A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
First, some reading recommendations. Let’s start local. If you’re interested in learning more about the unique ecology of the Sourlands region, you can download, for free, an excellent book titled Living in the Sourlands made available by the Sourland Planning Council.
For Sourlands history, a must-read is New Jersey’s Sourland Mountain by T.J. Luce.
Hot off the presses in June 2012 is a book by native plant expert Jared Rosenbaum titled Plant Local. It’s a practical guidebook on how to turn your Central Jersey property into a habitat that will better support native wildlife.
For an insightful book on the big picture of what’s happening in the natural world, The Future of Life by E.O. Wilson is a classic.
For a good primer on climate science, try Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen.
And for a book that tackles biodiversity and climate change simultaneously, you’d do well to start with Driven to Extinction by Richard Pearson.
By no means are these the only great books on these subjects, but I found all of them very readable and stuffed with good science.
In the document below, I have cited my sources and provided more information about ideas presented in SOURLANDS. In particular, you’ll find more information about the connection between global climate change and extreme weather. In some instances, scientists know a lot. In other cases, there’s still a lot to learn. What’s certain is that global climate change is a real problem our society needs to engage with, right now, in a thoughtful and productive way.
SOURLANDS was funded through Kickstarter.com, an Internet crowd-funding website. As I shaped this film into its final form, all editorial decisions were up to me.
Thanks for watching.
Weather Records: New Jersey weather records cited in the film are according to the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. These records generally go back to 1895. If you’re interested in New Jersey weather and climate, Dr. David A. Robinson, the state climatologist, provides a month-by-month analysis here:
July 22, 2011: On this day in Mercer County, a high temperature of 106 degrees was recorded at the Trenton-Mercer Airport. This tied the all-time high temperature record for any weather station in Mercer County.
But what’s most noteworthy — at least in my view— is not any single-day record but rather the trend of extreme weather patterns measured over the span of months and years. The graphic below is a visible representation of record-setting temperature and precipitation in New Jersey through the decades. Notice all the red blocks since 2000 in the temperature chart:
The Drought of 2011: This graphic shows drought conditions in the United States as they were in July 2011. At the time, “exceptional drought conditions” covered 12 percent of the continental U.S., according to ClimateWatch magazine. The graphic was produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, based on data from U.S. Drought Monitor.
Statement: “We can say with a high degree of confidence that the severe Texas and Moscow heat waves were not natural, they were caused by global warming.”
This statement was made by James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It comes from a TED talk he gave in February 2012. (TED is a private non-profit which hosts educational talks on a wide-range of issues.) You can watch Hansen’s talk here:
The scientific thinking behind Hansen’s statement is elaborated on in a peer-reviewed paper, “Perceptions of Climate Change: The New Climate Dice,” by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy.” Here’s a preliminary draft of the paper, which is scheduled for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Here’s the abstract of a recent paper by a different team of scientists that offers further evidence:
“Increase of Extreme Events in a Warming World.”
And finally, for a better explanation of the science behind Hansen’s claim in plain English, here’s a recent article from Time.com:
Statement: “Global warming increases both extremes of the Earth’s water cycle… Rainfall will come in more extreme events. There will be stronger storms and greater flooding.”
This statement comes from the same James Hansen TED talk cited above.
Here are links to the abstracts of two scientific papers that offer further evidence:
“Atmospheric Warming and the Amplification of Precipitation Extremes”
“Human Contribution To More-Intense Precipitation Extremes”
According to a 2007 report from Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
“More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation has contributed to changes in drought.”
“The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapor.”
According to the same 2007 report (www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf), it is more likely than not that human activity has already contributed to these trends and it is likely in the case of droughts and very likely in the case of precipitation that these trends will continue as human-caused global warming increases. Note that “very likely” in this case means a confidence level of greater than 90%.
And finally, here’s the abstract of a March 2012 paper that finds that changes to the global water cycle—both wet and dry extremes—are happening at twice the rate that many earlier climate models had predicted:
“Ocean salinities reveal strong global water cycle intensification during 1950 to 2000.”
Hurricane Irene Flooding: Following Hurricane Irene, stream gauge records were set on rivers and streams in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Data according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Statement: “An extinction event is happening right now.”
According to a 1998 survey by the American Museum of Natural History, “Seven out of ten biologists believe that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of living things.”
I base my definition of “extinction event” on wording used in a Wikipedia article.
Global Extinction Rate: According to the International Union of Concerned Scientists, “The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the ‘background’ or expected natural extinction rate.”
Full report here: cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/species_extinction_05_2007.pdf
In other publications, the IUCN has cited a more conservative extinction rate of 100 to 1,000 times the background rate.
In my review of mainstream media articles mentioning extinction rates, a global extinction rate of 100-to-1,000 times normal was widely cited. But it should be noted that extinction rates are an estimate and these estimates vary widely.
A 2011 paper published in Nature provides more information on current species extinctions. Here’s the abstract:
“Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?”
And here’s a review of that same paper in Science magazine:
What seems most striking to me is not the total number of species that have gone extinct since the time of Christopher Columbus, but the incredible rate at which they are going extinct. Consider what the study in Nature concluded about mammals in particular:
-Over the past 65 million years, the extinction rate for mammals has been 2 species per million years.
-But in the past 500 years, a minimum of 80 mammal species have gone extinct.
Quote: “The struggle to save biological diversity will be won or lost in the forests.”
This quote from E.O. Wilson comes from his book The Future of Life. In my version, it was page 171.
Statement: “Decades of research has found that many bird species are in steep decline.”
According to a report from the American Bird Conservancy:
-One-third of U.S. migratory bird species are in decline.
-Sixty species have declined by at least 45% in the past 40 years.
-Two bird species you can spot in SOURLANDS, the Wood Thrush and the Eastern Wood-Pewee, are each estimated to have declined 51% over the past 40 years.
The 2005 Hurricane Season:
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season included 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes.
“This hurricane season shattered records that have stood for decades—most named storms, most hurricanes and most category five storms. Arguably, it was the most devastating hurricane season the country has experienced in modern times,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.”
Full report here: www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2005/s2540.htm
The 2008 Hurricane Season:
According to NOAA, 2008 “was the only year on record in which a major hurricane existed in every month from July through November in the North Atlantic. On July 20th, there were three active storms: Hurricane Bertha, and Tropical Storms Cristobal and Dolly. This was the earliest known date for three storms to be active on the same day.”
On the positive side, “It is also noteworthy that none of the five major hurricanes (category 3 and above) were of major status at the time of U.S. landfall.”
But then back on the minus side, “This marks the first time on record that Cuba has been struck by three major hurricanes in one season.”
Full report here: www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/tropical-cyclones/2008/13
Question: How are hurricanes and global warming related?
SOURLANDS doesn’t make an explicit statement about the connection between hurricanes and global warming, but hurricanes are very much a part of the narrative of extreme weather documented in the film. What exactly can be said about the connection between hurricanes and global warming is still difficult to answer.
As Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast, Climate Central science writer Michael Lemonick put it this way:
“The question: is this weather disaster caused by climate change?
Here's the right question: is climate change making this storm worse than it would have been otherwise?
Full article here:
The science that examines the relationship between hurricanes and global warming is still evolving. A recent paper in Science concludes that global warming may lead to a decrease in total number of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic while making hurricanes that do form more powerful.
According to the abstract of the paper, “[Our] model projects nearly a doubling of the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the 21st century, despite a decrease in the overall frequency of tropical cyclones.”
Here’s a 2011 summary by Thomas Knutson of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the most recent scientific thinking about the relationship between hurricanes and global warming:
-“It is premature to conclude that human activities — and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming — have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane activity.”
-“Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause hurricanes globally to be more intense on average.”
-“Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause hurricanes to have substantially higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes.”
Full summary here: www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes
Finally, for an interesting read on the sometimes heated debate over whether or not it’s appropriate to link Hurricane Irene to global warming, I recommend this article in Scientific American:
Statement: “A new study by NASA predicts that global warming will radically alter ecosystems in this century.”
The study referred to is “Ecological sensitivity: a biospheric view of climate change,” by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.
Full study available here: www.springerlink.com/content/m672880058824r31/
The study predicts that 37% of the world’s ecosystem would undergo biome-scale changes by the end of the century under current greenhouse-gas emission projections. Biome scale changes are the big ones — tundra to forest or forest to grassland, for example.
Statement: “As entire biomes flip, many scientists fear a worldwide biodiversity meltdown.”
A 2004 study published in Nature predicts that global warming could commit 15 to 37% of species to extinction by the year 2050:
“Extinction risk from climate change.”
Similarly, IPCC Working Group II states that “Approximately 20 to 30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increasingly high risk of extinction as global mean temperatures exceed a warming of 2° to 3°C above preindustrial levels.”
And if warming is worse:
“As global average temperature exceeds 4°C above pre-industrial levels, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% species assessed) around the globe.”
Here’s that IPCC paper:
“Ecosystems, their properties, goods and services.”
Statement: “The main cause of global warming in the past century, according to the best available science, is the burning of fossil fuels.”
The wording of this statement is taken almost directly from a draft paper by James Hansen and other scientists titled, “The Case for Young People and Nature.”
You can read the paper here:
According to the most recent IPCC report:
-“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
-“Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (meaning greater than 90% confidence) due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
Here’s a summary of that report:
Statement: Mike’s home creates and stores all its own energy, with zero carbon emissions.
There wasn’t time in SOURLANDS to explain the intricacies of Mike Strizki’s solar-hydrogen system. Below are two articles that explain the project in more detail. (That first article is one I wrote a few years back.)
Graphic: Hottest Years on Earth Since 1880
This graph is based on global temperature anomalies data (land and ocean combined) from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center, 1880 to 2011.
Here’s the raw data:
Did you notice that 2011 wasn’t on the list? It just missed. It ranked as the 11th hottest year on record.
Also worth noting is that 2010 and 2005, the two hottest years on record, are so close that NOAA considers them a statistical tie.