Monday ReadsPosted: December 14, 2015
I thought I’d provide some links and information on the climate change negotiations in Paris. This was something I planned to blog on earlier but so much crazy is going on that it’s distracted me. Rather than open up with the details, I’m starting with a New Yorker article about how predictable the flooding has gotten in Miami and how an elderly Florida professor believes the surrounding area has less than 50 years to go before its completely submerged. That’s a pretty astounding hypothesis and I speak as New Orleanian on one of the few strips of land that sits comfortably above current sea level knowing we’re not that far behind. New York City should be concerned too. But, for right now, back to becoming a disaster tourist where it’s actually possible to schedule your viewing of Miami floods. They are now that predictable.
The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.
We had breakfast at a greasy spoon not far from Wanless’s office, then set off across the MacArthur Causeway. (Out-of-towners often assume that Miami Beach is part of Miami, but it’s situated on a separate island, a few miles off the coast.) It was a hot, breathless day, with a brilliant blue sky. Wanless turned onto a side street, and soon we were confronting a pond-sized puddle. Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf. Wanless took off his shoes and socks and pulled on a pair of polypropylene booties. As he stepped out of the car, a woman rushed over. She asked if he worked for the city. He said he did not, an answer that seemed to disappoint but not deter her. She gestured at a palm tree that was sticking out of the drowned grass.
“Look at our yard, at the landscaping,” she said. “That palm tree was super-expensive.” She went on, “It’s crazy—this is saltwater.”
“Welcome to rising sea levels,” Wanless told her.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.
“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.
We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.
“This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road. Wanless stretched out his arms, like a magician who’d just conjured a rabbit.
CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB ESCOBED
Louisiana has already lost its boot. There is significant land loss here and the National Climate Change report has put Louisiana and New Orleans as one of the country’s most vulnerable locations behind Southern Florida.
Louisiana will see billions of dollars in increased disaster costs as early as 2030 resulting from the combined effects of global warming and natural processes, according to a new National Climate Assessment report released by the White House on Tuesday (May 6).
The report also warns that sea level rise – combined with naturally-occurring subsidence – continues to threaten wetlandsand land bordering the state’s most populated areas, increasing their risk from storm surges; and that sea level rise driven by human-induced global warming also threatens interstate highways, railroads, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities and water supplies.
“The southeastern region is exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events and decreased water availability,” said Kirsten Dow, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina and one of the authors of chapters in the report, during a telephonic news conference on the report.
The state’s agriculture also is threatened by sea level rise that could contaminate shallow groundwater tables, the report said.
Louisiana’s residents also will see a significant increase in the number of days when the temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and a significant reduction in the days when temperatures drop below 32 degrees, according to the report. The temperature changes are likely to pose a threat to the health of at-risk populations, including those who are chronically ill or elderly.
We’re also getting an unseasonably warm December. I’m trying to be sympathetic with my NYC friends who are complaining about needing AC and shorts. This weather might be taken as an outlier if the average temperatures over an extended period of time haven’t trended upward by such a statistically significant amount.
It’s beginning to look a lot like — September? While retailers may be hitting their full holiday shopping season stride, Mother Nature is not doing her part to put people in the Christmas spirit.
Unseasonably mild temperatures are spreading over the eastern half of the country and about 75% of the U.S. population will see the temperature climb over 60°F by the end of the weekend, hardly a winter wonderland. Don’t be surprised to find holiday shoppers wearing shorts while strolling along Michigan Avenue in Chicago this weekend, as temperatures in the low 60s will make it feel more like late September or early October.
Many folks are asking if the relatively successful Paris agreements on Climate Change are our last best hope for the planet? Rebecca Leber–writing for The New Republic—suggests they may help prevent doom.
These negotiations essentially determined the future course of the world. For a long time we’ve needed an agreement that covers the vast majority of carbon emissions and lays out in no uncertain terms that they are on a long-term downward trajectory. But to get there, 195 countries had a decision to make: Would they allow individual disagreements to lock the planet into a future of unrestrained warming, or would they make the hard choices necessary to chart a safer path?
While the Paris agreement is far from perfect, the text as a whole makes a convincing case for hope. The world is a little less doomed now.
Based on the domestic pledges made by 187 countries, covering some 95 percent of global emissions, the Earth’s average temperature could now rise by somewhere between 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius over the course of the century. That’s still far too high, and shows how much work remains, but it is an improvement over the path of unrestrained pollution we were on before Paris.
Beijing and Delhi are two of the worst polluted cities in the world. How the two of them deal with that pollution is important to the success of any strategy dealing with carbon emissions hoping to stem climate change. Beijng has smog emergency days frequently. I remember these from L.A. in the late 1960s when I visited my grandparents who retired there. An rusty colored cloud hung over that city and was the first thing I remember seeing when we would drive over the mountains and get a glimpse. Things have changed since Nixon’s EPA-related laws, but not enough. However, even the worst smog days in old L.A. have nothing on New Delhi and Beijing. These cities are also the ones begging for mercy on an pollution control mandates coming from the Paris negotiations.
When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 per cent.When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that High Court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting January 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped.”If there are too many problems, it will be stopped,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a speech a couple days after his announcement. “We will not do anything which will cause inconvenience to the public.”Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the Central Government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the green panel has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.
Here is a short outline on the key points of the accords and the impact on India. Developing nations were given a lot of leeway. Getting this kind of agreement was difficult given the many agendas of the various countries.
The Paris accord builds upon the bottom up approach of voluntary commitments or Intended Nationally Determined Commitments(INDCs) from both developed and developing countries. The accord urges parties to enhance their pre-2020 emission cuts and acknowledges the significant gap between current pledges and what is needed to be consistent with holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Countries are expected to submit revised INDCs by 2020, and every five years thereafter. Modi in his opening speech at the negotiations highlighted the need to operationalise the principle of equity and fair distribution of the remaining carbon space (i.e. the amount of carbon we can further emit before breaching average temperature threshold).
Modi in his opening speech at the negotiations highlighted the need to operationalise the principle of equity and fair distribution of the remaining carbon space (i.e. the amount of carbon we can further emit before breaching average temperature threshold).
But by deferring ambitious carbon reductions from the developed countries post 2020, which will still remain voluntary, India has effectively accepted a scenario where a fair carbon budgeting is a distant dream. India, it appears, will instead push hard for greater financing and capacity building for a renewable energy transition.
The one thing the December 12th agreement has is a commitment to phase out the use of fossil fuels. This is something the EU has been working on aggressively.
The agreement commits its signatories to a wonky goal: A “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” before the end of the century. In practice, that means an economy with net zero emissions as soon as possible, paving the way for a massive uptake in renewable energy and the careful preservation of the world’s forests. It also includes a global temperature target of “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and instructs them to “pursue efforts” to keep the increase to just 1.5 degrees, amajor victory for the small island countries that formed the moral heart of the negotiations.
Negotiators worked throughout the two weeks—plus an extra day—on delivering a bold compromise, arriving with legally binding language on financial and technical support to developing countries and a novel “ratchet” mechanism that commits all nations to return to the negotiating table and increase their ambition every five years.
Shipping and air travel, which account for about 8 percent of global emissions, were excluded from the agreement due to the quirk of their international nature, though even those sources are scheduled to be part of separate agreements next year.
It’s by no means a perfect deal, but the final wording of the agreement reflects major achievements in science and diplomacy that have been in the works for decades. Small island countries, in particular, played a critical role at bridging differencesbetween the major developed countries, like the U.S. and Europe, and major developing countries, like India and China. This is an agreement that’s designed to last a century, and will shape the trajectory of both threatened ecosystems and the global economy for the foreseeable future.
As you read links, you will see that this is a very slow and incremental process. It is probably too slow to save both the Louisiana Coast and Southern Florida. Here’s the most comprehensive information on the negotiations and accords.
Here are key resources on the Paris Agreement and events leading up to it.
Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a landmark agreement on December 12 in Paris, charting a fundamentally new course in the two-decade-old global climate effort.
The agreement reached in Paris at the conclusion of COP 21 seeks to address rising emissions and climate imapcts with tools to hold countries accountable and build ambition over time.
A concise, comprehensive guide to what Paris needs to deliver: a legal agreement that ensures strong accountability and spurs rising ambition. Issues include long-term direction, mitigation, adaptation, finance, transparency and updating of national contributions.
Questions and answers on the history of the U.N. climate talks, key issues under negotiation, the legal nature of the agreement, implications for U.S. acceptance, and what happens after Paris.
Fourteen major companies joined a statement organized by C2ES calling for an agreement that provides clearer long-term direction, strengthens transparency, promotes greater comparability of effort, and facilitates the global carbon market.
Read a seminal report from the co-chairs of C2ES’s Toward 2015 dialogue, which brought together top negotiators from two dozen countries for a series of candid, in-depth discussions that forged common ground on key issues for Paris.
This C2ES legal analysis examines whether the Paris climate agreement can be accepted by the president under executive authority or must be approved by Congress.
So, this is a bonus, creepy crime-ridden tale of swampy Louisiana and it involves one of my favorite topics. There’s an abandoned pet cemetery with a complex and dark history that was featured by a photographer shooting during the Katrina 10 year anniversary. It’s actually got violent history back to about 1854 when it was still part of a vast plantation and hosted a duel. It seems an odd way to end a climate change post but just think how creepy it’s going to be when a whole lot of today’s real estate is an abandoned, swampy ghost town. That’s where we’re headed.
The duel may have marked the first of many bloodspills involving the Toca pet cemetery property’s once and future owners, as well as those intangibly associated with what is now an overgrown, bayou-side graveyard and the axis of a recently exhumed 27-year-old murder investigation. The probe has opened a crack in an ageless odyssey of killings, betrayal, buried treasure and intrigue, all tied to a 14-acre tract in tiny Toca, Louisiana.
Today, the property consists of a derelict but once classic Edwardian manor encircled by overgrown animal tombstones on the right bank of Bayou Terre-aux-Boeufs, just below Poydras in rural St. Bernard Parish, about four miles from the Mississippi River.
Last month, authorities claimed to have solved the most recent crime on this killing field of south Louisiana when the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office booked Brandon Nodier, a former groundskeeper at the cemetery, with the 1985 murder of Dorothy Thompson, an heiress whose own legacy is splattered with bloodshed. But many intrigues, such as the whereabouts of a missing half million dollar fortune, perhaps will linger forever, lost with those now dead and gone.
Historic court records, police reports, newspaper clippings, biographies, interviews, marriage, divorce and death records reveal a bizarre history of the pet cemetery that for three decades attracted animal lovers from throughout the South.
So, that’s it from me on a gloomy New Orleans Monday.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?