With Hurricane Irma in the forefront of our collective minds, here is a modest proposal: I suggest that the people who continue to deny human-caused climate change (bless their hearts) should similarly discount the science, and the scientists, the rest of us are depending on to decide whether to board up our windows, to buy bottled water, and to put the cat in the carrier and suffer four hours of driving to Spartanburg, (serenaded by a mournful meow, repeated every four seconds for the entire length of the trip).
I suggest that as Irma approaches, those climate change-wary people (many of whom we know and otherwise respect) should stay put, with their storm windows up, shutters open and no plywood installed, and engage each other in a vigorous discussion about how the wind speeds have been fudged, how the pictures of the devastation in the Caribbean have been Photoshopped, and how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists – the men and women who, every three hours, faithfully update the maps we are all glued to – are conspiring with their fellow scientists around the world to fake these hurricanes in order to secure ever-larger government grants and thereby enrich themselves and their families.
I suggest that these earnest and generally well-meaning people – these people who can adroitly and definitively explain how all of the physical changes the earth has experienced over the past 30 years, (or at least those they concede are actually happening), are a function of sun spots, the Maunder minimum, and other natural phenomenon – I suggest they regale each other with the occasional observation that Al Gore is really holed up in the NOAA office in Washington, D.C. drawing Irma maps in order to justify a massive wealth transfer from the U.S. to the developing economies of Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
(For a very readable rebuttal of some of the usual arguments climate “skeptics” consistently trot out, here is something from the Guardian:
I don’t want to sound glib here, but an important point is in order. The NOAA websites we are all hovering around are produced by the very same organization that provides the status updates of the world’s climate – the same agency that has provided, for the past two decades, evidence that the world has warmed much faster than it would have without human inputs, and that it will warm catastrophically if we don’t take bold, decisive action to prevent it.
There are not two sets of scientists here – the honest NOAA employees who can help us avoid being drowned or blown away by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and the sneaky, nefarious NOAA staffers intent on misleading us about the condition of the planet’s atmosphere. (And don’t confuse, as I almost did, NOAA with NORAD, [North American Aerospace Defense Command], the host of the ever-popular Santa tracker website. But let’s leave that alone for the moment.)
What we really have here are two different audiences. But they consist of the same individuals. In the first, (let’s call this the “Dr. Jekyll” group), are rational, concerned citizens who thoughtfully contemplate the changing hurricane predictions with the goal of making the best decisions they can for themselves and their families. The second, (the “Mr. Hyde” group), now sees conspiracies and political agendas lurking behind every new report, on global temperature, CO2 concentrations, permafrost, tropical glaciers, ocean circulation, and so on. How can this be? It is truly a mystery of human cognition.
This is what I wrote in a Post and Courier op-ed 11 months ago about our response to the predicted arrival of Matthew:
By my non-scientific study, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane tracker web site was the most popular source of information. People pondered the probability of the storm’s predicted turn to the east and the potential height of the tidal surge.
In three days, Charlestonians has a crash course in weather, statistics, logistics and economics. This they did collaboratively, logically and respectfully.
In spite of debates over the potential for a direct hit, not once did I hear anyone profess not to “believe” in hurricanes, or that hurricane tracking was “a fraud.” At no point did anyone allege bias in the scientific community regarding the predictions, or that scientists were spinning data in order to attract grant funding. At no point did Al Gore’s name come up, either admiringly or disdainfully.
Some people felt Governor Haley may have jumped the gun on the evacuation, which cost retailers tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue. But everyone understood that the governor had to make a judgement call under extremely uncertain circumstances. She had to weigh the costs of evacuating against the potential danger presented by Matthew. By Saturday, her judgement had proven correct.
That’s how we prepare for dangerous hurricanes. But, to our great peril, the exact opposite has been true about our response to climate change. The potential for catastrophic damage to human communities and natural systems exists on a scale never before seen in human history — disruption of global food supplies with consequent displacement of vast numbers of people, inundation of coastal cities housing billions of people and trillions of dollars of real estate investment, economic disruption rippling across every sector of the economy, loss of critical marine habitat and associated fisheries, tropical diseases expanding their ranges, extinction of a large percentage of the world’s species and… more frequent and intense hurricanes.
These impacts are not hypothetical. They are occurring now, and the documentation is rigorous and abundant. In spite of that, for the past three decades the climate discussion has been emotional and unproductive. There have been accusations of hidden agendas. Corporations and state attorneys general (including South Carolina’s) have filed lawsuits over modest attempts to regulate carbon emissions.
Today, the discussion remains mired in gridlock. Meanwhile, the crisis has unfolded largely as scientists predicted, the only surprise being that things are getting worse faster than almost anyone thought they would. Our paralysis on climate has been exactly the opposite of our competent reaction to hurricanes.
Will Harvey and Irma be turning points for this large, influential segment of the American population, including our President and his EPA director, Scott Pruitt? Will Dr. Jekyll prevail over Mr. Hyde? I am hopeful, but not overly so, because history suggests otherwise. Confronted with virtually indisputable evidence, these folks, (who are mostly, I think, well intended, most of the time), manage to mangle and obfuscate, to exclude, to cherry-pick, to reinterpret, and to otherwise reconstruct the facts to avoid taking the steps, (almost all of which have collateral benefits besides climate change mitigation), necessary to sustain planetary conditions that accommodate Homo sapiens and other plant and animal life forms. But we will see! This time could be different.
Speaking of life forms, some of the most interesting are the ones we can eat, especially when they are local life forms. Here is a wonderful piece from the Clif Bar company on GrowFood Carolina, featuring our superstar general manager, Sara Clow, her superstar team of local food purveyors, and Lowcountry food rock stars like Sidi Limehouse and Chef Mike Lata. Clif Bar has generously provided financial support for GrowFood over the past few years, and this time decided to produce a delightful video, (it’s imbedded, so don’t miss it!), and an article on their website about GFC.
Also furthering the cause of sustaining life forms in our region, our friends at the Lowcountry Land Trust (LLT) are making great use of the mitigation funds for the Charleston Harbor deepening project. The fund was created as part of an agreement on the deepening between the S.C. State Ports Authority, LLT and the Conservation League. As this article from the Post and Courier reports, the land trust has purchased 600 acres of property in the historic plantation district of the Cooper River watershed. They will permanently protect the property with a conservation easement and resell it to a private buyer, thereby replenishing their protection reserves for additional land protection. A great job on the part of the LLT!!!
Finally, so you can get back to your hurricane preparations, this article from the New York Times reports on the damage Harvey has wrought upon oil refineries and other petroleum infrastructure on the Texas coast. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
The damage, detailed in state and federal regulatory filings, is wide ranging: escaping gasoline from a submerged roof at a Phillips 66 storage tank; a sinking tank roof at Exxon Mobil’s vast refinery in Baytown, which resulted in the release of hazardous gases including volatile organic compounds and benzene, above permitted levels; and a lightning strike that disrupted operations and led to toxic-gas releases at a Dow Chemical plant in Freeport.
The simple question we should ask, as Irma, followed by Jose, bear down on the Southeast, is this: Do we want to put South Carolina in a similarly hazardous position by allowing seismic exploration and oil extraction off of our coast? If you believe the answer is no, now is the time to insist that Governor McMaster formally weigh in, with a letter to the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM), on the Trump Administration proposal to do exactly that.
So, stop offshore oil exploration in S.C., thank a NOAA scientist, keep an eye on the hurricane tracker, and good luck with Irma!