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STORM WITHOUT SIGNIFICANCE? November 4, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in Natural Environment.
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Even though the Super Storm hit last week, and its impact is still being experienced as it will be for some time, the modus operandi of the news cycle is to move on.

OK, it might have had something to do with the change in the atmosphere and the dynamics of the climate system due to the continued emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but the more important and immediate thing is to concentrate on earning, consuming and reproducing as if there is no tomorrow. We might as well ignore systematic change.

Had the great storm just rushed through Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti, and followed the trajectory of Hurricane Irene, with its quantum of  destruction and death, it might have met the same denial as the  extreme high temperatures, the bush fires, and the loss of agricultural production this year in the US.

For political reasons, including the flow of campaign money anonymously unleashed by the Supreme Court decision and the sensitivity of coal miners in Ohio, climate change could not be discussed in the presidential election. In relation to Mitt Romney whose public beliefs and stated positions are cast to follow which way the wind is blowing, he might now affirm support for climate change, as indeed might Barack Obama. Where this might then leave them with respect to platform in relation to energy independence from burning coal gas and the Alberta tar gas pipeline, may create a problem of reconciliation between conflicting goals.

However the inundation of the eastern coast, particularly New York by the surging seas, is a game changer. Firstly, “the systematic causation” of climate change cannot be ignored. If it is denied then the vested interests involved will likely loss their cloak of anonymity. Once the underground system has had the water pumped out, and all the other damage cleared up and fixed, then the problem of flood mitigation will have to be confronted, along with the considerable costs and the realization that the events of recent days are likely to reoccur.

In The New York Times, David W Chen and Mireya Navarro report that repeated warnings were ignored, despite the experience last year of Hurricane Irene. State Governor Cuomo proposes better protection against storm surges, such as levees and barriers. Proposals that will be expensive. They write:

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost as much as $10 billion.

But many experts say, given what happened with the latest storm, that inertia could be more expensive.

After rising roughly an inch per decade in the last century, coastal waters in New York are expected to climb as fast as six inches per decade, or two feet by midcentury, according to a city-appointed scientific panel. That much more water means the city’s flood risk zones could expand in size.

“Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk,” said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. “Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is.”

That is just New York. So where is the money to come from, if not the Federal Budget? And then there is the fundamental question as to how resources should be allocated. I suppose it was always obvious, possibly because my thinking was governed by notions of efficiency and effectiveness, that budget allocations are values statements. So what then is the decision if the choice is between defending against increasing frequency of storms and other “natural” disasters and enemies  or terrorists?

At Exxon, Rex Tillerson, the CEO has been saying for sometime:

We have sent our whole existence adapting. We will adapt to this (Climate Change)

Yes, it is an engineering problem, but at a cost, eg $10 billion alone for NY flood barriers/ gates. Given inaction, these costs are in a sense sunk costs. They are necessary. Far better to address the problem of carbon emissions, but that is a cultural paradigm shift, a bridge too far for Exxon, and all other polluters.

There are other points of view, such as the wonders of the unfolding of the free market (so why then is advertising necessary, and why does it use overt propaganda techniques embellished by television ?) the authority of natural philosophy and physics over biological science, which might for example stop to reflect on consciousness. At RT, Crossfire unsuccessfully runs the gamut:

James Hansen believes that market mechanisms will be more effective than governmental edicts:

The next catastrophic event will be met with the same saturation coverage, followed by the next new big media interest and pervasive denial and inaction, so at the very least the full significance of climate change should be addressed, and at some time, when the tipping points have fallen it may be too late. What then humanity? Wailing and gnashing of teeth? No worries, it could be within fifty or a hundred years, or within the lifetime of people now alive.

 

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