Category for climate change

Home versus the Mountain

One of the acknowledged great non-fiction pieces of our time is John McPhee’s Los Angeles Against the Mountains, from l988, an uncanny and alarming foreshadowing of the disaster in Montecito this month.

It’s one of those astonishingly thorough and appalling pieces of writing, almost beyond journalismn, and to my mind can hardly be overpraised (but here, let me try!). Here’s a description of a debris flow from a survivor.

As the young Genofiles and their mother glimpsed it in the all but total darkness, the scene was suddenly illuminated by a blue electrical flash. In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

If you read on, it turns into a scene out of Titanic, except thank god the ship doesn’t sink. But there’s one passage from this piece that haunts me especially. On this creek-side property we have been warned to evacuate in case of any downpour. This is why:

Mystically, unnervingly, the heaviest downpours always occur on the watersheds most recently burned. Why this is so is a question that has not been answered. Meteorologists and hydrologists speculate about ash-particle nuclei and heat reflection, but they don’t know.

Jan 9, 2018 - Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, U.S. - KERRY MANN navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed the home of her friend in Montecito. The woman who lives in the home has not been seen since the early hours of Tuesday. At least 15 people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month.  (Newscom TagID: zumaamericasnineteen760940.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Jan 9, 2018 – Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, U.S. – KERRY MANN navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed the home of her friend in Montecito. The woman who lives in the home has not been seen since the early hours of Tuesday. At least 15 people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month. (Newscom TagID: zumaamericasnineteen760940.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

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December 8th in Ojai, CA 2017

Picture from a photographer, Stuart Palley, who in the last couple of years has found a calling in documenting wildfire and the crews that fight it.

Screenshot 2017-12-29 at 1.01.54 PM

The Thomas Fire has been an overwhelming event, plus it ate my office (and musician friend Taylor‘s studio and barn). Did publish a story about the start of the fire in our area in the Santa Barbara Independent, which deserves mention, as does a really excellent Wikipedia compendium about the blaze.

So much to report and say and write! To start here’s a view of the fire looking north into the black.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Not an optimist. Not on Twitter

The writer, journalist, and thinker Ta-Nehisi Coates has been embroiled in controversy for years now. Seemingly his every move attracts controversy, (for reasons mysterious to small-town hick yours truly). Near as I can tell Coates has not been doing anything another prominent and successful writer wouldn’t like to do, such as moving to Paris for a year with his family in 2009, or writing and publishing the great The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic, or for winning the National Book Award, or for attracting a vast following on Twitter, or for purchasing a brownstone in Brooklyn, or for today abruptly pulling the plug on that media.

Wikipedia:

On December 17, 2017, the philosopher and activist Cornel West published an editorial in The Guardian with the title: “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle”.[33] The premise of the article was that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy” and, in West’s view, represents “narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neo-liberalism” by wrongly casting former PresidentBarack Obama as a successor to such figures as Malcolm X as an African-American hero.[33] West believes that Obama (which on a previous occasion he had called a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface“)[34] should never be compared to activists, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., who in their fight against white supremacy spoke out against systemic biases in predatory capitalism and war; according to West, this is because Obama, while he is of the same racial class, is part of the system that the activists should fight against.[33]

The same day, West shared the article on Twitter, attracting tweets in response from many others, including hundreds of supporters of Coates.[35][36] The next day, West’s tweet was retweeted by the alt-rightwhite supremacistRichard Spencer, who indicated tacit agreement with West’s criticism of Coates.[35][37] Shortly afterwards, Coates, who had enjoyed a following of over 1.25 million other Twitter users, deactivated his Twitter account.[35][38][39]

As Jonathan Chait remarked from bitter personal experience, “neoliberal” has become the Left’s favorite insult, and seems to mean more or less not living up to the legacy of FDR in the Great Depression. In an essay about this insult, Chait includes a pretty great joke from Lyndon Johnson, who although lionized among liberals today for the Great Society and civil rights legislation, in his time was considered a sell-out by the Left:

“What’s the difference between a cannibal and a liberal?” Johnson joked during his presidency. “A cannibal doesn’t eat his friends.”

CoatesNYTimespic

 

 

 

 

But Coates, as that look indicates, isn’t here to joke around, he’s got something important to say, and frankly, part of what he’s saying is that the news isn’t good. That’s part of his message. To make that point (in an interview lost to memory) he spoke admiringly of Elizabeth (Betsyu) Kolbert, the indefatiguable chronicler of climate change and The Sixth Extinction.

That’s why I was so appalled when Krista Tippett, the usually thoughtful spirit animating the On Being podcast, insisted on asking Coates “the optimism question,”: even after specifically promising him she wouldn’t. It’s kind of incredible and it’s right in the transcript.

Ms. Tippett: And I told you before we walked out here that I’m not gonna ask you to be optimistic.

Mr. Coates: OK, but now you are?

Ms. Tippett: No, I’m not, because I see that everywhere you go, you’re telling this truth, and then white people want you to say, “OK, so where can we find our hope?” And I was watching you on Colbert recently — somebody saw that? He really wanted you to give hope.

Here’s what I find when you write: “Our story is a tragedy. I know it sounds odd, but that belief does not depress me. It focuses me.”

Amazingly, that eloquent defense is not enough. It’s as if Tippett is driven to insist on that most American of demands from a public performance: a happy ending.

Ms. Tippett: You don’t have hope. Or you don’t want to use that word, because that word —

Mr. Coates: No, no, no.

Ms. Tippett: But you are — there’s a focus. There’s an energy…

Mr. Coates: You know what it is? I don’t actually think I’m that singular in this. I don’t know — and I don’t know if there are journalists here, but you have to understand: That’s my training. I was trained as a journalist. Journalists go out and look for things that are wrong in the world, and then they write them. And it is not the case that your editor says, “OK, that’s a cool story, but there’s no hope at the end.”

[laughter]

That’s not a thing editors say to journalists, which is what I am. And so it’s not so much that I even object to hope. It’s just that the thing I do, that’s not a criteria for. You know what I mean?

She actually still doesn’t understand, but finally corners him on one corner of American life which does “give him hope” and inspiration.

Ms. Tippett: Where I find you to be closest to what I think other people are wanting from you, when they want you to be hopeful, is when you write and speak about Malcolm X.

Mr. Coates: Yeah, he gave me hope. He did, he did.

Ms. Tippett: You talk about — he presented, more than anybody else, the possibility of what you call “collective self-creation.”

Mr. Coates: Right. Well, you know what? I would listen to his lectures, and I just felt free. It’s not “hope” like — I think what people want is, “Tell us that we’re going to get past this.”

Ms. Tippett: That it’s going to be OK.

Mr. Coates: “Tell us it’s going to be OK.” So that’s one thing, right?

But there’s a different kind of hope. There are people in the world who accept that their life ends in death, and that’s bad, but that’s what’s gonna happen. And then within that, they find joys and hopes in between: “Oh, I have the ability…”

So for Malcolm — to me, it was: I can speak about the world in a way that is reflective of my life and my community. I can do that. I don’t have to calibrate my speech. I don’t have to calibrate how I look. I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way. I have that right.

And so that was big for me, as a writer. When I started writing, there was a school of writing that says: Given that the audience is obviously — when you reach to any size, is not gonna be majority-black — that you have to hold people’s hands. You have to explain to them. And the Malcolm influence on me said: No, you don’t. Write as you hear it. Write as you hear it.

And in fact, I don’t even think that’s a particular black thing, because if you’re black in this world, and you are gonna become educated on the — what is considered mainstream art in this world, mainstream traditions — nobody slows down for you. Nobody is gonna hold your hand [laughs] and explain The Brady Bunch to you. Nobody’s gonna do that. Catch up.

Yes. “I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way.” Or talk, or write. Facing unpleasant facts, as Orwell said, is a job too — a job for a writer.

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TEN EXCELLENT CLIMATE STORIES/LINKS

A New York Times primer on the 17 biggest questions people ask about climate change:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

A New York magazine story about climate change and the dangers of extreme heat.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

A Vanity Fair article about climate change and the danger of extreme heat.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/06/extreme-heat-global-warming

A Scientific American story about the great California megaflood.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-rivers-california-megaflood-lessons-from-forgotten-catastrophe/

A PBS Newshour primer on climate change and the civil war in Syria.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/a-major-contributor-to-the-syrian-conflict-climate-change

Daniel Swain’s superb and popular blog on California weather: Weather West.

http://weatherwest.com/

Top Eight climate change stories in the Washington Post this year:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/29/here-are-our-top-8-climate-change-stories-of-2017/?utm_term=.1ff05120d9a0

New Yorker story on why facts on important matters such as climate may not change our minds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-mind

Stories by Andrew Revkin, of ProPublica and the NYTimes, on climate:

https://www.propublica.org/people/andrew-revkin

And, for a moment of hope, a Mother Jones story on why flying is less damaging for the atmosphere than it once was:

Why Flying Home for the Holidays Might Be Greener Than Driving

 

 

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Toles on climate denial in the White House

The great Tom Toles has been struggling a bit (it seems to me) with the obdurate nature of this White House, but found a way to make a climate point amusingly today…as 1.4 million in Florida face evacuation.
thepharohandclimatechange

Californians shouldn’t be crowing: Superfloods happen here too.

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In Ojai, global warming + summer = heat. But how much?

A week ago New York magazine published a blockbuster climate change story. Here’s the annotated/footnoted version. Highly recommended, because the writer — David Wallace-Wells — finds a way to bring home the urgency, using current science. It’s very simple, really. Instead of focusing on what will happen next year, or next decade, or by 2040, he looks at what will happen over the course of this century.

Here’s the cover, to bring the message home:

TheDoomedEarthcatalogue2

To put it simply, even if we as a species succeed in holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius this century, that still means a 4C warming by 2100, which means substantial portions of the planet will become uninhabitable.

From the story:

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat. The original paper is by James Hansen, though for this and much of my account of extreme heat events I relied on Joseph Romm’s Climate Change.; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, This is from the World Bank’s very helpful 2012 report Turn Down the Heat, on life in a world four degrees warmer. and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe.The warning appears on page 15 of the Fifth Assessment’s Synthesis Report. As some readers have pointed out, these effects will come about gradually, beginning with the rare unusually hot day; those unusually hot days will gradually become more frequent in number. As with all of the climate effects in this article, it’s important to remember that heat stress is not a binary matter: It’s not that there are two options, lethal heat waves and normal, comfortable temperatures, but that global warming will gradually bring about more and more heat stress. The same is true, of course, for effects on agriculture, economics, conflict, and other areas. As Richard Alley told me, “We’ve warmed the world one degree. The general impression is that each degree is more costly, more damaging, than the previous one. The first degree — most estimates are that the first degree was almost free. But we can see a dotted line into Syria. The second degree will cost more than the first degree. You might say it costs the square of the warming.” Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015.“Even if such aspirations are realized, large increases in the frequency of deadly heat should be expected, with more than 350 million more megacity inhabitants afflicted by midcentury,” this paper warns. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer.Also from Turn Down the Heat. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today.The report can be found here. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know,heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.”This is from page 138, though it refers to the same NOAA study mentioned above. The high-end IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

Several scientists pushed back against the article’s conclusions (and, I suspect, against the graphics and headline, which transmitted a message of doom and extinction). I’ll mention a couple of worthy voices in this debate, but move on to the local issue, which is of greater importance to residents to Ojai.

Ojai is already a warm place in our long Mediterranean summers: what if it gets hotter? Could Ojai be one of those places that will within our children’s become inhabitable?

This graph from NOAA shows that June temps have been soaring as of late. Probably this is due to the drought: without the evaporation and transpiration of water from the ground, temperatures warm more quickly than would otherwise be the case. But still…

CAdivisionsixmaxtempsinJune

 

The question of how much Ojai could warm this century has not really been asked, to my knowedge. Can we stand to consider this possibility? Anyone interested in the answer to that question? What if it’s knowable?

This week NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) held its monthly climate call for media. Climatologist Jake Crouch mentioned in his presentation that “typically when we have really warm years in the lower 48 we see a drought pattern.”

So I (Kit Stolz) asked the natural follow-up: Is there some unusual factor, ocean warming or something not necessarily seen in the usual datasets, that could explain this unusual warming?

Crouch said, in effect, no. “As to the temperature outlook, we saw some natural ridging building across the southwest, bringing hotter temperatures and some human health impacts to the region. We think it’s more of a weather phenomenon than any other factor.”

So there you have it. Until some new research comes in, anyhow.

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Garrison Keiller on the piousness of climate activists

Humorists and contrarians so often seem to drink from the same well, as Garrison Keiller did this week in mocking Trump, Trump supporters, climate activists, Europeans, the Chinese, smokers, and himself in a column this week.

No sensuous pleasure can compare to the thrill of righteousness, and when the poor schlump [Trump] stood in the Rose Garden and read his speech about America victimized by the crafty Europeans and the treacherous Chinese who designed the Paris accords, he could not have imagined the uproar he would cause. Moments later, everybody to the left of Jabba the Hutt was shaking their fists as if he had stuck his hand up under the Statue of Liberty’s gown. Birds shrieked from the trees, small dogs growled, even heinous criminals looked upon him with loathing.

Love that hyperbole! A picture from outside the White House gates:

outsidethewhitehouse

But as is typically the case with the great Keillor, he’s got surprises — a little poke for one and all:

People love the chance to get all apocalyptic: The right wing has enjoyed this for years and now it was everyone else’s turn. The polar icecap melting, the incidence of depression among chickadees rising, tooth decay in chickens, acorns falling, the planet turning to toast. Prophets of doom wherever you looked.

[edit]

Even though the scientists are right about climate change, the sanctimony is awfully heavy. It’s like the people who told me the mortality statistics for heavy smokers back when I was doing four packs a day. They took satisfaction from my imminent demise and to demonstrate my immortality I upped my intake and switched to unfiltered Camels. The Paris accords were a bunch of drunks agreeing to go on the wagon, and what the guy at the podium did was to invest in a chain of distilleries. So what?

The man is only trying to please the folks who voted for him. They want him to walk into church and moon the clergy. They’ve always wanted to do it themselves but didn’t dare offend their devout neighbors. So they went along, saying the appropriate things about Community and Cooperation and Tolerance and the Value of Education, which made them miserable because they didn’t believe in any of it. They believed in Family Loyalty and outsiders can go to hell. Be a winner. Race to the buffet and pick all the beef out of the stew and let the others have the celery and onions.

It’s a selfish world view but so what? Sew buttons on your underwear. They never had a champion until this guy came along and spoke for them loud and clear, and they eked out a narrow win in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and now they’re making the most of it. That’s how it works. And every week or so, their guy walks up to the altar and drops his trousers.

The guy is trying to save the coal industry. We each have our causes. I am fighting for the typewriter industry and for the revival of rotary telephones. That doesn’t make me a bad person. I think the 1951 Studebaker was the most beautiful car of the 20th century. With a few billion dollars in federal subsidies and a ban on foreign imports, we can bring the Studebaker back. This will be a great boon to South Bend, Indiana.

The truth is, the man has a lousy job. He is penned up in the White House with a bunch of gossipy underlings and he is expected to make big decisions about matters he doesn’t know or care about and he is expected to make nice with world leaders who disdain him, like the Frenchman who gave him a bone-crushing handshake.

And he did the speech and was reamed by the media and academicians and loser Democrats, that whole high-fiber crowd, and you know what? He does not care. He is 70 and no scientist in the world says the sky is going to fall in the next 20 or 25 years so what exactly is the problem? Like his followers, he has no beliefs, only urges. Look at the expression of chill hauteur on the man’s face as he shoves his way through the NATO heads of state to stand in front. It’s all there. That’s him. The Duke of Earl. When you know nothing, nothing can stop you.

But as many have noted, the bizarre twist is that the President pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement is not only unpopular in polling by about a 2-to-1 margin, but it’s also sent interest in the agreement through the roof.

Will this President ever get control of the narrative?

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Trump cites MIT climate study: MIT objects

Yesterday President Trump announced he is exiting the United States from the climate deal that the Obama administration pulled together against all odds with 190 nations from around the world. Trump justified the abrogation of the deal for several reasons, and cited an MIT study:

Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.  Tiny, tiny amount.

But of course the study doesn’t stay that.

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President Trump unveils new climate policy

Trumptoworld

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Sierra Nevadas to change this century: UCLA researcher

The snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada soared to 170% of normal: just two years ago at the annual measuring date at the end of March (attended by Governor Brown) it stood at 5%.

This extreme variability of the California climate will become routine this century argues researcher Daniel Swain of UCLA.

Here’s my story on his appearance tomorrow in Ojai, at the Krotona Institute.

“If you zoom in on the models and take into account the highly varying topography and the diminishing snow cover, you find that the Sierra Nevadas are actually going to warm much more than we [scientists] thought this century,” he said. “Temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees at some locations in the mountains.”

The March study, by Neil Berg and Alex Hall at UCLA, warns that droughts could all but eliminate the snowpack in the mountains on which California depends for water storage. The authors conclude, “Going forward, it is likely to become more difficult to store and manage municipal, agricultural and ecological water needs within a warmer climate, especially during periods of extreme drought.”

This could challenge the State Water Project, which depends on the slow melting of the Sierra snowpack to keep farmers in water through the long summers. Swain thinks that people are begining to understand the need to adapt to climate change, but he still thinks that even scientists have been slow to recognize how quickly the state is moving toward a polarization of the climate.

“It really is the extremes that matter now in California,” he said. “We already have seen patterns of extreme wetness and extreme dryness in recent years despite the fact we haven’t seen a significant change in the long-term annual mean [for rain and snow]. I argue that when it comes to precipitation in California, it’s not that the average doesn’t matter, it’s that the extremes matter much more.”

Swain has become famous for his remarkable California Weather Blog . Here’s a recent image he posted, of “wave number six” making its way around the world, altering weather patterns as it goes. Reading his blog offers a way for civilians to find their way into an understanding of meteorology and climate science.

wavenumbersix

 

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