By Coral Natalie Negrón Almodóvar
The Earth began to shake as Tamar Hernández drove to visit her mother in Yauco, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 28, 2019. She did not feel that first tremor — she felt only the ensuing aftershocks — but she worried because her mother had an ankle injury and could not walk. Then Hernández thought, "What if something worse is coming our way?"
Her hunch was right. In the twilight hours of Jan. 7, 2020, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the U.S. territory, with its epicenter near the city of Ponce on the south coast, a few miles from Hernández's hometown. Buildings trembled throughout the territory, but the southwest took the brunt of the quake, with dozens of partially or completely collapsed dwellings, including a school and a church, according to a report from El Nuevo Día. The island's primary power generation plants in the southern area of Puerto Rico failed, immediately plunging the territory into darkness.
As a survivor of Hurricane Maria's devastation in 2017, Hernández was consumed with anxiety and desperation at the prospect of having to live through another natural disaster, and watching the government mismanage the recovery again. "My father's Alzheimer's progressed since the storm, and dealing with an equal emergency was unthinkable," she said, before bursting into tears. She doubted she could maintain her economic stability after the earthquake damaged her nail business in the urban center of Yauco.
A view of a washed out road near Utuado, Puerto Rico, after a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew dropped relief supplies to residents Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The locals were stranded after Hurricane Maria by washed out roads and mudslides. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodall / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Help did arrive, although it didn't come from the government initially. Instead, a hyperlocal response made up of disparate nonprofits and volunteers arrived and provided much needed aid, even during continuing aftershocks. Hernández said she was especially thankful for the response from one community organization, Tabernacle Followers of Jesus Christ.
Those volunteer initiatives sparked a feeling of trust in refugee camps, said Víctor Amauri, a social worker and one of the help coordinators with Solidarity Brigade of the West, which is made up of people from many organizations who provided direct response to help communities after Hurricane Maria.
"Strategizing after the hurricane and developing short- and long-term plans was our strong suit," Amauri said. "Now, it isn't straightforward to plan something for tomorrow, because everything changed. Misinformation and lack of transparency from the federal and local governments are preventing us from helping our people as they deserve."
The group leaders of the Solidarity Brigade used to meet in Mayagüez to organize community building projects. They would teach about composting and orchard keeping, and promote grassroots efforts to enhance food security and local agriculture as tools of self-sustainability.
"But in this context, we cannot think ahead," Amauri said. "We are still handling dozens of cases of families that are sleeping on the floor because, even though we are a country prone to hurricanes and, thanks to our location in between fault lines, earthquakes, the authorities never developed an emergency plan response."
A report by the Center of Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico, the Climate Change Series Project — the culmination of years of requesting public documents — found that despite Puerto Rico's vulnerability, the territorial government had taken limited measures to tackle natural disasters. Even though investigative work in 2017 uncovered evidence that the death toll of Hurricanes Maria and Irma was much higher than the 64 victims claimed by the former governor Ricardo Rosselló — nearly 3,000 people are estimated to have died, a little less than twice as many as in Hurricane Katrina — and the territory's ability to respond to emergencies has not improved much.
The government's inefficient response has led to the formation of several citizen coalitions that know the needs of their communities. The Single Voice Movement is a conglomerate of local nonprofit and community-based organizations that already developed a two-year response plan for earthquake-affected communities. The projects developed by these entities have a vision that looks inward toward active communities capable of supporting themselves and their neighbors, said Cora Arce Rivera, executive director of Aspira de Puerto Rico.
A group of students from Aspira's Inc. Alternative School in the municipality of Mayaguez ready to go to the town of Cabo Rojo and receive farming instruction. Francisco Acevedo.
Aspira's alternative school in the western town of Mayagüez allows teenagers, most of them school dropouts, to explore the significance of agriculture. The students are learning to cultivate tropical root and tuber crops that can germinate in unfavorable conditions. They are particularly resistant to damage by high wind hurricanes and typhoons, Aspira's agronomist Francisco Acevedo said.
José Esteban López Maldonado, a student at the elite Residential Center of Educational Opportunities in Mayagüez, runs a similar project in the small mountainside municipality of Adjuntas. In 2016, he managed to acquire one of the hundreds of schools closed by the local Department of Education and transformed it into a coworking space where people can learn about hydroponic cultivation, coffee planting, and greenhouses. USDA Rural Development, which offers loans and grants to economic development projects, has offered López help to improve the infrastructure of the school, but local authorities have not been able to provide him a proof of ownership so he can take advantage of the program, he said.
José Esteban in Ponce, Puerto Rico, presenting his new initiative to distribute coffee Caturra, produced in his farm Lírica. Coral Negrón
The island also faces a bankruptcy crisis and austerity measures imposed by the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board. José Caraballo-Cueto, an economist and assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said the bureaucracy around government processes exemplifies how the island is the perfect prey for disaster capitalism. "Restoration doesn't have the impact it deserves on the local economy because the biggest beneficiaries are not locals," Caraballo said. "A private law firm is even handling the cases of lack of proof of ownership post-Hurricane María."
In Puerto Rico, almost 92 percent of houses were damaged by the hurricane, according to a report from the American Bar Association. More than 95 percent of those tenants, about 1.1 million people, applied for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individuals and Households Program in 2018, but a FEMA spokesman told NBC News that 335,748 claims were denied because they couldn't provide a deed proving ownership of their homes.
Situations such as this one eroded Puerto Ricans' belief in local and federal institutions, which have promoted new governance models, said Arturo Massol Deyá, the executive director of 40-year-old environmental nonprofit Casa Pueblo.
In 150 locations across the island territory, Casa Pueblo ensured that, after Maria, those with the most urgent need for electricity received solar panels, including hospitals, small bodegas, and the homes of aging residents who required dialysis. In the recent earthquakes, the solar power systems proved to be more resilient than the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority's electricity grid, which failed again.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Massol Deyá acknowledges that people wanted to be helped by their fellow townspeople. "They discovered soon that the true meaning of 'just recovery' is that the resources end up providing services that change the reality of constant vulnerability," he said.
"Energy is the ability to do work," Massol Deyá said. "We are putting the opportunity in the hands of the people; we want them to acquire the power to govern themselves and enjoy their production. It is the maximum self-decolonization scenario because the top-down model has collapsed. … it is not effective."
An upcoming Casa Pueblo project, in collaboration with professors at the University of Michigan, will be to use biomass from coffee production to generate energy. The energy produced will be used to power the coffee plantation to improve the harvest. The technique, Massol said, helps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, it will generate employment and provide a more sustainable life for the residents of Adjuntas.
Arturo Massol, executive director of Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas. Omar Alfonso
All these grassroots actions are becoming the backbone of survival in Puerto Rico. For the time being, however, the lives of those residing in earthquake zones are stagnant, said Edward Santiago-Pacheco, a U.S. Army veteran and father of a newborn girl.
He lost his newly purchased house in Yauco in the 6.4 magnitude earthquake and has not heard back from the insurance company, the bank, or any local government agency.
"It is hard to overcome this when you just brought a new life into this world," Santiago-Pacheco said. "FEMA only provided money for two months of rent for temporary housing, but I still must pay my house mortgage. The worst part is that the local government is using our pain in favor of their political propaganda."
On Feb. 10, the Solidarity Brigade learned about Hernández's and Santiago-Pacheco's cases and reached out to them, Amauri said. However, thousands need similar help.
"Two of our members are sociologists (Roberto Vélez and Jacqueline Villegas), and they developed a census to identify all necessities and help people the best possible way. But we need the government to publish relevant information that can help us organize our strategy," he added.
Casa Pueblo's installation of solar panels in a hardware store in Adjuntas. Arturo Massol
Coral Natalie Negrón Almodóvar is a Puerto Rican data journalist, a current grantee of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and Patti Birch for Data Journalism Fellow at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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Top officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed to lawmakers last week that they knowingly — and illegally — stalled hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.
HUD Chief Financial Officer Irv Dennis and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development David Woll said before a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday that the agency purposefully missed a deadline to issue a notice to Puerto Rico that would have jumpstarted a planning process to manage additional aid, despite successfully delivering the notice to 17 other states affected by disasters.
Woll and Dennis told lawmakers that HUD is concerned about the misuse of funds given to the island. Two years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has received just a third of the $43 billion Congress has allocated for the island's recovery.
With respect to obeying the law, it shouldn't be a difficult choice, should it? Why is HUD holding up the mitigati… https://t.co/vUy1oqBEr8— David E. Price (@David E. Price)1571346281.0
For a deeper dive:
- Hurricane Maria Aftermath: FEMA Admits to Deadly Mistakes in ... ›
- Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous ... ›
- Oprah Winfrey Donates $2 Million to Help Puerto Rico's Recovery ... ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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.
Puerto Rico, still recovering from 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria, is now facing down Tropical Storm Dorian.
This visible satellite animation from NOAA’s #GOES16 shows #TropicalStormDorian moving closer to the #VirginIslands… https://t.co/J7rWKxxWps— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs)1566997385.0
The storm is expected to reach the island at near hurricane strength Wednesday, CNN reported. In preparation, the governor declared a state of emergency Monday. President Trump also approved a request for a federal emergency declaration, which will enable federal agencies to coordinate relief, The New York Times reported.
"There's already so much damage on the ground from (Maria) that this isn't going to take a lot to make a significant amount of damage, especially flooding," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. "Some of these power lines are not held up by very much—70 mph would bring them back down."
Even if the winds don't reach hurricane strength, the storm could dump more than six inches of rain on the island, causing potentially severe flooding, The New York Times reported.
Puerto Rican authorities have worked to assure the island's residents that they are prepared for the storm and have enough emergency supplies. The former governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló, was toppled by protests sparked partly by his inadequate response to Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and left some parts of the island without power for up to 11 months. Current Gov. Wanda Vázquez only assumed power three weeks ago.
"I am confident that the people of Puerto Rico are prepared," she said at a press conference reported by The New York Times. "We are going to move forward."
The government has around 360 shelters ready with a capacity of 48,500, CNN reported. They have also prepared around 70 hospitals to deal with emergencies. But island residents are still nervous, and some are leaving the island ahead of the storm.
"I'm so insecure here with the power, the food, the security—so I'm leaving," one person told CBS News.
Others stocked up on bottled water, as Krystle Rivera tweeted.
This is crazy! Ridiculous shouldn't there be some type of limite so everyone can get some #PuertoRico #water #crazy https://t.co/aU5f9YLb6q— krystle rivera (@krystle rivera)1566750638.0
The Department of Homeland Security came under fire Tuesday for transferring more than $150 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund to temporary immigration courts on the southwest U.S. and Mexican border, The New York Times reported.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the move a "brazen theft" and "stunningly reckless," HuffPost reported
[email protected]’s brazen theft of disaster relief funding to pay for an inhumane family incarceration plan is cru… https://t.co/2XXHAF5gNG— Nancy Pelosi (@Nancy Pelosi)1566958694.0
In addition to striking Puerto Rico, Dorian could bring wind and rain to the eastern Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands, according to The New York Times. It is also expected to make landfall as a category 1 hurricane on the east coast of Florida Saturday, CNN further reported.
"Based on the current track of Tropical Storm Dorian, all residents on the East Coast should prepare for impacts, including strong winds, heavy rain and flooding," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday, as CNN reported.
By Mallika Khanna
If you've read anything about climate change over the past year, you've probably heard about the IPCC report that gives a 12-year deadline for limiting climate change catastrophe. But for many parts of the world, climate change already is a catastrophe.
Recently in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, more than 40 people were killed by a severe heat wave in just one day. A study by UNICEF suggests that "in the next decade, 175 million children will be hit by climate-related disasters in South Asia and Africa alone." Closer to home, Miami's steady sinking is depleting usable drinking water at an alarming rate.
The truth is, vulnerable communities have been dealing with the effects of climate change and environmental pollution for decades now.
The 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — aptly nicknamed Cancer Alley — is a stark example. Thanks to petrochemical pollution there, Louisiana at one point suffered the second-highest death rate from cancer in the U.S., with some localities near chemical plants getting cancer from air pollution at 700 times the national average.
This is no accident: Corporations deliberately target places like Cancer Alley because they're home to socially and economically disadvantaged people whom the corporations assume can't fight back.
There's even a name for it: "least resistant personality profiles." Sociologist Arlie Hochschild discovered this term in a 1984 study done by a consulting firm to determine where a waste board could build a plant without local communities complaining.
According to the study, the people least likely to protest having their health put at risk were typically "longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest, high school educated only, Catholic, uninvolved in social issues, and without a history of activism, involved in mining, farming, ranching, conservative, Republican, advocates of the free market."
While this study only tells part of the story, it does a lot to explain why poor communities face the worst consequences of climate change and pollution. These inequities cut across racial lines: As Hochschild's study shows, "least resistant personalities" include small town, working-class white communities in the South and Midwest, as well as poor black people in places like Cancer Alley.
The problem isn't just corporations, but government at all levels.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the federal government did next to nothing. The comparison between the responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Maria — whose death tolls were almost exactly the same — highlights just how overlooked the suffering caused to marginalized communities by climate change is.
The idea that environmentalism is an "elite" concern is a lie. Those who stand to gain the most from sweeping environmental protections are the marginalized people corporations assume can be put in toxic environments without fear of backlash.
That's the best reason yet to support a Green New Deal, which would not only curb climate change, but also revitalize the U.S. economy, create millions of jobs, and create alternatives to harmful, unsustainable industries like the petrochemical industry in Cancer Alley that have harmed people for years.
That could make poor communities a lot less poor — and a lot more resilient.
The only way to move forward is to fight back against corporations that deliberately target the people they think can't fight back — and against a government seemingly unconcerned about the effects of pollution and climate change. The catastrophe is happening now, but so is the movement to combat it.
Could a Green New Deal Boost the Farm and Food Justice Movement? - EcoWatch https://t.co/Jh5u5wkebg— Green Energy (@GreenEnergy) December 26, 2018
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By Astrid Caldas
On May 21, the first named storm of 2019, Andrea, was recorded on the north Atlantic. This makes 2019 the fifth consecutive year that a named storm has formed before the official start of Atlantic hurricane season.
Something caught my eye when I read that: the number five. That's because, according to NASA, 2018 was the fourth warmest year in a continued warming trend since record keeping began in the 1880's, with temperatures 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean. And with it, a string of five consecutive years have been recorded as the five warmest on record. I will say this again: the last five years have been the five warmest years on record.
Is climate change having an effect on hurricane season, or on hurricanes themselves? Hurricane season starts on June 1st. Let's take a look at the latest forecasts and science.
Hurricane Forecasts and Their Messages
On April 16, Colorado State University (CSU) released its hurricane outlook for the 2019 season, forecasting 13 named storms with 5 of them turning into hurricanes, of which 2 would classify as major (categories 3 and above).
On May 23, the National Hurricane Center, part of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) released their forecast, predicting a "near-normal" season with 9 to 15 named storms and 4 to 8 hurricanes, with 2 to 4 being major ones. An average season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The numbers are very similar to the ones from CSU.
The odds for that near-normal season are 40%. Odds for above-normal or below-normal activity are both at 30%. But, as I mentioned last year, odds are not certain predictions. They are just that: odds (see below for more on that). And the last couple of years certainly reminded us of that.
Years to Remember – in More Than One Way
NOAA's forecast for the 2018 season also had a near-normal probability of 40%, with 35% odds of it being above normal, and 25% odds of being below-normal. It forecast 10 to 16 named storms and 5 to 9 hurricanes, with 1 to 4 being major. What we saw was a season tilted toward the higher side of the predictions — there were 15 named storms and eight hurricanes. Two of those were major, and two hurricanes — Michael and Florence, the latter not a major hurricane but a category 1 — caused roughly $50 billion in estimated damage.
While the probabilistic predictions may not have raised any eyebrows, when a record four hurricanes were active at the same time, that caught my eye.
If we look further back, at 2017, the probability of an above-normal season was at 45%, and below-normal activity was at 20%. The forecast called for 5 to 9 hurricanes, with 2 to 5 being major — and the reality blew the predictions: we had 10 hurricanes with 6 major ones. Three of these major ones hit the U.S., and nobody will forget the string of names Harvey, Irma and Maria anytime soon. That also caught my eye.
However, I was not surprised when the numbers fell outside of the given range.
Understanding the Forecast
That is because the range in numbers given in NOAA's forecast has a 70% probability, meaning that "The seasonal activity is expected to fall within these ranges in 7 out of 10 seasons with similar climate conditions and uncertainties to those expected this year. They do not represent the total possible ranges of activity seen in past similar years." So, there you have it, in plain language, that the actual numbers for 2019 (as in any season) may be different from the ones in the forecast.
What Do These Seasons Tell Us?
Forecasts are based on probabilities calculated from conditions at the time of the forecast, and as such, there is ample room for conditions to change and actual facts to fall outside the probabilistic calculations, as the numbers for 2017 show. At the time of the 2018 forecast, sea surface temperatures were running below average in the area where tropical storms form, and the forecast was based on those conditions. For this year, NOAA stated that there are competing signals affecting the forecast: an ongoing weak El Niño is expected to suppress intensity of Atlantic hurricane activity, while warmer-than-average surface waters and an enhanced African monsoon are forces that could lead to increased activity. Will these conditions change and affect hurricane activity? Probably. That is also why NOAA releases an updated forecast later in the season, usually in early August. Mind you, the updated forecast is based on the same probabilistic calculations, only using updated conditions.
Most importantly, it only takes one hurricane to hit to cause possible devastation. Nobody can tell ahead of time how many hurricanes in a season will strike land. One should always remember that, and be prepared, such as by following the NOAA/NWS storm tracking page and FEMA hurricane preparation guidance. And with the last couple of seasons seeing major hurricanes (some making landfall), preparedness takes on a new urgency.
But are we really seeing more of these major hurricanes, or is it just an impression — or coincidence?
Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger
The fact is that global warming is loading the dice when it comes to hurricane strength, with abnormally warm water being one of the culprits because it has the potential to increase hurricane power. Two of the most powerful hurricanes in recent history, Harvey and Florence, gained immense strength in very little time, and one of the reasons was that the sea surface temperature of the water in its path was running well above normal. In the case of Harvey, Gulf waters were warmer than any time on record, and temperatures along Florence's path were 3.6°F (2°C) hotter than normal. That warmer water is linked to human-caused warming due to emissions from burning coal, oil and gas. And it is worth noting that, after further analysis, hurricane Michael was upgraded to a category 5 in April 2019, months after it hit in 2018.
But it is not just the wind and strength of a hurricane that are amplified by climate change: global warming can also increase the amount of rain that hurricanes bring. Warmer air holds more moisture (read: more water to fall when it rains), and global average temperature is currently about 1.8°F (1°C) warmer than it was in the late 1800s. In fact, a study found that the record rainfall from Harvey was roughly three times more likely and 15% more intense than in a world without global warming. Another study found that higher ocean heat content and sea surface temperatures make hurricanes such as Harvey "more intense, bigger, and longer lasting and greatly increase their flooding rains."
Furthermore, research suggests that there has been an increase in intense hurricane activity over the past 40 years, and since the mid-1970s the number of strong hurricanes reaching categories 3 and above has roughly doubled.
So, while we wait for this hurricane season to develop, let's be mindful of probabilities, a changing climate, changing conditions, and most of all, preparedness. It reduces risks, helps ensure communities withstand the next storm, and can save lives.
Astrid Caldas is a climate scientist with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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By Jeremy Deaton
Every morning, Luz Hernandez goes to work at her hair salon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood fixture without a website or a Facebook page, where a trim costs $40 and customers can get a cup of coffee while they wait. Every night, she returns to a full fridge in an air-conditioned home in the Bronx. Income from the salon allows her to live comfortably, though not lavishly — but compared to her family in Puerto Rico, who were devastated by Hurricane Maria, she feels like royalty.
After the hurricane, she recalls thinking, "I have everything here — water, lights, a roof over my head — and they're over there without any lights." Hernandez said she could not sit down to a hot meal in a cool home while her brothers and nieces and nephews on the island languished without food or air conditioning. Worried about her family, she took it upon herself to deliver the relief the federal government had failed to provide.
In the aftermath of the storm, Hernandez said, she spent around $8,000 to send aid to family back home, in addition to another $2,000 donated by her clients. "I swear to God, I have the best clients," she said. The money paid for canned beef and chicken, coffee, peanut butter, batteries, solar-powered radios and lamps, as well as generators needed to operate fans, refrigerators and medical equipment, such as her brother's dialysis machine.
"I don't think I did anything so heroic. I did what I had to do," she said. "I took care of whoever needed the most." She only wishes the government had done the same.
Luz Hernandez has spent $8,000 sending canned food, batteries and power generators to her family in Puerto Rico.
Source: Nexus Media
Hernandez is remarkable, though not unusual, among members of the Puerto Rican diaspora — many of whom devoted hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to helping victims of Hurricane Maria. Those interviewed for this story said they were angry that the government had failed to provide relief, particularly to rural areas, and they remain baffled that President Trump continues to oppose additional disaster aid for the island, which is still recovering from the storm.
Fernando "Ponce" Laspina, who runs El Maestro Inc., a boxing gym and Puerto Rican cultural center in the Bronx, recalled the lack of aid after Maria. "The federal government really didn't do the job," he said. "We know a lot of older people who died because they didn't get help on time." Like Hernandez, he made it his mission to help those who were left behind.
Fernando Laspina at El Maestro, Inc.
Source: Eddie Aguiar, Hunter College
Laspina said that after the hurricane, El Maestro Inc. filled three 40,000-pound shipping containers with food, water and medical supplies — wheelchairs, walkers, diapers and medicine — and paid around $5,500 to ship each one to a different town desperate for aid. The organization relied on donations and volunteer labor. Dozens of people showed up from around New York City and as far afield as Connecticut and Ohio to contribute goods and help fill the containers.
"We had all kinds of people here," he said. "There were no barriers, you know — black people, white people, Chinese people, young, old, female, male, gay people — it didn't matter. It was just one big family in New York City coming together for Puerto Rico." Meanwhile, he added, "No help from the elected officials."
Edna Benitez took a similar tack, working with Proyecto Matria, a human rights group, to bring relief to a community overlooked for disaster aid. She focused her efforts on Miraflores, a small, mountain town in central Puerto Rico. "This is a community that was marginalized prior to the hurricane," she said. "After the hurricane, they were just devastated, and they spent several weeks without food and just drinking water from the falls."
Edna Benitez, rebuilding a home in Miraflores
Source: Edna Benitez
Benitez was aghast at the dearth of federal aid after the storm. "I said to myself, 'Where is FEMA? Where is the help that we're supposed to get? Are we a part of the United States?'" she said. On Trump, she said, "We know what his agenda is. He wants to build a wall, and he needs funding for that, and I think that that's more important [to him] than people's lives and people's homes and people's dignity." Trump has pushed Congress to include $4 billion in border wall funding in its disaster relief package, all while fighting against additional aid for Puerto Rico.
Frustrated by the government's response to Maria, Benitez partnered with Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan to raise money for her work in Puerto Rico. Donations paid for her and other volunteers to travel to Miraflores to rebuild homes, set up cisterns, and help community members develop small businesses selling locally grown foods and knitted goods. Benitez, 61, has been to Puerto Rico eight times since Hurricane Maria. She has painted houses, sealed roofs and cleared land for farming, dipping into her savings to help fund her efforts. In July, she will be taking a group of teenagers to Miraflores to do farm work.
Contemplating the work of people like Benitez, lifelong New Yorker Elena Martinez said, "The communities in the diaspora in Florida, in Chicago, in New York and Connecticut, they just came through." She added, "I guess it's more real when you know people who were literally affected by it."
Bobby Sanabria, on drums, and his Multiverse Big Band playing a benefit concert for Puerto Rico musicians, October 2017
Source: Bob Ramos
Martinez, who runs the Bronx Music Heritage Center with Puerto Rican jazz drummer Bobby Sanabria, raised money to help musicians on the island pay for housing, food and gas after Maria shut down theaters, restaurants and hotels, making it difficult for them to find work. Sanabria put together a benefit concert after Maria, raising $10,000 for the Jazz Foundation of America's Puerto Rico Relief Fund. He subsequently produced a record of the music of West Side Story, devoting a portion of the proceeds to the effort.
Elsewhere in the city, Surey Miranda and her husband, Victor Martinez, helped families fleeing the hurricane resettle in New York. She and her husband run a Spanish-language website with resources for newcomers, and work closely with displaced families to help them secure housing and apply for food stamps. Miranda said chats about how best to navigate the government bureaucracy can turn into long conversations about the trauma of living through a natural disaster. She said that, in the first few months after the hurricane, she spent around 30 hours a week helping people, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. consoling survivors, all while working a full-time job.
Surey Miranda (left) with her husband Victor Martinez (right)
Source: Victor Martinez
Miranda believes Trump has neglected Puerto Rico because people living on the island, while citizens, cannot vote for president and have no representation in Congress. However, she said, millions of people of Puerto Rican descent living on the mainland can vote, and they do have some measure of political power. "If you see the numbers, there are more Puerto Ricans stateside than on the island," she said.
Martinez believes the Puerto Rican diaspora, which proved critical in providing relief after the storm, could take Trump to task at the ballot box. "The people here on the mainland who can vote will hopefully take this into account when elections come up," she said.
Moreover, because Maria spurred so many families to migrate to the mainland, where they can vote, the diaspora is gaining power in states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria now have the chance to oust a president who refuses to provide the aid the island needs.
Hernandez took some comfort in this. "It's really sad that he's such a racist," she said. "The thing is, the people who moved to … Florida or wherever, they could now go register and vote, maybe change the color of the state."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Eoin Higgins
A group of Democratic Senators, led by Elizabeth Warren, are again pushing to have Puerto Rico's debt forgiven in the wake of dual hurricanes that hit the island in 2017 — an announcement that came as activists from the U.S. territory were on Capitol Hill to find a solution to the island's economic woes.
The United States Territorial Relief Act of 2019, as Warren's bill is known, would offer comprehensive debt relief to the American territory. Warren was joined by fellow Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). All but Markey, Warren included, are running for the Democratic nomination for president.
"Our bill gives Puerto Rico and other struggling territories a route to comprehensive debt relief and a chance to recover with dignity," Warren said in a statement. "It's time for Congress to pass this bill."
Much of Puerto Rico’s debt is held by Wall Street, which is trying to squeeze out every last penny of profit. Congress had a chance to break Wall Street's grip. Instead, they passed PROMESA, imposing an oversight board which has slashed services, hindering the recovery.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 2, 2019
If passed, according to an overview provided by Warren's office, the legislation would forgive the island's debt, establish a fund for those who suffer losses from the debt cancellation, and create an auditing commission on the genesis of the debt and how the crisis got so out of control.
The House version of the legislation is being introduced in the lower chamber by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.).
"Puerto Rico needs every tool possible to recover economically and physically from Hurricane Maria," Velázquez said.
The same cohort of senators and Velázquez introduced the legislation in 2018. It was ultimately unsuccessful.
Puerto Rico's debt issues are nothing new, as Common Dreams has reported — but things have gotten worse since the 2017 hurricanes and the only legislation in place is outdated and insufficient to address the current problems.
A 2016 bill addressing Puerto Rican debt, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), was signed into law by former President Barack Obama before the storms hit. PROMESA came in for criticism from Sanders, and others, even before the current crisis.
"Over the past several years, Puerto Rico has been living with an economic noose around its neck due to its crippling debt crisis and the devastation created by Hurricane Maria," said the Hispanic Foundation's president José Calderón in a statement supporting Warren's bill.
Puerto Rican activists confronted members of the island's Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) about the predatory practices encouraged by PROMESA on Thursday. They were successful in convincing FOMB to take legal action against banks that profited off of Puerto Rican debt illegally.
The @FOMBPR has not helped #PuertoRico recover. It has sided with bondholders at the expense of our people. Its time for congress to hold them accountable. #cancelthedebt @popdemoc @Vamos4PR @diasporaresiste pic.twitter.com/RDyuCxNzoW— CASA (@CASAforall) May 2, 2019
Jesus Gonzalez, an organizer with the Center For Popular Democracy, pointed out in a statement that tougher action on predatory creditors would not have happened without "Puerto Rican families on the island and of the diaspora who have fought tirelessly for a just recovery," he said more still needed to be done.
"While the FOMB has decided to pursue legal action," Gonzalez said, "there is much information we still need to analyze to ensure that proper action is taken against every single person who profited from the illegal debt."
Sanders, in a statement, took aim at the banks and hedge funds that used the debt to make billions of dollars.
"Greedy Wall Street vulture funds must not be allowed to reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the Puerto Rican people for a second longer," said Sanders.
The debt also created an impossible situation for Puerto Ricans struggling to recover after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, said Hispanic Foundation's Calderón.
"Over the past several years, Puerto Rico has been living with an economic noose around its neck due to its crippling debt crisis and the devastation created by Hurricane Maria," Calderón said. "The island government simply does not have the means to pay off its debt and prioritize the well-being of its people."
Warren echoed Calderón's callback to the difficulties faced by Puerto Ricans in their long pursuit of financial justice.
"Puerto Rican families were watching debt crush their futures long before Hurricane Maria hit," said Warren, "and this administration has failed in its response."
Since the American government will no longer do its job! -- Oprah Winfrey Donates $2 Million to Help Puerto Rico's Recovery From Hurricane Maria https://t.co/Dt5ShuCROa. #MAGA20 @foxandfriends @seanhannity @CNN @SenateGOP @GOPLeader— Dana Ivey (@hekasia) April 10, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
- Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous ... ›
- 'Transformation Blueprint' for Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands ›
The Hispanic Federation and the Flamboyan Arts Fund announced in a statement Monday that they had received $1 million each from Winfrey. The donation to Hispanic Federation's UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico will help the island meet its long term needs following the storm. The donation to Flamboyan will support arts and culture on the island.
So honored to have @Oprah join us in preserving & sustaining the arts in #PuertoRico & ensuring the island thrives.… https://t.co/M7mWK2NcdG— Kristin Ehrgood (@Kristin Ehrgood)1554765273.0
Flamboyan was started by Puerto Rican writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2018 to promote arts on the island in the wake of the storm. Miranda also brought his famous creation Hamilton to the island early in 2019, The Hill reported.
"I was so moved by Lin-Manuel Miranda's commitment to bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico and support the community that served him growing up that I wanted to join in the revitalization efforts of an island so rich in culture, beauty and heritage," Winfrey said in the statement announcing the donation. "The needs of Puerto Rico and our fellow American citizens following the tragic hurricanes are still very real, and the work that has already been done by the Hispanic Federation, Flamboyan Arts Fund and other organizations on and off the island is long from over."
The Hispanic Federation has been the largest institutional contributor to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, directing $30 million towards community groups on the island. Its UNIDOS program has coordinated hundreds of donation drives, delivered millions of pounds of food, water and other necessities and provided disaster aid to 78 severely impacted municipalities. The Flamboyan Arts Fund was founded by Miranda to make sure that literature, music, theater, visual arts, dance and arts education were all part of the island's recovery. His 23-performance run of Hamilton in San Juan in January was expected to raise $15 million for the fund.
Since Hurricane Maria hit 1 year ago, and with your support, we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans.… https://t.co/HxFFjpB0O3— Hispanic Federation (@Hispanic Federation)1537461985.0
Winfrey's commitment comes as Puerto Rico's government continues to tussle with the Trump administration over federal aid to the island. Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump complained that the island had received "too much" aid at the same time as more than a million Puerto Ricans faced food stamp cuts as Congress failed to secure funding. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that the federal response to Maria was both slower and less generous than its response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma the same year.The September 2017 disaster claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Full power was not restored to all homes on the island until almost 11 months after the storm struck. A November 2018 study found that climate change made Hurricane Maria five to 10 percent wetter than it would have been if the burning of fossil fuels had not pumped excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, raising global temperatures.
- Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous ... ›
- Trump Complains Puerto Rico Getting 'Too Much' Disaster Aid as ... ›
By Jake Johnson
With more than a million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico facing devastating food stamp cuts as Congress fails to provide necessary hurricane relief funding, President Donald Trump reportedly complained to Republican senators on Tuesday that the island is receiving "too much" aid — a position that was decried as both false and cruel.
"The president continues to show his vindictive behavior towards Puerto Rico and he continues to make the humanitarian crisis worse," said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. "He is ensuring that people don't have food to put on the table."
Trump's remarks came during a private lunch with Republicans Tuesday, during which — according to the Washington Post — the president inflated the amount of aid Puerto Rico has received since Hurricane Maria and pushed lawmakers to limit funding to the island.
"At the lunch Tuesday, Trump rattled off the amount of aid that had been designated for other disaster-hit states and compared it with the amount allocated for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, which he said was too high," the Post reported.
After claiming that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal aid — it is unclear where he got this number — Trump reportedly said "one could buy Puerto Rico four times over for $91 billion."
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló responded with outrage to Trump's reported comments in a statement late Tuesday.
"People from all over the nation, and the world, have witnessed the inequalities Americans face on the island," Rosselló said. "The federal response and its treatment during these past months in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is clear evidence of our second-class citizenship."
"Mr. President: Enough with the insults and demeaning characterizations," he added. "We are not asking for anything more than any other U.S. state has received. We are merely asking for equality."
Trump's complaint about aid to the storm-ravaged island comes as an estimated 1.3 million Puerto Ricans — including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people — have had life-saving food aid cut amid inaction and obstruction from the White House and congressional Republicans.
"We just don't have the money right now," said Myrna Izquierdo, an administrator at a Puerto Rican health clinic that relies on food stamp funding. "It's very hard. It is so unfair. That cut is going to kill us."
The amount of reporting we have about the president's willful neglect of American citizens in Puerto Rico should be… https://t.co/W2zT6HhooN— Steadman™ (@Steadman™)1553602419.0
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Senate advanced a disaster relief bill that Democrats said is far from adequate to address the crises in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. According to one study, the storm may have killed nearly 6,000 people.
"The lack of leadership and coordination, combined with delays in meeting the basic needs of the island, more than 18 months after receiving a presidential disaster declaration, has left far too many children and elderly citizens in unhealthy and unsafe conditions, families in severely damaged homes and communities without adequate infrastructure to sustain a decent quality of life," Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.
Despite the island's dire situation, Trump has reportedly said that he "doesn't want another single dollar going to the island."
"Puerto Rico is in dire need of increased food assistance funding," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Twitter this week. "It's unconscionable that we've allowed our fellow Americans to suffer for so long without the full resources of the U.S. government. We must act now to end this crisis."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
- WATCH: Puerto Rico Planting 750,000 Trees to Defend Land From ... ›
- Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous ... ›
Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director who oversaw the agency's controversial response to Hurricane Maria, announced his resignation Wednesday.
"It has been a great honor to serve our country as @fema Administrator for the past two years. While this has been the opportunity of the lifetime, it is time for me to go home to my family," Long said in a tweet announcing his departure.
It has been a great honor to serve our country as @fema Administrator for the past two years. While this has been t… https://t.co/uEH4C6SU3W— Peter Gaynor (@Peter Gaynor)1550089593.0
His resignation comes as Congressional Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren, have repeatedly called for an investigation into FEMA's Hurricane Maria response in Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people died in the wake of the storm, the Huffington Post reported.
Thousands of US citizens in Puerto Rico died during Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. Brock Long oversaw the Trump… https://t.co/XGgl2gg561— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren)1550110181.0
A University of Michigan led study released in January found that the federal response to Hurricane Maria was both slower and less generous than the response to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in Florida and Texas. Long won praise early in his tenure for his response to Hurricane Harvey, The New York Times reported.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration's Maria response, commented on Long's departure on Twitter.
"Brock Long was Trump's hatchet man in the botched Puerto Rican relief effort after hurricanes Irma and María. He should have been fired and held accountable for the loss of live. Thank you for nothing, next," she wrote.
Brock Long was Trump’s hatchet man in the botched Puerto Rican relief effort after hurricanes Irma and María. He sh… https://t.co/gyCr3rzoaQ— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@Carmen Yulín Cruz)1550111128.0
Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello took a softer, but still critical, stance, wishing Long well but calling his departure an "opportunity."
"We hope the battles over the last 18 months, due to unequal treatment can turn into the efficient assistance needed," he wrote.
[email protected]_Brock resignation offers a reset opportunity for a more effective collaboration. We hope the battles over th… https://t.co/IDEHyzLTKn— Ricardo Rosselló (@Ricardo Rosselló)1550098812.0
Long was also under pressure because of a September discovery by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security that he violated rules by using government vehicles to travel back and forth to his home in North Carolina, as well as while on vacation with his family in Hawaii, The New York Times reported.
"The FEMA administrator is supposed to be focused on preparing for disasters like the devastating hurricanes that killed thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—not using government vehicles to shuttle his family around Hawaii at taxpayer expense," then top House Oversight Committee Democrat and Maryland Representative Elijah E. Cummings said at the time, according to The New York Times. "Administrator Long's apparent violations of federal law for his own personal benefit are another example of how senior officials in the Trump administration continue to use American taxpayer money."
Long follows former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in resigning after a scandal involving misuse of government resources for personal gain.
Long ran FEMA for two years and oversaw more than 220 declared disasters, according to his departure statement. He said he would depart to return to his wife and two sons. Deputy Administrator Peter Gaynor will step into the position of Acting Administrator following his departure.
Long had a background in emergency management before President Donald Trump nominated him to run FEMA, having directed the Alabama Emergency Management Agency from 2008 to 2011, The New York Times reported.
'Climate Change' Removed From FEMA's Strategic Plan https://t.co/9kst5Lvkld @TheCCoalition @ClimateCentral @carbonfinance— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521279017.0
Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous Than Responses to Texas and Florida Storms
Since the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria was officially raised to 2,975, it has been acknowledged as one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history, and the deadliest hurricane in more than 100 years. But many have argued it didn't have to be that way, pointing to a less-than-adequate response from the federal government.
Now, a study led by members of the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health and published in the British Medical Journal Global Health Friday added fuel to those suspicions by comparing the government's response to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in Florida and Texas the same year, and finding its actions in Puerto Rico both slower and less financially generous.
[email protected] @umichsphglobal research: Federal response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma was faster and more generous th… https://t.co/I2kez1HJtR— Michigan News (@Michigan News)1548105317.0
"What we found is that there was a very significant difference in not only the timing of the responses but also in the volume of resources distributed in terms of money and staffing," lead author and UM School of Public Health doctoral candidate Charley Willison said in a press release. "Overall, Hurricane Maria had a delayed and lower response across those measures compared to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It raises concern for growth in health disparities as well as potential increases in adverse health outcomes."
The researchers compared disaster responses following the three hurricanes, accounting for the need of the survivors and the severity of the storm. They relied on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data, as well as congressional and media reports.
"The analysis shows that the disaster response to the three hurricanes did not align with storm severity and may affect deaths and recovery rates," Willison said.
Here are some examples of the disparities researchers discovered.
1. Within nine days of the storms' landfall, Hurricane Irma and Harvey survivors had received nearly $100 million from FEMA, while Hurricane Maria survivors had received little more than $6 million.
2. Federal on-site workers peaked at 31,000 in Texas following Harvey, 40,000 in Florida following Irma and only 19,000 in Puerto Rico following Maria.
3. Texas and Florida received in two months the aid that Puerto Rico had to wait four months to get in full.
The Puerto Rican government held up the report as proof of President Donald Trump's poor response to the disaster and as an example of long-standing inequalities between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S.
"The study released today is further evidence that the federal government dragged its feet during the biggest disaster in our recorded history, which took the lives of almost 3,000 citizens," Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Carlos Mercader wrote in a statement to CBS News. "We can only hope that the mounting evidence serves to improve the federal government's response during the next natural disaster. Nevertheless, as long as we remain a mere territory without any say in our government, we will always get the short end of the stick in our fundamentally imperfect relationship with the United States."
The researchers also raised the issue of political representation.
"Not only was the lack of emergency response a likely contributor to thousands of avoidable deaths, it was also a reminder of the penalties of not being fully represented in federal politics," study co-author and UM health management and policy professor Scott Greer said in the UM release. "Democracy is a public health policy."
FEMA, however, defended its response to the storm, saying it had faced unique difficulties in delivering aid to Puerto Rico.
"An ideal response to any disaster is one that is federally supported, state managed and locally executed. FEMA's ability to provide support in disasters builds on, and is subject to, the capacity of the state, territorial, tribal & local governments," FEMA press secretary Elizabeth Litzow wrote in a statement to CBS News. "There were real challenges in Puerto Rico that had to be overcome—including aging infrastructure, a decayed power grid and liquidity issues."
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2018 is set to rank as the fourth warmest year on record—and the fourth year in a row reflecting a full degree Celsius (1.8° Fahrenheit) temperature rise from the late 1800s, climate scientists say.
This was the year that introduced us to fire tornadoes, bomb cyclones and in Death Valley, a five-day streak of 125°F temperatures, part of the hottest month ever documented at a U.S. weather station.
2018 also brought the world's highest-ever low temperature, as nighttime temperatures fell to a sizzling 109°F in Quiryat, Oman, on June 28, smashing a 2011 record-high low.
A startling 95 percent of the oldest and thickest Arctic sea ice is now gone—and we're losing Arctic ice at a rate of 14,000 tons per second, according to recent research, three times as fast as roughly three decades ago.
It was a year notable both for its overwhelming, climate-fueled impacts as well as its gut-wrenching predictions for what climate change still has in store for us if we fail to act. So much happened, frankly, that it's been hard to keep it all straight.
Actively eroding coastal permafrost bluff on Barter Island, located on the northern coast of Alaska, July 3, 2018 Shawn Harrison, U.S. Geological Survey
The year delivered increasingly powerful warnings from scientists and international agencies about the need to shift away from fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., 2018 saw a presidential administration and Republican-controlled Congress packed with politicians and administrators who refuse to recognize the scientific consensus that the climate is changing because of fossil fuel pollution and other human activities.
(How strong is that consensus? We've known for years that the probability that greenhouse gas pollution is causing climate change is more than 95 percent—and that's according to a panel of 1,300 scientific experts from all over the world who were brought together by the United Nations.)
In fact, in 2018, the Trump administration's own U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a 1,656 page National Climate Assessment, which warns of hundreds of billions of dollars in damage on the horizon from climate change.
The Trump administration sought to bury that report—but it couldn't bury a UN report, published in October, which warned that we have 12 years to slash greenhouse gas emissions worldwide if we're to stave off the worst impacts of a changing climate.
"This report by the world's leading climate scientists is an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world," UN Secretary-General António Guterres wrote in a statement. "It confirms that climate change is running faster than we are—and we are running out of time."
The new @IPCC_ch report is a wake-up call to the world: it confirms that climate change is running faster than we a… https://t.co/FRjtlAsCmv— António Guterres (@António Guterres)1539041730.0
Greenhouse gas emissions had climbed to a record high in 2017, after a three-year period where carbon emissions held relatively steady. Levels of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, also broke records in 2017, following a relatively steady period of recorded global levels from 1999 to 2006.
"We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," added Panmao Zhai, who helped prepare the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report for the UN.
Indeed, 2018 brought some of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history—many of them linked to climate change, scientists have said.
In November, Paradise, California suffered a horrific wildfire that killed at least 85, destroyed 14,000 homes and seared images of traffic jams on roads surrounded by walls of fire into the minds of millions, as those fleeing posted terrifying videos of their escapes online.
Escaping the 'Camp Fire' in Butte County youtu.be
In southern California, the Woolsey Fire near Malibu killed three and burned 1,600 buildings, including homes belonging to Neil Young, Miley Cyrus and other celebrities, and leaving a dark scar visible from outer space in NASA images.
"California is vulnerable—not because of poor forest management as DT (our so-called president) would have us think," Neil Young wrote in a statement calling for action on climate change after his home was destroyed. "We are vulnerable because of Climate Change; the extreme weather events and our extended drought is part of it."
The Camp Fire was the most deadly wildfire in the U.S. in a century, spurred by a long-running drought and the spread of tree-killing bark beetles into newly warming regions—which together left 129 million dead trees in the parched state.
Dead trees along a mountain road in the Sequoia National Forest in November 2016U.S. Forest Service
But while some in Paradise plan to rebuild, to literally raise their town from ashes, a less-noticed piece of the U.S. was more permanently wiped off the map. An 11-acre Hawaiian island virtually disappeared below the waves, the victim of sea level rise and Hurricane Walaka.
California was hardly the only place to experience extraordinary wildfires in 2018. The Mallard Fire in Texas in May grew so hot that it formed its own pyrocumulous clouds, or fire clouds, which caused a supercell thunderstorm and one-inch hail north of Wheeler, Texas.
And in July, wildfires burned inside the Arctic Circle following an unprecedented drought, with locals in Sweden comparing the glow from the blaze to the Northern Lights. Horrific wildfires also burned across Greece in July, killing 100 people and forcing hundreds more to flee into the sea to escape the fire.
A #firenado came dangerously close to these emergency vehicles as they battle the Carr fire near Redding, Californi… https://t.co/Ldkky1Sh3a— CNN Weather Center (@CNN Weather Center)1532695429.0
The year began with the Montecito mudslides on Jan. 9, which killed 27 Californians and destroyed 130 homes, after a 200-year rainstorm dumped a half inch of rain in just five minutes onto steep slopes which were stripped barren of vegetation by the Thomas wildfire, which in early January became—at the time—the largest wildfire in California's history. That one-two punch bore the fingerprints of a changing climate.
"It wasn't just the drought; it wasn't just the fire; it wasn't just the rain. It was the compound effect," Leah Stokes, a climate policy researcher at UC Santa Barbara, told The Independent in January, discussing the Montecito disaster. "Climate change causes all kinds of abnormal events—you can really think of it as 'climate disruption' or 'global weirding.'"
Flooding and Hurricanes
2018 saw an unusually high number of violent storms, particularly in the Pacific, which saw "the most intense hurricane season ever recorded," according to Popular Science, including 10 storms that reached Category 4 or 5.
Climate scientists proposed the creation of a "Category 6" for hurricanes more powerful than any yet seen. "Scientifically, [six] would be a better description of the strength of 200 mph (320km/h) storms, and it would also better communicate the well-established finding now that climate change is making the strongest storms even stronger," climatologist Michael Mann told CBS News.
The Atlantic coast was hit by two of the most devastating storms to hit the continental U.S., following a 2017 in whic three Category Four storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria, smashed all records for hurricane damage and did over $300 billion in damage.
A year after Maria, Puerto Rico was still recovering, and the official death toll was recognized this year as 3,057 people—after Governor Ricardo Rossello accepted a report raising the number of recognized deaths from 64.
This year's worst Atlantic hurricanes, Michael and Florence, left much of the southern U.S. underwater at points.
Michael, America's strongest-ever October hurricane, carried sustained winds of 155 miles an hour and struck the Florida panhandle, flattening towns like Mexico Beach.
HURRICANE MICHAEL'S WRATH: Stunning drone footage shows the cleanup in Mexico Beach, Florida, after the storm ravag… https://t.co/uoPGUCly1d— CBS News (@CBS News)1539551429.0
Florence, meanwhile, spurred officials to call for the evacuation of more than 1 million people, then left parts of the Carolinas flooded for weeks, after it slowed to a crawl and deluged more than 8 trillion gallons of water into the region.
"When people say the wildfires, hurricanes and heatwaves they're experiencing are unlike anything they've seen before," Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement in November, "there's a reason for that and it's called climate change."
Even before Florence hit, one study found that the storm would be 50 miles wider, and dump 50 percent more rain, because of the impacts of burning fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas pollution.
Heatwaves and Noreasters
The year started with a prolonged run of winter storms in the Northeastern U.S., including winter storms dubbed Riley, Quinn, Skylar and Toby, which some researchers warned may have been tied to climate change—showing just how inapt the term "global warming" can be. When the jet stream began to wobble, it allowed cold air that would normally be trapped over the Arctic to make its way down to the continental U.S.—making the weather warmer up north and colder farther south.
The cold spell was so pronounced in New York and southern Canada that Niagara Falls froze on New Year's Day.
That freezing weather was followed by a summer heatwave that prompted heat warnings for 100 million Americans in the summer, and caused 93 deaths in Montreal.
More than 30,000 people were hospitalized in Japan for heatstroke as summer temps soared there as well.
And while droughts hit hard in Germany, drying up the Rhine river, Baltimore, Maryland has seen nearly 70 inches of rain. A flash flood in Ellicott City, Maryland, swept away cars as roadways abruptly became rivers.
Flash flooding hits Ellicott City, Maryland youtu.be
"The evidence, if we needed any more, continues to stack up. The record-high heatwaves, record-low Arctic sea ice, above average tropical cyclones and deadly wildfires are an alarm bell impossible to ignore," Jens Mattias Clausen, who represented Greenpeace at the UN COP24 climate talks in Poland, told The Guardian this month. "It's no longer our future that is in peril; our today is at risk."
9 #Renewable Energy Highlights of 2018 https://t.co/roGl0U14Jq https://t.co/RfjHi9UkmK— Clean Coalition (@Clean Coalition)1545966304.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.