26 October 2017
On the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Climate Central has ranked the U.S. cities most vulnerable to major coastal floods using three different metrics.
On the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Climate Central has ranked the U.S. cities most vulnerable to major coastal floods using three different metrics.
An estimated 1.9 million U.S. homes could be flooded by 2100 if seas rise 6 feet in response to climate change, according to a new analysis by the real estate company Zillow.
DON’T CONSIGN POOR COUNTRIES TO WILD STORMS AND FLOODING
BY HUGH SEALY ON 10/15/17 AT 6:50 AM
Hurricane Maria is still wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico, weeks after making landfall.
Officials announced last week that several people may have died from contaminated water supplies caused by the storm. And with one-third of the Puerto Ricans still without running water, more deaths may follow as people turn to streams.
Climate change has made hurricanes like Maria more intense and destructive -- and has exacerbated the public-health crises that hurricanes can unleash. These crises, fuelled by invisible killers, can be far deadlier than the physical destruction caused by extreme weather.
Keep Up With This Story And More By Subscribing Now
More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, according to a new World Health Organization report. That's over one-fourth of the globe's population.
Climate change is making this problem worse. That's because climate change influences the "frequency, intensity . . . and timing of weather and climate extremes," as a United Nations report makes clear. More than half of the major extreme weather events between 2011 and 2015 were linked to human-caused global warming.
These extreme conditions threaten water supplies. Intense precipitation causes flooding that overwhelms sewage systems and contaminates sources of drinking water with sediment, animal waste, and pesticides.
Consider what happened in the Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific, in 2014. Massive rainstorms caused flooding that contaminated water supplies throughout the archipelago. More than 2,100 people developed flu-like symptoms. Nearly 4,000 people suffered from diarrhoea, and ten children died.
People walk across a flooded street in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 as the country faced dangerous flooding and an island-wide power outage after Hurricane Maria.
Eileen Natuzzi, a public health researcher who studied the disaster, noted that the illnesses and deaths underscored the "significant health impacts from our changing climate."
Or consider hurricanes like Maria, which have become more frequent and severe because of rising ocean temperatures. Dominica's Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, made an impassioned plea at the recent UN General Assembly, calling the situation in his country, which was hit hard by Maria, "the frontline in the war against climate change." The Prime Minister lamented, "While the big countries talk the small island nations suffer."
Last October, Hurricane Matthew dumped huge amounts of water onto the Dominican Republic. After rivers overflowed, leptospira bacteria -- which can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, and liver failure -- permeated the water supply. Seventy-four people died.
Rich nations bear some of the blame for these climate-change-fuelled crises. The richest 10 percent of people are responsible for half of global fossil-fuel emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere and thereby warm the planet. The poorest half of the world's population accounts for a paltry 10 percent of emissions.
Yet richer, higher-emitting countries are also fortunate enough not to bear the full consequences of climate change. A warming climate will have less impact on their levels of economic growth and mortality. By that standard, 11 of the 17 countries with the lowest levels of emissions are "acutely vulnerable" to the negative effects of climate change, according to a recent Scientific Reports study.
In other words, wealthy nations caused the problem but are not doing enough to solve it. In March, for example, the White House announced it would scale back several emissions-cutting measures -- like limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants and a ban on new coal leases on federal land.
Meanwhile, in Europe -- where leaders have chastised the United States for pulling out of the Paris climate agreement -- only three of 27 countries are set to meet their carbon-cutting pledges.
One bright note is the announcement in June by France's Ecological Transition Minister Nicolas Hulot that France, one of the three EU members in compliance with the Paris Agreement, will stop issuing licenses for further oil and gas exploration.
The rest of the developed world must urgently follow France's lead. It is irresponsible and immoral to continue to emit such high levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Rich, developed countries need to acknowledge this -- and take urgent action to correct their emitting ways.
Otherwise, future Marias could lead to even greater losses of life.
Hugh Sealy is a professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at St. George's University in Grenada.
Opinion | CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER
Trump’s Sellout of American Heritage
Timothy Egan OCT. 13, 2017
Continue reading the main storyShare This Page
An aerial view of a landscape in the Bristol Bay watershed. Credit Paul Colangelo
The last runs of heavenly wild salmon are trickling in this month, the buttery coho with flesh the color of fall foliage. After that, we’ll have to settle for mostly farmed and frozen fish until next spring — no substitute for the real deal.
We can count on this seasonal miracle, healthy fish returning to their birthplaces and then on to the dinner table, so long as the fragile balance of nature remains intact. But with a president who is going after clean air, clean water and the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery, the fate of creation and all the myriad wonders within it is at stake.
I use “creation” as an appeal to creationists to look at what your president is doing to Eden, or what’s left of it. I also want to appeal to economic nationalists. For the U.S.A. has the greatest home for sockeye salmon on the planet in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The Trump administration is putting it at risk in order to aid a foreign mining conglomerate.
This American carnage is led by a man whose job is to protect the natural world within our borders, the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt. As you may have heard, he has sealed himself off from the public with a $25,000 phone security system and an 18-member security detail. It took a court order to pry loose some of the details of his meetings. No surprise, he holds daily lap-dog sessions with the companies he is supposed to regulate.
Pruitt is the swamp, the only wetland the Trump administration wants to protect. He serves the oil, chemical and mining interests that propped him up when he was attorney general of Oklahoma. He now runs the oil, chemical and mining protection agency out of Washington, with our money. You would never guess that this toady in a suit works for us.
Continue reading the main story
The environment, the American West and politics.
The Cancer in the Constitution
The Trump Fog Machine
In Rome, a Visit With the Anti-Trump
How the Far Right Came to Love Hippie Food
The Week the Earth Stood Still
See More »
Biologist in a warming land 4 minutes ago
I am a scientist. Words like “diabolical,” “maniacal,” “loathsome,” are foreign to my vocabulary. Yet, the actions of the repugnant man in...
Newt Baker 4 minutes ago
"I use “creation” as an appeal to creationists to look at what your president is doing to Eden, or what’s left of it."There is no point in...
james jordan 20 minutes ago
Tim,You write the truth. The Trump administration keeps bragging about all of the good they have done in 9 months. Their idea of making the...
SEE ALL COMMENTS WRITE A COMMENT
Continue reading the main story
Look around. The catastrophic wildfires that are sweeping through iconic landscapes in Northern California and carpet-bombing entire neighborhoods are a glimpse into an early future in the West. Hurricanes, rolling in one after the other, are swamping cities. Every month brings a new high temperature record.
Until this year, the American response was in tune with the rest of the world — to try to do something to fix this overheated globe of ours.
Newsletter Sign UpContinue reading the main story
Sign Up for the Opinion Today Newsletter
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
Enter your email address
You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services.
In announcing this week that President Trump intends to spite all the other nations and gut President Barack Obama’s signature effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Pruitt framed the move as the end of the “war on coal.” Now comes the war on the planet and public health.
Amid the hourly calamities of a White House that is forced to treat its chief occupant like a toddler, it’s easy to forget that Trump is doing real damage to things that all of us share.
So, that’s politics, right? To the victor go the spoils. He’s simply rolling back onerous regulations, as promised, and sticking it to the global elites on climate change. Well, no.
Your party affiliation will not protect you from the chemicals sprayed on strawberries — shown to cause brain damage to children — which Trump will allow to remain in the food chain. Living in a red state will not keep warming oceans from rising ever higher when the latest 500-year storm hits your region. Being a Trump supporter does not protect your favorite stream from the toxic discharge of a power plant into a public waterway.
All of the above are potential consequences of more than 50 environmental rules that Trump has tried to kill since he took office.
National monuments — not the Confederate kind that Trump wants to preserve, but special places protected in somewhat the same way as national parks — are also in his sights. These are unique landscapes set aside for their cultural, historical or scenic splendor. Trump could shrink 10 of them — another sellout of American heritage.
In Alaska, he is going against the will of the people to target Bristol Bay. Half the world’s wild sockeye come from this magical place, a bounty that supports 14,000 jobs. Alaskans are a cantankerous bunch who can’t agree on much of anything. Yet they voted by an overwhelming margin in 2014 to protect Bristol Bay from a gold and copper mine that could generate 10 billion tons of toxic waste.
And unlike big food producers in the heartland, the Bristol Bay salmon industry is not propped up by subsidies, chemicals or compromised politicians. The fish need only clean water and healthy oceans. That’s why the E.P.A. had earlier concluded that the proposed Pebble mine could have a “catastrophic” impact on the bay.
Trump’s men are rolling over for the gold mine. Just hours after Pruitt met with the mine’s corporate leadership, Trump reversed E.P.A. protection, as CNN reported this week. If you’re surprised that wild salmon would be sacrificed for precious metal, remember that one of Trump’s few passions is for gold-plated bathroom fixtures.
A new scientific study published Tuesday has found that warm ocean water is carving an enormous channel into the underside of one of the key floating ice shelves of West Antarctica, the most vulnerable sector of the enormous ice continent.
The Dotson ice shelf, which holds back two separate large glaciers, is about 1,350 square miles in area and between 1,000 and 1,600 feet thick. But on its western side, it is now only about half that thickness, said Noel Gourmelen, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the lead author of the research, which was just published in Geophysical Research Letters.
The reason is the same one that is believed to be shrinking glaciers and pouring ice into the ocean across West Antarctica — warm ocean water located offshore is now reaching the ice from below.
In Dotson’s case, it appears the water is first flowing into the deep cavity beneath the shelf far below it, but then being turned by the Earth’s rotation and streaming upward toward the floating ice as it mixes with buoyant meltwater. The result is that the warm water continually melts one part of the shelf in particular, creating the channel.
“We think that this channel is actually being carved for the last 25 years,” said Gourmelen, whose research team detected the channel using satellite observations. “It’s been thinning and melting at the base for at least 25 years, and that’s where we are now.”
The work was conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh along with colleagues at other institutions in France, Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
The newly discovered channel is three miles wide and 37 miles long, and the scalloped region at the base of the floating ice shelf is mirrored by a long depression on its surface.
Dotson ice shelf as a whole has been thinning at an average rate of more than eight feet per year since 1994, even as the speed of ice flowing outward through the shelf has increased by 180 percent. But the thinning in the channel has been far greater. The research calculates that 45 feet of ice thickness is being subtracted annually from the channel.
The new study calculates that as a result of this highly uneven melting, the Dotson ice shelf could be melted all the way through in 40 years, rather than 170 years, which would be the time it would take if the melt were occurring evenly. And it speculates that as the thinning continues, the shelf may not go quietly or steadily any longer — something dramatic could occur, such as a breakup.
“Any carpenter knows: you’re going to cut through a block of wood a lot faster with a saw than with a sander,” said Ted Scambos, an Antarctic expert with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, who commented on the study by email (he was not involved in the research). “What they’ve shown is that warm ocean water reaching the Antarctic coastline beneath the ice does not just remove the ice uniformly, it cuts deep gouges in the ice from below. The channels are weak spots in the floating ice (ice shelves).”
Meltwater from this process streams outward into the Amundsen Sea in front of the Dotson ice shelf and the channel, which has large downstream consequences. The water carries nutrients, such as iron, that have also spurred sharp growth of marine microorganisms in the region — another sign of the major changes in the region.
“This study reveals the complexity with which the ocean interacts with Antarctic ice shelves, and will be of value in assessing the future of the ice-ocean-biology system of the Antarctic coastline, and its sensitivity to changes in climate,” said Dan Goldberg of the University of Edinburgh, another of the study’s authors.
Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the new research highlights the importance of a European Space Agency satellite called CryoSat-2, which she said is “currently the only satellite monitoring Antarctica’s ice shelf thickness.”
“It gives us data at incredibly dense coverage, which is allowing us to map small-scale features like basal channels,” Fricker said. “These are regions of higher basal melt, and could cause the ice shelf to weaken much sooner than the average melt rates imply. It is vital that we keep monitoring these ice shelves.”
There could be numerous other such channels across the Antarctic continent, Gourmelen said.
In the particular case of Dotson, the ultimate fear is that the undermining of the shelf will increase the flow of ice outward from the glaciers behind it, named Smith and Kohler, which contributes to sea level rise. If the ice shelf collapsed, that would speed up even further.
To see why that matters, consider this map of what the overall region looks like, where “DIS” refers to Dotson ice shelf:
In the long term, the greatest fear perhaps is that Smith glacier ultimately connects to Thwaites glacier, the largest in West Antarctica, as you can see above. Thwaites runs backward all the way into the heart of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains about 10 feet of potential sea level rise.
“The nature of the impact is not really known” if Dotson is lost, Gourmelen said. “But they are essentially part of the same large basin.”
Climate change isn’t all that difficult to understand. A British scientist proved shortly before the U.S. Civil War that carbon dioxide absorbs heat, and a Swedish chemist doodled out the first equations involving fossil-fuel emissions before the 20th century even began.
What was difficult to separate out, however, was identifying the human-driven signal within the noise of the vast, messy and natural climate system. We know that what we burn ends up in the atmosphere, driving up the Earth’s planetary fever. At least, at first it does. What happens to carbon dioxide after that? Sure, some of it can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But much of it—on average, half of annual global emissions—leaves the atmosphere for greener pastures, literally, or for the ocean, which is ultimately the biosphere’s biggest carbon repository.
So what happens to all the carbon we burn after we burn it? How does it know where to go? A three-year-old NASA mission has given researchers a huge hand in tracking how CO2 pours out of industrial sources, in and out of land, seas and the atmosphere. The net picture is a geologically abrupt flushing out, by burning and warming, of carbon that’s been trapped underground for as long as many millions of years.
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) is the subject of five studies published in the journal Science on Thursday. They provide new details into these critical flows around the world: how shifting patterns in weather-altering tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures—El Nino conditions—can change the pace of the global CO2 rise; where CO2 travels after leaving specific sources, such as metropolitan Los Angeles or a volcano on Vanuatu; and how change in plant photosynthesis—now visible from space—is responding to the increasing amount of carbon that vegetation is sucking out of the air.
The satellite, launched in July 2014, may represent NASA’s most nuanced instance of wordplay: “O=C=O” is itself a chemical diagram of the CO2 molecule, and the abbreviation of this “eye in the sky,” OCO, is a homophone for the word “eye” in several languages. The mission orbiting the Earth complements a global network of almost 150 greenhouse gas monitors on the ground, which give scientists an ever-more detailed look at the atmosphere’s composition. OCO-3 will be fitted onto the International Space Station in the next few years, providing west-east measurements to complement OCO-2’s polar orbit. (OCO-1 was destroyed in a post-launch accident.)
The instruments on OCO-2 analyze the atmosphere from an altitude of about 440 miles. The satellite’s tools, which were built to take kilometer-scale, sequential geographic snapshots, can also image specific features on the ground. One of the five studies analyzed CO2 above a southern Pacific volcano and metropolitan Los Angeles.
Cities are responsible for more than 70 percent of humanity’s CO2 emissions, but ground-based monitoring has been insufficient to provide targeted data. The satellite, however, not only discerns pollution differences between cities and rural areas, but those within cities as well, tools that may prove keenly useful to local policymakers trying to understand their own CO2 burden.
OCO-2 has also gone a long way toward dispelling a pervasive myth about carbon emissions—the one whereby climate change-deniers point to volcanoes as the key source of greenhouse gases, rather than man. About 450 “passive” volcanoes around the world continuously emit carbon dioxide, but there’s not enough funding to measure all of them from the ground. Having an orbiting monitor helps scientists predict eruptions and better understand the relationship between CO2 off-gassing and volcanic activity.
OCO-2 carbon-mapped the Yasur volcano in the island nation of Vanuatu and discovered that, by comparison, power plants in many cases are larger sources of CO2 than passive volcanoes.
“The highest emitters [among] the volcanoes are equal [to], or superseded by, about 70 fossil fuel power plants on Earth,” says Florian Schwandner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead author of a paper on regional monitoring of carbon emissions. “What that shows us is that volcanoes are likely not a significant source of CO2.”
Volcanoes give off about 540 megatons of carbon dioxide a year, compared with up to 38,200 megatons from humanity. The study says that not only are large, persistent volcanoes outgunned by any of several dozen power plants, but those plants “themselves are dwarfed by megacity emissions.”
The overall idea behind the research was to better understand how humanity is changing the Earth. Think of the planet as a flooding basement: Scientists in charge of OCO-2 are trying to figure out where the water is coming from and flowing to. That information, in turn, could inform policymakers interested in stopping the leak in time. About 25 percent of human emissions is absorbed by land. Another 25 percent is absorbed by the oceans, which, as CO2 emissions have accelerated, is changing oceanic chemical conditions—perhaps faster than at any time in the last 300 million years.
The other half—on average—stays in the atmosphere. A longstanding mystery among Earth scientists is the different rates at which air, sea and land absorb carbon dioxide. In the atmosphere, it’s been increasing at a steady, annual pace of about two parts CO2 for every million parts of air. But the amount that the sea and land sop up can vary, from 20 percent to 80 percent, in any particular year.
OCO-2’s scientific mission happened to coincide with the development of a monstrous El Nino, which dried out Australia, Central America and the southern Amazon basin, while wreaking precipitative havoc elsewhere. Dryness means more carbon dioxide for the atmosphere—particularly when forests burn, as they did in Indonesia in 2015, and are doing in Northern California now.
As predicted at the time, a carbon gush in 2016 tipped the global atmosphere permanently above the symbolic threshold of 400 parts CO2 per million bits of air. What the researchers learned from OCO-2 is that the gush, driven by El Nino, would have been even greater if the Pacific Ocean itself hadn’t absorbed more CO2 than usual. As it stands, the variability helped push the rate of atmospheric CO2 growth that year 50 percent higher, to about 3 parts per million. It could have been much, much worse.
Abhishek Chatterjee, a research scientist at the University Space Research Association who is stationed at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, is the lead author of one of the two El Nino papers in Science. He put the role of the oceans quite simply, calling them “one of the largest sinks for released carbon dioxide.” As industrial emissions continue, and warming itself begins to squeeze CO2 from land and sea, OCO-2 and similar projects will help scientists better understand just how much room is left.
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE
Eight of the ten countries with the highest levels of displacement and housing loss are in South and Southeast Asia
By Adela Suliman
LONDON, Oct 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - About 14 million people are being made homeless on average each year as a result of sudden disasters such as floods and storms, new figures show.
The risk of displacement could rise as populations swell and the impacts of climate change become more severe, said a report issued on Friday by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and tropical cyclones are the main disasters forecast to uproot large numbers of people, with countries in Asia, home to 60 percent of the world's population, hit particularly hard, according to modelling by the agencies.
Eight of the ten countries with the highest levels of displacement and housing loss are in South and Southeast Asia.
They include India, where an average of 2.3 million people are forced to leave their homes annually, and China with 1.3 million people uprooted each year, found the report, released on the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
The numbers exclude those evacuated ahead of a threat, and people displaced by drought or rising seas.
Russia and the United States also feature as countries where disasters could cause large-scale homelessness, unless significant progress is made on managing disaster risk, the study said.
"The findings underline the challenge we have to reduce the numbers of people affected by disasters," said Robert Glasser, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for disaster risk reduction.
"Apart from death or severe injury in a disaster event, there is no more crushing blow than the loss of the family home," he added in a statement.
The most devastating floods to hit South Asia in a decade killed more than 1,400 people this year, and focused attention on poor planning for disasters, as authorities struggled to assist millions of destitute survivors.
Refugees and people uprooted in their own countries are already at record-high numbers, said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak. The new model goes some way towards predicting the risk of disaster-related displacement, which is an "urgent, global priority", she noted.
It is also intended to help urban planners in hazard-prone towns and cities who must consider the safety and durability of built-up areas and the threats to millions living there. Justin Ginnetti, head of data and analysis at the IDMC, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation there was a strong correlation between the risk of being uprooted by a disaster and residing in a rapidly urbanising location.
With the poor often living on the outskirts of cities, on flood plains or along river banks, Ginnetti said better urban planning could make them less vulnerable.
He contrasted Japan and the Philippines, which have roughly the same number of people exposed to cyclones. Japan builds more robust housing and so faces far less displacement in a disaster than the Philippines, where homes are less able to withstand shocks, he said.
"We don't want people to think of disaster displacement as some kind of inevitable act of God - this is not (a) necessary outcome every time there's heavy rainfall," he said.
OCTOBER 13 — From Miami and Puerto Rico to Barbuda and Havana, the devastation of this year’s hurricane season across Latin America and the Caribbean serves as a reminder that the impacts of climate change know no borders.
In recent weeks, Category 5 hurricanes have brought normal life to a standstill for millions in the Caribbean and on the American mainland. Harvey, Irma and Maria have been particularly damaging.
The 3.4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico have been scrambling for basic necessities including food and water, the island of Barbuda has been rendered uninhabitable, and dozens of people are missing or dead on the Unesco world heritage island of Dominica.
The impact is not confined to this region. The record floods across Bangladesh, India and Nepal have made life miserable for some 40 million people.
More than 1,200 people have died and many people have lost their homes, crops have been destroyed, and many workplaces have been inundated.
Meanwhile, in Africa, over the last 18 months 20 countries have declared drought emergencies, with major displacement taking place across the Horn region.
For those countries that are least developed the impact of disasters can be severe, stripping away livelihoods and progress on health and education; for developed and middle-income countries the economic losses from infrastructure alone can be massive; for both, these events reiterate the need to act on a changing climate that threatens only more frequent and more severe disasters.
A (shocking) sign of things to come?
The effects of a warmer climate on these recent weather events, both their severity and their frequency, has been revelatory for many, even the overwhelming majority that accept the science is settled on human-caused global warming.
While the silent catastrophe of 4.2 million people dying prematurely each year from ambient pollution, mostly related to the use of fossil fuels, gets relatively little media attention, the effect of heat-trapping greenhouse gases on extreme weather events is coming into sharper focus.
It could not be otherwise when the impacts of these weather events are so profound. During the last two years over 40 million people, mainly in countries which contribute least to global warming, were forced either permanently or temporarily from their homes by disasters.
There is clear consensus: Rising temperatures are increasing the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, leading to more intense rainfall and flooding in some places, and drought in others. Some areas experience both, as was the case this year in California, where record floods followed years of intense drought.
TOPEX/Poseidon, the first satellite to precisely measure rising sea levels, was launched two weeks before Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida 25 years ago.
Those measurements have observed a global increase of 3.4 millimeters per year since then; that’s a total of 85 millimeters over 25 years, or 3.34 inches.
Rising and warming seas are contributing to the intensity of tropical storms worldwide. We will continue to live with the abnormal and often unforeseen consequences of existing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for many, many years to come.
In 2009, Swiss Re published a case study focused on Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, which envisaged a moderate sea level rise scenario for the 2030s which matches what has already taken place today.
If a storm on the scale of Andrew had hit this wealthy corner of the US today, the economic damage would range from US$100 billion (RM422 billion) to US$300 billion. Now the estimates suggest that the economic losses from Harvey, Irma and Maria could surpass those numbers.
Reduce disaster risk now, tackle climate change in the long-term
Miami is working hard on expanding its flood protection programme; US$400 million is earmarked to finance sea pumps, improved roads and seawalls.
Yet, this level of expenditure is beyond the reach of most low and middle-income countries that stand to lose large chunks of their GDP every time they are hit by floods and storms.
While the Paris Agreement has set the world on a long-term path towards a low-carbon future, it is a windy path that reflects pragmatism and realities in each individual country.
Thus, while carbon emissions are expected to drop as countries meet their self-declared targets, the impacts of climate change may be felt for some time, leaving the world with little choice but to invest, simultaneously, in efforts to adapt to climate change and reduce disaster risk.
The benefits of doing so makes economic sense when compared to the cost of rebuilding.
This will require international cooperation on a previously unprecedented scale as we tackle the critical task of making the planet a more resilient place to the lagging effects of greenhouse gas emissions that we will experience for years to come.
Restoring the ecological balance between emissions and the natural absorptive capacity of the planet is the long-term goal.
It is critical to remember that the long-term reduction of emissions is THE most important risk reduction tactic we have, and we must deliver on that ambition.
The November UN Climate Conference in Bonn presided over by the small island of Fiji, provides an opportunity to not only accelerate emission reductions but to also boost the serious work of ensuring that the management of climate risk is integrated into disaster risk management as a whole.
Poverty, rapid urbanisation, poor land use, ecosystems decline and other risk factors will amplify the impacts of climate change. Today on International Day for Disaster Reduction, we call for them to be addressed in a holistic way.
* Achim Steiner is administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Patricia Espinosa is executive secretary of UN Climate Change and Robert Glasser is UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.
Read more at http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/climate-change-threat-to-rich-and-poor-alike-achim-steiner-patricia-espinos#FQE86Xieyd3yh6o5.99
Al Gore recently had a telling altercation with a journalist. The Spectator’s Ross Clark wanted to ask him about Miami sea-level rises suggested in the new film, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” The reporter started to explain that he had consulted Florida International University sea-level-rise expert Shimon Wdowinski. Gore’s response: “Never heard of him — is he a denier?” Then he asked the journalist, “Are you a denier?”
When Clark responded that he was sure climate change is a problem but didn’t know how big, Gore declared, “You are a denier.”
I was recently on the receiving end of a similar rebuff from Chile’s environment minister. I’d written an op-ed for a Chilean newspaper that, among other things, quoted UN findings on how little the Paris climate treaty would achieve and argued that vast investment in green energy research and development is a better policy. Marcelo Mena proclaimed, “There is no room for your climate-denying rhetoric in Chile.”
Something odd — and dangerous — is happening when even people who accept the reality of man-made climate change are labeled “deniers.” The unwillingness to discuss which policies work best means we end up with worse choices.
Consider the case of Roger Pielke, Jr, a political scientist who worked extensively on climate change. He believes that climate change is real, human emissions of greenhouse gases justify action and there should be a carbon tax.
But he drew the ire of climate campaigners because his research has shown that the increasing costs from hurricane damage is not caused by storms made more intense by climate-change but by more and pricier property built in vulnerable areas. He took issue with the UN’s influential International Panel for Climate Change over a chart in its 2007 report that seemed to imply causation when there was only circumstantial evidence.
Pielke was proven right, and the IPCC’s subsequent outputs mostly accepted his arguments. Yet, he was the target of a years-long campaign, including a massive but baseless takedown that later turned out to have been coordinated by a climate-campaigning think tank funded by a green billionaire, alongside an investigation launched by a congressman.
Pielke left climate change for other fields where “no one is trying to get me fired.” And sidelining him has made it easier for climate-campaigners to use hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to argue for carbon-cut policies, even though these will do very little to prevent future hurricane damage.
Pielke finds that we should make relatively cheap investments to reduce vulnerability, like limiting floodplain construction and increasing porous surfaces. Ignoring this means more harm.
“Ten years ago we did ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ Its predictions...
Leaving out dissention echoes the worst of the leaked “ClimateGate” e-mails. In 2004, the head of a leading climate-research organization wrote about two inconvenient papers: “Kevin and I will keep them out [of the IPCC report] somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”
Journalists also ensure debate “purity.” In Scientific American, climate writer and former CNN producer Peter Dykstra stated baldly that “climate denial extends beyond rejecting climate science,” comparing policy questioners to Holocaust deniers and dismissing my own decade of advocacy for a green energy R&D; fund as “minimization.”
This intolerance for discussion is alarming. Believe in climate change but wonder how bad it will be? You’re a “denier,” says Gore. Believe, but argue that today’s policies aren’t the best response? You’re a denier, says Chile’s environment minister. Believe, but point out problematic findings or media reporting? There’s no room for you, say the self-appointed gatekeepers of debate.
The expanding definition of “denial” is an attempt to ensure that public and policy-makers hear from an ever-smaller clique. John Stuart Mill calls this “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion.”
But even if an opinion is wrong, debating it will teach more people what is right. And if the opinion is right, it offers an opportunity to exchange error for truth. Instead, we’re left with just one “right” way of thinking.
With dissidence on the Paris Treaty not allowed, we are on track to lose $1 trillion to $2 trillion annually to achieve what the United Nations finds will be 1 percent of the carbon cuts needed to keep temperature rises under 2°C.
That’s not the right way to solve climate change. Saying so denies nothing but economic illiteracy.
Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
As the Trump administration mulls whether to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, its legal foes are already plotting creative courtroom challenges against U.S. EPA and directly against utilities.
If the agency drags its heels on replacing the rule, declares that it won't replace it at all or issues a narrower rule, lawsuits are certain. Among the tactics environmental lawyers are eyeing: bringing climate change "nuisance" claims under common law — where those suing would argue that they're harmed by emissions — and filing direct citizen lawsuits against EPA. Those prospects have industry worried and are part of the reason some are pushing for a replacement.
"If EPA is not acting like it is taking this issue in hand and moving forward aggressively against this singularly serious threat ... there will be more pressure for innovative remedies, innovative approaches," said Sean Donahue, an attorney representing environmentalists in the ongoing Clean Power Plan litigation. "A picture of abdication is going to inject a lot of energy into efforts to find other ways to get at these emissions," he said.
The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan required states to craft strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally began the process to repeal the rule. EPA also said it's considering whether to issue a replacement rule. A replacement from the Trump administration is expected to forgo the broad approach that the Obama administration took and focus more narrowly on efficiency limits at specific power plants.
The prospect of being vulnerable to widespread common law and citizen lawsuits is extremely unattractive to industry, which could face steep legal costs and settlement fees. Having a replacement rule for the Clean Power Plan could help take some of the legal uncertainty off the table.
"I think that for several reasons, the vast majority of people in the business community believe that there should be a reasonable regulation instead of no regulation at all," said Jeff Holmstead, an attorney at Bracewell LLP. "Part of that is they think that that protects them against these nuisance suits, I think that's certainly part of it. They would also just like to have some regulatory certainty."
Looming over the legal debate is a 2011 Supreme Court decision.
In the 2011 case American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, a state-led coalition sued six power companies, arguing it was hurt by the companies' emissions contributing to climate change. But the justices ruled that the Clean Air Act pre-empted such federal common law claims. Because the court had previously ruled that EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the ruling was seen to preclude common law claims brought under federal law.
The question being pondered now: What if EPA doesn't actually act to limit greenhouse gas emissions?
"At the time AEP was decided, it looked like EPA was actually going to move forward with fulfilling its statutory duty," Donahue said. "And so it is certainly a significant change in the game to see EPA pulling back from fulfilling its statutory duty, and I think we'll have to see what happens."
Multiple legal experts, though, said they see an uphill battle for climate change claims brought under common law, even in the absence of any EPA limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
That's because, in the 2011 opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that displacement occurred when Congress passed the Clean Air Act. "The Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency action the Act authorizes, we hold, displace the claims the plaintiffs seek to pursue," the opinion says.
"It's the legislation that displaces or pre-empts, not regulation," said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
Eric Glitzenstein, partner at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP, a D.C. law firm that was involved in AEP, was not optimistic about using federal nuisance cases either, citing the Supreme Court's broad ruling in the 2011 decision. "I have a hard time seeing how one would get around that," said Glitzenstein, who represented Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Wildlife Federation in an amicus brief in AEP.
According to Tom Lorenzen, an attorney at Crowell & Moring LLP who's represented utilities in the litigation opposing the Clean Power Plan, "displacement continues to hold whether there's a replacement rule or not because EPA has the authority to regulate under [the Clean Air Act]."
However, he added, "I think there's less incentive for environmental groups and others to try to bring these suits if the federal government is regulating."
Judges 'may take it into their own hands'
But experts note that the "displacement" in AEP extends only to federal common law and not to claims brought under state law.
"There's nothing the Trump administration can do to shield power companies and coal companies from liability under state law, so they can't get that kind of shield," said David Doniger, director of the Climate & Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
As the Trump administration works to kill the Clean Power Plan, cities and counties in California are already turning to state common law.
Since July, three California cities and two counties have sued companies for damages related to climate change under state public nuisance law. The lawsuits claim that the companies — which include BP PLC, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC — have intensified climate change and exacerbated costly sea-level rise.
"We're going to ensure that those responsible for the problem are held to account," Dennis Herrera, San Francisco's city attorney, said last month (Climatewire, Sept. 21).
David Bookbinder, counsel at the libertarian Niskanen Center and former climate attorney at the Sierra Club, said that judges have dealt with claims of injuries to people and property for centuries. While climate change cases are more complex, they may be more likely to succeed the longer Congress and EPA punt on regulating industrial emissions.
"The longer the delay, the more likely it is that judges, be they state or federal judges, will be receptive to the idea that they are the only ones who can do anything," he said.
He added: "The judges don't want to do this. They would far prefer that either Congress dealt with it or EPA dealt with it. But they may take it into their own hands."
Still, state common law claims on climate change are a relatively untested legal area. Up to now, courts have expressly declined to address such claims, Burger said.
If the state lawsuits fail, it could increase the impetus for filing federal common law claims as a "tool of last resort," Burger predicted.
"It seems perfectly plausible that a city, a state, an environmental organization would say, well, what are we going to do?" he said. "The courts are blocking state common law avenues, the federal government is not doing anything, courts aren't forcing them to do anything — we have to go back to the idea that there's a right that's being infringed on here."
Some conservatives are dismissing concerns about both federal and state nuisance cases.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, pointed to the decision in AEP when representatives met with White House officials last month.
In a handout given to administration officials, the foundation noted it was difficult at both the state and federal level to prove injury from greenhouse gases from specific sources or categories of sources since they are emitted worldwide, from "virtually every nook and cranny of the developed and developing world."
"Even in the event that a legally defensible scientific case could be made that total global anthropogenic emissions are significantly contributing to climate change, allocating responsibility among emitters everywhere will be an impracticable task for federal courts to undertake," the group wrote.
If EPA declines to replace the Clean Power Plan or slow-walks a new rule, the agency will also likely face direct legal challenges from supporters of climate action, lawsuits known as citizen suits. States, environmentalists and health groups could file citizen suits that challenge the Trump administration's unreasonable delay or failure to act.
It wouldn't be the first time on this issue. In fact, the Clean Power Plan came about after a yearslong legal tug of war ultimately won by states that wanted EPA to crack down on climate-warming emissions.
After the 2007 Supreme Court decision finding EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, the Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth Foundation then filed a citizen suit pushing EPA to craft power plant emissions standards. EPA responded by issuing a rule that set new performance standards for power plants but did not address carbon dioxide.
New York then filed a separate lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that prompted a 2007 settlement allowing EPA to take another stab at power plant standards, this time incorporating greenhouse gases. After years of additional legal wrangling and another Supreme Court decision affirming EPA's authority, the Obama administration issued the Clean Power Plan.
"It's almost certain that if EPA moves forward with the repeal and doesn't do anything on the replacement or moves so slowly on the replacement that in effect nothing will happen, I would expect that there would be a lawsuit filed against EPA of the same sort arguing that EPA is thereby violating a nondiscretionary duty," said Richard Revesz, director of New York University's Institute for Policy Integrity.
Some conservative lawyers have pushed back on just how firm that duty is. They have argued that the Clean Air Act simply does not give EPA the tools to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, or that the agency's determination that such emissions endanger public health is not specific enough to compel regulation for the power sector.
Environmental lawyers largely shrug off those arguments, pointing to EPA's 2009 endangerment finding for greenhouse gases and Supreme Court cases that have affirmed the agency's authority.
"If he does nothing at all, we can bring various kinds of litigation to force him to act," NRDC's Doniger said. "The D.C. Circuit itself has indicated that he has an obligation to act, and at least some of the judges there are looking at their wristwatches."
Doniger was referring to a recent concurrence from two D.C. Circuit judges who agreed that litigation over the Obama rule should be put on hold but cautioned that EPA has a legal duty to act on climate change.
"Combined with this court's abeyance, the stay has the effect of relieving EPA of its obligation to comply with that statutory duty for the indefinite future," Judges David Tatel and Patricia Millett wrote in August. "Questions regarding the continuing scope and effect of the Supreme Court's stay, however, must be addressed to that Court."
Revesz said that the uncertainty provides a good reason for the D.C. Circuit to decide whether the Obama rule is legal. The court has put litigation over the rule on hold as the Trump administration decides what to do with the rule.
"The fact that this litigation is likely to be coming up down the road actually provides a pretty strong argument for the D.C. Circuit to decide the pending challenge to the Clean Power Plan now as opposed to waiting for this whole process to unfold," Revesz said.
He added: "If the D.C. Circuit, for example, upheld the Clean Power Plan, a lot of these things would get resolved. There'd be no federal common law actions. We would know that the repeal is illegal, and there would be a fair amount of certainty and less litigation."
Reporters Niina Heikkinen and Robin Bravender contributed.
Twitter: @apeterka Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Trump’s negative environmental record in Scotland and elsewhere has conservationists concerned in Bali, where Trump firms are developing a major resort and golf facility known as Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali.
Another resort under development, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare facility including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, villas, condos and 18-hole golf course threatens the nearby Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of Java’s last virgin tropical forests.
Mongabay looked into Trump’s claims that he is an environmentalist, winning “many, many environmental awards.” We were able to locate just two — one a local New York award, and another granted by a golf business association. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests to list Mr. Trump’s awards.
Trump’s environmental record as president, and as a businessman, is abysmal, say critics. His attempt to defund the U.S. Energy Star program, they say, is typical of a compulsion to protect his self interest: Energy Star has given poor ratings to nearly all Trump’s hotels, which experts note has possibly impacted his bottom line.
Who doesn’t like a luxury resort and 18-hole golf course set atop a sheer cliff with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean? Revered Hindu Gods that inhabit the temple nearby, according to the local Balinese concerned over plans to open the Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali. Local environmentalists aren’t keen on the resort either.
The Balinese worry that the Trump development will loom over the centuries-old Tanah Lot, a temple that sits upon a rock off the west coast of the wildly Instagrammed and oft visited Indonesian island.
This particular holy site is one of the most venerated temples of the “Island of Gods.” And while the Balinese are ever welcoming to tourists — important to the island’s economy —their religion, and laws, stipulate that all non-religious buildings not exceed 15 meters, or the height of temples, and more or less the height of a coconut tree.
The Trump tower, resort and golf course, now still in the planning stage, also pose environmental concerns. Suriadi Darmoko — Executive Director of the Indonesian environmental NGO, Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WHALI) Eksekutif Daerah Bali — believes the island does not need more hotel suites and jacuzzis.
A 2010 study by Indonesia’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, he notes, found Bali had a surplus of 9,800 hotel rooms. And according to a report by the HVS consulting firm, the average occupancy of upper luxury hotels in 2013 in Bali achieved only 60 percent.
Darmoko is especially worried about the Trump project’s plans to expand the property around the existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. The amount of “farmland in Bali drops” when land is transferred to “becoming tourist accommodations and supporting facilities” he told Mongabay. “What Bali needs is a tourism accommodation moratorium,” during which the government could “conduct a study to calculate the supporting capacity and supporting ability of the environment in Bali.”
The Trump tower project will be developed by MNC Group, Indonesia’s leading investment firm, and will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection. As reported by Reuters last February, Herman Bunjamin — the vice president director at PT MNC Land Tbk (MNC Group’s property unit) — has assured the Balinese that the company would follow local government environmental regulations, and respect the Hindu religion.
However, this is not the first time a Trump construction project has experienced a swirl of controversy around its potential environmental impacts. And that worries local Balinese communities and conservationists, even though Trump himself has claimed many times that he is an award-winning environmentalist — a claim we’ll explore in some detail later in this article.
Ever since the 70-year-old billionaire was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in January 2017, watchdog organizations have paid extra close attention to the past, and ongoing, international environmental record of Trump’s companies, especially considering that Trump has largely retained his ownership interest in his businesses.
Trump: mixing politics, golf and the environment
According to Investopedia, before becoming president, Donald Trump had amassed a net worth of an estimated $3.5 billion. The Trump Organization LLC acts as the primary holding for Trump’s firms, and serves as an umbrella company for his investments in real estate, brands and other businesses, ranging from golf courses to hotels.
Among its key executives are two of his sons: Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who last March told Forbes he will not talk business with his father in order to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, but will only pass financial reports to him. Ivanka Trump, the President’s elder daughter, resigned from her father’s company in January and today works as an unpaid adviser to him in the White House.
Golf is one of the many businesses that made Trump rich. According to the financial disclosure form published last June by the Office of Government Ethics, Trump’s golf courses alone reported $288 million in income from January 2016 through April 15, 2017.
In recent years the sport has increased wildly in popularity, and today golf is a multi-billion dollar industry: as of year-end 2016 there were golf facilities in 208 of the 245 countries in the world. However, the perfect manicured green color of the globe’s 33,161 courses comes at a high price to the environment.
A study by Kit Wheeler and John Nauright of Georgia Southern University found that golf course construction often consists in “clearing of natural vegetation, deforestation, destruction of natural landscapes and habitats and changes in local topography and hydrology” in order to roughly replicate the barren Scottish Highlands in which the game originated. That unnatural landscaping often leads to erosion and habitat loss, not to mention the fact that the maintenance of a standard 9-hole needs a great deal of synthetic chemicals — many deemed hazardous to wildlife — to keep it lush and green, including fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides.
The environmental problems associated with golf, the authors note, are particularly acute in Southeast Asia due to the sudden boom of the sport there and due the fact that golf course maintenance in the tropics is far more difficult than in other parts of the world because of the higher levels of rainfall, greater numbers of pests, diseases and weeds.
According to UNEP, golf course maintenance can also deplete freshwater resources — an average course in a tropical country needs 1,500 kilograms (3,307 pounds) of chemicals annually, and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. This astronomical use of resources is hard to justify in the developing world where competition for water and cropland, amid soaring populations, is intense. The problem is further complicated by weak environmental regulation and enforcement plus corruption, all too typically seen in developing countries.
Today, Trump Golf boasts a portfolio of 17 courses across the globe stretching from the jagged California cliffs to the (previously) barren desert of Dubai. This empire is expanding, and 2018 will see the opening of Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare (1,730 acre) development including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, luxury villas, condominiums, and, of course, an 18-hole signature championship golf course.
This new Trump-branded property will be set in the mountains of West Java, around 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Jakarta and beside the Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of the island’s last virgin tropical forests.
The project has become a major concern to RMI, the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment, an NGO whose goal is the promotion of community-based natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in the region.
“[T]here are major concerns from the local villagers on [how much of the] water supply that will still be available to them because the project is estimated to demand [lots] of water for their luxury facilities,” RMI’s Executive Director Mardha Tillah told Mongabay, pointing out that the Trump facility will be built in an important water catchment area.
After “a public discussion that was organized by local youth, the local sub-regency government officials stated that the environmental impact assessment was not complete yet, although some construction had been undergone — e.g. a reservoir,” she said.
The Associated Press reports, that the development is causing concern among Indonesian environmentalists, who fear for the nearby national park and its threatened animals, including the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), the Endangered Javan leaf monkey (Presbytis comata), the Vulnerable Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas), and Endangered Javan silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).
Tillah shares these fears. “I am very much keen on looking at the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] document that shows how this resort does not affect any wildlife in this area,” she said.
Considering the President’s abysmal environmental record and his anti-environmental pro-business views, it is hard not to imagine that this anti-regulatory philosophy permeates Trump’s companies. During the election, Donald Trump stated that, “[W]e’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Both Trump’s Balinese and Javan projects will be developed in partnership with MNC Group, who is also building the new Bogor-Sukabumi toll road, scheduled for completion at the end of 2017 which will provide direct access to Lido Lakes, reducing the drive time from Jakarta.
The highway, like tropical pavement around the world, is transforming the pastoral region. “The toll road has changed the landscape of rural areas of Bogor — paddy fields are replaced by the toll road projects,” said RMI’s Tillah. “If only it was not for this resort project, [the] toll road might not be constructed, because it was neglected due to lack of investors for more than a decade.”
“On the other hand,” she added, “improvement in [regional] train service and an increase of [operating] frequency [could] already [have served as an alternative] solution for [moving] people.”
ABC revealed that Donald Trump personally lobbied for the road with senior Indonesian politicians in September 2015 at Trump Tower in New York, when he was both in negotiations over the Lido development and running for the presidency. According to ABC, the meeting was not authorized by the Indonesian Government, and was held with the direct assistance of Trump business partner Hary Tanoesoedibjo, President Commissioner and Founder of the MNC Group.
Tanoesoedibjo, a media mogul who created his own Indonesian political party in 2015, attended Trump’s inauguration last January. As the Nikkei Asian Review pointed out, he is the subject of a police investigation for allegations of intimidation and corruption, which he claims are politically motivated.
The Scottish saga
One of the best places to view the ongoing relationship between Trump’s businesses and the environment is in Scotland; the fact that golf originated there has done little to make that association run more smoothly.
For more than a decade, Trump’s golf course on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, has been at the center of a heated dispute between those who support and oppose it. Trump International Golf Course Scotland won planning permission in 2008, but conservationists objected to the project because it would radically transform large parts of one of the country’s rarest coastal dune habitats.
“The construction of Trump International Links has had an irreversible and unjustified impact on a fragile dune system, in particular a large area of the internationally important Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI],” Bruce Wilson, Senior Policy Officer of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, told Mongabay.
“Unfortunately this planning application was approved by the Scottish Government despite evidence that it was easily possible to build two world class courses on the Menie Estate without destroying the SSSI,” he added.
Trump has also been involved in a long-running row with the Scottish government over the impact of windfarms on his golf course.
Before his White House campaign, he sent letters to the then first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to urge him to withdraw his support for windfarm development. In this series of messages, obtained by the Huffington Post thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, Trump labeled windfarms as “monsters,” suggested without evidence that “wind power doesn’t work,” and told Salmond “your economy will become a third world wasteland that investors will avoid,” if the green energy alternative was embraced by Scotland.
Trump’s resistance didn’t end there. The U.S. president-elect exhorted the leader of UK Independence party (UKIP) Nigel Farage and key associates to lobby against the Scottish windfarms. However, none of this aided Trump’s crusade against the turbines, and in December 2015 he lost a Scottish Supreme Court battle against the installation of an windfarm located several miles offshore of his course.
Last July the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the country’s principal environmental regulator, also raised formal objections to the Trump company’s proposals for a second 18-hole course in Aberdeenshire. Now the organization will have to revise its plans to make sure its project does not violate sewage pollution, environmental protection and groundwater conservation rules.
A statement by Trump International Golf Links published by the BBC reads in part:
The recent correspondence between Trump International, the local authority and statutory consultants is a normal part of the planning process and the regular ongoing dialogue conducted during the application process. SNH and Sepa always reference a range of policy considerations and factors which is standard practice and nothing out of the ordinary. Our application is making its way through the planning system and this dialogue will continue until it goes before committee for consideration. The Dr Martin Hawtree designed second golf course is located to the south of the Trump estate and does not occupy a Site of Special Scientific Interest therefore is not covered by any environmental designations.
We are extremely confident in our proposal and that this process will reach a satisfactory conclusion acceptable to all parties on our world class development.
What’s good for Trump is good for the U.S. and world…
During his campaign Donald Trump said he wanted to get rid of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “in almost every form.” Now that he is President, Trump appears to be moving toward that goal, and some of his businesses are among the institutions that could benefit from a dramatic roll back in environmental regulations. A look at Trump’s attacks on the U.S. EPA, and the business rationale for those assaults, is enlightening when studying the actions of Trump businesses around the world.
For instance, Trump issued an executive order commanding the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) — a rule that greatly irks golf course developers.
Last March, Bob Helland, director of congressional and federal affairs of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), issued a statement that makes clear why his association opposes the Clean Water Rule as written: “Under the rule, golf courses could likely be required to obtain costly federal permits for any land management activities or land use decisions in, over or near these waters, such as pesticide and fertilizer applications and stream bank restorations and the moving of dirt. The impact on golf course management could be dramatic.”
In 2016, the GSCAA praised Trump as “a president who understands the value of the game of golf, both as a golfer and golf course owner,” who “is also familiar with the H-2B Visa program that a number of golf facilities utilize, including one of his own in Florida.” This visa program allows U.S. employers, or agents who meet specific regulatory requirements, to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. “This could lead to a breakthrough in the red tape that makes using the program so frustrating,” said GSCAA. These statements shine a bright light on the imbalance between the administration’s business, environmental and immigration policies.
World-class hotels form another cornerstone of the Trump financial empire. So when the president proposed cutting all funding to EPA’s very successful 25-year-old Energy Star Program, a program meant to save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, CNN launched an investigation to see how Trump businesses might benefit from its elimination.
It turns out that the government’s Energy Star for Hotels ranking process provides an assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to its peers, taking into account local climate, weather and business activities at the property. Energy Star claims these ratings can affect the value of a property — the media investigation discovered that Trump’s properties tend to receive low ratings.
According to CNN, “[t]he most recent scores from 2015 reveal that 11 of his 15 skyscrapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco are less energy efficient than most comparable buildings. On a scale of 1 to 100 for energy efficiency, Manhattan’s old Mayfair Hotel, which Trump converted into condos, rated a 1,” the lowest rating possible.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected the Trump’s administration proposal to eliminate Energy Star, but its spending bill for 2018, which came out in early July, proposed reducing funding by roughly 40 percent, a cut to $31 million.
Critics say that such a deep reduction will be significantly harmful to the environment. “We appreciate that the committee has rejected the administration’s proposal… but a 40 percent cut would be crippling as well,” said the President of the Alliance to Save Energy Kateri Callahan in a press statement.
In 2014, EPA estimated that Energy Star has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons since 1992, while also providing energy cost savings to consumers, hotels and other industries.
“I have to wonder where this is coming from,” Callahan said, stressing the fact that Energy Star is one of the most popular government programs in U.S. history and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was created under President George H.W. Bush.
Donald Trump, award-winning environmentalist?
Donald Trump has been claiming he is an environmentalist at least since 2011, when he told Fox & Friends that “I’ve received many, many environmental awards”.
“I am a big believer in clean air and clean water. I’m a big believer. I have gotten so many awards for the environment,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa. “I won many environmental awards, I have actually been called an environmentalist, if you believe it,” he repeated at a rally in Atkinson, New Hampshire.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross echoed that assessment on NBC’s Today show. Trump, he said, “is an environmentalist. I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s very pro-environment.”
Politifact found a grain of truth in Trump’s statements. A decade ago two local groups did award Trump for specific projects. In 2007, he received the Friends of Westchester County Parks’ inaugural Green Space Award for donating 436 acres to the New York state park system, and in the same year his Bedminster New Jersey Trump National Golf Course received the first annual environmental award of the The Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA).
MGA’s press statement reads: “Through the leadership of Donald J. Trump, [director of grounds] Nicoll has implemented an environmental strategy that has resulted in the preservation of a dedicated 45 acre grassland bird habitat on the property, as well as intensive erosion control and stream stabilization management plan. The impacts of golf construction and operations on this land have resulted in a significant environmental net gain from the previous land use. Trump National has made itself readily available to Bedminster Township officials by way of monthly meetings to keep them up to date on the club’s environmental monitoring activities.”
MGA also said that, while planning the construction of an additional course, the club integrated environmental awareness into their golf course maintenance and construction plans by maintaining more stringent standards than those required by state and local regulations.
However, critics note, if Donald Trump is an environmentalist, he is not an orthodox one. In his tweets, he has referred to global warming as “a canard,” something “mythical,” “based on faulty science and manipulated data,” “nonexistent” or “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and also as “a total, and very expensive, hoax,” not to mention “bullshit.”
Nor does he show his environmentalism in the associates with which he surrounds himself. When choosing someone to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump picked climate science denier Myron Ebell, who believes the environmental movement is “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” His EPA head is the former Oklahoma attorney Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic whose LinkedIn profile says he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt in the past sued EPA 14 times to block clean air and water safeguards, and recently denied that carbon dioxide causes global warming.
However, big business can save big bucks by being environmentally friendly, and that is something that did not go unnoticed at Trump’s environmental award-winning New Jersey golf courses. The Wall Street Journal reported that both of them qualify as a farmland because they are not only sports fields, but also home to activities associated to farming such as hay production and woodcutting. The Bedminster golf course is even home to a small goat herd that grazes overgrown grass. It is not clear exactly how much the tax breaks save Trump, but the Journal estimates the courses pay less than $1,000 in annual taxes instead of the $80,000 that would be standard for such properties.
Still, experts note, anyone saying that Donald Trump always puts profit and his assets ahead of the environment would be wrong. In truth, Trump’s policies could do serious harm to his businesses. As Buzz Feed News notes, Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement likely means continuing rising sea levels and more extreme storms, which both threaten his low-lying properties, including the Trump National Doral in the Miami suburbs, a luxury golf resort that could end up submerged. Indeed, had Hurricane Irma tracked east of Florida instead of west, as originally expected, it’s likely the storm, supercharged by some of the warmest Caribbean waters on record, would have made a direct hit on Mar-A-Lago, the so-called Winter White House.
Conflict of interest?
The U.S. Congress has exempted the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest laws Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code. This decision was based on the premise that the presidency wields so much power that virtually any possible executive action might pose a potential conflict of interest (COI).
Last November, during his first news conference since his election, Trump declared: “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is — I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t want to take advantage of something.”
Many watchdog organizations have been less complacent than Congress and the President concerning COIs — including those involving presidential power, the Trump companies, and the environment. These NGOs are watching to see if Trump international and domestic business deals have political implications, or if any policies promoted by his administration seem designed to benefit Trump businesses.
The President’s just proposed tax reforms are a case in point — watchdog groups, the media and financial experts began looking for COIs and policy points benefiting Trump’s tax bracket and his businesses within hours of the announcement of the merest sketch of a tax reform plan.
“Presidents have historically understood that there can be a conflict of interest even if the law doesn’t technically apply, and they have followed the same standards that apply to other federal employees,” Clark Pettig, American Oversight’s Communications Director, told Mongabay.
American Oversight (AO) is a watchdog organization that is investigating numerous COIs across the Trump administration. For instance, it sued EPA to force the release of communications between regulators and industry groups, and to uncover the role investor Carl Icahn has played in setting policy. AO has also launched a broad investigation of the administration’s payments to Trump-owned businesses, and has submitted FOIA requests for documents related to the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Pettig believes Trump clearly has a conflict of interest as he serves as President while also owning and profiting from a global business empire.
“Rather than “draining the swamp,” the Trump administration has brought unprecedented conflicts of interests to Washington,” he said. “From rolling back environmental regulations that could impact his golf courses, to using diplomatic events to promote his own resorts, President Trump seems determined to use his power to enrich himself and his business empire,” Pettig said.
Laura Friedenbach, Deputy Communications Director of Every Voice, a Washington-based watchdog organization whose aim is to reduce the influence of money in politics, is concerned as well. “When a public official is making decisions on behalf of the American people and also has a large personal stake in the outcome, it presents a conflict of interest,” she told Mongabay.
“The conflicts of interest facing President Trump and his cabinet raise real questions about where the Trump administration’s priorities lie,” Friedenbach said. “Are they doing what’s best for the American people, or are they letting their own interests and the interests of their business partners get in the way?”
“If President Trump and his cabinet are more concerned with boosting profits for companies they have a stake in, and personal ties with, including fossil fuel companies, then the result will be slowing down progress on combatting the effects of climate change,” she declared.
The Trump Organization, Trump Hotels, Trump Golf, and MNC Land did not reply to Mongabay’s multiple requests to comment for this article; nor did they answer questions sent to them concerning their projects’ environmental impacts, Energy Star ratings, Trump’s environmental awards, and steps to reduce project carbon footprint.
Bryan Tamowski for POLITICO
'Katrina brain': The invisible long-term toll of megastorms
Long after a big hurricane blows through, its effects hammer the mental-health system.
By CHRISTINE VESTAL 10/12/2017 05:10 AM EDT
Facebook Twitter Google + Email Print
NEW ORLEANS — Brandi Wagner thought she had survived Hurricane Katrina. She hung tough while the storm’s 170-mph winds pummeled her home, and powered through two months of sleeping in a sweltering camper outside the city with her boyfriend’s mother. It was later, after the storm waters had receded and Wagner went back to New Orleans to rebuild her home and her life that she fell apart.
“I didn’t think it was the storm at first. I didn’t really know what was happening to me,” Wagner, now 48, recalls. “We could see the waterline on houses, and rooftop signs with ‘please help us,’ and that big X where dead bodies were found. I started sobbing and couldn’t stop. I was crying all the time, just really losing it.”
Twelve years later, Wagner is disabled and unable to work because of the depression and anxiety she developed in the wake of the 2005 storm. She’s also in treatment for an opioid addiction that developed after she started popping prescription painkillers and drinking heavily to blunt the day-to-day reality of recovering from Katrina.
More than 1,800 people died in Katrina from drowning and other immediate injuries. But public health officials say that, in the aftermath of an extreme weather event like a hurricane, the toll of long-term psychological injuries builds in the months and years that follow, outpacing more immediate injuries and swamping the health care system long after emergency workers go home and shelters shut down.
That’s the rough reality that will soon confront regions affected by this year’s string of destructive hurricanes. As flood waters recede from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, and survivors work to rebuild communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, mental health experts warn that the hidden psychological toll will mount over time, expressed in heightened rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, murder and suicide.
Brandi Wagner's home in Lafitte, La., left, and the nearby bayou, Bayou Barataria, right. Below, sandbags line the street across from Wagner's home as Hurricane Nate approached earlier this month. | Bryan Tamowski for POLITICO
Renée Funk, who manages hurricane response teams for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says it has become clear since Katrina that mental illness and substance abuse aren’t just secondary problems—they are the primary long-term effect of natural disasters.
“People have trouble coping with the new normal after a storm,” Funk said. “Many have lost everything, including their jobs. Some may have lost loved ones, and now they have to rebuild their lives. They’re faced with a lot of barriers, including mental illness itself,” she said.
In New Orleans, doctors are still treating the psychological devastation of Katrina. More than 7,000 patients receive care for mental and behavioral health conditions just from the Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority, a state-run mental health clinic in Marrero, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. At least 90 percent of the patients lived through Katrina and many still suffer from storm-related disorders, according to medical director and chief psychiatrist Thomas Hauth, who adds that he and most of his fellow clinicians also suffer from some level of long-term anxiety from the storm.
“Every year about this time, I start checking the National Weather Service at least three times a day,” he said.
These long-term mental health effects of extreme weather are a hidden public health epidemic, one that is expected to strain the U.S. health care system as the intensity and frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters increase in coming decades because of global warming and other planetary shifts.
With climatologists promising more extreme weather across the country, mental and behavioral health systems need to start preparing and expanding dramatically or demand for treatment of the long-term psychological effects of future natural disasters will vastly outstrip the supply of practitioners, said Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association.
Dr. Thomas Hauth, a psychiatrist, in his office at the Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority in Marrero, La., where he treats residents still suffering from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders caused or exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina. Hauth and his colleagues also report post-storm anxiety and other conditions. | Bryan Tamowski for POLITICO
“On a blue sky day, our mental health resources are stretched,” said Carol North, researcher and professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. “There’s a lot we don’t know yet, but common sense tells us that more disasters and worse disasters will lead to worse psychological effects.”
For climate change believers, this year’s string of record-breaking Atlantic hurricanes was just a warm-up for what scientists predict will be more frequent extreme weather events in the future.
When an entire city experiences a significant trauma at the same time, as New Orleans did during Katrina and Houston did during Harvey, it can push a lot of people over the edge, said Eric Kramer, another doctor who worked in the Jefferson Parish clinic: “Some people can rely on their inner strength and resilience to get through it, but others can’t.”
In the aftermath of Katrina, many survivors struggled with short-term memory loss and cognitive impairment, a syndrome dubbed “Katrina brain,” according to a report by Ken Sakauye, a University of Tennessee professor of psychiatry who was at Louisiana State University at the time.
Even though more than half the population of New Orleans had evacuated, psychiatric helpline calls increased 61 percent in the months after Katrina, compared with the same period before the storm, death notices increased 25 percent, and the city’s murder rate rose 37 percent, Sakauye wrote.
A year after Katrina, psychiatrist James Barbee reported that many of his patients in New Orleans had deteriorated from post-Katrina anxiety to more serious cases of depression and anxiety. "People are just wearing down," Barbee said. "There was an initial spirit about bouncing back and recovering, but it's diminished over time, as weeks have become months.”
In a longitudinal study comparing the mental health of low-income single moms in New Orleans before and after Katrina, one in five participants reported elevated anxiety and depression that had not returned to pre-storm levels four years later, said Jean Rhodes, study co-author and professor of psychiatry at University of Massachusetts Boston.
Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people in 2005, and left behind massive property damage. But publiGetty Imagesc health officials are learning that the longest-lasting damage of several storms is psychological. | Getty Images
For a smaller percentage of people in the study, particularly people with no access to treatment, symptoms of anxiety developed into more serious, chronic conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers found.
These aren’t cheap conditions to treat. One study cited by the CDC estimated the cost of treating even the short-term effects of anxiety disorders at more than $42 billion annually; double-digit regional leaps in rates of anxiety could cause serious financial strain to patients, employers, insurers and the government.
Some damage can take place outside the storm-hit region. Even for people who have never experienced the raging winds, floods and prolonged power outages of a hurricane, this season’s repeated images of people struggling against the storms on television and other news and social media created unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression nationwide, said Washington, D.C., psychiatrist and environmental activist Lise Van Susteren.
“There is a vicarious reaction. When we see people flooded out of their homes, pets lost, belongings rotting in the streets, and people scared out of their wits, we experience an empathic identification with the victims,” she said.
Brandi Wagner pulls out the medications she must take on a daily basis to control a range of storm-related disorders including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and an addiction to opioids. | Bryan Tamowski for POLITICO
“People come in saying they can’t sleep, they’re drinking too much, they’re having trouble with their kids, their jobs or their marriages are falling apart. They may not know where the anxiety is coming from, but everyone is affected by the stress of climate change.”
The same kind of vicarious reactions were documented after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and after Hurricane Katrina, particularly in children, said Columbia University pediatrician and disaster preparedness expert Irwin Redlener.
“The mental health effects of natural disasters are really important and vastly overlooked, not only acutely but over the long term,” he said.
Everyone who lives through a major storm experiences some level of anxiety and depression. But for low-income people and those without strong social supports, the symptoms are much worse, said Ronald Kessler, an epidemiologist and disaster policy expert at Harvard Medical School. The same is true for people who already suffered from mental illness or drug or alcohol addiction before the disaster occurred.
Repeated exposure to weather disasters is another risk factor for mental and behavioral disorders. Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, followed by Hurricane Rita less than a month later. Three years after that, Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast, followed by Hurricane Ike two weeks later.
In September, many who had fled Hurricane Katrina and resettled in Houston had to relive the same horrors all over again, putting them at higher risk for long-term mental health problems.
TOP LEFT: Wagner in her backyard. TOP RIGHT: Wagner's medications. BOTTOM LEFT: Wagner shows off a photo of her son, Sgt. Aaron Briggs, receiving his sergeant badge in a photo on her phone. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wagner's daughter, Jessica Briggs, her grandson, Jeremy Goudeau Jr., and her daughter, Kristina Briggs, at her home in Lafitte, La.. | Bryan Tamowski for POLITICO
But perhaps the greatest risk of adverse mental health reactions to storms occurs when an entire community like New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward is so completely destroyed that people can’t return to normal for months or years, if ever. For those who left and went to live in Houston, Atlanta and other far-flung cities, the dislocation and loss of community was equally harmful, researchers say.
“People are only physically and mentally resilient to a point and then they are either irretrievably injured or they die,” Kessler said. If storms intensify in the future, the kind of devastation parts of New Orleans experienced could become more common, he said.
Psychiatric First Aid
In the past decade, first responders and public health workers began training in a type of mental health first aid that research has shown to be effective in lowering anxiety and reducing the risk that the traumas experienced during a storm will lead to serious mental illness.
Using evidence-based techniques, rescue workers reassure storm survivors that feelings of sadness, anger and fear are normal and that they are likely to go away quickly. But when survivors complain that they’ve been crying nonstop, haven’t slept for days or are having suicidal thoughts, rescue workers are trained to make sure they get more intensive mental health care immediately.
In Houston, for example, teams of doctors, nurses, mental health counselors and other health care professionals offered both physical and mental health services at clinics set up in every storm shelter. The city’s emergency medical director, Davie Persse, said the clinics were so successful that local hospital emergency departments reported no surges in patients with psychiatric distress or minor injuries.
Forced evacuation, whether temporary or permanent, can also trigger psychological problems for people confronted by natural disasters. | Wikimedia Commons
Another important factor in reducing the psychological impacts of a storm is avoiding secondary traumas like being stranded for weeks in the convention center in New Orleans, said Sarah Lowe, a co-author of the Katrina study who teaches psychology at Montclair University in New Jersey. “Repeated traumas can pile up almost the way concussions do.”
“What I’m seeing in Harvey and Irma is there’s more mitigation of secondary trauma,” Lowe said. People were allowed to take their pets to the shelters with them, for example. In Katrina, survivors either had to leave their pets behind or stay in their homes and be more exposed to physical and mental dangers.
Evacuation and relocation
Some public health experts say that we need to start thinking of longer-term solutions to the longer-term problem of severe weather; instead of trying to treat post-storm psychological damage, we should avoid it in the first place by persuading residents to move out of storm-prone areas.
“We do a great job with preparedness and response to hurricanes in this country. It’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Mark Keim, an Atlanta-based consultant who works with the CDC and the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Health. “But as climate change progresses over the next one hundred years, what are we going to do—respond, respond, respond? We can’t afford that anymore.”
According to Keim, much of the rest of the world is already taking that approach:
“Hurricanes can’t be prevented, but by refusing to rebuild in flood plains and developing the infrastructure needed to reduce inland flooding and coastal surges, we can avoid much of the human exposure to the coming storms. That’s where the world is right now in disaster management. Preparedness and response are older approaches.”
Climate change experts agree. To avoid increasing loss of lives from the mega storms expected in the decades ahead, large coastal populations should relocate, researchers say. Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the University of Georgia, recently found that a predicted 6-foot rise in sea levels by 2100 would put 13 million people in more than 300 U.S. coastal counties at risk of major flooding.
But relocating large populations has its own risks. For the hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents who rebuilt their lives far from home after Katrina, the loss of social ties and the stress of adapting to new surroundings also took a heavy psychological toll, according to recent research at the University of California.
There’s another problem with relocating people from coastal regions. It’s not just hurricanes that are expected to plague the planet as the climate shifts. Wildfires, droughts, inland flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters are also expected to increase in frequency and intensity, making it hard to find a safe place to put down new roots.
“Whether people decide to stay or decide to move, which means giving up a way of life, the long-term psychological costs of climate change appear to be inevitable,” Harvard’s Kessler said. “We can expect a growing number of people to have to face that dilemma. They’ll be affected by extreme weather one way or another, and they will need psychological help that already is in short supply.”
Christine Vestal is a reporter for Stateline, a nonprofit journalism project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The painkiller, taken by half of pregnant women worldwide, could be contributing to rising rates of reproductive system problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism.
"If we look at the rate of carbon emissions, most is emitted by the developed and industrialized countries, but the problem is poor countries like Bangladesh are the main sufferers."
Working with youth writers on a climate-fiction screenplay has opened my eyes to the power of the arts in confronting environmental crises.