Year 4, Month 11, Day 7: God Damn, Well I Declare — Have You Seen The Like?

The Times of Trenton (NJ) talks about the ongoing post-Sandy reconstruction effort:

As the first anniversary of the storm that forever changed the Jersey Shore approaches, the region is looking back at the checkered record of state aid and federal funds that have been delivered to those in need — and the millions still entangled in red tape.

New Jersey officials have done a good job in some areas to address the immediate problems spawned by Sandy. But far too many people are still waiting for the promised help to repair their homes so they can move back to the neighborhoods where they’ve lived all their lives.

Particularly in the northern part of the state, the individual stories are full of uncertainty. Every storm forecast triggers fear for some; others remain displaced living in whatever shelter they can find; and some, who haven’t received the loans they’re counting on, don’t know where to begin picking up the splintered pieces.

New Jersey may be stronger than THE (caps or ital, please) storm, but what about the next one or the one after that?

Climate change is a certainty. And as the polar ice melts, one of the irrefutable effects is the ocean’s slow swallowing of the barrier islands — and its creeping reach from the back bays onto the coastline. An Army Corps of Engineers construction project is expected to begin next year that will result in dunes standing sentry along the 127-mile oceanfront. Communities that had dunes withstood the forces of Sandy better than places without the protection but, eventually, the sea will vanquish the sand.

I’ve got so many letters now, it’s really easy to revise them and crank out new versions. October 28:

Why do we ignore climate change in talking about post-Sandy reconstruction? Several reasons: humans are no good at long-term thinking, and most people simply want their normal lives back as fast as possible. Even though Earth’s climate is changing incredibly fast, most of us simply cannot imagine the lives of our descendants as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve left for them.

Another factor is that simple causality doesn’t apply to a complex system like our climate; we can’t describe single events like Superstorm Sandy as definite consequences of the greenhouse effect, even though our CO2 emissions have loaded the dice for extreme weather.

Last but hardly least is the inconvenient fact that fossil fuel corporations have spent massively to influence politicians and media to avoid reality-based discussion of climate change — because such discussion would highlight the central role of oil and coal in creating the crisis, inevitably impacting their profit margins.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 5: No One There To Tell Us What To Do

The Charleston City Paper notes a group of educators who are doing their jobs admirably:

There couldn’t have been a hotter July morning to talk about global warming. Charleston’s temperatures hit right around 90 degrees, but that didn’t stop the national “I Will Act On Climate” tour bus from stopping at the Battery to spread awareness about this global issue.

The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the national campaign Tuesday morning to present information and speakers on the issue of rising sea levels. This event also acted as the debut of SCBARS, a.k.a. SC Businesses Against Rising Seas, a local movement designed to inform local businesses, residents, and tourists of the impact that global warming will have on the Lowcountry.

Lead speaker Scott Wolfrey first stepped up to the podium, surrounded by charts estimating the increase in water levels for the Charleston peninsula and Folly Beach by 2100. The prediction: 6 feet. That means that Folly Beach would lose around 95% of its landmass, and the edge of the Battery where everyone was standing would be underwater.
Wolfrey said the organization had approached more 100 local businesses with the information, and more than 50 percent gave positive feedback and were receptive to the group’s mission.

A 300-word limit means I didn’t have to work too hard, which is good, because it’s too damn hot right now. July 17:

A six-foot high water mark makes an excellent symbol for one of the most vivid and unforgettable effects of global climate change. Over the coming century, rising sea levels are going to alter the world’s coastlines drastically, forcing millions of people away from their homes, their lands, and their lives. Our nation’s infrastructure, already in major disrepair, can hardly be expected to withstand such inexorable forces; it is an act of civic responsibility to ensure that businesses and homeowners have enough time to plan.

But we should not forget that the accelerating greenhouse effect will have other consequences that are equally profound but less obvious. Extreme weather can be expected to reduce agricultural productivity significantly: there’ll be fewer things to eat, and they’ll be more expensive and harder to obtain. Many plant and animal species will be unable to adapt to climatic transformations happening a hundred or a thousand times faster than evolutionary speed, which means a devastating loss of Earthly biodiversity for our children and our children’s children in the coming centuries.

The climate crisis is here, it’s real, and it’s dangerous to our civilization and to our species. Despite the best efforts of a complaisant media to downplay the severity of the emergency, there is no longer any valid excuse for ignorance or denial.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 3: The Music Goes Round And Round

Lee Sandlin, in USA Today, on the OK Tornadoes:

The truth is that tornadoes like this are rare but not unheard-of. They have been part of the reality of life in the American heartland for centuries. So why do people have the idea that there is something so horribly sinister about this newest one?

Partly, of course, it’s the sheer overwhelming violence and terror of the tornado itself, transmitted in real-time and viewed over and over again by millions of people on news websites and the Internet. This naturally has the effect of dulling the memory of previous catastrophes.

There is also the current tendency of the news media to treat every meteorological event in apocalyptic terms. But now there is also our growing urgency about climate change. In much of the online discussion about what happened in Moore, we can hear the repeated fear that there’s something unnatural going on with the weather, that this one event — and if not this one, then surely the next — will be the tipping point for global disaster.

Among meteorologists there is a widespread consensus that climate change is real, but very little concern about what one specific tornado may or may not prove about it. In the first decade of this century, there were only three EF-5 tornadoes anywhere in North America; nobody knows why. In 2011 alone there were six.

What should concern us is what a tornado like the one in Moore says about the heedless way we occupy the American landscape. The heartland is being enormously overbuilt. Tornadoes are going to be more frequent occurrences in densely inhabited areas because there are going to be fewer empty places for them to touch down.

Whatever happens to the larger climate, events like Moore are increasingly going to be the norm.

Much of this letter was cribbed from information in Greg Laden’s blog. May 22:

Science can’t say definitively that climate change was responsible for a specific tornado, or any other example of extreme weather, but it can confirm that the accelerating greenhouse effect is clearly linked to an overall increase in storminess.

Tornadoes are so variable in distribution and strength that they’re poor indicators — but storms in general result from unevenly distributed heat in tropical areas (like the Gulf of Mexico) which moves Northward via air and water currents. A hotter world means more food for storms; although it’s impossible to say what particular types of storms will increase, we can see a steady rise in storm-caused property damage. Unlike the reality-detached denialists in Congress, insurance companies use real numbers, and stand to lose real money, which is why they’re making plans to address the problem. Isn’t it time America’s lawmakers started taking the threat of climate change with the seriousness it deserves?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 2: Why Are You Worried About You-Know-Who?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on climate change’s connection to the OK tornadoes:

So, the actual question is whether climate change is influencing tornado disasters like the one in Oklahoma. Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle jumped right into the fray and finds that a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official in 2011 said there currently is no evidence to link tornado activity to climate change … but don’t completely rule it out:

The fact that the United States swung from a record high in 2010-11 to record low in 2012-13 caught the attention of meteorologist Patrick Marsh of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. He calculated that the record 12-month tornado maximum of 1,050 EF-1 and stronger tornadoes from June 2010-May 2011 was a 1-in-62,500 year event, and the record 12-month low of 197 EF-1 and stronger tornadoes that occurred from May 2012-April 2013 was a 1-in-3000 to 1-in-4000 year event. In summary, Marsh wrote: “Anyway you look at it, the recent tornado ‘surplus’ and the current tornado ‘drought’ is extremely rare. The fact that we had both of them in the span of a few years is even more so!” Could this be related to climate change? Perhaps climate change is causing more extremes, both and high low. “The extraordinary contrast underscores the crazy fluctuations we’ve seen in Northern Hemisphere jet stream patterns during the past three years. Call it ‘Weather Whiplash’ of the tornado variety,” says Jeff Masters. Nevertheless, when it comes to tornadoes and a warmer world, science really cannot say at this time.

Always, um, happy to resurrect the Cheney Doctrine. May 21:

So we “can’t completely rule out” the idea that climate change might have a role in the tornadoes that just hammered Oklahoma? Good. After all, what likelihood is there that the accelerating greenhouse effect could cause devastating storms, out-of-season precipitation, and extreme weather events? Lets’ make that probability pretty low. Is two percent too much? Okay, reduce it to just one chance in a hundred that the connection is real. Such a small probability shouldn’t trigger action. Or should it?

“Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty.” The Cheney doctrine was applied to lead us into a pointless and costly war on the flimsiest of pretexts. By contrast, if the evidence for Iraqi WMDs was as substantial as that for the dangers of human-caused climate change, our troops would have found loose nukes in the bazaars of Baghdad.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 18: Just Enough For The City

The Westerly Sun (CT) discusses post-Sandy reconstruction and its connection to climate change:

WESTERLY — On a cold, blustery day in April, Janet Freedman and Nate Vinhatiero stand gazing at Misquamicut beach. There is so much sand in the air, it’s like being in a desert during a windstorm. Freedman, a coastal geologist with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, assesses the progress made since Superstorm Sandy hammered the area at the end of October 2012.

“I’m really impressed that they screened it all,” Freedman says, looking at the newly created dunes made from sand that had washed onto Atlantic Avenue. “If you’re doing dune restoration, you need to have all the debris out.”

Vinhatiero, an oceanographer who works for Applied Science Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Wakefield, explains that he and Freedman are primarily concerned with one major effect of climate change.

“We’re focusing on sea level rise, because for the south shore, that’s the most critical aspect of climate change,” he said.

As Freedman and Vinhatiero observe and record the lingering storm damage — and the scores of workers repairing and restoring the beach, homes and businesses — they and other scientists worry that all this work could be for nothing.

Not-so-clever apes, all of us. May 5:

There are several reasons that climate change is all too often excluded from discussions of post-storm reconstruction, despite its obvious relevance. First is that we humans are notoriously poor at thinking about the long term; in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, people simply want their lives restored to normal as rapidly as possible. While our climate is indeed transforming with exceptional rapidity, most of its effects will be felt by our descendants, and most of us don’t give more than lip service to the lives of people a century or more from now.

Second is that Earth’s climate is a complex dynamic system to which simple rules of causality don’t apply. This means that the greenhouse effect will have different impacts in different parts of the planet, and that we can’t describe single events like Superstorm Sandy as definite consequences of increased atmospheric CO2.

Finally is the inconvenient fact that fossil fuel corporations wish to avoid a hugely expensive responsibility, so they’ve spent extraordinary amounts to influence our politicians and media away from any reasonable, fact-based discussion of climate change — because such discussion would inevitably turn to the central role of oil and coal in creating the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 12: Central Park In The Dark

Well, damn. USA Today:

Superstorm Sandy released 11 billion gallons of sewage from East Coast treatment plants into bodies of water from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut, according to a report released Tuesday by a science journalism group.

Princeton, N.J.-based Climate Central said that future sewage leaks are a major risk because rising sea levels can make coastal flooding more severe.

The group, which compiled data from state agencies and treatment plant operators, did not look at the specific environmental or public health impact of the sewage overflows after Sandy, which struck in late October. But it said that bacteria in sewage can spread water-borne illnesses and have a particularly bad effect on shellfish.

In New Jersey, officials spent months monitoring shellfish beds for contamination and reopened the last of them in mid-April, said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The collective overflows — almost all in New York and New Jersey and due to storm surges — would be enough to cover New York City’s Central Park with a pile of sewage 41 feet high, Climate Central said.

Just read that last paragraph again, willya? April 30:

The news that Superstorm Sandy distributed eleven billion gallons of sewage all over East coast water systems is a compelling argument for massive infrastructural investment in preparation for planetary climate change. At the mandated rate of 1.6 gallons, that’s just under one flush for every man, woman, and child now alive on Earth.

For the past century, we’ve been pumping our waste CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect that threatens our agriculture, our environment, our oceans, and our civilization. It’s a powerful irony that the intensifying storms which are fueled by global heating now seem poised to deliver a far less intangible waste product back to our doorsteps and water supplies.

Atmospheric CO2 is now 400 parts per million, a level not seen for millions of years. As my 8-year-old might put it, unless we implement robust climate and energy policies immediately, we’ll be in deep doo-doo.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 11: Headless Body In Topless Bar

The Denver Post runs an AP story on the Human Interest angle:

MANTOLOKING, n.j. — The 9-year-old girl who got New Jersey’s tough-guy governor to shed a tear as he comforted her after her home was destroyed is bummed because she now lives far from her best friend and has nowhere to hang her One Direction posters.

A New Jersey woman whose home was overtaken by mold still cries when she drives through the area. A New York City man whose home burned can’t wait to build a new one.

Six months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey shore and New York City and pounded coastal areas of New England, the region is dealing with a slow and frustrating recovery.

Tens of thousands of people remain homeless. Housing, business, tourism and coastal protection remain major issues with the summer vacation — and hurricane — seasons almost here.

“Some families and some lives have come back together quickly and well, and some people are up and running almost as if nothing ever happened, and for them it’s been fine,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday. “Some people are still very much in the midst of recovery. You still have people in hotel rooms, you still have people doubled up, you still have people fighting with insurance companies, and for them it’s been terrible and horrendous.”

Getting your life destroyed has gotta suck big time. April 29:

People will still be reeling from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy for years to come. Losing a home, a business, or a cherished community to the impersonal forces of extreme weather can’t be healed with an insurance payment or a renovation plan. As we rebuild, let us recognize that as climate change intensifies, so too will the number of dislocated and traumatized individuals and families. The future will bring even more sad and disturbing stories as the consequences of our planetary greenhouse emergency make themselves felt, not just on our storm-battered coastlines, but in forests turned to tinder by invasive insect pests, in shrinking and algae-choked lakes, and in the drought-cracked farmlands whose yields once fed millions.

State and federal governments must develop and implement reality-based climate and energy policies, including initiatives to end our dependence on the fossil fuels that started the problem in the first place, infrastructure projects to mitigate the climate change that’s already inevitable, and, finally, humanitarian programs to ensure that those whose lives are shattered can again be part of a vibrant and generous civil society.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 17: Charm Offensive

The Denver Post alerts us to the fire problem:

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House.

The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide.

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests.

“We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

Reality bites, don’t it? April 4:

Well, 2012 was the world’s hottest year in recorded human history, so it would be a good time for Americans to finally acknowledge the implications of global climate change. The Forest Service’s prediction of increasingly severe forest fires over the coming decades is just one of many ways that atmospheric CO2 is going to impact our lives.

While “global warming” sounds vaguely comforting (everybody likes being warm, right?), the true picture of climate change is one in which dangerous factors are going to be getting worse. Already suffering from droughts? Brace yourself for multi-year water shortages. On the other hand, if you’re already getting rained on, you should brace yourself for massive flooding. And if forest fires are a problem where you live, the next century’s going to give starring roles flames, soot, smoke and destruction.

Climate-change denialists are in a losing battle with the facts of the greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 10: Between Your Ears There’s Just A Great Big Vacu-um

The Washington Post reports on big snows in the West — in Oklahoma & Texas, no less:

Schools and major highways in the Texas Panhandle remained closed for a second day Tuesday. Interstate 27 reopened between Amarillo and Lubbock, about 120 miles to the south, but the Texas National Guard was still working to clear much of Interstate 40 from the Oklahoma border to the New Mexico state line.

Some other roads reopened as sunny conditions began to thaw ice and snow-packed surfaces.

Just a day earlier, whiteout conditions had made virtually all Panhandle roads impassable. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded in Amarillo, which got 17 inches. The heaviest snowfall was in Follett, Texas, with 21 inches.

In Oklahoma, 600 snowplows and trucks worked to reopen roads.

Always happy to poke fun at James Inhofe. Sent February 28:

A blizzard? Cue the triumphant shouts from climate-change deniers, as predictable as the weather once was before the metastasizing greenhouse effect began playing havoc with our atmosphere. That it is arch-denialist James Inhofe’s home state that has to cope with tons of unexpected snow adds an extra fillip of irony to the news.

While it’s indeed counterintuitive that a hotter atmosphere can lead to extreme snowstorms, humanity’s intuitions don’t include imaginary numbers, DNA, or radioactivity either (hence the importance of, and the need for, science). Steadily rising global temperatures’ complicated and unobvious effects include heat waves, extreme precipitation, and droughts like the one currently baking Oklahoma’s ground, blizzard or no.

While Senator Inhofe and his denialist fellow-travelers may not grasp how a hotter atmosphere makes once-in-a-century storms more frequent, their rejection of climate science hamstrings our capacity to cope with a national emergency. Ignorance is no foundation for policy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 4: In Case Of Accident, He Always Took His Mum

More shrill alarmism from the Grey Lady:

DENVER — After enduring last summer’s destructive drought, farmers, ranchers and officials across the country’s parched heartland had hoped that plentiful winter snows would replenish the ground and refill their rivers, breaking the grip of one of the worst dry spells in American history. No such luck.

Across the West, lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states now have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms.

Reservoir levels have fallen sharply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The soil is drier than normal. And while a few recent snowstorms have cheered skiers, the snowpack is so thin in parts of Colorado that the government has declared an “extreme drought” around the ski havens of Vail and Aspen.

“We’re worse off than we were a year ago,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

But Al Gore uses a private jet. February 22:

Higher temperatures increase evaporation, bringing higher humidity, leading in turn to a steadily-increasing likelihood of extreme precipitation. But this doesn’t mean all that extra rain or snow’s falling where it’s needed — a lesson farmers in the American Midwest are learning painfully as their land parches and cracks under the ravages of extreme drought. This is climate change.

Warmer winters mean that invasive insect pests like the mountain pine beetle are no longer stopped by below-freezing temperatures, which means the likely death of millions of pines. Thousands of acres of dead forest in a land hammered by drought; a superfire waiting to happen. This is climate change.

The subtle and varied edifices of human civilization are built on the foundation of a benign and stable environment — something far more fragile than anyone imagined. As the land loses its ability to support our species’ numbers, this, too, is climate change.

Warren Senders