As Hurricane Harvey smashed weather records, Weather Underground Meteorologist Bob Henson explains. From The Nation magazine, Zoe Carpenter says Houston was a catastrophe zone long before Harvey came ashore. Plus global climate headlines you missed this summer – climate Apocalypse now!. All new Radio Ecoshock 170906
Welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock. Where the strange new climate is already happening.
This week on Radio Ecoshock, we have two reports on the major weather event that could reshape America and the world economy: the unbelievable Hurricane Harvey. But that’s not all. At the same time, even worse floods have killed thousands in Africa, India, and East Asia. That’s part of global wetting, as warmer oceans feed more water vapor into the heated atmosphere.
On the other side of the Jet Stream, fires continue in the Western States and around my home in Canada. That’s after a disastrous fire season in Portugal, Spain, and Italy, more fires in Siberia, and even on Greenland. I’m going to squeeze in some of the jaw-dropping headlines you may have missed this summer.
BOB HENSON ON HARVEY
When a major weather event strikes, Bob Henson is deluged with media calls. During the summer when we agreed to talk, we had no idea a monster storm for the history books would strike Houston, all of East Texas, and Louisiana. It is far from over, but let’s get an update from the author of one of the most widely used college textbooks on weather. Bob Henson worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He’s the author of “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change.” I read Bob’s reports often at Wunderground, the Weather Underground hub.
Just in the news, the Indian mega-city of Mumbai was also crippled by incredible rains and floods at the end of August. We may get to a point where a disrupted climate challenges the whole model of very large urban areas. Or maybe it’s the other way around: mega-cities are focal points for disrupting the climate. I’ll ask my guest Paul Beckwith about that next week.
ZOE CARPENTER FROM THE NATION
Remember when Hurricane Katrina revealed shocking poverty in New Orleans, and on-going pollution from petrochemical plants? Add millions more people, and the world’s largest chemical corridor, and you’ve got Houston, Port Arthur and all that, after Hurricane Harvey. But as Wen Stephenson wrote in The Nation magazine on August 29th “Houston’s Human Catastrophe Started Long Before the Storm”.
While the mainstream media grandstands with weather porn, we go to Zoe Carpenter, Associate Washington Editor for the Nation. Zoe Carpenter has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, and other outlets. She writes regularly for The Nation magazine, and is Associate Washington Editor there. Follow her on Twitter @ZoeSCarpenter, and check out thenation.com.
When refineries shut down, including America’s largest, they don’t just turn off a tap and turn out the lights. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that, “Two million pounds of dangerous chemicals were released in Houston when they shut down between Monday and Wednesday. More has been released since then, and millions more will be released when the plants restart.”
After watching tons of coverage, hardly anything on climate change is mentioned, much less the role of the oil and petrochemical industry in (a) helping us cause climate disruption (b) denying global warming is happening and (c) making sure there are no regulations to plan for it.
I feel like there are a thousand stories in Hurricane Harvey. Is it going to change the course of life and history in America, or it is just another blip along the road to a broken climate, in a broken system?
THE HEADLINES THAT TELL ME EARTH IS ALREADY IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY
As you will hear during the interviews this week, there were even large floods in Eastern Nigeria, Africa, as well as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. At least 1200 people died during floods in East Asia during August, and millions are homeless, many without food or any hope of government aid. You can Google it, and BBC news in the UK are one of the few English-language networks to cover it at all.
Regular listeners know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on extreme weather events increasing as the world warms. I’ve done several programs on extreme rainfall events dating back to 2008. The atmosphere has warmed over one degree C which allows it to hold 7 per cent more water vapor. That means more rain falls somewhere. It’s simple physics.
And then there are the fires. I was surrounded by them again this summer. We had more smoke alert days than clear days, and it was very hot here, well over 100 degrees F. or 35 degrees C. day after day. There has been no rain for almost two months. This isn’t summer like I ever knew it.
In Canada, British Columbia declared it’s second-ever state of emergency as hundreds of forest fires erupted. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated, including from cities. Gigantic valleys burned, and the smoke drifted over a thousand miles to the East. Aboriginal people have been evacuated from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan as more fires burn there. Crops withered in the key grain growing parts of southern Saskatchewan.
There are major fires in California, Oregon and Washington as this broadcast goes to air. The West is burning, again. That’s another predicted out-come of climate change, but even the best scientists didn’t expect it this early.
Let me just skim through some of the headlines that would have been world affairs before these turbulent times.
In North America, a drought in the Western Plains threatened some of the wheat crop. Sacramento was hit by a record-breaking heat wave. People who attended the Burning Man festival this year in Nevada suffered through 100 degree Fahrenheit heat – not seen there at this time of year since the 1940’s – and a massive sand-storm that filled every tent, RV, and nose. It was apocalypse now for those folks, at $1000 a ticket. In July, nearby Death Valley California set a new global record for the hottest single month ever, since official records began in 1911.
The East Coast hardly had a beach day for the month of July. New Englanders were on the cool side of the great bending Jet Stream.
A heat wave swept over the Arctic in Canada, with severe fires in the Northwest Territories. It was the same in Siberia: heat, fires and smoke. We can only imagine the amount of carbon released there, especially when the peat catches fire.
Moving on to Europe, in early August the Telegraph reported the European heat wave which killed five, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees C. In France, wild fires forced mass evacuations in late July. As you no doubt heard, there was a sad incident where over 60 members of a Portuguese village were killed trying to flee a fire. The fires in Portugal were declared a public calamity.
The great city of Rome faced an unusual water shortage, with rationing. Even the Vatican shut off it’s fountains. Extreme heat decimated crops in central and south east Europe, exposing the river beds not seen for centuries.
MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA
Turkey experienced strange and severe storms. Government workers in Iraq were laid off due to blistering heat. Birds were reported falling dead from the sky when temperatures in Kuwait went over 50 degrees C, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
An eastern Province of Nigeria was recently hit by super floods, with countless people losing their homes, cattle and all their belongings.
I’ve already reported on the super-monsoon floods that hit north and eastern India, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. In late July, there was another extreme rainfall event and flash flooding in the kingdom of Bhutan. Torrential rains crippled Karachi Pakistan on August 31st. The Indian financial capital of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, was shut down by heavy rains and flooding on September 1st. India got ten times the usual amount of rain within a ten day time period.
Meanwhile new science on climate change concludes parts of South Asia will be “unlivable” by 2100. Scientists also say human living in Pakistan will be difficult by the year 2100 due to long lasting extreme heat waves.
Meanwhile, Australia experienced it’s hottest winter ever.
During all this, fossil fuel use is rising, not falling. Yes greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in America, but the U.S. is still a gigantic source of climate damaging gases. The rest of the world is more than filling the American decline.
Scientists are reluctantly admitting that the world is “almost certain” to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Believe me, that is a disaster far greater than you or I have ever known – and I think that’s a wild underestimate. One British investment firm, Schroders, which controls assets worth $542 billion, is far more pessimistic. They think 7 to 8 degrees of warming is possible.
Experts are predicting more humid heatwaves, the most dangerous kind of mammals. Another report predicts heatwaves up to 55 degrees C, or 131 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s from the European Joint Commission, and I will have the lead author of that report on Radio Ecoshock next week.
There is no end to apocalyptic headlines. While recording this short feature, the largest fire in Los Angeles history popped up. As of September 2nd, the La Tuna Fire grew to over 5,000 acres, according to the L.A. Fire Department. Homes in Burbank and Glendale were evacuated. Los Angeles has fires from time to time, but keep in mind, this is again a record, the largest ever. It was 91 degrees in L.A. but with the humidity, felt like 104 degrees, or 40 degrees C.
To the North, San Francisco broke an all time record high for September 1st. “Broke” isn’t the right word. Jason Samenow at the Capital Weather Gang site says the record was “smashed”. San Francisco on the sea is known to be cool, even in summer. They were not ready for the hottest day ever since records began. It was an astonishing 106 degrees Fahrenheit, or 41 degrees C. The previous high was 3 degrees lower, in the year 2000. The average high for this time of year, Jason tells us is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees C. So this September 1st was more than 30 degrees above normal. That’s gotta tell you something.
New science shows global ocean circulation is beginning to collapse due to a warming planet. All life depends on that circulation.
Last year, 2016 was once again the hottest year ever recorded, according to the The State of the Climate in 2016 report, led by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plus of scientists from 60 nations.
Is all this getting through? We are already in a global climate emergency! That’s the real news. Anything else is a distraction.
This is our time to fight for our survival, and to turn back the tide of extinction. Stay tuned to Radio Ecoshock, as we ride through turbulent times.
A PERSONAL MESSAGE ON COPING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
Outside my home, it’s now too smokey to go outside and breath. One Valley to the West, a new fire erupted last night in the Okanagan, near Peachland. In the extreme heat and high winds, it went from 40 hectares, to over 1,000 hectares – about 2500 acres – overnight. In this area which was already housing evacuees from fires further north, a fresh round of evacuation have already begun. There has been no rain there for a couple of months. The grass, shrubs and trees are as dry as can be, literally “tinder”.
The sun, shadowed by fire clouds, is blazing red. The hills and the ground are tinted with the colors of sunset, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Something deep inside me, something from our animal roots, something a million years old tells me how wrong this all is, how dangerous these times are becoming.
What used to be known as summer as now known as fire season, and it extends from April to late October these days. The current Province-wide state of fire emergency in British Columbia has been extended into the fall.
This summer I took time out to walk the river trail, to grow some of my own food, to love life and the Earth. I should be happy but instead I’m angry. This great life is becoming the facade which hides much greater evil.
More than ever, we are being played. Whether it’s Vladimir Putin scheming to replace democracy with right-leaning autocrats, or the Koch Brothers spending millions to feed our doubts about climate change, it’s all heading in the same ugly direction.
Yes, I’ve been entertained by the greatest geo-political drama of this new century. I check the Twitter feeds of Claude Taylor @TrueFactsStated, and Louise Mensch, to get the inside track on the Trump investigations. (Louise Mensch has a strange love for former President George W. Bush, the war criminal, but does good investigative work). But all that is just a shadow of the goblin that is re-arranging the atmosphere, the oceans, and the landscape. The demon is us.
THE HIGH CLIMATE COSTS OF “RECOVERY”
Just consider the hoped-for “recovery” from Hurricane Harvey. Just now, Canada has an extra 400,000 barrels a day of heavy oil from the Tar Sands, with no where to go. Pre-Harvey it was processed in the refineries in Texas. Nobody else can do it. So the price of Canadian crude drops, along with the Canadian dollar.
We are told up to half a million cars and trucks were rendered useless by the Hurricane floods. It took a lot of carbon to make all that steel and plastic. Just when the car industry was heading into another cycling slump, we’ll get an additional burst of warming carbon just to replace the Harvey damaged vehicles. With what we know now, we shouldn’t be making any more internal combustion engines at all.
Let’s spend more hundreds of billions on concrete and heavy equipment to replace the roads and freeways for those carbon burners. Let’s spend another half-trillion dollars or more on building materials and shipping to replace all those homes. Of course, since we believe in freedom no matter what, people will put those roads and homes right back in the flood zones. That’s because officially climate change does not exist. It cannot even be named in some departments in the new Federal Administration, or in Texas. Planning to avoid the next disaster is prohibited by law. That’s how deadly crazy things have become.
MEDIA BLIND TO CLIMATE DISASTER
Maybe because I work on the fringes of media, I’m maddest at the media. We have some good work on the Russia investigation from a few big newspapers, and a couple of cable news outlets. But even they fall into stories about puppy dogs, shallow coverage of the big storms, with lots and lots of flag waving. It’s one big propaganda machine.
Take this coverage by the American cable channel MSNBC. Finally, after a million hours of climate silence on the other networks, they stumble on a correspondent who wants to stand in the middle of Texas and tell us how it is.
Just as the Al Jezeera reporter winds up to explain how Texans have been fleeced and left in danger by the oil industry, the camera gets whisked away to watch another helicopter rescue of some human. It’s like calling “squirrel” to a dog. They can’t resist. So after the unsuspecting gentleman is hauled up into the helicopter and into our living room screens, our MSNBC host manages to get back to his reporter on the ground. That reporter begins to wind up again about big oil and climate change, when… oh my gosh, they loose the connection, and move on to another meaningless real-TV opportunity. Even the most left-leaning network just can’t handle the truth. Sad.
A TINY TALE OF NAVIGATING THROUGH CLIMATE-DRIVEN TROUBLES
I’ve left a small personal story of climate change for the end of this program. It’s not a big thrill, like the footage from Hurricane Harvey or the fires in France. It’s small, but I think there’s a point.
My family traveled to a nearby mountain lake this summer, as we do every year. We camp out without any electricity, except from our small solar panel. One day as we headed out to get more supplies, we saw a massive cloud erupting to the south, tinged with red. We were seeing the start of a forest fire that caused more hundreds to evacuate their homes near Kelowna in British Columbia. As we attempted to get back to the lake, a big windstorm blew through, taking down power lines along the road.
The road was closed by the police for a few hours, while the live power lines were removed from the pavement. No big problem. We waited and then got back in. At the end of our week in paradise, we drove through a forest road to get home – except there was the fire. Traffic was only allowed through 30 cars at a time, escorted by the police. We saw Canadian army men helping, as firefighters filled big vats of water for the helicopters to pick up. The roadside was black, trees all burned. After a couple of hours, we got through.
Getting home, the air was thick with smoke. It was hot and unhealthy to be outside. But we know how to live with that. Our home is very tight, with two HEPA air cleaners that can take out the tiny particles before we breathe them in. I work inside on the radio program, while automated sprinklers keep my garden alive. Everything survives out there, but the tomatoes stopped flowering. We will have no fall tomatoes this year.
The point is: as climate change gets worse and worse, humans will adapt. And that is the problem! We are so very adaptable. We’ll keep on living the way we do, driving around – nothing should stop our holidays! We have to get to work! Even as hurricanes flood out homes down the road, or fires burn out neighboring cities, nobody considers questions like: should we stop driving carbon-based cars? Should we stop buying food or flowers flown in from other countries? Should we really change?
I used to think that climate-driven disasters would finally bring the public to their senses. We would take action on a grand scale to save nature and ourselves. But now, looking at my own life, I’m not so sure. Maybe our ability to adapt is what will keep this fossil parade marching right off the cliff. Maybe adapting is the worst policy.
PLEASE FIND YOUR DIRECTION, WHATEVER YOU CAN DO
I am taking steps to change. A listener and long-time friend just donated an electric bike. Now I can go around my village, buy groceries and all that – without using fossil fuels. We burn wood in the winter, which saves all kinds of carbon. Trees capture carbon from the atmosphere, so burning it adds nothing. I know we can’t all burn wood, or the forests would be doomed – but in this area that’s an option I can take.
My geo-thermal greenhouse is half-built. The pipes are in the ground, and I finished the concrete block foundation. The hope there is to grow some food year-round, without using fossil fuels. It may even cool the plants during the hot summers. I’ll report more when it is operational. It’s possible geothermal energy can help some cities survive without fossil fuels.
We capture hundreds of gallons of rainwater for the garden from our roof. We buy used clothing and goods when we can. We barter a lot, and take part in the gift economy. There are a lot of small steps each of us can take to not only reduce our carbon footprint, but lead our neighbors into a more climate friendly life-style as well. Preventing a climate disaster is a direction for each of us to take. Please consider what you can do, even in small ways. It could add up, pushing us toward the big change.
I’m Alex Smith, thank you for listening, and please try to catch every show this season, and support my work if you can. Radio Ecoshock is free to people world-wide, and to all radio stations. Only your donations keep me going.