If you can only understand things through comic books, check out www.funnyweather.org, a comic book guide to global warming.
As we wrote in a recent blog, global warming is less scary perhaps than the combination of environmental degradation and global warming. The New York Times recently came out with an interesting article on how the combination of poor natural resources management and climate change are causing desertification in Spain (see Water Is a New Battleground in Spain).
In many arid parts of the world, water is a key component to survival (physical and economic). Global warming will have the effect of reducing water supply in some regions, while increasing it in others. Spain, like much of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa, will not be so lucky.
According to the article, climate change will bring about increasing desertification, driving 135 million people off their land. Spain’s weather and habitat is drying, and becoming more like Africa. The Spanish Environment Ministry estimates that one-third of the county is at risk of turning into desert. Moreover, in a demonstration of the heterogeneity of the effects of climate change, records demonstrate that the average surface temperature in Spain has risen 2.7 degrees compared with about 1.4 degrees globally since 1880. Rainfall is predicted to fall 20 percent from this year to 2020, and 40 percent by 2070, according to United Nations projections.
Moreover, the demands for water are increasing. Developers, with water intensive properties, are fighting farmers, who are seeking to grow increasingly water intensive crops inappropriate for an increasingly arid environment, for water.
Adaptation to climate change will mean future changes in zoning coupled with better management of water. Although the article stresses that water will replace oil as a source of conflict around the world, there is some data that suggests that it is the high strategic importance of water that encourages cooperation. What is true is that most wars are fought for control over resources, but this may be the first time that there is conflict due to change in those resources.
A Guest Blog by Mohammad A. Chakaki
Standing amidst Dubai’s tall buildings and immaculate landscaping or gazing out at the sandy desert beyond all the construction, one could be forgiven for not realizing that this emirate’s dominant ecology is coastal and marine. I certainly wasn’t looking there when I first got to Dubai, and I imagine this is the case for most other visitors to this booming Persian Gulf city. We have climate control to thank for this ecological oversight. Air conditioning, that is.
Dubai’s climate is harsh. Average maximum temperatures for eight months out of the year are above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) with an average high of 38 degrees C (100 degrees F) in the 5 hottest months (May through September). The warm waters of the Gulf are no respite, as they can exceed an average of 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) in the summer months (source: Dubai Meteorological Office). Add high humidity to this and, quite obviously, staying indoors and in air conditioning makes sense. This, however, is where the disconnection from a place’s ecology begins.
Again, in Dubai’s case, this dominant ecology is more coastal and marine than terrestrial. It is connected to the nearby waters of the Persian Gulf. Not surprisingly, Dubai’s cultural traditions are also tied to the coast and the water. This includes a tradition of pearl diving, fishing, sailing and even architecture. This last point, traditional architecture and its connection to Dubai’s climate, is the topic of this blog post.
Vernacular Architecture and the Windtower
Traditional architecture develops over time. People’s behavioral adaptations to their natural environment (part of their culture and ecology, respectively) are embodied in the design of their buildings (their architecture). The product of this interplay between a local ecology and culture is termed a vernacular architecture.
Stephen R. Kellert, a professor of social ecology at Yale University and author of Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection, describes vernacular design as design that “facilitates [the] subtle process of interaction, adaptation, and exchange of culture and nature within the context of a particular locality” (170). With that in mind, I suggest we think of this vernacular as a storehouse of cultural adaptations to a local ecology.
The windtowers of Dubai are a prime example of vernacular architecture. This Persian architectural (cultural) adaptation was easily adopted and adapted to a similar ecology and culture on the Arabian side of the Gulf. Brought to Gulf states like Bahrain and the UAE in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by immigrants from Iran, where the design was first developed, the windtower is also a compelling symbol of climate adaptation.
In their insightful book, Windtower, Anne Coles and Peter Jackson chronicle the history of the arrival and development of this vernacular architecture in Dubai. After reviewing the structure and function of windtowers in Dubai’s Bastakiya area (named after Bastak in Iran, home to the merchants that brought the windtower design with them to Dubai), and subjecting scale models to scientific analysis, this is what they conclude:
Windtowers can make an important contribution to improving comfort in relatively humid, as well as dry, hot climates, and can continue to do so. In a world where issues of energy conservation are becoming increasingly critical, any passive system using natural ventilation to achieve its effect, offers considerable advantages both in wealthy and less developed regions… We believe that the principles behind the comfort achieved by the windtowers of Bastakiya can continue to be developed by architects and engineers for the benefit of our future built environment (173).
Windtowers are designed to capture the afternoon breeze coming off the Gulf and passively cool the rooms below during the hottest part of the day. Thus, the windtower connects climate, through a people’s cultural adaptation, with the ocean (the Gulf, in this case) and the land. A passive, elegant, efficient and adapted technology (both culturally and ecologically), windtowers are a very different import than the modern towers of today’s Dubai.
Rethinking Design in Dubai
These modern towers are, instead, climatically controlled by brute force and extravagant energy inputs. This is a way of building that was developed in and adapted to a very different climate than that of Dubai. Acclaimed architect, engineer and re-thinkers of design William McDonough and Michael Braungart make this same argument in their forward-thinking Atlantic Monthly article (published a decade ago!), The NEXT Industrial Revolution:
The leading goal of design in this century has been to achieve universally applicable solutions. In the field of architecture the International Style is a good example. As a result of the widespread adoption of the International Style, architecture has become uniform in many settings. That is, an office building can look and work the same anywhere. Materials such as steel, cement, and glass can be transported all over the world, eliminating dependence on a region’s particular energy and material flows. With more energy forced into the heating and cooling system, the same building can operate similarly in vastly different settings (3).
To be sure, that this mode of building is ecologically and culturally out of place is not merely the case in Dubai. “Much contemporary architecture,” writes Stephen Kellert in Building for Life, “ignores the adaptive melding of culture and nature that characterizes good vernacular design, seeking instead to impose an abstract ideology and technology that typically results in the wholesale alteration of the human and natural landscape” (170). So in making the case for rethinking design in Dubai, I hope this makes the same case for many other places. A future blog post here will take up this issue again as it pertains to design and development in the Middle East, more generally.
My primary concern is that Dubai’s rapid growth has outpaced its indigenous culture’s ability to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions and adopt them into its vernacular architecture. Dubai’s architecture no longer responds to its environment in subtle, elegant and efficient ways. Instead, it is energy intensive and alienating. It disconnects people from both the local climate (which is, indeed, harsh) and the culture that adapted to it.
The commodified, “plastic” windtowers plastered atop many structures around Dubai is the form without function or its traditional essence. What would the modern essence of a windtower look like? Kenneth Yeang’s ecological towers in Malaysia and Singapore, perhaps; or Georgia Tech’s award-winning design solution for pedestrian windtowers in Dubai; or, as one of my colleagues pointed out, a modern workday that gives both people and buildings a break during the hottest part of the day. In Spanish this cultural adaptation is called a siesta, in Arabic a qaylula. The lessons here are simple but profound, work with the ecology of a place not against it.
These are just a few examples of design that reconnects people to place. Reconnecting people, especially young people (the next generation of architects and engineers), to the ecology that inspired a place’s vernacular architectural tradition is important. “Effective vernacular design,” argues Stephen Kellert, “can be achieved in a modern context of large-scale and short-term construction, but it requires sensitivity, knowledge, and forethought that meaningfully seeks to connect existing social conditions to the health and integrity of local ecological systems” (170). There are lessons for us, in both the ecology and culture of such (local) places, of adaptation to a harsh climate in subtle but significant ways. Lessons that call for a change in design, technology, education and lifestyle that we can no longer afford to ignore.
§ Dubai Meteorological Office (http://www.dubaiairport.com/dubaimet/MET/Climate.aspx)
§ Kellert, Stephen. 2005. Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Washington, DC: Island Press.
§ Coles, Anne and Jackson, Peter. 2007. Windtower. Dubai, UAE: Oriental Press.
§ McDonough, Willam and Braungart, Michael. 1998. “The NEXT Industrial Revolution.” Atlantic Monthly. (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199810/environment)
§ CNN Interview with Kenneth Yeang: (http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/07/16/yeang.qa/)
§ EDITT Tower, Singapore (T.R. Hamzah and Yeang, Dr. Ken Yeang), image source: (http://www.think08.co.uk/files/advertedittfull.jpg)
§ GA Tech’s winning entry at the 2006 Dubai Forum for Sustainable Urban Development: (http://www.coa.gatech.edu/news/features/06SumFallHighlights/dubai.php)
With the tremendous increases in the price of fuel (the price of light sweet crude, the benchmark indicator for crude oil prices, went up over $10 in a single day on the New York Mercantile Exchange for July delivery - almost 10%), including setting up a new record high of $139.12. There are many reasons for this increase. There are tensions in the middle eastern tensions over a potential conflict with Iran which owns the world’s second biggest oil and gas reserves, and the US dollar continued its decline with the announcement that the European Central Bank would raise interest rates for the Euro (making their currency more valuable, vis-à-vis our own. Friday’s surge was the biggest single-day price increase in the history of the New York Mercantile Exchange crude. What does this mean for international travel? Well, the US domestic carrier American Airlines has started charging passengers $15 for each extra bag that they bring with them. Other airlines are charging for each additional bag beyond the first one checked, but may follow American’s lead after a period of time. What’s next on the horizon as airlines (which operate on ridiculously thin profit margins) seek to avoid future bankruptcy?Well, as Americans get fatter and fatter, perhaps the solution is to charge passengers as a combination of the real fuel costs to the airlines - the distance traveled and the weight of the passengers. Further, many international conferences - such as the Society for Conservation Biology - are reducing their impacts on carbon emissions by voluntarily asking individuals to cover the costs of their emissions through paying a fee that would subsidize a conservation activity (such as reforestation or preservation of currently unprotected forests, known as a conservation off-set). This encourages us to consider a potential solution: what if airline passengers were charged a tax for their carbon emissions in directly apportioned to their weight and the amount of baggage that they would be bringing?One airline has done this - check out http://flyderrie-air.com, the world’s only carbon-neutral airline where you pay by the pound.
My favorite website - www.mongabay.com - has a terrific interview with Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, on defaunation (the full interview is available here). Defaunation is the removal of species from an ecosystem through different processes, including hunting, deforestation, wildlife trade, invasive species, and extinction (both local and global) through forest fragmentation and environmental degradation. Much like deforestation removes trees from an ecosystem, defaunation removes the animal species that live within those environments. Dr. Dirzo, who has spent a lifetime working in tropical forests, makes the point in the interview with www.mongabay.com that:
”For one thing, biological extinction is the only irreversible global environmental change that we can think of. Climatic change, given time and willingness on behalf of governments and society, is something we can fix. It will take time but is reversible. What is completely irreversible is the loss of populations, species, and ecosystems.”
Dr. Dirzo makes two interesting points within the interview. The first is that we should pay particular attention to the extinction of populations as we lose populations before we tend to lose species. Paul Ehrlich’s lab, Dr. Dirzo’s colleague at Stanford, was one of the first to assess the number of distinct populations for particular species on the earth and calculate an estimate of the rate of loss of populations (see here for this paper). The second was that habitat fragmentation and deleterious land-use practices are also driving species extinct.
There is one problem with Dr. Dirzo’s argument, however, that is that species extinctions, and the factors that cause defaunation are probably confounded with climate change. Climate change may play a major role in species extinction, but these factors become exacerbated with existing practices, such as the global wildlife trade, hunting, deforestation and fragmentation. Much like a drum and a drumstick, it is difficult to sometimes apportion out the contribution from habitat fragmentation and from climate change.
This is not to say that we should ignore the short-term extinction drivers that affect the persistence of populations, but also include climate change as a component of the extinction process, one that may exacerbate or drive other processes. For instance, habitat fragmentation may have a more significant impact on species distribution if the species are forced due to climate related changes to change their ranges. For instance, Dr. Cagan Sekercioglu (also a former student of Paul Ehrlich’s at Stanford), found that with a 6.4 degree C increase in temperature, 1 in 3 land bird species would go extinct due to habitat fragmentation and degradation in a paper published in the journal Conservation Biology (available here, summarized here). According to Dr. Sekercioglu, however, 79 percent of those species estimated to go extinct are not currently threatened with extinction.
Similarly, climate change may affect other factors that are currently behind species extinctions. Climate change may allow for invasive species or infectious diseases to more easily invade a habitat or expand their range into new habitats. Novel diseases (due to range expansion) may cull populations, making them more susceptible to other extinction events. New invasive species may outcompete existing species for food. New predators may wipe out species and populations. Increasing storm severity and changes in previously homogenous climates may have an overall damping effects on species populations, making them more susceptible to other extinction drivers. These changes may permeate through the entire ecosystem and trophic chains.
The IPCC appears to estimate species extinctions from range shifts and vegetation changes. Still, IPCC Fourth Working Group Assessment finds that with a warming of 2-3 degrees, one third of all species will go extinct. It however probably underestimates overall species extinction rates since it treats species as equal independent units with an equal risk of extinction. The risk of extinction is probably highly correlated because species are frequently interdependent and interact. Moreover, we should probably look at what would happen to communities and populations as well when providing these estimates. A global system of monitoring and assessment of key habitats, species, and ecosystems will be increasingly important to look at the impact of changes to our global environment.
A major meta-analysis study published in the May 15 edition of Nature that combined nearly 30,000 data sets on biological and physical changes around the world collected for at least 20 years between 1970 to 2004 with a detailed database of global temperature change found, not surprisingly, that the biological changes were strongly correlated with temperature changes (r = 0.99) on a global scale, and somewhere between 90 and 99 percent on a continental scale. The study was also able to rule out other forces, such as changes resulting from land use change, as alternative explanations for the correlations they saw.
The study, lead by Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA Goddard, with scientists from 10 other institutions, is the first to formally link observed global changes in physical and biological systems to human-induced climate change, predominantly from increasing greenhouse gases, on a global scale. The findings of the study are breaking taking. In North America alone, for instance, there 89 plant species that are flowering earlier. The study finds behavioral changes in some species, such as polar bears (including intraspecific predation and cannibalism) and changes in the breeding and arrival dates of birds. In Europe, glaciers are melting in the Alps. In Asia, there are changes in tree communities in Mongolia, and changes in the freeze depth of permafrost in Russia. Glaciers are melting in South America. Antarctica is seeing declines in emperor penguins and retreating glaciers. Lakes in Africa are decline in productivity.
NASA provides some imagery to see these changes along with their news release, the latter which you can find here. For instance, they include satellite imagery of lakes disappearing on the Siberian permafrost with increases in temperature changes. As the permafrost melts with increasing temperature, the water drains into the ground, resulting in fewer lakes (see below).
The study should reasonably end any debate on whether global climatic disruption is occurring, and that the overall signal indicates a warming trend that is driving biological and physical changes consistently around the world, despite the complexities of microclimatic variation. The question still remains what is the ultimate magnitude of such changes and how will species adapt to them. Fundamentally, species will react to the environment through their behavior - the cutting edge of adaptation. To the extent their behaviors constrained by the product of a species structural, hormonal, and neural architecture as influenced by its environment, development and evolution, they are limited in the scope of their adaptation to a changing environment. This may include factors such as tolerance to new environmental extremes, predators, different competitive regimes, changes in availability of prey, changes in physical habitats, and changes in diseases and parasites, to name a select few.
This article has some great images showing 20 of the world’s travel destinations that are threatened by climate change. These images not only help to visualize where climate change will cause damages, it highlights the fact that the entire world will be impacted.
And it’s important to note that many of those places, though they are playgrounds of wealthy people from industrialized countries, are in developing nations. They are the homes to millions of people who will see their entire lives, including any livelihood from tourism, impacted by climate change.
An example from the Middle East:
Red Sea Reefs: Yet another popular area for coral reef diving is in the Red Sea, specifically the renowned reefs that lie off the coast of Sharm el Sheikh . However, this region of the world may be on the path towards protecting itself from full damage by global warming through a unique experiment which would grow an artificial reef to replace the natural one. This would allow divers to continue coming to the area for at least a short while after global warming ruins the existing reefs and could protect the economy of the area which is highly dependent on tourism.
And from Indonesia:
Jakarta: The capital city of Indonesia has already experienced serious flooding last year, which many believe was a direct result of the climate change affecting the world. With more than twenty million people living in its metropolitan area, Jakarta is a city that has a lot to lose if the global warming issue continues unabated.