How Climate Change is Fueling Iran’s Political Instability

Drought.

Year after year after year for the past 15 years, it’s been the reality for Iran.

As with recent severe droughts in places like Syria, Nigeria, India and in other parts of the world, Iran’s drought impacts have forced farmers to abandon fields and move to the cities. It has enhanced economic and physical desperation — swelling the ranks of the poor and displaced. It has produced both food and water insecurity with many families now living from hand and cup to mouth. And it has served as a catalyst for political unrest, protest, and revolt.

(Iran’s Lake Urmia shrinks to ten percent of its former size following a 15 year long drought. Image source: U.S. Department of the Interior.)

Perhaps the most visible sign of this drought’s epic severity is the drying up of the 5,200 square mile expanse of Lake Urmia. The sixth largest salt water lake in the world and the largest lake in the Middle East, Urmia is now a desiccated shadow of its historical range. Just 10 percent of its former size, it is the casualty of both the drought and the dams that have been built to divert water to Iran’s struggling farmers. But it’s not just the lake that’s drying up. In the interior, individual provinces have seen as many as 1,100, or approximately 1/3 of its springs, run out of water.

Iran is on the eastern fringe of the worst drought to hit parts of the Middle East in 900 years. Ninety six percent of the country has been afflicted by escalating drought conditions over the past seven years. A drought so long and deep-running that it has been triggering unrest since at least 2014. A kind of climate change enhanced instability that has been intensifying over recent years.

(Iran shows long term precipitation deficits over 2016-2017 and 2010-2017 in this analysis provided by Iran’s Meteorological Organization.)

The growing drought-driven unrest has thrust climate change into the Iranian political spotlight even as populist farmer uprisings are on the increase. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has directed government to “manage climate change and environmental threats.” However, with climate harms so long-running and with distrust in government so deep, even positive action by Iran’s leaders may be viewed in a negative light. Hindering impetus for response and generating a ripe field for the revolt or fragmentation.

From the scientific perspective, it appears that the effects of climate change are already enhancing the most recent dry period. Temperatures are rising — which increases evaporation. So more rain has to fall for soils to retain moisture. Complicating this issue is the fact that rains are expected to decline by 10 percent even as drier soils are expected to reduce rainfall and snow melt runoff by 25 percent over the next twelve years. Both are impacts caused by climate change and the predicted warming of Iranian summers by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

(Under business as usual fossil fuel burning scenarios, wet bulb temperatures are expected to periodically exceed the range in which humans can healthily function over portions of the Persian Gulf region before the end of this Century. Video Source: MIT News.)

Moreover, a recent MIT study from 2015 found that major cities in the Persian Gulf region may be driven past the tipping point for human survivability under business as usual fossil fuel burning (Wet Bulb of 35 C +) by climate change before the end of this Century (see video above). This means that during the worst heatwaves under this scenario, it would be impossible for human beings to retain an internal temperature cool enough to support key body functions while outdoors for even moderate periods. This would result in higher incidences of heat injury and heat mortality than we see even during present enhanced heatwaves.

Though it is uncertain whether collapse pressure driven by climate change has reached a tipping point for Iran similar to the events which enabled Syria’s descent into internal and regional conflict, the warning signs are there. The international community would thus be wise to both prepare responses and to broadly acknowledge climate change’s role in the enflaming of this and other geopolitical hot spots.

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Rapid Bombification — Super Typhoon Nepartak Barrels Toward Taiwan, Takes Aim at Already Flooded China

This year’s Asian monsoon has been a real beast for China. Inflated by the aftermath of a strong El Nino combining with record global temperatures, the system has sent powerful thunderstorms roaring over eastern sections of the Yangtze River Valley for the better part of two weeks.

These storms have spurred record tornadoes, rocked the Chinese landscape with lightning strikes, and dumped more than 16 inches of rain over a region near Wuhan and just west of Shanghai. The powerful downpours and related winds have now resulted in more than 54,000 building collapses and an estimated 7.7 billion dollars in damages. 32 million people have already been impacted. 1.4 million people have been displaced. And 231 people are now dead or missing (see China Flooding).

China 2 week Rain July 6

(Very intense rainfall over the past two weeks over the Yangtze River Valley region of China has resulted in severe flooding that has destroyed 54,000 buildings and displaced 1.4 million people. Image source: China’s Meteorological Agency.)

And all this before the predicted arrival of a Super Typhoon which is expected to dump as much as 24 inches of additional rain near the hardest hit regions between Shanghai and Wuhan this weekend after it roars over Taiwan on Thursday.

175 mph Super Typhoon Nepartak in the Pipe

As China was reeling from the impacts of heavy rainfall, sea surface temperatures over the Northwestern Pacific were screaming hot. Surface waters over a region south and east of Taiwan on July 4 and 5 approached 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) or 1-2 C above average. In addition, these hot waters extended to great depth beneath southeastern Pacific surface boundaries. As a result, the amount of ocean heat content available to fuel an intensifying Typhoon was at about the top range one would ever tend to see (near 150 KJ per square centimeter, according to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground).

Running through these deep, hot waters on July 4 was a 70 mph max wind intensity tropical storm Nepartak. But as wind shear lessened and Nepartak drew in a deep draught of that high energy Pacific Ocean heat and moisture, the storm exploded. In just one 24 hour period, the system added fully 80 mph of maximum wind speed intensity to leap from a mere tropical storm to a very strong category 4 Typhoon by Tuesday night.

NOAA Typhoon Floater

(Nepartak barrels toward Taiwan and China on Wednesday in this NOAA enhanced satellite image.)

By Wednesday, the storm had achieved category 5 Super Typhoon intensity with top sustained winds estimated at 175 mph and a lowest central pressure of 900 mb (Japanese Meteorological Agency and Joint Typhoon Warning Center).

The Typhoon is now expected to make landfall in Taiwan on Thursday as a Category 4 storm. Heavy storm surges, very powerful winds, and 5-15 inches of predicted rainfall over most of Taiwan with up to 43 inches in the higher elevations is expected to generate flooding, landslides, structural damage, and to disrupt crops.

The storm is then predicted to leap the Taiwan Strait and track north and west over mainland China. As the storm weakens, it is expected to be drawn northward into a trough that will ultimately funnel its moisture over the already flooded region between Shanghai and Wuhan. In this zone, between 4 and 24 inches of additional rainfall is possible as the storm winds down and unburdens its massive water load.

Nepartak Rainfall Swath

(NCEP’s predicted rainfall swath for Nepartak results in additional extreme rainfall expected for already flooded regions near the Yangtze River. Image source: NCEP and Weather Underground.)

In total, weather associated with Nepartak is expected to produce a 5 day long extreme wind, storm surge and rainfall event for Taiwan and China. Heaviest impacts will likely occur in Central Taiwan near the predicted point of landfall and in the region west of Shanghai where Nepartak’s predicted rains could result in even more severe flooding for the already hard hit Yangtze River region.

Conditions in Context — Ocean Heat Intensifying, Expanding in All Dimensions

A weak La Nina is starting to form in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. And, already, deep, hot water formation has re-intensified in the Western Pacific. Ocean surfaces and temperatures at depth there are now very hot (1-2 C above normal at the surface, with such unusually warm waters extending well below the water-air boundary). Such hot, deep waters promote the formation of very intense tropical cyclones. During 2013, similar sea surface and deep water ocean heat states aided in the formation of the monster 190 mph Super Typhoon Haiyan which then devastated the Philippines.

These very hot water conditions occur in the context of a record warm world. And, in fact, scientific observation has found that not only are peak surface temperatures continuing to rise for broad ocean regions as heat expands into the depths, but that the size of biggest body of hot water on Earth in the Indian and Pacific Ocean is also getting bigger. This new world of hotter ocean surfaces, more extensive hot waters, and deeper extending warm waters all provide more storm intensifying fuel for powerful typhoons and hurricanes.

Indo-Pacific Warm Pool is getting bigger

(The hottest pool of water on Earth lies in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. And, according to new scientific research, that hot pool is expanding in size due to human-forced climate change. Image source: Human-Caused Indo-Pacific Warm Pool Expansion.)

In addition, extreme rains over China have been fueled by a record atmospheric moisture loading. As global temperatures increase, the rate of evaporation also increases. This results in more water held aloft in the Earth atmosphere. Overall, atmospheric water vapor content increases by about 7 percent for each 1 degree Celsius of warming. And the result is an increased likelihood for extreme droughts in some regions (due to added heat and related increasing evaporation rates) and extreme rainfall in others (due to the extra atmospheric moisture producing more intense storms with heavier downpours).

So while the La Nina to El Nino cycle is helping to drive the location of extreme rainfall over China and the location of tropical cyclone formation in the Pacific, human-forced warming is providing more atmospheric fuel to increase the top potential strength of these events.

Links/Attribution/Statements

Category 5 Nepartak Headed For Taiwan

China Floods Leave More than 120 Dead, Scores Missing

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Japanese Meteorological Agency

China Flooding: Wuhan on Alert For Further Rain

NOAA ENSO Forecast

China’s Meteorological Agency

The National Hurricane Center

NCEP

Human-Caused Indo-Pacific Warm Pool Expansion

The Biggest Body of Hot Water on Earth is Getting Bigger

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

Scientific hat tip to Dr Jeff Masters

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to 65Karin

“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone” — How Climate Change is Spurring a Global Refugee Crisis to Rapidly Worsen

Over the past two weeks, news of the plight of a swelling wave of refugees fleeing to Europe has filled the mainstream media. We looked on in horror at reports of innocent human beings fleeing destabilized countries in the Middle East, of people suffocating while stuffed into the backs of trucks, of drowned children washed up on the shores of nations their families had hoped would care for them.

It’s all a part of a growing global mass migration. A tragic dislocation and diaspora. But this time it’s not only birds, or polar bears, or fish, or walruses, or insects, or plants that are being forced to move by habitat and food loss, by toxified environments or by increasingly dangerous weather. It’s human beings too.

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“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone”

(Dead Syrian toddler is not only a victim of conflict. He is a victim of a destabilized climate. Video source: Here)

In the above video we are rightfully compelled to compassion for a drowned boy and his family. A family suffering in a country ripped apart by conflict. A country fractured by insurgent forces that will use any form of brutality to gain and secure power. And in this very narrow frame we are provided with a perpetrator — ISIS — and an-all-too innocent victim. The call for warfare against the human monsters that make up ISIS is clear. But the conditions that created the monster in the first place, as happens all too often with climate change, are completely ignored.

Climate Change as Threat Multiplier in Syria

Syria was never a stable country. At least not so long as colonial and post colonial powers inhibited its development as a functional state. There was always a reason for interference in Syria’s affairs and for a related exploitation of its resources. As the fossil fuel age dawned, such interference became even more intense. Powerful nations and empires wanted Syria’s oil. And when Syria’s oil was gone and the country left suffering from the bitter after-effects of that resource’s deleterious curse, those same powers wanted Syria to remain both stable and weak. To remain sidelined so as not to influence the flow of oil from nearby countries. Countries like Iraq where the West has conducted an ongoing war since the early 1990s.

We justified this under such international relations terms as the realism-based ‘rational self interest of nations.’ And it was this self interest paradigm that national and international businesses — primarily oil companies — used to justify an ongoing exploitation of an increasingly fractured land, its people, and of a resource itself whose continued burning would make an ugly situation far, far worse.

On October 13 of 2014, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called human-forced climate change, through the fossil fuel based dumping of carbon into the atmosphere, a ‘threat multiplier’ saying:

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

What he failed to mention, however, was that for Syria and ISIS it had already happened.

The Drought that Forged ISIS

Before there was ISIS, there was drought. A three year long drought beginning in 2007 and finally ending in 2010. A drought so severe and intense that it basically wiped out Syria’s farming industry. The farmers, mostly family farmers, were faced with a situation in which water use was terribly constrained (due to the combined drought severity and the short-sighted policies of the Syrian government). Farm after farm failed. By 2011, more than 1.5 million people had migrated from the ruined and desiccated rural farms to the cities. Cities that, in turn, became hot-beds of unrest and insurgency.

NOAA Syria worst drought on record

(Map published by NOAA in its 2011 report on Mediterranean drought during 2005 to 2010. In a related finding, Syria experienced its worst drought on record during 2007 to 2010 resulting in the mass loss of farmland and the displacement of 1.5 million people to urban centers. Image source: NOAA — Climate Change Probably A Factor in Syria’s Civil War.)

A scientific report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March found that Syria’s epic 2007-2010 drought had been developing over the course of a century of warming. That the drought was both spurred and made more severe by human forced climate change. And that the increased intensity of drought added by human forced warming likely pushed Syria’s rural farms past the breaking point. The report noted:

There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

The drought, therefore, led to desperation, hunger, anger, and unrest. It provided a mass of displaced persons who had lost the means to provide for themselves and their families. It provided both the trigger and the means for the development of what would later become ISIS (for more on how the Syrian drought helped destabilize the country you can read this brief, but very informative, comic strip). Threat multiplier indeed.

Worst Heatwave in 130 Years Forces Russian Crop Failures, Spurs Arab Spring

As is well known, the flood of refugees coming to European shores are not solely Syrian. Libya, Egypt and a broad number of African and Middle Eastern countries now face destabilizing unrest, violence, and growing numbers of internally displaced persons seeking asylum in other countries. It is this now endemic instability and displacement that can be primarily linked back to two events — drought-spurred crop failures in 2010 and the related food riots that ignited what is now known as the Arab Spring.

For as Syria was experiencing its worst drought in a century, the most intense heatwave in at least 130 years was in the process of also crippling Russia’s agriculture. This terrible heatwave spurred fires, wrecked crops and resulted in the hothouse mass casualty deaths of over 50,000 Russian people. It was an unprecedented event that climate scientist Stephan Rahmstorf identified as 80 percent more likely due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere and oceans. An event that put Russia, typically a major grain exporter, in such a terrible food security situation that it was forced to halt grain exports entirely.

Wildfires and Pyrocumulous Clouds over Russia During the Great Heatwave of 2010

(Wildfires and pyrocumulous clouds over Russia during the great heatwave of 2010. A heatwave that killed 50,000 people and crippled Russia’s agricultural industry. Image source: Earth Observatory and Discovery News.)

By 2011, global food prices — spurred ever-higher by wide-ranging droughts and extreme weather — put millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa in a desperate situation. Food became less and less accessible. In Egypt, the plight of a child set off mass food riots. These food riots spread across the Middle East resulting in the collapse of Egyptian, Syrian, and Libyan governments. Setting in place the severe refugee situation we see today.

Climate Change as Trigger to Europe’s Refugee Crisis

In emerging threats terminology, given the scientific basis for climate change’s influence on extreme weather events related to the refugee crisis, related to the destabilization and collapse of nations, we can identify the Syrian and Russian droughts and heatwaves as precursor crisis influencing and trigger events. What the US Department of Defense terms threat multipliers. Climate change, in this instance, made the Syrian drought and the Russian heatwave worse. These impacts in turn increased desperation, displacement, and hunger in numerous countries spurring unrest and, in some cases, societal collapse.

In Syria, 1.5 million people were directly displaced as the result of a climate change worsened drought. In the Middle East as a whole, nations were indirectly destabilized due to a crop-destroying and climate change worsened heatwave in Russia which set off a wide-ranging food crisis. This destabilization, in its turn, led to still more internally displaced persons in places like Libya and Egypt. Many of whom eventually joined the rising flood of human traffic to the still greener shores of Europe.

And it is in this way that climate change is a root cause to Europe’s refugee crisis. For without climate change we remove the extreme weather amplifier which is a trigger to the whole growing disaster.

Refugee Crisis is Massive, Global, and Growing

Unfortunately, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are not the only regions seeing growing bodies of internally and internationally displaced persons. This week, President Obama in a recent visit highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of Alaskan coastal dwellers whose 31 communities are being devoured by an increasingly stormy and rising Arctic Ocean. In Pakistan coastal farmers are fleeing inland as the fertile lands in the Indus River Delta are being tainted with salt. So far, the count of migrant climate change refugees due to farmland loss is 150,000 Pakistanis. But as seas continue to rise, the situation only worsens. In Bangladesh, cities are already overcrowded with tens of thousand fleeing a rapidly receding coastline. And in the Pacific, low lying island dwellers in the Maldives, Kirubati, and hundreds of other shrinking atolls are seeking homes in far-flung countries possessing lands well above the rising tides.

Kivalina Alaska Washed Away

(Kivalina, Alaska is one of 31 communities now being devoured by the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea due to a combination of sea level rise, permafrost thaw, and increased wave action due to loss of sea ice. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

In total, around the world, 158 million people were displaced by extreme weather events related to climate change since 2008. The fires, floods, hurricanes, extreme droughts, heatwaves and other storms are all growing worse, more violent, more likely to destroy homes and livelihoods. And it’s due to the heat we’ve added into the Earth’s climate system that extreme weather is now a greater direct cause of displacement than even the terrible scourge of warfare.

Some of the persons driven from their homes by such worsening events are able to eventually return to their livelihoods. But some are bereft of necessary aid — living in regions or nations which lack the resources to help. Such persons eventually become tent dwellers or add to the ever-growing tide of people seeking refuge in other, more seemingly stable, countries.

Climate change, extreme weather, human displacement and related political instability are thus now linked in a broad web that spans the globe. And the situation keeps getting worse and worse. It’s a situation that won’t change anytime soon. And one that can only be abated by a concerted response by nations — all of which are now under threat — to both help those people put in this terrible situation and to stop worsening the damage through a rapid cessation of fossil fuel based carbon emissions. Otherwise, by failing to rapidly act, by focusing instead on broadening warfare and conflict rather than root causes, more and more nations and regions will fall under the threat of destabilization, mass impoverishment and collapse as this climate change spurred crisis grows in scope, breadth and intensity.

Links:

Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone

US Secretary of Defense: Climate Change is a Threat Multiplier

Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought

Russia, Crippled by Drought, Bans Grain Exports

Climate Change Increased Likelihood of Crippling Russian Heatwave by 80%

Obama Visits US Climate Change Refugees

Sea Level Rise Sets off Mass Migration in Pakistan

Bangladesh: Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land

Has the Great Climate Change Migration Already Begun?

Climate Change Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Climate Change a Factor in Syria Civil War

The Great Russian Heatwave of 2010

Native Alaskan Villagers Among First US Climate Change Refugees

Climate Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Does it seem to you that the weather is getting worse? Rainfall more intense, droughts drier, longer, more prolific, the strongest storms growing ever stronger? Well, in this case, seeming is all-too-real.

Four decades ago our climate was more placid. Global temperatures were about 0.5 C cooler than they are today. There was less available heat energy to pump up storms. The intensity of evaporation and precipitation was about 4 percent less than it is today and the pace of global warming due to an ongoing fossil fuel emission was slower. Our atmosphere has changed. It has become more dangerous. More capable of producing extreme and disrupting weather events.

Scale of displacement

Nearly 158 million people, or a number equivalent to just under half the population of the United States, were forced from their homes as a result of extreme weather over the past 7 years. It’s a number six times greater than those displaced by earthquakes, volcanoes or other geophysical causes. Individuals living on the Earth today are now at a 60 percent greater risk of being displaced — chiefly due to increases in extreme weather — than they were in 1975. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

And it’s for these reasons that you and I are more vulnerable. More likely to become a casualty of worsening weather. For according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Agency, an agency that tracks the number of displaced persons globally, you and I are 60 percent more likely now to be forced from our homes by a natural disaster than we were in 1975.

The numbers at this point are pretty concerning. On average, over the past 7 years, 26 million people have been displaced by natural disasters in a single year during that period. For 2014, the count was 19.3 million, 17.5 million of which came from extreme weather events — a factor directly related to human-caused climate change. In total, weather disasters resulted in 157.8 million people being forced to flee their homes during the entire period from 2008 to 2014. Extreme weather — not warfare, volcanoes, or tsunami — is now the primary reason human beings are displaced. Droughts, wildfires, floods, powerful hurricanes, superstorms. A litany of self inflicted violence whose impacts we are continuing to worsen.

Displacement by hazard type

From 2008 to 2014, storms and floods resulted in 84% of natural disaster caused displacements. In 2014, storms and floods generated 91% of the total displacement. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The Impacts of Displacement Linger as Worsening Weather, Sea Level Rise Loom

Displacement caused by natural disasters is not an easy problem to fix. Anyone who suffered the loss of a home due to impacts related to Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina can attest to the fact that it often takes a long, long time to become re-established under a secure shelter. For this reason millions of people displaced by extreme weather disasters over the last few years have continued to live as a kind of climate refugee — forced to reside in tent villages or other temporary shelters. Reliant on government assistance because much of what they had, the storms destroyed. Often segregated from larger populations these groups suffer greater risk of falling into permanent poverty and contracting disease even as they are even more vulnerable to subsequent displacement from follow-on events.

As global warming intensifies and the risk of extreme weather events continues to increase, there is also an increasing risk that this expanding number of displaced persons will result in nation-destabilizing stresses in various regions of the world. Currently, the greatest number of displaced persons is centered in the high population density countries of Asia and the Caribbean. But as climate change begins to add another flood stress due to global sea level rise, it is likely that displacement will become ever more ubiquitous.

Even more concerning is the fact that the storms we see now are the early, easy outliers. The ‘small’ climate change weather demons that have already displaced more than 150 million people. Hansen’s Storms of our Grandchildren haven’t yet arrived in full force. And rates of sea level rise are just now starting to ramp up. Would that we had the wit, will, and wisdom to help prevent at least some of this unfolding tragedy. If we do not, there’s no fall back. We’re it.

Links:

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

NOAA Temperature Graph

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Pumps up The Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

The Storms of My Grandchildren

 

 

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