Thank Ice Ages for Lakes

Map of the world's lakes with surface areas of 10 hectares or more. Dark blue areas reflect the high concentration of lakes in those regions. Credit: HydroLAB, McGill University

New research from the McGill University, published in Nature Communications, maps the distribution of our planet's lakes. It clearly shows how the last ice age shaped and formed many of the 1.4 million lakes, larger than 10 hectares, that contain 15% of all the lake water in the world. Dark blue color indicates density of lakes, and as the map shows the highest density can be found in the northern hemisphere, in regions previously covered in large ice sheets. The rest of the worlds lake water, 85%, can be found in the 10 largest lakes. About half of the lakes are freshwater and the other half are salt lakes.

Global distribution of water volume stored in lakes and reservoirs with a surface area of at least 10 ha. Source: Messager et al. (2016)

If we look at individual countries (table below) we find that Canada, Russia, USA, China, Sweden, Brazil and Norway rank in the top in regards to number of lakes and area (km2). While Russia stands out with the largest volume (103 km3) due to its many deep water lakes (e.g. lake baikal and lake vostok). Thinking in terms of drinking water, volume would probably be the most important parameter. But then again, distribution, pollution and many other factors come into play when determining access to safe drinking water.

Countries with most lakes
Number of lakes (103)
Area (103 km2)
Volume (103 km3)

The study only focuses on mapping out lakes it doesn’t say anything about what state these lakes are in etc. What we can tell is that the distribution of lakes is very uneven, very few along the equator and plenty in the north. Since water is such a critical resource and we’re already witnessing extreme heatwaves and extended droughts along the equator (e.g. southwestern US, Middle East) people are already realising that agriculture has to shift further north to survive, as do they.

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Death of the American Empire: A dangerous time for peace

Two destroyed tanks in front of a mosque in Azaz, Syria. Credit: Christiaan Triebert (CC-BY-2.0)

History is full of empires which in the process of their decline refused to go down peacefully. How will the American Empire end it’s days?

I hope no one is stupid enough to launch World War III. However, many states are fragile now (due to for example: overpopulation, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, bankruptcy, inequality and corruption) so very little is required in terms of external force to trigger conflict. This is clear in the context of the Middle East. Already fragile states, for example Yemen and Syria, turned into complete war zones after civil unrest and aggressive foreign military involvement. Now there are millions of refugees trying to escape the region and people wonder why.

There is a risk that hugely over-armed United States, constantly spreading war propaganda, turn a trivial incident into a major conflict or war. Especially if the domestic population really believe that “America is exceptional” as president Obama declared at the UN General Assembly in 2013, where he listed Russia, ISIS and Ebola as major threats to national security. In 2015, Obama also added Venezuela to that list of threats. Talk about crazy. Of course we all know there is oil in the Middle East, in Russia and Venezuela. Coincidence? 

According to historian and author William Blum, since the end of World War II, the United States has:
- Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments
- Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders
- Attempted to suppress populist or nationalist movements in 20 countries
- Dropped bombs on peoples of more than 30 countries
- Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries
- And have been more involved in the practice of torture than any other country in the world

Even if these numbers are incorrect its no secret that the rest of the world view the United States as the major threat to peace. While war mongering people in Washington utter crazy statements like “Assad must go even if Syria goes with him” - State Department spokesperson Mark Toner. Since the 80s, the US has intervened in the affairs of fourteen Muslim countries, including: Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Yemen, Pakistan and now Syria. So, I can kind of understand if there are some pissed off muslims. 

Not only has the US threatened Russia but also China by surrounding it with military forces. In a report on US-China relations published by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015 it is stated that “there is no real prospect of building fundamental trust, peaceful coexistence,’ ‘mutual understanding,’ a strategic partnership, or a ‘new type of major country relations’ between the United States and China.” And thus, the report declares that, the US must develop “the political will” and military capabilities “to deal with China to protect vital U.S. interests.” What interests? South China sea oil? Global dominance? 

I hope the US runs smack into hard physical limits that cannot be solved by borrowing or printing money, finally forcing them to cut military spending or totally bankrupt the population to the point of domestic revolution. I'm sorry my american friends but your “leaders” are not just nuts they also have way too much destructive power at their disposal. 

“Interventions are not against dictators but against those who try to distribute: not against Jiménez in Venezuela but Chávez, not against Somoza in Nicaragua but the Sandinistas, not against Batista in Cuba but Castro, not against Pinochet in Chile but Allende, not against Guatemala dictators but Arbenz, not against the shah in Iran but Mossadegh, etc.” – Johan Galtung, founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies

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The human response to a melting Arctic

12/03/2016 0 Comments

As usual, humans are extremely short-sighted, trying to exploit the Arctic region now when the sea ice is melting. Putting all their resources into this instead of adapting to a new climate regime.

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Snow and Ice

12/03/2016 , , 0 Comments

When it rains, it pours and when it snows, it snows a lot. On average unusually warm weather is interrupted by sudden cold spells, taking people by surprise. Both Stockholm and Göteborg have had major traffic problems with so much snow falling in such a short time period. City regions struggle to keep subways, trains and highways up and running while smaller municipalities seem to be doing fine. 

First round of snow in November. 
Then again, people who live out in the countryside are better prepared to deal with such events because they are used to having to manage by themselves. Better planning, checking forecasts, not rushing, having more supplies at home and friendly neighbours who will help in a pinch are some of the characteristics that come to mind. I have had a farmer help pull my car from a snowdrift with his tractor.  

Second round of snow in December
 The good thing about the cold and snow is that it kills of annoying parasites like ticks, mosquitos and elk flies. It also makes the surrounding landscape brighter during the day, keeping us humans more sane.

Out on the mire with my dog
And many native species are well adapted to this type of climate. Birds and squirrels eat nuts they stored in the bark of trees, elks eat lichen and fir sprouts and wolves eat elks.

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Polar night

Light installation in a park where I live

On the 30th of November, the sun set at 11:38 in the most northern part, Treriksröset, of Sweden. The next time the sun will go above the horizon is on the 11th of January 2017. Days will become shorter in the entire country until the winter solstice, on 21st of December, and then it turns around. Luckily we have some snow now where I live, which makes the place brighter. 

While the cold has hit Scandinavia, parts of northern Europe, and Russia the Arctic region is suffering from very warm temperature, up to +20 C, anomalies. 

Source: Climate Reanalyzer
The loss of Arctic sea ice is of major concern. The rapid decline in extent and volume has occurred much faster than most climate models have projected. There are several factors that impacts sea ice, not only wind, air and ocean temperature, but also cloudiness and ice thickness. Sea ice loss is showing signs of a downwards spiral that most likely cannot be stopped. Adding extra heating to the Arctic region, the globe as a whole, and changing wind (jet stream) patterns.

Arctic sea ice extent as of November 1, 2016. Source: National Snow & Ice Data Center

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Climate Catastrophe, 5-7°C by 2100

At the same time as the US have elected a science denier as their president a new study in the Journal Science indicate that our planet's temperature could rise by between 4.78°C to 7.36°C during a lifetime (by 2100). Much higher than the IPCC estimated 2.6°C and 4.8°C. A higher climate sensitivity indicates just that, that warming will occur faster than previously expected, giving less time for species to adapt and survive. 

Global mean temperature anomaly. Left panel: Reconstruction of last 784,000 yrs. Right panel: Global warming projection to 2100 based on newly calculated paleoclimate sensitivity. Credit: Friedrich, et al. (2016)

We already know that 2°C of warming is considered dangerous and that 4°C would be utterly devastating. A 4°C scenario could include consequences like: the inundation of coastal cities, loss of food production, malnutrition and hunger, unprecedented heat waves, extreme water scarcity in many regions, increased frequency of tropical storms, irreversible loss of biodiversity etc.

Furthermore, a dramatic rise in temperatures would trigger reinforcing feedback processes in the climate system (e.g. warming→ polar ice melts → more warming → more ice melts) that are pretty much irreversible. Leaving us with no choice but to adapt to the harsh realities of abrupt climate change

President-elect Trump has promised to halt all US climate change politics, including the Paris Accord, and bet all cards on fossil fuel extraction. If so, there will be no international climate agreement worth mentioning and North Americans will be lost in a dark age.

All while the planet keep on getting warmer, generating extreme events, creating more climate refugees and conflict over scarce resources. Until it becomes so unbearable that only a few places on Earth remain as safe havens. It is truly an apocalyptic vision of humanity's future.

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The Era of Deglobalisation and Distrust

Old boat in storm. Source: George Hodan, public domain pictures

Here we are, it’s 2016 and we see a rise in right wing demagogues across Europe and in the United States amidst a prolonged economic downturn. Somehow it feels eerily similar to the 1930s era of the Great Depression and trade wars leading up to World War II. In some respects we do see similar tendencies: excessive borrowing and speculation leading to bubbles and defaults, money printing and currency wars, mass unemployment and destruction of the middle class, a small ruling elite, and more aggressive nationalistic foreign policy. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that human nature has not changed much over a mere 86 years. 

There are, however, some crucial differences from the 1930s and now. In 1930 there were only 2 billion people on the planet, today the count is 7.5 billion. Back then there were still untapped resources, e.g. plenty of easily accessible fossil fuels to dig up and burn, functioning ecosystems and a relatively stable climate. Now, we have reached peak production and headed for decline in almost all natural resources while having to adapt to a changing climate and trying compensate for lost ecosystems. In other words, the situation right now is actually far worse than it was in the 1930s in terms of real world physical conditions. 

These conditions are also the underlying factors to why the global economy is tanking. Reaching a peak in energy production implies hitting a wealth peak since there cannot be any real economic growth without increased energy consumption. Since 1973, when the United States went through local peak oil, and started importing large amounts of oil from the Middle East, the world has seen what happens when peak oil is passed. The average Americans living standard has been in decline ever since and multiple wars have been waged in the interest of securing oil from the Middle East.

I understand that people are fed up with the status quo, the existing power structures, and want change. But no politician can change the fact that resources are diminishing, at most he/she can perhaps do something about the management and distribution of remaining resources. This could be done peacefully but history tells us it will most likely end up in a grab for what’s left by any means necessary. Instead of solving the problems at home many nations will probably turn outwards and try to grab other people's resources while claiming to be under attack from these “others” in form of terrorism, immigration, religious conversion etc. Well, that’s if they can afford it. 

Overall, I think that the deglobalisation trend that started in 2008 will only continue, with more protectionism, stricter border controls, capital controls and failing international cooperation. And when the next major financial crisis hits there will be very little trust left in the international monetary system. Then all hell could break lose. But who knows, we cannot predict the future based on the past.

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Off-grid cottage in the Swedish woods

9/12/2016 , , 4 Comments

Late summer at my cottage
It is now over a year since I left Stockholm for the countryside and finally I found myself a  nice little cottage that I can improve with solar cells and a proper garden. I have a well nearby but no electricity and only a composting toilet. At the moment I will mainly use it as a summer home since the Swedish winter will make the road mostly inaccessible and the cottage doesn't have any proper isolation. Propane stove and fireplace as well as free fire wood is a big plus =) But it has been empty for 2 years so there's plenty to fix. 

Lake nearby

The surrounding area is really beautiful summertime, with lots of old oaks, meadows and a not to small lake with plenty of fish.

My puppy love, Taiga, a Scandinavian Hound
And it's the perfect place to let a puppy roam around. I named him after the great boreal forest of the north, the Taiga, mighty and wild. He is already a really fast runner, no wonder, the husky part in him (mix between vorsteh/alaskan husky). A working dog used for pulling things, but it's too early for that yet.

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How do you feel about climate change?

9/12/2016 , 0 Comments

"Is this how you feel" at weebly is an interesting, heartwarming and sad read all at the same time. It's a site dedicated to climate change scientists who are willing to write down their feelings (fears, hopes, visions etc) about climate change. The letter that resonated most with me was the one from professor Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. I will post the photo of his handwritten letter below, for a typed version see the website.

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Climate disasters increase risk of armed conflict

Genocide in Rwanda 1994. Credit: U.S. Army Africa historical image archive

A new study from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that about 25% of conflicts in ethnically divided countries coincide with natural disasters, not counting climate change impacts. The study focuses on the economic damage from natural disasters to link climatic factors to social impacts. 

About 9% of all (21) global armed-conflict outbreaks significantly coincide with a climatological disaster, drought or heat wave, in the same country. Looking at the period 1980-2010 researchers were surprised to find that ethnical division were a better predictor for armed conflict after natural disasters than other factors such as history, poverty or inequality. "Ethnic divides may serve as a predetermined conflict line when additional stressors like natural disasters kick in" says co-author Jonathan Donges.

Event coincidence analysis results based on the occurrence of disasters that coincide with an armed-conflict outbreak within the same month. Filled segments indicate coincidence rates that are significant at the 95% level.

A relatively stable climate in the Holocene could thus have promoted more peaceful times. Intuitively this makes sense, since a stable climate allows for surpluses to be gathered/harvested. When resources are scarce people are more likely to turn back to tribal behavior of in-and-out groupings. And ethnic division is one way of grouping. 

We know from studies of warfare in chimpanzees that lethal aggression can be evolutionarily beneficial, rewarding winners with food, mates and opportunity to pass along their genes. And among chimps, just like humans, males are responsible for a overwhelming majority of attacks.

Several of the world's most conflict-prone regions such as North and Central Africa and Central Asia are both vulnerable to climate change enhanced natural disasters and have strong ethnic divisions. The instability we have caused in Earth's climate system could thus lead to an increase in armed conflict in these regions. But no region will go unharmed, some are just more prone to armed conflict when natural disasters strike than others.

Armed Conflict Map 2014. Source: Uppsala University

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Guns, nets and bulldozers

Causes of biodiversity loss

While climate change is a major threat to all species on Earth a new report published in Nature shows that overexploitation and agriculture are the two biggest culprits of biodiversity loss.

75% of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since 1500s were caused by humans. A growing global population will only put other species under more pressure, and eventually impact human mortality too.

Biodiversity underpins all ecosystem services (e.g. climate regulation, flood protection, pollination, nutrient cycling, water purification etc) that we currently consume "for free" but will have to replace with costly infrastructure or restoration project once they are gone.

Now that we are reaching limits to what these ecosystems are able to withstand without collapsing or drastically altering states we will see a steep increase in costs for the most basic of resources. Those costs are often dumped on the public by the private sector and may not turn up in prices of goods but instead in  form of increasing taxes, poorer health, growing debts etc.

It is truly a sad fact that most people are so disconnected from the land and oceans that they are blind to the fact that Earth's resources are finite. Once a fish stock has collapsed it may never recover, on a timescale relevant to us.

There is no "replay" button that we can magically push and turn back to some previous healthy state. All we can do now is to minimize the damage. And the best way to do that is by not having more kids than we can feed and not consuming more than we actually need for basic needs.

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Next generation will not be better off

Child labourers, Macon, Georgia, 1909
A growing population and dwindling natural resources, with rapidly rising extraction costs, implies increasing poverty. And this is also what we are noticing among the general populace, a shrinking economic pie has meant smaller pieces for everyone but the super rich who can bet on government stimulated markets. According to McKinsey (2016), real incomes of some 65-70% of households in 25 advanced economies have been flat or falling between 2005-2014. Crushing the long held belief that "the next generation will be better off than their parents".

As people have started to realise that they are having a tougher time to get by economically, or simply less able to buy lots of stuff, trust in governments and social cohesion has fallen. And that is also why we see the phenomena of populist, extremist, politicians gaining more traction as ordinary people become increasingly dissatisfied with status quo.

The divide between the younger and older generation is also growing as younger people are experiencing a harder time finding good paying jobs, saddled with student debt, while expected to provide for a growing share of pensioners. This at the same time as savers, e.g. pensioners, are suffering from negative interest rates and rising living costs.

Earth Overshoot Day is tomorrow, marking the fact that humanity has used up a year's worth of natural resources in only seven months. This have been made possible only by our discovering of stored fossil hydrocarbons which have provided us with cheap and abundant energy. Up until now. As we have plundered the planet for its resources we have hit limits to what Earth's ecosystems can provide without degrading or collapsing. Transgressing those limits means that we now have less resources available every year. 

It's time to wake up to the fact that the world is changing and old beliefs have to be revised. Having children while wasting the Earth's resources is hypocritical if we now claim to be a species with some skill at foresight. 

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7/29/2016 0 Comments

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Don't forget to enjoy the outdoors

7/26/2016 , , 0 Comments

The Klarälven River from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

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Pacific Ocean Regulates Global Climate

Sea surface temperature anomalies from Dec 2013 to Sept 2015. Click here to view animation. Source: NASA

A new paper presented in Nature Geoscience show a realistic evolution of global mean surface temperature since 1900 with the help of advanced computer simulations. The study distinguishes a clear anthropogenic (human caused) warming by removing natural variability, regulated mainly by the Pacific Ocean.

Plotted raw temperature data show a rise of temperatures in a nonlinear fashion, with steeper increases over the past 50 years. When removing natural variability, warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean, the rise in global mean surface temperatures show a more linear increase with an acceleration in the 1960s. The Pacific Ocean thus plays a key role in regulating global climate, for example, by having a cooling effect between 1998-2014 (also known as the “hiatus”).

While raw data show a warming of 0.9 °C between 2010-2014 relative to 1900 Kosaka & Xie’s calculations yields a much higher anthropogenic warming of 1.2 °C after correcting for the natural variability. Because the Pacific had a cooling effect during this period anthropogenic warming have been underestimated. When the Pacific turns from carbon sink to source warming is likely to accelerate. This is the scary thing about natural systems, they behave in dynamic, nonlinear fashion, amplifying or dampening forcings.

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The Failure of Urban Design

James Howard Kunstler holding a presentation about urban design in Sweden at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm.

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When the music stops

Heading for the next financial crisis?

When it comes to the topic of economics there are few trustworthy academics who know what they are talking about. However, an excellent one is prof. Steve Keen at Kingston University. He uses dynamic models and includes banks and credit/debt as key parameters to understanding financial crises. Something neoclassical economists totally ignore, which is ridiculous of course.

In one of Steve's latest blog posts, at, we find this interesting slide showing countries with rapid credit growth and accumulation of private sector debt since 2008. According to Keen these are the future debt-zombies, with a debt ratio of over 150% of GDP. Sweden (brown line) is among the worst of all countries and headed for a crisis. With private debt soaring to 237% of GDP and growing 15% of GDP per year it becomes clear that this is unsustainable and will have to end. Changes in the massive property bubble in Sweden will likely be a key indicator to the coming downturn. The new mortgage repayment requirements may function to slow down credit growth, and if so, most likely popping the bubble. We can't  predict when the crash will happen but that it will happen is a sure thing. 

Source: Steve Keen, presentation on growing private sector debt and financial crises
As for the US we can see in the chart below how credit growth picked back up again in 2010 after some deleveraging (2008-2009) but has once again started a downturn. A pattern similar to Japan's zombie-economy with rising and falling credit leading to recessions and ever more financial trickery from central banks.

Source: Steve Keen, presentation on inequality, debt and credit stagnation
This will affect the unemployment levels as, Keen shows in the chart below, there is a strong correlation between changes in credit and unemployment rates. More than 45 million Americans, about 20% of the population, are already on food stamps. According to shadowstats, real unemployment in America is at 23% as of May 2016, not 4.7% as the government claims. Not counting people who have stopped actively looking for a job, cherry picking data, is very dubious and has lead many mainstream media pundits to scratch their head as to "why so many americans are on food stamps?". 

Because there is so much misinformation and propaganda regarding the true state of affairs most people will be surprised when the next crisis hits. They will be angry as to why politicians have not informed them of the dangers and will be even less happy when the government asks for more tax money to once again bail out the banks. But certain homogenous societies may still be stable despite such hardships, as is the case with Japan. While others may experience uprisings and mayhem. 

Taking action to protect yourself and your community, getting out of debt, is all one can do at this point. Governments around the world are so blinded by their addiction to credit growth that they will do anything to keep the bubble going. Even if it only increases the income gap between the rich and the poor. Getting out of debt and investing in alternative energy sources and food production is the safer bet. And something we should all do to protect our families and future generations.

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Extreme weather - the "New Normal"

Mother Nature Strikes Back

Yes it's true that an El Niño period usually brings about certain weather extremes, however, the 2015/2016 El Niño has broken all records in terms of strength i.e. heat being released into the atmosphere from the oceans. This is to be expected as the climate is getting warmer from all the carbon pollution that has altered the chemistry of the planet. Climate change acts as a multiplier effect, increasing the frequency or amplitude of extreme weather events.

I'm sure most people have read the terrible news about the massive wildfires in Alberta or the flash floods in Germany, France and West Virginia. Few, however, may have heard about the deadly heat waves in India, floods in Pakistan or failing harvests in South Africa.

Sometimes it's hard to get a grip on what climate change will do to our environments and livelihoods. It can feel distant in time or abstract. But changes are already occurring and we have to start adapting now or more people will have to flee and become climate refugees.

These two videos give a good overview of some of the extreme weather events that have struck nations around the world lately and why it's happening. It should give us all pause, make us understand the urgency of tackling and responding to a rapidly changing climate.

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Welcome to the forest

6/29/2016 0 Comments

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Now that the english have voted to exit the european union one must ask if it's not about time to have a referendum here in Sweden. The results could mirror those of the brits, a slight majority preferring to leave. A divide mostly between the upper and lower class and the old and the young. Swedes already said no to join the Euro and NATO so the sentiment of wanting to keep self-determination has always been strong. 

Opinion polls show loosing confidence in established parties and a turn towards more radical left and right wing politics as people become increasingly aware of the major challenges society is facing. The conservative Sweden Democrats is thought to have gained some 20% of voters while the Social Democrats and the Liberals have lost a significant number of voters. 

Economic, environmental and energy problems keep piling up without any clear vision or united efforts to tackle them on a national scale. On top of that immigration has become a major issue that divides the country. At the same time property prices and rents are sky high in city regions leading to segregation that only intensifies conflicts between the have and have nots.

This meanwhile farmers are struggling due to unreasonable EU rules and practices. Sweden imports almost 50% of the food that is consumed despite all the fertile land and freshwater the country has. However, the trend is shifting towards more locally grown food as people become aware of the benefits and the enjoyment in knowing where their food comes from. But it's a slow process.

The danger of course, in these times of political turmoil, is for demagoguery to gain more traction as people struggle to make sense of shifting power structures and harsher socioeconomic conditions. There are no easy or quick fixes, even if Sweden leaves the EU we still have many problems that our own government is to blame for, the massive private debt burden for example. The rising economic inequality and unfunded pensions that indebted students without any sight of gaining high paying jobs will ever be able to pay for. Exiting the EU or stopping immigration won't solve these problems, we need structural change of our entire economic system. The question is if we have the courage to change our way of living before it is changed for us, whether we like it or not.

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Crisis as Opportunity

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Nine Meals Away from Anarchy

Venezuela has rapidly devolved into utter chaos as hyperinflation, black outs and lack of basic goods are having ever more serious effects on its inhabitants. Doctors are fleeing the country, people are looting grocery stores and killing cats, dogs and doves for food. 

Hunger destroys social order as desperate people take desperate steps to secure food for survival. If people go hungry for too long a revolution is likely. 

Relying on a ‘just-in-time’ delivery system in a period of financial collapse is like begging for social upheaveal in my mind. There is no redundancy at all if the food supply chain is interrupted, at most grocery stores keep some 3 days of inventory. After that, people start bartering and looting until the situation becomes so unbarable that they revolt or flee to another country.

Lack of food security is also caused by a shifting climate with more extreme weather events (e.g. stronger El Niño, more severe droughts) leading to crop failures and people flooding into already overpopulated cities. Creating social unrest as unemployment and crime grows. A situation that occured in Syria just before the civil war broke out. 

According to the latest Global Food Security Update (March, 2016) by the World Food Programme we can see (in the map below) how hunger hotspots are concentrated around the equator in very dry regions, in areas of conflict and countries vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns due to El Niño. 

For example, food insecurity in Syria have reached alarming levels as most people struggle to find food or the money to buy food. Some 13.5 million people in Syria require protection and humanitarian aid. In Yemen, 56% of the population, i.e. 14.4 million people, are food insecure. In South Africa 31.6 million people have been affected by the poor rainy season due to El Niño. Ethiopia is also suffering from El Niño-induced droughts and some 10.2 million people are currently in need of food assistance.

Food Insecurity Hotspots (orange), WFP presence (brown). Source: World Food Programme, March 2016

Many commodity exporting countries relying heavily on oil for government income and spending (e.g. Venezuela, Niger, Iraq, Angola) are suffering major economic problems due to peak production, rising extraction costs and lower market prices. This is true also for countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Canada. The less diversified a country is the more vulnerable they are to market shocks.

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Melting Arctic, Mangled Jet Stream and Massive Forest Fires

Jet streams consists of bands of very strong winds which move weather systems around the globe. These have been relatively stable until recently due to a decrease in temperature gradient between the equator and north pole. Below is a satellite image of a mangled jet stream, using Earth Nullschool, creating blocking patterns that makes weather system seem “stuck”. For example, here in southeast Sweden we are experiencing record warm May temperatures (20-25 C), little rain or wind with a high risk of forest fires.  

Jet stream pattern over Europe, with warm air “stuck” over Scandinavia
A similar situation but much worse is occurring in Canada where massive forest fires have driven 88,000 canadians out of their homes in Fort McMurray. These people are now climate refugees and more damage is yet to come as the fire is now moving towards Alberta’s tar sand fields and could double in size due to strong winds and dry conditions. The fire cover an area as large as Hong Kong.

Melting Arctic sea ice causes more heat to be absorbed by the darker surface of the ocean, especially in late spring when the sun is really strong. The extra heat is then also transferred into the atmosphere. When this happens the lower layers of the atmosphere warms and expand, pushing up the higher layers and causing the jet stream to bulge. As the sea ice disappears and the atmosphere in the Arctic warms the airflow in the jet stream is more likely to loop and bulge, causing blocking events.

High pressure systems over Greenland can have the effect of blocking polar jet stream flow over part of the North Atlantic […] causing the jet stream to split into branches and bringing about all kinds of severe weather events as a result.according to Dr. Edward Hanna from the University of Sheffield.

Researchers are worried that these type of blocking events of high pressure systems over Greenland can lead to rapid melt of the ice sheet as well as causing extreme weather events over the northern hemisphere.

FrostByte, E Hanna: The Jet Stream and Greenland Warming from Climate and Cryosphere on Vimeo.

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Climate-exodus from MENA

Map of the European Migrant Crisis 2015. Credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Researchers from the Max Planck institute have calculated that summer temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could become so hot within the coming 30 years that human habitability is compromised. Hot summer days south of the Mediterranean could see temperatures around 46 °C that, together with all the desert dust and air pollution, could become intolerable and force people to migrate.

More than 500 million people live in MENA, a region that is already experiencing drought problems and conflict over water resources. The number of extremely hot days has doubled since 1970 while population has exploded, leading to overexploitation of groundwater basins. 

In a recent story by Reveal we could read how global leaders are becoming increasingly worried about water shortages. The growing water crisis in the Middle East is thought to have contributed to destabilizing the region, sparking civil unrest and war in Syria and Yemen.

According to a 2009 cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Yemen, “Water shortages have led desperate people to take desperate measures with equally desperate consequences” 

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that people become desperate when the most vital of resources for survival becomes scarce. The once arid region is turning more and more into a desert, both due groundwater depletion and shifting climatic zones. 

Even if climate change is limited to a global mean temperature increase of 2 °C warming over land will be stronger and extreme temperatures can increase well beyond +2°C. As such, heat waves and water shortages will only worsen over time as carbon emissions rise and unsustainable usage of aquifers continues. 

Climate-exodus expected in the Middle East and North Africa
In the Middle East and North Africa, the average temperature in winter will rise by around 2.5 °C (left) by the middle of the century, and in summer by around 5°C (right) if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase according to the business-as-usual scenario (RCP8,5)
The migration flows from the MENA region into Europe and elsewhere will most likely increase in the future as people have no choice but to move from their drying land. 

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The Folly of Financial Worship

Humans need clean drinking water, food and energy to survive. These things used to be public goods but we decided, somewhere along the road, to make them private goods. This means that an individual have to make, or inherit, money so she/he can purchase these basic necessities. Those who don’t have money get “weeded out”. This is the human created system that has replaced natural selection. Nowadays it doesn't matter if you are clever, healthy, kind or cooperative as long as you have money. 

Actually money is the wrong term, what a person needs is capital. There are many types of capital but we humans have decided that financial capital is the most important, compared to e.g. social or ecological capital. Again this is because with financial capital we can get other types of capital that we need for our survival and wellbeing. So we accumulate financial capital, as much as we can get, at the cost of degrading other capital bases. We degrade and destroy ecosystems that generate a stable climate, clean water, food and fuel so that over time these resources start to deplete and the cost rises. 

The cost keep rising but the world doesn't pay attention since it’s the most vulnerable that are hit first. It is not until poverty results in death or degradation results in extinction that we start wondering “what is going on?”. We sympathize but feel safe as long as it's happening somewhere else or we have a pile of financial capital to turn to. But what happens if lots of people start deciding that it’s easier to just “move” when rivers dry up, trust breaks down or conflict over remaining resources break out? Syria being a case in point.

Or what happens if the economy takes a beating, perhaps even a sudden crash, that wipes out all your financial capital and/or source of income, what will you do? In some places people can rely on the government, receiving benefits to cover minimum expenses. But what if the crash is so bad that everyone needs benefits at the same time? A healthy government could perhaps manage it. But what if all the government gets in trouble and yours can’t fund the entitlement programs anymore? Now you don’t have a job so you can’t earn money to buy basic goods and the government can’t help you out, you will have to rely on friends and family (community). If that doesn't work perhaps you will move. Greece comes to mind.

The end conclusion is that a growing number of people will have to move as a form of adaptation to rapidly changing socioeconomic or ecological conditions. This, in turn, will create hostility between the “haves” and the “have nots” since there is a limited amount of resources left. The majority are among those who have little since the overall resource pie is shrinking but the minority have more power within the current system since resources are becoming more expensive. This situation will grow worse over time until the majority have had enough. And the a major clash is unavoidable. 

At this point, perhaps, the system that we humans created can be replaced. But some of the social and ecological damage can never be reversed. Whatever happens, we have to be prepared for some very turbulent times.

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The Great Barrier Reef in Danger

Satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef.
Photo Credit: NASA | Wikimedia Commons
The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,300 km down the eastern coast of Australia. Covering an area the size of Italy it is the largest coral reef on the planet. With over 1500 species of fish, 600 coral species and 30 different whale and dolphin species, it is one of the most biodiverse and complex ecosystems on the planet.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the mass bleaching event that had struck the Great Barrier Reef due to extra warm ocean waters. Now the aerial and underwater survey results are in and it makes for some very sad reading. Only 7% of the reef remains unaffected, in other words, 93% of the reef has suffered damage from the bleaching event. 

We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,” says Professor Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce

Map of the Great Barrier Reef showing results of aerial surveys for 911 reefs.
North of Port Douglas, we’re already measuring an average of close to 50% mortality of bleached corals. At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return.

A recent study reports that the Great Barrier Reef is losing its resilience to withstand bleaching events under climate change. This happens when seawater temperatures rise by as little as 0.5 °C, exposing corals to major stress.

I highly recommend watching the tv series "Great Barrier Reef", with David Attenborough as narrator, and exploring more about the reef  and the filming of the series on 

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