Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Abrupt Climate Change Is About to Transform the Entire Global Humanitarian Community

“My message to the Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance Community is that we are not in a steady state right now.”

This is the perspective of Paul Beckwith, a Part-time Professor of Climatology at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. In a podcast interview with, Beckwith—a prolific analyst, subject matter expert, and content creator on the subject of Abrupt Climate Change—believes that Abrupt Climate Change is happening, and happening now.

The “Godzilla” El Nino stressing humanitarian and disaster operations worldwide, raging fires in Alaska, Siberia and the rain forests of Indonesia, Hurricane Patricia’s recent explosion to a Category 5+ monster cyclone…all of these events may only be the beginning of a rapid acceleration into uncharted territory. Or more accurately, a tipping point into an entirely new climate state for our planet.

Combine additional precipitable water in Earth’s atmosphere, a wavy and erratic jet stream, and a potential catastrophic reduction in Arctic Sea Ice, and Beckwith foresees an increase in frequency, duration, and severity of disaster-level weather events on the scale of 10-20 times greater (not a typo) than today in the not-so-distant future.

As Beckwith has aptly stated, "What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Not like Vegas."

Beckwith spent considerable time with breaking down imminent and Abrupt Climate Change as it may impact all humanitarian professionals.

Click here to download and listen to the full 45 minute podcast.

Excerpts and an overview of some of Beckwith’s most salient points for humanitarian professionals are below.

Humanitarian Guide: Major Features of Abrupt Climate Change

Blue Ocean Event 
A term coined by Beckwith referring to the loss of the majority of Arctic Sea Ice during the melt season, and the creation of large expanses of open waters in the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice is currently in a fragile state thanks to major ice loss over the past decade, with major melt episodes in 2007, 2013 and again this past summer. A Blue Ocean Event would disproportionately increase the temperature of the Arctic, raise global temperatures, and further destabilize the jet stream. In Beckwith’s view, a Blue Ocean Event is likely to occur as early as 2020, or even, albeit with a long offside chance, the summer of 2016, depending on unique local weather conditions.

Jet Stream Alteration
When flowing strongly and mostly west-to-east (called zonally, versus north-south (meridionally)), the Jet Stream efficiently clears out weather patterns in North America and Eurasia. But with the Arctic warmer, the temperature difference between the tropics and the Arctic is less, and the Jet Stream is slow, weak, wobbly and erratic. Storms—now charged by abnormally hot Sea Surface Temperatures and increased water vapor in the atmosphere—can get stuck and persist longer. They can also explode in intensity. Heatwaves and droughts can become entrenched. Temperatures can reach extremes as the jet stream wildly oscillates—with cold temperatures plunging to the mid latitudes, or the searing heat reaching the Arctic. A Blue Ocean Event would break down the jet stream even more—and Beckwith suggests an increase in the frequency, severity and duration of disaster occurrences by 10-20 times once this occurs.

Uninhabitable Hot Zones
Following a Blue Ocean event, the southern latitudes will begin to heat significantly, as there is less of a temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics, and heat builds steadily instead of being transported northward. Some hot and humid areas of Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East could actually be rendered uninhabitable for our species as “wet bulb” temperatures soar towards 35C (95F)—the limit of the human body’s ability to regulate its own temperature (the body is no longer able to sweat and core body temperature rises quickly). This past summer, parts of Iran and Iraq achieved heat indexes of near 160F (71.1C)—entering the wet blub limit territory. Abrupt Climate Change brings forth the possibility of uninhabitable zones that would spawn and expand in the planet’s warmest and most humid areas.

Methane Hydrates and the Paleo Perspective
As severe as these aspects of Abrupt Climate Change may be for the humanitarian community, an ominous wildcard looms deep in the waters of the Arctic Ocean and in the permafrost of the Arctic Circle. Methane hydrates—the decayed legacy of flora and fauna of eons ago—could potentially be unleashed from the ground to the atmosphere if temperatures warm enough. A large methane release (quite possibly resulting from a Blue Ocean Event) could unleash enough greenhouse gasses to tip the planet into an entirely new climate regime. Or perhaps not entirely new from a geologic perspective—methane eruptions have happened before. 56 million years ago, methane releases warmed the Earth an incredible 5C in 13 years. Abrupt Climate Change itself has also occurred on the boundaries of ice ages and interglacial periods, where wild global temperature swings occurred in timeframes of decades or less. While human civilization may not have memory of Abrupt Climate Change on this scale, such events have occurred in fairly recent geologic time.

Non-Linear Sea Level Rise
A Blue Ocean Event could catalyze “non-linear” rates of melt in Greenland and Antarctica, causing a rapid pulse of Sea Level Rise quite different than the smooth linear graphs portrayed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Non-linear Sea Level Rise would have enormous implications for the global humanitarian community, as Pacific Island Nations and countries including Bangladesh would need to consider prompt evacuation and relocation of vulnerable populations. Pulses of meltwater from Greenland also could further slow the Gulf Stream, causing major changes in North Atlantic weather patterns. According to Beckwith, this is happening already, evidenced by: 1) a vast pool of anomalously cold surface water south of Greenland; 2) anomalously warm surface water south of the cold water where the Gulf Stream has shifted to; 3) very warm water off the US East Coast which the Gulf Stream is overriding; and 4) very rapid sea level rise on the US East Coast due to due to ocean currents pushing against the coastline--for example, 4-5 inches in 2010-2011 when the Gulf Stream's flow essentially halted. Dr. James Hansen’s recent work has discussed non-linear melt rates. While we touched on Sea Level Rise in our interview, please see Beckwith’s excellent video on non-linear ice melt and Sea Level Rise for an in-depth analysis.

Looking Forward
For the Disaster Management and Humanitarian Community, the time to get ready is now. From the healthcare sector, to social workers, to engineers, to NGOs and International Organizations—Abrupt Climate Change means making paradigm shifts, looking at redundant and augmented operations and constantly thinking outside of the box.

From Beckwith’s perspective, there is hope, and a possibility that some of the cascading feedbacks can be addressed. His solution set three pronged: 1) zeroing global emissions; 2) cooling the Arctic with Solar Radiation Management (SRM); and 3) reducing global atmosphere and ocean C02 concentrations (CDR, Carbon Dioxide Removal).

In the meantime, Beckwith’s Abrupt Climate perspectives belong in the tool kit of humanitarian professionals worldwide. After all, much of Disaster Planning involves taking a worse-case scenario and working backwards. The Blue Ocean event may well be that ultimate scenario. Without a doubt, all humanitarians are wise to keep an eye on the Arctic this summer and for the summers to follow.

Paul Beckwith's Website
Paul Beckwith's Videos
Paul Beckwith on Twitter
Paul Beckwith on Facebook
Images: NOAA, NASA, Climate Reanalyzer, UNHCR, United Nations,

Monday, May 25, 2015

Humanitarian Flash Forward: El Nino

From catastrophic floods in Texas to warm waters in the eastern Pacific, El Nino is now here. What does it mean to relief and recovery professionals worldwide? And could there be a chance that this El Nino sets into motion climate patterns not witnessed in recent history? In this audio story, we cover the areas where El Nino is expected to make its most significant impact. Of special interest humanitarian professionals considering where their next deployment may be. Click on the blue arrow to listen.

Related ReliefAnalaysis Content:
Pacific Warming - the Next Black Swan?
Operational Implications of the Emerging El Nino
5 Environmental Effects the Return of El Nino May Bring

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Podcast: Vanuatu's Mega-Disaster and Humanitarian Broadcasting

This past March, monstrous Cyclone Pam achieved Category 5 status before plowing through the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. In's first Disaster DX podcast, the long-term implications of Pam's devastation is examined, as well as a re-emergence of shortwave humanitarian broadcasting that followed in the early days of cyclone recovery.

Click the blue arrow below to listen! 

More Information! Stories and analysis referenced in the podcast:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Australia's Firefighting Force Must Double by 2030

Climate Change could catalyze the need for Australia to double its fire fighting force by 2030. But climate change's global impacts could also unravel international mutual aid agreements used in the continent's current response operations. [Image: Wikipedia Commons]

Cross-posted by the Center for Climate and Security

Australia is coming off of its warmest documented year on record, and the climate-vulnerable continent needs more firefighters. As referenced in a landmark report from the Climate Council of Australia, the nation’s firefighting force must double to 22,000 personnel by 2030 to combat a projected upsurge in dangerous brushfires. But the threat of climate change is working in parallel--something which could enhance fire risk and even potentially unravel international mutual aid agreements.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Exclusive: USAID Operations in Syria and Iraq

USAID relief supplies for the humanitarian situation in Northern Iraq. (Image Courtesy: USAID/CIDI) is privileged to bring exclusive content from the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI). This content is part of a larger ReliefAnalysis project that profiles humanitarian trends through 2025. Given the current escalation of the Syria and Iraq complex emergency fueled by the ISIL crisis is being published ahead of time. For more information about USAID CIDI and helping international disaster survivors, please visit or write to media@cidi.org


USAID CIDI is an education organization that is focused on effective public donations in support of disaster relief. Created by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1988, USAID CIDI works with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), which leads and coordinates the U.S. Government’s humanitarian assistance efforts overseas.

USAID/OFDA responds to an average of 70 disasters in more than 50 countries every year, under a mandate to save lives, reduce human suffering and reduce the social and economic impact of humanitarian crises worldwide. USAID CIDI was created by USAID/OFDA in 1988 to inform the public about the best ways to donate in support of relief efforts. USAID CIDI does not accept or distribute donations, but does collect and disseminate information to enable individuals and groups to provide the most effective assistance to people affected by disasters.

A survey USAID CIDI conducted through Harris Interactive in 2013 found that in the past five years, 63% of Americans have made donations to relief organizations in the aftermath of natural disasters. USAID CIDI’s mission is to enable donors to make the most of their generosity by using Smart Compassion. Through cash contributions, relief organizations can do more good for more people, with greater speed and sensitivity than with unrequested material donations. Cash donations provide life-saving services in the short term, and help to rebuild communities through the long term.

USAID CIDI Director Juanita Rilling (Image Courtesy: USAID/CIDI)

With unprecedented displacement taking place in the complex emergencies in Syria and Iraq, how can concerned citizens practice Smart Compassion to make the most effective donation to survivors?

Complex emergencies like the current situations in Syria and Iraq can be overwhelming for donors as the political, social, and economic fabrics within these societies are in tatters. The number of actors, the quickly evolving situation and the circumstances for affected people can bewilder even the most experienced donor. It’s even more difficult to know what day-to-day needs are on the ground. This is why USAID CIDI promotes Smart Compassion.  

Smart Compassion means understanding that there is a more effective, efficient way to aid those who are suffering: monetary donations to trusted, experienced organizations.

Why cash? Monetary donations do not spoil, expire, incur transportation costs, and take a long time to arrive at the destination. They are flexible; allowing relief workers on the ground to purchase what is needed, when it is needed, how ever much is needed almost immediately.

Informed donors make the most of charity “watchdog” organizations like Charity Navigator to affirm the legitimacy and effectiveness of organizations they are thinking about supporting. We recommend the umbrella organizations InterAction and GlobalGiving; Each has thorough vetting, auditing and transparency requirements for their member organizations, which span the breadth of causes that interest donors and inspire them to give.

 How are CIDI and the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (ODFA) working together on the Syria and Iraq crises?

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with implementing NGOs to provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of children, women, and men displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) assault on Sinjar and surrounding areas of northern Iraq.
USAID is deploying humanitarian response experts to key locations in the region to manage and coordinate U.S. Government support of the Government of Iraq’s humanitarian aid effort for those displaced by ISIL.USAID CIDI supports this humanitarian work by encouraging prospective donors to support the relief and charitable organizations working directly with crisis-affected people.

USAID established the Center to educate the public about the advantages of giving monetary donations to relief organizations and the downside of donating unsolicited material goods which is what we do today. We answer calls from individuals, groups, charities, and businesses with offers of donations or volunteer service. We do outreach via traditional media, social media, and in-person presentations about Smart Compassion. We focus on diaspora groups, in this case people who have cultural, historic, or ethnic ties to Iraq and Syria. These individuals and groups are particularly impacted as they watch this complex crisis unfold in their countries of origin. We introduce them to Smart Compassion, to USAID’s work in the region and to the process of becoming a USAID/OFDA implementing partner. Diaspora, due to this connection to their country of origin, have enhanced knowledge of the local context, language, geography, and politics that aid their ability to understand the situation on the ground.

Given the scale of the Iraq and Syria complex emergencies, are there lessons learned that will be valuable to future CIDI operations?

Thankfully, compassionate people will continue to donate in support of disaster-affected people. Because of this, USAID CIDI will continue it’s messaging about the most effective and efficient way for donors to help people affected by crises. The Iraq and Syria emergencies are ongoing conflicts, and people caught in the violence will need support for weeks and months to come. It is increasingly important that messaging and information about the crises is available and publicized to help combat donor fatigue and ensure interest after the news agencies have shifted their attention. We have a solid, tested, successful message, and we are continually looking for new ways to support donors, NGOs and disaster-affected people. 

Contact CIDI 
For more information about USAID CIDI and helping international disaster survivors, please visit or write to

Monday, September 1, 2014

Months After Haiyan's Landfall, 100,000 IDPs Remain

Over 100,000 survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are still internally displaced.
[Image: UNOCHA]

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on the Philippines on November 8, it was clear that response, recovery, and reconstruction challenges could last for months to come. Haiyan's wind speeds tied it with the equivalent speeds from Typhoon Tip--the strongest cyclone ever recorded in meteorological history. Haiyan's strength was so incredible that it created the question of whether a Category 6 or 7 should exist on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pacific Warming: The Next Black Swan?

Cross-posted by the Center for Climate and Security

A new "Black Swan" may be emerging for the international humanitarian community. Often defined as a high impact, low probability wildcard--this new threat could be game changer for almost anyone involved in international security, disaster recovery, or relief work. The threat lurks just a few hundred feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, and if researcher Matthew England is correct, in a few years time we all may have something extraordinary to contend with.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is Climate Change Driving a New South Pacific Security Architecture?

Cross-posted by the Center for Climate and Security

Last week, an inaugural meeting of South Pacific defense ministers took place in Tonga--an initiative spearheaded by Australia. Present were Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile, and (as an observer), the United States. Front and center on the agenda was collaboration on humanitarian and disaster relief operations, maritime surveillance, and plans to conduct joint exercises throughout the region. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Operational Implications of the Emerging El Nino

For international security analysts, humanitarian operations planners, and humanitarian logisticians, the ability to identify emerging global hot spots is crucial. Over the coming months, areas such as Syria, the Crimea, Venezuela, Sudan, and the Central African Republic will no doubt make a list of potential shatter belts, complex emergencies, and geopolitical flashpoints worth monitoring.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jakarta: Landmark Humanitarian Technology Test Successful

During the Cold War era, the medium of shortwave radio was in many ways a predecessor to today’s Internet. For decades, the busy airwaves reflected the geopolitical and international security realities of the day, as over 100 nations transmitted messages that fused domestic and international news with large doses of propaganda. The radio dial was interspersed with squelches of military radar echoes, maritime and aviation traffic, mysterious “numbers” counting stations for international spies, and even military attempts to inject the ionosphere with energy to disrupt communications, or perhaps even incoming International Ballistic Missiles. With the end of the Cold War era and the rise of Internet technology, the shortwave radio spectrum has decayed into a more vacuous space. Many international broadcasters have curtailed their shortwave operations, and instead produce their content for online consumption.

Yet, this past week, at the Media Summit on Climate Change, ICTs and Disaster Risk Reduction in Jakarta, Indonesia, 12 international shortwave broadcasters were able to accomplish a remarkable feat for the first time in the history of radio broadcasting--all articulated through the geopolitical and humanitarian realities of today. National level broadcasters from the United States, China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, the Vatican, and others piloted the International Radio for Disaster Reduction project in partnership with the High Frequency Coordinating Council (HFCC), the Arab States Broadcasting Union, and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.

For a full 24 hour day, these broadcasters collaborated to focus a schedule of transmissions on Jakarta on a set frequencies to simulate a focused, international effort to broadcast simulated humanitarian content in the event of a large-scale disaster.

Despite the fact that Internet-enabled cell-phones and tablets are becoming a dominant form of communication technology, in areas such as the Asia-Pacific and Africa, shortwave broadcasting is still a robust and redundant platform that can cross the digital and literacy divide. As proven by this week's test, shortwave radio can also cross the disaster divide in a region extremely vulnerable to mega disasters and the impacts of climate change.

According to Oldrich Cip of the HFCC,
This is for the first time ever that international radio stations have volunteered to demonstrate that shortwave broadcasting is capable of communicating relevant information to the affected populations immediately after a disaster strikes. Receivers are light- weight and cheap and the technology is unique in being completely disaster resistant: the transmitting facilities can be hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from the disaster zone suffering from a total communication and information blackout.
The International Radio for Disaster Reduction test proved that, from a communications perspective, nations can form an effective humanitarian security architecture that can act as beacons to millions who may be victims of a mega disaster.

Perhaps most interestingly, both the United States and China participated in this successful event together. In 2012, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed that the U.S.'s growing engagement in the Asia-Pacific was intended to"take steps to confront the mutual challenges that both of our countries face." Panetta cited disaster relief and humanitarian assistance as the top two mutual challenges for both regional powers. This week's test is an example that collaboration among regional powers can help foster unique security architectures with profound implications.

[Via: High Frequency Coordinating Council,; Image: NASA depiction of a hazard emanating from Indonesia (smog and smoke)]