Precipitation levels in southern Africa exhibit a marked east–west gradient and are characterized by strong seasonality and high interannual variability. Much of the mainland south of 15°S exhibits a semiarid to dry subhumid climate. More than 66 percent of rainfall in the extreme southwest of the subcontinent occurs between April and September. Rainfall in this region—termed the winter rainfall zone (WRZ)—is most commonly associated with the passage of midlatitude frontal systems embedded in the austral westerlies. In contrast, more than 66 percent of mean annual precipitation over much of the remainder of the subcontinent falls between October and March. Climates in this summer rainfall zone (SRZ) are dictated by the seasonal interplay between subtropical high-pressure systems and the migration of easterly flows associated with the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Fluctuations in both SRZ and WRZ rainfall are linked to the variability of sea-surface temperatures in the oceans surrounding southern Africa and are modulated by the interplay of large-scale modes of climate variability, including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Southern Indian Ocean Dipole, and Southern Annular Mode.
Ideas about long-term rainfall variability in southern Africa have shifted over time. During the early to mid-19th century, the prevailing narrative was that the climate was progressively desiccating. By the late 19th to early 20th century, when gauged precipitation data became more readily available, debate shifted toward the identification of cyclical rainfall variation. The integration of gauge data, evidence from historical documents, and information from natural proxies such as tree rings during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, has allowed the nature of precipitation variability since ~1800 to be more fully explored.
Drought episodes affecting large areas of the SRZ occurred during the first decade of the 19th century, in the early and late 1820s, late 1850s–mid-1860s, mid-late 1870s, earlymid-1880s, and mid-late 1890s. Of these episodes, the drought during the early 1860s was the most severe of the 19th century, with those of the 1820s and 1890s the most protracted. Many of these droughts correspond with more extreme ENSO warm phases.
Widespread wetter conditions are less easily identified. The year 1816 appears to have been relatively wet across the Kalahari and other areas of south central Africa. Other wetter episodes were centered on the late 1830s–early 1840s, 1855, 1870, and 1890. In the WRZ, drier conditions occurred during the first decade of the 19th century, for much of the mid-late 1830s through to the mid-1840s, during the late 1850s and early 1860s, and in the early-mid-1880s and mid-late 1890s. As for the SRZ, markedly wetter years are less easily identified, although the periods around 1815, the early 1830s, mid-1840s, mid-late 1870s, and early 1890s saw enhanced rainfall. Reconstructed rainfall anomalies for the SRZ suggest that, on average, the region was significantly wetter during the 19th century than the 20th and that there appears to have been a drying trend during the 20th century that has continued into the early 21st. In the WRZ, average annual rainfall levels appear to have been relatively consistent between the 19th and 20th centuries, although rainfall variability increased during the 20th century compared to the 19th.
Climate and carbon cycle are tightly coupled on many time scales, from the interannual to the multimillennial. Observation always shows a positive feedback between climate and the carbon cycle: elevated atmospheric CO2 leads to warming, but warming is expected to further release of carbon to the atmosphere, enhancing the atmospheric CO2 increase. Earth system models do represent these climate–carbon cycle feedbacks, always simulating a positive feedback over the 21st century; that is, climate change will lead to loss of carbon from the land and ocean reservoirs. These processes partially offset the increases in land and ocean carbon sinks caused by rising atmospheric CO2. As a result, more of the emitted anthropogenic CO2 will remain in the atmosphere. There is, however, a large uncertainty on the magnitude of this feedback. Recent studies now help to reduce this uncertainty. On short, interannual, time scales, El Niño years record larger-than-average atmospheric CO2 growth rate, with tropical land ecosystems being the main drivers. These climate–carbon cycle anomalies can be used as emerging constraint on the tropical land carbon response to future climate change. On a longer, centennial, time scale, the variability of atmospheric CO2 found in records of the last millennium can be used to constrain the overall global carbon cycle response to climate. These independent methods confirm that the climate–carbon cycle feedback is positive, but probably more consistent with the lower end of the comprehensive models range, excluding very large climate–carbon cycle feedbacks.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Historical assumptions that climates shape human societies in particular places are widespread. But these modes of thinking are being dramatically reversed as it is recognized that human activities are now on such a scale that they are influencing the global climate. Many so-called climate deniers still refuse to accept these new insights into the human situation, and at least implicitly insist that the geographical context for human affairs is simply a given set of conditions. But despite this opposition, the recognition that human choices and decisions about which economic systems will be built in coming generations will have dramatic effects on the future of global climate finally shaped the first nearly universally accepted climate change agreement in Paris in December 2015.
How climate is invoked in political discussion is tied into diverse cultures and hence comes to be part of public discourse in numerous ways. How state policymakers and political advocates of diverse ideological stripes situate “their” state in the world and in relationship to other states and within a wider world system is a crucial part of how political identities are constructed and appropriate courses of action rendered legitimate. These processes are key to how geopolitics works and how politicians and public opinion shape policies.
Despite the widespread acceptance of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change action, numerous arguments about who should act and how to deal with climate change persist. Such differences are in part a matter of geographical location, and a matter of whether an economy is dependent on fossil fuels revenue or subject to increasingly severe meteorological hazards and rising sea levels. Partly in response to these differences, the Paris agreement devolves primary responsibility for climate policy to individual states.
These differences are also connected to political rivalries among states and disputed claims about historical legacies of colonization and injustice, who should lead in international affairs, and how world order should be structured. Such formulations impute responsibilities within the international system in ways that former colonial and industrial powers frequently refuse to accept. Policy responses to climate change draw on these different geographical representations of the world, with various sources of climate danger and opportunity specified in terms of how they affect “our” society.
From this follow political arguments about how societies and governments ought to behave on the basis of their understandings of the identities in particular places in the world and their role in the larger patterns of progress, rivalry, and history. These matters of geopolitical culture shape political responses to climate change profoundly, and in turn have large consequences for the future configuration of the planet’s climate.
Scientific agreement on climate change has strengthened over the past few decades, with around 97% of publishing climate scientists agreeing that human activity is causing global warming. While scientific understanding has strengthened, a small but persistent proportion of the public actively opposes the mainstream scientific position. A number of factors contribute to this rejection of scientific evidence, with political ideology playing a key role. Conservative think tanks, supported with funding from vested interests, have been and continue to be a prolific source of misinformation about climate change. A major strategy by opponents of climate mitigation policies has been to cast doubt on the level of scientific agreement on climate change, contributing to the gap between public perception of scientific agreement and the 97% expert consensus. This “consensus gap” decreases public support for mitigation policies, demonstrating that misconceptions can have significant societal consequences. While scientists need to communicate the consensus, they also need to be aware of the fact that misinformation can interfere with the communication of accurate scientific information. As a consequence, neutralizing the influence of misinformation is necessary. Two approaches to neutralize misinformation involve refuting myths after they have been received by recipients (debunking) or preemptively inoculating people before they receive misinformation (prebunking). Research indicates preemptive refutation or “prebunking” is more effective than debunking in reducing the influence of misinformation. Guidelines to practically implement responses (both preemptive and reactive) can be found in educational research, cognitive psychology, and a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. Synthesizing these separate lines of research yields a coherent set of recommendations for educators and communicators. Clearly communicating scientific concepts, such as the scientific consensus, is important, but scientific explanations should be coupled with inoculating explanations of how that science can be distorted.
Courtney Plante, Johnie J. Allen, and Craig A. Anderson
Given the dire nature of many researchers’ predictions about the effects of global climate change (e.g., rising sea levels, droughts, more extreme weather), it comes as little surprise that less attention has been paid to the subtler, less direct outcomes of rapid climate change: psychological, sociological, political, and economic effects. In this chapter we explore one such outcome in particular: the effects of rapid climate change on aggression. We begin by exploring the potential for climate change to directly affect aggression in individuals, focusing on research showing the relationship between uncomfortably hot ambient temperature and aggression. Next, we review several lines of research illustrating ways that climate change can indirectly increase aggression in individuals. We then shift our focus from individuals to the effects of climate change on group-level aggression. We finish by addressing points of contention, including the challenge that the effects of climate change on aggression are too remote and too small to be considered relevant.