Last Winter’s Snow Doesn’t Erase The West’s Long-Term Drought — Or A Shifting Climate ~ Colo Public Radio

By The Associated Press

August 15, 2019
Colorado River-Climate ChangeRichard Vogel/AP
This March 26, 2019 photo shows the water level of the Colorado River, as seen from the Hoover Dam, Ariz.

Snow swamped mountains across the U.S. West last winter, leaving enough to thrill skiers into the summer, swelling rivers and streams when it melted, and largely making wildfire restrictions unnecessary. But the wet weather can be misleading.

Climate change means the region is still getting drier and hotter.

“It only demonstrates the wide swings we have to manage going forward,” James Eklund, former director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency that ensures river water is doled out properly, said earlier this year. “You can put an ice cube — even an excellent ice cube — in a cup of hot coffee, but eventually it’s going to disappear.”

For the seven states relying on the Colorado River, which carries melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with increasingly less water for farms and cities.

Climate scientists say it’s hard to predict how much less. The river supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5-billion-a-year agricultural industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday will release its projections for next year’s supply from Lake Mead, a key reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

After a wet winter, the agency isn’t expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of water.

But that doesn’t mean conditions are improving long term. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico could give up some water voluntarily in 2020 under a drought contingency plan approved by the seven states earlier this year.

Here is a look at the Colorado River amid climate change:

Colorado River Flow

Much of the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries originates as snow.

As temperatures rise and demand grows, the water supply declines. Even if more snow and rain fell, it wouldn’t necessarily all end up in the river. Plants will suck up more water, and it will evaporate quicker.

Brad Udall, a water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, said the river’s flow could decrease even further to 20 percent by 2050 and 35 percent by 2100.

“On any given day, it’s hotter, we have more days for a growing season to occur, we have a thirstier atmosphere,” he said. “When you put all those things together, you lose flow in the river.”

The Changing Climate

Climate change doesn’t mean the American West will be hot and dry all the time. Extreme swings in weather are expected as part of a changing climate — something Udall has called “weather whiplash.”

The Southwest got a reprieve this year with average and above-average snowfallfollowing a year that sent many states into extreme drought. Nearly empty reservoirs quickly rose, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the largest manmade reservoirs in the country that hold Colorado River water.

The lakes still are far below capacity, steadily declining since 2000 with a bigger spike after winter 2011.

A wet year interrupting years of dryness isn’t uncommon.

“We’re very thankful for this gain in wet hydrology and storage in the reservoirs that happened this year, but we know we can lose it just as fast,” said Carly Jerla with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

About That Drought

Many states declared an end to short-term drought this year, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, which looks at land conditions.

The map is produced by the National Drought Migration Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But not all agencies use the same indicators for drought.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation uses Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border and Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border. The reservoirs were nearly full in 1999 before the agency declared a drought the following year that hasn’t let up. As of Monday, Lake Powell was 57 percent full and Lake Mead was 39 percent full.

Jerla says the bureau won’t say the drought is over until those reservoirs fill completely, which won’t happen without consecutive years of wet weather.

Protecting The Colorado

The seven states that rely on the Colorado River signed a plan earlier this year to protect the waterway from climate change and keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell fuller.

The drought contingency plan is meant to keep the reservoirs from dropping so low that they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower amid prolonged drought and climate change.

Nevada, California and Arizona voluntarily would give up water when Lake Mead reaches certain levels, as would Mexico, which also gets a portion of water from the river. The deal expires in 2026, and the states will begin negotiating new guidelines next year.

Grapefruit-Sized Hailstone Might Break The Colorado Record ~ Colo Public Radio

August 14, 2019

This hailstone fell outside of Bethune, Colorado, on Aug. 13, 2019. Courtesy of the National Weather Service
This hailstone fell outside of Bethune, Colorado, on Aug. 13, 2019.

A grapefruit-sized hailstone that fell just northwest of Bethune, Colorado, on Tuesday may break the state’s record with a 4.83 inch diameter. It weighed 8.5 ounces and had a circumference of nearly 13 inches.

“I’ve been at this office 21 years and to have something like that happen, and happen in the area that we serve, and to be able to go out there and kind of partake in history — it was pretty special,” said Dave Thedes, a meteorologist at the Goodland, Kansas, National Weather Service.

NWS Goodland

@NWSGoodland

Preliminary results from NWS Goodland and @ColoradoClimate survey. These results will undergo final review for an official measurement.

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Bethune is on Interstate 70, about 30 miles west of the Kansas stateline.

A family north of the town  Bethune retrieved the hailstone about 30 minutes after it fell and put it in their freezer. Photos of the stone show that it was larger before an official measurement was taken.

Courtesy of the National Weather Service
The hailstone that fell northwest of Bethune, Colorado, on Aug. 13, 2019, may have set a state record for the largest hailstone.

The Colorado State Climatologists will work with a committee to determine the final measurement and declare its status as a record breaker.

The last time Colorado had record breaking hail was July 2011 when a hailstone with a 4.5 inch diameter was recorded in Adams County. The largest hailstone ever recorded in the U.S. had an 8 inch diameter. It fell in South Dakota in 2010.

Why a Medieval Woman Had Lapis Lazuli Hidden in Her Teeth ~ Pocket

This set of teeth had a secret hidden in the tartar. Photo by Christina Warinner.

What Anita Radini noticed under the microscope was the blue—a brilliant blue that seemed so unnatural, so out of place in the 1,000-year-old dental tartar she was gently dissolving in weak acid.

It was ultramarine, she would later learn, a pigment that a millennium ago could only have come from lapis lazuli originating in a single region of Afghanistan. This blue was once worth its weight in gold. It was used, most notably, to give the Virgin Mary’s robes their striking color in centuries of artwork. And the teeth that were embedded with this blue likely belonged to a scribe or painter of medieval manuscripts.

Who was that person? A woman, first of all. According to radiocarbon dating, she lived around 997 to 1162, and she was buried at a women’s monastery in Dalheim, Germany. And so these embedded blue particles in her teeth illuminate a forgotten history of medieval manuscripts: Not just monks made them. In the medieval ages, nuns also produced the famously laborious and beautiful books. And some of these women must have been very good, if they were using pigment as precious and rare as ultramarine.

If pigments can be preserved in tartar—the gunky yellow stuff on teeth that dental plaque hardens into—that means that fibers, metals, and other dyes could be, too. “This is genuinely a big deal,” says Mark Clarke, a technical art historian at Nova University Lisbon who was not involved in the new study. You could imagine identifying metalworkers, carpenters, and other artisans from the particles embedded in tartar, Clarke says. “It’s opening up a new avenue in archaeology.”

Radini and her co-author, Christina Warinner, did not set out to study the production of illuminated manuscripts. Radini, now at the University of York, was initially interested in starch granules in tartar as a proxy for diet, and Warinner, a microbiome researcher at the Max Planck Institute, wanted to study the DNA of ancient oral bacteria. But the blue particles were too striking to ignore.

The semiprecious rock lapis lazuli is ground up to create a pigment called ultramarine, tiny particles of which can be found in dental tartar. Photo by Christina Warinner.

“Can you imagine the kind of cold calls we had to make in the beginning?” says Warinner. “‘Hi, I’m working with this thing on teeth, and it’s about 1,000 years old, and it has blue stuff in it. Can you help me?’ People thought we were crazy. We tried reaching out to physicists, and they were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ We tried reaching out to people working in art restoration, and they were like, ‘Why are you working with plaque?’” She eventually reached physicists at the University of York who helped confirm the blue did indeed come from the mineral lazurite, derived from lapis lazuli.

But art experts were still skeptical. Some dismissed the idea that a woman could have been a painter skilled enough to work with ultramarine. One suggested to Warinner that this woman came into contact with ultramarine because she was simply the cleaning lady.

Warinner eventually reached out to Alison Beach, a historian at Ohio State University who studies female scribes in 12th-century Germany. Over the past couple of decades, Beach and other scholars have cataloged the overlooked contributions of women to medieval book production. The challenge, Beach says, is that while most manuscripts with signatures are signed by men, the vast majority of manuscripts are unsigned. But a small number of surviving manuscripts are signed by women, and scholars have found correspondence between monks and nuns about book production.

Beach even came across a letter dated to the year 1168, in which a bookkeeper of a men’s monastery commissions sister “N” to produce a deluxe manuscript using luxury materials such as parchment, leather, and silk. The monastery where sister “N” lived is only 40 miles from Dalheim, where the teeth with lapis lazuli were found. Beach also identified a book using lapis lazuli that was written by a female scribe in Germany around a.d. 1200. The pigment would have traveled nearly 4,000 miles from Afghanistan to Europe via the Silk Road. All the evidence suggests that female scribes were indeed making books that used lapis lazuli pigment in the same area and around the same time this woman was alive.

An illuminated page from the Scivias, a 12th-century book written by the nun Hildegard of Bingen and painted by two anonymous artists. The blue pigment comes from lapis lazuli. Photo from the Heidelberg University Library / Cod. Sal. X,16 / page 2r.

The team considered a number of alternative ways lapis lazuli could have gotten into the woman’s dental plaque. Could the particles have come from repeated kissing of an illuminated manuscript? This practice didn’t become popular until three centuries after this woman likely died. Could it have come from lapis ingested as medicine, as suggested in Greek and Islamic medical texts? There’s little evidence that prescription was followed in 12th-century Germany. The lapis lazuli particles were also especially fine, which requires a laborious grinding process. This detail in particular suggests that the stones were purposefully made into pigment.

The team concluded that two scenarios are most likely: The woman was a painter who could have ingested ultramarine paint while licking her brush to a point, or she breathed in the powder while preparing pigment for herself or someone else. You can almost begin to picture her, Beach says, sitting by herself laboring over a manuscript day after day. “For a medieval historian,” she adds, “this kind of clear material evidence of something from the life of an individual person is so extraordinary.”

Cynthia Cyrus, a professor at Vanderbilt who has also studied medieval scribes, told me that reading the paper was “the highlight of my day.” Like many monasteries, she noted, the one where this woman was buried was eventually destroyed in a medieval fire. There’s little evidence of what life was like there. But the woman’s teeth suggest that it could have been a site of highly skilled book production.

Warinner is continuing to study the particles embedded in old tartar. She and others have found everything from insect parts and the pollen of exotic ornamental flowers to opium, bits of wool, and milk proteins—all of which tell stories about what people ate and how they lived. The detritus of everyday life accumulates in the gunk that modern dentists are so vigilant about scrubbing off. “They aren’t thinking of future archaeologists,” Warinner jokes.

Sarah Zhang is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Extreme climate change has arrived in America ~ The Washington Post

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LAKE HOPATCONG, N.J. — Before climate change thawed the winters of New Jersey, this lake hosted boisterous wintertime carnivals. As many as 15,000 skaters took part, and automobile owners would drive onto the thick ice. Thousands watched as local hockey clubs battled one another and the Skate Sailing Association of America held competitions, including one in 1926 that featured 21 iceboats on blades that sailed over a three-mile course.

In those days before widespread refrigeration, workers flocked here to harvest ice. They would carve blocks as much as two feet thick, float them to giant ice houses, sprinkle them with sawdust and load them onto rail cars bound for ice boxes in New York City and beyond.

New Jersey’s average temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Celsius since 1895 — double the average for the Lower 48 states.

“These winters do not exist anymore,” says Marty Kane, a lawyer and head of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.

That’s because a century of climbing temperatures has changed the character of the Garden State. The massive ice industry and skate sailing association are but black-and-white photographs at the local museum. And even the hardy souls who still try to take part in ice fishing contests here have had to cancel 11 of the past dozen competitions for fear of straying onto perilously thin ice and tumbling into the frigid water.

Click any temperature underlined in the story to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit

New Jersey may seem an unlikely place to measure climate change, but it is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation. Its average temperature has climbed by close to 2 degrees Celsius since 1895 — double the average for the Lower 48 states.

 

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Over the past two decades, the 2 degrees Celsius number has emerged as a critical threshold for global warming. In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed that the world should act urgently to keep the Earth’s average temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 to avoid a host of catastrophic changes.

The potential consequences are daunting. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if Earth heats up by an average of 2 degrees Celsius, virtually all the world’s coral reefs will die; retreating ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could unleash massive sea level rise; and summertime Arctic sea ice, a shield against further warming, would begin to disappear.

But global warming does not heat the world evenly.

A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.

— Today, more than 1 in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.

— Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country, but Rhode Island is the first state in the Lower 48 whose average temperature rise has eclipsed 2 degrees Celsius. Other parts of the Northeast — New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts — trail close behind.

— While many people associate global warming with summer’s melting glaciers, forest fires and disastrous flooding, it is higher winter temperatures that have made New Jersey and nearby Rhode Island the fastest warming of the Lower 48 states.

The average New Jersey temperature from December through February now exceeds 0 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which water freezes. That threshold, reached over the past three decades, has meant lakes don’t freeze as often, snow melts more quickly, and insects and pests don’t die as they once did in the harsher cold.

The freezing point “is the most critical threshold among all temperatures,” said David A. Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist and professor at Rutgers University’s department of geography.

The uneven rise in temperatures across the United States matches what is happening around the world.

Rhode Island is the first state in the Lower 48 whose average temperature rise has eclipsed 2 degrees Celsius.

In the past century, the Earth has warmed 1 degree Celsius. But that’s just an average. Some parts of the globe — including the mountains of Romania and the steppes of Mongolia — have registered increases twice as large. It has taken decades or in some cases a century. But for huge swaths of the planet, climate change is a present-tense reality, not one looming ominously in the distant future.

To find the world’s 2C hot spots, its fastest-warming places, The Post analyzed temperature databases, including those kept by NASA and NOAA; peer-reviewed scientific studies; and reports by local climatologists. The global data sets draw upon thousands of land-based weather stations and other measurements, such as ocean buoys armed with sensors and ship logs dating as far back as 1850.

In any one geographic location, 2 degrees Celsius may not represent global cataclysmic change, but it can threaten ecosystems, change landscapes and upend livelihoods and cultures.

In Lake Hopatcong, thinning ice let loose waves of aquatic weeds that ordinarily die in the cold. This year, a new blow: Following one of the warmest springs of the past century, harmful bacteria known as blue-green algae bloomed in the lake just as the tourist season was taking off in June.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Tarantino’s Los Angeles in Six Key Locations ~ NYT

The director’s canny settings reflect his deep understanding of the region as both sun-filled and sketchy, glamorous and anonymous.

Credit Darren Michaels/Miramax Films — Kobal Collection

By

 

Whether he’s speeding down Cielo Drive, skipping across lanes on the 101, or rambling along Hollywood Boulevard in a sun-kissed haze, Brad Pitt’s irresistible, gold aviator-glasses-wearing stuntman serves many roles in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” But perhaps his most unexpected is as guide to Los Angeles.

Much has been written about how the director Quentin Tarantino’s latest nostalgia-drenched film is a love letter to movies — spotting all the cinematic references requires multiple viewings. But “Once Upon a Time” is also a love letter to the city itself.

El Coyote Mexican Cafe, the Regency Bruin Theater in Westwood, the Spahn Movie Ranch and Playboy Mansion are just a few of the real-life spots that surface in the movie. Taken together, the landmarks and locations help bring to life the pop-infused heady days of the late ’60s and the culture that defined California’s special role in that moment in American history — recalling the historianKevin Starr’s line that “Los Angeles was the ‘Great Gatsby’ of American cities.”

“Once Upon a Time” may be Tarantino’s most overt homage to Los Angeles, but it’s hardly his first. Though he was born in Tennessee, the director grew up in Torrance, Calif., a sleepy middle-class suburb known more for skateboarders than red-carpet goers, and cultivated his encyclopedic knowledge of films while working at a video store in nearby Manhattan Beach. The influences of those South Bay cities and many other parts of the region are apparent throughout his films. In fact, if you were to get in your car and drive the streets and highways of “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill,” you’d get a pretty decent sense of Los Angeles, the glamour but also the grit that make it so unlike anywhere else.

The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist ~ NPR

Maybelle Carter joined with the Carter Family in 1926.

GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images


The Swiftness of Glaciers: Language in a Time of Climate Change ~ Pocket

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Language bends and buckles under pressure of climate change. Take the adjective ‘glacial.’ I recently came across an old draft of my PhD dissertation on which my advisor had scrawled the rebuke: ‘You’re proceeding at a glacial pace. You’re skating on thin ice.’ That was in 1988, the year that the climatologist James Hansen testified before the United States Senate that runaway greenhouse gases posed a planetary threat.

If I repeated my advisor’s admonition on a dissertation today, the student might assume that I was rebuking them for writing too darn fast. Across all seven continents glaciers are receding at speed. Over a four-year span, Greenland’s ice cap shed 1 trillion tons of ice. Some geologists expect the Glacier National Park in Montana to lose the last of its glaciers around 2033, just as the equatorial glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are also set to disappear. An Icelandic glaciologist calculates that by the end of the next century Iceland will be stripped of ice. Are we moving toward a time when tourists will visit Montana’s National Park Formerly Known as Glacier? When students will read Hemingway’s story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ (1936) not as realism but as science fiction? And when Reykjavik will be the capital of DeIcedland?

This shift reminds us that dead metaphors aren’t always terminally dead. Sometimes they’re just hibernating, only to stagger back to life, dazed and confused, blinking at the altered world that has roused them from their slumber. (Dead metaphor is itself a dead metaphor, but we can no longer feel the mortality in the figure of speech.)

During the Little Ice Age, which stretched from the 14th to the 19th century, the median Northern Hemisphere winter was significantly colder than it is today. Glaciers more often advanced than retreated, sometimes wiping out communities as they moved. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘Mont Blanc’ (1817) captures the menacing aura that adhered to those frozen rivers of ice:

… The glaciers creep
Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,
Slow rolling on …
in scorn of mortal power

Shelley saw glaciers as predatory, immortal forces, eternal beings, before whose might mere humans quaked. But global warming has flipped that perception. We are now more likely to view glaciers as casualties of humanity’s outsize, planet-altering powers.

Glaciers in the 21st century constitute an unfrozen hazard, as receding glaciers and ice packs push ocean levels higher. Just as alarming as the big thaw’s impact on sea rise is its impact on the security of our freshwater reserves. For glaciers serve as fragile, frigid reservoirs holding irreplaceable water: 47 per cent of humanity depends on water stored as seasonally replenished ice that flows from the Himalayas and Tibet alone.

From the Himalayas to the Alps and the Andes, glacial retreat is uncovering the boots and bones of long-lost mountaineers. But such discoveries involve a haunting, double revelation: each reclaimed climber reminds us of the glacier’s own vanishing. Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani troops have battled intermittently since 1984, is, for Arundhati Roy, the ‘most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times’. The melting glacier is coughing up ‘empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate’. This ghostly military detritus is being made visible by a more consequential war, humanity’s war against the planet that sustains us, a war that has left the Siachen Glacier grievously wounded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of dead metaphors as ‘fossil poetry’, noting in an essay in 1844 that ‘the deadest word’ was ‘once a brilliant picture’. If every metaphor involves a tenor (the object referred to) and a vehicle (the image that conveys the comparison), a failure to visualise once-brilliant pictures can result in a multi-vehicle pile-up. As George Orwell put it: ‘The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot.’

In ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), Orwell laid out six rules for writers, the first of which declares: ‘Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.’ An inert metaphor such as ‘hotbed of radicalism’ conveys very little: we can no longer feel the blazing temperature between the bed sheets, just as – prior to public awareness of global warming – we’d stopped noticing the icy fossil poetry in ‘glacial pace’.

As consciousness of climate change has grown, a new class of dead metaphors has entered the English language. We speak routinely of carbon footprints, of wiping species off the face of the Earth, and of greenhouse gases, but we no longer see the feet, the hands, the faces and the backyard sheds that were once vivid when those phrases were newly coined. Geologists now talk of searching for the ‘human signature’ in the fossil record. Some geo-engineers want to inject vast clouds of sulphur aerosols into Earth’s atmosphere in the hopes of ‘resetting the global thermostat’. Many of these coinages attempt to give an intimate, human dimension to planetary phenomena that can seem intimidatingly vast and abstract. Adam Smith in 1759 responded similarly to the massive scale of economic forces by inserting the human body in the form of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Today, the science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson brings that dead metaphor back to life, complaining that, when it comes to the environment, ‘the invisible hand never picks up the check’.

As our planet’s cryosphere thaws, we can detect all kinds of stirrings in the cemetery of dead metaphors. At Austrian and Swiss ski resorts, the natural ‘blankets’ of snow have become so threadbare that resort owners are shielding them with actual isothermic blankets. And in the Arctic, the threat looms of impermanent permafrost from which climate-altering methane will bubble free.

Planet-wise, we’re all skating on thin ice.

‘Calving glaciers’ is shorthand for the seasonal rhythm whereby glaciers amass winter ice, then shed some of that accumulation each summer in the form of icebergs and growlers. When scientists refer to ‘calving glaciers’, we do not typically visualise a Wisconsin dairy herd: as the phrase became routine, the calves have vanished from view. Now that climate change has thrown the balance between glacial accumulation and shedding out of whack, the dead metaphor reasserts itself as a living image. Is the prolific calving we’re now witnessing a fecund or a fatal act, a birthing ritual or a symptom of the death of ice?

Before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, the sculptor Olafur Eliasson and the geologist Minik Rosing travelled to Greenland, where they lassoed some ice calves that they transported to the Place du Panthéon. There they created Ice Watch, an arrangement of mini-icebergs in the shape of a clock face. Over the duration of the conference, the public could watch time, in the form of ice melt, running out.

Greenpeace, too, has sought to mobilise people through art to act against accelerated calving. More than 7 million people have viewed the Greenpeace video in which the composer Ludovico Einaudi performs his ‘Elegy for the Arctic’ (2016) on a grand piano balanced on a fragile raft. As the raft drifts through the ice melt pouring off a glacier in Svalbard in Norway, the pianist’s plangent chords reverberate in counterpoint with the percussive booming of massive chunks of ice crashing into the ocean.

Have we reached a linguistic tipping point where ‘glacial pace’ is incapable of conveying meaning with any clarity? Under pressure of a warming world, does ‘glacial’ need to be decommissioned and pushed over the climate cliff?

Abrupt climate change challenges not just the capacity of the living to adapt, but also the adaptive capacities of human language. The ‘glacial’ scrawled in the margins of my 1988 dissertation isn’t the ‘glacial’ of 2018, any more than the polar bear that starred in Coca-Cola commercials (tubby, sugared-up, a cheerful icon of the good life) is interchangeable with today’s iconic polar bear – skinny, ribs bared, a climate refugee adrift on a puny platform of ice, impossibly far out to sea. In symbolic terms, the two bears scarcely belong to the same species.

Many years ago, as a graduate student, I encountered and delighted in Franz Kafka’s exhortation that ‘A book should be the ice axe that breaks open the frozen sea within.’ But now I hear his words quite differently. I want to say: ‘Hey Franz, lay down your axe. Go easy on that fragile frozen sea.’

Rob Nixon is the Barron Family Professor of the Humanities and the Environment at Princeton University. His latest book is Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (2013).