Tim Lane Goes Into Deep Depression In Chile

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‘Least snow I’ve seen in my life’: climate change in Japan worries experts and tourism operators ~ This Week in Asia

The city of Sapporo is having to truck in snow for its annual festival, while some ski resorts have closed early in Hokkaido’s mildest winter on record

  • Experts say there are fears the changing climate could see more, larger typhoons and a lack of water in the summertime
The city of Sapporo has ordered trucks to carry in snow for its annual festival due to reduced snowfall. Photo: Kyodo
The city of Sapporo has ordered trucks to carry in snow for its annual festival due to reduced snowfall. Photo: Kyodo

 

Makoto Watanabe remembers snowdrifts that towered well above his head when he was a boy – and the thick coating of snow that blanketed his hometown of Otaru, on Japan’s most northerly island of Hokkaido, for months on end. Icicles taller than a man hung from the eaves of houses, and the wind that blew in from Siberia made his cheeks sting.

 

This winter, however, he said it hardly felt like winter had come at all. “This year has been the least snow that I have ever seen in my life,” said Watanabe, 45, a professor of communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

This is the very first winter that I felt that I could see climate change actually affecting Hokkaido Makoto Watanabe, Hokkaido Bunkyo University

“It has snowed a little this morning, but it is not settling everywhere and there are certainly none of the deep snowdrifts that we normally have all around Sapporo by this time in January,” he said.

“For me, this is the very first winter that I felt that I could see climate change actually affecting Hokkaido. I have not had to dig my car out of a drift yet. And the longer it goes on, the stranger it feels.”

It is not just Hokkaido that is experiencing the mildest winter on record, as temperatures the length and breadth of Japan are far higher than in a normal year and snowfall is far lower. Temperatures in Hokkaido have been 2.8 degrees warmer than average so far this winter.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the amount of snow in Hokkaido in December was 48 per cent of an average year and the lowest total for the month since records were first kept in 1961. On the northeast coast of Japan, which normally bears the brunt of cold-weather systems blowing in from northern China and Russia, snowfall is averaging 28 per cent of a typical year.

A radioactive legacy haunts this Navajo village, which fears a fractured future ~ The Washington Post

Signs warning of health risks are posted outside the gates of an abandoned uranium mine in the community of Red Water Pond Road, N.M. (Steven St. John/for The Washington Post)
Signs warning of health risks are posted outside the gates of an abandoned uranium mine in the community of Red Water Pond Road, N.M. (Steven St. John/for The Washington Post)
Jan. 18, 2020 at 2:43 p.m. MST

 

RED WATER POND ROAD, N.M. — The village of Red Water Pond Road sits in the southeast corner of the Navajo Nation, a tiny speck in a dry valley surrounded by scrub-covered mesas. Many families have lived here for generations. The federal government wants to move them out.

In what might seem a cruel echo of history, officials are relocating residents to the city of Gallup, about a half-hour away, and surrounding areas. This echo is nuanced, however. The village sits amid a Superfund site loaded with uranium mine waste. Mitigation has been delayed for decades, along with remedies for hundreds of other abandoned uranium mines across the tribe’s lands that boomed during the Cold War.

The Environmental Protection Agency aims to haul away thousands of truckloads of the radioactive waste over the next seven years. Residents do not want to stay during that work, but many fear losing their way of life if they are uprooted and unmoored from rural roots and traditions. They have countered the agency’s plan with another solution: construction on a nearby mesa of an off-grid, solar-powered community designed by an architecture group at the University of New Mexico.

The EPA had rejected the idea but is facing new pressure from lawmakers and community members to reexamine it.

“I feel empowered with those people,” resident Edith Hood says of the university’s proposal. “I feel hope.”

Red Water Pond Road has seen little reason to hope for a long time. Starting in the mid-1950s, mining companies extracted about 30 million tons of uranium from Navajo lands. It was just down the road on a July morning in 1979 that an embankment broke on a uranium tailings pond, releasing 1,000 tons of waste that traveled more than 80 miles downstream through arroyos, creeks and rivers. The Church Rock Spill remains the largest nuclear waste spill in U.S. history.

Even four decades later, only scattershot mitigation has occurred. Residents, activists and some nonprofit groups have cited a variety of health concerns, including cancer and risks to pregnancy and newborns, related to uranium contamination here. No comprehensive study on the health effects from uranium contamination on Navajo lands has been done.

The Superfund site includes two waste piles that were once owned by Kerr-McGee/Quivira, which later became part of Anadarko Petroleum, and United Nuclear Corp., now owned by General Electric. The most immediate cleanup plan focuses on the latter site, with the EPA intending to move the mine waste to tailings piles just under a mile away but over the Navajo border.

The agency says it has offered voluntary relocation to some 75 Red Water Pond Road residents. Of the residents who have accepted, nearly four dozen have moved or are preparing to do so. Many describe the process as a painful dissolution of their village — like a real estate developer clearing out a neighborhood by picking off families one by one.

“Government is supposed to have cultural sensitivity training,” one woman said at a community meeting in September. “Where is that?”

Edith Hood, who once worked in the uranium mines surrounding Red Water Pond Road on the Navajo Nation, has long pushed for cleanup of the radioactive waste left behind. (Steven St. John/for The Washington Post)
Edith Hood, who once worked in the uranium mines surrounding Red Water Pond Road on the Navajo Nation, has long pushed for cleanup of the radioactive waste left behind. (Steven St. John/for The Washington Post)

In a lengthy letter in November to several New Mexico lawmakers, the EPA defended its actions to date as “consistent with all relevant laws, guidance and policies. We continue to seek collaborative solutions and appreciate the Community’s efforts to bring additional resources and perspectives to bear on the challenges posed by both short and long-term disruptions.”

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The Authoritarian Dreamscape of the New Wild West ~ Consortium News

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William deBuys reports on the humanitarian and environmental disaster of Trump’s border wall. 

By William deBuys
TomDispatch

A new Wild West has taken root not far from Tombstone, Arizona, known to many for its faux-historical reenactments of the old West. We’re talking about a long, skinny territory — a geographic gerrymander — that stretches east across New Mexico and down the Texan Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico. It also runs west across hundreds of miles of desert to California and the Pacific Ocean. Like the old Wild West, this one is lawless, save for the law of the gun. But that old West was lawless for want of government. This one is lawless because of it.

The Department of Homeland Security, under authority conferred by Congress, has declared more than 50 federal laws inoperable along sections of the U.S. boundary with Mexico, the better to build the border wall that Donald Trump has promised his “base.” Innumerable state laws and local ordinances have also been swept aside. Predictably, the Endangered Species Act is among the fallen. So are the National Historic Preservation Act, the Wilderness Act, laws restricting air and water pollution, and measures protecting wildlife, landscapes, Native American sacred sites, and even caves and fossils.

The new Wild West of the border wall is an authoritarian dreamscape where the boss man faces no limits and no obligations. It’s as though Marshall Wyatt Earp, reborn as an orange-haired easterner with no knowledge of the actual West, were back in charge, deciding who’s in and who’s out, what goes and what stays.

Prominent on the list of suspended laws is the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which, until recently, was the nation’s look-before-you-leap conscience. The environmental analyses and impact statements NEPA requires might not force the government to evaluate whether a palisade of 30-foot-high metal posts — bollards in border wall terminology — were really a better way to control drug smuggling than upgrading inspection facilities at ports of entry, where, by all accounts, the vast majority of illegal substances enter the country. They would, however, require those wall builders to figure out in advance a slew of other gnarly questions like: How will wildlife be affected by a barrier that nothing larger than a kangaroo rat can get through? And how much will pumping scarce local water to make concrete draw down shallow desert aquifers?

The questions get big, fast. One that might look easy but isn’t concerns the flashfloods that stream down desert washes. The uprights of the border wall are to be spaced only four inches apart, which means they’ll catch flood debris the way a colander catches spaghetti.

Let’s get specific. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge abuts the border in the far southeastern corner of Arizona. Black Draw, a gulch running through the middle of the refuge, is normally as dry as a hot sidewalk. When thunderstorms burst over the vast San Bernardino Valley, however, the floodwaters can surge more than 20 feet high.  Imagine a wall of chocolate water sweeping up tree trunks, uprooted bushes, the occasional dead cow, and fence posts snarled in wire. Imagine what happens when that torrent meets a barrier built like a strainer. The junk catches and creates a dam. Water backs up, and pressure builds. If the wall were built like the Hoover Dam, it might hold, but it won’t be and it won’t.

In 2014, a flood in Black Draw swept vehicle barriers aside, scattering pieces downstream. Local ranchers have shown me the pictures. You could say the desert was making a point about how wet it could be. In fact, there’s no mystery about what will happen when such a flood hits a top-heavy palisade. If a NEPA document were to evaluate the border wall, the passage discussing this eventuality might require its writer to invent a term for what a wall becomes when it lies flat on the ground.

On the other hand, if you leave gaps for floods to pass through, then smugglers and — for Donald Trump and his base — people of unacceptably dark skin color might come the other way. Not that they necessarily would. As local residents I talked to attest, active patrols, remote sensing, and improved coordination among law enforcement agencies have reduced illegal crossings in the San Bernardino Valley almost to zero, something current government officials don’t point out but a NEPA document would.

With NEPA out of the picture, the responsible parties only have to claim that they’ll figure out a solution later and, when “later” comes, maybe they’ll have conveniently moved on to other jobs.

Pittsburgh on the Border

Meanwhile, there’s another question that won’t have to be dealt with: How much water will the wall’s construction require? The answer matters in an area where water’s scarce. Again, the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge offers a useful vantage point for considering the question.

To get to the refuge, you drive east from the town of Douglas along the Geronimo Trail, an unpaved two-lane country road that earns its name honestly.  Nineteenth-century Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. military in the mountains on the horizon just ahead of you. Shortly before you reach the refuge, you top a low rise overlooking what the local assessor initially mistook for a new industrial park.  It was as if a section of Pittsburgh or Youngstown had suddenly sprouted from the desert, with enough mesquite and creosote bush scraped away to accommodate a concrete-batching plant, office trailers, and a massive staging area and machinery yard.

Stacks of steel bollards stand taller than houses, covering the space of a neighborhood. A grid of steel rails for laying out those bollards and welding them into pre-fab wall sections occupies another acre or two, beyond which stacks of completed sections cover yet more acres. In front of those stacks, a few scraps of wall stand vertical but disjointed, like shrines to a metal god — probably practice erections, if you’ll pardon the phrase. Scattered through the site are forklifts, graders, loaders, bulldozers, excavators, pickup trucks, flatbeds, and cranes. Generators and floodlights on wheeled rigs are parked at the margins, ready to illuminate round-the-clock shifts. Close to the batching tower, which may rival the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas as the tallest structure in Cochise County, cement trucks cluster like a litter of puppies.

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Writer John McPhee Explains His ‘Old-Man Project ~ NPR

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Author John McPhee tells us why he is undertaking what he calls an “old-man project” — writing about the scraps of unwritten stories he’s thought about over the years.

2019 Was a Record Year for Ocean Temperatures, Data Show ~ NYT

Credit… Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Last year was the warmest year on record for the world’s oceans, part of a long-term warming trend, according to a study released Monday.

“If you look at the ocean heat content, 2019 is by far the hottest, 2018 is second, 2017 is third, 2015 is fourth, and then 2016 is fifth,” said Kevin E. Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author on the study

The study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, follows an announcement last week by European scientists that Earth’s surface temperatures in 2019 were the second-hottest on record.

Since the middle of last century, the oceans have absorbed roughly 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning coal for electricity. That has shielded the land from some of the worst effects of rising emissions.

“Ocean heat content is, in many ways, our best measure of the effect of climate change on the earth,” said Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute in California, who was not involved in this study. Surface temperature measurements are more variable from year to year because they are affected by things like volcanic eruptions and El Niño events, cyclical weather patterns that pump energy and moisture into the atmosphere.

While 2016 was the fifth-hottest year on record for the oceans, it was the hottest year on record in terms of surface temperatures. There was a significant El Niño that year, Dr. Trenberth said, which moved the heat from the ocean into the atmosphere.

“And so, the global mean surface temperature is actually higher in 2016, but the ocean temperature is a little bit lower,” Dr. Trenberth said.

Measuring the ocean’s temperature has long been a challenge for scientists. Thermometers on land around the world have tracked temperatures for more than a century, but the ocean temperature record is spottier.

Argo, a global network of 3,000 drifting floats equipped with sensors that measure temperature and depth, was implemented in 2007 and created a comprehensive temperature data record. Before that, researchers had to rely on an ad hoc system of ocean temperature measurements. Many of these were taken from the sides of ships and excluded Antarctic waters until the late 1950s.

For the new study, Dr. Trenberth and his colleagues overcame some of the gaps in the historical ocean temperature record by exploiting an understanding of how a temperature reading in one area relates to ocean temperatures across the ocean overall gleaned from data from the Argo system. The new method allowed them to take the limited temperature observations from the pre-Argo era and extrapolate them into a broader understanding of past ocean temperature.

“What we find is that we can do a global reconstruction back to 1958,” Dr. Trenberth said. That year was when systematic temperature observations began in Antarctica, creating enough temperature points for the extrapolation to be feasible.

2019 Was Second Hottest Year on Record

The past 10 years have been the warmest 10 on record for global ocean temperatures. The increase between 2018 and 2019 was the largest single-year increase since the early 2000s, according to Dr. Hausfather.

Increasing ocean temperatures have harmed marine life and contributed to mass coral reef bleaching, the loss of critical ecosystems, and threatened livelihoods like fishing as species have moved in search of cooler waters.

But the impacts of warming oceans don’t remain at sea.

“The heavy rains in Jakarta just recently resulted, in part, from very warm sea temperatures in that region,” said Dr. Trenberth, who also drew connections between warming ocean temperatures to weather over Australia. The recent drought there has helped to propel what many are calling the worst wildfire season in the nation’s history.

“These sea temperatures influence regional weather patterns and sometimes even global weather patterns,” Dr. Trenberth said.

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