In typical fashion the 33rd week of 2013 has concluded with all of it’s “new normal” extreme-weather fury. And yet, it seems that the more weather on steroids the world suffers, and the more reports that are filed warning us about the consequences of our fossil fuel lifestyles, the more immune to we become (present company excluded!)….kind of a boiling frog syndrome.
As I write about and report on extreme weather, I’m tempted to issue the standard climate scientist’s disclaimer: no one weather event can be attributed directly to climate change. But this has never made sense to me. How do you pick and choose your weather events and say yes this one, no not that one? Like the insurance industry, I see a rising tide of extreme weather events around the globe and if we’re tipping the scales in terms of cost and lives, does it matter which one was climate change and which one was a normal drought that may have happened 100 years ago?
In the words of Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science:
If you say climate change doesn’t have an impact, you’re smoking something.
And on that note, here is my weekly contribution to the Sisyphean task of combating climate change and the misinformation surrounding it.
1. Typhoon Utor Strikes the Philippines
Seven thousand people have been forced from their homes after Typhoon Utor made landfall in the Northern Philippines last week, resulting in landslides and floods. At least 1 person has been killed, 23 are reported missing. Between 11.8 and 19.6 inches of rain are predicted by computer forecasts, so continued floods are expected in the region. High winds also ravaged the area at speeds of up to 124 miles per hour. “It looks like the death and damage toll is going to go up … with wind like this, you can expect a lot of damage,” said Francis Rodriguez, a senior officer with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
[Added Aug 19] After decimating the Philippines, Typhoon Utor swept over Southern China. At least 35 people are dead and another 39 are reported missing after widespread flooding in Guangdong and Liaoning Provinces.
2. Uganda Struggles Through Months of Flash Floods
The Acholi region in northern Uganda was just beginning to return to normal. Back in 1996, the Ugandan government began fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army (of notorious Joseph Kony) and shocking exodus of the entire Acholi region occured as a result. Only recently, had they been able to return but now repeating floods are driving them out again. At least 15,000 have had to leave their homes. In addition to the damage done to infrastructure and immense personal losses, citizens are now concerned about waterborne illnesses spreading after the floods.
After similar floods last year, Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project released a report stating that additional flooding in Uganda could precipitate further conflict over land and resources in an already troubled region.
3. 2013 New Zealand Drought Ranks as Most Extreme on Record
Much of New Zealand has gone months without rain in what has become the most extreme drought in the nation’s recorded history. Experts predict that up to $2 billion could be knocked off the national income as a result.
Aside from its severity, this drought was also unique because it did not correlate with El Niño years. Instead, NZ Climate Scientist Brett Mullan explains, “This latest drought was…related to persistent high pressure centres over New Zealand during summer – a trend that is increasing according to century-long pressure records.”
Drought is an especially troubling weather event for New Zealand. Dairy products are one of the country’s most profitable export, and the lack of rain promises to dramatically slash the amount of milk farmers are able to produce.
4. Deadly Heat waves grip East Asia
In addition to deadly landslides and torrential rain in the north, Japan’s all time temperature record was broken last week when the mercury stopped at 105.62ºF in two separate cities.
A large high pressure system is roasting not only Japan, but other countries in Eastern Asia, and the unrelenting heat is taking a heavy toll. Korea, Japan, and China all report heat-related deaths. Between the three countries thousands of people have fallen ill as a result of the heat wave, particularly the elderly and those too poor to afford air conditioning.
China continues to see some of its highest recorded temperatures in over 100 years. As a result of the heat electricity production is imperiled, and Asian governments are encouraging as much power conservation as possible to prevent overuse of generators.
In southern city of Wuhan, The Christian Science monitor reports that one resident saw a willow tree spontaneously burst into flames. I wouldn’t believe it, but apparently this actually happens, although rarely, for now. Never mind the trees, weather historian Christopher C. Burt says “I cannot think of any other heat event that has affected so many people for so long.”
5. Namibia Suffers Worst Drought in 30 Years
780,000 Namibians (or 1 in 3 people living in the country) are classified as “severely or moderately food insecure,” according to UNICEF. That means that they do not have consistent access to food, and UNICEF also notes that around 105,000 of the people who make up that statistic are children under the age of 5.
Drought is nothing new for Namibia, and unfortunately nor is hunger. 29% of Namibian children already suffer from growth-stunting malnutrition due to food shortages that already plagued the African nation. What makes matters worse in the case of drought is the fact that 1/3 of Namibia relies on subsistence farming. With some areas facing 2 consecutive years without any rain, many Namibians will be reliant on international aid to weather the climate disaster.
6. Drying Reservoirs Illustrate Climate Change in American West
Lake Powell, a giant reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam, provides water for 40 million people, 4 million acres of crops, 22 native American tribes, and 11 national parks. Now, it is in trouble. The harsh drought in the American West will most likely result in slashing the amount of water released from the lake for the first time in the man-made lake’s 50 year history.
Some believe that Lake Powell will never recover from the water shortage, which could have multiple alarming consequences. Less water in the lake means less water for the people in the surrounding area. But it could also mean less hydroelectric power can be produced by the Glen Canyon Dam (which an additional 1.3 million people depend upon).
[UPDATE] On Friday, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it will cut water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead for the first time ever starting in October.
Elon Musk’s Hyperloop: San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 Minutes (on Solar Power)?
Let me pause for a moment to say that if you don’t know who Elon Musk is yet, study up. Here’s a great documentary you can watch about his endevours with PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and his other companies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTJt547–AM
Musk’s latest transportation concept, the “Hyperloop”, further cements his reputation. Defined in layman’s terms as “equal parts Concorde, rail gun and air hockey table,” the Hyperloop is a futuristic train, based on technologies available today, that could transport passengers from Los Angeles t0 San Francisco in 30 minutes (normally 6 hours by car, minimum).
The trains would be contained in raised tubes that literally shoot the vehicles to their destination on a cushion of air, much like a puck on an air hockey table. Musk contends that the Hyperloop would cost less to build than a conventional train project and require less space, not to mention it would also be run on solar power. Musk is interested in building a prototype, but does not plan on starting a company for the project at this time. He has already run into political resistance to the idea from Californian lawmakers, who are more comfortable proceeding with plans for their own California high-speed train project that is scheduled to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2029.
[Added Aug 18] The New Yorker’s Tad Friend asks if the Hyperloop is a Pipe Dream? Get it? He has no shortage of praise for Musk and his “Muskian schemes” but explains how he could be accused of over promising, i.e. “the third generation Tesla would be selling for less than thirty thousand dollars in 2014, the same year that he expected SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to begin ferrying tourists around the moon. Well, no and hell no.”
Undercover Police Infiltrate KXL Pipeline Protestors
It sounds like something out of a spy movie- an undercover operative working to expose the diabolical plan of some criminal organization to destroy it from within. But in this case, the “criminal organization” weren’t criminals at all. They were members of an Oklahoma environmental group, camping out and planning a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline.
Working with TransCanada, the corporation behind KXL, undercover police spied on the activists and then preemptively shut down a protest they organized. It is not the first time that large oil companies have enlisted local law enforcement to keep tabs on activists, and it will no doubt be the last.
Source: Earth Island Journal.
Unicorn Statuettes Awarded to Congressional Climate Deniers
The political group created from President Obama’s political campaign will be handing out little unicorn statues to the members of Congress who deny the existence of climate change. These snide “awards” read: Congressional Climate Denier Award – For Exceptional Extremism and Ignoring the Overwhelming Judgement of Science. Corresponding with the delivery of the unicorns is a $2 million ad campaign by the League of Conservation Voters that specifically target the congressional districts of climate change denying politicians.