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Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands and “Most Ambitious” Enviro Lawsuit Featured in New York Times Magazine

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

John BarryThis weekend you’ll want to go to your nearest newsstand and buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times and go straight to the Magazine for an article of major importance. The cover shows an oil industry “shortcut” canal sliced through Louisiana’s Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, overlaid with the words “Every Hour, an Acre of Louisiana Sinks into the Sea. Who Is to Blame?” The article, by Nathaniel Rich, focuses on the “high-stakes fight [that] has broken out over who is to blame—and who should bear the astronomical cost of restoring the coast” as the Louisiana wetlands continue to vanish into the Gulf of Mexico. Every year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land. Every day, 50 acres.

Rich spends quality time with John M. Barry (right), the widely respected author of the award-winning Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East that filed an historic lawsuit in July 2013 to force about 100 oil and gas companies to pay for damages to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. (Click here for more about the lawsuit; see also “Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis” on our Environment page.)

We’ll have more to say about this well-written article in the next few days—just wanted to alert you that it’s coming, and to urge you to “read all about it,” and spread the word. Buy the Sunday paper—help keep the presses rolling.

Nathaniel Rich, by the way, a novelist, is the son of New York magazine contributing writer and former New York Times columnist Frank Rich. In July Nathaniel reviewed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street: A History and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital for The New York Review of Books in a fine piece titled “The Heart of New Orleans.”

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Photographs by Jeff Riedel for The New York Times.

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Here Comes the Flood

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Noah (cropped) Tony Harrison @ Flickr

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National Assessment Finds Climate Change “Has Moved Firmly into the Present”

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States. . . . If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, [scientists] said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.

—“U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods,” New York Times (5/7/14)

Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet “Has Passed Point of No Return”

Scientists say that the melting will continue as long as the heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. Even if carbon dioxide and temperatures stabilize, the melting and shifting of glaciers will continue for decades or centuries as they adjust to the new equilibrium.

—“The Big Melt Accelerates,” New York Times (5/20/14)

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Two major reports released in recent weeks state emphatically that dramatic changes in climate are under way in the United States and globally, with a 10-degree average temperature rise in the U.S. possible by 2100, and world sea levels likely to rise by 4 to 12 feet or more by the end of the century. Perhaps most ominous of all, according to papers published last week in Science and Geophysical Research Letters, the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has already “passed a point of no return,” which will lead to alarming sea level rises that will imperil—or render uninhabitable—coastal and low-lying cities around the planet: New Orleans, New York, Miami, Boston, Venice, Shanghai, Mumbai . . .

A good summary by NASA of the Science and Geophysical Research Letters papers’ findings, along with an explanatory video, can be found here.

 


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More Intense, Frequent Extreme Weather Projected for U.S.

The National Climate Assessment, released by the White House on May 6, was conducted by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Among the Assessment’s many noteworthy findings: “The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. Hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”

SalonThe Assessment also projects increases in extreme weather generally, both in intensity and frequency: heat waves, droughts, wildfires, along with (in other places) excessive rainfall, flooding, tornadoes “and other severe thunderstorm phenomena,” etc.:

The number of extremely hot days is projected to continue to increase over much of the United States, especially by late century. Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer.

In a good summary of 12 points the Obama administration wants the American public to understand from the Climate Assessment, Grist.org includes one point (among others) that this blog takes very seriously: “Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projected to increase with continued climate change.” (See Further Reading below.)

The Climate Assessment’s findings on sea level rise make for chilling reading:

The oceans are absorbing over 90% of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity. Like mercury in a thermometer, water expands as it warms up (this is referred to as “thermal expansion”) causing sea levels to rise. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets is also contributing to sea level rise at increasing rates.

Recent projections show that for even the lowest emissions scenarios, thermal expansion of ocean waters and the melting of small mountain glaciers will result in 11 inches of sea level rise by 2100, even without any contribution from the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. This suggests that about 1 foot of global sea level rise by 2100 is probably a realistic low end. On the high end, recent work suggests that 4 feet is plausible. . . .  some decision makers may wish to use a wider range of scenarios, from 8 inches to 6.6 feet by 2100.

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Cool Digs! NYC’s 2nd Avenue Subway Tunnel in Progress

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

concentric

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Making Tracks on the Line That Time Forgot

Talking Points Memo posts some ultra-kool photos of the excavation of the Second Avenue subway tunnel under the East Side of Manhattan that is due to open for business in December 2016—only about a century after the need for an additional East Side subway line was first recognized. (More cool photos can be seen at the MTA’s Flickr page.)

At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working on an East Side Access megaproject to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new passenger concourse underneath Grand Central Terminal, which will ease pressure on the LIRR’s longtime (and congested rat-maze) terminus at Penn Station. (More about Penn Station [and high-speed rail] here.) Verily, the MTA’s crews and engineers are infrastructure heroes. We salute you!

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IEA Sees “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years”

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

“I don’t know who and where the climate leadership in the administration is. It doesn’t exist. There is no resolve in the Obama administration to do anything.”Tim Wirth, U.N. Foundation president

“What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?” —Pink Floyd, “Sheep” (Animals, 1977)

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With apologies for our habit of running a bit late sometimes, behind the curve of the news, we call to your attention, dear fellow earthlings, a report in a recent issue of The Guardian Weekly titled “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years.” The stark warning is based on a study of the world’s energy infrastructure conducted by the International Energy Agency that was released released before the recent Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. (By the way, were you aware that there was an international, UN–sponsored climate change conference in November and December?)

The IEA’s data, notes The Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey, “is regarded as the gold standard in emissions and energy, and is widely regarded as one of the most conservative in outlook—making the warning all the more stark.”

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever,” according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous. 

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

The Guardian observes that the IEA’s new research shows that “current choices in building new infrastructure are likely to commit the world to much higher emissions for the next few decades, blowing apart hopes of containing the problem to manageable levels.” The Guardian’s Fiona Harvey continues:

If the world is to stay below 2C [3.6°F] of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. But the world’s existing infrastructure is already producing 80% of that “carbon budget”. . . . If current trends continue, and we go on building high-carbon energy generation, then by 2015 at least 90% of the available “carbon budget” will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room for manoeuvre at all—the whole of the carbon budget will be spoken for, according to the IEA’s calculations.

The IEA’s report was released before the recent Durban conference, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference ended with a legally binding agreement among developed and developing countries to work for the first time on an agreement to cut greenhouse gases, but the agreement would not even be written until 2015, and would not come into force until 2020.

Scientists and environmental groups said the Durban deal would not be enough to avert catastrophic climate change, and the U.S. special envoy Todd Stern infuriated the European Union when he warned that there would have to be a long preparatory period before any sitting down to haggle over details. The election of Barack Obama has altered the rhetoric but has made little difference in the United States’s actions to curb global (warming) climate change.

As a little background on international efforts to reduce global warming, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to in 1997. In 2001 newly inaugurated President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would not participate. United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 produced little more than bitter disappointment (see below) and a vague agreement to take steps “to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” over the next century.

America’s Energy Conservation Policy: “Running on Empty”

The disconnect between one of the world’s most prolific producers of carbon emissions (industrial and automotive exhaust) and the acceptance of responsibility for the environmental consequences of is staggering. The Republican presidential candidates (except for Newt Gingrich, occasionally) either ignore or dispute the inconvenient truth, and they are not asked about climate change in their many corporate media–delivered debates. Barack Obama, who in his 2008 campaign led supporters to believe his administration would bring in a breath of fresh, lower-carbon-emission air, either does not really care or is afraid of giving further ammunition to those who accuse him of being “anti-business.” See “Obama’s Climate Betrayal” by The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert and these remarks by Tim Wirth, the U.N. Foundation president and former U.S. senator quoted in the epigraph above.

About the Copenhagen Accord signed in 2009, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote:

Two years ago, at a meeting in Copenhagen, world leaders agreed on the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius, or roughly three and a half degrees Fahrenheit. The so-called Copenhagen Accord, which Barack Obama personally helped negotiate, contained no mechanism for meeting this goal, so even though the President called it a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough,” many others questioned whether it was worth the proverbial paper it was printed on. Unfortunately, it now seems, the many others had a point.

And, in a bitter denunciation of the Copenhagen cave-in quoted in this blog at the time, climate change writer George Monbiot fumed (“Copenhagen Negotiators Bicker and Filibuster While the Biosphere Burns,” The Guardian):

First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. At the end it was no longer about saving the biosphere: it was just a matter of saving face. As the talks melted down, everything that might have made a new treaty worthwhile was scratched out. Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something.

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For More Hot Reading . . .

Obama’s Climate Betrayal” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 30, 2011)

Top 10 Signs We Are Living in a Warming World, 2011 Edition” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 12, 2011)

Two Degrees of Disaster” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Nov. 11, 2011)

Copenhagen Climate Summit: Five Possible Scenarios for Our Future Climate (Guardian, Dec. 18, 2009). With talks in Copenhagen descending into chaos, the prospects for stabilising temperatures ‘dangerous’ levels look increasingly slim. Here are five possible scenarios for our future climate.

Science Museum Unveils Climate Change Map Showing Impact of 4C Rise (Guardian, October 22, 2009). A new map of the world that details the likely effects of a failure to cut carbons emissions has been developed by Met Office scientists.

International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2011

And read these writers’ excellent, fact-based environmental reporting: Fiona Harvey (Guardian), Elizabeth Kolbert (New Yorker), and George Monbiot (Guardian).

United Nations Climate Change Conference web site

Text of 12-paragraph Copenhagen Accord

Dot.Earth (Andrew C. Revkin’s climate change blog @ NYT)

Global Climate Network

Grist.org

More Levees Not War Coverage of Climate Change

Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing (Sound Familiar?)

Polar-Palooza and the Singing Glaciologist

Penguins Are Melting

Swiftly Melting Planet 2007

Diagnosis of a Stressed-Out Planet

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 Top photo by Hipgnosis for Pink Floyd, 1977. Bottom photo courtesy of Salon.com.

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World Survives to Be Raptured by CO2 Poisoning and Believers’ Negligence

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

“Many Christian fundamentalists feel that concern for the future of our planet is irrelevant, because it has no future. They believe we are living in the End Time, when the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. They may also believe, along with millions of other Christian fundamentalists, that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed—even hastened—as a sign of the coming Apocalypse. . . .

“Why care about the earth, when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?”

—Glenn Scherer, “The Godly Must Be Crazy: Christian-Right Views Are Swaying Politicians and Threatening the Environment

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On Friday at the Union Square subway station it was difficult to walk from one train line to another without bumping into believers handing out leaflets about the end of the world, scheduled for Saturday, May 21, at 6:00 p.m. We were running late so we stepped around them, but they were great in number and made quite an obstacle course. How they present an obstacle in other ways is explained below.

Now that the sun has risen on a new day, May 22, it appears the planet has survived the series of cataclysms predicted for May 21, but don’t be sad: There are any number of other catastrophes lined up for us, some of them avoidable.

These believers are part of the problem. If only they believed in global warming, aka climate change, which is all too real, unlike the imaginings of Harold Camping of Family Radio that May 21 would be Judgment Day . . . or that the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 spells our doom.

People seem to want doom and catastrophe. Well, that can be arranged.

Judgment Day actually is happening but in slow motion, and has been unfolding for decades, but the faithful and the corporate-serving conservatives they elect to Congress are stubbornly ignoring the threat, or are even welcoming the end. ThinkProgress.org reported last November that 50% of the new GOP class of 2010 deny the existence of manmade climate change. A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. We expect that percentage has only increased.

In 2005, months before Hurricane Katrina, Bill Moyers wrote a chilling column titled “There Is No Tomorrow,” which has long been posted in the “Enviro Reading Room” after the essay on our Environment page, that draws upon “The Godly Must Be Crazy,” a powerful article (quoted above) by Glenn Scherer published at Grist.org around the time of the 2004 presidential election. Moyers, by the way, is a former minister and a man of faith, but he has no patience for those who ignore the destruction of the Creator’s handiwork, our once beautiful planet. See some choice passages from Scherer below.

Does a Global Sea-Level Rise of 10 to 20 Feet Sound to You Like a Matter of National Security?

Here is why  climate change matters to a blog concerned primarily with Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels. What good are Category 5–strength levees if sea levels rise by 10 or 20 feet or more, as scientists have warned may happen in this century? If Greenland were to melt, the seas would rise 23 feet. If Antarctica also were to melt, seas would rise 38 feet.

Estimates vary, but considering the speed at which the ice caps are melting, some scientists foresee sea-level rises of more than 10 feet, possibly over 20, in the next century. The last time the earth’s surface temperature was at its present warmth—3 million years ago—the sea level was about 75 feet higher. (“Swiftly Melting Planet 2007”)

And one other thing that we think is kind of important as we approach hurricane season (begins June 1):

Global warming has been found to increase the intensity of hurricanes (though a definite link to causing more hurricanes has not been established). As Katrina showed, fiercer intensity is bad enough. (“Penguins Are Melting”)

It really doesn’t matter whether man-made industrial emissions are the primary cause of global warming: the fact is that the planet is warming. That fact alone should be enough to spur humankind to concentrated action. Denial, indifference, or inertia constitute negligent homicide—and the killing of most other life forms other than bacteria and cockroaches. What’s the word for “planet-killing”?

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Mad About Trains—High-Speed Trains

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

All Aboard, America!

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Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) have cut a Mad Men–style web commercial with U.S. PIRG and Funny or Die to show that high-speed trains are cool. It’s 1965. When Pete tries out a pitch, Harry says, “Why are you worrying about this? . . . Trains make sense. They’re efficient, they’re convenient, they’re good for jobs. Hell, I’d rather take a train than fly or drive anywhere. We don’t need to sell trains.”

Harry adds, “I read a piece that said in 40 years gas is going to cost almost a dollar a gallon. . . . America always makes the right investment. . . . Cities are getting bigger. Trains are the most efficient, economical, best investment. It’s obvious. We do not need to sell trains. Now are you gonna make me a drink? I’ve got a long drive home.”

As Pete pours a drink, Kartheiser adds in a voice-over:

We can’t wait another decade to move forward on high-speed rail. The future is now. Tell your friends, tell your family, but most importantly, if you agree, then tell your senators. Find out how and get a bumper sticker to show your support at madfasttrains.com.

There’s humor but also a sad irony in that in 1965, when this ad is set, developers in New York City were already demolishing the grand old Pennsylvania Station to build Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza and the down-the-rat-hole maze known as Penn Station today. (Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”)

 

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When Harry Met a Cover-Up:
Shearer Talks about “The Big Uneasy”

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

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[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

We sat down recently with Harry Shearer—that is, we sat down and e-mailed him some questions, and he sat down and wrote some thoughtful replies—to talk about his new film The Big Uneasy, which tells the real story of why New Orleans flooded in Hurricane Katrina. (Click here for the trailer.) Here’s a brief sample:

Q. You’ve said that in President Obama’s 3-hour “drive-through” appearance in New Orleans in October 2009, he used the phrase “natural disaster,” and that that is what prompted you to make this film. Is anyone learning that Katrina itself did not flood the city, but that the levees’ failure is what flooded the city?

Shearer: Very few, very slowly. People sometimes make reference to the levee failure in passing, as if it’s a natural result of a storm like Katrina. But there still seems to be quite low awareness of the conclusion of the two independent investigations that, absent a badly-designed and -built “protection system,” the worst Katrina would have inflicted on New Orleans would have been “wet ankles.”

Q. Had you thought of making a film on this subject before the president’s remarks triggered you? (Somewhere we saw a mention that the idea had occurred to you at the Rising Tide 4 conference, and that you posed the idea but nobody responded and so it was up to you?)

Shearer: No, I don’t recall giving serious thought to it, though I may have mentioned at RT that wresting back control of the narrative of the city’s near-destruction might have required somebody to do such a film. But I’d really not thought of myself as that somebody until I heard the President say something that he patently should have known was not true.

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Before we continue with the interview, we want to talk a bit about the film. You may not have seen it because it does not yet have a distributor. Harry is working on that. Thus far it has been shown in New Orleans at the Prytania Theater uptown (it premiered before the Rising Tide conference in late August near the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina), and it has run briefly in New York City and Los Angeles. We saw it twice at Manhattan’s IFC  Center (as shown) and want to do all we can to spread the word about this excellent project—particularly to people with connections to film distributors with a social and political conscience.

Leave It to a Jester to Tell the Truth

Harry Shearer is famous as a versatile humorist, writer, and “voice artist” for The Simpsons and as Derek Smalls, the bearded Ringo-like bass player in This Is Spinal Tap, so at first it may not seem that a movie about the flooding of New Orleans would be his natural subject matter. How funny can it be to explain the catastrophic engineering failure that led to the flooding of 80 percent of the city and hundreds of deaths (if not more)? Although The Big Uneasy won’t have audiences rolling in the aisles, this compelling and richly sourced new documentary does clarify the facts about the disaster-within-a-disaster. Misconceptions are corrected. Cover-ups are uncovered. Truths are told. Acts of professional courage are held up to the light.

Shearer’s comic talent is for real, but his seriousness is authentic, too, as anyone knows who has read his Huffington Post blog pieces over the past several years or listened to his weekly radio program Le Show (KCRW, Los Angeles). He explains in the opening reel that he is a part-time New Orleanian. Through his work with Levees.org (no relation) and his blogging and other efforts he has helped keep the spotlight on his adopted city’s predicament with a commitment and persistence that should earn him some kind of Honorary Full-Time Citizenship award. You’ll understand why when you see The Big Uneasy.

In a recent post on HuffPo Shearer acknowledged that it’s ironic that “a damn comedy actor” should be taking up the untold story:

. . . the story that the flooding was a man-made catastrophe that developed over four and a half decades under administrations of both parties, and the story from a whistleblower inside the Corps of Engineers that the “new, improved” system for protecting New Orleans may right now be fatally flawed. . . . given that lapse among the professional journalists, it was up to a damn comedy actor to piece together the material that’s been sitting there, on the public record, all this time . . .

A review in New York magazine by David Edelstein said it well:

By the end of The Big Uneasy, I came to appreciate [Shearer’s] self-effacement. He’s not a filmmaker or an investigative journalist. He’s not really in his element here. He just, finally, couldn’t stand by and hear “natural disaster” one more time without picking up a camera and, like his protagonists, doing his civic duty for the city he loves so deeply.

Get This: The Flooding Was Not a Natural Disaster

The Big Uneasy is a feature film–length documentary about how and why New Orleans was flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It happened not because Katrina was so overwhelming: although it had been a Category 5 storm in the Gulf, Katrina was only about a Category 1.5 hurricane when it blew past (not straight through) New Orleans, sparing the city the brunt of the storm. The city flooded because of engineering failures in the federally built levees and walls of outflow canals that gave way under pressure even before the storm’s winds did their worst. The film draws on engineers’ reports, postmortem studies, and never-before-seen amateur video footage to show the flooding was not a natural but a man-made disaster. It was not inevitable. Contrary to predictable official claims that the storm was simply overwhelming and the levees were never designed to hold a storm of such magnitude, the flooding resulted from inferior engineering—a point that Ivor van Heerden (right) of the LSU Hurricane Center began speaking out about very soon after the storm passed.

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New Oil Explosion, Fire, off Louisiana Coast

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Long, Hot Summer

[ Update: Think Progress’s Ben Armbruster reports, “One day before its gulf oil rig exploded, Mariner Energy said ‘Obama is trying to break us’ with the deepwater drilling moratorium,” even though the platform that exploded today was not affected by the moratorium. Think Progress says the Associated Press is now reporting that, contrary to earlier statements (echoed below), the Vermilion Oil Rig 360 was in production at the time of the explosion. The New York Times now reports that “Mariner said that during the last week of August, the platform had produced about 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas a day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate.” ]

[ Original post begins here: ] The Times-Picayune and New York Times report that at about 9:30 a.m. today an oil platform (not a rig) exploded off the coast of Louisiana, 80 to 90 miles south of Vermilion Bay, and 13 workers abandoned the rig and are in the water, wearing protective immersion suits to prevent hypothermia. The U.S. Coast Guard is responding with helicopters to rescue the workers. The workers will be taken to Terrebone General Medical Center in Houma.

Bob Warren of the Times-Picayune writes:

Coast Guard Petty Officer Casey Ranel said the rig is around 90 miles south of Vermilion Bay and that a helicopter earlier today reported that it was in fire “and that there was smoke and there were people in the water.”

The Vermilion Oil Platform 380 is owned by Mariner Energy in water about 340 feet deep (thus it is not affected by the Obama administration’s moratorium, which applies to projects more than 500 feet deep). Texas-based Mariner, one of the largest independent oil and gas firms in the Gulf of Mexico, currently has 195 active drilling leases. The platform is apparently in exploration mode and not producing oil and gas, according to the Department of Homeland Security. [This appears to be in question, as noted above.] The rig is on fire. One worker is injured, but all workers are accounted for. No leak is known of at this time (12:45 EST). The platform is about 200 miles west of BP’s Macondo site where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. (Three months after that explosion, in late July, a barge hit an abandoned well in Mud Lake, part of Barataria Bay about 10 miles by water from Golden Meadow, Louisiana, releasing a gushing of oil and natural gas that took days to seal.)

Click here for video of reports by MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer and Anne Thompson with brief comments from Coast Guard chief John Edwards and an update on an investigation of the blowout preventer on the BP Macondo well. At the same time, Hurricane Earl is churning up the Atlantic, projected to be about parallel with the North Carolina / Virginia border by 8:00 a.m. Friday.

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[ Click here for LNW’s coverage of the BP oil spill. ]

AP photo above; MSNBC map below. ]

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