House of Cards

 

There should be no “shock” at the disaster unfolding at the moment in Puerto Rico  The combination of an ineffectual and venal Administration which has been undermining the public sector since it took office and of more intense hurricanes driven by extreme climate change was bound to create an humanitarian crisis in this part of the United States. The crisis should also been expected because Puerto Rico adopted the fossil fuel technology & culture that needs a complicated and ultimately fragile (relative to the strength of natural forces like hurricanes & flooding) infrastructure of highways, airports, trucks, gasoline, and people to run it that was difficult to create & sustain on a small tropical island.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/26/16365994/hurricane-maria-2017-puerto-rico-san-juan-humanitarian-disaster-electricty-fuel-flights-facts

Like in Houston, the misery will be compounded by the chemical, atomic, and fossil fuel pollution and Superfund sites on the island which were opened by the hurricane.

https://newrepublic.com/article/144888/puerto-rico-already-environmental-tragedy-hurricane-maria-will-make-even-worse

As in Florida on the coasts and Texas along the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will be inundated by the rising waters and hit, over & over, by ferocious & huge storms (Hurricane Irma was the size of France!)  that will batter it consistently over the coming decades. As tropical areas, these places are also going to be inhospitable to human habitation in less than 30 years.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/02/climate-change-to-cause-humid-heatwaves-that-will-kill-even-healthy-people

So what is the solution for people living in those parts of the world, those parts of the United States? Do they continue to try to make the fossil fuel lifestyle fit a natural world openly hostile to it, assuming that gasoline run machines and technology are strong enough to stand against the force of extreme climate change? Or should Americans living in parts of the U.S. that are going to be at the epicenter of extreme global warming and climate change leave those areas and emigrate within the U.S. to higher ground?

https://slate.com/business/2017/09/what-happens-if-puerto-ricans-flee-en-masse.html

And should we all be starting to think about this?!

http://earthtalk.org/climate-refuge/

 

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Tango & Climate Change

 

When I get really sad about the state of the world, about the sixth extinction that is in progress https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn, about the floods, fires, and famines to come, I dance tango.

I have been dancing a lot lately! Tango, for those of you who don’t know, is a peculiar social dance that is very difficult to learn to dance well and is done in a close embrace with one’s partner. The beautiful tango music and the intimate physical contact  does make me feel better, at least for the couple of minutes each song lasts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL9scCF6F1E

Last night I was talking to a dance buddy (let’s call him Mr. T) after we had ended a tanda together. He was dreaming about moving to Florida. There is a whole community of Québecois retired in Florida, happily soaking up the sun and speaking French. Mr. T yearns to be by the beach and watch the bikini-clad girls go by (not an unusual desire for a Northern man as women in up here in Canada spend much of their time wrapped up in multiple layers of clothing!).

I had suggested to Mr. T that Florida, especially by the shore, might not be the safest place to retire. He was a bit taken aback by the scale of Hurricane Irma (and there are a couple more lining up behind her!), but he figured that an occasional storm was par for the course in that part of the world.

And here is the issue I have with this very usual insouciance: it represents a misunderstanding of the extreme effects of climate change, and a refusal to acknowledge the radical shifts we will need to make in our modes of living to survive under these changes! Sometime it feels to me as if no one is taking extreme global climate change to heart (except, of course, the climate scientists, but even some of these continue to live in places like Houston and Florida!).

For example, these “best places to live when you retire” sites are still touting Panama, Costa Rica, and Portugal among other tropical or warm place as best places to spend one’s golden years, without any mention about how rising waters, more violent hurricanes, out of control forest fires, and massive numbers of environmental refugees will strain those countries infrastructures and governments!  https://internationalliving.com/the-best-places-to-retire/

But to return to Florida and the unstable coastlines: the problem is not just a simple one of rising water. Florida has also been made vulnerable to coastline degradation and storm surges because of the death of the protective coral reefs near the shore.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/12/how-floridas-damaged-coral-reef-makes-it-more-vulnerable-to-storms-like-irma/?utm_term=.f842cdbea0a2/

And because unfettered building has been permitted, much of the wetlands have been paved over. These wetlands are the protection from flooding when there is tremendous rains, which are the natural result of the warmer air and water produced by global warming.   http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/wetlands-stopped-650-million-property-damage-hurricane-sandy-can-help-houston/

But how to explain complex environmental systems clearly enough to suggest what are the best choices in where and how to live in the coming years, especially to someone who is so distanced from the natural world as to be completely oblivious about it? Well, Mr. T, here is something to think about before you make that move to Florida:   http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/the-great-flood/

And I’m off to another milonga!

 

The Cassandra Report: Resettlement as Necessity.

 

 

The USA was originally created with the idea of Manifest Destiny, which meant that Europeans had, they felt, the God-given right to move across the continental United States, setting up new communities, opening up new farms, building new towns; and, in the process, dispossessing the indigenous peoples.

The places chosen to settle had fertile land, resources of some sort (e.g. lumber, minerals, water), and most importantly, water routes to transport goods, resources, and people. With the coming of the railroads, and more importantly, the interstate highways, where to live and where to do business began to be a question with a much more extensive set of options. The answers were very random: where could the most money be made, where could the best living be had, where was the most amount of resources to be found? Many of the answers drove people toward the large cities, or to places with industry, or to communities in need of servants and service workers.

And, in the past twenty years, as the baby boomers (full disclosure: my generation) began to retire, the answer was where the weather was mild and the view beautiful: so coastlines began to be filled with vacation homes, then retirement homes and finally nursing homes. But just because a place could be lived in, especially with the use of industrial grade destruction of the land and environment, does not mean that it should have been used for unfettered residential or resort development!

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/for-more-resilient-cities-stop-trying-to-conquer-nature/?utm_content=buffer443ec&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Building up the coastlines may have made sense while the coastlines were stable- but these are now due to be inundated in the near future.

http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/

The sea surges like the one that washed over lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are predicted to be a much more frequent occurrence.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/10/storm-surge-hurricane-sandy/ 

So, if you know for sure that these coastlines are going to be underwater in the foreseeable future, what is the wisest course of action? Why not consider moving to higher ground?

There have been large movements of people all during US history.  The one that comes to mind is the Great Migration of six million black folks out of the South to the North and West between 1916 and 1970. These people were not rich, but they improved their lives by moving to a better part of the country.

I believe that as climate change in our country gets more extreme with more and more places becoming unliveable due to drought, fire, and flood, we are about to enter another era of great population movement within our country.

In an ideal world, the government (Federal or state) would fund the relocation by buying the homes that are in endangered neighbourhoods, freeing the inhabitants to move elsewhere. The government should also make strict zoning laws to prevent desperate people from living close to toxic industrial sites. And the companies that run these sites should be heavily fined and made to pay the clean up costs of their pollution.

But we are dealing with a much less than ideal world. The Texas state government is allowing the French company, whose chemicals are throwing noxious smoke into the air in Crosby Texas, to keep hidden the actual components of that smoke! And it already looks as if much of the money earmarked for help to Houston will find its way into resources for Republican lawmakers in Texas for the 2018 midterm elections.

So my question becomes, if the government can not be counted on to help, what can we do as individuals and small communities? And can we do this better in the 21st century than we did in the 19th?

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/08/is-anywhere-on-earth-safe-from-climate-change/400304/

 

When “Progress” is insanity!

 

I have been glued to my screen, watching the juggernaut that was Hurricane Irma as it overwhelmed Florida. I have a personal interest in this: since I was a baby, Florida was my home for a couple of weeks every winter.

I have memories, from more than sixty years ago, of a lush tropical landscape, with orange juice stands on the corner of the quiet streets that made up Palm Beach and Lake Worth. Palm Beach was, of course, very chic, but Lake Worth was still a sleepy coastal town with motels and small beach homes.

There was a very large and elegant hotel in the center of Palm Beach. It was the only place in town that had a color television set, and therefore the only place where my sister and I could watch Disney’s Christmas broadcast of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. If we missed it, there would be no way to see it again for a couple of years as DVD’s & CD’s had not yet been invented! The point being that life that long ago had a slower rhythm; and instant gratification was barely a blip on the horizon.

Fifteen years later my parents bought a condo in a high-rise overlooking the beach. The beach was still beautiful, and our high-rise was one of the few on the ocean. But the tropical lushness was beginning to be replaced by suburban lawns, malls, and golf courses.

When, thirty five years later, I went down to put my mother in a nursing home (my father having died), she lived in a gated community overlooking (what else?) a golf course. The beach was almost impossible to see or get to, barricaded in as it was by condos. The only bit of the natural world was a nearby small bird sanctuary! The hospitals were getting overwhelmed by the huge numbers of old people who had chosen to retire there; and the roads were bloated six lane highways filled with cars.

And now I see that the coast towns are in the midst of a major building boom (sic!). And Floridians proudly boast that their houses can withstand the winds of a category 4 hurricane (but Irma was category 5 with storm surges that would inundate the homes and wipe out the the bottom floors of the high-rises!).

So before Irma blew in with 180 mph winds and 12 foot storm surges, everybody was told to evacuate. And there everyone was in their cars, with their bottled water, praying that there would be enough gasoline to get them out of harm’s way! It was a bit like watching a fireman trying to put out a fire with a hose full of gasoline! The very things that they depended on were the causes of the disaster they were experiencing.

What I found most interesting in the news casts was not the never ending shots of the young reporters (each of whom must have decided that the risk of standing in the 100 mph winds dodging coconuts and flying construction cranes would make his or her career); nor that there was almost no mention of global climate change as the cause of the ferocity and immenseness of Irma (of course on mainstream news channels that information would not be permitted); but that there was also nothing said about the low-lying coasts of Florida being a very poor choice for commercial or residential or industrial development!

So my question is: why would anyone build, buy a home, or live in a place that will be underwater in fifteen years?! (Miami.) Why would anyone buy a ranch house on a flood plain near the storage centre of petrochemicals that is also due to be permanently flooded?! (Houston) Why would anyone live on an earthquake fault that is due to rupture at some point in the foreseeable future?! Los Angeles?

And it is not just that people are choosing to live in these places, but they are choosing to live there with millions of other people: people who would be evacuating at the same time as you; using the same resources as you; needing the same help as you. Why would you do that?!!

At this writing, 5.6 million people are without electricity in Florida, because no one could imagine that a hurricane the size of Ohio would hit them. And that is the point of this blog: what choices about where and how to live will you need to make as the future is turning out to be unimaginable?!

Seasons of Fire & Water

 

http://www.kgw.com/…/timelapse-of-growth-of…/471285079

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4857842/Hurricane-Irma-slams-Caribbean.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailus

Had an heartrending FB conversation this morning with a young friend in Portland Oregon who is mourning the destruction of her beloved Eagle Creek forest by a wild fire set by a group of careless stupid kids. Wild fires, she tells me, are not unexpected at this time of year (the end of the dry season), but this arson is presently burning 20,000 acres and is still out of control!

At the same time, on the other coast of this large country, a category 5 hurricane, Irma, is heading to the Eastern seaboard. The population of Florida is evacuating and has been told that they have until Friday to finish their emergency preparations. Hurricane Irma follows closely after Hurricane Harvey, which caused billions of dollars of damage and created a vast ongoing ecological disaster. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/02/houston-hurricane-harvey-pollution-petrochemical-plants

What I find unsettling about our reactions to these catastrophes is that they are seen as anomalies within expected seasonal occurrences. The extreme weather is being disguised, in a manner of speaking, by appearing where we expect it to appear. As it has been twelve years since a hurricane struck in the Gulf of Mexico, the thinking is that Hurricane Harvey may just be a fluke (and Hurricane Irma? and the hurricane after that?).

Strict no burn rules are in place in Oregon for wilderness that are prone to wild fires. The thinking is that the fire that is consuming Eagle Creek should not have happened; it was simply the result of unsupervised teens throwing firecrackers into the woods…a wood that was as dry as kindling! But what about the lands burning in British Colombia, Portugal, Greenland?!

What is not being understood in both these scenarios is the fundamental role that climate change is playing in both places. Yes, this is hurricane season in the southern Atlantic; but no, the water in that ocean has never been as warm as it is now and never so warm to such a depth which means that the hurricanes forming are going to be of a size and a ferocity never seen before! There may not be a larger number of storms, but they will drop much more water and last much longer.

Equally, in those parts of the world seeing the dry season, the heat is higher and, incrementally, it will be lasting longer and longer which will dry out not only the trees but the soil as well. http://www.ucsusa.org/…/global-warming-and-wildfire.html 

So what I am suggesting is that this is just the tip of the iceberg (a metaphor that may be obsolete in the not too distant future!), and it is important that we do two things: the first is to control our feelings of shock. Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth available from the library, Amazon, & audible is a good way to get used to the idea that our environment all over the planet is beginning, and will continue, to get harsher. Just how unsupportive and dangerous it will become will depend on whether we can get out act together to stop using fossil fuels and wasting the earth’s resources.

But as there is no guarantee that we will succeed at this, the second important thing for us to do- and this is the main focus of my blog- is to start to put in place the life style changes that will make us safe in both the short-term and long term. The US Federal government should be a help in this endeavour, but our government is, in fact, an impediment, cutting funding to such vital services as FEMA and the EPA! The state governments are very uneven: some, such as Texas being openly hostile to their people’s needs, and others, like California, being a good resource.

So, regardless, we will want to do what we can as householders to weather the extreme conditions that are beginning to be felt. I am suggesting that we become more proactive. If we know that hurricane season is approaching, emergency supplies should be put in early rather that scrambling to gather them at the last moment. Or, if you are a freelancer or your employer allows it, plan on living somewhere else for hurricane season!

Fire season will be more problematic as it is predicted to finally extend for most of the year. However California has a good emergency program in place for earthquakes: houses are built to be earthquake proof; earthquake drills are an accepted part of life, and evacuation plans are in place. Now substitute wildfires for earthquakes and you get a clear idea of how this would look.

Next post is on what to do to protect yourself from floods; the one after that on what to do in case of fire.

Please comment, especially if you have important information that I have missed. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme weather is the new normal!

 

I was shocked to see the destruction of the Notre Dame de Grace park in NDG across the street from one of my favourite tango studios, Mon Tango http://www.montango.ca/. All those beautiful old trees down looked like the corpse of large animals!

And then I was further distressed to realize that friends had had their homes badly damaged in what was a freak tornado attached to violent thunderstorms that came through on Tuesday evening last week. http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/severe-thunderstorm-watch-issued-for-montreal-area-2

As, not surprisingly, the conversation between dances got around to how one prepares for an emergency, I thought that I would do a couple of posts on this topic. This is also timely as the second hurricane (this one a category 4!) in as many weeks is due to hit the continental United States later this week (September 8, 2017).

 

I broke this post up into three parts. This first one is more general. Some of these things I do almost automatically after living over 20 years in the country in Vermont; but they are useful, even in the city, in the event of a power outage.

In the era of extreme weather, it makes sense to stock up now before a state of emergency is declared! Many of these suggestions come from the US National Hurricane Centre http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.

In case of an emergency:

1. Keep at least three days of bottled water and canned, dried, or frozen foods on hand. The video I am posting is a list of foods for two weeks for a family of four (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSgotSS222c).
Don’t forget to have a manual (not electric!) can opening on hand in
case of lack of electricity.

2. For bottled water, please consider storing in glass bottles. Please don’t buy water in plastic bottles; in heat these are unhealthy for both you and the planet! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690L4Qncjvs

3. Have a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.

4. Have a first aid kit. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/first-aid-checklist.html Think about taking some first aid courses, especially CPR. And don’t forget to stock your prescription medications!

5. Keep a stash of cash in case the power goes out: you will not be able to pay by credit card or work the ATM machine.

6. Make sure your mobile phone is charged! The easiest way to do this is to get in the habit of charging your phone when you go to bed every night. Stock extra batteries or a solar charger in case of power outage.

7. Have a working flashlight, with extra batteries in a place where you know you can find it in the dark!

8. If there is a chance that the electricity will go out, fill up a couple of buckets with water so that you can flush the toilets in case your system is not gravity based. (And find out what kind of system your plumbing is on including the water heater.)

9. If the power is out for an extended period of time, keep the refrigerator door closed so it will remain cold for as long as possible.

10. Unplug computers & tv’s or have them on surge protectors so they do not get fried when the electricity comes back on!

11. And finally, and most importantly, check on your neighbours especially those folks who are elderly, disabled, or with small children.

The necessity for this was movingly written about by Naomi Klein in her description of what happened during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy which hit New York City and surroundings in 2012. (I believe that this was in her important book, The Shock Doctrine, but I don’t have the specific reference.) The rescue was focussed on Manhattan, while the government neglected the poorer Rockaways, which were home to many elderly, disabled, impoverished, and mentally ill living in high rises without elevator service. Luckily volunteer rescue teams went door to door and discovered and saved these people abandoned in their homes without food or water!

As neighbourhoods get gentrified, as older residents die or move into assisted living, as people become more mobile, the connections that hold neighbourhoods together can fray. Please let me know how you keep connections strong in your neighbourhood! Perhaps it is time for the return of the block party, or the weekly mahjong (http://www.mahjongsets.co.uk/history-mahjong.html) or bridge game?

I had a very strong support network in Vermont, but when I left and became a visitor in Montreal and a newly arrived resident of Dallas, I found that it takes a lot of work to begin to put together a new set of friends. It is one of the things that makes me feel insecure when thinking about possible climate disasters! So my neighbours are very important to me!

Finally, one last suggestion about a vital skill that we will all need as things get tougher: knowledge about how the fixtures (toilet, heating, electrical appliances, etc.) in our homes work. When it is Xmas Day and the toilet is not working, it is very nice to be able to fix it oneself! And if a mouse gets in the house, or there is an electrical overload and a breaker turns off, or there is a leak and you need to know where it is coming from, or a flood from the washing machine or dishwasher, the knowledge and skill to know what to do is going to make your life much easier and you less anxious!

Please let me know if you would do any other things to prepare for an emergency, and I will be sure to add them! Next post: extreme flooding emergency!

Gas prices will go up!

 

http://jalopnik.com/rising-gas-prices-are-coming-for-all-of-us-after-harvey-1798679143

http://globalnews.ca/news/3711704/canada-gas-prices-hurricane-harvey/

With over 45% of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity located along the Gulf coast (https://www.eia.gov/special/gulf_of_mexico/, gas prices will continue to rise. As I write this, a category 4 hurricane (Irma) is heading toward the east coast of the U.S.A. September is the height of the hurricane season, and we are not even half way through the alphabet!!

But as I look out my window on a late Saturday morning, every car that I see stopping at the stop sign across the main street that I live on in Verdun, has but one person, the driver (we have not yet made it to self-driven cars!) in it. There is clearly no pressure yet to conserve gas or to limit the use of one’s car.

My daughter in Dallas is already dealing with gas rationing, and with gas stations running out of gas (she went to four stations before she found gas.). This was a shock to her as she had never seen rationing of any kind. I, however, clearly remember the 1973 and 1979 gas rationing in the U.S. And I also remember the push to carpool (https://www.shareable.net/blog/the-history-of-carpooling-from-jitneys-to-ridesharing).

So here we are, at the beginning of what promises to be an ever increasing price for using our cars. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of our carbon footprint (http://timeforchange.org/what-is-a-carbon-footprint-definition).

A carbon footprint is a difficult concept. Even people who understand the idea can not seem to really apply it to themselves. (Here is a link to calculate your carbon footprint: (http://www.carbonzero.ca/calculate).

It is a lack of understanding of the idea of interconnectedness with which we all seem to struggle. It is the jump that has to be made between the micro (that drive to the grocery store to pick up the cream you forgot when you shopped earlier), and the macro (that twenty minute ride is putting more CO2 in the atmosphere and is increasing global warming). We are all very loath to be inconvenienced or see our independence restricted by even the smallest amount. But the irony, of course, is that unless we change our lifestyle radically, unless we learn to curb our habit of instant gratification, our freedom will be limited for us in a far more drastic and unpleasant way!

So I am suggesting that we look at a number of possible alternatives to keeping our own cars or to using them constantly that will both save us money and greatly reduce our carbon footprint:

1. Carpooling or ridesharing:

this can be done with friends at work or with neighbours. It has the added benefit of helping the feelings of being disconnected and lonely from which many of us are suffering. It does mean, of course, that your schedule must now be negotiated with other people. But that practice of getting along with others is going to be vital for our survival in the coming years.

There are also new apps turning up every day to help find people to share rides. Here are just a few I have found online:

https://www.netlift.me/

https://www.kangaride.com/

https://www.ridesharing.com/

Have you used any of these, and what do you think about them, or about ridesharing in general?

2. Renting a car:

you will want to do the math on this. If you are only using the car occasionally it might make more sense to rent a car rather than pay for a car, upkeep, insurance, and parking (not to mention digging the car out of the snow here in the winter in Montreal if you can not afford an indoor garage!).

https://www.communauto.com/index_en.html

https://www.car2go.com/CA/en/montreal/

Taxis and Ubers are also good if needed infrequently. Again, how much would a taxi cost for a once a week food shopping?

3. Take public transportation:

you have great public transportation here in Montreal relative to places in the US that I have lived. Sometimes it is challenging to have to wait for a bus, but again, patience is going to be very much in demand in the coming years, and it is the practice of patience which makes it get stronger. For those of us who begin to change our way of living now, we are the ones who will be more resilient and able to deal more easily with the coming difficulties!

Would you consider this, especially as Montreal has awful construction delays?

4. Walk or bike:

this is a great way to get the best kind of exercise: drop weight and, by carrying groceries, build your muscles! Unfortunately, in the US especially, there is a real stigma for people who must walk or bike (usually because they have lost their driver’s license because of DUI, or they are too poor to keep a car). In my home town of Dallas, Texas, I am often the only person walking on the street. I am, incidentally, one of the thinner people around!

With Bixi bikes (https://montreal.bixi.com/en) to rent all around town, and discounts on Opus cards (http://www.stm.info/en) for bus and metro (subway) including monthly rates, Montreal is a great town to live in without a car as I do!

Could you see yourself giving up your car altogether?!

If you have finished this post, you will realize that none of this information is new. But it is beginning to be very important, and I hope that it will be helpful to find it all in one place. I would also encourage everyone to look on cars as tools, not status symbols or toys. They are one of the things responsible for climate change and as such, should only be used for real necessities!

I am very interested to hear your stories about the links I shared, and your experiences of reducing car use in your life! Please comment!