Harvey

I join with the millions of people in the US and around the world in sending thoughts, prayers, and charitable donations to those affected by tropical system Harvey. The amount of damage from the winds and historic amount of rainfall is mind-boggling. Recovery will take years and some locations will not recover at all.

When my area suffered two record floods of the Susquehanna River, I learned a lot of lessons that, while our geographic and demographic situations differ, applies to Texas and Louisiana now:
– There is no way to adequately prepare for a flood of that magnitude. No amount of prepositioning of supplies and personnel could cover such a vast area with so much destruction over some many days. Yes, lessons can be learned for the future, but don’t waste time now casting aspersions. There is too much work to do.
– Accept help! I volunteered in a flood relief center in my town after the 2011 flood. We sometimes had problems getting people to accept the food, cleaning supplies, and other help we had available. They wanted to forgo it in order to leave it for someone worse off than they. We had to gently explain that everything had been donated to help those affected by the flood and that that included them; there was plenty to go around. On a larger scale, this goes to the question of whether the states accept help from other states and countries. They should graciously accept offers to help, in the same spirit in which they have offered help in past disasters. Obviously, there needs to be coordination so that donations mesh well. I know that the New York governor has offered the services of our Air National Guard because the need is so great and Texas has already mobilized all its available forces.
– Don’t argue about whether it is a 500-year flood or a 1000-year flood. Those probabilities were based on historic records that no longer apply due to climate changes. My area suffered two record floods in five years. Areas flooded that had never flooded before. A number of lots that had had homes on them have now been bought out and converted to green space because the flooding threat is too high to have people continue to live there. If you are going to rebuild in flood-prone areas, you have to be smart and elevate homes, build protective wetlands, and minimize impermeable surfaces. Which brings me to my last point…

– Accept the science about how storm strength and mobility are affected by global warming. Michael Mann helps to explain the factors that made Harvey so destructive. (More information and links can be found here.) Yes, there have always been category 4 hurricanes, but the warmer surface temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico and the higher sea level made the rainfall and storm surge higher than they would have been in years past. The lack of steering currents kept the storm spinning in the same area, dropping over three feet (one meter) of rain over a large area. This same mechanism had a hand in the first record flood here in 2006, which was caused by a stationary front, as was a flood a few years ago in the Boulder, Colorado area.

Part of what we all need to do going forward is pay attention to preparing for increasingly severe weather. We need to think about resiliency in our building, zoning, and planning. We need to look at restoring natural aids, like barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands. We can place offshore wind turbines strategically to help blunt high winds. We can move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible so that warming does not cross over into the catastrophic category. We can’t afford wishful thinking about the latest severe storm being once-in-a-lifetime. We need to work together to help each other recover and prepare for the future.

 

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Writer Beat comment

My recent post on the US, the Paris accord, and climate change was picked up by Autumn of Writer Beat and republished here. Due to personal circumstances, I have been remiss in answering comments, but I was up early today and baby ABC was asleep so I managed to put together a response. I urge you to visit the Writer Beat post to read the comments to which this response was written – and to check out the site which has many, many interesting posts from a range of bloggers.
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I wanted to share this link which has one of the best explanations of climate change/global warming I have ever read, compiled by knowledgeable scientists.

In terms of social responsibility, I truly appreciate the visions and insights of Pope Francis. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, he describes an integral ecology, which includes both care for creation (the environment) and care for people, especially those most vulnerable. One of the advantages of renewable energy is that it is often produced locally, eliminating the need for long-range distribution grids and powering other development needs.

A real-world example is a project in conjunction with my county’s community college and a remote village in Haiti. Solar panels with battery storage power a pump for a community water well for safe drinking water and a modern bathroom near the church and school. The community has started a garden to grow staple crops to feed the schoolchildren. Solar ovens are allowing the cooks to bake extra goods for sale to people in the village. LED lighting, which does not need much electricity to operate, allows the children to gather at the church and school to do homework in the evenings. Adults and children are able to use computers. Communication can be accomplished with cellular networks rather than by hardwire.

Climate change impacts are felt most acutely by those who are most vulnerable economically. Drought; collapse of native crops, fisheries, and wildlife; coastal, river, and flash flooding; and other climate and severe weather related problems disproportionately affect populations least able to defend against them. We are already seeing conflicts arise over water and other resources. Access to water and/or fossil fuels underlies many of the conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa. Natural gas transport is the subtext for the Russian land grab in Ukraine. The problems in Venezuela are connected to economic dependence on oil.

My personal viewpoint is that the United States, as one of the largest current greenhouse gas producers and historically the largest total greenhouse gas producer, should help people at home and abroad to deal with the effects of climate change as a moral responsibility. Doing so would not impoverish the wealthy or our country. We can re-prioritize our spending, especially in taking some of our current military budget and putting it toward human needs. Our military leaders have been speaking out for some time about the dangers that climate change poses to world stability and have been big advocates for using renewable energy as much as possible when they are in action. It makes sense to redirect some of the military budget to helping population around the world deal with climate change, hunger, water scarcity, pollution, sea level rise, and other problems, both because it is the just and moral course and because it will reduce causes of military conflict.

The US and climate

I did not want to have to write this post.

I listened with dismay to DT’s Rose Garden address yesterday, astonished at the level of misunderstanding of climate science, domestic and international economics, and the Paris climate agreement in evidence.

While the president made it seem that the United States is immediately leaving the Paris accord, that is not the case. There is a three year period starting in November, 2016 during which no signatory may exit the agreement. The one-year period in which the separation would occur can’t start until then, so the earliest date that the United States could officially leave would be Nov. 4, 2020, the day after our next presidential election. A lot can happen in three and a half years and my hope is that the United States will never officially withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Even without the federal government’s leadership, many of the states, cities, companies, and individuals in the US will be continuing reductions in carbon emissions and promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over sixty mayors of large cities declared their intention to follow the climate agreement. The governors of New York, California, and Washington have started an initiative for states to continue working on their clean energy goals. Many companies, large and small, are committed to renewable energy sources for their operations. Many families, like mine, are weatherizing their homes, using energy efficient appliances and lighting, buying solar panels, and driving hybrid or all-electric vehicles like our Chevy Bolt.

The majority of the people of the United States believe in the Paris accord and will continue to work alongside the nations of the world to combat climate change. I hope we will soon return to official federal-level participation. It would not be the first time that the administration has had to backpedal after an unwise decision.

three anniversaries

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the the terrorist attacks by plane which cost over 3,000 lives in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks have cost additional lives as those who were exposed to debris and air pollution in the following months went on to develop serious health issues.

Many, many more lives were destroyed  – and continue to be destroyed – by the fifteen years of war which have followed.

On Friday at Binghamton University, there was a presentation on the aftermath of the attacks entitled “9/11: What have we learned? Where do we go from here?” Featured speakers were Ray McGovern and Donna Marsh O’Connor. Video is available here. The theme was building peace, not war. Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter who was pregnant with her grandchild, spoke movingly about not wanting the death of her daughter to be an excuse for violence and war. Ray McGovern, who was once a CIA analyst, recounted the way that the situation after the attacks was manipuated to spread the war to Iraq. Mr. McGovern is now a peace activist.

Peace.

Something that I want desperately.

For all of us.

Wherever we are.

Whoever we are.

At church on Sunday, we sang, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cried.

Adding to the emotion is a local anniversary. Five years ago, we were suffering from a historic flood after the remnants of tropical storm Lee dropped about ten inches of rain. Parts of my town were underwater, as were other nearby towns along the Susquehanna River. At my home, we had no power and only avoided a flooded basement because we had a generator to keep our sump pump operating. There were flooded homes and standing water three blocks away. In the five years since, we have seen some neighborhoods decmiated as homes were torn down, unable to be replaced as the land was considered too high-risk to inhabit.

Every time there is a flood in the news, we have a good idea what those people are going to go through and how long the process is.

As we watch coverage of floods, blizzards, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other weather-related disasters, we are painfully aware that their increased frequency and severity is related to global comate change. There is a new website that shows how much impact global warming has on weather events. It does a good job showing how particular events are tied to changes in the atmosphere brought on by global warming.

It is sobering but a good tool to help explain the science.

Which leads to a third – and significantly happier – anniversary.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. There have been marathons of episodes of the original series and interviews about it and its cultural impact as a franchise that spawned many television shows and movies. In their version of the future, earth is a peaceful place with a thriving natural environment. Poverty has been eliminated. There is racial and ethnic equality, although, while improved from the 1960’s reality, they still have a ways to go on sexual and gender issues.

In an odd way, though it is fiction, it does highlight that we can improve lives and health through science, knowledge, learning from past mistakes, ingenuity, co-operation, and good will.

Let’s get to work on that.

How to Let Go and Love

Last week, I had the opportunity to see Josh Fox’s new documentary, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.

The film takes up where his prior films, Gasland and Gasland 2, left us. Josh’s home in Pennsylvania is saved from fracking when it is banned in the Delaware River watershed. There is rejoicing and dancing – until Josh realizes that a beloved hemlock tree is dying due to a climate-change-related pest, leading to further investigation and travel to see what can be done about it.

The first part of the film reviews a lot of the science of climate change. Well, it is review for me because I have been dealing with issues of fracking, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change for years now, but may be new information for some viewers. It’s pretty grim, but, just when you are thinking that there isn’t much hope, Josh and his trusty banjo begin travelling the world to show us what people in diverse locations are doing to fight or cope with climate change.

In locations as diverse as Ecuador, China, Zambia, and the islands of the Pacific, Josh visits with communities who band together to care for each other and the planet, standing up to governments and corporations that are doing harm. They use lots of tools – storytelling, investigation, photography, dancing, and canoes among them – to share their love for each other and their home/land, showing us what is really important and lasting.

I will warn anyone who is motion sensitive that Josh uses a handheld camera, which can make some of the video a bit shaky. There are also some drone shots that might affect you. I did have to close my eyes a few times…

How to Let Go and Love has been making the rounds of theater festivals and is on a 100 city tour with Josh conducting Q&A after the film. Schedule information is available from the link above.

It will make its television debut on HBO on Monday, June 27, at 9 PM EDT/PDT. It will also be released later in the year on DVD.

I hope that many people will see this important film.

Earth Day

Another in the string of catch-up posts from this spring…

Earth Day was remarkable for us here in New York State for two reasons this year.

First, the vast majority of the countries of the world signed the Paris climate agreement that day at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Of course, this was a remarkable event for the whole world and we all hope that we finally have the political will to follow through on what the science tells us we must do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming while assisting people everywhere to adapt to the effects that are unavoidable and already underway.

Second, just days before a final deadline, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the water quality certificate application that would have permitted the construction of the Constitution methane pipeline.

Those of us in the environmental community have been battling against the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as part of the fight against global warming. Building pipelines for fossil fuels is akin to building whaling ships as whale oil was being displaced by other lighting sources. It doesn’t make sense to prop up a dying technology.

Unfortunately, the decision in New York came too late to save forests in a 22-mile swath of Pennsylvania, where some land was taken by eminent domain and cleared despite the owners’ objection and the fact that the whole project did not have all the permits needed to move forward. We were especially heartbroken for the Holleran family, who lost the majority of their producing sugar maples.

The pipeline company is trying to challenge the DEC’s decision in court. I sincerely hope that the court upholds the DEC’s action to protect our environment and health.

Warm February

This article on the warmest February on record does a good job of explaining how much of the warmth was attributable to El Niño and how much to climate change. Hint:  It’s mostly climate change.

As the scientific evidence mounts, we need more articles like this one to explain to people the gravity of the situation and spur them to action.

Please read and share!