Saturday, June 21, 2008

NOAA and the Flood: Facing the Future

Update Saturday: The worst new flooding appeared to be over along the Mississippi but in some places the crest was higher than expected. The rainstorms and floods took at least 24 lives, left thousands homeless and will cost billions. All of this while wildfires scoured parts of northern California and New Mexico, and southern California temperatures top 100 for days, with little relief in sight. USA Today has a brief story on the extreme weather/climate crisis report referenced below.

As of late Thursday, the Mississippi has overtopped or breached 23 levees and threatens 25 more before its expected crest near St. Louis on Sunday. More Illinois and now Missouri areas have joined a big chunk of eastern Iowa in various degrees of destruction from waters that are often picking up toxins and pollution as they rise and sweep through neighborhoods, business districts, campuses and farm fields. Some 25,000 people are homeless in Cedar Rapids alone.

This collective disaster will cost billions directly and take years of recovery and rebuilding. And the effects will soon ripple through everybody's pocketbook, as lost corn and soy crops join high gas for transport costs in raising food prices across the country.

Of all the correlations between global heating and extreme weather in North America studied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and reported in "
Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate," perhaps the strongest is between global heating and a lot more rain, if only because the science of the causes is fairly simple.

But flooding is only one result of extreme weather we are apt to see more of because of the Climate Crisis. The report's Executive Summary says:

"In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights."

Extreme weather can have extreme consequences, and lots of extreme weather can come to dominate the economy, governments and daily life. We need to face this most proximate aspect of the future. We have to accept at least the strong possibility that we're going to see a lot more extreme weather resulting in short-term disasters and long-term catastrophes, and prudently prepare to meet not only individual challenges, but the greater challenge of patterns and increased frequency.

Infrastructure, public health, responsiveness on appropriate local, state, regional and national levels, as well as economic and other mechanisms to deal in an anticipatory way with repairing damage and lessening impact and suffering. Heads in the sand, it's only the weather, and all the fear that masks itself as skepticism won't do anymore. The patterns are here and now.

At the same time, such "fix it" efforts should not deter or distract us from engaging in the long-term efforts to "stop it"--to save the far future from the ultimate destructions of the Climate Crisis, which means rapid species extinction and sea level threats to coastal cities, and moving on from there to a planet so extreme in heat and/or cold that most of the life we know will be impossible. To "stop it" we must drastically cut the emissions of greenhouse gases. Rising fossil fuel costs and dwindling supplies are encouraging a retooling of our economy and our mindsets towards clean energy, energy efficiency and a realistic appraisal of costs and benefits. But we're only close to starting--not even fully begun yet.

We will need to do both the fixing and the stopping, but before that, we need to acknowledge the reality of the Climate Crisis and what it means for the future, including the near-future which we may soon realize includes the present, and the near-past. Of course we can try to deal with each weather crisis as it occurs. But we will not deal with it adequately if we don't recognize that these crises may well be part of a pattern called the Climate Crisis, and it is real, and right now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Flood Tides

Flooding like this in Clarksville, Missouri, is damaging homes, neighborhoods, businesses, campuses, especially as the waters carry toxic pollution. Some 25,000 people are homeless in Cedar Rapids, Iowa alone.

Floodwaters are destroying crops of corn and soybeans, as in the second photo of a farm in Quincy, Illinois. Food prices rising because of high gasoline transportation costs are only going to get higher. The waters will recede, but the costs and the impact will continue for a long time, rippling out well beyond these hard-hit places in the American Midwest.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iowa Today: More Flooding, More to Come

It's far from over, especially in areas bordering the Missisippi, but these are some scenes from the current flooding in the Midwest, specifically in Iowa.

Flooding isn't unknown there--I lived in the area for about five years, going to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and the University of Iowa, and I recall going out to sandbag and repair levees in three of those years. But nothing, nothing like this.

The third photo down is Burlington, right on the Mississippi, just across the nearest bridge from Illinois. At the bottom is Iowa City, the university campus. These are places that were part of my life.

The top photo is a cornfield in Oakville. This flood has come at a bad time for the corn crops, and we'll all be paying for that.

The second photo is Cedar Rapids, which seems to have been hit hardest and longest.

Right now, much of the Mississippi is closed to barge traffic, several of the bridges across it are closed. Of most concern, some 27 levees are threatened and may not hold. One broke earlier today, flooding farmland, which actually saved Burlington from worse flooding. But there may well be much more devastation to come.

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Dazzle in Detroit

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Green Deal

In a few hours, Al Gore will appear on stage in Detroit with Barack Obama, and he will endorse Obama for President. I'm hoping that in his speech Obama will do what he did when John Edwards endorsed him at a big event: use the endorsement to talk about the issues identified with the person who endorsed him. His speech after the Edwards appearance was largely about poverty. I'm hoping his speech tonight will be about the Climate Crisis and green energy.

It's true that Obama has not been saying as much lately about the Climate Crisis as he did earlier in the campaign, and that clear leadership on this is going to be necessary. Other issues come and go in immediate prominence. But the Climate Crisis is all its manifestations is going to dominate the foreseeable future.

What Obama has been talking about is green energy, in the more accessible terms of economics and high fossil fuel energy costs. But it's time that Obama integrates the realities of the Climate Crisis into the rationale. Addressing the Climate Crisis can be the key to peace, to social justice and even to a kind of evolutionary leap in global civilization. Not addressing it could mean catastrophe for most of the life forms on the planet, and the end of civilization as we know it.

Addressing the Climate Crisis will mean more than ramping up green energy, but that's an important and indispensable part. One of these days--and I hope it is today--Obama should describe his vision for the effort that will rival if not exceed the New Deal in its necessity and its sweeping transformation. The 21st century equivalent might be called the Green Deal. It is a vision of change but it is also eminently practical as well as exciting. Sustainable clean energy technologies are either ready to go or nearly there, and need commitment and resources to make them real on the appropriate and needed scales. The Green Deal, which needs to include the equivalent of the 1930s Civil Conservation Corps--what Bill McKibben calls the Green Corps.

But the Green Deal also has to address the problems we're going to face as a consequence of the global heating induced climate change already underway, which can't be stopped by cutting emissions because they are the inevitable result of past emissions. That means preparing for disasters and working to prevent predictable ones. It also means addressing the grave threats to many animal and plant species, because our survival depends on the whole earth.

It's odd that this is happening today. I've been planning to write precisely this post for at least a week, anticipating the Gore endorsement. I actually thought it would be closer to the convention. So this becomes a hope, rather than a bee in the bonnet.