SoCS: flood anniversary

Linda chose “where” as a prompt for this September 11th, assuming, perhaps correctly, that most posts would be about where we were when we found out about the 9/11 attacks in the US twenty years ago.

In Broome County NY where I live, besides the twenty year retrospectives of the 9/11 attacks, we are having the ten year retrospective of a record high flooding event on the Susquehanna River. The ground was still saturated from hurricane Irene when the remnants of tropical storm Lee dumped about ten inches of rain.

Where my house is is near a flood wall for a creek that runs into the Susquehanna. The creek came up fast with the river flooding a bit later as it collected all the run-off from the creeks as well as what was running off the hills and being dumped by storm drains.

The power was shut off in our neighborhood as the houses closer to the river started to flood. If we didn’t have a generator, our basement would have flooded when our sump pump lost electricity. One of my Memories on Facebook helpfully reminded me that two blocks from us houses had basements totally full of water and two blocks in the other direction the road was washed out and a gas main was broken. Three blocks away there was standing surface water. A big intersection of Main Street and the Parkway was underwater, too.

Most of our neighborhood had been evacuated the night the flooding began, but our little section was only under evacuation order for a few hours on the third day of the flood. We later discovered that the reason was that they were afraid of the flood wall being overtopped. Even though the creek itself had begun to recede, the flooding of the river had backed water up into the creekbed so that the water was within a foot of the top of the wall. (Just to clarify, this is an earthen/stone flood wall, not a concrete one.)

We have been lucky not to have had another severe flood like that one in the last ten years. The prior record-setting flood had been in 2006 and I fully expected we would have had another horrible flood by now.

Unfortunately, I know it is just a matter of time. Looking around the US, we have catastrophic fires in the West and flooding aftermath in Louisiana and the South, in Tennessee, and across a swath of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. There are fires in Siberia, floods in Germany and other areas in Europe, killer heat waves, and on and on. While the events themselves are natural, they have been made worse by human-caused climate change.

We have so much work to do to try to stabilize the climate and protect human, animal, plant, and marine life. And we are far behind in our efforts.

I’m upset because scientists and activists have been warning about this for decades. I myself have tried to amplify the message about climate change. It seems that people are finally listening but the amount of change of policy and behavior now will have to be huge to make a dent. Our family has tried hard to reduce our carbon footprint and to advocate for change but the world needs those in power to finally step up and lead. Governments and businesses need to put people and planet over profits. The money won’t be worth much if the planet becomes uninhabitable.
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This less-than-cheery post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday series. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/09/10/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-11-2021/

Make your own climate plan!

Bill McKibben writes a weekly newsletter on climate issues for The New Yorker. The link will take you to a recent one that encourages readers to explore a website that allows you to devise your own climate action plan and see the likely results. There is an introductory video:

The En-Roads website from Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative is fascinating. You can change parameters, such as the mix of energy supply, energy efficiency measures, and electrification, and see what the global warming impact would be. You can tweak your plan and then share it with others via social media. Check it out!

Fire in the Amazon

Large swaths of the Amazon rainforest are on fire. Media tends to call these wildfires, but the vast majority of them are intentionally set. I think of wildfires as being caused by lightning strike or an accidental spark. When fires are set intentionally, they should be called arson.

While the current scale of the fires is new, the problem is not. For years, farmers and ranchers have burned parts of the Amazon rainforest to clear land for themselves. They have been opposed by indigenous people and their allies, some of whom have been killed trying to defend the forest.

The fires are devastating for the plants, animals, and people who live there, but the scale of the destruction now threatens the very mechanism that makes the rainforest possible. The vegetation, especially the large, tall trees, transpire large quantities of water, which form clouds and help to keep the rainforest green. If too much land is burned, the amount of rainfall will decrease so much that it would be impossible to sustain a rainforest ecosystem.

Plants also take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s atmospheric oxygen is produced in the Amazon. As more and more of the rainforest is destroyed, the level of oxygen in the air that all people and animals need to breathe could diminish, while the level of carbon dioxide, already at record highs, could become even higher, accelerating global warming and increasing drought, which diminishes plant growth and causes a downward spiral.

The government of Brazil is making only half-hearted measures to control the fires and has refused the assistance of other nations. President Bolsonaro is a climate change denier, who sees this issue as being solely about the economic development of Brazil. His short-sighted actions may cause world-wide suffering for decades.

It highlights to me how interconnected we are as a planet. At this point in human history, we can’t afford countries being isolationist and concerned only with making their rich citizens even richer.

Money can’t buy oxygen or make more rainfall or change the temperature.

Fracking update

I spent a lot of time involved with the eventually successful efforts to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil fuels in New York State. Meanwhile, from my town on the NY/PA border, we have watched a host of negative consequences unfold for some of our PA neighbors. I am also only an hour or so from Cornell University, home to some of the leading researchers on fracking. I was privileged to see these professors speak a number of times, both on campus and at community events.

One of these researchers, Dr. Robert Howarth, has just published a new paper in the journal Biogeosciences about one of the most unfortunate environmental effects of the fracking boom, the release of methane to the atmosphere. Global atmospheric levels of methane are at all-time highs since recording began. The levels started a steep rise in 2006, just as the fracking boom in the United States was picking up.

Having heard and seen so much evidence of methane leakage from fracking, I had already assumed that the two were related, but, in this paper, Dr. Howarth explains the evidence by measuring the amount of 13C present, allowing him to determine the part of the global rise in methane related to fracking, most of which was emitted in the United States. The industry tries to tell us that they are controlling methane emissions through detecting and fixing leaks on the wellpads, but there are many other ways in which methane is released, including venting and flaring at the site, especially in areas where the methane is released when the company is primarily drilling for oil; well leakage that develops over time as casings fail; methane that seeps through the ground to the surface, similar to the way radon reaches basements when it originated thousands of feet below; abandoned wells when fractures intersect with them; compressor station leaks and releases; leakage from transmission and delivery pipes, some of which are over 100 years old; and the production, transport, and use of LNG.

Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. This makes reducing it quickly imperative in the effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It is also why the more ambitious climate plans in the United States, such as those of Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, call for a ban on fracking.

The sooner this happens, the better. The economics of fracking are already poor, with a number of companies going bankrupt because of it. In many markets, renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel energy already and energy storage technology is progressing rapidly while falling in price. It’s time to ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and go all in for renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency.

We need to do all we can to keep the planet livable for people and all other life forms. Banning fracking would be a great step in the right direction.

Disturbing fracking news

I am a veteran of the fight against shale gas development in New York State, and, more broadly, against unconventional fossil fuel development and for a rapid increase in renewable energy in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming as low as possible.

I am fortunate to live in the Binghamton area, not that far from Ithaca, where several prominent scientists and professors work. They often came to speak at events in Binghamton and I sometimes would travel to Ithaca for lectures. I learned a lot from them and would use their research in commenting on news articles and in writing blog posts.

One of my favorite speakers is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University. His specialty is rock fracture mechanics and he had done hydraulic fracturing research for many years, putting him in a unique position to anticipate the dangers of combining high-volume slick-water hydrofracking with long laterals in shale. He teamed with Dr. Robert Howarth, an environmental scientist at Cornell, in the first major paper raising an alarm about methane leakage from shale oil/gas development; the paper was controversial, but prescient, with subsequent research affirming levels of methane leakage much higher than industry and government projections.

This newly released twelve minute video with Dr. Ingraffea shows the climate consequences of the decision to develop shale gas. This blog post by Sharon Kelly gives some further background and also has a link to the video, in case the embedded one below isn’t working. 

Cold

Here in the lower 48 of the United States, we have been experiencing unusually cold weather.

Some people, including our president, have been taking this as evidence that there is not global warming going on, but our cold snap is actually a predictable part of global climate change.

Some points on this topic:

  • What we experience day to day is weather; global climate has to do with the whole world over a longer time period. Weather of all sorts continues to happen as generally appropriate to one’s locality.
  • Global warming does not rescind seasons, which occur due to astronomical conditions. It is still winter here in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The disruption of global warming impacts different regions in different ways rather than uniformly. For example, the arctic regions are warming more quickly than other regions, which disrupts the upper level winds and changes the temperature and water-carrying capacity of weather systems. The cold air that has made its way into most of the lower 48 states has been able to do so because the mechanisms that have historically kept these winter air masses confined to Alaska and Canada have broken down. It is a symptom, not a refutation of global warming – and part of the reason that the term global climate change is used more often than global warming.
  • If the climate system were in equilibrium, one would expect roughly the same number of record high and record low recorded temperatures. There have been significantly more high than low temperature records globally in recent years. This article has a good explanation, along with a graphic that shows the proportion in the US for the last 365 days. In some regions in the world, the disparity is even greater, as high as 5 to 1.

I hope everyone will stay warm – or cool – as needed in the location where you are. I also hope that people will look to see what changes or adaptations they need to make to deal with current and expected changes to our climate.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/04/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-4th-2018/

 

 

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.

 

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.