Climate Change

Transportation Nation

New Yorkers Believe Climate Change Caused Hurricane Sandy: Poll

Monday, December 03, 2012

Areas of Long Island, N.Y. following Hurricane Sandy Oct. 30, 2012. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard / Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson)

Most New Yorkers say climate change is the reason for severe storms like Hurricane Sandy.

According to a recent Siena poll, at least 63 percent of voters from across the state -- including two-thirds of upstate residents and three-quarters of those in New York City – say severe storms over the last two years demonstrate the existence of global climate change.

"There may be a debate about what has caused the global climate change," says Siena pollster Steven Greenberg, "but for most New Yorkers there is no debate that it is occurring.”

That mirrors national numbers. In a pre-Sandy poll conducted in October by the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of respondents said they believed in global warming.

But the issue reveals a stark partisan divide. In the Siena poll, eight in ten Democrats say severe storms demonstrated climate change -- whereas Republicans are nearly evenly divided, with 46 percent saying climate change is behind big storms and 44 percent calling them isolated weather events. The Pew poll found similar national numbers.

(Two New Yorkers who believe in climate change: Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The latter said it was the prime force behind his endorsement of  President Obama for reelection. And the governor is likely to be talking about it as he makes the rounds in D.C. to push for disaster aid.)

But as politicians, these two are outliers. Neither Obama nor Republican Mitt Romney mentioned climate change during the presidential debates. A Frontline documentary that aired in October provides some thoughts as to why: climate skeptics have worked hard to introduce doubt into the conversation surrounding the climate change debate -- successfully making it a partisan issue.

Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Photographing the Changing Arctic

Monday, December 03, 2012

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen discuss the changing climate of the arctic, which Nicklen has been photographing for years. The NRDC is awarding Nicklen with a first-ever BioGems Visionary Award for his Arctic photography. Nicklen, born and raised on Baffin Island, Nunavut, grew up in one of the only non-Inuit families in a tiny native settlement amid the ice fields of Northern Canada. His photography book Polar Obsession captures up-close documentation of the lives of leopard seals, whales, walruses, polar bears, bearded seals, and narwhals, and gives a vivid portrait of two extraordinary, endangered ecosystems. 

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Tearing Down, Building Up

Monday, December 03, 2012

On today’s show: Jane McAlevey talks about her struggles as a union organizer and discusses ways the labor movement might be revived. Benjamin Lorr describes his experience with competitive yoga. Frances Beinecke, the President of the NRDC, and acclaimed photographer Paul Nicklen, discuss changes in the Arctic and his photographs a changing worlds at the earth’s poles. And we’ll look at efforts by urban planners, land speculators, and utopian environmentalists to remake Detroit.

Transportation Nation

Fed Study Warned Transit Agencies of Flooding Potential

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

(Nancy Solomon, New Jersey Public Radio) A year before storm Sandy, federal officials warned transit agencies to get their trains out of flood zones in advance of severe storms.  But New Jersey Transit, the nation's third largest transit agency, didn't heed that advice.

Maps produced in 2009 by the Army Corps of Engineers, taking into account storm dynamics and shoreline elevation, showed NJ Transit's rail yards well within potential flood zones for a Category 1 or larger hurricane.

Even as New York's MTA was moving subway and commuter trains to higher ground, NJ Transit parked valuable trains squarely in the middle of known potential flood zones for a Category 1 hurricane -- the equivalent of New York City's evacuation "Zone A." While the MTA had much of its system up and running within a week,  NJ Transit has taken much longer.

A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie says the trains were stored in in places that had never been inundated before. "You can prepare for a worst-case scenario," the spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said.  But, he added "the standard of preparedness was definitely raised by this storm."

In an interview with the NJ Star-Ledger published Wednesday, NJ Transit officials maintained the trains were stored where they "should be."

A year earlier, however, the Federal Transit Agency had distributed a report on climate change adaptation called "Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails."  The study warned transit agencies to prepare for worsening storms and floods. New Jersey Transit has not released a detailed accounting,  but Reuters has reported damage to trains could cost tens of millions of dollars.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Post-Disaster Communities

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rebeca Solnit, historian, activist, and author of several books including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, discusses the history of how disasters create communities in the context of our post-Sandy reality-and what climate change activists should do now.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Climate Science and Sandy

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Radley Horton, associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research/Goddard Institute for Space, and Benjamin Orlove, anthropologist at The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, preview the Columbia University panel discussion on climate science and the impact of Sandy.

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It's A Free Country ®

5 Things We Learned From Obama’s First-in-Five-Months Press Conference

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Until Wednesday, President Obama hadn't faced questions from a room full of reporters since June. What did they want to know?



A history of the Earth -- free lecture!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lulu recommends a free lecture series you can stream live online on November 15 and 16. The subject: Changing Planet...a look at the past, present, and future of the forces that shape the Earth and its climate.

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Comments [1]

The Leonard Lopate Show

Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior

Monday, November 12, 2012

Barbara Kingsolver discusses her latest novel, Flight Behavior, which takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time—climate change. In the language of her native Appalachia, Kingsolver unearths the modern complexities of rural existence and dissects the motives behind denial and belief in a precarious world.

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Transportation Nation

Climate Change Scientist: I Was Right About Subway Tunnel Flooding, Hurricane Damage

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Klaus Jacob, speaking from his home in Piermont N.Y., 12 miles north of New York City

TN's Andrea Bernstein spoke with Klaus Jacob in 2011, when she interviewed him for a story about how climate change could affect transit agencies. He modeled a storm like Sandy and brought his findings to the MTA. In forty minutes, Jacob says, all the East River Tunnels would be underwater. Jacob says he took those results to the MTA, and asked, if that happened, how long would it take to restore the flooded subway to a degree of functionality?

“And there was a big silence in the room because the system is so old. Many of the items that would be damaged by the intrusion of the saltwater into the system could not recover quickly.  You have to take them apart. You have to clean them from salt, dry them, reassemble them, test them and cross your fingers that they work.”

Now Jacob's home in Piermont, New York, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy; he lost both his family cars to flooding. Watch him talk about it in the above video. You can also read the transcript in Columbia University's Earth Institute blog.

Sandy hit in terms of the storm surge here it was. It was one to two-feet above the FEMA 100-year flood zone, and therefore it affected a lot more people than those that normally get flood insurance, including myself, and it created havoc in this little village which is a microcosm of course for what happened in New York City.

This village, Piermont, is a disaster zone. You can hear probably the machines in the background. We had the National Guard here to clean up the pier. We have a wonderful fire department that takes care of people and pumped out all the houses. Now we are on our hands and knees to get the mud out of all the houses and the doors, the armoires and the hutches. It’s a lot of work!

We had a pretty good model so within a few inches I knew where [the water] would go. My wife and me, we simply went to sleep. We did not experience the flood. We got rattled in the house. It was shaking from the winds but we slept through the flood and didn’t go down until 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning to look at the mess. By then the water was gone of course, or most of it was gone.

I had raised my house in 2003 and I wanted to raise it much more above the FEMA flood zone but interestingly enough I couldn’t have done it or I would have had to give up my third attic floor. As I wanted to raise my house more, I hit the zoning laws which only allow 22 foot maximum height of houses in this particular neighborhood.

We had thought in 2003 ahead of time, once we knew that we couldn’t raise the house up anymore. So we did what we could. We lifted the dishwasher up on the kitchen counter. We raised the kitchen stove as much as we physically could before the arrival of the storm but it obviously was not enough. Not that we would have raised it more. We just didn’t have the muscle power and time and honestly not enough work horses to put all the stuff on it. It’s a learning experience. Another interesting case is that the village police and fire department recommended that we all bring our cars to a particular lot but I didn’t know what its elevation was nor apparently did they because both of my cars—my wife’s car and my car– got flooded up to the seats.

I am a seismologist. How in the heck did I ever get involved in this other mess? Well, very simple. As a seismologist I was concerned about the consequences of earthquakes. So in the 1990s we ran a five-year program with the help of FEMA in which we estimated what the consequences of a major earthquake in New York City would be. We finished that study a few months before 9/11. And you could not talk after 9/11 about natural disasters. But eventually, the climate community took notice of those loss estimates that we had made for New York City and they said, ‘Oh, can you do that for hurricanes and sea level rise and all those things that have to do with climate change?’ We said we don’t know, but we can try. So, we tried. And unfortunately we hit it right on the nose.

Essentially, the city.. and the other agencies like the MTA, which is not a city agency, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, they all did something but obviously not enough to prevent the tunnels to flood, and that’s not surprising because we were still in the study stage rather than in the action stage.

So, we have to spend engineering time. Allow them to think about the best solutions and then discuss them in the public, which one we are willing to pay for. Because with enough money you can be as secure as we want but we are all short on money therefore there is a trade-off between costs versus benefits and we have to get to the bottom of that.”

One hears, and that has been going on for some time, shouting matches between potential winners and potential losers, and depending on which solution there are different groupings of losers and winners. We have to overcome that dissent and work towards a consensus. We are all sitting in the same boat.

There is clearly a political fallout from this event. The fallout should have occurred a year earlier when we had Irene knocking at our door. We missed the chance to come together after that and really take actions.

Certainly the victims of such events understand that sea level rise and climate change is a reality. It behooves the electorate to make a decision whether they want to have people in the government and therefore elect them that are climate deniers and we will continue to suffer the consequences. I wonder how long we as voters allow us to have representatives in the government that take threats of national importance not serious. I think it is inexcusable, it is irresponsible and it will have fatal and economic and livelihood consequences.



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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: From Gun Control to Guantanamo, the Issues 2012 Ignored

Monday, November 05, 2012

Here is a partial list of the issues on which, in my view, the candidates have failed to offer constructive proposals: 

1. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It is offensive that both parties (and the media) now routinely refer to these programs as “entitlements,” and that they employ the euphemism ...

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Comments [5]


Living on the Edge

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Look at a New York City evacuation map and you’ll notice something about many of the red areas along the water’s edge: they correspond to areas that the Bloomberg administration hopes will catch on as new residential neighborhoods.

Comments [3]

The Leonard Lopate Show

Sandy and Climate Change

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Andy Revkin, blogger for New York Times Dot Earth discusses climate change and Superstorm Sandy.

Comments [5]

Transportation Nation

NY Governor, MTA Chief Say Subways in "Jeopardy" Over Flooding Threat

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Broad Street subway station in lower Manhattan, sealed up (photo by Jim O'Grady)

UPDATED WITH A WHOLE BUNCH OF NEW INFO FROM THE MTA: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his MTA chief, Joe Lhota, say the danger of flooding of the East River subway tunnels is quite real.

"Our subway system and salt water do not mix," Lhota said in a briefing with the Governor this morning.  "Salt water can corrode switches quite easily." Lhota added that would put the general ability for the system to function "in jeopardy."

Salt water corrosion of switches - some of them 100 years old -- could have long-term, unknowable effects on the subway system.

According to a press release sent late Monday, "MTA New York City Transit has taken strong measures to protect the subway tunnels that cross under the Hudson and Harlem rivers. However, the unprecedented levels of storm surge predicted to accompany Hurricane Sandy present a significant threat to those tunnels and to the speedy restoration of service after the storm." (FULL RELEASE BELOW)

An hour after the Governor's briefing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg downplayed the threat of subway flooding.  "If a little water gets in, you pump it out," the Mayor said, arguing that the biggest threat would be inundated trains.

His office offered no immediate explanation for the differing views of the threat of salt water to the subway system.

Five subway tunnels that run under the East River could be in danger, according to an analysis by Columbia University: the A-C, the 2-3, the 4-5, the R, and the F.  MTA spokesman Charles Seaton says the MTA has stationed personnel at the mouth of each of the tunnels to monitor flooding.  That information is transmitted to a dispatcher.   The personnel will remain there "as long as it is safe," Seaton said.

During Tropical Storm Irene, as WNYC reported a year ago, the city came within a foot of seeing the subway tunnels flood.  Officials just predicted Sandy will peak at 11.7 feet above flood stage, versus 9.5 feet for Irene.

From my earlier report:

Columbia Univeristy Professor Klaus Jacob has worked with the MTA to model what would happen if you couple sea level rises – the FTA says to expect four feet by the end of this century – with intense storms like Irene. In forty minutes, Jacob says, all the East River Tunnels would be underwater. Jacob says he took those results to the MTA, and asked, if that happened, how long would it take to restore the flooded subway to a degree of functionality?

“And there was a big silence in the room because the system is so old. Many of the items that would be damaged by the intrusion of the saltwater into the system could not recover quickly. You have to take them apart. You have to clean them from salt, dry them, reassemble them, test them and cross your fingers that they work.”

In a best-case scenario, Jacob calculated that it would take 29 days to get the subway working again. But in the meantime, a halted subway would almost halt the city’s economy, which, he says produces $4 billion a day in economic activity.

Here's the full statement from the MTA, released about 4 pm Tuesday:

MTA New York City Transit has taken strong measures to protect the subway tunnels that cross under the Hudson and Harlem rivers. However, the unprecedented levels of storm surge predicted to accompany Hurricane Sandy present a significant threat to those tunnels and to the speedy restoration of service after the storm.

Station entrances and sidewalk vent gratings in low-lying areas such as lower Manhattan have been covered with plywood and reinforced with several feet of sandbags. However, those measures are designed to slow the entrance of water into the system, not to prevent flooding. In addition, the pumps installed throughout the subway system to remove water run on electricity, and will not function if electric power to the system is interrupted.

NYCT personnel and New York City police officers are monitoring conditions in all stations, and patrol trains travel the entire subway system looking for signs of water infiltration. NYCT personnel are also removing stop motors, which interact with automatic brake equipment at track level, so they would not be damaged during any flooding.

If the threat of tunnel flooding appears likely, NYCT is prepared to remove power from the signal system. Because water conducts electricity, and salt water conducts electricity particularly well, signal equipment that is submerged in seawater would be especially vulnerable to damage if power remained on.

When salt water is removed from the system, salt deposits will remain on contact surfaces that will accelerate corrosion, causing potential failures. All those surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned, but they cannot always be cleaned in the field, and some cannot be cleaned at all and must be replaced.

It is difficult to predict the amount of time required to pump water from a flooded tunnel and bring its equipment, as well as adjoining stations, back into service. It depends on the height of the storm surge, how rapidly it penetrates the protective barriers, the length and diameter of tunnel tubes and the extent of flooding into adjacent underground sections and stations.

NYCT has three pump trains available to remove water from under-river tunnels. But the wide range of variables means that merely pumping out water from flooded tunnels – before restoring signals and other equipment – is estimated to take anywhere from 14 hours to more than four days. And as a general rule, the longer a tunnel is flooded, the longer it will take to return to service.

The last time subway tunnels under rivers flooded was December 11, 1992, when all subway lines were suspended for a time and three tunnels filled with water. Some were restored the same day, but the Canarsie Tube carrying the L line under the East River was out of service for several days.






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Transportation Nation

From The Archives: Big Storms, Climate Change Imperil Transit

Friday, October 26, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy approaches, we thought of this, our story from a year ago,  in which we reported that if the storm surge had been just a foot higher during Hurricane Irene, New York's east river subway tunnels would have been flooded.   An alarming prospect, but one the federal government warns could be increasingly common -- and costly.

Here's the story:

On the Sunday after Tropical Storm Irene blasted through the five boroughs of New York City, the city exhaled. Huge swaths of Manhattan hadn’t flooded, high winds hadn’t caused widespread damage. Perhaps no one was as relieved as then-MTA CEO Jay Walder, who had just taken the unprecedented step of shutting down the entire transit system.

“The worst fear that we had, which was that the under-river tunnels on the East River would flood with salt water, were not realized. We certainly dodged something there,” Walder said at a post-Irene briefing with city officials.

What the city dodged was the ghost of climate change future — higher sea levels, intense storms, and elevated amounts of precipitation, all of which could combine to cause widespread flooding of the subway system.

Here's the full story:

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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: I Guess Climate Change is Fixed, Since Neither Campaign is Talking About it

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama made a big point in the 2008 campaign of arguing that he didn't want to be a commander-in-chief for the past, but a leader for the future.

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Comments [5]

The Takeaway

A Climate of Doubt

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just a few years ago, climate change was widely considered an inconvenient truth — something that would likely be expensive and difficult to fix, but an issue that nearly all politicians felt compelled to reckon with. But in 2012, climate change has all but evaporated as a political issue. Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author, explains why.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

30 Issues: Big Energy vs. Big Environment

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

30 Issues in 30 Days is our election year series on the important issues facing the country this election year. Today: The conflicting forces of the energy lobby and environmentalist groups. Visit the 30 Issue home page for all the conversations.

Comments [27]

The Takeaway

Don't Mention It: Climate Change

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

With just over a month till voting day, talk of climate change is essentially absent from campaign rhetoric of both presidential candidates. Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer at The New Yorker, explains why.

Comments [8]

The Takeaway

Documenting Arctic Sea Ice Melt

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Arctic sea ice continues to shrink at record levels because of climate change. With polar ice melting at record rates, there is a strong desire to document the vanishing icebergs before they are lost forever. The Takeaway speaks with iceberg and storm photographer Camille Seaman about her painstaking efforts to capture the loss.

Comments [2]