Hurricane Cassandra

Hurricane Sandy as Greek Tragedy

by Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation

Never has a hurricane been more aptly, if tragically, named than Sandy, the superstorm that flooded New York City and battered much of the East Coast….

Sandy is short for Cassandra, the Greek mythological figure who epitomizes tragedy. The gods gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy; depending on which version of the story one prefers, she could either see or smell the future. But with this gift also came a curse: Cassandra’s warnings about future disasters were fated to be ignored. That is the essence of this tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.

And so it has been with America’s response to climate change. For more than twenty years, scientists and others have been warning that global warming, if left unaddressed, would bring a catastrophic increase in extreme weather—summers like that of 2012, when the United States endured the hottest July on record and the worst drought in fifty years, mega-storms like the one now punishing the East Coast.

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Frankenstorm: Meteorologist Warns Hurricane Sanday an Outgrowth of Global Warming’s Extreme Weather

by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, warns that such a “Frankenstorm,” as it is called, is an outgrowth of the extreme weather changes caused by global warming. “When you do heat the oceans up more, you extend the length of hurricane season,” Masters says. “There’s been ample evidence over the last decade or so that hurricane season is getting longer — starts earlier, ends later. You’re more likely to get these sort of late October storms now, and you’re more likely to have this sort of situation where a late October storm meets up with a regular winter low-pressure system and gives us this ridiculous combination of a nor’easter and a hurricane that comes ashore, bringing all kinds of destructive effects.”

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Sandy and Digital Snow Days

by Mary Logan, A Prosperous Way Down

As I write this early on Tuesday morning, watching this game-changer of a storm, a myriad of thoughts go through my head. The storm event is just the beginning. Rivers will flood, and snows will accumulate. Recovery will be long and slow. Recovery will be hampered by problems with energy delivery, complexity, and density of populations. Just in time, digitized systems that are overly complex will be challenged. News will filter out slowly, with initial optimism about the extent of the damage, followed by increasingly pessimistic reports about the size and extent of the problems as communication begins to be reestablished. This post describes Sandy as a catastrophic pulse in relation to the problems of dense urban living, complexity, and digitization.

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The Superstorm

by Tom Whipple

The missing ingredient in nearly all the talk was an explanation of what a hurricane, even a small one, was doing in the North Atlantic at the end of October. The answer of course is global warming which even though it has raised average ocean temperatures by only 1o F. has extended the hurricane season enough to produce this calamity. We should give CNN some credit for the day after the storm they called an array of climate scientists to find out what happened. All of the scientists pointed a finger directly at global warming and noted that the problem was only going to get worse and worse as the sea level was rising and the arctic melting much faster than had been predicted five years ago.
For years climate scientists have warned us that seemingly minor changes in global temperatures would lead to unusual weather events having serious consequences. They clearly got it right, for in the past decade we have had several major hurricanes that tore up Gulf oil production and nearly did in New Orleans and several other Gulf towns; outbreaks of tornados that flattened towns in the mid-west; floods in the Mississippi valley; droughts in Texas and the corn belt; blizzards on the east coast; and two monster storms in a row slamming into the New York area.
by Lindsey Curren, Lindsey’s List

We live in a world dependent on electricity and we forget that being dependent on something — however wonderful that thing is — makes you vulnerable.

Even getting a back-up generator isn’t a painless solution for household resilience. A medium-size generator can cost $50 or more per day in fuel to run. And just hope that your local gas stations don’t lose power or sell out to panic buyers before you get there. In the long run, generators are dependent on fossil fuel inputs and fossil fuels are finite resources that are getting scarcer and more costly.

That’s why it’s a good idea to hedge your bets on the future with some low-tech options to keep your lifestyle gracious and enjoyable in disasters both natural and man-made.

So, in light of Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy, I thought I’d share a few prep tips for your consideration.

If it’s too late for you for this storm, get them in place for the next one, and for a future that’s sure to be more vulnerable to electrical disruptions and fuel scarcity as these kinds of storms become more frequent and the cost of fossil fuels rises as they deplete.

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Superstorm Sandy Speaks to Preparedness for Climate Disruption

by Sandra Postel, National Geographic

Instead of sparring over whether human-induced climate disruption is the cause of any particular flood or drought, we should be preparing for the more extreme weather that scientists warn is coming.

Preparedness for climate disruption is far more complex, to be sure.  It involves mitigating the harm by investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and climate-friendly transportation systems.  It involves building durable food systems and smarter water management.  And it involves strategically rebuilding our ecological infrastructure – including wetlands, floodplains and watersheds – so as to enlist nature’s help in mitigating both droughts and floods.

The lessons from Sandy couldn’t be clearer.  Invest in good monitoring and forecasting, so we know what’s coming.  Demand leaders who listen to the scientific intelligence, and act on it.  And as responsible citizens, work together to build secure, resilient communities.
You can donate to the Red Cross’s hurricane relief efforts here.


The Best Analysis of the Presidential Debates

American Idol

American Idol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…comes from Film/TV/Pop Culture critic Bob Mondello, delivered in 4 minutes and 23 seconds on NPR’s All Things Considered, Oct. 12, 2012.  Mondello likens the debates, and the reactions from media and public to ‘American Idol’.

No wonder we react in a big way after a televised debate, declaring winners and losers, swinging polls three or four points. We’ve been conditioned. But the things reality shows have conditioned us to look for – polish, brashness, engagement with the camera – are all surface, not things that have much to do with governing. When the chatter the day after a debate is about performance – did the president look down too much? Was the congressman smiling or smirking? We’ve left serious political discourse and entered White House Idol territory. Talent shows, like beauty contests, are all about style. There’s another dimension to debates: content, the one thing we’re never asked to judge on most reality shows. Being able to belt your big finish to the rafters is what matters on “American Idol.” The quality of the lyrics? Not so much.

Listen to the audio or read the complete transcript here:

On a related note – there was one independent media that did something truly unique. Democracy Now! found a way to include third party candidates Jill Stein (Green Party) and Rocky Anderson (Justice Party) in the debate.  Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was also invited to participate, but declined.  “The goal,” according to Amy Goodman, “was to open the forum, to bring out voices that are ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media.”

They did this by using tape delay, allowing Stein and Anderson to also answer each question posed by moderator Jim Lehrer.  According to Goodman, “What they said stood in stark contrast to the barbs traded inside the heavily secured debate arena.”

See the article, “This is What Democracy Sounds Like

“extreme energy = extreme methods = extreme disasters = extreme opposition”

Last night I had the privilege of introducing author Andrew Nikiforuk to the “Literature Live” audience assembled at Village Books in Bellingham, WA.  His latest book is The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude.  It was a great talk, and a good discussion (I hope to get a recording of the talk online soon).

One of the comments made by Mr. Nikiforuk was this:

“We forget that the hydrocarbons we are now exploiting are qualitatively different than the ones we drilled one hundred years ago. They are heavy, they require more refining, they’re more carbon intensive, and they cost a fortune to bring to the surface.  So deep sea oil and bitumen from northern Alberta are extreme hydrocarbons that come with extreme costs.  The United States was built on cheap oil – 2 bucks a barrel. Can it be sustained on oil that costs nearly one hundred bucks a barrel?”

A new post today by Michael Klare expands on this same motif.  This is a great post summarizing the reality of today’s situation, in contrast to a number of articles appearing in the mainstream media over the past year claiming that we need not worry about peak oil, and that energy independence might return someday soon to the U.S. Klare is the author of numerous books, the latest of which is The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources.

His new post at Tom Dispatch is titled “The new ‘Golden Age of Oil’ That Wasn’t”.

Last winter, fossil-fuel enthusiasts began trumpeting the dawn of a new “golden age of oil” that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum.  Ed Morse, head commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical.  In the Wall Street Journal he crowed, “The United States has become the fastest-growing oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to remain so for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s.”

Once this surge in U.S. energy production was linked to a predicted boom in energy from Canada’s tar sands reserves, the results seemed obvious and uncontestable.  “North America,” he announced, “is becoming the new Middle East.”  Many other analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy scenario, which now provides the foundation for Mitt Romney’s plan to achieve “energy independence” by 2020.

By employing impressive new technologies — notably deepwater drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) — energy companies were said to be on the verge of unlocking vast new stores of oil in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations across the United States.  “A ‘Great Revival’ in U.S. oil production is taking shape — a major break from the near 40-year trend of falling output,” James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January 2012.

Increased output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil.  “The outline of a new world oil map is emerging, and it is centered not on the Middle East but on the Western Hemisphere,” Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Post.  “The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down through North Dakota and South Texas… to huge offshore oil deposits found near Brazil.”

Extreme Oil

It turns out, however, that the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American energy cornucopia imagine.  To reach their ambitious targets, energy firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers — and recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.

Consider this: while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new “golden age,” few emphasized that it would rest almost entirely on the exploitation of “unconventional” petroleum resources — shale oil, oil shale, Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen).  As for conventional oil (petroleum substances that emerge from the ground in liquid form and can be extracted using familiar, standardized technology), no one doubts that it will continue its historic decline in North America.

The “unconventional” oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the unreliable producers of the Middle East involves substances too hard or viscous to be extracted using standard technology or embedded in forbidding locations that require highly specialized equipment for extraction.  Think of it as “tough oil.”…

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