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Hurricane Dorian barrels towards Florida, exacerbated by global warming

Emily Dao

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hurricane dorian

After barrelling through the Abaco Islands and the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian now creeps towards the U.S.’ East Coast. The Category 5 storm, which the National Hurricane Center (NHC) describes as “catastrophic,” held sustained winds of 185mph with gusts of more than 220mph. In perspective, that’s triple the wind speed for scientists to classify it a hurricane.

Experts project that the dangerous storm will hit areas near the Florida coast either late Monday or early Tuesday. They also expect that the storm will strike the Carolinas and Georgia and has the potential to cause significant damage to them. Estimates show that Dorian may hit southeastern coastal regions of the U.S. with 6-12 inches of rainfall. For some areas, they may even see 18 inches of rain. In such cases, Dorian could lead to “life-threatening” flash floods. 

Governor DeSantis comments on Dorian

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emphasized the dangers of Hurricane Dorian’s 185mph sustained winds in a news conference on Sunday. 

“That’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew, which reached landfall at 165mph. It’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Michael, 160mph. South Florida has had one hurricane in our history—the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935—that reached that level, and that was total destruction,” DeSantis said. “The strength of this storm cannot be underestimated.” 

Hurricane Dorian acts as the fourth named hurricane of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) updated its forecast for this year’s season to say there would be a 45% chance of above-average activity during the hurricane season. 

Usually, roughly 6 hurricanes hit the Atlantic every season, three of which usually become major hurricanes. However, NOAA says the Atlantic could potentially be hit by as many as nine hurricanes this year. 2-4 are expected to qualify as Category 3 storms or higher, with strong winds of 110mph or above. 

Global warming exacerbates storms and hurricanes

Although scientists cannot definitively say climate change caused Hurricane Dorian, global warming does exacerbate the effects of storms and hurricanes.

According to NOAA, the past five years have been the warmest on record. And it seems like this trend will continue unless significant measures are taken. With higher temperatures comes rising sea levels, which leads to more frequent, powerful flooding. When the air gets warmer, it also increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. That causes tropical storms to intensify and produce more precipitation. 

Warming is also leading storms to be much slower than before. A 2018 study found that in the past seventy years, hurricanes and tropical storms moved around 10% more slowly on average. A slower speed actually makes the effects of storms much more lethal—it gives such storms more time to wreak devastation upon the areas it is hitting, leading to stronger winds and rain and, subsequently, flooding. 

Hurricane Dorian is unprecedented for the Bahamas

Although residents of the Bahamas are no strangers to heavy storms, Hurricane Dorian hits the island with unprecedented risks. Due to the storm, meteorologists report an 18-23 feet increase in water levels. Some areas, they say, could face total flooding. 

Director of International Affairs for Human Rights Bahamas, Louby Georges, told The New York Times residents, terrified by the powerful storm, packed the shelters. As a result, many people have resorted to churches in Marsh Harbour. However, since the churches aren’t on the official list of shelters, Georges says there are no trained professionals to help with any emergencies, and supplies may run out as the storm worsens.

“People are sending voice notes, people are crying,” he said. “You can hear people hollering in the background.” 

Conclusions

As Hurricane Dorian looms on the horizon, so do fears of all the possible wreckage the powerful storm may leave behind. Although there is no clear evidence that the effects of climate change are directly responsible for the strengthening of devastating hurricanes and storms, they certainly amplify the ferocity behind such natural disasters.

Sustainability

PG&E Will Pay $13.5 Billion In Damages For Camp Fire And Three Other Wildfires It Started

Maddie Blaauw

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This past week, Pacific Gas and Electric reached a $13.5 billion settlement for the four fires the company started, including the PG&E Camp Fire. A portion of this will go to victims of the fires. Another part is for rebuilding infrastructure damaged by the fire. PG&E estimates that the damage it caused totals over $30 billion. However, by declaring bankruptcy, the electricity provider hopes to settle all claims with a lower payment.

Compensation for Four Separate Fires, Including the PG&E Camp Fire

PG&E claims that the $13.5 billion dollars will be retribution for four fires in the last ten years: the PG&E Camp Fire of 2018, the Tubbs Fire of 2017, the Butte Fire on 2015, and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016. 

While some of these cases are still in court to determine the legal liability of PG&E, the reason that the company has opened up to a $13.5 billion settlement is because it believes that it will be found guilty, and hopes to pay less this way.

PG&E’s bankruptcy puts it in danger of having the state take over. Additionally, the federal government convicted PG&E of six felonies after a gas pipeline explosion in 2010. The company remains on probation because of this event.

Many agree that this PG&E settlement is the company trying to calm survivors of the fires, while not raising any more regulation from either federal or state governments

The PG&E Camp Fire and Others Could Have Been Prevented

The PG&E Camp Fire currently holds records as the deadliest and the most destructive wildfire in California history. The damages from it totaled an estimated $16.5 billion. The fire destroyed 18,804 buildings.

Flames scorched 153,336 acres of land that was home to both people and California’s beautiful forests and wildlife.  And perhaps the most painful number of all is the total deaths. 85 people died in an event that was ultimately preventable with proper power line care and maintenance. 

The Tubbs Fire in 2017 held the records that the Camp Fire broke. It was the most destructive wildfire in Californian history at the time, but no longer holds that title.

The Wildfires Caused Severe Damages

Damages caused by the fire total $1.3 billion, in 2017 USD. The Tubbs Fire destroyed an estimated 5643 structures, and destroyed 36,807 acres of nature and civilization. 22 people died. 

The Butte Fire in 2015, though not as costly as the Camp Fire, still burned about half as much land. The lower cost is likely due to a lower concentration of homes and towns on the land.

However, this means that the fire burned through more natural habitat and oxygen-producing trees. The damages cost about $2 billion, and 863 buildings burned, supporting the former claim.

Fatalities Occurred

The fatalities caused by the Butte Fire were the lowest of the four the company is addressing. Two people died. Nonetheless, it is painful to know that these two deaths could have been prevented.

Finally, the Ghost Ship Fire, which took place in a warehouse in Oakland in 2016, caused 36 fatalities. The people were trapped inside the building and the blaze prevented firefighters from getting to them. 

So in total, land burned by these four fires alone totals 126,479 acres. That’s nearly 200 square miles. Undoubtedly, though, of the greatest importance is the death toll of 145 lives.

So it’s understandable that many would be enraged by the lowering of the PG&E settlement from $30 billion to $13.5 billion.

Knowing, Yet Doing Nothing

PG&E cited in reports of the events that lead to the fires that the company had previously observed, but not fixed, many of the causes.

For example, both the company and the California Fire Department have stated that the cause of the PG&E Camp Fire was dry vegetation around the transmission lines.

The transmission lines were neither upkept nor equipped well enough to handle the hot, dry summer that California saw in 2018, even though climate scientists had predicted that the lengths of droughts and the temperatures of the summer months would increase. 

PG&E ignored the conclusions of these scientists instead of treating power lines to withstand such changes. 

Politicians Outraged By Company Response to PG&E Camp Fire and More

The Californian governor is enraged by the inactivity of the company. Many in the state’s government are also upset with the lack of improvements to deal with the reality that climate change is bringing to the state.

In May of 2019, he stated, “All should be mindful of PG&E’s history of over two decades of mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture… [PG&E] has not demonstrated that it understands the gravity and urgency of the situation.” 

Overall, the utility has failed the communities that it serves on two fronts: inadequate inspection of power lines, and lack of action to fix a hazard found during the inadequate inspection of power lines.

By confronting these two problems and becoming more efficient in these two areas, the company could have arguably prevented every single fire that it hopes to address in the $13.5 billion PG&E settlement.

We Can’t Keep Ignoring These Wildfires

The effects of climate change are real and are having real, quantifiable impacts on the country.

Companies that have been profiting while ignoring climate change need to step up and address potential causes of tragedy before changes in the weather escalate the small, fixable item into a forest fire that kills 85.

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Sustainability

Latest IUCN Report Shows Ocean Deoxygenation Is Happening At An Alarming Rate

Haider Sarwar

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While many people don’t personally witness the ramifications of climate change, marine life is starting to take a serious toll due to ocean deoxygenation. Today, more than 700 oceanic sites are suffering from oxygen loss. In comparison, ocean deoxygenation only affected 45 sites in the 1960s.

That’s not to mention ocean deoxygenation will even more greatly impact marine ecosystems with the most biodiversity. This immense increase in anoxic oceans has led to a bleak outlook on the future of our oceans. What does it all mean for marine life?

What The IUCN Report Says About Ocean Deoxygenation

A study that began in 2000, the IUCN released a report just yesterday named Ocean Deoxygenation: Everyone’s Problem. The title alone draws heavy focus to the underrepresented deoxygenation of the oceans.

More specifically, the carbon emissions that humans primarily create have led to reduced levels of oxygen in oceans.

Not just greenhouse gases, nutrient run-off from agriculture also decreases oxygen. Chemicals from everyday life pollute the sea every day and lead to eutrophication.

IUCN’s report indicated that climate change is affecting the most biodiverse regions of the ocean. Moreover, the deoxygenation will disrupt “basic processes.” This means that deoxygenation is disrupting the cycle of life and predator/prey relationships.

It’s a big problem because it could lead to the endangering of some species and overpopulation of other species.

Unfortunately, the researchers estimated that the oceans would lose 4% of its oxygen worldwide by 2100. Furthermore, they recommended that world leaders and politicians pay more attention to this growing problem.

The report noted that even with corrective actions, a lot of the damage done might be irreversible.

What Ocean Deoxygenation Means For Marine Life

Ocean deoxygenation will primarily affect areas with high biodiversity. That is, it’s driving all of the high-energy fish to shallower waters. This is because the deeper parts of the ocean are starving for oxygen.

The high-energy consuming fish, the tuna and sharks of the ocean, will have higher chances of being overfished.

While the population of the fish that we depend on dwindles, the jellyfish and microbes that stay in the deeper parts will flourish.

Mainly because their predators have fled for more oxygenated areas, the overpopulation of these microbes will occur. “If we run out of oxygen it will mean habitat loss and biodiversity loss and a slippery slope down to slime and more jellyfish,” said Minna Epps from IUCN.

It’s Everyone’s Problem To Solve

The effects of climate change are now a reality. The bleak report put out by IUCN illustrates the overarching problems and what can be done.

While corrective methods may prove to be less than efficient, an attempt must be made. Climate change won’t just stop at our oceans; it’ll affect every part of nature. Ocean deoxygenation is everyone’s problem to solve.

And the least we can do is not pollute our oceans.

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Bad Move: 31 States Significantly Reduce Funding To Environmental Protection Efforts

Avery Maloto

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Environmental protection has been a hot button issue for decades. Fortunately, today’s younger generation seems to be expressing more dedication to climate change reform. However, while younger adults strive for change, the government does not seem to match the public’s efforts. Instead, state governments are rolling back many regulations that support environmental protection. 

In the last ten years, several states have collectively cut 4,400 job positions at agencies that are responsible for environmental protection.

Study Shows Drastic Budget Cuts To Environmental Protection Efforts

In a recent study published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), analysts underscored the economical behavior of state agencies that strive to protect public health and the environment from all forms of pollution. Their discoveries were shocking.

From 2008 to 2018, EIP found that 31 states reduced funding for pollution control programs through their local environmental agencies. As a result, half of U.S. states were subject to budget cuts of at least 10 percent. 

Out of these, Wisconsin experienced the largest reduction of 36% of funding for its environmental agency. Closely following are Texas and Louisiana with a reduction of 35% and North Carolina with a reduction of 34%. 

Unfortunately, the losses do not stop there. On top of the rollbacks of funding, a total of 41 states have reduced their staff population in their respective environmental agencies. 

Illinois suffered the most with a cut of 38% of its environmental staffing. In addition, North Carolina cut 35%, Arizona cut 32%, and Louisiana cut 30% of their respective staffings. 

Why Are Budget Cuts Happening For Environmental Protection?

Surprisingly, these cuts are not necessarily the consequence of a partisan issue. Many Republican states, such as Texas and Louisiana, experienced large losses in environmental funding. However, Democratic states like New York and Illinois suffered as well.

The question then arises, if not for political opinion, why are these changes happening?

One explanation is the possibility that some states simply do not have the money. As noted in the report, federal and state governments play complementary but essential roles in environmental protection.

However, many states nor the EPA have enough funding to do their share. Unfortunately, this results in many of the cuts seen in the workforce.

For Instance, Texas Is Making Huge Reductions

However, Luke Metzger, the Executive Director of Environment Texas, explained another obvious reason: lack of care.

Metzger noted that with “one-third of [Texas] waterways unsafe for fishing and swimming and two-thirds of Texans living in areas with unsafe air quality, Texas has major environmental problems”.

However, he continues to note that “instead of meeting this challenge, [Texas] legislature is de-prioritizing the environment and public health”.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state de-prioritizing the issue.

In 2011, an EPA Inspector General report found that Louisiana had the worst enforcement of environmental laws in the country. In addition, North Carolina cut $136 million in 2008, a time when overall state spending increased.

Where Do These Decisions Leave Us?

Unfortunately, environmentalists and policy experts warn that state-level cuts are only the beginning. Following the trend, many foresee similar budget cuts in federal spending in the near future.

This would entail a larger slash in funding than the 16% already lost by the EPA between 2008 and 2018.

The truth is, there is no silver lining on these actions. To say in simpler terms, cuts to state environmental agencies are attacks on the quality of life across the country.

By stripping the allotted budget away from environmental protection, public health may very well deteriorate over time. Whether through the lack of spending or sheer apathy, the health of families, forests, and waterways are put in jeopardy by pollution.

Not only do we not want that for ourselves, but for the sake of future generations, something needs to change.

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