture myself in a scene of absolute devastation. “A hurricane just wipes out everything, and you need to feed your children,” Andres Paz Larach said. The power grid is down, shipments of food are cut off, the water is no longer potable — how do you get what you need to survive? What risks do you take? It was a hot early morning in March, and we were driving through a pine forest high in the mountains surrounding Santa Ana Jilotzingo, 25 miles northwest of Mexico City. Our Suburban, equipped with bulletproof windows and reinforced doors, labored slowly over the dirt road, which appeared to have been washed out by a recent thunderstorm.

For much of the previous hour, Paz Larach and two other executives from Pinkerton, Carlos Manuel López Portillo Maltos and Paul Rakov, had been explaining the company’s philosophy of risk management. Now over 150 years old, having long outlived its reputation as Andrew Carnegie’s personal militia, the agency has evolved into a modern security firm. Over the last decade or so, Pinkerton began noticing a growing set of anxieties among its corporate clients about distinctly contemporary plagues — active shooters, political unrest, climate disasters — and in response began offering data-driven risk analysis, in addition to what they’re more traditionally known for. Dressed in an untucked powder blue oxford and round, rimless sunglasses, Paz Larach, the firm’s senior vice president in charge of the Americas, paused before affecting a look of brutal candor. “You’re going to turn to desperate measures,” he said. Everybody will. The other Pinkertons nodded.

I was seated in the rear row next to Rakov, a marketing officer who, at 51, had recently shifted his career from more traditional P.R. to Pinkerton. He was now fully fluent in the language of tactical response. He chimed in to observe that preparing for a disaster can carry its own risks. He gave the example of a drought. “If a client has food and water and all the other stuff,” he said, “then they become a target.” López Portillo and Paz Larach uttered small words of consensus in Spanish, while scanning through email on their phones. “And if and when desperate people discovered that cache of water and food,” he continued, it was the Pinkertons’ job to protect it at whatever cost.

Pinkerton instructors competing in weapons training. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

[Read about how Wall Street is hedging against the apocalypse.]

Our destination that morning was a shooting range called Club de Tiro Jaribú, which Pinkerton sometimes uses for agent and client trainings. The idea had been to demonstrate what Pinkerton agents go through before they are deployed to disaster zones. López Portillo had also lately fielded several inquiries from corporate clients, asking for lessons in tactical skills like evasive driving and extraction from disaster zones, both for themselves and sometimes hundreds or more of their employees. “Someone who works in corporate — say, as an attorney or salesperson,” he said, “they find it something completely new and useful.”

At the range, which was made up of seven terraced target areas bulldozed into a steep ridge, we were greeted by our instructor, Reynold Castro Róman. A former Mexican military officer, he wore black fatigues with the Pinkerton all-seeing-eye logo emblazoned on either shoulder. A kaffiyeh hid a long scar along his neck. During an intel mission 16 years ago, Castro Róman was flying over marijuana fields when the plane went down — from what Castro Róman suspected was narco fire — killing the three others on board. Since then, he has dedicated himself almost exclusively to private-sector urban-combat training, often for Pinkerton.

Over the next three hours, Castro Róman worked us steadily through various readiness drills, including quick-draw methods, accuracy competitions and timed reloading under pressure. We shot nine-millimeter pistols and Israeli assault rifles. Considering all the firearms, the atmosphere was relaxed and sporting. Nearby, a man grilled chorizo and carne asada. A cooler and makeshift bar was stocked with beer, wine and mezcal.

Pinkerton agents setting up targets for rifle training. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

The scene was a stark contrast to the big-data wonkery I was pitched in the car ride over. But Paz Larach explained that their statistical and tactical approaches were fundamentally connected. All businesses exposed themselves to risk, which had to be mitigated, insured or, more relevantly, defended against. Even if the Pinkertons couldn’t predict the specific risks of the future, they had a general sense of what it might look like — and what opportunities they might avail themselves of as it materialized. According to the World Bank, by 2050 some 140 million people may be displaced by sea-level rise and extreme weather, driving escalations in crime, political unrest and resource conflict. Even if the most conservative predictions about our climate future prove overstated, a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature during the next century will almost certainly provoke chaos, in what experts call climate change’s “threat multiplier”: Displacement begets desperation begets disorder. Reading these projections from the relative comforts of the C-suite, it wasn’t difficult to see why a company might consider enhancing its security protocols.

For Pinkerton, the bet is twofold: first, that there’s no real material difference between climate change and any other conflict — as the world grows more predictably dangerous, tactical know-how will simply be more in demand than ever. And second, that by adding data analytics, Pinkerton stands to compete more directly with traditional consulting firms like Deloitte, which offer pre- and postdisaster services (supply-chain monitoring, damage documentation, etc.), but which cannot, say, dispatch a helicopter full of armed guards to Guatemala in an afternoon. In theory, Pinkerton can do both — a fully militarized managerial class at corporate disposal.

Later, after Paz Larach took his turn on the range — during which he emptied a Galil ACE assault rifle into a human-shaped cardboard cutout, then quickly drew his nine-millimeter, grouping four shots in the chest-cavity bull’s-eye — he offered the example of Hurricane Maria. On the day the Category 4 hurricane made landfall in Puerto Rico in 2017, he received more than 30 calls from American businesses and multinationals. He wouldn’t go into detail but explained that many chief executives felt blind to the situation and effectively tendered a blank check if Pinkerton could provide security. Over the next few days, as the company deployed hundreds of agents to the island, some of them, Paz Larach claimed, reported seeing firearms brandished at gas stations. “We had to escort the cargo with real agents, have cars chase the main truck,” he said. “Those who did not have protection were having their cargo hijacked.”

Reynold Castro Róman, a Pinkerton weapons instructor. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

Aware that he might end up sounding vampiric, Paz Larach hesitated, then eventually confessed what he’d wanted to say in the first place: The future looked pretty good for Pinkerton.

You could be forgiven for assuming that the Pinkertons were relics of the past. Like the stage coaches the company once protected, the name Pinkerton summons up sepia-tinted images of the American West — black-hatted detectives pursuing train robbers, or rooting out labor agitators from coal mines. And indeed, Allan Pinkerton organized his agency in response to the lawlessness of the frontier. When he first began offering his services in the early 1850s, a majority of the territories west of the Mississippi remained ungoverned; few towns offered policing, and fewer still had the means to investigate crimes after the fact. Overnight, Pinkerton’s novel methods of “crime detection,” which included infiltrating gangs and developing networks of informants, became the standards of investigation, and his company became a sort of de facto national police force. According to some historians, by the late 19th century, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency numbered more men than the United States Army.

In the intervening years, the Pinkertons have survived in no small part because of their ability to adapt to the changing landscapes of crime. To differentiate his agency from common bounty hunters, Pinkerton worked to professionalize his ranks with formal attire, pay and badges and created what probably was the first national criminal database. In the following years, as railroads opened up the frontier and settlement brought with it the rule of law, Pinkerton turned to what he saw as the “riotous element” growing in company towns. Between 1877 and 1892, Pinkertons were dispatched to break up some 70 labor strikes — either by going undercover to provide intel, or through brute force.

Pinkerton agents running an executive through a simulated hijacking. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

[Read David Leonhardt on the economics of climate change.]

It was only after a particularly lethal clash during a strike in Homestead, Pa., in 1892 that the public began to wonder if the threat of the Pinkertons eclipsed those they supposedly protected against. In the years since the frontier closed, antitrust sentiment had grown, and demand for the Pinkertons lessened — in part because the government was more able to enforce its laws. In the aftermath of Homestead, Congress and 23 states passed “anti-Pinkerton” acts, banning government bodies from hiring mercenaries as strikebreakers.

In the decades since, the Pinkertons have undertaken several rebrandings, each aimed at lowering their public profile, though through it all they never gave up the lucrative specter of their name: the Pinkerton Agency, Pinkerton’s Inc., Pinkerton. During the first half of the 20th century, the company protected wartime factories and later began to seek out new markets in parts of the world, like India and China, where authority could still be outsourced. In 1999, the Swedish security giant Securitas AB absorbed the agency, buying it for a reported $384 million, and the company underwent rebranding once again, this time as a boutique risk-management firm. It began diversifying into intellectual-property services and cybersecurity. Among their most popular new services is the Pinkerton Dedicated Professional, in which agents join a client’s company like any other new hire, allowing them to provide intel on employees. By 2018, the agency said it could count among its clients about 80 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies.

The best outcome for these new data-driven Pinkertons is that this century lapses into the kind of lawlessness and disorder that makes it look more like the 19th — which many scientists and economists think it could. Since 1980, a period that includes all 20 of the warmest years in recorded history and 18 of the 20 most intense hurricane seasons in the satellite era, losses in the United States from storms, wildfires and droughts topped $1.6 trillion — nearly a third of which occurred in just the last five years. And this exponential destruction is just the beginning of what David Wallace-Wells, in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” calls the Great Dying: a worldwide economic decline, sharply deteriorated living conditions, disruption to basic government functions and widespread hunger. Looking deeper still into the future, the predictions are even more dire. Over the next century, 3.7 degrees of warming could contribute to an additional 22,000 murders and 1.3 million burglaries in the United States.

A global threat monitor displaying earthquakes and volcanoes in Pinkertons’ Global Intelligence Center. Dina Litovsky/Redux, for The New York Times

Whatever the exact costs of climate change, it is Pinkerton’s job to read between the numbers looking for the potential for violence. If you’re suffering only one hurricane every 20 years or so, shelling out $1 million to Pinkerton isn’t such a big deal, Paz Larach explained; you bake it into your risk. “But if there’s a disaster every year, which is happening more and more, it makes more sense to have dedicated staff on standby.” A Pinkerton on standby doesn’t mean protection for just your insurable risks but also for the uninsurable risks — business interruptions, theft of trade secrets, pandemics. And with the environment increasingly weaponized against the poor, to borrow Wallace-Wells’s phrase, the sectors that rely on cheap labor will face more unrest among workers; the state will struggle to keep up with crime; and in the aftermath of storms, with landslides blocking first responders, regional offices will be cut off.

And this, of course, is exactly the sort of environment in which the Pinkertons thrive.

The morning after weapons training, I found myself once again in the back of an armored Suburban. Paz Larach was talking on the phone beside me as we made our way to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, a racetrack where we were scheduled to learn evasive driving. Throughout my visit, the Pinkertons had insisted on providing me a full security detail, which included the armored car and two escorting agents, as a way of simulating executive protection. The two agents were clad in black suits and earpieces and shadowed me to dinner, interviews and an outing to the Templo Mayor Museum; rarely during the three days could I get either to chat with me. They treated the job, however farcical it seemed, gravely.

Like people, companies could become habituated to modernity’s relative safety, Paz Larach said. But it was his job to shock them out of such thinking, whether through exercises or data. For much of the last century, the traditional form of defense for businesses has been insurance compensation — pay a premium up front, recover later. But one of the many byproducts of this model of subsidized recovery, according to economists, has been unfettered growth along floodplains, hurricane-impact zones and other high-risk areas. After Hurricane Harvey, Pinkerton found clients were frustrated and open to alternatives. “Most clients were not prepared enough,” Paz Larach said. “An insurance policy is just a piece of paper.”

An 1884 newspaper sketch of Pinkertons escorting workmen during a mining strike. Alamy

[Read about new legal strategies to make the world’s biggest polluters pay for climate change.]

Paz Larach rattled off a suite of services that were not, strictly speaking, covered by that piece of paper: armed warehouse defense, executive extraction, 24-hour surveillance, chartered helicopters and planes, escorted cargo shipments. “If you abandon your property, you’re kind of just blindfolding yourself,” he said — checking news, hoping for the best. “We’re your eyes and ears on the ground.” During the 2017 hurricane season, the Pinkertons chartered half a dozen planes across the Caribbean, each of them full of food and under armed escort, to the tune of around $100,000 each. Ordinarily, Pinkerton bills on a relatively cheap hourly basis, but during a state of emergency, the rate soars, something Paz Larach compared to Uber’s surge pricing. By the end of the season, after Maria, Harvey and Irma, Paz Larach told me the company billed tens of millions of dollars.

However bankable and flashy, tactical work is by its nature highly reactive, which has left Pinkerton vulnerable to steep fluctuations in revenue. At the same time, Paz Larach found himself increasingly frustrated by how few businesses took even the simplest of precautions — generators, stores of water, cameras to prove damage to adjusters. But as he brought these ideas to businesses, he discovered an unexpected drawback to the Pinkerton name: Companies didn’t tend to call for advice; they called because they needed “a guy for a job,” as Paz Larach put it. So over the last five years, as the company watched the demand for incident response skyrocket, it began to pour resources into building three data-and-information-gathering centers: one each in Seattle and The Hague, which focus mainly on crunching big data to predict crime trends worldwide, and a “Global Intelligence Center” in Mexico City, which is geared more toward the operational response to those trends.

The Mexico City Global Intelligence Center occupies a large wing on the fourth floor of an angular glass building in the neighborhood of Jardines del Pedregal. At the entrance, through double glass doors, I was greeted by an enormous black rendering of the Pinkerton logo and slogan — “We never sleep” — along with framed prints of documents and photographs from the agency’s early days, among them one of Allan Pinkerton standing with President Lincoln, another the rap sheet for Butch Cassidy. The center of the space was dominated by a long white desk, at which several employees, all in black Pinkerton jackets, sat at computers. Behind a biometric scanner lay the operational nerve center of the office, which appeared surprisingly empty. From our conversations, I’d expected a hive of analysts hunched over intricate software displays. But nearly every surface was eerily immaculate, free of any visible sign of stress; at their computers, a handful of analysts browsed Associated Press stories and pecked numbers into Excel. CNN was on. The whole office felt somehow incomplete, as if the company had staged the place in haste.

Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Agency, in 1862, during the American Civil War. Universal History Archive/UIG, via Getty Images

Paz Larach and I were met there by David Valenzuela, a former Mexican police officer who looked to still be adjusting to corporate life: He sported a deep blue fatigue shirt, which he’d tucked into his slacks. Valenzuela was in charge of overseeing the analysts who worked there. After scanning into the nerve center, he stood by a screen on the wall, which flashed up a GPS readout of our location. Several separate, smaller frames within the larger one then displayed ticking feeds: Twitter, a news wire, Doppler radar, quick links to police and fire. This was the Pinkerton “threat monitor” — quite literally, a monitor.

Many of the Pinkertons’ tools, including the threat monitor, were originally developed only for internal use — for an agent tracking a C.E.O. through disputed cartel territory, or keeping an eye on a tanker in waters known for piracy. But over the last few hurricane and wildfire seasons, when storms and blazes began to overtake industrial corridors throughout the Eastern Seaboard and California, the company found that C.E.O.s wanted access to these tools. To sweeten the deal, Pinkerton built out packaged services, including storehouses of food, a threat dashboard for C-suite computers and daily intelligence briefings. Excited by the implications, the company began rolling out an entire conceptual framework around what it called “applied risk science.”

Listening to Paz Larach pitch the agency’s future — all of it rendered in the gauzy language of consulting — I was struck by its relative simplicity, which belied, in part, just how far most companies and governments are from accepting the reality of climate change. Even if Pinkerton’s core competency still lies in tactical response, the means of preparation are not exactly the province of big data: Put food in a warehouse, aggregate news, consult the latest open-source modeling. Pinkerton doesn’t even see this strategy as climate-related, per se. The company doesn’t have a dedicated climate division, nor climate experts; from its perspective, that would be redundant. Pinkerton sells safety, or its pretense, in the face of catastrophe, and the only real differences between the catastrophes of this century and the 19th, on some level, will be rate and severity. As Jack Zahran, the president of Pinkerton, put it to me, Pinkerton is a 150-year-old start-up, still pitching the same basic vision: You aren’t prepared enough, and the government is too clumsy to save you.

During one of the long meals that Paz Larach, Rakov, López Portillo and I shared, the novelty of my being there had faded just enough for them to reflect personally on climate change. The relentless pragmatism of trying to respond to disasters and analyze their occurrence had seemed to leave the men with little space for the existential dread that marks so much of the modern condition. But for whatever reason, on this night, as we picked at a plate of escamoles — a central-Mexican delicacy of ant larvae — they spoke about their anxieties.

López Portillo, who until then had been jovial if diplomatic in answering my questions, turned solemn, his eyes glancing around the vaulted ceiling. He said he worried about his children, and what sort of world he might be leaving them. But his fear, he clarified, wasn’t exactly that they wouldn’t learn to adapt; it was that he, their father, didn’t know what adaptation would look like. He said that he feared variables he didn’t know how to calculate, variables he couldn’t conceive of yet.

When López Portillo finished, Paz Larach admitted that thinking that far out was still difficult for him. He was 33 and just married. What the most immediate future held for him was a new home in Miami, where he and his wife had just bought an apartment on the water. It had always been their dream. When I asked him about sea-level rise — something with which Miami is practically synonymous — he paused for a moment, then said, “We know it’s a risk, but we looked at it and decided it was worth it.” And anyway, the apartment wouldn’t be ready until 2021. They’d deal with it then.

Noah Gallagher Shannon is a writer from northern Colorado who now lives in New York. His last feature for the magazine was about a water war in a small Arizona town.


Latest EPA climate pollution data shows disturbing lack of progress

Greenhouse gas emission trends since 1990. Click to expand

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday reported that that the US made essentially no progress on climate pollution — an insignificant drop of 0.5% — even as scientists warn that without major reductions in emissions, global temperatures are on a dangerous track to increase well above 2 degrees Celsius.

Other data indicates that since 2017, the last year covered by this report, emissions have actually begun to rise. The Energy Information Agency and Rhodium Group estimate that in 2018 climate pollution from energy combustion rose 2.8 and 3.4%, respectively.

As climate pollution remains stubbornly high, the Trump administration has worked to undermine limits on carbon pollution, roll back rules on highly potent methane emissions and ducked international obligations to deal with climate change. This new report is another sign that without bold action, climate pollution will cause worsening impacts on our economy, health and future.

The dismal national climate pollution numbers contrast with pollution reductions underway in many states that have put in place aggressive policies to limit emissions and move towards clean energy even while the federal government sits on the sidelines.

California is aggressively addressing climate pollution with multiple policies including a cap on climate pollution since 2013.  From 2016 to 2017 California’s emissions decline was almost three times that of the U.S. as a whole. But even more importantly, California has seen emissions decline every year since the great recession whereas trends in the U.S. have vacillated between increases and decreases from year to year.  The state has been able to achieve these reductions while both growing its economy and adding jobs faster than the national average.

Similarly, power sector emissions in the nine New England states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have declined dramatically in the ten years of the program with a net economic benefit of $1.4 billion and 14,500 additional job-years in the last three years alone. Several other states are now seeking to link with RGGI and there are additional, significant carbon reductions planned in the region through 2030.

Many states are also pursuing opportunities for pollution reductions from transportation, with nine states and the District of Columbia announcing their participation in the Transportation & Climate Initiativeprocess to establish a regional program that limits greenhouse gas pollution from the transportation sector.

The best science shows that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must achieve net-zero climate pollution by 2050. Unfortunately, the latest data from EPA and elsewhere shows we’re not yet on the trajectory we need to be to get there. That’s why, for the sake of our children and future generations, we need our leaders at all levels of government to step up, take climate change seriously, and set clear limits on pollution.

‘Are You Serious?’ John Kerry Interrupts GOP Climate Denial Logic in Disbelief

John Kerry

Congressional discussions over climate change have reached such a low point that during this week’s House hearing on the national security risks of climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was testifying, broke down and just asked his Republican questioner, “Are you serious?”

Kerry’s incredulous question was in response to Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, the GOP star of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, which also featured testimony from former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Kerry’s and Hagel’s testimonies were followed by several hours of, at times, excrutiating questioning from committee members.

Republicans made a big show of the fact that Massie has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The conflict with Kerry arose when Massie tried to undermine Kerry’s testimony on climate change because he has a political science degree from Yale.

Massie said, “I think it’s somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today.”

If science degrees are important to Massie, he must have somehow missed the thousands of climate scientists around the world who have studiedpublishedtweetedmarched, and repeated that climate change is real, caused by humans, and having major impacts now.

During this hearing, Massie wasn’t alone in displaying bizarre logic to attack science and the reality of climate change. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) apparently thought holding up a fossil disproved that humans are causing climate change.

Climate change has been changing all through the life of this planet. I’ve got a fossil right here from Western Wyoming — a desert — but that once was under an ocean,” he said.

That was the sum total of his argument.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) took issue with Kerry’s statement about global warming making existing weather events more extreme by noting: “I remember growing up and having hurricanes in Florida.”

It all led to Secretary Kerry at one point expressing his frustration to committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), saying, “Mr. Chairman, this is just not a serious conversation.”

And it was not when Republicans were part of it. However, when Hagel and Kerry both spoke, they made clear the point that climate change is a real national security threat and requires action. Meanwhile, the Republicans on the committee indicated they intend to do nothing but continue a long history of delay and denial on climate change.

Hagel and Kerry Agree: Climate Change Threatens National Security

Hagel and Kerry spent their time delivering a sober analysis of the risks climate change poses to national security — a position which they repeatedly stressed during the hearing. “Climate change is already affecting national security,” said Kerry.

Kerry also noted in his opening statement that this has been the position of every federal administration for the last 28 years. He pointed to the first Bush administration, which said in 1992, that climate change was “already contributing to political conflict.”

We don’t need to wait for more sophisticated climate models to project the security consequences of climate change,” Hagel said in his opening statement. “The impacts of climate change are clearly evident today.”

Both Hagel and Kerry spoke extensively about the current and future threats posed by a changing climate and had plenty of examples to make the case.

Among the many threats, Hagel discussed rising sea levels, extreme weather, and the lack of military readiness. Kerry raised the issues of climate migration, global pandemics, water scarcity, and extreme weather’s current contribution to radicalism, which he said would continue to create instability that would be “manna from heaven for extremists.”

Perhaps the best single example of how climate change is impacting security in the U.S. can be found at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. This base — the largest American military base — already is dealing with flooding and sea level rise. At one point in the hearing, former defense secretary Hagel mentioned the need to potentially relocate the base in the future due to sea level rise.

And yet when Republicans in the hearing had a chance to respond to this rather alarming fact, they spent that time mostly ridiculing the idea that any of this should even be discussed.

Gas Is a ‘Bridge Fuel,’ Secretary Kerry?

John Kerry was a strong advocate for dealing with climate change throughout the hearing and acknowledged the significant strides freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has already taken to advance the issue in her short congressional tenure.

However, Kerry also proceeded to repeatedly champion a supposed climate change solution espoused by the fossil fuel industry and did so using industry talking points, referring to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to climate-friendly energy sources.

While saying that natural gas would be “a component of our energy mix for some time to come,” Kerry justified this position with a flawed argument for gas.

Gas gives us a 50 percent gain over the other fossil fuels in the reduction of emissions, so it’s a step forward,” he said.

Kerry’s take, which compares how “clean” natural gas is compared to other fossil fuels, is true when simply comparing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power to the newest gas power plants. However, that limited comparison excludes the ways natural gas production, and its potent methane contributions, are adding to climate change.

The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable sources has been debunked repeatedly. And as methane flaring, leaking, and venting in the fracked oil and gas supply chain continue to increase rapidly, the climate impacts of fracked gas can be similar or worse than other fossil fuels.

Kerry and Hagel adeptly explained the serious national security threats posed by climate change. However, calling natural gas part of a long-term solution to preventing catastrophic climate change isn’t a serious conversation either.

Spring blizzard fueled by Arctic warming, climate change

The blizzard pummeling the Upper Midwest and Plain States has already dished out widespread thundersnow, winds gusts close to 70 mph and over 2 feet of snow in spots. On top of that, it’s happening in the month of April, just three weeks after the record-breaking bomb cyclone. By any measure these storms are considered extreme, but climate change is making them even more extreme.

The intensity of the storm is being powered by a sharp 60-degree temperature contrast — 80s in the Southeast and 20s in the Dakotas. Strong contrasts are typical for spring as warm and moist air surges north from the Gulf of Mexico and winter cold remains stubborn. But there’s an added feature heightening the contrast called “Arctic amplification.”

Meteorologists United on Climate Change@MetsUnite

This anomaly map is off the charts. Temperatures range from 30 degrees below normal to 20 degrees above normal on either side of the system.

See Meteorologists United on Climate Change’s other Tweets

Over the past couple of decades, the Arctic has warmed much faster than of the mid-latitudes, especially in winter. Warming of the globe is being caused by heat trapping greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels. In the Arctic this warming effect is enhanced by melting sea ice. Ice typically reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic cool. But since 1970 Arctic sea ice volume has decreased by 50%. Right now, Arctic sea ice extent is at record low levels.

Zack Labe


sea ice extent continues as a record low for the date.

It is ~250,000 km² below the prior record low, which was set just last year.

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This lack of ice results in a feedback loop with more heat being absorbed. The past few weeks are a good example of that phenomenon as the Arctic, including Alaska, has experienced record-breaking heat. Warmer-than-normal air stretches from Alaska east through Canada to Greenland. That broad warming has displaced a cold pool of air southward into the U.S. mainland. Consequently, the storm moving across the nation’s middle has an excess of warm-cold contrast to feed off of.

Jeff Berardelli@WeatherProf

How does climate change lead to extreme weather? Here’s a clear connection. The Arctic is unusually warm now. Much is forced by climate change-Arctic Amplification. That warm wall displaces cold air south & intensifies the thermal contrast, resulting in a more extreme blizzard!

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In this way it is easy to see a direct link between changing climate, specifically in the Arctic, and extreme weather events elsewhere. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

“This is a very active area of climate change research,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central, a non-profit focusing on climate change communication. “There is compelling evidence linking the warming Arctic to changing jet stream patterns in middle latitudes here in the United States. These changes could lead to a slower moving jet stream, which is more susceptible to large southerly dips.”

When cold pockets embedded in the jet stream dip further south, they interact with air from the sub-tropics.

“Yesterday’s cyclone advected air from the Gulf of Mexico, which was anomalously warm for the season making it more intense. A warmer Gulf is what we would expect from climate change,” explained Dr. Andreas Prein, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Prein says all weather events are affected by climate change because they develop in a warmer and moister climate than in the early 20th century. The degree of affect varies from event to event. But simple physics dictates that as the atmosphere warms it holds more water vapor and drops more precipitation.

This has been especially true in the Upper Midwest where extreme events have dumped close to 40% more precipitation since 1958. This has led to an increase in river flooding.

And the trend is expected to continue into the future. The 2018 U.S. federal government’s National Climate Assessment projects that overall precipitation in the Upper Midwest may increase around 20% by late century, with an even greater share falling in extreme weather events.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Jeff Berardelli@WeatherProf

Image left: Trends in river flooding magnitude since 1920s. Green triangles show increases which are most prominent in the Upper Midwest. Image Right: Projected changes in winter/spring rainfall by later this century. Image credit NCA 2014 and 2018

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Since January 1, areas of the Upper Midwest and Plains States have experienced more than two and a half times the normal precipitation. As a result, dozens of river gauges in the area are still registering major or moderate flooding. The extreme storm hitting this week is likely to make the flooding worse in the coming days.

As climate change continues to escalate, the adverse impacts on our everyday lives will grow. Prein stresses more study is needed.  “Climate attribution studies have to be conducted to study the exact impact of climate change on these cyclones but events like these might become more frequent and more severe in the future.”

Blizzard warnings issued across central U.S. as region faces “bomb cyclone”


A storm impacting Rockies and Plains states has met the scientific definition of what’s commonly known as a “bomb cyclone.” It’s the second such blast to hit the region in less than a month. Hundreds of flights have been canceled and some roads in the region are becoming impassable or accidents have already occurred.

The weather phenomenon is difficult to explain in layman’s terms. Essentially, air pressure drops rapidly and a storm strengthens explosively.

Weather service meteorologist Mike Connelly in South Dakota said the storm could be “historic” in terms of widespread heavy snow. He expects some records to be set. Wind gusts could reach up to 50 mph.

Blizzard warnings were posted in at least six states from Colorado to Minnesota as the storm developed, CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz reports. The National Weather Service said up to 2.5 feet of snow could fall in parts of eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota. Some 17.5 million could face extreme weather.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has closed state government offices in 52 counties. CBS New York weathercaster said the area has been pummeled by snow. Numerous schools around the state have closed. Numerous traffic crashes were reported in northeastern South Dakota, and the storm knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses in Sioux Falls.

An unusual but not rare weather phenomenon known as “thunder snow” — snow accompanied by thunder and lightning — was reported in central South Dakota. “It’s essentially a thunderstorm, but it’s cold enough for snow,” Connelly said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said “the National Guard stands ready” to rescue any stranded motorists. Multiple crashes along a snowy stretch of Interstate 35 prompted officials to close about 10 miles of the highway about 50 miles south of Minneapolis.

Winter storm warnings were issues across multiple states, including Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

“A strong late-season winter storm will move across the North-Central U.S. into the Great Lakes through Friday,” the National Weather Service said Wednesday. “This will feature blizzard conditions and some ice on the cold side with severe thunderstorms on the warm side.”

A map showing warnings, watches, advisories and alerts on April 10, 2019 NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

“Further south, high winds and very dry conditions will produce the potential for rapid wildfire growth across the High Plains and Southwest states into at least Thursday,” the service said.

The storm last month led to massive flooding in the Midwest that caused billions of dollars in damage.

“Bomb cyclone” preparations in Denver

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has activated the Colorado National Guard for the impending “bomb cyclone,” CBS Denver reported. This is the second bomb cyclone to hit Colorado in less than a month.

The National Guard, about 50 soldiers officials say, will help rescue stranded drivers from across the state, the station added.

In addition, Colorado Department of Transportation officials have closed eastbound Interstate 76 from Lochbuie because of Wednesday’s blizzard. They say they’re prepared to shut down more interstates if needed.

CBS Denver said nearly 100 plows have traveled and cleared the roads since Wednesday morning. Travel on Wednesday night is discouraged.

Standing in the Fire With Young Climate Activists

A global student uprising is underway, with youth worldwide demanding that adults face the climate crisis head on. They need a strong foundation in themselves and adult partnership for the challenges ahead.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg became one of the most well-recognized faces of this movement following her speech before world leaders at a UN climate conference in Poland in December 2018, when she said, “Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”

Youth leaders like Thunberg are rising up across the globe. I had the privilege of working with a group of them from the United World College of the Atlantic in early March this year when I co-led a retreat in the U.K. with 17- and 18-year-olds. There were six adults in the retreat as well as students from 11 countries. All of the students had been on the front lines of the most recent strike; all of them carry deep questions about their futures. A young woman from the Netherlands named Maura Van der Ark — whom I had met in the Amazon Rainforest two summers ago, as Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail and I conducted research for his book, The End of Ice — had organized the retreat to help fellow students find a solid footing in these times.

Need for a Deep Pause

At our retreat, the talented, motivated, bright, devoted young people collapsed into the spacious, undemanding atmosphere that we offered to them. Expectations from parents, school and the immediacy of the climate crisis were suspended. One of the students, Laurie Chan, wrote this of her experience:

To be able to pause and to truly think is so rare and difficult to get in this fast-paced life…. The idea that we are more productive if we are constantly on the move isn’t true at all. If anything, it makes us tired and forget who we are, what our values are, who we want to be, and where we want to go…. The most important takeaway I had from the retreat is that meaningful seemingly life changing answers are always inside of us, but it takes this kind of self-introspection in order to put the pieces together and draw it out of ourselves.

Of this same vein, Sanela Ramic from Bosnia wrote, “Calm is indeed a superpower.”

Walking Together, With Intergenerational Respect and Solidarity

One of the students, Beth Irving, spoke about having a 60-year spread in ages within the retreat, and what she thought of the older generations. “There is a lot of blame and anger directed towards the older generations,” she wrote to me after the retreat ended. “I want you to take me seriously when I say I am terrified. And I need you to take action, now, like I am doing.”

“We make not be able to reverse the climate situation, but reassurance comes from knowing others care like I do,” Irving continued. “Anything we muster may not be enough, but the salvation is that we will do this TOGETHER. I tend to hide out in my hopelessness; so it really helps to consider this openly together.”

Shortly after writing this, Irving joined Greta Thunberg and a band of student leaders she gathered to further strengthen the student-led strikes.

A vulnerable, honest co-generational conversation is needed for both adults and our children.

Weston Pew, who is in his 30s, facilitates workshops that help people sink into the enormity of the times, while bringing us back into right relationship with each other and the planet, regardless of the outcome of the converging crises that are now upon us.

In “A Call to Our Elders,” he wrote that his prayer for people over 50 years old is “re-establishing connection to … the self which acts not solely for the benefit of oneself and family but for the health and well-being of the whole of humanity and the larger living systems of which we are kin … such action defines what it means to be an ancestor worthy of the love and respect of future generations.”

One night in the middle of the retreat, I lay awake wrestling with a burning dilemma: How does one balance the wisdom of Cherokee elder Stan Rushworth, who says, “You never cross the fire of a young person,” with our responsibility to tell the truth that we are already off the cliff with regards to runaway climate disruption?

Or, put another way, how do we discuss the immediate need to adapt our lives to worsening wars, water scarcity, impending global crop failures, sea level rise and societal chaos, without threatening or dampening a child’s innate creative force and desire to live?

My sister, after having worked for decades in the Massachusetts school system, is right when she says, “Never ever take hope away from the young people.”

And we also have an urgent need to assess what we are able to do personally and collectively in this precious window of time, looking squarely at the scientific realities.

This tension, at least in our experience at the retreat, resolved itself. The young people are waking up to the urgency of the current climate crisis, often faster than adults who are invested in the status quo.

The next morning, we were in a conversation about the students’ feelings of empowerment and intimacy with co-strikers. At one point, we ended up hanging out in a long pause. After a while, Beth broke the silence. Referring to the global student walk-outs, she said flatly, “It is not enough.” They know, each one in their own way.

Dahr Jamail also recently spoke to a full house at a Seattle town hall meeting. In the front row were high school students who had traveled three hours on a bus to look at the realities straight on.

A 17-year-old climate-striker, Shayla Oates, told Barbara of her experience in Australia, March 15. Oates organized the strike in Armidale, Australia, and wrote of it afterwards:

I don’t believe governments will make significant changes regardless of our efforts. And even if significant changes were put in place, they wouldn’t change the climate catastrophe. But regardless, the event just ended and I feel relieved and happy. I have about 50 letters to send to Parliament that were written by students and adults, and the overwhelming support leaves me hopeful.

Here is the knowing and hope side by side. And the need to be linked with elder friends.

Madalena Eisele Cabral Vaz Andrefrom Portugal, came to the retreat with the knowing weighing heavily on her spirits. She read a poem to us that she had written to Mother Earth prior to our gathering. The last five lines went like this:

Dear Mum,
I am sorry I wasn’t strong enough
I am sorry I quit fighting for you
I am sorry I let you down
and that we did not make it through.

At the close of the gathering we planted a tree together in a field, an oak that could outlive us by a thousand years. Each of us placed a kernel of ceremonial corn into the hole that held a personal prayer. The students gave names to their seeds. Vaz Andre named her seed “Resilience.” She told me:

I know that people must care about the Earth if they are to take action. This takes time, and patience. I believe I will at times face failure, frustration and hopelessness, which could lead to giving up. This is why I named my seed “resilience”. Life is not easy and there are many moments that might push us to give up, or to take the easy way out … this willingness to have it easy and quick is something that I want to fight against. I believe in taking time, in having time.

And resilience demands exactly that: “time.”

Meaning at the Intersection of Personal Interests and Needs of the World

In Western culture, we often find meaning in the context of an improved future and personal legacy. Faced now with the sober knowing that is carried at some level in many of our young people, we must look at creating meaningful lives in the midst of the dire conditions in which we find ourselves.

During the retreat, we tried on an assumption that we all came to live on the Earth in this moment of crisis by choice … that we wanted to grow into the strength and depth needed to participate in the challenges at hand. Perhaps a pervasive underlying sense of victimhood regarding the catastrophic conditions we got landed with is not entirely accurate, or useful. Who knows?

We then reflected on how our innate characters combine with cultural and biological dynamics and the trembling realities in which we find ourselves to create each of our unique callings for contributions in the face of climate disaster. These strands inform the deep field of potential out of which we emerge as ourselves. Tapping into that potential was possible in the protected space of extraordinary quiet and listening. The flow of our conversation naturally passed through pools of quiet, which we came to respect as an incubator of realization and insight. We looked at what brings us alive and considered these as the guideposts pointing to our unique contributions.

Instead of thinking only in terms of leadership for survival’s sake, the students tuned into their artistic passions, their need to connect with ancestral streams, their affinity for non-traditional intimacy, their call to reshape relevant curriculum in schools, etc. When their fire was lit, it was easy to feel empowerment and leadership, though not perhaps in terms of progressive mindsets. They came to see their communal job as support of each one’s distinct and evolving thread of interest and excitement.

Making Promises

During the retreat, we also tapped into the ancient spirituality associated with the circular earthen mounds that defined the location of the structures on the estate, likely of Celtic origin. The students were intrigued with the energetic and ceremonial foundations of the land we were on.

Reflections on the Celtic spiritual origins of the site gave way to their own stories of medicinal healing capabilities in their ancestors and shamanic traditions in their lineages. Pete Glassey, the steward of the land, taught us how to measure the age of the ancient oaks. The stories and the trees triggered forms of memory and inspiration that are not normally factored into our survival options. It felt to me that these young people were keepers of another way of being. At the close of our tree-planting ritual, we sang over the small tree as an unusually strong wind blew in, and one could easily feel the presence of something larger. As we hit the wall on so many fronts on the planet, perhaps relationship with nonlinear factors is important.

At the end of the retreat, students boarded the bus back to Wales. Before disembarking, they turned to one another and made several promises. One was that whenever they passed one another on campus, they would hug one another. They are carrying through with this, filling their need for touch, a calming of the nervous system and a remembering of a deeper stream of wisdom.

They are also sharing this wisdom more widely. The young people who came to the retreat offered a version of this workshop to another ring of 25 students this past weekend, and they are establishing a nondenominational Quiet Room on the campus.

They also agreed that when they encountered one another and asked, “How are you doing?” they would answer honestly, and truly listen to one another.

Here are the seeds of healthy community, taking hold.

Sanela Ramic ended the final dinner of the retreat with these words penned on a card she wrote to the group:

We are all born with softness, it is vital that we grow into it and never let our hearts grow cold. It is not surviving that is most important. What counts is that we don’t betray each other.

The fire, in both young and old, keeps our hearts warm even as they break, opening ever more deeply into our vital connections with one another and to this precious Earth.

Dahr Jamail contributed to this report.

Annotated References:

Greta Thunberg, Swedish student and climate activist, told world leaders at a UN climate conference in Poland in December 2018: “Change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.” Watch her TED Talk here.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, author Richard Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond–and many are right in our own backyards.

Support children in the face of climate change, a Facebook page that is a timely and wise resource for parents, teachers and adults, hosted by Jo McAndrews, who is integral in the Extinction Rebellion.

Weston Pew’s article. Weston is a wilderness guide in Montana and is launching a media platform called Pathways to Resilience. He is founder and lead mentor of Inner Wild, a program dedicated to helping individuals of any age cultivate deeper relationships to self, Earth, and community through exposure to and guidance from the natural world.

Dahr Jamail’s “Climate Disruption Dispatches” are regular updates on the science of climate change, and are reliable sources of scientific truth.

Global warming is shrinking glaciers faster than we thought

WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought. A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

The most comprehensive measurement of glaciers worldwide found that thousands of inland masses of snow compressed into ice are shrinking 18 percent faster than an international panel of scientists calculated in 2013.

The world’s glaciers are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s. Their melt is accelerating due to global warming, and adding more water to already rising seas, the study found.

“Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time,” said lead author Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich. “That’s clearly climate change if you look at the global picture.”


The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics. Glaciers in these places on average are losing more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature.

“In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century,” Zemp said.

Zemp’s team used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers, far more than previous studies. They determined that southwestern Asia is the only region of 19 where glaciers are not shrinking, which Zemp said is due to local climate conditions.

Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow (9.6 trillion metric tons), the study found. Melted, that’s enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of water.

Scientists have known for a long time that global warming caused by human activities like burning coal, gasoline and diesel for electricity and transportation is making Earth lose its ice. They have been especially concerned with the large ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica.

This study, “is telling us there’s much more to the story,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn’t part of the study. “The influence of glaciers on sea level is bigger than we thought.”


A number of factors are making sea levels rise. The biggest cause is that oceans are getting warmer, which makes water expand. The new figures show glacier melt is a bigger contributor than thought, responsible for about 25% to 30% of the yearly rise in oceans, Zemp said.

Rising seas threaten coastal cities around the world and put more people at risk of flooding during storms.

Glaciers grow in winter and shrink in summer, but as the Earth has warmed, they are growing less and shrinking more. Zemp said warmer summer temperatures are the main reason glaciers are shrinking faster.

While people think of glaciers as polar issues, shrinking mountain glaciers closer to the equator can cause serious problems for people who depend on them, said Twila Moon, a snow and ice data center scientist who also wasn’t part of the study. She said people in the Andes, for example, rely on the glaciers for drinking and irrigation water each summer.

A separate study Monday in Environmental Research Letters confirmed faster melting and other changes in the Arctic. It found that in winter, the Arctic is warming 2.8 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Overall, the region is getting more humid, cloudier and wetter.

“It’s on steroids, it’s hyperactive,” said lead author Jason Box, a scientist for the Danish Meteorological Institute.