Levees Not War
“The mission here is not accomplished.”

Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Kolbert’

When Seawater Occupies Wall Street

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

*

A security guard walks through a flooded street in the financial district of Manhattan early on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters.

*

Knee-deep thought of the day:

When seawater occupies Wall Street, perhaps Nature itself is telling Big Business and elected officials—and the public in general—to take climate change seriously, at last. 

*

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.”

Please keep reading at “IEA Sees ‘Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years’” (LNW 1/21/12).

*

Recommended reading: Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2006).

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


Hurricane Watch in New York City

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Extreme Weather Coming Soon to an Eastern Seaboard Near You

*

“We have a tropical hurricane merging, or folding in, with a mid-latitude weather system, one of those low pressure systems that track across the country. The two systems’ dynamics are very different and when they occasionally fold together, they actually produce the worst characteristics of both. . . . This is the same thing that happened during the perfect storm of 1991 [as popularized by author Sebastian Junger], and at roughly the same time.” —Barry Keim, Louisiana State Climatologist, quoted by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

“Sandy also is different in its size, rivaling the largest cyclones ever recorded around the globe, Keim said, with hurricane-force winds extending outward 175 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending out 485 miles.” —Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

*

Last year when Hurricane Irene was barreling down on the East Coast—on the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as it happened—we were (ironically) safe from the storm, attending the Rising Tide conference in New Orleans. Irene, a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the East Coast, caused over $15 billion in damage and left many in the Northeast without power for a week or more. Now a bigger and badder storm, 900 miles across, is taking aim at the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, and low-lying areas around New Jersey and New York City and Long Island are being evacuated, with warnings of dangerously high sea water. Storm surge could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.

The New York City subway and bus system (MTA) has been shut down as of 7:00 p.m. Sunday by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad. That’s 468 subway stations going dark, and officials warn that trains may not run again until Wednesday. (The MTA normally moves about 8.5 million passengers a day.) Schools and offices are closed in New York City and around the metropolitan area for Monday, and we’ll see about Tuesday. Evacuations have been ordered for the lowest-elevation areas shown in red on the map above. Workers are laying down plywood over subway air vents on city sidewalks to prevent or lessen flooding in the subway tunnels, many of which are below sea level—some far below.

Oct. 29 update: The New York Times reports that Amtrak has canceled most trains on the Eastern Seaboard. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia mass transit systems and New Jersey Transit are also shutting down till the storm passes. • NYT live updates here. • Click here for a NOAA animation of satellite observations showing Hurricane Sandy in motion Oct. 26–29. • NASA images here.

2012’s Extreme Weather Triggered Decades Ago

It is often not possible to tie any given weather event directly to man-made climate change, so we cannot say at this point whether this oncoming storm is intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. But Hurricane Sandy is coming rather late in the hurricane season (June 1–Nov. 30), and it’s the second hurricane in 14 months to strike the East Coast in a big way. The point of climate change is not just “global warming,” but extreme weather, as in the frequent tornadoes that pummeled America’s midsection in the spring of 2011 (see “Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather”).

In this year that saw widespread drought and crop failures in the United States, with over a thousand counties in 26 states declared natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the largest such designation ever—the two mainstream presidential candidates have avoided even uttering the word “environment,” unless in reference to “the business environment.” Climate change denial expands (see “Ides of March” below) even as the ice caps’ summer melts reach alarming new records.

[In a GOP primary debate, however, Mitt Romney said that emergency management should be handed over to the states. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.” Including disaster relief? the moderator asked. “We cannot . . . afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” Historical note: It was in response to persistent pleas from state governors that President Jimmy Carter established FEMA in 1979.]

During the peak of this summer’s heat blast, New Yorker environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out one of the most alarming facts about the extreme weather: As hot as it was this summer, the record-setting heat of 2012 was set in motion decades ago:

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.

(more…)
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


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)

*

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.

*

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

*

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

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


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!

*

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.

(more…)
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email