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'Unprecedented,' Historic Storm Dumps Trillions of Tons of Water on Texas
Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast this weekend, growing from a regenerated tropical depression into a Category 4 hurricane in less than 60 hours.
The now-tropical storm has stalled inland over Texas, and the entire Houston metropolitan region is now flooding.
With interstates under feet of water, and most of the streams and rivers near the city in flood stage, local authorities have asked boat owners to join rescue efforts. At least five people have died, and the city is prepping for thousands of evacuees this week. Officials predict 50 more inches of rain could be dumped on the area this week.
"It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably," Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told The Atlantic.
According to The Atlantic:
"Storms like Harvey are helped by one of the consequences of climate change: As the air warms, some of that heat is absorbed by the ocean, which in turn raises the temperature of the sea's upper layers.
Harvey benefitted from unusually toasty waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm roared toward Houston last week, sea-surface waters near Texas rose to between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average. These waters were some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. The tropical storm, feeding off this unusual warmth, was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in roughly 48 hours."
As reported by ThinkProgress:
"A Propublica/Texas Tribune project from last March detailed Houston's vulnerability to a major storm. The title of the project is 'Hell and High Water,' and it chronicles what could happen. 'A major hurricane here could bring economic and ecological disaster,' they wrote, including flood damage, destruction of entire low-lying neighborhoods, devastation to Galveston, and a massive disruption of our country's oil and shipping industries:
'Such a storm would devastate the Houston Ship Channel, shuttering one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Flanked by 10 major refineries—including the nation's largest—and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods—everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills.'
As Texans flee for higher ground, the oil and gas infrastructure that lines the state's coast will remain in the heart of the storm. There is a bitter irony to the idea that a storm, strengthened by human-caused climate change, carries the potential to destroy the very oil infrastructure that has contributed so much warming to our world."
For a deeper dive:
Climate change and Harvey: The Atlantic, New York Times, Washington Post, Time, ThinkProgress. Damage, flooding, rain: New York Times, AP, CNN, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Vox, Mashable, Grist, ThinkProgress, Newsy. Commentary: New York Times, Mimi Swartz column, USA Today, James Lee Witt op-ed, NPR, Dr. Neil Frank interview, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tony Messenger column. Background: Climate Signals
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.