The Trump Administration is having its Katrina-moment this week. Katrina being the hurricane that struck New Orleans during the Bush32 Administration, and became the poster-child for both horrible government policy and the cost of ignoring the effects of climate change. We’ll leave the government policy issues to other people who care about that sort of thing. What we care about is the increase in extreme weather events, as predicted by climate scientists over many years, and the cost of maintaining infrastructure (highways, airports, etc) along the coasts. What’s shocking is that just a few days ago the Trump Administration overturned Obama-era rules that infrastructure projects built on coastlines must consider sea level rise. And, right now we have a huge demonstration of the cost of sea level rise and extreme weather patterns, both of which are the result of a heating climate.
The National Weather Service is calling Hurricane Harvey an “unprecedented event” of a scale never seen before. I don’t know if they’re blowing steam in order to cover themselves. However the pictures coming from the Houston area are shocking. Highways and other infrastructure buried under 8 feet of standing water, for example. Since the National Weather service warns the rain will continue for several more days, the issue has only just begun.
I’ll post some pictures and documentation about the impact of this hurricane below. What I want to do first is to enumerate some shocking actions taken by the Trump Administration over the last few days.
Rolling back requirements to account for climate change and sea level rise in infrastructure projects
President Trump had promised during the campaign to fix what he called a badly broken infrastructure system. On August 15, he announced an Executive Order “to eliminate and streamline some permitting regulations and to speed construction of roads, bridges and pipelines, declaring that the moves would fix a “badly broken” infrastructure system in America and bring manufacturing jobs back to the country.” [NY Times] Trump claimed the process of permits and studies required previously was onerous, resulting in a very long time to get infrastructure projects underway. That, he claimed, meant “We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world, and today we’re like a third-world country.” I don’t know how many third world country’s he’s actually visited, but the USA is certainly not in that league, and as always we have to consider that Trump lies constantly.
Anyway, what’s important here is that a key part of this executive order “rolls back standards set by former President Barack Obama that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.”
Since the Trump Administration believes global warming is a hoax, they obviously don’t see a point to planning for the cost of global warming. Looks like the Climate is delivering a message to us all, if only we’ll collectively listen.
For years climate scientists have warned of an increase in extreme weather events thanks to climate change. Over the last few years we’ve seen increasingly dangerous hurricanes, heat waves, snow storms, even the phenomena called an “atmospheric river” which delivers a massive amount of rain in a narrow corridor stretching hundreds of miles.
Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, New York City and New Jersey and other areas in the USA have born the brunt of extreme hurricanes. Massive damage was done to New York City in Hurricane Sandy.
There is a two-fold risk. First, climate change is causing the ice caps to melt and it’s understood that several glaciers in Antarctica and possibly Greenland have already reached a state where they WILL fall into the ocean. That land-bound ice WILL cause the sea level to rise, and projections are several feet of sea level rise within the next several decades. The second risk is that extreme storm patterns are causing higher storm surges and more intense rainfall, making inland flooding worse than what was previously imagined.
Hurricane Harvey is delivering to us an example of the second issue — in spades. Again, details on this below, as the National Weather Service has been publishing lots of interesting maps and graphs.
Unconstitutionally pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, banning Transgender’s from the military, while Houston is drowning
This next issue is not about climate change. Instead it demonstrates where Trump’s priorities are, and demonstrates a heartless callous use of an extreme news event to cover what should be enraging actions.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio had become a darling of the LOCK-EM-UP-THROW-AWAY-THE-KEY sort through egregiously severe practices as Sheriff of Maricopa County. In particular he directed his people to be especially hard on people with any hint of being an illegal immigrant. Arpaio had been ordered by a Federal Judge in 2011 to stop detaining people solely on immigration status. But Arpaio’s agency blatantly and proudly ignored the order, and in July Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to jail. This is where President Trump stepped in to pardon Arpaio, just so he could win points with his racist white supremacist base. [Newsweek]
The pardon was signed on Friday just as Hurricane Harvey was getting ready to strike Houston. Trump explained the timing as he thought the ratings would be higher. Eh? What? [Mashable]
Several organizations have labeled this pardon as unconstitutional and a huge slap in the face of law enforcement. I don’t know about constitutionality, but it clearly acts to undermine the Rule of Law. It says to law enforcement that they can commit any white supremacist sin they want, and the Trump Administration will have their back.
This problem isn’t just limited to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Other law enforcement leaders also have white supremacist tendencies. Just a few days ago, in Colbert Oklahoma, the newly-appointed Police Chief, Bart Alsbrook, was found on a “Hate Map” issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Chief Alsbrook runs (rather – ran) a website selling music from an international gang of racist skinhead music groups. [Mints Press News]
Also on Friday – as Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Houston – Trump signed an order directing the US Defense Department to institute a ban on Transgender people serving in the Military. This action is widely seen as a civil rights violation. The ACLU has launched a lawsuit, and no doubt plenty of other organizations will join the fight against this. [NY Times]
That’s two actions – both of which are highly controversial – taken while the country’s attention was diverted to a massive hurricane that’s swamping Houston. This hurricane is hardly over, but has already caused lots of damage, several deaths, and is surely going to cause much more. But — what was Trump doing? It reminds me of Emperor Nero playing his violin while Rome burned to the ground.
It’s the Climate Change, Stupid
Global warming is making extreme weather events occur more often. Hurricane Harvey is the 2nd once-in-500-years hurricane to occur in the last 16 years. Hurricanes extract heat from the ocean to create the storm. The more heat the stronger the storm. The ocean is 2-3 degrees F warmer than “normal”. Harvey went over the extra-warm Gulf of Mexico just before hitting Houston.
One 2013 paper found that “since 1975 there has been a substantial and observable regional and global increase in the proportion of Category 4–5 hurricanes of 25–30 percent per °C of anthropogenic global warming.” [Think Progress]
While we aren’t seeing more total hurricanes, we are seeing more of the Category 4 or 5 super-hurricanes, the ones that historically have done the most damage and destroyed entire coastal cities.
Houston is Drowning
Damage estimates currently in the news range in the $10’s of billions of dollars. A very practical result is that 10% of the USA’s oil refining infrastructure has been knocked out of action. The Oil Industry has a huge number of refineries in and around Houston. [Fortune] As a result oil futures prices are climbing rapidly and there’s probably gasoline price increases in store.
Remember that gasoline prices fluctuate wildly on all kinds of events. One month it might be war actions in the Middle East, while in another month it might be a massive hurricane like this. By contrast electricity prices are very stable — making electricity as a vehicle fuel attractive from a fuel cost stability standpoint.
A business looking to control their fuel costs should think about electric delivery trucks, and thereby avoid fuel price shocks from events like this.
In any case what follows is a series of tweets from the National Weather Service and others detailing the impacts of this hurricane.
Houston received so much rain (over 30 inches) in 48 hours, that the Weather Service had to come up with a new color for the rainfall map. Plus, they’re predicting another 20-30 inches in Houston over the next few days. Also look at the map showing floods and the large area with “Major Flooding”.
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