Category Archives: The Atlantic
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 7 to 2 margin, the court reversed a lower court’s decision and upheld a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia.
The court took the case after Dominion Energy, one of the largest utilities in the South, appealed a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that said the U.S. Forest Service violated federal law when it approved the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. The issue, the lower court ruled: It was the National Park Service’s call to approve that request. (Dominion, based in Richmond, Virginia, is the lead developer on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, or ACP, project; North Carolina utility Duke Energy, as well as Southern Company, also own shares.)
The case looked at whether the Forest Service had authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant rights-of-way within national forest lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail. “A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s opinion. So the Forest Service had enough authority over the land to grant the permit. The dissent, by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, argued that the “outcome is inconsistent with the language of three statutes, longstanding agency practice, and common sense.”
According to The Washington Post, the plaintiffs in this case, both Dominion and the Forest Service, had argued that other pipelines cross the Appalachian Trail a total of 34 times. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be no different,” Dominion said in a statement after the decision. “To avoid impacts to the Trail, the pipeline will be installed hundreds of feet below the surface and emerge more than a half-mile from each side of the Trail.”
The decision could set an important precedent for public lands, said Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, or SELC, which is involved in multiple lawsuits against the pipeline. This particular Appalachian Trail section on federal land, which is remote, rugged, and wild, “deserves the highest protection the law provides,” according to Buppert. But this ruling likely signals to developers of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline that they could have an easier time crossing under the trail at a separate location in Virginia; attorneys for the nearly-complete project called it a “key missing link,” the Roanoke Times reported.
Though this decision is significant, it doesn’t determine the ultimate fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While the Supreme Court has granted the Forest Service the ability to allow the project to cross the Appalachian Trail, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ striking down of the Forest Service’s permit still stands. Dominion is required to look at other routes that avoid parcels of protected federal land, and the Forest Service is prohibited from approving a route across these lands, if reasonable alternatives exist, according to Buppert.
The view west along the Appalachian Trail at Cedar Cliffs, in Virginia, where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be tunneled under the historic trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Norm Shafer / Getty Images
Dominion still requires eight more permits for the 600-mile pipeline route, including an air pollution permit from Virginia regulators for a controversial compressor station in Union Hill, a historically black community. It also still needs approval to cross the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and a new biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about endangered species that were not taken into consideration in the original environmental impact statement. Several landowners along the route through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina are also still fighting to retain their property from eminent domain claims.
That means five-and-a-half years after the project was proposed, Buppert said, “there’s significant uncertainty about what the ACP route even is right now.”
In addition to crossing protected federal lands, the current route traverses steep mountains and many rural, low-income areas and communities of color, including Union Hill, a town settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. “These risks were known when it was proposed, but developers elected to push it forward anyway, and used political pressure on agencies to move their permits through faster,” Buppert said. “Not surprisingly, those haven’t withstood judicial reviews.”
Dominion spokesperson Samantha Norris did not respond to specific questions about the route, but said in an email the company is “working diligently with the agencies to resolve our pending permits so we can resume construction later this year” and complete it by 2022. “We remain fully committed to the project for the good of our economy and to support the transition to clean energy,” she said. “And we do not anticipate any changes to the route.”
Construction officially halted in December 2018 over the Appalachian Trail permit, with less than 10 percent of the pipeline in the ground. Opponents applauded that development, but continue to report problems with some construction sites. On behalf of 15 environmental and community groups, SELC lawyers filed a motion on June 1 asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to supplement its environmental impact statement from its 2017 approval of the pipeline. The motion states that “substantial erosion, sedimentation, and slope failures have occurred” along the route, and that FERC needs to take climate change and other issues into account in updating its assessment.
The U.S. is in the midst of a historic pipeline boom to create infrastructure for the excess stores of natural gas coming from shale regions in Appalachia and West Texas, and FERC has historically approved nearly every pipeline project that has come across its desk. Despite massive protests breaking out in 2016 to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline passing through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, dozens of new pipeline projects across the country are still being proposed, FERC is still approving them, and state lawmakers have passed laws to crack down on anti-pipeline demonstrations.
Opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have been fighting the project for six years and have won several important legal cases recently. A federal appeals court last month rejected the Trump administration’s request to revive the Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permit program for new oil and gas pipelines. The ruling prohibits the agency from allowing companies to fast-track projects by obtaining a single permit for all its water crossings, rather than individual permits for each one. The decision could further delay the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which had its nationwide water crossings permit suspended in 2018. The project has over a thousand stream, river, and wetland crossings. In the Calfpasture River watershed in Virginia alone, Buppert said, the current route includes 71.
The community of Union Hill has also successfully challenged part of the project on the grounds that it could cause negative public health impacts. Developers plan to build one of three pipeline compressor stations — which keep natural gas flowing through the pipe — there. In January, a federal court ruled Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board’s review of the station was “arbitrary and capricious.” The judge overturned the permit, saying the “failure to consider the disproportionate impact on those closest to the compressor station resulted in a flawed analysis.” She, along with two of her colleagues, ordered the board to reconsider the case.
Members of the community group Friends of Buckingham County, where Union Hill is located, are concerned residents lack enough information about Dominion’s new air permit application — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — since many lack broadband access. Chad Oba, one of the group’s organizers, said they are focusing on longer-term solutions, too, like making sure the board is well-versed in environmental justice issues. (In addition, they want to keep the board apolitical: In 2018, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, removed two regulators from the board who were leaning against the permit).
The pandemic has also thrown a wrench in the work of Friends of Nelson County, another Virginia group that opposes the pipeline. About 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail cross through the county; this the contested crossing is on its border in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “The most important thing we do is to inform and educate the public about all dimensions of the pipeline and related matters,” said president Doug Wellman. The organization does a lot of in-person outreach at farmers’ markets and public meetings. Now they’re trying to do it all virtually. Later this year, they plan to launch a major campaign about the major potential dangers of the pipeline, including primers on landowner rights and eminent domain.
Due to the delays in its construction, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s price tag has swelled by at least $3 billion to a total of $8 billion. Since federal regulators allow pipeline companies up to a 14 percent return on investment, payable by its customers, Dominion and Duke, who are the buyers of the natural gas in addition to being the project’s developers, can turn a profit by passing construction costs onto ratepayers in a region where they have monopolies.
These costs “will take decades to recover,” said Ryke Longest, co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University. And while they wait to be made whole, utilities like Dominion will eschew investing in other programs like energy efficiency and renewables, even as states in the region, including Virginia and North Carolina, move forward with clean energy and climate change legislation.
“The real problem with the structure of our energy system is that it encourages large-scale construction projects,” Longest said. “It’s not thinking of energy as a public service business, which is what it’s supposed to be.”
Lyndsey Gilpin is Durham, North Carolina-based journalist and the editor of Southerly, an independent, non-profit media organization that covers the intersection of ecology, justice, and culture in the American South.
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Publish Date: December 17, 2008
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
One of the world's leading geologists takes readers into Italy's Apennine Mountain Range—the Mountains of Saint Francis—on a journey to discover the fascinating secrets of the Earth's deep history. Modern geologists, Walter Alvarez among them, showed in the last decades of the twentieth century that the history of our planet has witnessed events profoundly more dramatic than even the most spectacular chapters in human history. More violent than wars, more life altering than revolutions—understanding the geologic events that have shaped the Earth's surface is the quest and the passion of geologists. In the knowledgeable and graceful prose of Alvarez, general readers are led to explore the many mysteries that our planet guards. The author has chosen Italy as a microcosm in which to explore this amazing past for several reasons. First, it is the land where the earliest geologists learned how to read the history of the Earth, written in nature’s rock archives. Second, it is where Alvarez and his Italian geological friends have continued to decipher the rock record, uncovering more historical episodes from the Earth’s past. And third, the lovely land of Italy is unusually rich in geological treasures and offers examples of the key processes that have created the landscapes of the entire world. The Mountains of Saint Francis begins in Rome. We discover that the landscape of Rome was built by violent volcanic eruptions in the very recent past, almost certainly witnessed by our human ancestors. Next we travel to Siena and come face to face with a fundamental discovery of the geologists—that much of the dry land that we currently inhabit was once underwater, beneath ancient seas or oceans. Then we stop in the small medieval city of Gubbio and contemplate the amazing secret that the limestone rocks kept hidden for 65 million years—that a huge asteroid smashed into the Earth, disrupting the environment so severely that the dinosaurs, and perhaps half of the other forms of life inhabiting the Earth at the time, disappeared forever, opening the way for the rise of the mammals and eventually of humans. The impact theory that came from those Italian limestones at Gubbio was one of the great geological discoveries of the twentieth century. Just as important to the field of geology was the theory of plate tectonics—the understanding that the outer layer of the Earth is divided into crustal plates that move around, sometimes carrying continents into collisions with one another, like the great collision between Italy and Europe that built the Alps. And yet, to explain the Mountains of Saint Francis requires something more than a collision between continents. These are mountains that are still jealously guarding the secret of their past, and in this book we go along with the geological detectives as they try to uncover that secret. It is a journey that has seen the land of Italy lifted out of the sea, squashed and folded, torn apart, left high and dry when the Mediterranean Sea evaporated away, and then flooded when the Atlantic waters poured back in. The story of the Earth's history is fascinating in its own right, but with Alvarez as the tour guide, the journey takes on a human dimension, full of stories about the landscape and history of Italy and about the great geologists who uncovered the deep past of this land. It is a journey recounted in warm tones and subtle colors, reflecting the transcendent beauty of Italy itself.
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In late March, the British banking giant Barclays announced its ambition to become a net-zero bank by 2050. While the fine print of how one of the biggest lenders to fossil fuel companies will make this transition is yet to be determined, one of the other key underlying challenges is that it’s impossible for the bank to accomplish this on its own. It will need every company it lends to to disclose data on their carbon accounting.
A surprising number of companies — more than 8,400 — already report this kind of data to CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), an international nonprofit that runs a public environmental disclosure database. CDP asks companies to disclose data about their environmental footprint on behalf of investors who are concerned about climate change and the financial risks associated with it. But some companies refuse to participate, even after repeated requests from investors themselves.
In a sign of just how serious investors are getting about this, in recent years CDP’s investor partners have agreed to release a sort of shit list outing the companies that turned their disclosure requests down. This year’s list includes 1,051 companies, including fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron, media companies like Netflix and Facebook, and ostensibly climate-friendly businesses like Tesla. The companies on the list are estimated to collectively emit more than 4,800 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, which is equal to the amount emitted by the U.S. in 2017.
Not every company that refused to disclose is on CDP’s list — only the ones that investors wanted to put in the spotlight. The hope is that this public shaming will spur companies to disclose in the future. The 707 companies targeted by last year’s campaign were more than twice as likely to increase their disclosure this year.
To be fair, disclosure is not an easy ask. “No one person can sit down and, like, do their homework last minute,” Emily Kreps, global director of capital markets at CDP, told Grist. CDP collects data across three categories — climate change, deforestation, and water security. The reporting process requires going into every part of a company’s value chain, from the sourcing of raw materials all the way to the end use of its products. Kreps said the disclosure reports from CDP’s top-rated companies usually come out to between 60 and 70 pages long. Sometimes it takes a few years for a company to get the information together.
Some companies on CDP’s nondisclosure list used to participate and stopped. Exxon, for example, disclosed with CDP until 2018. At that point CDP changed its questionnaire for oil and gas companies to include more specific questions around fuel reserve levels and inventory, and Exxon decided it would release its own disclosure reports instead. “The report that Exxon put out on their own is not helpful, necessarily, in addressing all of the environmental points that investors are looking for,” said Kreps.
The CDP’s reporting process was designed to align with the recommendations of a group called the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which was started in 2015 by Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The TCFD provides a widely applicable framework to help financial-sector organizations understand how the companies in their portfolios assess climate-related risks and opportunities. It suggests four areas for disclosure — governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets — but it doesn’t dictate exactly what to disclose or how. What CDP has done is take TCFD’s recommendations and translate them into a 26-question reporting sheet. “We’re trying to standardize the indicators and data points that people look for year after year to track progress,” said Kreps.
Kreps emphasized that what’s critical about CDP’s disclosure process is that it helps companies look at both risks and opportunity. There is money to be made in the transition to a low carbon economy, she said, and those opportunities are illuminated by the reporting process. If some of the 1,051 companies that avoided disclosure this year decide to get on board, they could benefit in the long run.
Adán Vez Lira, a prominent defender of an ecological reserve in Mexico, was shot while riding his motorcycle in April. Four years earlier, the renowned activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home in Honduras by assailants taking direction from executives responsible for a dam she had opposed. Four years before that, Cambodian forest and land activist Chut Wutty was killed during a brawl with the country’s military police while investigating illegal logging.
These are some of the most prominent examples of violence faced by environmental activists in recent years — but, according to a new report, they are not unusual. As police crack down on protests demanding justice and equity in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S., it’s clear that activism in general comes at a heavy price. Environmental activists specifically — particularly indigenous activists and activists of color — have for years faced high rates of criminalization, physical violence, and even murder for their efforts to protect the planet, according to a comprehensive analysis by researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, which was released last Tuesday.
The researchers analyzed nearly 2,800 social conflicts related to the environment using the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) database, which they created in 2011 to monitor environmental conflicts around the world. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that 20 percent of environmental defenders faced criminal charges or were imprisoned, 18 percent were victims of physical violence, and 13 percent were killed between 2011 and 2019. The likelihood of these consequences increased significantly for indigenous environmental defenders: 27 percent faced criminalization, 25 percent were victims of physical violence, and 19 percent were murdered.
“We can think of this as compounded injustice, highlighting the extreme risks vulnerable communities opposing social and environmental violence against them face when they stand up for their rights,” one of the study’s researchers, Leah Temper, told Grist.
Environmental defenders, as the researchers defined them, are individuals or collectives that mobilize and protest against unsustainable or harmful uses of the environment. Examples of the sort of conflict covered by the study are the construction of pipelines on tribal lands, illegal mining in the Amazon rainforest, oil extraction in the Arctic, and the construction of fossil fuel refineries.
The analysis draws on last year’s report from the human rights and environmental watchdog organization Global Witness, which found that at least 164 environmental activists were killed in 2018 alone. The Philippines was named the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, who have been called terrorists by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In fact, not long after these findings, 37-year-old Brandon Lee, an American environmental activist who was in the Philippines on a volunteer mission, was shot four times in Ifugao province by unknown assailants after his group, the Ifugao Peasant Movement — a farmers group opposing a hydropower project — had been labeled an “enemy of the state” across social media by propagandists. As of April, Lee was recovering in his hometown of San Francisco, but he remains paralyzed from the chest down.
The lead author of last week’s study, Arnim Scheidel, said he hopes that the analysis gives lawmakers and the public a better understanding of the causes of the violence that protesters still face around the world.
“Globally, indigenous peoples suffer significantly higher rates of violence in environmental conflicts,” Scheidel said. “Being aware of these connections may help to connect struggles against various forms of racism worldwide. Protest is key for the success of such struggles, particularly when using diverse channels and building on broad alliances.”
As you read this, the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially started on June 1, is churning its way across southern Mexico. Meteorologists expect it to soon head northward, where it could gather strength over the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s unlikely that Cristobal will turn into a full-blown hurricane, but experts say it’s likely that the storm will slam into the Gulf Coast late this weekend or early next week.
Cristobal developed winds greater than 39miles per hour, the minimum for a named storm, on Tuesday — one day after the official start of the hurricane season. If that feels a bit early for the third named storm of the season to rear its head, that’s because it is. For the past six years straight, a named tropical storm has appeared in May, days or weeks ahead of the official start date. But the Atlantic doesn’t usually spawn so many powerful storms so fast: This is the first time the third named storm of the Atlantic season has arrived so early.
In 2019, the third named storm of the season arrived on August 20. That’s due in part to the fact that last year had an El Niño, a wind pattern that blows warm air into the Pacific Ocean and sucks cold water into the Atlantic, helping to suppress storms there. This year looks like it could develop into a La Niña year, when the opposite weather pattern occurs, creating conditions for more hurricanes to develop in the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean water warmed by rising global temperatures (read: climate change) in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea also contributes to the likelihood of an unusually active hurricane season. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s annual hurricane forecast predicts between 13 and 19 named storms including six to 10 hurricanes (compared to the average six).
“In modern history, this is unusual from the standpoint that you typically see the third storm in August,” Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather’s lead hurricane expert, told Grist. Warm water, he said, is the main culprit. “You only have to take the temperature up maybe a half a degree Celsius for it to be more optimal for storm development.” Kottlowski said ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic have risen since 1995, something he attributes in part to the way the ocean naturally cycles water but is also tied to rising global temperatures in recent years.
Right now, Kottlowski expects Cristobal to move through the western portion of the Yucatán over the next day or so, move off the west coast of the Yucatán, and then track toward the center of the Gulf, making landfall somewhere along the Louisiana coast late Sunday. While it’s more likely that Cristobal will make landfall as a strong tropical storm than a hurricane, Kottlowski says flooding will be widespread. “It’s very possible storm surge values could be well above three feet, perhaps as high as six feet, from this storm,” he said. “That will be enough to inundate a good part of the coastal area of Louisiana.” Flooding could penetrate deep into the state, he said, hitting areas that were flooded last year during Hurricane Barry.
When hurricanes hit coastal states frequently affected by extreme weather, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods — often situated in low-lying areas with aging infrastructure — suffer most. Louisiana is no exception. After Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005, black residents of New Orleans and the surrounding areas were far more likely than whites to say they experienced 7 out of 10 hurricane-related hardships.
John Morales, a weather reporter and meteorologist for NBC6 in Miami who frequently highlights the connection between hurricanes and climate change for his viewers, says he is troubled by recent research that shows a statistically significant increase in the proportion of tropical storms that become major hurricanes globally. “We do know that out of the hurricanes that are forming, a greater percentage of these are becoming category 3, 4, and 5,” Morales said. He recalls the 28-storm 2005 hurricane season, when forecasters ran out of names for storms and had to start pulling letters from the Greek alphabet. “By the end of that hurricane season I was exhausted,” he said. “To think that, right now, we might be dealing with 20 storms, that is a significantly active hurricane season — it’s going to be really exhausting.”
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Genre: Science & Nature
Publish Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Seller: Bookwire GmbH
A prize-winning journalist upends our centuries-long assumptions about migration through science, history, and reporting–predicting its lifesaving power in the face of climate change. The news today is full of stories of dislocated people on the move. Wild species, too, are escaping warming seas and desiccated lands, creeping, swimming, and flying in a mass exodus from their past habitats. News media presents this scrambling of the planet's migration patterns as unprecedented, provoking fears of the spread of disease and conflict and waves of anxiety across the Western world. On both sides of the Atlantic, experts issue alarmed predictions of millions of invading aliens, unstoppable as an advancing tsunami, and countries respond by electing anti-immigration leaders who slam closed borders that were historically porous. But the science and history of migration in animals, plants, and humans tell a different story. Far from being a disruptive behavior to be quelled at any cost, migration is an ancient and lifesaving response to environmental change, a biological imperative as necessary as breathing. Climate changes triggered the first human migrations out of Africa. Falling sea levels allowed our passage across the Bering Sea. Unhampered by barbed wire, migration allowed our ancestors to people the planet, catapulting us into the highest reaches of the Himalayan mountains and the most remote islands of the Pacific, creating and disseminating the biological, cultural, and social diversity that ecosystems and societies depend upon. In other words, migration is not the crisis–it is the solution. Conclusively tracking the history of misinformation from the 18th century through today's anti-immigration policies, The Next Great Migration makes the case for a future in which migration is not a source of fear, but of hope.
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Monday was the official first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, though the season unofficially began early for the sixth straight year when the first named storm of the season, Tropical Storm Arthur, brushed up against North Carolina’s Outer Banks in mid-May. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts an above-normal season ahead — between 13 and 19 named storms.
If some of those storms make landfall, they’ll bring flooding with them. Americans could be in for a very wet few months, following spring floods that toppled a dam in Michigan, forcing the evacuation of 11,000 people, and brought half a foot of rain to western North Carolina in the span of 24 hours. A new survey commissioned by National Flood Services, a flood insurance administration company, shows homeowners are ill-equipped to handle that flooding, even though a majority consider themselves ready.
Sixty-two percent of homeowners across the nation say they’re prepared for a flood, but the survey revealed that just 12 percent of them have flood insurance — property insurance for residential and commercial properties that covers water damage from flooding. Premiums for this insurance, which is subsidized by the federal government, range from $573 to $1,395 annually.
The survey, conducted by The Harris Poll on more than 2,000 U.S. adults in April, found that half of respondents are actually less interested in buying insurance because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put more than 40 million Americans out of work and caused a historic economic recession. A measly six percent of homeowners making less than $50,000 a year have flood insurance, and six percent of homeowners between the ages of 55 and 64 have it.
Other surveys show that 80 percent of Texas homeowners, 60 percent of Florida homeowners, and 99 percent of Puerto Rico homeowners don’t have flood insurance. All three places have been inundated with tropical storm–related flooding in recent years.
“We’re entering into another season, we’re building more homes in the floodplain, we know we have aging infrastructure,” said A.R. Siders, assistant professor at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. “We don’t know that information is getting out to people — that they are understanding the risks they are facing.” So why do so few of us have flood insurance?
There are lots of ways to answer that question. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) only requires people who buy homes in designated flood plains to buy flood insurance. For Americans who don’t live in those areas, flood insurance can seem like an unnecessary expense. Some folks don’t know that their regular home insurance doesn’t cover flooding from storms and other sources of water damage beyond something like a burst pipe. Still others underestimate the risk of flooding in their areas or don’t realize their homes are in areas prone to flooding in the first place.
Some states — 21, to be exact — don’t even require real estate agents and home sellers to tell buyers when a home is in a FEMA-designated flood zone that requires flood insurance. “When you buy a house, they don’t have to tell you if your house is in the floodplain,” Siders said. “You look at Carfax and figure out if your car has had a dinged bumper, but making one of the largest financial purchases of your life, like a house, you can’t figure out if it’s in a flood zone.”
What’s more, FEMA’s flood maps don’t tell the whole story. “I don’t think it’s widely appreciated that the flood risk is much greater than just being in a designated 100-year floodplain,” Jim Blackburn, a professor in practice at Rice University, told Grist. An 100-year floodplain is an area that has a one in 100 percent chance of flooding annually. Extensive flooding, Blackburn said, can happen in a lot of places with little warning.
And that’s a problem that’s going to get worse. The size, scope, and frequency of floods are changing rapidly, in part because climate change causes heavier rains and more severe storms. By the end of the century, America’s flood plains could increase in size by 45 percent. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is the main way people get flood insurance in this country and is administered by flood insurance companies, could increase its number of annual policies 80 percent by the year 2100. “FEMA is chronically underfunded, so a lot of their flood maps are out of date. Climate change means that the flood maps are changing really quickly, and then FEMA flood maps don’t take climate change into account,” Siders said. “So they can only tell you what your historic flood risk was, not what it will be in 10 years.”
As coronavirus restrictions ease and Americans try to get back on their feet, hurricane season and the associated flooding could knock them flat again. One way to protect homeowners from compounding risks in the future is to make sure they see the full picture before they sign on the dotted line. “If you have to pay tens of thousands every year to live in a home, that signals to you that it’s truly risky to live in this house,” Siders said, referring to the government’s practice of heavily subsidizing homes in flood zones. “When we subsidize it, we hide that, and so people don’t necessarily know how at risk they are.”
A hurricane is the last thing the country needs right now as tens of millions of Americans stay at home to protect themselves from COVID-19. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Atlantic hurricane forecast, published Thursday, shows an abnormally active season in the coming months.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends November 30 but for the past six years has been arriving early like an overeager dinner guest, typically produces 12 named storms. This year, NOAA is forecasting between 13 and 19 named storms, six to 10 of which could become hurricanes (compared to the average six). Three to six of those hurricanes could develop into major hurricanes — category 3, 4, or 5 storms with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher. The average season sees three major hurricanes.
According to the forecast, there’s a 60 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 30 percent chance of an average season, and just a measly 10 percent chance of a below-normal season. Prior forecasts unaffiliated with NOAA predict a similarly damaging Atlantic hurricane season ahead. One forecaster said it could be one of the most active seasons on record.
This year is shaping up to be a doozy in large part because an El Niño, which suppresses storms in the Atlantic, is not likely to form this year. Signs point to either neutral conditions or El Niño’s opposite, La Niña — a weather pattern that blows warm water into the Atlantic, creating conditions for more hurricanes. Warmer ocean surface temperatures observed in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Carribean Sea, NOAA’s report notes, also contribute to the likelihood of a busy season.
“NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year,” Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, said in a statement. Already, the season’s first named storm, Arthur, came and went — brushing up against North Carolina before it churned back out into the Atlantic.
That doesn’t bode well for a nation under lockdown. The Federal Emergency Management Administration, which has been running point on the federal coronavirus response, is already stretched thin. Add a few major hurricanes to the mix and the federal agency might be completely overwhelmed. FEMA is “just not built to handle anything like this,” Robert Verchick, a Loyola University law professor, told Mother Jones earlier this month.
Whether FEMA is prepared or not, the agency is taking the hurricane forecast as an opportunity to remind people to make their own preparations. “Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” said FEMA’s acting deputy administrator for resilience, Carlos Castillo, in a statement. “With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now.”
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Genre: Life Sciences
Publish Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Harper Design
Seller: HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS
In Wonders of Life: Exploring the Most Extraordinary Force in the Universe, the definitive companion to the Discovery Science Channel series, Professor Brian Cox takes us on an incredible journey to discover the most complex, diverse, and unique force in the universe: life itself. Through his voyage of discovery, international bestselling author Brian Cox explains how the astonishing inventiveness of nature came about and uncovers the milestones in the epic journey from the origin of life to our own lives, with beautiful full-color illustrations throughout. From spectacular fountains of superheated water at the bottom of the Atlantic to the deepest rainforest, Cox seeks out the places where the biggest questions about life may be answered: What is life? Why do we need water? Why does life end? Physicist and professor Brian Cox uncovers the secrets of life in the most unexpected locations and in the most stunning detail in this beautiful full-color volume.