Year 4, Month 10, Day 20: What Can A Poor Boy Do?

The Washington Post seems determined to atone for years of George Will columns. Here’s a perspective on climate change as it’s going to hammer cities, based on a new study in Nature:

Climate scientists sometimes talk about something called “climate departure” as a way of measuring when climate change has really changed things. It’s the moment when average temperatures, either in a specific location or worldwide, become so impacted by climate change that the old climate is left behind. It’s a sort of tipping point. And a lot of cities are scheduled to hit one very soon.

A city hits “climate departure” when the average temperature of its coolest year from then on is projected to be warmer than the average temperature of its hottest year between 1960 and 2005. For example, let’s say the climate departure point for D.C. is 2047 (which it is). After 2047, even D.C.’s coldest year will still be hotter than any year from before 2005. Put another way, every single year after 2047 will be hotter than D.C.’s hottest year on record from 1860 to 2005. It’s the moment when the old “normal” is really gone.

A big study, just published in the scientific journal Nature, projected that the Earth, overall, passes climate departure in 2047. The study also projects the year of climate departure in dozens of specific cities.

Dancing In The Streets! October 10:

Cities everywhere will need lots of preparation for a climate-changed future. Some aspects are easily predicted — bridges, drainage, power grids and communications networks must be strengthened with multiple levels of redundancy, so that extreme conditions can’t cripple an entire urban society overnight. But there is another, more subtle kind of infrastructure that also needs reinforcement.

Cities contain hundreds of interdependent neighborhoods, all with their own micro-cultures, mores, and local economies. Community centers, boys and girls clubs, volunteer groups, and block associations form the social systems that can make or break a city’s survival in difficult times. Just as nations anticipating millions of climate refugees must strengthen diplomacy and border security, cities must invest in nurturing healthy and resilient communities. Parks, civic spaces, arts and education programs are not frills, but necessities, if we want to avoid a worldwide and never-ending “long, hot summer” of dystopian urban collapse and violence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 2: Just Enough For The City

The Paramus Post (Paramus, NJ) discusses Michael Bloomberg’s plan for climate adaptation:

In the devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn charged the task force with giving recommendations to improve the resiliency of city buildings and maximize preparedness for extreme weather conditions like high winds, high temperatures and flooding. Urban Green Council led the 200+ member task force.

Highlights of specific suggestions:

• Create stronger buildings—require new and replacement doors and windows to be wind resistant; anchor homes to their foundations; design sidewalks to capture storm water.

• Ensure reliable backup power—make it easier for buildings to use backup generators and solar energy; require buildings to keep stairwells and hallways lit during blackouts; add hookups for roll-up generators and boilers.

• Provide essential safety—install a community water faucet for entire buildings during power outages; maintain habitable temperatures during blackouts by improving insulation; ensure windows open enough to both reduce overheating and guarantee child safety.

• Implement better planning—create emergency plans; adopt a new city code for existing buildings; support “Good Samaritan” legislation that protects architects and engineers from liability for emergency volunteer work.

The report makes recommendations for four specific types of buildings: commercial, multifamily residential, homes and hospitals. Recommendations require a combination of upgrading existing codes, implementing new codes, employing retrofits, removing barriers and adopting voluntary practices at the building ownership level. The suggestions strike a balance between resiliency and cost.

All good stuff, but just a drop in the bucket. June 16:

Preparing for extreme weather is a crucial part of any plan for adapting to a climatically-transformed world. As the greenhouse effect continues to elevate atmospheric temperatures, increased moisture in the air will bring more precipitation — and failing to plan ahead will inevitably mean more lives disrupted, more property destroyed, more money wasted. Mr. Bloomberg’s plans for buildings and infrastructure in New York City are an excellent start.

But there is more to do in planning for the impacts of climate change than strengthening foundations, improving drainage, and reinforcing utility connections. Delivery systems for food and water need to be developed, tested, and practiced; community groups must be integrated into disaster response, increasing the resilience and flexibility of individual neighborhoods in coping with disasters.

And, finally, people everywhere need to accept that the climate crisis is a dangerous and undeniable reality. We can no longer afford the luxury of denial.

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 1: Suck On This

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, on preparations currently underway:

In August, Tropical Storm Isaac flooded neighborhood roads in central and western Palm Beach County, dumping a historic 15 inches of rain in a few hours. In November, Hurricane Sandy washed out a portion of State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

South Florida transportation planners think these examples are the beginning of the impact that rising sea levels, strong storm surges and flooding are going to have on the region’s transportation infrastructure.

“It’s going to happen more often,” said Roger Del Rio, a project coordinator with the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.

To prepare, they’re urgently moving to see which roads, highways, railroads and other parts of the transportation system are vulnerable to climate change. And for the first time, they’re looking at factoring in climate change when determining future transportation projects.

It’s being done as part of a $642,000 tri-county pilot project with some of the funding coming from a $300,000 federal grant.

The collaborative effort includes Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward transportation planners, the Florida Department of Transportation and the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which runs Tri-Rail.

But you know that Rick Scott is going to pull the plug on this, because Freedom. April 19:

When it comes to our own homes and our own neighborhoods, climate change has become a lot less abstract. For decades we have sustained the comforting thought that the impacts of the accelerating greenhouse effect will only be felt by future generations — that melting Arctic ice is too far away to affect our lives directly. This illusion is crumbling now under a factual onslaught, and regions throughout America and the world are waking up to the fact that planning for a climate-changed future is simply sensible policy.

It should be clear even to the stubbornest denialist: if you know it’s going to be a dry year in the Colorado pine forests, prepare your firefighting equipment. If you know disease-carrying tropical insects will be moving North into your state, prepare your public health infrastructure. If you know a drought is coming, you prepare your irrigation systems. And, of course, if you know rising seas are going to cover your highways, you strengthen your infrastructure accordingly.

Only to the ideologically-driven mind of the movement conservative could such obvious common sense be in any way controversial.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 23: Helplessly Hoping…

Another group of socialist hippie treehuggers heard from:

As climate change leads to more frequent and destructive natural disasters and threatens crop yields, bridges and other infrastructure, the federal government faces big financial risks that it is poorly positioned to address, auditors said Thursday.

These risks, along with the threat of gaps in critical weather forecasting satellites that could last years, topped a biennial list released Thursday of federal programs at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse or financial loss.

“The federal government is terribly exposed to this change,” Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general and director of the Government Accountability Office, said in announcing why climate change made his agency’s high-risk list. “The government needs a much more strategic and centralized approach.”

Not that we’re gonna get one, of course. Feb 15:

If we needed yet another demonstration of how Congressional inaction is causing grave harm to our nation, we need look no further than the GAO report confirming that climate change is a financial disaster in progress. Damage to government infrastructure is only one part of the picture, but it’s a big part — and failure to address the problem in a timely fashion is going to cost taxpayers untold billions of dollars.

In fact, addressing climate change in a “timely fashion” would have required us to get started three decades ago, and the cold equations of a warming atmosphere now leave us no wiggle room. The irresponsible delay-and-deny tactics of conservative legislators beholden to the fossil fuel industry are pushing the price of governmental gridlock ever higher. If Congress can’t lead, they’ll have to follow; if they can’t do either, they’ll have to simply get out of the way. Immediately.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 28: Get Your Kicks!

The Vacaville Reporter (CA) runs an AP article on climate change’s impact on our transportation systems:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.

That’s leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Super-storm Sandy that are straining the nation’s transportation lifelines beyond what their builders imagined.

Despite their concerns about intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud a source of their weather worries: climate change.

Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.

Still, there is a recognition that the association’s guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming.

“There is a whole series of standards that are going to have to be revisited in light of the change in climate that is coming at us,” said John Horsley, the association’s executive director.

In the latest and most severe example, Superstorm Sandy inflicted the worst damage to the New York subway system in its 108-year history, halted Amtrak and commuter train service to the city for days, and forced cancellation of thousands of airline flights at airports in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

In Washington state, “we joked we were having 100-year storms every year,” said Paula Hammond, head of the state’s Department of Transportation.

Joked. Ha ha ha….funny!

If there is any aspect of American domestic policy that should be exempt from partisanship, transportation is it. Everybody needs to get from place to place; nobody likes driving on rotten roads or coping with failing infrastructure. And yet, time and time again, we find that dogmatism stands in the way of a reality-based approach to renewing our country’s crumbling transportation systems.

That the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials re-named their Climate Change Steering Committee into something marginally less likely to set Republican alarm bells ringing is just another demonstration that obvious truths must be carefully disguised to pass muster with conservative politicians. The climate IS changing; our roads, rails, airports, waterways and public transport must be strengthened. This is a fact, not an opinion. When it comes to preparing America’s transportation for the climate crisis, there’s no room on the road for the ideologically-driven.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 7: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone

Two separate stories in the New York Times make for an exceptionally frightening synergy. Read ’em and weep:

Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling:

WASHINGTON — From highways in Texas to nuclear power plants in Illinois, the concrete, steel and sophisticated engineering that undergird the nation’s infrastructure are being taxed to worrisome degrees by heat, drought and vicious storms.

On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.

Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.

Strong Storms Threaten Ozone Layer Over U.S.:

Strong summer thunderstorms that pump water high into the upper atmosphere pose a threat to the protective ozone layer over the United States, researchers said on Thursday, drawing one of the first links between climate change and ozone loss over populated areas.

In a study published online by the journal Science, Harvard University scientists reported that some storms send water vapor miles into the stratosphere — which is normally drier than a desert — and showed how such events could rapidly set off ozone-destroying reactions with chemicals that remain in the atmosphere from CFCs, refrigerant gases that are now banned.

The risk of ozone damage, scientists said, could increase if global warming leads to more such storms.

I tried to get some Joni Mitchell quotes into the letter itself, but couldn’t make it work. Sent July 27:

Whether it’s a power blackout, a buckled roadbed, a broken water main or a breached levee, infrastructure’s only noticeable at the failure point. As climate change gets faster and more severe, we’re going to discover just how much we’ve taken for granted over the past hundred years of civilizational growth. If America is to prosper in the centuries to come, we’ll need to retool and rebuild for far more stressful conditions.

But there’s another, grander infrastructure that cannot be addressed with a public works bill. The newly established connection between climate change and ozone loss is vivid evidence that many of the environmental mechanisms which have made our species’ efflorescence possible are endangered by the greenhouse effect and its epiphenomena. Genuine sustainability must recognize that such natural systems — oxygen-producing phytoplankton, the processes of photosynthesis, or upper-atmosphere protection against UV rays — are even more essential than sewers and roadways.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 17: I Have A Banana In My Ear!

U.S. News and World Report acknowledges that the Public Health picture is far from rosy, in an article entitled “Expert: Climate Change Will Increasingly Become Global Health Issue”:

Previously just the worry of climate scientists, environmentalists, doomsday prognosticators, and gas-price watchers, climate change is starting to worry some others— public health specialists, who say that global warming could affect large swaths of the population.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS Medicine Tuesday, a group of European public health experts write that climate change could alter “patterns of physical activity and food availability, and in some cases [bring] direct physical harm.” Slight temperature increases could also change disease distribution in colder regions and make hotter regions less hospitable to humans.

“Certain subgroups are at more risk—mainly the young, the old, and the poor,” says Peter Byass, director of the Umea Centre for Global Health Research in Sweden. “The middle age and wealthy will be better off. It’s a crude way of looking at it, but it’s not so far off the mark.”

That means more prevalence of diseases that affect the poor, such as malaria and dengue fever, and heat stroke in drought-afflicted areas.

For years, scientists have warned about more extreme hurricanes and weather patterns, but until recently, not much emphasis was put on less noticeable changes.

The comments include much stupidity, in highly predictable formats. Sent June 6:

The public health consequences of climate change are going to be very significant. It’s more than just hotter days and crazier weather; it’s invasive insects migrating to keep pace with environmental transformations and bringing tropical diseases with them; it’s the potential damage to our infrastructure that will make hamper sanitation; it’s allergies and asthma and a host of other debilitating ailments that will make our lives and those of our children progressively more difficult in coming centuries.

But even this does not begin to fully address the problem, for what affects humans will affect other life as well. Many species will be unable to cope, and we can anticipate losing much of the biodiversity that forms Earth’s priceless genetic heritage. Your headline announces that climate change is becoming a “Global Health Issue.” Indeed. It’s not just the people who live on it, but the planet itself that is deeply ill.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 6: Here’s Your Allowance For The Next Decade, Sweetheart. It’s All In Pennies.

The New York Times reports on a scary new study:

New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.

By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.

If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.

That’s pretty fucking alarming. Sent April 27:

A projected twenty percent acceleration in Earth’s water cycle holds the potential for catastrophic ripple effects throughout our lives and those of our posterity. Without a steady supply of water throughout the growing season, agriculture on civilization-feeding scales will become exponentially more difficult. While its impacts on farming will be profound, the drought-or-deluge model predicted by Paul Durack and his colleagues can be expected to transform beyond recognition many of the local and regional ecosystems our forbears took for granted.

To avoid the worst-case scenarios implicit in these findings, we must begin planning for a future in which water supplies will be irregular and extreme. We’ll need expanded and reinforced storage and conservation, water-stingy techniques of manufacturing, a completely re-imagined waste-processing system, and the infrastructure required by a host of other functions. Most difficult of all, we need to make our paralyzed political system respond constructively to an imminent crisis.

Warren Senders