A look at the geopolitics involved.
The Paris climate change summit, explained in 4 charts
By Philip Bump, November 30
The intent of the United Nations — the diplomatic phoenix that emerged from ashes of World War II — was that countries would have a central place to come together and address important issues. For a variety of reasons, the U.N. has rarely upheld that vision. But the gathering getting underway in Paris this week, the 21st annual convening to address the problem of climate change, offers a chance for the U.N. to actually do what it was intended to do: Bring countries together to solve a mutual problem with multiple culprits. Of course, they’ve tried 20 times previously.
The most famous previous gathering of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was in 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. The attendees agreed to what became known as the Kyoto Protocol, which would have limited the production of carbon dioxide by signatories beginning in 2005. While the protocol is largely known in the United States because it became a point of contention early in the administration of George W. Bush, it has been implemented by other countries in the years since.
But the problem of carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere — one of the main reasons that the atmosphere is trapping heat, according to climate scientists — has only gotten worse. In April 1995, carbon dioxide was present in the atmosphere at 363.23 parts per million. Last month, the figure was 398.29, just less than the 400 ppm number that has long been an upper limit to what’s viewed as acceptable.
What’s more, the last two conferences of parties (COP) have been during unusually hot months. Every month hosting a COP has been warmer than the month would have been during the same month in the 20th century — but recent conferences have been exceptionally warm. This year’s is poised to be similar.
The main problem being addressed at the Paris gathering, as is usually the problem, is figuring out how to build a mechanism that will reduce carbon dioxide output fairly across multiple counties. The countries of the world do not all produce carbon dioxide at the same amounts. Most greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity production and other fossil-fuel burning, and China has recently surged into the lead as the most polluting nation on Earth.
As a function of population, though, the United States produces far more carbon dioxide than most other countries.
But a large amount of emissions also comes from smaller countries.
The challenge before the U.N. is figuring out how to get the big countries to scale back their emissions while not unduly hobbling smaller (and often growing) countries by limiting the amount of electricity they can produce. Many of the countries participating in the conference have submitted pledges of how they’d limit their own pollution. But those pledges themselves will not be enough to keep global warming within limits scientists consider crucial. (That benchmark is an increase of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.)
This year’s conference has taken on special significance for two reasons. First, it comes as President Obama has made a concerted effort to address the problem of climate change — and as he nears the end of his term. Second, the urgency of the problem is becoming more apparent as the world continues to set new temperature records.
The United Nations was created mostly to prevent wars. This week in Paris, the organization will tackle a much different, but much more widespread crisis.
We gaan teleporteren – De weg naar een niet af te luisteren quantuminternet
Onderzoekers van de TU Delft toonden deze week aan dat elementaire deeltjes zich werkelijk zo spookachtig gedragen als de moderne natuurkunde voorspelt. Zij bereikten een doorbraak op weg naar het quantuminternet: oneindig snel en niet te af te luisteren. Het warme herfstlicht in de gangen vormt een schril contrast met de duisternis in de kelder van de TU Delft. In het donker flikkeren lasers en r
Lees het hele artikel hier: We gaan teleporteren – De weg naar een niet af te luisteren quantuminternet – Wetenschap – TROUW
Delft bewijst ongelijk Einstein
Het pleit is beslecht: Einstein had ongelijk. De natuur is weldegelijk spookachtig en volgt regels die tegen ieders intuïtie ingaan. Delftse fysici dragen vandaag het klassieke wereldbeeld definitief ten grave. Het moet plaatsmaken voor een spookachtig quantum. Het lijkt een waarheid als een koe: voorwerpen hebben hun eigenschappen en als er iets gebeurt, ligt de oorzaak in de buurt. Tomaten zijn
Lees het hele artikel hier: Delft bewijst ongelijk Einstein – Wetenschap – TROUW
Met deze software kan iemand anders jouw gezicht besturen
Het lijkt wel een scene uit Face/Off, James Bond of Mrs. Doubtfire: je ziet een bekend gezicht, maar eigenlijk gaat daarachter iemand anders schuil. Dit soort onwerkelijke scenario’s is door onderzoekers een stap dichterbij gebracht. Onderzoekers van Duitse en Amerikaanse universiteiten ontwikkelden samen s
Lees het hele artikel hier: Met deze software kan iemand anders jouw gezicht besturen – Wetenschap – TROUW
Source: Educate Inspire Change
Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of life of the Indigenous people of the Great Plains before, and during, the arrival and subsequent spread of the European pioneers. Raised in the traditions of his people until the age of eleven, he was then educated at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School of Pennsylvania, where he learned the english language and way of life. (Though a National Historical Landmark, Carlisle remains a place of controversy in Native circles.)
Like his above mentioned contemporaries, however, his native roots were deep, leaving him in the unique position of being a conduit between cultures. Though his movement through the white man’s world was not without “success” — he had numerous movie roles in Hollywood — his enduring legacy was the protection of the way of life of his people.
By the time of his death he had published 4 books and had become a leader at the forefront of the progressive movement aimed at preserving Native American heritage and sovereignty, coming to be known as a strong voice in the education of the white man as to the Native American way of life. Here, then, are 10 quotes from the great Sioux Indian Chief known as Standing Bear that will be sure to disturb much of what you think you know about “modern” culture.
1) ”Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners and fine, high-sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless. Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried manner.”
2) ”Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and the older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right.”
3) ”Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that ‘thought comes before speech.’…and in the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect… strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling.”
4) ”We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.”
5) ”With all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.”
6) ”This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all.”
7) ”It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth… the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.”
8)”Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.”
9) ”…the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.”
10) ”Civilization has been thrust upon me… and it has not added one whit to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity.”
I think everyone alive today can learn a lot from the Indigenous people of the Great Plains. What stands out for me from reading the quotes above is the level of courtesy and respect they all had for each other. Not to mention the level of respect and love they had for nature. It’s essential each of us does what we can to educate ourselves about the importance of being kind and courteous not only to each other but to our planet. Our children are the future and they will learn from not what we say but from what we do. That’s the ultimate message to take away from this article.
Kasim Khan, Team EiC
Before Dan Price caused a media firestorm by establishing a $70,000 minimum wage at his Seattle company, Gravity Payments … before Hollywood agents, reality-show producers, and book publishers began throwing elbows for a piece of the hip, 31-year-old entrepreneur with the shoulder-length hair and Brad Pitt looks … before Rush Limbaugh called him a socialist and Harvard Business School professors asked to study his radical experiment in paying workers … an entry-level Gravity employee named Jason Haley got really pissed off at him.
It was late 2011. Haley was a 32-year-old phone tech earning about $35,000 a year, and he was in a sour mood. Price had noticed it, and when he spotted Haley outside on a smoking break, he approached. “Seems like something’s bothering you,” he said. “What’s on your mind?”
“You’re ripping me off,” Haley told him.
Price was taken aback. Haley is shy, not prone to outbursts. “Your pay is based on market rates,” Price said. “If you have different data, please let me know. I have no intention of ripping you off.” The data doesn’t matter, Haley responded: “I know your intentions are bad. You brag about how financially disciplined you are, but that just translates into me not making enough money to lead a decent life.”
Price walked away, shocked and hurt. For three days, he groused about the encounter to family and friends. “I felt horrible,” he says. “Like a victim.” An entrepreneur since he was a teen, Price prided himself on treating employees well at Gravity, which he co-founded in 2004 with his brother Lucas Price. Three years before, as a 16-year-old high school kid, Dan Price saw bar owners being gouged by big financial firms every time they swiped a patron’s credit card. By first outsourcing technology, and then building its own systems, Gravity offered lower prices and better service, and grew rapidly for four years—until the Great Recession nearly wiped it out. Traumatized, Price kept a lid on wages even after the economy recovered—to save the company, of course! Why can’t employees see that? Yet the more people tried to cheer him up about his wage policy, the worse Price felt.
Finally, he realized why: Haley was right—not only about being underpaid, but also about Price’s intentions. “I was so scarred by the recession that I was proactively, and proudly, hurting my staff,” he says. Thus began Price’s transformation from classic entrepreneur to crusader against income inequality, set on fundamentally changing the way America does business. For three years after his face-off with Haley, Price handed out 20 percent annual raises. Profit growth continued to substantially outpace wage growth. This spring, he spent two weeks running the numbers and battling insomnia before making a dramatic announcement to his 120-member staff on April 13, inviting NBC News and the New York Times to cover it: Over the next three years, he will phase in a minimum wage of $70,000 at Gravity and immediately cut his own salary from $1.1 million to $70,000 to help fund it.
The reaction was tsunamic, with 500 million interactions on social media and NBC’s video becoming the most shared in network history. Gravity was flooded with stories from ecstatic workers elsewhere who suddenly got raises from converted bosses who tossed them out like Scrooge after his epiphany—even, in one case, at an apparel factory in Vietnam. Price was cheered at the Aspen Ideas Festival and got an offer from The Apprentice reality-show impresario Mark Burnett to be the new Donald Trump on a show called Billion Dollar Startup. Gravity was inundated with résumés—4,500 in the first week alone—including one from a high-powered 52-year-old Yahoo executive named Tammi Kroll, who was so inspired by Price that she quit her job and in September went to work for Gravity at what she insisted would be an 80–85 percent pay cut. “I spent many years chasing the money,” she says. “Now I’m looking for something fun and meaningful.”
Price had not only struck a nerve; he had also turbocharged a debate now raging across the American landscape, from presidential forums to barrooms to fast-food restaurants. How much—indeed, how little—should workers be paid? While financiers and C-suite honchos have showered themselves in compensation, most Americans haven’t had a raise, in real dollars, since 2000. Especially in the wake of the recession, entrepreneurs and corporate bosses have tightly controlled costs, including wages. That boosts profits—and bonuses. But at what cost? In a U.S. economy that is more than two-thirds consumer spending, GDP growth is chained to income growth. Workers can’t spend what they don’t have, nor do they have the home equity to borrow and spend. Weak wage growth helps explain why this long economic expansion has been so tepid.
Until Price dropped his wage bomb, much of that debate was punditry. He gave it a name and a face: A modern Robin Hood helping the working class by stealing from himself—and perhaps from shareholders of other companies whose bosses are now also putting employees ahead of profits: #imwithdan! Was it coincidence that Walmart, that paragon of parsimony, coughed up raises for its lowest-paid workers?
Then the inevitable backlash came. Price has been pilloried on Fox News and trashed by the multimillionaire Limbaugh (“I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s gonna fail”). A Times story in July was so laden with quotes from disgruntled customers and staff that Price’s worried friends called to say he always has a place to stay if things don’t work out. Others accused Price of orchestrating a clever publicity stunt. (“If it was,” he replies, “I’m a genius.”) Shortly after Price announced his minimum, his brother Lucas sued him, claiming Dan had previously paid himself “excessive compensation” and asked the court to order Dan to buy Lucas’s 30 percent share of Gravity “at fair value” or dissolve the firm. Lucas declined to comment; Dan denies his brother’s claims.
Price isn’t backing down about pay going up. Now he’s going all in. He revealed to Inc. that he has sold all his stocks, emptied his retirement accounts, and mortgaged his two properties—including a $1.2 million home with a view of Puget Sound—and poured the $3 million he raised into Gravity. As majority owner, he is not exactly penniless. But if Gravity fails, so does Price. “Most people live paycheck to paycheck,” he says. “So how come I need 10 years of living expenses set aside and you don’t? That doesn’t make any sense. Having to depend on modest pay is not a bad thing. It will help me stay focused.”
And business owners will stay focused on him. The Dan Price Pay Experiment will either be hailed as a stroke of genius showing that entrepreneurs have underpaid their workforces to their companies’ detriment, or as proof positive that Gravity is being run by a well-intentioned fool.
“I love Monday mornings,” says Price, relentlessly upbeat as usual, walking through Gravity’s sparse office in the Ballard section of Seattle, a rapidly gentrifying former fishing village. He wears the full hipster regalia of ripped jeans, untucked shirt, and sneakers. The office looks as you might expect—desks and computers in bland cubicles—but the space is reorganized every six months so people can sit near different colleagues. “So we don’t get too comfortable,” Price says.
Being comfortable wasn’t a goal in Price’s family when he was growing up in rural southwest Idaho, near Nampa. He and his five siblings took turns waking at 5 a.m. to make breakfast before Bible readings and prayers led by their Evangelical Christian parents. On his own, Price spent hours reading Scripture and reached the finals of a national Bible-memorization competition in the fifth and sixth grades. Like his siblings, he was homes-chooled until age 12. That’s when he rebelled a bit, dying his hair with red and blue streaks and painting his nails like the punk rockers he listened to.
Price learned to play bass guitar and formed a Christian rock trio called Straightforword, which was successful enough to tour and get national airplay. At 16, when the band broke up, he decided to help the struggling owners of bars and coffee shops where they had played by negotiating cheaper rates from the credit card processing companies, which offered little more than exorbitant prices and spotty service.
Though his family struggled financially, Price never thought of his enterprise as a way to make money. Inspired by his father, Ron Price, a self-employed consultant who often spoke of living according to your values, Dan says he just wanted to help friends like Heather, who ran the Moxie Java coffee shop in Caldwell, Idaho. But make money he did, rounding up more than 200 clients and in a good month netting $12,000. By the time he entered Christian Seattle Pacific University in 2004, Price had developed a more sophisticated business model: processing credit card transactions himself using outsourced technology.
Though fluent with computers, his real skill was negotiating—cobbling together deals with the myriad firms involved in making a single credit card swipe go through smoothly. While continuing to serve his Idaho customers, he found enough new ones in Seattle to start Gravity Payments with Lucas, five-and-a-half years older and already a college graduate. He also married Kristy Lewellyn, a high school sweetheart whose strict Christian parents demanded, when Price was 16, that he commit to marriage or stop seeing her. He agreed, but the union didn’t last, ending amicably in 2010.
Dan and Lucas were 50-50 partners in Gravity and shared responsibilities but had a falling out about 18 months after launch. Lucas was frustrated at being given menial tasks by his kid brother, and in 2008, they agreed that Dan would become majority owner. Lucas is now an executive at the Seattle texting startup Zipwhip.
Funded in part by Dan’s savings, credit card debt, and student loans (diverted to fund his venture), the company grew rapidly as Gravity built its own technology and brought the card-processing systems in-house. He somehow graduated from college in 2008, won several business awards, and met President Obama. Then the recession hit and Gravity fell rapidly to earth. Revenue dropped 20 percent, and vendors and clients went bankrupt. Price was spooked. “We almost lost everything,” he says. Always stingy with pay, he had offered employees the usual startup promise: We’ll give you an exciting place to work, and you’ll learn so much you’ll eventually be financially successful—either here or elsewhere. But after his encounter with Jason Haley, he decided to try a new tack.
The 20 percent raises Price implemented in 2012 were supposed to be a one-time deal. Then something strange happened: Profits rose just as much as the previous year, fueled by a surprising productivity jump—of 30 to 40 percent. He figured it was a fluke, but he piled on 20 percent raises again the following year. Again, profits rose by a like amount. Baffled, he did the same in 2014 and profits continued to rise, though not quite as much as before, because Gravity had to do more hiring.
“But I was still bothered and I didn’t know why,” he says. In March, Price went walking with a good friend who earned less than $50,000 at another firm. She was smart, capable, and worked 50 to 60 hours a week. But her Seattle rent was rising another $200 a month, and she was struggling with student debt and worried about how to pay for basics. “I was so angry,” Price says. “Here I am walking around making $1 million a year, and I’m working shoulder to shoulder with people in her situation who are every bit as good and valuable as I am.”
As a numbers guy, he knows all the statistics. Even as the nation’s productivity has improved 22 percent since 2000, median wages have risen only 1.8 percent, adjusted for inflation. Wages have actually fallen by 3 percent since the recession. Meanwhile, productivity gains are going to CEOs who earn, on average, about 300 times more than typical workers, compared with 71.2 times in 1990, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (Price’s $1.1 million salary was about 23 times the $48,000 average at Gravity.) Such trends have driven the push for a $15 minimum wage in some cities, including Seattle.
“I began wondering what my friend would have to make so she wouldn’t have to worry about a $200 rent hike,” says Price. He recalled a 2010 study by Princeton behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman finding that, while people did not feel happier on a daily basis as their income rose above $75,000, they were decidedly unhappier the less they earned below $75,000. At Gravity, new hires made $35,000 a year.
By any measure, Gravity was doing relatively well. Revenue hit $150 million in 2014 and was growing 15 percent per year on $7 billion in customer transactions. Profits hit $2.2 million—actually a so-so 1.46 percent net margin, below the industry average. About 40 percent of the profits went to Dan and Lucas as dividends (Dan put his in an emergency savings account for the company). The rest went back into the business. “We had a great culture and hundreds of people were applying for positions, so we could have gotten away with underpaying for a while longer,” he says.
But Price worried that employees with money troubles would fail to provide the top-notch service that had made Gravity successful. He also believed that low starting salaries were simply wrong—contrary to his values, which his father had always taught him to respect. “I just decided I’m gonna do $70,000,” he says. “I don’t care if I have to stop paying myself or I have to work 20 hours a day. I’m going to do it.”
The plan will eventually double the salaries of 30 workers and give raises to 40 more making less than $70,000. Phased in over three years, this will cost $1.8 million. The minimum jumped to $50,000 immediately and will climb by $10,000 in each of the next two years; those who earn $50,000 to $70,000 will get $5,000 raises. Price has vowed not to raise prices, lay off staff, or cut executive pay. More than half the cost will be offset by Price’s pay cut. Unless revenue grows, the rest will be covered by that $2.2 million profit, leaving little margin for error.
Since that April made-for-TV moment, Price says he’s had no second thoughts—mostly because he’s been learning how his employees had been struggling. Garret Nelson, 31, a salesman in Boise, Idaho, got a $5,000 raise, to $55,000, allowing him to pay for teaching supplies and music lessons for his five homeschooled kids. “People back in Idaho said he was nuts,” says Nelson, who went to middle school with Price. “But it really energized the employees.”
Is there a magic number that keeps workers focused while still generating a profit? Price calculated a figure but never imagined the publicity he’s gotten would boost new customer inquiries from 30 per month to 2,000 within two weeks. Customer acquisition costs are typically high, so in that sense, the strategy has paid off. And in this business, customer retention is key. Gravity’s 91 percent retention rate over the past three years—far above the industry average of about 68 percent—has been crucial to its success. Maria Harley, Gravity’s vice president of operations, looks at a different set of numbers. While the company had to hire 10 more people than anticipated to handle the new business, most nonlabor costs—rent, technology, etc.—have remained the same, thus improving operating ratios. “We don’t need our sales to double,” she says. “We only need them to increase marginally—by about 25 to 30 percent. When I started being more logical than emotional about this, I said, ‘This is totally possible.'”
Six months after Price’s announcement, Gravity has defied doubters. Revenue is growing at double the previous rate. Profits have also doubled. Gravity did lose a few customers: Some objected to what seemed like a political statement that put pressure on them to raise their own wages; others feared price hikes or service cutbacks. But media reports suggesting that panicked customers were fleeing have proved false. In fact, Gravity’s customer retention rate rose from 91 to 95 percent in the second quarter. Only two employees quit—a nonevent. Jason Haley isn’t one of them. He is still an employee, and a better paid one.
In fact, the biggest threat to Price’s company isn’t his strategy; it’s his brother. Lucas’s lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in May, could ruin Gravity. Price estimates legal fees will reach $1 million by then. The suit was filed on April 24, 11 days after the pay-raise announcement—perhaps to pressure Dan to sell when Gravity was in the limelight, thus maximizing the value of Lucas’s share. Dan says Lucas has refused his offer to buy him out for $4 to $5 million. (Lucas’s attorney says the suit is unrelated to the raises.)
When asked about his brother, Dan maintains his usual upbeat, grateful attitude: “We’re in such a great place with the company and Lucas helped me get here. Anything he gets, I won’t begrudge. I’ll be glad he got it and think he deserves it.” Asked how he can remain so charitable when his own brother is suing him—Lucas was best man at his wedding—Price laughs and says he’s been seeing a family therapist for about a year.
Brother or not, he vows to fight fiercely to protect his company. “I will do anything to help Lucas reach his financial goals,” Dan says, “as long as it doesn’t lead to price increases to our merchants, decreases in services to them, pay cuts, or other types of cutbacks to our investments in our team.”
Raising your cost of doing business is generally not considered the best way to increase profits and improve market position. Yet the finish line for Price may be when he can lift his own salary up to market rate—making it easier for the company to replace him, if necessary, and show CEOs that sacrifice by the boss is only temporary when overhauling a company’s wage structure. He’d also like to get his $3 million loan back—invested to “take us from a low to a high margin for error,” he says—but won’t sweat it if that doesn’t happen. “I started with nothing,” he says. “I can always make enough to support myself.”
Price says establishing a $70,000 minimum wage is a moral imperative, not a business strategy. And yet he must prove the business wisdom behind it, not only to keep Gravity from sinking—and going down with the ship himself—but also to achieve his long-term goal of transforming the business world. “I want the scorecard we have as business leaders to be not about money, but about purpose, impact, and service,” he says. “I want those to be the things that we judge ourselves on.”
Some researchers think the cool temperature anomaly suggests a slowing of ocean circulation.
Why some scientists are worried about a surprisingly cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean
It is, for our home planet, an extremely warm year.
Indeed, last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.
Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months.
What’s up with that?
First of all, it’s no error. I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months. As Arndt put it by email:
For the grid boxes in darkest blue, they had their coldest Jan-Aug on record, and in order for a grid box to be “eligible” for that map, it needs at least 80 years of Jan-Aug values on the record.
Those grid boxes encompass the region from “20W to 40W and from 55N to 60N,” Arndt explained.
And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”
Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.
At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation.
In March, several top climate scientists, including Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Michael Mann of Penn State, published a paper in Nature Climate Change suggesting that the gigantic ocean current known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is weakening. It’s sometimes confused with the “Gulf Stream,” but, in fact, that’s just a southern branch of it.
The current is driven by differences in the temperature and salinity of ocean water (for a more thorough explanation, see here). In essence, cold salty water in the North Atlantic sinks because it is more dense, and warmer water from farther south moves northward to take its place, carrying tremendous heat energy along the way. But a large injection of cold, fresh water can, theoretically, mess it all up — preventing the sinking that would otherwise occur and, thus, weakening the circulation.
In the Nature Climate Change paper, the researchers suggested that this source of freshwater is the melting of Greenland, which is now losing more than a hundred billion tons of ice each year.
I asked Mann and Rahmstorf to comment on the blue spot on the map above by e-mail. Here’s what Mann had to say:
I was formerly somewhat skeptical about the notion that the ocean “conveyor belt” circulation pattern could weaken abruptly in response to global warming. Yet this now appears to be underway, as we showed in a recent article, and as we now appear to be witnessing before our very eyes in the form of an anomalous blob of cold water in the sup-polar North Atlantic.
Rahmstorf also commented as follows:
The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning. There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.
I also asked Rahmstorf whether, if his thinking is right, we should expect this cold patch to become a permanent feature of temperature maps, even as the world continues to warm. His answer was complex, but not anything that gives you much reassurance:
The short term variations will at some point also go the other way again, so I don’t expect the subpolar Atlantic to remain at record cold permanently. But I do expect the AMOC to decline further in the coming decades. The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will continue to contribute to this decline by diluting the ocean waters.
Granted, it’s not clear that all climate scientists agree with this interpretation of what’s happening in the North Atlantic — but clearly some important ones do, and they have published their conclusions in an influential journal.
The longer the situation continues, the more it is likely to attract attention. But it has already been around for a while. “It’s been really persistent over the last year and a half or so,” NOAA’s Arndt says.
Indeed, I spoke with Rahmstorf previously about the cold patch in the North Atlantic in March, when his study came out — and when a NOAA temperature chart for December 2014 through February 2015 also showed record cold in this area. As Rahmstorf wrote back then, “The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is practically the only region of the world that has defied global warming and even cooled.” Since then, the trend appears to have only continued.
So in sum, if Mann and Rahmstorf are right, a slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation could be beginning, and even leaving a temperature signature for all to see.
This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario). But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.
So on future climate maps, even as we rack up more hot months and years, we’d better watch the North Atlantic closely.