Tag: extreme weather

News vs. Noise

 

After a break of almost ten years, with the election of Trump I began once again to watch “the news.”  I read two newspapers (The Guardian & The New York Times), check out the headlines of one other (The Washington Post) and visit a couple of online sources: The Rachel Maddow Show (for her historical slant on the news); some online magazines (Treehugger ; Orion; and Facebook (in order to follow Bernie Sanders, Rep. Guiterrez from Chicago, & March for Science).

In the U.S., my news choices are considered left of center politically, but to most of the rest of the industrialized world, they are very much centrist. What becomes apparent after a few weeks of following the news, is how little actual information in presented, and how repetitious the stories and commentaries are. After a news story has peaked, it often disappears even if the event itself is still in play.:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/puerto-rico-hurricane-relief-brown/

The news is also very generalized and homogenized, much like our food, housing, and clothing. During this past horrific hurricane season, all the news outlets carried the same story describing the storms themselves with barely a mention of the global warming that was responsible for their ferocity and size:

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-climate-change-natural-disasters-20170907-htmlstory.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-04/cyclone-and-extreme-weather-events-intensifying-bom-says/8869042

The other thing about the news is that almost all of it is “noise” not really news. My daughter the other day asked me how to differentiate between news and noise; in other words, with the limited time we have, what subjects should we pay attention to and what should we dismiss?

My answer to this is in the present climate is the following:

1. If the news is about an existential threat, it should be followed and understood.

So the recent information about the demise of flying insects is newsworthy:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/21/insects-giant-ecosystem-collapsing-human-activity-catastrophe

while Trump’s tweets or speeches  (for instance, his inability to make empathetic condolence calls or his dislike of football players’ civil disobedience) are not.

Existential threats include problems with our food supply:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/vast-animal-feed-crops-meat-needs-destroying-planet

And science-based articles on extreme climate change that will in the near future make the earth much less habitable than presently:

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

2. If the news is about action taken, it is worth knowing. This is more difficult to find out about as the government becomes less transparent and more secretive. Rachel Maddow is good about following underreported stories. With the foxes in charge of the henhouse in the present Administration, these stories become more important:

news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

3. And finally, and most difficult to find (hence this blog!) news about what to do under these difficult circumstances both politically as the federal government is dysfunctional and dangerous:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/climate/epa-climate-change.html?mtrref=www.facebook.com)

and the state governments are very uneven:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3053928/these-states-are-the-most-and-least-at-risk-from-climate-change

In California where the state is helpful:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/?hpid=hp_no-name_national-rightrail-brandconnect%3Ahomepage%2Fbrandconnect-sidebar

compared to Texas where it is not:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/23/post-hurricane-cleanup-work-health-safety

And what to do personally:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/smarter-living/how-to-clean-up-after-a-hurricane-or-flood.html?mabReward=ACTM3&recid=61bc0d1a-fc3d-4d34-7023-2695078b3d52&recp=7&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&mtrref=undefined&auth=login-email

Better choices, for me, begin with the actions I take including resistance to information, much of which comes under the heading “news,” that is distracting, anxiety-provoking, and/or unhelpful. In this blog, I want to show you how I am deciding on the best actions to take in these hard times, and hopefully it will help you in your planning too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Unprecedented!”

 

Before & after photos of the damage done by the fire now raging in Northern California

There is a parable about a frog put into a pot filled with lukewarm water on the stove. The frog is supposed to stay in the pot even as the water in the pot heats up to boiling,  because it cannot figure out that it is in a potentially life threatening situation because it is occurring so gradually.  (This is, by the way, not scientifically true!  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog   but it makes a very good parable for our times.)

Sometimes I feel as if my country is that frog! From today’s The Washington Post:

“The fires, which first whipped up Sunday night, added to what has already been a severe fire season in the West. More than 8 million acres have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.”

“Raising questions”?!! Billions of dollars in destruction this past year through fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts; and one can have questions about whether this is being brought to us by global warming?! And yet, the media continues to label every hurricane, every fire, every flood: “unprecedented!” (sic!) as if each disaster is some unconnected climate anomaly.

Meanwhile, the US Federal government is rolling back and eliminating the far from strong environmental laws we had in place to slow down CO2 emissions:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/09/epa-scott-pruitt-abandon-clean-power-plan-obama

I suppose their idea is that when extreme climate change happens, these so-called leaders of government and industry will be long gone and will not have to live through the consequences of their stupidity and cupidity. The irony is that there is something called a feedback loop which leads to the tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to stop the runaway warming. These feedback loops are speeding up the whole process, far quicker than had been predicted, so even my generation (the Baby Boomers) will have to live through the results of our carelessness.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/carbon-emissions-warming-soils-higher-than-estimated-signalling-tipping-points

And it is very difficult to determine how fast these feedback loops will change the climate; but it seems to me that it would be prudent to assume a worst case scenario and plan accordingly.

Worst case for me means that the Federal Government will continue to be unusable, both as a deterrent to global warming, and as a dependable and functional help in disasters.  So personal responsibility for oneself and one’s community is going to become more and more important. And this means that one will need to be connected to one’s local natural world, and to take a serious interest in how one’s local government is planning for emergencies. It means taking a proactive rather than reactive stance; and using our imaginations to be prepared for possible problems caused by the extreme climate.

It also means that certain things that we have counted on (or simply assumed) to always be there like gasoline and electricity and food and water, will start to become scarce or erratic or non-existent depending on the severity of the disaster or climate stressor. So, again, we will need to take care of these things ourselves. One way is by switching over to a solar panelled backup system (Anyone know why backup generators are run only on gasoline, when gasoline is one of the first things to disappear in a disaster?!) if only to keep the cell phone charged!

(I found this online, but I am not recommending it until I have done further research. It is simply one example of what we could use.)

https://hanspowernet.com/

I also found this water purification system:

https://www.espwaterproducts.com/outback-emergency-water-system/

but again it is something that I need to look into further.

Another is to grow our own food. This is a very good way to connect to each of our localities and to the surrounding natural world. It has been used often when times got hard, and times are definitely getting tougher!

https://www.metropolisfarmsusa.com/single-post/2017/09/07/A-History-Lesson-Local-Gardens-Can-Feed-America

I will return to all these subjects in future blog posts. But in the meantime, realize that, unlike the frog, we can jump to a safer place and saner lifestyle, before the waters and the land begins to boil!

 

 

 

 

 

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/

 

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?!

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!