USGS Director to NE Coast: Brace for Impact

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

A week after announcing her retirement, the director of the US Geological Service told a Washington DC conference that Superstorm Sandy fulfilled her worst climate-change nightmare: it blew out the natural defenses against storms along hundreds of miles of the Northeast coastline, leaving them vulnerable to any garden-variety nor’easter that comes along

The USGS is one of the agencies of the US government that tells us the truth, starting with its insistence at the time that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a man made disaster, a fact that is not widely enough understood to this day. But it is funded by Congress, and while it has not knuckled under to the knuckle draggers (by, for example, refusing to research global warming issues because many Congress Persons don’t believe in science), neither has it been especially strident about the clear and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, more frequent and more potent storms, etc. Continue reading

Brazil: Another Miracle Falters

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

For years, all the countries that hoped wistfully for  energy independence, or renewable energy, or the oxymoronic “sustainable industry,” have looked to Brazil as a shining country on a hill that did it all, and had it all.  It was inspiring. A typical headline of a few years ago (simply Google “Brazil” to see dozens) appeared in The Daily Texan: “Brazil’s Energy Program Could Teach U.S.” It turns out to have been a perfect example of the mendacity of hope (see my essay About Hope). Continue reading

1,000 Risk Experts say: Brace for Impact

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

More than 1,000 experts on risk, consulted by the World Economic Forum for an upcoming annual meeting, agree that a perfect storm of rising risk, primarily driven by global climate change, and declining economic resilience pose mortal threats to governments, businesses and society in the near future. Continue reading

Australia Burning: US Smoldering

Tasmania fire 010413

Fires like this one on the island of Tasmania, the result of an historic heat wave, have been plaguing Australia all summer. Photo credit: Wikipedia

One of our continents is on fire. Australia is in the midst of a heat wave like none it has ever seen. On Monday the average high temperature — the average for the entire country — was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the fifth consecutive day the national average high temperature had exceeded 102. When two young ladies at Oodnadatta, in southern Australia, tried to gas up their car to get the hell out of Dodge, the gasoline coming out of the pump vaporized before it could hit the bottom of the tank. Continue reading

Flood Insurance Follies

Darn. Wiped out. Let’s do it all over again and expect a different result. There’s a government subsidy for that. photo by Pam Andrade/Flickr

Imagine an insurance program that lost so much money in private hands that the government had to take it over, that the government forces people to buy (Really? Is that constitutional?) and that is $19 billion in debt with no hope of ever achieving solvency. If that sounds like the worst of socialist tendencies in the hands of big government, it is. Odd that it is not an issue in the campaign for the presidency, like Obamacare is. But wait. Health insurance benefits the sick and the poor. Flood insurance, on the other hand, restores vacation homes.

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Superstorm Sandy: Tasting Apocalypse Now

Lower Manhattan, lights out (except for that one building) watches Sandy approach and Braces for Impact. photo by Stefan Leijon/Flickr

Sandy has done us a great favor by giving us a preview of our new normal — a future in which storms assume the size of continents, “waterfront home” becomes an oxymoron and life — even the lives of the rich and famous — becomes much more tenuous.

Here’s what should happen now. First, there should be a national day of thanks for the climate scientists who braved our scorn and disbelief to insist we look at the reality and realize that superstorms like Sandy were going to be frequent from now on. Sandy has shown us in terms not up for argument, nor adjustable by one belief system or another, that those men and women of science were not Chicken-Little Climate Hawks,  they were American Eagles, harbingers of a bitter future we are bringing on ourselves. But wait there’s more. Continue reading

Choosing a New Captain for the Titanic

Never mind the iceberg. Should we steer mostly to the left, or to the right?

The Titanic has struck the iceberg and is down at the bow, so we passengers are conducting a feverish election to select a new captain. There are two evenly matched candidates, the incumbent captain, who wears a blue uniform, and the challenger who wears a red one. In the campaign thus far, neither has mentioned the fact that the ship is sinking. The closest they have come to bringing it up is when the challenger avows that he does not believe in icebergs, and the incumbent points out that he was not on the bridge when the collision occurred.

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Sunday School: What TV Taught Me on the Sabbath

Pretty much the only experiences we share as a nation come to us via television. But what is it, exactly, that we’re sharing in the commercial breaks?

In the olden times, when the world was young, we would gather around fires and listen to the elders tell us about how the world was made, and how the people came to be the way they are. It was a way of teaching the children, and reminding the grownups, how to live in the world, and how to be one of the people. Later, when we had churches and town halls, we would go there to talk about what was happening, and how it had come to be that way, and what we should do. Now, there is only one place where the people learn what is happening to them and what the elders think of it. Television. Especially Sunday morning television. Continue reading

Report: US Fisheries Crashing

We live in a country in which every household has two TV sets, most of them receiving hundreds of channels, and two cell phones, many of them “smart.” One of every two households has a computer connected to the Internet. This country is currently in the middle of a hotly contested presidential election. And yet among the things that have almost completely escaped public attention is this: last week the US government declared fisheries disasters on four coasts.
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Fossil Fools Ignore Arithmetic

These oil wells were thick as fleas along the Texas coast in 1978, when America was awash in oil. But production has been declining since 1970, and simple-minded hype will not change that. (Photo by Roger Wollstad (Roger4336)/Flickr)

If you don’t believe in arithmetic — if your political or religious tenets require you to deny that 2 + 2 always equals 4 — then by all means stop right here and go read something by Glenn Beck. For the remaining minority, then, of people clinging to outmoded faiths in things like gravity and mathematical truth, here’s the headline: we are running short of oil. There is no renaissance, no triumph of technology, no sudden reversal of the rules of the universe. And it is still true that running short is almost as bad as running out. Continue reading