Monday, March 31, 2014

Earth Calling...

... With bad news. Via the Gray Lady:

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
But some geniuses are having the bright idea to reconstitute the dodo and a couple dozen other extinct species while we're waiting for current populations to die. If, as some are suggesting, a new ice age is set to envelop Northern Europe, maybe they can evacuate the polar bears from the melting ice caps and let them duke it out with wooly mammoths among the glaciers in what is now merrie olde England.

This is beyond depressing. It is downright terrifying. But other geniuses in high places are balking at the UN's suggestion that rich nations had better start sending massive amounts of cash to poor nations, who will be especially hard hit by the climate change they had no hand in causing.
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama.
Hmm.... I guess those geniuses who had a hand in censoring the report think their own ivory towers will be immune from catastrophe.  We should have learned by now that under no circumstances must one offend rich people for any reason, as the mere thought of parting them from their money to help the less fortunate sends them into paroxysms of rage and shrieks of class envy.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
I want the names of those Americans and I want to know who is bankrolling them. Rupert Murdoch? Jamie Dimon, the skills gap guru? On that topic, I also want to know why our normally stingy Congress is so eagerly sending a $1 billion aid package to Ukraine. What's that you say? That the money is going straight to the oligarchs who took over in that right-wing putsch? That it could be a way to undercut Russia and grease the skids for some all-American polluting fracked gas and oil to be exported? And that the poor people of Ukraine will take the blame for the crimes of the elites, and be forced into austerity?

One "bright side" in the United Nations climate report is mentioned by the New York Times, however. Because this is America, where we must always look the bright side because it's always darkest right before it goes totally black:
 Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
 “I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
Translation: yack while you frack. Pursue an all-of-the-above strategy. Transport flammable Bakken shale oil by rail instead of by pipeline. Choose between polluting water and polluting dry land. Well, I hope that is not what they're talking about when they talk about a "shift in thinking". Like the shift in a deforested mountainside that resulted in a deluge of mud burying an entire housing development.

Is anyone taking bets about when CNN will break into its marathon coverage of the missing plane and the unbelievable amounts of garbage in the oceans, and give us some brief coverage of the Washington state disaster and all the impending disasters on our global plate?

Never mind. Because oil and gas is a big sponsor of cable news shows. Because the earth will have the unmitigated gall to ignore the mindlessness of its human inhabitants as it takes its natural and inevitable man-made course. 

Nan Socolow said it best in her recent comment on the Times:
 In due course, the tragic truth of what happened to that Boeing 777 Dreamliner will be known to all of us. This is not a wild goose chase in the South Pacific looking for Amelia Earhart whose bones lie, undiscovered as yet on Nikumaroro Island not far from Howland Island where she crash-landed with her co-pilot Fred Noonan on 1 July 1937. But it's a needle in a haystack search for the floating debris from the 777 thousands of miles off Australia, in the gyre of the Pacific Ocean. The Roaring Forties is where that Malaysian plane with 239 innocent souls aboard may be found. The talking heads and "experts", who don't know a whit more than you and I about what happened, what Is happening and are fouling the airwaves with their nattering, codswallop and bumf. The remains of the plane will be discovered - maybe not the black boxes, but the tale will be told on the waves of the Pacific Ocean. A tale of immeasurable grief that greeted those who were lost on Pan Am 103 in Lockerbie, on TWA 800, on the 4 jets of 9/11, on so many other tragic air mishaps dating back to the Hindenburg. Tears will be shed. There will be no such thing as "closure" as we have been scalded mercilessly by nature, by man's invention of flight, and by know-nothings, belabouring us with their jabber on our cyber-widgets from pcs to iphones to tablets to TV. We are small and ignorant, filled with folly.


Zee said...

It's All So Predictable:

As reporter Timothy Egan tells us regarding the lethal Washington (State) Stillaguamish mudslide that has left—at current count—25 people dead and 90 missing, this was all perfectly foreseeable:

It was all 'Unforeseen — except for 60 years’ worth of warnings, most notably a report in 1999 that outlined 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure' on the very hillside that just suffered a large catastrophic failure.' --Timothy Eagan

Jaysus! If only those people had been listening to those hard-working, dedicated scientists, and paid attention to a report that had been moldering God-Knows-Where? for 15 years!

In fairness to to those scientists who were not listened to by the unfortunate residents of Stillaguamish, WA, Eagan goes on to say:

“It is human nature, if not the American way, to look potential disaster in the face and prefer to see a bright and shining lie. The “taming” of this continent, in five centuries and change, required a mighty mustering of cognitive dissonance. As a result, most of us live with the danger of wildfire, earthquake, tornado, flooding, drought, hurricane or yet-to-be-defined and climate-change-influenced superstorm. A legacy of settlement is the delusion that large-scale manipulation of the natural world can be done without consequence.” --Timothy Eagan

Yes, it is human nature to overlook potential disaster and prefer to see a bright and shining future when natural catastrophe might just be the more probable outcome. And it is Progressive nature to spend more time fretting about allegedly human-caused natural disasters than to worry about those natural disasters that have actual, predictable grounding in reality:

A couple of days ago we had a minor earthquake in the Los Angeles area that seems to have caused quite a bit of panic. I mean, at Richter Magnitude 5.1, it really wasn't very big. .

Back in 1989, we had the Loma Prieta “Pretty Big One,” weighing in at about 6.9 on the Richter scale, and in 1970 we had the San Fernando Earthquake at 6.6. In the former, there were 63 casualties, and in the latter, 64. Thousands more were injured in each instance.

All of which were, more or less, “perfectly predictable.” Maybe even more so than “climate change disasters” which, IMHO, remain speculative. In California, earthquakes are known to happen with regularity, even if they are not predictable. I know. I lived there. And if I wasn't there for the 1989 'quake, I certainly felt the San Fernando and Magnitude 5.8 Oroville earthquakes:

Most of you out there are probably too young to remember the BBC Special, “San Francisco: The City that Waits to Die.” It seems to be unavailable on the Internet these days, perhaps for “special reasons,”

such as, “Ya'll are better not knowin',” but I remember it because of my earth science training.

But hardworking scientists have been showing for decades that catastrophe is waiting to happen all along the San Andreas Fault system and on up through Cascadia, but who's paying an ounce of attention? Do you see anyone moving out of LA or SF after Friday night's 'quake? Are any of you pressuring your friends and family to do do? I didn't think so.

You all may worry about fracking, tar sands, the XL pipeline, climate catastrophe &etc. I just want my sister, her husband and my niece and nephew to move out of the Bay Area, where the dangers are proven, if not wholly predictable.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

James F Traynor said...

The single most important mistake proponents of climate change made was in emphasizing predictions based on models; models are risky predictors, particularly in describing complex systems as Freeman Dyson has pointed out. The deniers latched onto this right away. Much of the rest of the argument against global warming is smoke and mirrors and skillful PR, something that has been going on since Socrates' day; he apparently had it in for rhetoric and rightly so.

James F Traynor said...

As for the Oso landslide:

The above is an interesting comment on Youtube regarding the disaster.

You can play with it yourselves on Google Earth, but be sure you checkmark Historical images under View first, so you can go back in time.

The lack of media attention to the effects of logging in these cases is amazing. Amazing that the public puts up with it.

Neil Gillespie said...

Rather than "sending massive amounts of cash to poor nations", another story in the New York Times had this idea, let persons displaced by climate change move to the countries from which the greenhouse gases are coming, like the United States.

Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land, by Gardner Harris, March 28, 2014
Facing Rising Seas, Bangladesh Confronts the Consequences of Climate Change

"At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants."

"It’s a matter of global justice," said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist. "These migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States."

Zee said...


I appreciated the analysis presented in the YouTube video for which you provided a link, and I am reasonably confident that recent, excessive logging may have been the proximate cause for the most recent landslide on that ill-fated slope above Oso, Washington.

Still, that hillside had a very long, and well-studied and reported history of instability—with significant slides occuring in 1949, 1951, 1962, 1967 and 2006—as discussed in this story from the Seattle Times:

Likely, the recent logging should never have been permitted. But more importantly, permanent construction should never have been permitted on or at the base of that slope to begin with:

“Since the 1950s, geological reports on the hill that buckled during the weekend in Snohomish County have included pessimistic analyses and the occasional dire prediction. But no language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warning of 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure.'

That report was written by Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller. When she saw the news of the mudslide Saturday, she knew right away where the land had given way. Her husband knew, too.

'We’ve known it would happen at some point,' he told The Seattle Times on Monday. 'We just didn’t know when.'”

“That’s why [Daniel Miller] could not believe what he saw in 2006, when he returned to the hill within weeks of a landslide that crashed into and plugged the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, creating a new channel that threatened homes on a street called Steelhead Drive. Instead of seeing homes being vacated, he saw carpenters building new ones.

'Frankly, I was shocked that the county permitted any building across from the river, he said.

'We’ve known that it’s been failing,' he said of the hill. 'It’s not unknown that this hazard exists.'”
(My bold emphasis.)

But as we've discussed recently, it's human nature to overlook obvious physical dangers...even when the obvious points to the possibility of injury or death.

I'm not trying to excuse illegal or dangerous “over-logging,” but is logging known or suspected to be the “cause” of the other slides pre-dating those in the 2000s? This just sounds to me like a well-known “problem slope”—perhaps owing to the properties of the underlying rock— that should never have been inhabited, even with “careful” logging.

In other words, it appears to me that it is likely that there is plenty of blame to be shared for the eventual disasterous Oso slide, perhaps among not only (possibly) unscrupulous loggers, but also (possibly) unscrupulous real estate developers, (possibly) incompetent and negligent county zoning officials and, yes, maybe even those earth scientists who saw homes going up in the wake of a 2006 slide that their own report predicted, and who apparently failed to speak out. (The jury may still be out on this last group.)

One might also wonder about those future home owners for whom those houses were being constructed in 2006, who saw a nearby slide and bought and occupied those houses anyway.

Sometimes it pays to believe your own two lying eyes instead of government officials.