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Archive for the ‘Weather/Emergency Preparedness’ Category

Isaac Aims at Mouth of Mississippi, Greater New Orleans

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

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On exactly the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29), Tropical Storm Isaac is heading toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, likely to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, and possibly as a Category 2, with wind speeds up to about 100 m.p.h. Click on the diagram above, drawn by the excellent graphic artists at the Times-Picayune, to see details of the $14.6 billion storm protection system that has been put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers since 2005. Click NOLA.com to see periodic updates by environmental reporters Mark Schleifstein, Bob Marshall, and others. More details to follow.

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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.



Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

In response to our recent post about Christian fundamentalists’ unconcern with the present danger of global warming, our good friend David in Berkeley, a former editor at Sierra Club Books, had this to say:

I’ve been wanting to tell the rapturists et al.: Maybe the tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding in places they didn’t use to happen—and the fact that they’re ten times worse than usual—is god’s way of yelling, screaming, and shaking his fists at you that climate change is real. Duh!

P.S. And for you true believers in Oklahoma: Maybe god’s also letting you know what he thinks about your voting for James Inhofe! D’oh!

James Mountain Inhofe (R-OK), of course, is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works who has called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

David also sent along a link to a fine Washington Post op-ed by Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature), “A Link Between Climate Change and Joplin Tornadoes? Never!

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We agree entirely, and so might many who are freaked out by the terrifying tornadoes that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, and north of Minneapolis on Sunday, and through central Oklahoma on Tuesday, and in Alabama in April. Verily, it is like unto a plague of extreme weather. There have been so many tornadoes and super-tornadoes this year it’s become impossible to remember them all. (Oh, and then there’s the recent/current Mississippi River flooding caused by excessive rainfall in April.) The New York Times reports about Joplin: “More than 116 people were killed in a tornado outbreak on May 22, bringing the year’s total to over 480 and making it the deadliest year since 1953, when 519 people were killed.” (See list of disaster aid organizations below.)

Andrew C. Revkin of the Times reports in “Tornado Outbreak Possible in Kansas and Oklahoma” that the  Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service “has issued a blunt warning to Kansas and Oklahoma and adjacent regions to be prepared for the worst on Tuesday.”

Revkin adds that the 2011 hurricane season begins June 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning that the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean should be more intense than normal. Further, NOAA warns, “Sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer-than-average.”

But back to David’s point about extreme weather events in places where they didn’t used to happen, we recall quite vividly the freakish tornado storm that unleashed micro-bursts of tree-toppling winds of 60 to 80 m.p.h. in Queens and Brooklyn in Sept. 16, 2010. New York City is not anywhere near Tornado Alley (Oklahoma and Kansas). Not normally.

And yet the fervent faithful may still prefer to believe—as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have so often warned—that natural disasters are signs of God’s wrath about abortions or the “homosexual agenda” and so on. (“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest . . . la la la . . .” )

The correlation between global warming and extreme weather is almost never simple and clear-cut, but it is demonstrable, and intensifying. It is known, for example, that warmer sea waters fuel more intense hurricanes. Global warming does not necessarily “cause” more hurricanes, but increases the likelihood that those that do arise will be more ferocious. Such was the case with Hurricane Katrina.

For a few accounts of the relationship between climate change and increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, floods, and even allergies, check out these sources from the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, and these Wikipedia articles on effects of global warming and extreme weather.

For science-based reporting and commentary on climate change we recommend Andrew Revkin, a science and environment writer for the New York Times who blogs at DotEarth (NYT). We also highly recommend Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and her excellent reporting on climate and environment for The New Yorker. See for example “Uncomfortable Climate” on what the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives means for the earth’s climate.

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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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New Orleans Is Most Likely Safe from River Flooding

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

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There’s a certain trepidation in writing that headline, but . . .

Despite over $2 billion in damages, possibly to reach $4 billion from the Mississippi River Flood of 2011, including dramatic flooding upriver around Cairo, Memphis, and Vicksburg—and despite scary images and headlines on screen and paper—the city of New Orleans should be safe from inundation from the historically high waters now coursing down the Mississippi toward the Gulf. The flooding is the result of normal springtime snowmelt compounded by record rainfall from two major storm systems across the U.S. during April. (See Mississippi River watershed map below; click to enlarge.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already begun opening the Bonnet Carré spillway upriver from the city (photo below). There will be flooding in the Atchafalaya Basin—possibly around 3 million acres—once water is diverted from the Morganza Spillway, a decision that is expected soon from the Corps of Engineers. And deep-draft shipping may be temporarily suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard if water levels rise to just a little higher than they are now; Americans “upriver” may experience a spike in gas prices as supplies are temporarily interrupted by the halting of oil tanker traffic between Baton Rouge and the Gulf.

Read the Headlines with Some Skepticism

Under the ominous headline “Mississippi River Flooding in New Orleans Area Could Be Massive if Morganza Spillway Stays Closed,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Wednesday that based upon the best information available from the Corps of Engineers, the staggering volume of water making its way down the Mississippi could cause “levee failures and massive inundation of metro New Orleans, worse than Hurricane Katrina, if the Morganza spillway is not opened to divert river water down the Atchafalaya basin. The bad news for people living along the Atchafalaya: the Corps of Engineers predicts they will flood in either case.” Although the article itself was measured, not alarmist, the headline implied there was a possibility that the Corps might decide not to open the Morganza Spillway. Another headline warned, “Corps Officials Fear Flooding.” Note to the reader: It is the Corps’ job to fear flooding and to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Now, reporters don’t write the headlines, and the body of an article is often less alarming than the headline crafted by some news editor. But “Flooding Could Be Massive” sort of got our attention, so we checked around.

An engineer friend in the New Orleans area who knows people at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Corps is monitoring the situation very closely all along the river, per established protocol, and just waiting for Major General Michael Walsh to give the word about opening the Morganza Spillway. Major General Walsh is president of the Mississippi River Commission and commander of all USACE districts along the river. Times-Picayune environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein writes that General Walsh is expected to announce his decision to open the Morganza spillway between Friday and Tuesday (May 13 and 17).

Our engineer friend says, “Walsh is going to wait until the last possible moment to give the order just in case something changes in the river or they [the Corps] discover a better alternative. And when I say, ‘last possible moment,’ that is taking into account the timeline between when the order is given and everything that has to happen to safely open the structure. This stuff is really well thought out. The hydraulics, structures and levee engineers there have been working this 7 days a week for the past two weeks. . . . New Orleans is safe for now. Never say never, but we have no reason to panic as of right now.”

[ Click here for City of New Orleans Emergency Preparedness / Flood Fight information ]

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Celebrity Sighting: Levees Not War Meets FEMA’s Fugate

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Tomorrow we’ll post some comments on President Obama’s remarks at Xavier University on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But first, allow us to babble excitedly about the public-safety-and-disaster geek’s idea of a celebrity sighting:

After all the luminaries at the fab Rising Tide conference this weekend we didn’t think we could be any more dazzled, until yesterday at the New Orleans airport we bumped into FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate and his wife on their way back to Washington following the president’s speech. Sweet serendipity. We talked for a few minutes, told him Levees Not War has hailed his appointment as FEMA administrator—a return to the good old days of experience + competence that FEMA knew during the 1990s—and asked if we can interview him sometime. You see, Mr. Fugate, Levees Not War has interviewed Ivor van Heerden and Mark Schleifstein and other experts on the environment, infrastructure, and public safety, and we’d sincerely love to hear what you have to say after more than a year on the job. Mr. Fugate (pron. FEW-gate) graciously agreed, and we’ll be following up soon. In the meantime, you can see Deborah Solomon’s interview with “The Storm Tracker” in the Aug. 29 New York Times Magazine. He was tickled to hear that we used a photo of him paddling in his kayak (below), his home away from home; this may be why he agreed to an interview. Before parting, we wished each other a boring hurricane season.

A FEMA Administrator Who Tweets

Fugate, a former fireman and paramedic, directed Florida’s Division of Emergency Management from 2001 until his appointment to FEMA in 2009. Until 2009, James Lee Witt, FEMA administrator under President Clinton, was the most well qualified and admired director in the agency’s otherwise troubled history since its founding in the Carter years. Witt had been the emergency director for the state of Arkansas, and praise for his nimble and proactive emergency preparedness and response was bipartisan and pretty well unanimous. Florida native Fugate’s familiarity with hurricanes, however, certainly surpasses that of his celebrated predecessor, and he has won praise for, among other things, his insistence that individuals and families do as much as possible to help themselves by stocking up with emergency supplies and working out a plan for evacuation and communications. See his tweets about preparedness and staying alert about oncoming tropical storms here at In Case of Emergency, Read Blog.

Never anticipating we’d bump into him in an airport, we wrote here in May 2009 after Fugate was confirmed:

Obama’s nomination of Fugate to head FEMA exemplifies a restoration of trust in government and illustrates the difference between Democratic and Republican views of how elected officials should function. It is because Obama has largely chosen very highly qualified individuals for the federal agencies that Americans are consistently reporting to pollsters a renewed confidence in the integrity of government and a sense that the nation is moving in the right direction.

Stay tuned for more Fugate and FEMA reporting. Till then, you can read previous Fugate posts and our interview with Chris Cooper and Robert Block, authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security, which explains in compelling detail why FEMA and public safety demand a competent, experienced administrator, and what happens when those qualities are lacking. (Cooper and Block were the keynote speakers at the first Rising Tide conference in August 2006.)

Fugate for FEMA: “Semper Gumby”—In an Emergency, “The Calmest Man in the Room”

More Praise for Craig Fugate as FEMA Director-Nominee

Fugate Confirmed for FEMA: Help Is on the Way

Interview with Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security



“Something Called ‘Volcano Monitoring’ ”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

“[The Democrats’ stimulus] legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes . . . $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” —Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, Feb. 24, 2009

Remember Bobby Jindal’s celebrated response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009? It included some, uh, noteworthy moments, not the least of which was his sneer at such “wasteful spending” as “something called ‘volcano monitoring.’” Some speechwriter was probably pleased with that line, but this was a contemptuous display of ignorance on the level of Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculing “community organizer—what’s that?” (6:08) at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and just as deserving of a reality-based comeuppance.

The $140 million for the U.S. Geological Survey was partly intended to provide warnings of impending volcanic eruptions in the U.S. and around the world where American military bases are located. The Americans at Ramstein Air Base in Germany probably appreciate that monitoring equipment right about now.

With international air traffic to Europe disrupted for a second straight day following a massive volcano eruption in Iceland (some 17,000 flights were canceled Friday), we have to use the occasion to poke this over-ambitious governor in the eye and say: “Now do you get it?” Jindal the boy genius used to be respected for his intelligence (Rhodes Scholar) and precocious grasp of complex policy, but those days are over. He is not serving his state or the nation—and not his own career, either—by his know-nothing, anti-science statements and decisions. (See our earlier posts “Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition” and “From Rising Star to Black Hole.”)

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America’s—and New Orleans’s—Debt to Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

In reply to Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti’s alleged “pact to the devil” (aptly described by Gawker as “galactically vile”), Mr. Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., says:

“I would like the whole world to know—America especially—that the independence of Haiti, when the slaves rose up against the French, and defeated the French army, powerful army, the U.S. was able to gain the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. That’s three cents an acre. That’s thirteen states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slaves revolt in Haiti provided America. Also, the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free. It is from Haiti that Simon Bolivar left with men, boats, to go deliver grand Colombia and the rest of South America. So, What pact the Haitians ‘made with the devil’ has helped the U.S. become what it is.”

In an update to come soon we will outline the great human and cultural debt that the city of New Orleans in particular owes to emigrés from Haiti in the early 1800s following the Haitian Revolution.