global warming

Antarctica and Ice Loss

I love storyboards, which combine audio, video photos and maps to cover a topic in an interactive manner. The New York Times has an outstanding storyboard on Antarctica, which would be a great resource for an introductory class. I particularly liked the beautiful maps which showed the direction of ice flow by flowing colored lines, which became animated when clicked upon. In part two, another map reveals how much of Antarctica is actually ice, through a map that allows the viewer to strip away the ice cover to reveals the mountains and bedrock underneath. What had seemed to be a unitary continent is revealed to be a world of islands and peninsulas. The second immersive video, in which they fly past a six mile long iceberg, is also striking. Through the window you can see dramatic imagery, but when you swivel the camera back to the pilots they seem quite bored. The three part series ends with four videos, which are narrated. The first is covers a dive underneath the ice, which has spectacular images of an otherworldly environment, and will allow you to briefly escape your workaday world.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Global Warming and the Arctic

By U.S. State Department [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States or Canada, it’s hard to believe that this was an unusually warm year. We had one winter storm after another sweep through the region, and the same was true far north into British Columbia. Still, most of the United States this year was unusually warm. More seriously, much of the Arctic experienced record heat this year. Although they published their article in November 2016, I think it’s worth reading Chris Mooney and Jason Samenow’s work, “The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends,” in the Washington Post. The temperature data, history of sea ice cover and map provide powerful evidence for the profound changes taking place in the Arctic now.

Prof. Smallman


Will Jakarta be lost to the waters?

Globally, sea level rise will challenge coastal cities such as Miami, New Orleans, New York and Shanghai. All of these cities face overwhelming challenges, especially those located in developing nations. For a good look at the debates in one such city, Jakarta, I recommend Chris Bentley’s article in PRI, “Trying to confront a massive flood risk, Jakarta faces ‘problem on top of problem.'” While engineering solutions are possible, they come with their own moral and political issues.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

We must face the new truth of global warming

Earlier on this blog I’ve talked about the evidence that the Syrian civil war needs to be understood in the context of a devastating drought, and the government’s inability to respond effectively. What is chilling, however, is what global warming entails for the entire Middle East and northern Africa. The recent Washington Post article by Hugh Naylor, “An epic Middle East heat wave could be global warming’s hellish curtain-raiser,” is a thought-provoking look at what this future might entail. In some respects, the future is already here in that nations in the region are experiencing record high temperatures, and a heat index that has reach 140 degrees in the UAE and Iran. Unfortunately, I no longer think that we can talk about preventing the worst aspects of global warming. It’s too late. The reality is that not only is global warming taking place, but also that the global community has waited too long to respond. The world is committed to a long course of climate change and sea level rise that will endure for centuries. Some of the arguments in Naylor’s piece are chilling: “A study published by the journal Nature Climate Change in October predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival toward the end of the century.” Of course, this will entail the massive migration of people from this region to Europe and Asia. Still, it would be a mistake to focus only on this region in isolation. Climate migration will be a key social, political and economic factor in global affairs not only for the lifetime of everyone who reads this piece, but also for their grandchildren. The impact will be particularly devastating in some areas, such as the cities of the Chinese coast, many of which (like Shanghai) will be largely flooded. In the United States, Zillo is trying to calculate impact the economic impact of rising seas to Florida. …

Global Warming in the Arctic

Topographic map of the Arctic by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at
Topographic map of the Arctic by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at

Many people are aware that the Arctic is disproportionately impacted by Global Warming. I recently came across a web article titled “These infographics show how doomed the Arctic really is.” The graphs do convey in a powerful manner the rapidity with which climate change is transforming the region, particularly by melting the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. The particular danger is that there are positive feedback loops associated with climate change in the Arctic. When ice is replaced open water, it changes the albedo of the ocean surface, so that much more heat is absorbed. Significantly, when permafrost melts it releases significant amounts of methane. Accordingly, the Arctic not only witnesses temperatures that are rising much more quickly than at southerly latitudes, but also the region itself may particularly contribute to the planet’s temperature rise. For more articles on global warming and climate change on the blog, click here.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

GIF of Global Warming

Like many people, I came across Edward Tufte’s book the Visual Display of Quantitative Information years ago and was fascinated with the charts and images that it contained. The graph that showed the diminishing size of the French army in Russia, matched against weather conditions, is terrifying in its simplicity. I do think that when people can see data, they can grasp abstract concepts that they might not have the time or patience to engage otherwise. For this reason, I love this new GIF by Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading, which shows the increase in global temperatures between 1850 and 1916. This might be a good tool to embed in a course shell during the “Environment” week of an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” course. On my version you will have to double-click the GIF to activate it; you can also view it here:

Ed Hawkins GIF of global temperatures through time.
Ed Hawkins GIF of global temperatures through time. Please double click to activate.

Climate Change and the Middle East

Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.
Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.

I’ve blogged before regarding the argument that a disastrous drought helped to feed the conflict in Syria. It’s worth revisiting the topic, however, based on a report edited by Caitlin Werrel and Francesco Femia at the Center for Climate and Security.The report, “Climate Change and the Arab Spring,” was published in February 2013, and makes the argument that climate change was a key factor in the Arab Spring, although that is not to say that it caused the uprisings. The essays in the collection clarify the truly global factors that underpinned this event, from declining wheat production in China, which undermined food security in the Middle East, to the “transcendent challenges” created by climate change globally.

The link between drought and warfare is not new. This linkage, for example, may help explain the collapse of classical Mayan civilization in the 9th century in the Yucatan peninsula and Central America. The Mayan city-states faced both an epic drought, and -based on the archaeological record- widespread warfare perhaps beginning around 800 AD (Michael Coe, The Maya, 162-163, Jared Diamond, Collapse, 172-174). The historical connection between drought and conflict is a deep one. …

Countries and Climate Change

I’ve posted before about how climate change will impact south Florida, and other areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Still, how well would different nations respond to global warming? If you’ve ever asked that question, you can find an infographic with a ranking here. The map seems to place great emphasis on state capacity, rather than only measuring the direct impact of climate change.

Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

Dutch Ruling on Climate Change

A Dutch court has required that the government impose mandatory carbon cuts. This is not the first such suit, as others are pending elsewhere in Europe. This article by Lauren McCauley describes the ruling, and the impact that it is likely to have. Environmental groups are now planning to bring similar suits across the globe.

Prof. Smallman, Portland State University

Rising Seas and South Florida

"Panama City Florida" by digidreamgrafix at
“Panama City Florida” by digidreamgrafix at

In an earlier post, talked about the future of South Florida given sea level rises projected to reach between three and six feet by the end of the century. For me this issue is personal. Although I grew up in rural Southern Ontario, my parents are snow-birds, who spend half their years on the West coast of Florida. My mother, Phyllis Smallman, is a mystery novelist, whose novels are set in coastal Florida and feature a main character, Sherri Travis, who is a bartender. Every novel is named after a drink (check out Margarita Nights on Amazon, or download the free short story Bitty and the Naked Ladies) and evokes the character of these beach side communities. South Florida has so many hidden treasures, from the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden to the shark feedings at Sandoway House. I love the area, and worry about its future. Recently the New York Times published an article, “Rising Waters threaten South Florida’s Future,” which …

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