Irma Coverage: Slinging in the Rain

Breaking news: it’s raining here, too. (Wikimedia photo)

The history of humanity is a succession of stories of triumphs over disaster. That’s why they call us homo sapiens sapiens, which translates as “really, really smart dudes.” (Oh, wait. That’s not what they call us, it’s what we call ourselves. Still.) This past weekend, yet another triumph over yet another disaster. And I’m not talking about the resilience of the people of Florida, or the bravery of first responders or the fiendish cleverness of global-warming hoaxers; I’m talking about modern TV journalism as applied to disasters.

For days now, the best available satellite technology, fiber-optic communications, digital electronics and state of the art rain hoods have been deployed to provide us, the viewers, with unparalleled views of people who are too dumb to come in out of the rain. There are, apparently, hundreds of these people working in television. They are marvelously diverse, they come in all colors, genders, races and religions — although there are probably no conservatives, because they don’t believe in hurricanes. Continue reading

Bloomberg Business: FEMA Will Be Broke by Friday

Requests that Hurricane Irma hold off for a few days while Washington figures out how to pay for Hurricane Harvey have not yet had any effect.

Bloomberg Business News, relying on anonymous staffers in the US Senate and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reports that FEMA is burning cash at a rate of $9.3 million an hour, and will be broke in about 48 hours (as of Wednesday, September 6). This spending is in response to Hurricane Harvey’s assault on southern Texas, the costs of which are just starting to come in. Just about 72 hours from now Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history, will slam into Miami.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, FEMA had only $2.14 billion on hand last Thursday morning, and by Tuesday morning had spent over half of it. Of the billion dollars left, only half of it was available to spend. Presumably, if this liquidity problem cannot be solved within hours, FEMA will be out of money even sooner than Friday. Continue reading

Forget Korea: Irma is the Existential Threat to America

Meet Hurricane Irma. Her cloud is not mushroom-shaped, but it’s a greater threat to our well-being than Korea. (Wikimedia photo)

For years a gathering storm of mortal threats to our well being, threats obscured by the Kabuki Theater of national politics, threats ignored by the Keystone Kops who pretend to be our leaders, threats fueled by the Masters of the Universe who are happily burning the world to stay rich a little longer, threats to our food and water and air and shelter and climate — all these threats have gathered, and worsened, and all this time we’ve wondered: where’s the breaking point?

Hurricane Irma may well decide. If she fulfills the worse expectations of her — and recent storms such as Harvey have wildly exceeded the worst expected of them — she will barrel into Miami, or close along the vulnerable Florida Coast, as a monster Category Five hurricane. If she does, she could well break us.

Before Harvey hit, FEMA was bankrupt, by any normal measure, it was holding $20 billion in debt that it has no possible way to repay. The fact that this debt is to the US government does not alter the fact that it is debt which, if not repaid, could ruin the deeply indebted creditor. Now, the governor of Texas says his state will need $120 billion to rebuild. Continue reading

I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

“This is the Captain speaking. First, let me make this absolutely clear: there is no reason to worry.”

On a mid-morning in May, the telephone rang in the modest home of the mayor of Tangier, a village of 470 people on tiny Tangier Island, 12 miles off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It was the president of the United States calling. If you lived there, you would not know which to think more odd; that the president was calling James “Ooker” Eskridge, or that Ooker was in his house to take the call, on a fair-weather weekday, and not on the water crabbing (he had been warned the call was coming).

If you live anywhere else on the planet Earth, you will be hard put to decide which part of the ensuing conversation was the most strange. Continue reading

Turns Out We Won’t Always Have Paris

In the movie Casablanca, Rick and Ilsa had a great time in Paris, then the world descended into war. In real l;fe, we really aren’t going to have any reason to remember Paris.

Politicians around the world have perfected the art of appearing to do something about a problem, when actually doing something about it would harm the financial interests of their industrial sponsors. This was never better illustrated than by the Paris Climate Accord.

If anyone is paying attention to words any more, please note that the thing is called an “accord,” or “agreement,” not a treaty —  because treaties are binding, and cannot be violated without consequences. An “accord,” on the other hand, is a statement of a wish, as in “wouldn’t it be nice if we had world peace?” A treaty says, “If you attack my friend I will beat you to a bloody pulp,” whereas an accord says, “I really wish you wouldn’t speak harshly to my friend.”

If anyone is paying attention to science (or simply arithmetic) any more, please note that the primary goal of this accord is to limit global warming caused by industrial pollution to two degrees Celsius. So far, since the Industrial Revolution began we have raised the world’s temperature by almost one degree (.8 degree Celsius), so we’re already halfway there, with the rate of warming steadily increasing. Moreover, the warming effects of greenhouse gases have a 40-year cycle, so whatever we do to reduce them now will not have any effect on temperatures until about 2060. There is no possibility that warming will be limited to two degrees by any actions taken now, if in fact anyone ever does take any significant action.  Continue reading

Let’s Watch 50 Minutes

In a whole year of covering climate change, the TV networks, all of them combined, didn’t even get to 60 minutes.

On their evening and Sunday news programs during 2016, the four major American television networks devoted 50 minutes of their airtime to covering climate change. No, that’s not 50 minutes a week, or each, it’s all of them combined for the whole year. 50 minutes (according to a study by Media Matters). CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox (which is cable, and does not have an evening newscast but is prominent among Sunday news shows), all of them, all year, produced enough content about climate change to fill a single edition of 60 Minutes.

This was in a year that was, worldwide, the hottest year on record and the third year in a row to set that record; a year that set records in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea level, shrinkage of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica; that saw wildfires, tornadoes, floods, storms and droughts of unprecedented numbers and severity; and in which 120 nations gathered in Paris to actually start to think about planning to do something about all this. But 50 minutes was all it took to tell the tales. And that was a decline of 66% from the meager amount of time they spent on the subject in 2015. Continue reading

American Cities Fight for Their Lives — Alone

The city of Homer, Alaska, achingly beautiful, is fighting for its life against a relentless enemy. Like several other American cities, it is losing its war. The government in Washington insists it’s not happening.

This American city of 5,000 people is under siege by an implacable enemy. Its food supply has been poisoned, its water supply affected, its main industry crippled, it loses big chunks of its territory every month or so, and several times the enemy has almost severed its only road out. The city has committed all its resources to the fight and regularly pleads with the state government for help, but the state is so besieged by other towns and cities, also under attack, that there is not enough to go around. Appeals to the national government are pointless because in the view of the national government, the enemy does not exist. Continue reading

The Luxury Cruise to the End of the World

crystal serenity

This is how you watch the end of the world — aboard the Crystal Serenity, marinating in luxury.

Sorry, you missed it. But if you had known about it — I don’t know why you didn’t get the memo — and if you had $120,000 lying around ($22,000 for steerage) you could have joined 1,000-plus passengers served by 700 crew on the first luxury cruise from Seward, Alaska to New York City via the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean. Once solid ice, the Northwest Passage became navigable in theory in 2007 because of climate change.

According to the brochure, the good ship Crystal Serenity is “an abomination—a massive, diesel-burning, waste-dumping, ice-destroying, golf-ball-smacking middle finger to what remains of the planet, courtesy of precisely 1,089 of its richest and most destructive inhabitants. And it’s all made possible by runaway climate change, the existential global crisis that these same people and their ilk have disproportionately helped to create.”

Continue reading

US Climate Migrations About to Begin

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Does the Congress know about this? The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in January approved grants of about a billion dollars to communities in 13 states to help the deal with climate change — a problem that according to a majority of the leaders of Congress, and a majority of the members of the Senate, does not exist. Among those grants was one for $48 million to help move an entire Louisiana community to higher ground as rising seas obliterate its land. This is a first for America. It is hardly the last. Continue reading

The Worst Reporting on Climate Change. Ever. (So Far.)

boiling frog

If the warming is siow, the frog is happy. (Photo by Purple Sloq/Flickr)

In describing our progress toward a well-educated and -informed citizenry, served by a free and fearless press, seeking a smoothly functioning democratic republic, do you believe in devolution, or are you a destructionist? That is, do you think we are rotting away from within, or is God punishing us? It’s probably too late to have that discussion; when you’re in a sinking scow, you can lament the lack of a luxury cruiser only so long, then you have to shut up and swim.

The low water mark (to twist the metaphor) of our society’s deteriorating journalism, its increasingly muddled grasp of scientific discoveries, and its atrophied ability to speak its own native language — not to mention its suffocating narcissism — was expressed in a single news story recently whose pungency and brevity would have been admirable if the perpetrators had intended it. Continue reading