By Jeremy Deaton
This year, state legislatures will redraw the electoral map. The GOP controls most state legislatures, and they are expected to draw congressional districts to favor Republicans, which will make it easier for them to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, even if they fail to win the most votes overall. This dynamic will influence policymaking on a number of issues, including the environment. Recent events in North Carolina give some idea of what to expect.
In North Carolina, coal-fired plants historically dealt with the leftover ash by mixing it with wastewater and dumping it into an open pit nearby. Because coal generators need a lot of water, power plants and coal ash ponds usually sit next to a lake or river.
This arrangement can have disastrous consequences. In 2014, a pipe under a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy in Eden, North Carolina cracked open. The pipe carried wastewater from the nearby coal plant to the Dan River. When it broke, upwards of 30,000 tons of soggy, toxic coal ash seeped into the pipe and drained into the river.
In the aftermath, the Obama administration created the first-ever regulation on coal ash ponds, though it was remarkably weak. Michael Yaki, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, later said it was "practically toothless in its ability to protect the poorest and minority population of our country from things such as coal ash." Despite this, in 2015, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would water down the regulation even further in ways that could lead to a repeat of the Dan River spill or allow coal ash ponds to leak toxins into drinking water.
Every single Republican member of North Carolina's congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill — including Rep. Mark Walker, whose district included the site of the Dan River spill — even as North Carolina residents living near coal ash ponds were being told not to drink well water. Every Democrat voted against it. The bill ultimately died in the Democratically-controlled Senate.
To understand why North Carolina Republicans would vote for a doomed bill to slash coal ash protections, it helps to consider their political circumstances.
In the anti-Obama fervor of 2015, it wasn't hard to marshal Republicans against the spectre of regulatory overreach, particularly against the energy industry. While Duke Energy donated to every member of North Carolina's congressional delegation, it gave substantially more to Republicans than to Democrats. But perhaps more important than campaign contributions or the political milieu was the impact of gerrymandering.
In 2010, Republicans came to power in North Carolina, and when they redrew the congressional map, they carved up Democratic strongholds to dilute the power of Democratic voters — namely, Black voters — creating districts that wiggled and stretched across large expanses. This practice, known as gerrymandering, produced a map that heavily favored Republicans.
In 2014, the GOP won only 55 percent of the vote statewide, but they came away with 10 out of 13 seats, and not one of these races was particularly close. Every politician Republican was well insulated against swings in public opinion. A 2014 poll from the Sierra Club found that 70 percent of North Carolina voters would be more likely to support a politician who " favors strong regulations and enforcement… to prevent future spills," and yet every Republican fought such rules.
Because of the way the electoral map was drawn, 12 of the 14 coal ash pond sites in North Carolina were in districts represented by Republicans, meaning that almost no one living near a coal ash pond was represented by someone who favored stronger regulations. And most coal ash pond sites are in areas that are disproportionately low-income, according to data from Earthjustice.
This is the North Carolina congressional map for the 2014 midterm election. The map is shaded according to the partisan lean of each district, with darker colors indicating more support for either Republicans, in red, or Democrats, in blue. The black dots indicate the locations of coal ash pond sites.
"Any environmental issue will receive less attention in a district where voting power has been diluted and divided," said Jason Rhode, national coordinator for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project at Princeton University. "Without that voice, environmental injustice can run rampant."
In 2016, a federal court determined that North Carolina's congressional map had diminished the power of Black voters and ordered the legislature to redraw the map. The Republican majority produced a map that, on its face, looked more fair. But it still carved up Democratic strongholds, which typically meant Black communities, with the effect of diluting the Black vote. In the most egregious case, they drew a line through the middle of North Carolina A&T State University, the largest historically Black university in the country. The final map produced just as many Republican seats, and it left only one coal ash site in a district represented by a Democrat.
This is the North Carolina congressional map for the 2016 election. The map is shaded according to the partisan lean of each district, with darker colors indicating more support for either Republicans, in red, or Democrats, in blue. The black dots indicate the locations of coal ash pond sites.
"The government is supposed to be by the people and for the people. We're getting further and further away from that," said Rev. Gregory Hairston, senior pastor at Rising Star Baptist Church and a coal ash advocate.
By diluting the Black vote, he said, the Republican-controlled legislature undermined the ability of Black voters to influence policy on issues like coal ash, which disproportionately harm Black residents.
"We found that many of the issues that we faced — strokes, cancer, asthma and different neurological diseases — had developed around these centers," Hairston said. "There is still pollution that is being put into our rivers, our basins, our water supplies."
Gerrymandering also produces more extremes, as lawmakers in safe districts are more likely to fear a primary challenge than a general election loss. This can stymie environmental legislation, said former North Carolina state Representative Chuck McGrady, a moderate, pro-environment Republican who led the legislative response to the Dan River spill.
"The problem is that, because of gerrymandering, there is just not a lot of discussion and not a lot of ability to find compromise on a range of issues, including environmental protection," he said. "Gerrymandering has allowed both parties to play to their base and makes it more unacceptable for anyone to compromise on whatever the issue is. It really doesn't matter."
In 2019, a North Carolina state court delivered another blow to North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional map. Judges said that map was far too partisan and ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to redraw it once again. They did, and the result was a map that would send eight Republicans and five Democrats to Congress. While it was more representative than the previous map, and some districts were made more competitive, the new map still heavily tilted toward the GOP. Only three coal ash sites were in districts represented by Democrats.
This is the North Carolina congressional map for the 2020 election. The map is shaded according to the partisan lean of each district, with darker colors indicating more support for either Republicans, in red, or Democrats, in blue. The black dots indicate the locations of coal ash pond sites.
Experts at Princeton said the more reliable way to produce a fair map is to assemble an independent citizen-redistricting commission, a bipartisan collection of citizens whose goal is to produce a fair map.
"If you have a very transparent process where the people making the decisions have the interests of the constituents at heart, that's going to make a good map," said Hannah Wheelen, project manager and data coordinator at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. "Process and public involvement are what make good maps."
In 2019, McGrady put forward a bill to overhaul North Carolina's redistricting process. The bill calls for an independent commission to draw the map and for the legislature to vote on it. McGrady also introduced a constitutional amendment to enshrine this process. Both measures failed.
"We got so very close. I had really firm commitments in terms of the North Carolina legislature taking this up last year, and then this little pandemic arrived, and it's just not an issue you can resolve through Zoom calls," he said.
Now, any hopes of ending gerrymandering are likely dead, at least for a few more years. Every 10 years, states redraw the congressional map. In the 2020 election, Republicans retained their grip on the state legislature, and in 2021 they are likely to draw the map to favor the GOP. North Carolina's democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has no veto power over the maps.
"I will continue to have an interest in making sure that our representation in the U.S. Congress more closely resembles the purple nature of our state, but I would not be surprised if my friends across the aisle take a different vantage point," said Ben Clark, a Democrat in the North Carolina Senate.
In the last round of redistricting, Clark put forward a map that would have sent seven Republicans and six Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives, meaning it would have been roughly representative. It failed, but it showed what a fairer map might look like.
Clark's map preserved communities, including those affected by coal ash ponds. On his map, the Dan River coal ash pond would fall in a Democratic-leaning district that included Greensboro, which lies just 30 miles south. And the Sandhills region, a flat, sandy area on the southern side of the state would also be collected in one district.
"It just makes sense to do a Sandhills district," he said. "They have similar historical concerns, environmental concerns."
This is a North Carolina congressional map proposed by state Sen. Ben Clark. The map is shaded according to the partisan lean of each district, with darker colors indicating more support for either Republicans, in red, or Democrats, in blue. It shows the average partisan lean according to the 2018 election for the North Carolina state Senate, state House and U.S. House of Representatives. The black dots indicate the locations of coal ash pond sites.
Among those environmental concerns is the Weatherspoon coal ash pond in Lumberton. Until the pond is finally closed, it poses a threat to people who live nearby, as heavy rains could flood the pond and carry coal ash into the nearby Lumber River. Lumberton is comprised mostly of people of color. Around a third of residents live below the poverty line.
"They're working for a living, but they don't have a whole lot," said Jefferson Currie II, Lumber Riverkeeper with the Winyah Rivers Alliance. "A lot of corporations over the years, they chose the path of least resistance. That meant [polluting] people who can't necessarily litigate and fight back."
Currently, this area is in the ninth district, which is represented by a Republican, Dan Bishop, the lead sponsor of bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex at birth. In Clark's map, the ninth district would lean Democratic, reflecting the partisan makeup of the Sandhills region. The sixth district, which includes the site of the Dan River spill, would also be represented by a Democrat. In total, six of the state's 14 coal ash pond sites would be represented by Democrats. Clark's map would also be more competitive than the current map, meaning elected officials couldn't just play to their base.
"The best of all worlds is to have a sufficient number of districts that are truly competitive, in which the candidates have to compete on their ideas and values," Clark said. "I don't want a map that automatically elects all Democrats or automatically elects all Republicans."
While North Carolina's GOP-controlled legislature is unlikely to produce a competitive map on its own, there is some slim hope for reforming gerrymandering this year. Congress is currently considering a bill, H.R. 1, that would require states to use independent citizen-redistricting commissions to draw maps. The bill would also ban map drawers from engaging in partisan gerrymandering or breaking up relevant communities – in particular, communities of color, like North Carolina A&T State University.
Clark, however, is pessimistic about the chances of ending gerrymandering in 2021. Currie held a similarly dim view, but he said that people should rally nonetheless.
"We don't push strong enough or hard enough. We need to say, 'We want a nonpartisan commission or we're gonna vote y'all out of office,'" he said. Though, he added, "I'm not expecting them to draw the most geographically and politically representational map. And if they did, I might pass out."
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
"We're calling them 'stormquakes,'" study lead author and Florida State University (FSU) assistant professor Wenyuan Fan told Florida State University News.
How exactly does it work?
"During a storm season, hurricanes or nor'easters transfer energy into the ocean as strong ocean waves, and the waves interact with the solid earth producing intense seismic source activity," Fan explained.
The study, published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, documented more than 10,000 stormquakes off of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and British Columbia between 2006 and 2019. The quakes can reach a magnitude of 3.5, but no one has noticed them up until now.
"This is the last thing you need to worry about," Fan told USA Today.
The researchers themselves weren't setting out to document them when they began their work.
"It was actually discovered by accident," Fan told the Tampa Bay Times.
Instead, Fan and his colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey were looking to trace low frequency earthquakes, according to National Geographic. They developed a method to track them by piecing together data from different regions, which is when they discovered some unusual seismic events. National Geographic explained why they were so strange:
Surprisingly, the events were seasonal, never occurring between May and August. Earthquakes that release energy from Earth's shifting crust, however, are usually indifferent to the changing seasons. What's more, the curious quakes radiated from both the east and west coasts of North America. Earthquakes are common out west, rumbling as the earth shifts along a spidery network of fractures in the surface, but the eastern coast largely lacks these quake-generating features.
Eventually, the researchers realized the small earthquakes took place at the same time as major storms.
Hurricane Irene, for example, caused stormquakes near Little Bahama Bank while it was a Category 3 storm near Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Hurricane Ike caused stormquakes in the Gulf of Mexico in 2008 and Hurricane Bill caused several off of New England and Nova Scotia in 2009, according to Florida State University News.
But not every major storm produces stormquakes. Hurricane Sandy, one of the most expensive storms in U.S. history, did not.
The quakes seem to rely on distinct geological features, National Geographic explained. They occur in regions with broad continental shelves off the coast, which allow the waves from the stormquakes time to build on each other. They also occur in regions with ocean banks, flat underwater hills that channel the waves' energy towards the ground.
Because of these features, Fan thinks Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle in 2018, probably did cause stormquakes.
"Given the seafloor topography in the Gulf, I would expect Hurricane Michael to have generated stormquakes offshore," he told the Tampa Bay Times.
For Fan and his fellow scientists, this paper is just the beginning of attempting to understand this newly identified phenomenon.
"This paper is laying the foundation for building up new information about how the world works," Wendy Bohon, an earthquake geologist at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology who did not participate in the study, told National Geographic.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
The psychological toll of climate change-fueled disasters, now compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, is mounting and the U.S. is unprepared. These are the findings of a project by the Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations, in collaboration with 10 local and regional outlets.
The U.S. has faced nearly 40 billion-dollar disasters in the past decade, more than ever before.
One such event, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, caused half of Houston-area residents to struggle with powerful or severe emotional distress in its aftermath, according to a Rice University survey to be published Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the main federal vehicle for addressing the psychological trauma of weather and climate disasters, the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has distributed about as much in post-disaster assistance over its three decades of existence ($867 million) as one agency within the Department of Defense lost track of in a single year.
Even if the government were to fully fund and support comprehensive mental health care for disaster survivors, it would be insufficient without action to mitigate the underlying reality of climate change, advocates argue.
"After a disaster, if the government does not declare a climate emergency and start acting like it, it's just such a betrayal," said Margaret Klein Salamon, a psychologist who started the advocacy group The Climate Mobilization after living through Superstorm Sandy.
Providing mental-health support while failing to fight climate change, "is like a Band-Aid. How can we trust a government that does so little to protect us?"
For a deeper dive:
By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. — about three times as many, according to NOAA. In 1995 a scorching heat wave in Chicago left 739 people dead.
Heat waves are even more impactful overseas, partly because people there are less likely to have air conditioning. The European heat wave of 2003 is estimated to have caused an astounding 70,000 deaths. In 2010, 56,000 people died in a heat wave in Russia.
Perhaps if heat waves received as much public attention as hurricanes, lives could be saved? That's the idea behind a new initiative launched Wednesday that aims to tackle the notoriety issue by naming and ranking heat waves. The hope is that by raising awareness of the dangers, people will be more adequately prepared when heat waves strike.
The initiative is being led by the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. They, along with 30 global partners — including the cities of Miami, Mexico City, and Athens, Greece — announced the formation of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance.
"This extreme heat crisis can no longer be the 'silent killer' it is," said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. "This growing risk — and related solutions — must be blasted from a megaphone to decision makers and to people everywhere."
A study released by Oxford University in July backs up the need to raise awareness about heat waves. The research shows that despite the fact that extreme heat events in sub-Saharan Africa are rapidly worsening because of climate change, there's been a lack of official record-keeping to document the impact in a region that is a "literal hotspot" for heat wave activity.
The analysis concludes that this failure is "putting the population at further risk," since "action plans and early warning systems are invaluable in mitigating the impacts of extreme temperatures."
While the United States has an elaborate system of warnings, from the National Weather Service to national and local media, including TV meteorologists, much of the developing world does not have that luxury. Research suggests that naming may help.
"The naming and ranking heat waves all over the world by the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance will, for the first time, convey the true nature of the threat heat poses, essential to protecting vulnerable people who are increasingly more susceptible to its harmful effects," said Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Rajiv Shah in a press release.
The practice of naming major storms began years ago in order to help with quick identification, because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers or technical terms. The World Meteorological Organization explains, "Appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness."
One memorable recent heat wave — with an extremely memorable nickname — roasted Europe in 2017. That heat wave became widely known as Lucifer, and scientists say such extreme events have been made 10 times more likely due to climate change.
Dr. Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, agrees that naming heat waves would help with preparedness.
"A heat wave is an abstraction. Abstract ideas are hard to understand and remember, while concrete ideas are easier to understand and remember. Naming something is a good way to make it more concrete," he said.
"Concrete ideas are also more actionable in that people can more easily figure what to do, or what not to do. Concrete ideas are also more likely to be shared from person to person, which is helpful from a communication and public safety perspective," adds Maibach.
This push to name and rank heat waves comes at a time when climate change is dramatically increasing the chances for extreme heat. A study published in July in Nature Communications shows that since 1950, heat waves globally are getting significantly more frequent, lasting longer and producing more cumulative heat — making populations more vulnerable to heat stress.
In 2016, famed climate scientist James Hansen from Columbia University published research showing that hotter summers could make parts of the Middle East and tropics "practically uninhabitable" by the end of the century. This May, a follow up study from Columbia concluded that potentially fatal combinations of humidity and heat are already beginning to emerge across the globe.
As the intensity of extreme heat accelerates, the number of deaths will rise dramatically. That's the conclusion of a major report just released by Climate Impact Lab on Monday. Their research shows that by the year 2100, the global annual mortality rate due to excess heat is expected to climb to 73 per 100,000 people — a mortality rate similar to what New York state suffered from COVID-19. With an expected global population of around 11 billion, that translates into 8 million heat-related deaths per year.
The report also concludes the poor will be disproportionately impacted by extreme heat and die at much higher rates, bolstering the argument for naming heat waves especially in developing nations.
But here in the U.S., many meteorologists are skeptical about naming heat waves. That's because defining heat waves is not easy — it entails factoring in many variables like intensity, longevity and the size of the area covered. Therefore, people may interpret the meaning differently. And as importantly, "heat wave" means different things to different people, depending on where they live.
In many parts of the U.S. the definition of a heat wave is three days or more in a row of 90+-degree heat. However, 100 degrees in Phoenix — which is an everyday summer occurrence — does not have nearly as big a physical impact as 100 degrees in Chicago, where people are not used to extreme heat. In addition, humidity, wind and sun exposure all play a big role in the impact, but those are not factored into the current definition of a heat wave.
The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance plans to tackle this issue of differing definitions by ranking the severity of heat waves. But the concern among some meteorologists is that naming may lead to broad-brush assumptions when in reality there is so much local nuance. They feel there needs an updated, agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a heat wave.
Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob— Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)1596623660.0
In its press release, the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance said it is in active conversations with NOAA, the World Meteorological Organization and other institutions to build "the international cooperation needed to make naming and ranking of heat waves standard practice."
Though the debate continues, not all weather professionals are skeptical about the initiative. Lonnie Quinn, the chief weathercaster at WCBS-TV in New York City, thinks it's a good idea. "I 100% believe that naming heat waves will give them more credibility. The public will jump on board and it will result in them being taken more seriously," he said.
One thing virtually everyone in the climate and weather community agrees on: climate change is making extreme heat a more serious threat to human health. Therefore, anything that can raise awareness is much needed.
"Heat waves are dangerous," said Maibach. "Making them more concrete is a useful way to help people understand the dangers, act on the dangers, and share information with other people about the dangers."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Cole Taylor
Storytelling is the heart of activism and community building. Part of my story is standing on the Fred Hartman Bridge and blocking the Houston Ship Channel for 18 hours on Sept. 12. Why did I feel compelled to do something like this? It really comes down to the many stories that make up my life, community and passion.
The Houston Ship Channel is the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. While standing on that bridge, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in my life. As the sun rose, the stark reality of the oil refineries and smokestacks of choking smoke came into view. Soon after, a rainbow arched over the bridge and dolphins swam underneath it. And still the air was thick with chemical fumes and toxic smells.
The Houston Ship Channel is the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. While standing on that bridge, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in my life. As the sun rose, the stark reality of the oil refineries and smokestacks of choking smoke came into view. Soon after, a rainbow arched over the bridge and dolphins swam underneath it. And still the air was thick with chemical fumes and toxic smells.
HAPPENING NOW: We're in the heart of the fossil fuel industry (the largest oil export channel in the US) to confron… https://t.co/wWuaKmiyF8— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1568293111.0
Prior to standing on top of the Fred Hartman Bridge I hadn't been surrounded by the fossil fuel industry in that way. I didn't grow up next to oil refineries, or coal plants. I was lucky because of the privilege of my skin color and where I was born in Orange County, California. I grew up close to the poverty line but, I was able to afford to live a life where I did not have to worry about the systems of power and oppression, which for the most part, did not affect me all that much.
Being a part of a marginalized community wasn't something I had experienced until I was older. When I turned 18 I came out as a lesbian, and then when I was 33 I came out as a transgendered male. Being a part of the queer community is what sparked my passion and need to stand up against the systems of power and oppression. My viewpoint broadened after years of working within activist spaces, where I realized the people who were getting out into the community getting their voices heard were mainly cis-gendered white people. It was apparent to me that if we were going to enact change, intersectionality needed to be at the forefront. I needed to act, and it needed to happen now.
Black, Brown, Indigenous and Queer folks are the most impacted by climate change. According to author Alexander Cheves on them.us, "trans and gender-nonconforming youth of color — are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than our straight, cisgender peers." Where do these people go when the extreme weather conditions hit, conditions becoming increasingly prevalent with climate change? As extreme storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy become more commonplace, low-income communities will be the most affected.
Now is the time to act! Twenty-one other activists and I have been charged with a federal misdemeanor for obstruction of navigable waters, and a state felony of blocking critical infrastructure. These"critical infrastructure" laws were created to criminalize protests against oil and gas. We are the first people to be charged with this law in Texas and in the country (similar laws exist in around half a dozen states, with many bills coming up in state legislatures across the country each cycle). Along with being criminalized for standing up against the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry, while in the Harris County jail we all went through dehumanizing and unethical treatment. We are out and safe for now, but thousands of people within this system are still being dehumanized.
This is just part of my story — our story. I ask everyone reading this to create their own narrative that will carry on for decades to come. The time for action has come, and the time for our collective stories to change the world for the better is just beginning.
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By Melissa Gaskill
During a trip to Cuba's Gardens of the Queen a few years ago, I found myself around small mangrove islands in an area called Boca Grande. Floating on clear, calm water, my travel group and I kicked over tall seagrass beds and rays camouflaged in the sandy flats. Fish of all kinds and sizes hung out among the tree roots, including huge cubera snappers. An hour stretched into two, this enormous saltwater aquarium proving as fascinating as the nearby, healthy coral reefs.
Mangrove forests like this may be one of the world's most underappreciated landscapes. They provide important habitat for a wide variety of terrestrial, estuarine and marine species — from fish to birds and manatees — and supply nutrients and sediments for seagrass-bed and coral-reef habitats.
A pelican enjoys a perch in a mangrove stand in the Galapagos. Hans Johnson / CC BY 2.0
These ecosystems also protect the shore. Laura Geselbracht, a marine scientist and coastal restoration expert with The Nature Conservancy Florida, reports that mangroves prevented an additional $1.5 billion in direct damages in that state from 2017's Hurricane Irma. An analysis by The Nature Conservancy, University of California Santa Cruz and Risk Management Solutions found that just 100 yards of mangrove trees can reduce wave height by 66%.
And mangrove forests also help mitigate climate change, pulling massive amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing them in their soils — up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests. A 2018 study calculated that the world's mangrove forests suck up more than 6 billion tons of carbon a year.
That's the good news. The bad news: Mangroves face numerous threats — 35% were lost between 1980 and 2000, and since the turn of the 21st century almost 1 in 50 of the remaining mangrove forests has been cut down.
Today, one of the direst threats to their continued existence comes from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
A paper published in Science in June looked at data on thousands of years of sea-level rise and mangrove accretion. (Accretion is the opposite of coastal erosion: Instead of wearing away, soil builds up around the roots and lifts trees vertically, keeping them above water.) While a mangrove's lower trunk and roots live underwater, its upper trunk and leaves live above the waterline. And when the water gets too high, and the accretion process fails to support mangroves, the trees effectively drown.
Mangroves underwater, near Queensland, Australia. Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble / CC BY 2.0
The authors determined that accretion will not keep up beyond sea-level rise of 0.27 inches per year. Rutgers University climate data scientist Erica Ashe, one of the authors, says the current global rate is 0.134 inches, with some areas experiencing much higher rates. In Louisiana, for example, the effect of rising water is compounded by land sinking due to water removal and sediment compaction.
Based on projected rates, mangrove trees could lose their race against rising water within the next 30 years.
"The rate of sea-level rise keeps going up," says Geselbracht, who was not affiliated with the study. "Every time a study looks at it, the rate is faster than we expected."
Mangroves could, in theory, adjust to rising seas by migrating landward, but that's not possible in much of the world because of human development. The trees cannot grow on roads or buildings.
"We need to modify infrastructure, change permitting rules, and come up with other innovative solutions to accommodate that movement," Geselbracht says.
Recent research supports this. A study on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, published this past April, showed that the mangrove areas most affected by human activity there were also the ones least able to adapt to sea-level rise. In other words, just leaving mangroves alone could help.
But the world isn't leaving mangroves alone: We continue to actively destroy their forests at an increasing rate, clearing them for development and aquaculture, timber and fuel.
Colombia, which has approximately 1,467 square miles of mangrove forests on its coasts, is experiencing the highest annual rate of loss in South America — roughly 154 square miles in the past three decades. Primary blame goes to human activities, including logging and development, primarily for tourism.
Mangroves in Colombia. F Delventhal / CC BY 2.0
One of the most striking developing threats is in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India, where the biggest mangrove forest on Earth — covering an area of more than 3,860 square miles — houses at least 505 species of wildlife, including 355 species of birds, 49 mammals and 291 fish. It provides critical habitat for Bengal tigers.
Sharif A. Mukul, a research fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, warned in a recent letter to Science that construction of a 3.8-mile-long bridge, the largest development project in Bangladesh, could destroy the Sundarbans.
"People anticipate much more tourism and industry activity with the bridge," he says. "The second to largest seaport [in Bangladesh] is close to Sundarbans. After completion of the bridge, the port likely will be used more frequently, with more factories and that sort of thing."
A birding safari in the Sunderbans. Ankur Panchbudhe / CC BY 2.0
The Sundarbans are particularly important for protection from cyclones, Mukul adds, which have increased in number and intensity in the past few years. Fifteen percent of tropical cyclones form in this region. The country's annual monsoon season has also worsened, including catastrophic floods this summer.
In addition, Bangladesh already has seen significant loss of mangrove forests to shrimp farming.
The bridge will bring economic benefits to the region and Mukul does not argue against its construction, but rather for doing it in a way that protects local ecosystems and their services. "The government is definitely focusing only on development and not the environment," he says. "They should do the project in a more environmentally friendly way."
The country has company in that regard. The UNESCO Mangrove Biosphere Reserve near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam contains one of the world's largest rehabilitated mangrove forests. That country recently approved a $9.3 billion tourist development to be built largely on filled-in coastal land within the reserve's buffer zone. This project also includes a massive bridge.
Big Cypress National Preserve (uncredited) (Public domain)
And in the United States, Geselbracht says, Florida continues to lose swaths of mangroves to physical removal.
"People on the coast don't want mangroves blocking their view," she says. The state now has laws regulating removal of mangroves, which has slowed their loss. But certain types of removals remain legal, Geselbracht says, including some for storm-retention ponds. "It astounds me that no one does a cost-benefit analysis to show that removing them increases rather than decreases pollution and damages."
In a particularly vicious twist, taking out mangroves not only eliminates their potential for storing carbon, it releases significant amounts — increasing the threats of climate change and sea-level rise and putting even more mangroves, and the communities and habitats around them, at risk. Between 2000 and 2015 mangrove destruction released up to 122 million tons of carbon — more than two and a half times the amount emitted by California wildfires between 2001 and 2010. Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar accounted for more than two-thirds of the released amount.
"We know a lot of reasons why we should curb carbon emissions," says Ashe, author of the new study on sea-level rise. "This is another one. We have an opportunity, if we take this and all the other effects of rising temperatures seriously. It's not too late, but it is urgent."
Wait too long and we'll lose more than prime snorkeling spots.
Melissa Gaskill is a freelance science writer based in Austin whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Mental Floss, Newsweek, Alert Diver and many other publications. She is the co-author of A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles and author of Pandas to Penguins: Ethical Encounters with Animals at Risk.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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A UN expert painted a bleak picture Tuesday of how the climate crisis could impact global inequality and human rights, leading to a "climate apartheid" in which the rich pay to flee the consequences while the rest are left behind.
The warning came in the form of a report by UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, which found that climate change could push a further 120 million people into poverty within the next 10 years, CNN reported.
"Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction," Alston said, according to The Guardian.
My new report on #ClimateChange and poverty is out today. It finds that climate change will have the greatest impac… https://t.co/cZDSG0Fapc— Philip Alston (@Philip Alston)1561461146.0
Increased inequality and scarcity could then lead to nationalistic, racist and xenophobic movements that would threaten democracy and the rule of law.
"Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval," the report concluded, according to The Guardian.
The report criticized governments for not doing enough to reduce emissions, singling out U.S. President Donald Trump for rolling back environmental regulations and denying science and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his plans to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining interests. It also warned of depending on the business community to address the crisis, Reuters reported. It was in this context that the report raised the issue of "climate apartheid."
"An over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer," Alston wrote.
He gave as an example something that already transpired during an extreme weather event, according to The Guardian:
"When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York in 2012, stranding low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers without access to power and healthcare, the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator."
The crisis will also worsen inequality between nations. Developing nations will pay at least 75 percent of the price for climate change while the poorer half of the world's population only contributes 10 percent to global emissions, as BBC News reported.
"Perversely, while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves," Alston said in an announcement.
Alston will present the report formally to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday.
For those in Geneva: I will be discussing my new report on climate change and poverty (out tomorrow), at the UN Hum… https://t.co/pkSV3lNDtV— Philip Alston (@Philip Alston)1561389854.0
Ashfaq Khalfan of Amnesty International agreed with the report's findings.
"Climate change is a human rights issue precisely because of the impact it's having on people. The primary obligation to protect people from human rights harms lies with states. A state that fails to take any feasible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is violating their human rights obligations," Khalfan told The Guardian.
Coral Reefs Provide Flood Protection Worth $1.8 Billion Annually — Another Key Reason to Protect Them
By Michael Beck
The news is grim: According to a report compiled by hundreds of scientists from 50 countries, Earth is losing species faster than at any other time in human history. Thanks to climate change, coastal development and the impacts of activities such as logging, farming and fishing, roughly 1 million plants and animals are facing extinction.
The UN report calls for rapid action at every level, from local to global, to conserve nature and use it sustainably. And here's some potential good news: Many ecosystems now at risk can provide valuable services if they are protected.
I know from my research on coastal habitats that the biggest obstacle to investing in natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and reefs, often is that experts have not figured out how to value the protection that these habitats provide in economic terms. But a new report that I co-authored, published by the U.S. Geological Survey, solves that problem for one of our planet's most biodiverse ecosystems: coral reefs.
This report shows that coral reefs in U.S. waters, from Florida and the Caribbean to Hawaii and Guam, provide our country with more than $1.8 billion dollars in flood protection benefits every year. They reduce direct flood damages to public and private property worth more than $800 million annually, and help avert other costs to lives and livelihoods worth an additional $1 billion. Rigorously valuing reef benefits in this way is the first step toward mobilizing resources to protect them.
Breaking Waves and Blocking Floods
Reefs act just like submerged breakwaters. They "break" waves and drain away their energy offshore, before it floods coastal properties and communities. This is an enormously valuable function. In 2017, tropical storms alone did over $265 billion in damage across the nation.
Manmade defenses, such as sea walls, can damage adjoining habitats and harm species that rely on them. In contrast, healthy reefs enhance their surroundings by protecting shorelines and supporting fisheries and recreation, from diving to surfing.
The flood protection benefits that reefs provide across the U.S. are similar to those in more than 60 other nations. As I estimated with colleagues in a separate study, the global cost of storm damage to the world's coastlines would double without reefs.
Pinpointing Local Flood Protection Value
Our estimate of the value of flood protection from reefs applies state-of-the-art tools that engineers and insurers use to assess flood risks and benefits.
Using a model and more than 60 years of hourly wave data for all U.S. states and territories with reefs — a total area of over 1,900 miles — we developed flood risk maps projecting the extent and depth of flooding that would occur across many storms, both regular and catastrophic, with reefs present and then without them. We calculated these values in grid cells that measured just 100 square meters, or about 1,000 square feet — the footprint of a small house.
Then we overlaid these flood risk maps on the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify people and properties at risk — and benefiting from the presence of reefs — in each location.
Map showing the 100-year floodplains on south Maui, Hawai'i. They show the flooding in a 1 in 100 year flood event with reefs at present (blue) and the extra flooding predicted (red) if we lost the topmost 1m (3 ft) of reef. The people and property under the red zone are those predicted to benefit by keeping reefs intact. USGS
With this level of detail, we now can identify not just total benefits provided by reefs, but who receives them. For example, Florida receives more than $675 million in annual flood protection from reefs, and Puerto Rico gets $183 million in protection yearly. In Honolulu alone, we found that reefs provide more than $435 million in protection from a catastrophic 1-in-50-year storm — an event large enough that it would be expected to occur only once in a 50-year period.
It is well known that coral reefs are under heavy stress from climate change, which is warming oceans, causing coral bleaching. Pollution and overfishing are also doing serious damage. As the UN report on biodiversity loss notes, Earth has lost approximately half of its live coral reef cover since the 1870s. And that trend leaves 100-300 million people in coastal areas at increased risk due to loss of coastal habitat protection.
Investing in Natural Defenses
How can our valuation study inform coral reef protection?
First, it buttresses the case for using disaster recovery funding to help natural coastal defenses recover. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, only about 1% of recovery funding went toward rebuilding natural resilience, despite subsequent research showing that marshes in the Northeast can reduce flood damages by some 16% annually.
More than $100 billion has been appropriated to recover from hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma; it would make economic sense to spend some of these funds on rebuilding reefs. In a promising move, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created opportunities to include ecosystem services such as flood protection and fishery production in official benefit to cost analysis calculations to support flood mitigation funding.
Second, the insurance industry has an important role to play in offering incentives and supporting investments in nature-based defenses for risk reduction. Insurers are starting to consider habitats in industry risk models and to create opportunities to insure nature. Thus reefs could be re-built if they are damaged in storms or even restored now based on their proven flood protection (i.e., premium saving) benefits.
Third, federal agencies have incentives to invest in reefs as protection for critical infrastructure. Reefs defend military bases located along tropical coastlines, as well as shore-hugging roads that are the lifeblood of many economies from Hawaii to Florida and Puerto Rico.
Through its Engineering With Nature initiative, the Army Corps of Engineers is making more use of natural solutions to minimize flood risks. And the U.S. Department of Transportation is analyzing ways to protect coastal highways with nature-based solutions, such as marsh restoration. These programs are a start in the right direction.
The new UN report clearly identifies key threats to species and ecosystems. Our work provides rigorous social and economic values quantifying what is at stake. My co-authors and I hope it creates new incentives to invest in coral reef conservation and restoration and to build coastal resilience.
Bleaching Has Struck the Southernmost Coral Reef in the World https://t.co/G2MTaSRuFA— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) April 4, 2019
Michael Beck is a research professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Disclosure statement: Michael Beck receives funding from the World Bank, German International Climate Initiative, U.S. Department of the Interior, Kingfisher Foundation, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and The Nature Conservancy.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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By Jeff Turrentine
First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.
But by the end of the story, which jumps through time from the 1800s to the discomfitingly near future, climate change has appeared as a character unto itself — a chaotic agent that transforms the city and its inhabitants' lives entirely. In this flooded megalopolis, renamed New Krungthep, whole neighborhoods are underwater. Streets have become rushing rivers with currents that, "sped by wash-offs from the mountains, gain enough strength to carry fallen houses far out into the gulf, where the wreckage will join other debris tumbling toward the seafloor." Humans share their new aquatic environment with venomous snakes and crocodiles. To the extent that tourists still visit, they do so mainly to experience the "snorkel-through ruins." And they know not to come during monsoon season, when mosquito swarms are so thick that they appear as "black clouds low in the mangroves."
In Sudbanthad's sodden dystopia, technology has advanced far enough to allow human beings to upload their consciousness to giant virtual-reality mainframes. This gives them the chance to live alternate lives beyond their poisoned physical environs, and even to revisit digitally simulated versions of their most beloved places before climate change altered them forever. But advanced technology couldn't save the city's real-life buildings and infrastructure — not once their "concrete foundations and support pillars began to fracture, the ground beneath them more like sponge than stone." Grace and irony combine in one poetic description of a super-saturated Bangkok skyline marked by "the unnerving tilt of distant towers, perceptibly angled toward and away from each other like wild shoots of bamboo."
Many readers who pick up a copy of Sudbanthad's new book may already know that the city of Bangkok is highly vulnerable to climate change. Its 10 million people live on ground that sits only five feet above sea level — and has been sinking by more than a centimeter every year. The World Bank estimates that up to 40 percent of Bangkok could be inundated in little more than 10 years.
In 2011, the worst flooding to hit Thailand in half a century ravaged the densely packed provinces north of the city, killing hundreds and disrupting the lives of millions. Sudbanthad was there. And then a year later he was back in his other home, New York City, which was about to face an unprecedented weather catastrophe of its own. "I helped my parents put up sandbags in preparation for the worst during the 2011 floods," he recently told me. "Then, in 2012, I volunteered at a Brooklyn evacuee shelter in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy."
The back-to-back experiences had a formative influence on the writer's imagination. "But as someone who was born in flood-prone Bangkok, I may have had a head start, imaginatively," Sudbanthad said. "I can also remember walking across planks on my grandparents' flooded lawn as a child. What I witnessed firsthand definitely helped me shape certain scenes in my novel."
Some of those scenes are horrifying. Others are heartbreaking. When a doctor who's just been transported via motorboat to treat a cholera victim asks her scruffy teenaged crew to take a detour on the way back so she can see her childhood home, they balk. She ultimately relents. "She doesn't know it," one of the crew members narrates, "but we're doing her a favor ... The returnees come back here believing they'll see their old homes, not so different from what they had been ... They imagine stepping back to find the marble still shiny, old lightbulbs flickering on for their arrival. Then they find out it's only the bits in their heads that have endured, and everyone's sad."
Sudbanthad didn't set out to write about climate change. "But when I expanded my narrative into the future," he said, "my imagination of Bangkok decades from now required that I see a far different place than the one I know." The city of his birth, he added, "is measurably sinking. Its depressive topography is exacerbated by subsidence from groundwater use and new buildings that are weighing down the land. Coupled with the fact of rising seas, Bangkok, like so many cities, is under threat."
In the ongoing struggle to convert apathy into activism, said the author, the efforts of creative folk — composers, poets, visual artists and fiction writers — will continue to play an essential role. "Artists and writers can help translate the very real science of climate change into something that's even more real, by making it more viscerally tangible," he said. "It's good imagination that's working against a more sinister imagination: the one that denies or hides scientific truth, all in order to keep gamified abstractions of profit afloat."
As New Yorker writer Katy Waldman has observed, we seem to be witnessing the burgeoning of a new "cli-fi" movement in literature, one that freely employs the liberating devices of fantasy to let us "gaze at our irresponsibility and greed through fiction's tonic filter." But Sudbanthad wonders if the phenomenon will be relatively short-lived — not because it isn't worthy, or because it doesn't deserve its own spot on the genre shelf. Rather, Sudbanthad said, "at some point what we think of as fantastical 'cli-fi' might simply become realist fiction."
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts Point to the Power of Local Generosity After Overlooked Disasters
By David Berlan
When Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida's Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, as a Category 5 storm it was only the fourth on record to have ever hit the U.S. mainland. The storm surge it brought about, along with 160-mile-per-hour winds, leveled coastal communities from Panama City to the town of Mexico Beach.
Then the storm continued northward, causing flooding in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency, attributes a total of 16 deaths to the storm and the authorities say that Michael killed another 43 people indirectly.
I've been traveling throughout the Florida Panhandle – the area Michael hit hardest – to towns like Marianna and Port St. Joe, meeting with a wide range of dedicated community members and conducting a survey of recovery efforts by leading a team of public administration student researchers. We have identified nearly $150 million in donated money, supplies and time.
Most of this support garnered within 11 months of the storm is coming from or being channeled through organizations within this part of Florida, near my home in Tallahassee. We're finding that local residents are organizing themselves to meet lingering needs in the absence of substantial outside attention and support.
Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND
Source: NOAA Office for Coastal Management
Causing Massive Damage
Even after getting $1.3 billion in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and other government agencies, much of the region remained devastated from Michael's estimated $25 billion in total damage.
But unless you live nearby, this may come as a surprise. Michael garnered less attention from the media and donors than the other storms that also caused damage on a massive scale, such as Harvey and Maria in 2017 and 2018.
Giving After the Storm
The gravity and force of this hurricane, which NOAA only upgraded to a Category 5 storm six months later, may never have fully registered on the public's radar.
That may explain why Americans didn't donate as much to support relief and recovery efforts following this disaster as they did a year earlier.
For example, the Red Cross collected donations totaling some $97 million following Hurricane Irma, nearly triple the $36 million it obtained after Michael a year later. But Irma only caused twice as much damage, according to NOAA.
Studying Hurricane Michael
The aftermath of other big storms like Sandy and Katrina have made it clear that the recovery process takes years to complete, with the burden falling on local nonprofits once the sense of urgency outside the immediate area dissipates.
In the largely rural Florida counties where Hurricane Michael hit hard, a few nonprofits are leading the way with rebuilding efforts that bring local religious congregations, businesses, governments and independent organizations together. These new networks are coordinating efforts by national, regional and local organizations that bring their own expertise and resources.
The donations, which include cash, services, supplies and volunteer labor, add up to about $145 million. While far less than the total of $1.3 billion in federal funding for the storm, this support equals about two-thirds of the $240 million Florida's government has appropriated so far.
Nearly all of the funding is coming from organizations with a local presence.
Data collected between Oct. 10, 2018, when the storm hit, through Sept. 5, 2019.
Playing a Critical Role
Another reason why recovering from disasters takes so long is that relatively few post-disaster government programs serve renters, homeowners without clear property titles or the homeless. That leaves big gaps for charity to fill.
And when communities don't get much in the way of donations after disasters, they have trouble meeting the needs of their most vulnerable. This is made worse by poor targeting and coordination of aid that can leave out rural or remote communities.
Throughout my research in a string of beach towns and rural inland communities along a stretch west and south of Tallahassee known as the Forgotten Coast, I directly observed nonprofits relying upon donated funds, supplies and labor to meet housing and other needs not being met by flood insurance or government funding.
Everyone my students and I spoke with relayed multiple stories of how neighbors helped one another and how this generosity made the disaster recovery quicker and more bearable.
Being Generous After Disasters
The aftermath of Hurricane Michael shows how when public attention outside the region experiencing a disaster is minimal, it can lead to lower levels of donations.
As a result, I've seen people in the region feel overlooked and forced to rely on themselves. Fortunately, the post-disaster generosity of residents, neighbors and friends was more extensive than is immediately visible. Still, the region faces a long struggle to full recovery and cannot be certain the resources available with be enough.
From this example, I have two main suggestions for those wishing to help support survivors of disasters reevaluate how they choose to respond.
First, consider helping after overlooked disasters. That includes the ones that don't draw saturation media coverage, and those that occur on the heels of other tragedies that ushered in big donation drives. That's what happened with Hurricane Maria, which crashed into Puerto Rico within a few weeks after Harvey and Irma.
Second, consider waiting before you give, or repeating your gift later. Try donating six months, a year or even two years after a disaster rather than right away because the need will continue for a long time. Not rushing also makes it easier to identify the best nonprofits to support.
Making choices like these may bring hope and assistance to communities seeing too little of both.
Preparing for nature's next catastrophic #storm, especially in rural areas involves community empowerment and #disaster planning. #naturaldisaster #disasterpreparedness #recovery https://t.co/0NxXzwenZD— Music for Relief (@MusicForRelief) May 27, 2019
David Berlan is an assistant professor of public administration at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida State University.
Disclosure statement: David Berlan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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By Jennifer Weeks
World Wetlands Day on Feb. 2 marks the date when 18 nations signed the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Since that time, scientists have shown that wetlands provide many valuable services, from buffering coasts against floods to filtering water and storing carbon. These five articles from our archive highlight wetlands' diversity and the potential payoffs from conserving and restoring them.
1. Soaking Up Floodwaters
Wetlands line coasts in many parts of the world. They act as natural sponges that soak up floodwaters and absorb force from storm surges, protecting communities further inland.
Working with Lloyds of London, UC Santa Cruz researchers Siddharth Narayana and Michael Beck sought to quantify the value of these functions. Using insurance industry storm surge models, they calculated that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, wetlands along the U.S. Atlantic coast prevented more than $625 million in direct property damage by reducing storm surge. They also estimated that marshes in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey reduced annual losses from flooding during smaller storms by an average of 16 percent, and up to 70 percent in some locations.
Narayan and Beck see restoring wetlands as an effective way to make coastal communities more resilient against storms and flooding:
"Across the United States, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, coastal communities face a crucial question: Can they rebuild in ways that make them better prepared for the next storm, while also conserving the natural resources that make these locations so valuable? Our work shows that the answer is yes."
2. Carbon-Rich Mud
Wetlands store large quantities of carbon in plant tissue and soils. But as climate expert Williams Moomaw and wetland scientists Gillian Davies and Max Finlayson point out, no global climate change agreement calls for protecting wetlands as a way to slow climate change. And around the globe, wetlands are constantly being drained, diked and paved over.
Coastal wetlands can extend well inland, transitioning from saltwater to brackish and freshwater. EPA
In contrast, forest protection gets a special section in the Paris agreement, which offers developing countries incentives to protect and expand tropical forests as carbon sinks. Moomaw, Davies and Finlayson believe wetlands deserve equal attention:
"In our view, instead of draining swamps and weakening protections, governments at all levels should take action immediately to conserve and restore wetlands as a climate strategy. Protecting the climate and avoiding climate-associated damage from storms, flooding and drought is a much higher use for wetlands than altering them for short-term economic gains."
3. 'Blue Carbon' Banks
Mangrove forests, which grow in salt water in tropical regions, are especially effective at locking up "blue carbon"—so called to distinguish it from "green" carbon storage on land. Louisiana State University scientists Robert Twilley and Andre Rovai estimate that "the wood and soil of mangrove forests along the world's coastlines hold 3 billion metric tons of carbon—more than tropical forests."
Coastal development is an enormous threat to mangroves, whether for vacation homes in Florida or aquaculture farms in Asia. Twilley and Rovai wanted to pinpoint what type of mangroves were the most effective at storing carbon. By comparing conditions in different settings where mangroves flourish, they determined that river deltas and estuaries offer the best conditions for mangrove growth and carbon uptake:
"Overall, mangroves in deltaic coasts such as the Mississippi River delta, the Amazon in Brazil and the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh can sequester more carbon yearly than any other aquatic or terrestrial ecosystem on the globe. These are the world's blue carbon hot spots."
4. Mangroves Versus Marshes
Mangroves are actually benefiting from climate change in some regions, such as Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Villanova University biologist Samantha Chapman has found that mangroves are becoming more abundant in these areas, moving into zones formerly dominated by salt marshes, which typically are found in cooler zones.
Mangroves protect coasts more effectively against large waves, so this change isn't necessarily harmful. However, as Chapman says:
" ... it is important to note that marsh plants provide important habitats for numerous species of birds and fish. We don't yet know how these animals will fare as mangroves replace marshes, nor do we yet understand other downsides of plant range shifts due to climate change."
Moreover, she notes, mangroves are not building new shoreline quickly enough to keep up with sea level rise in all locations. As her findings show, there is still much to learn about how climate change will affect different types of wetlands in various locations.
Saving One of the Most Pristine Wetlands on Earth | National Geographic youtu.be
5. Small Streams, Big Roles
Wetlands aren't just found along the coasts. Many major rivers, such as the Colorado and the Mississippi, start as networks of small streams, some of which may only flow during certain seasons or when it rains. But as Colorado State University geoscientist Ellen Wohl explains, a lot happens in these small tributaries and isolated wetlands that affects the larger rivers downstream:
"Marvelously adapted organisms in dry streams wait for periods when life-giving water flows in. When the water comes, these creatures burst into action … Amphibians move down from forests to temporarily flooded vernal wetlands to breed. Tiny fish, such as brassy minnows … speed through breeding and laying eggs that then grow into mature fish in a short period of time."
Brassy minnows, found throughout the northern U.S. and Canada, live in cool, slow moving streams, creeks, overflow ponds near rivers, boggy lakes and ditches.Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND
Small channels in river networks also harbor microbes that are very good at removing contaminants from the water. And these channels slow down heavy rainfalls, allowing water to soak into the ground and reducing the risk of flooding downstream.
The Trump administration is seeking to rewrite a key section of the Clean Water Act, eliminating federal protection for many of these small streams and wetlands. Such action, Wohl contends, "will strip rivers of their ability to provide water clean enough to support life, and will enhance the spiral of increasingly damaging floods that is already occurring nationwide."
#nowreading | Amazon #Mangroves ‘Twice as Carbon Rich’ as Its Rainforests https://t.co/uopPyJWP6w via @EcoWatch https://t.co/Z9ixvtiejS— FAO Forestry (@FAO Forestry)1536287405.0
Jennifer Weeks is the Environment + Energy editor of The Conversation.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Hurricane Florence: Four Things You Should Know That Your Meteorologist Is Truly Too Busy to Tell You
By Kristy Dahl
Hurricane Florence is currently making its way as a Category 4 storm toward the southeast coast and is expected to make landfall sometime on Thursday, most likely in North Carolina. Our hearts are with those who are looking at the storm's predicted path and wondering what this means for their homes, families and communities.
As millions of residents in the storm's path make preparations to stay safe, our hearts are also with the thousands of people who have faced similar risks in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the past year. If you are in the Carolinas, please do take care to heed local warnings and evacuation orders—and know that we are all hoping for your safety.
Florence, like any hurricane, is a fearsome storm. But the direction and northward extent of Florence's path make it unusual, and the atmospheric and oceanic conditions in which Florence is brewing are contributing to the storm's outsized strength for its location. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the climate dynamics that make Florence stand out amid our historical knowledge of Atlantic hurricanes.
ONE: Florence's path is unusual—in a way that's similar to Sandy's.
Atlantic hurricanes tend to develop off the coast of Africa, then move in a north/northwest direction. By the time they reach the position Florence was in a couple of days ago, they tend to take a hard right turn toward the north/northeast, staying well away from the U.S. In fact, as reported by Brian McNoldy and the Washington Post, of the nearly 80 recorded storms that passed within 200 nautical miles of Florence's position on Friday, none made landfall on the U.S. coast.
Florence's path, however, has been blocked by a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere, which is essentially blocking the storm from moving northward and keeping it on a westward trajectory toward the coast instead.
A ridge of high pressure along the northeast coast of North America, shown here in orange, has prevented Hurricane Florence from making the typical northward turn of most hurricanes.
Six years ago, when Sandy slammed into the coast of New Jersey, a "blocking ridge" over the eastern half of northern North America prevented Sandy from moving north. Never before had we seen a hurricane take such a perpendicular path toward the Mid-Atlantic coastline. One important difference between the paths of Sandy and Florence, however, is that during Sandy, the blocking ridge also prevented a low-pressure storm system coming from the west from moving north, so the two storms collided (hence the "Superstorm Sandy" moniker).
TWO: Major hurricanes this far north are rare.
The Southeast U.S. is no stranger to hurricanes. The Carolinas have experienced dozens of hurricanes since modern record-keeping began in 1851. The vast majority of these hurricanes have been Category 1 storms; together the Carolinas have only been hit three times by a Category 4 storm or above. The last time North Carolina was hit by a Category 4 storm was over 60 years ago.
Why is this? Hurricanes require a supply of fuel in the form of warm sea surface temperatures. Historically, as storms moved northward they did so closer to the central Atlantic and they encountered progressively cooler temperatures and weakened. Not so with Florence. While temperatures off the coast of Africa, where most Atlantic hurricanes develop, are running cooler than average right now, Florence's path, determined largely by the blocking ridge, has taken it westward into a wide swath of the Atlantic where temperatures are running 2 to 3°C above normal. Because of that ridge, even as Florence's latitude increases, it's projected to stay within a zone of warm temperatures that will allow Florence to stay strong and indeed strengthen as it churns its way toward the coast.
Over the next few days, Hurricane Florence will encounter abnormally warm sea surface temperatures, which will enable it to remain strong as it churns toward the coast.
We have seen the effects of warmer than average temperatures on hurricanes in the recent past. Last summer, for example, Hurricane Harvey passed over Gulf of Mexico waters that were 2.7 to 7.2°F above average before slamming into the coast and dropping unprecedented amounts of rain on the Houston area. We know that warmer temperatures help to fuel hurricanes and that such conditions are more likely to occur in a warming world.
THREE: The expected storm surge will be amplified by higher average sea levels.
The National Hurricane Center is expected to issue storm surge warnings tomorrow, but residents are already being cautioned that Florence's storm surge could be life-threatening.
Storm surge is driven by several factors, but its primary driver is wind. As Florence makes its way over more than 1,000 miles of ocean, its winds push surface water toward the coast. That water piles up and creates a surge. The stronger the winds and the farther the storm travels, the bigger the surge. While some storms, like Harvey, cause most of their flooding through intense rainfall, for others, like Sandy, storm surge is the primary cause of flooding.
The last time a Category 4 hurricane made landfall North Carolina was in 1954. Since then, sea level along the coast of the Carolinas has risen roughly 8 inches. That rise is already playing out in the form of increasingly frequent high tide flooding in the region. Charleston, for example, has experienced more than a quadrupling in the number of high tide flooding events just since the 1970s. And when it comes to storm surge, higher sea levels make for larger, farther-reaching surges.
Given that Florence is moving relatively slowly and is predicted to stall over the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic, the storm will likely remain along the coast during at least one high tide cycle. The timing of landfall relative to high tide remains to be seen, but the current state of sea level along the Carolina coast has the potential to add more height to the storm surge, which allows it to reach farther inland, than a storm like Florence would have caused, historically.
FOUR: In a warmer world, the atmosphere can hold more moisture and there is increased potential for extreme rainfall during storms.
Like the rest of the U.S. since the late 1950s, the Southeast has experienced a dramatic increase in the percentage of rain that falls during the heaviest events. This trend has been linked to human-caused climate change because warmer air holds more moisture. And in the case of Hurricane Harvey, human-caused warming was found to have made the storm's record-breaking rainfall three times more likely and 15 percent more intense.
With Florence's path through very warm waters, we can expect a lot of moisture with this storm. Current forecasts are predicting 10 to 15 inches of rain for much of North Carolina and Virginia in the next few days.
Just as when Hurricane Matthew hit the region in 2016, the extreme precipitation expected during Hurricane Florence will be falling on already saturated ground. Stream gauges in inland areas of North Carolina and Virginia, where Florence could stall, are recording streamflow—or the flow of water in streams, which is primarily driven by rainfall amounts—"much above normal," which calls into question just how much more rainfall they'll be able to accommodate.
Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could see 10 to 15 inches of rain in the coming days.
The combination of saturated soil and rivers, heavy rainfall and elevated sea levels due to long-term sea level rise and storm surge could make it very difficult for floodwaters to drain after the storm has passed.
As I wrote this, Governor McMaster of South Carolina was telling residents of his state that they should expect more wind than with Hurricane Hugo and more rain than with Hurricane Matthew. As South Carolinian listeners would know, these storms each caused grave damage through their respective mechanisms. In that press conference, the governor also ordered the mandatory evacuation of the state's entire coastline. This means that more than 1 million people will be fleeing the coast in that state, and more in North Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere. The threat to the coast is the obvious priority as this week gets underway. Later, the challenge of managing the impacts to North Carolina's interior regions may need to take center stage, as the stalled storm deluges large areas.
People talk about the "calm before the storm" and, if we do things well, there will indeed be an eerie quiet along much of the southeast of the U.S. later this week. In the meantime, as we scramble, hunker down, and prepare to ride out the latest in a terrible spate of hurricanes, we also hope that, unlike with Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Maria, we don't surface to find our communities fundamentally scarred by this latest in spate of brutal storms.
We'll be updating this blog post as conditions continue to evolve.
Category 4 #HurricaneFlorence Forecast to Hit #EastCoast State of emergency declared. https://t.co/4s9L9ngngm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1536600794.0