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Climate Change

The Takeaway

The Battle Over History Curriculum in Schools

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Two conversations this week on the sensitivity of certain subjects in the classroom produced lots of reaction from listeners. A ban on ethnic studies in Tuscon Arizona, and a resistance to teaching Climate Change as an accepted body of knowledge in certain school districts around the country raises a broader question. Are there pieces of history and science that are simply too hot to handle in a classroom where active debate may get away from the truth and consensus on what to teach may be hard to find?

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The Takeaway

New Initiative to Promote Climate Change in the Classroom

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Tuesday the National Center for Science Education, a nonpartisan group of scientists that works to promote the instruction of evolution in American public schools, announced a new initiative aimed at teaching climate science. The NCSE claims global warming and climate change have become increasingly charged topics in classrooms around the country. The initiative is a way for teachers to be supported in states like Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Oklahoma where regulations are being considered that would require educators to justify the denial of global warming as a valid scientific position.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Why Is It So Warm in January?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Richard Seager, professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, compares this year's mild winter to years past and discusses how this warm January weather fits into the pattern proposed by climate change.

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Transportation Nation

Severe Weather Events Continue to Cost US: Big $$ to Alabama, Vermont, NY, NJ

Monday, January 09, 2012

Upstate New York roads, as viewed by helicopter (photo by Karen DeWitt/NYS Public Radio/WXXI)

Severe weather events in 2011 -- the worst in history according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- continue to cost the U.S. big bucks.

Tranportation Nation has reported on the costs of climate change, now the U.S. DOT is announcing it's releasing some $1.6 billion  to 30 states.  Vermont, devastated by Hurricane Irene will get $125.6 million, North Dakota $89.1 million for severe flooding, and both New York and New Jersey are getting close to $90  million each.

Full release and list of grantees follow:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces Close to $1.6 Billion in Funding for Repairs to Damaged Roads and Bridges Supplemental Funding from Congress Makes Reimbursement Possible

WASHINGTON - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced nearly $1.6 billion to states and territories across the nation to help cover the costs of repairing roads and bridges damaged by a variety of natural disasters.

“Communities from coast to coast are still recovering from disasters that have affected the roads they use, their homes and businesses,” said Secretary LaHood. “The Obama Administration stands ready to provide emergency relief and reimburse these communities for the work that has been done to restore their critical transportation needs.”

Funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief Program was provided by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012.  FHWA will provide a total of $1.58 billion to 30 states, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and federal land management agencies to reimburse them for repairs to roads and bridges caused by storms, flooding, hurricanes and other natural and catastrophic disasters.

“States and communities can rely on the federal government during these critical times,” said FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez.  “When disaster strikes, the Department will do all it can to provide help to the affected areas.”

Vermont, hard hit by Hurricane Irene, will receive $125.6 million; North Dakota will receive $89.1 million for the Devils Lake Basin for damage caused by Spring 2011 runoff; and Iowa will receive $37.5 million to repair damage caused by the May 2011 Missouri River flooding.  A complete list of states and funding amounts is listed below.

This money will reimburse states for fixing or replacing highways, bridges and other roadway structures. Costs associated with detours, debris removal and other immediate measures necessary to restore traffic flow in impacted areas are also eligible for reimbursement.

For a state-by-state breakdown click here (http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2012/fhwa0212.html).

 

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The Takeaway

EU Court to Rule on Carbon Emissions

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Wednesday, the European Union's highest court will rule on a lawsuit filed two years ago by two U.S. airlines and a industry trade association attempting to halt the E.U.'s plan to charge for carbon emissions pollution. It would include the industry in the worldwide cap and trade market. If the court decides to uphold the 2008 European law, on January 1, airlines will be forced to reduce their carbon emissions to an historic low, or buy emission credits from companies that pollute less than the base rate.  

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The Takeaway

UN Reaches Climate Deal in Durban, South Africa

Monday, December 12, 2011

It was a long two weeks with plenty of drama, but UN delegates from around the globe agreed on Sunday in Durban, South Africa to forge a new deal to combat climate change. For the first time, the Durban Platform will force all the biggest polluters to limit greenhouse gas emissions, including emerging economies like China and India.

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The Takeaway

Assessing the UN Climate Change Conference

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's the second day of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For the next two weeks, delegates from 194 nations will meet in Durban, South Africa to discuss the future of international climate change legislation. But amid such concerns as the looming expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, a perennial question emerges: Why have actions to stanch global warming been so timid? And will this conference do anything to change that?

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Transportation Nation

Metro North Commuter Rail Line Washed Out During Tropical Storm Irene Resumes

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Port Jervis commuter line, cleaved in two by raging floodwaters roiled by Tropical Storm Irene, reopens today.  The washout of 14 miles of track was the most severe damage sustained by a transit agency in modern history.

Scientists and government officials say climate change will bring more frequent weather events like Irene, and without preventative action, similar washouts could become more commonplace.  (Full story here.)

For the past three months, passengers traveling to Rockland and Orange counties and points north and west of New York City have endured a frustrating commute.

During Tropical Storm Irene, a raging Ramapo River, otherwise little more than a creek in areas, surged to buckle the tracks, wash out the support ballast, and undermine railroad bridges.  Fred Chidester, the manager of the line for Metro North, called it the worst damage he's "seen in 28 years of working for the MTA."

The 14 mile stretch Irene undermined runs from the southernmost tip of Rockland County to Harriman, cleaving the 90-mile line in two.  Passengers commuting to New York have had to, in some cases, take a train, then a bus, then a train, adding up to an hour to already long commutes.

About 2600 passengers ride the Port Jervis line each day.

The MTA originally projected the line would be out until the new year, but about a month ago said trains could run down the entire track beginning November 29.  Trains will be somewhat slower and run less frequently than before Irene, while track workers complete their work.

The repair work is projected to cost the cash-strapped transit authority $40 million.

 

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WNYC News

After Intense Weather, MTA Preps for Climate Change at a Cost

Friday, November 18, 2011

When Tropical Storm Irene struck New York City, many residents were relieved that the damage from the storm that threatened to deluge low-lying areas wasn’t far worse.

 

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Transportation Nation

For Transit Agencies, Climate Change Could Cost Billions

Thursday, November 17, 2011

With Sea Level Rise, Subways Flood in 40 Minutes During Intense Storms (Map Courtesy LDEO & Civil Engineering, Columbia University)

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.

Listen to the audio:

If this sounds like dystopian fantasy, consider this: the Federal Transit Administration is now advising transit agencies to start adapting to climate change. “Climate change impacts are occurring now and will increase in the future,” reads the first line of an FTA report, Flooded Lines and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation, released in August. “Aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lower the severity of climate change impacts. Yet the amount of long-lived emissions already in the atmosphere means that a significant level of climate change is inevitable.”

“We have seen significant extreme weather conditions,” says Deputy FTA Administrator Therese MacMillan in an interview in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Washington, DC headquarters. “The patterns are pretty indisputable. The hundred-year floods are occurring every 20 to ten years. The hurricane intensities are repeating themselves and being very common. The extreme winter effects that we’re seeing in the Northeast are clearly in evidence. We need to deal with the fact that these extreme weather conditions are impacting our already stressed transit infrastructure.”

She continues: "To not address it would be a relatively naïve response to the fact that there are millions of dollars on the ground that, as responsible stewards of the taxpayers money, we need to do the best job we can to deal with them. Whatever arguments folks want to have about the sources of the impacts, we’re seeing impacts.”

And with Irene, according to Columbia University professor Klaus Jacob, one of the nation’s foremost experts on transit and climate change, the city came perilously close to seeing just the kind of flooding that the FTA wants transit systems to protect against.

The price tag for that protection, Jacob says, could be as much as $15 billion -- at a time when the MTA is already $10 billion short in funding its current capital plan.

Klaus Jacob With His Model of Subway Flooding (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

As it happens, one part of the system saw exactly what the FTA report warned of during Irene. About 35 miles  north of the city, on the Port Jervis line, the MTA saw what the line manager, Fred Chidester, describes this way: “In over 28 and a half years I have not ever seen anything to this magnitude on any of our lines.  And the type of damage that was done is just unthinkable.”

Fourteen miles of the Port Jervis line were washed away during Irene. The Ramapo River, which is usually little more than a creek in some areas, was already swollen by a month of unusually heavy rains even before Irene hit, causing it to transform itself like some water-infused Incredible Hulk.

Chidester took me on a tour of the line, where workers are now furiously trying to get the tracks up and running by the end of the month. He showed me where the river had carried boulders, larger in diameter than a full-grown man, from under the tracks to a location 50 feet away. “Both tracks were hanging in the air,” Chidester recounts, “and the whole area underneath them for about 15 feet in depth was totally washed out.”

An MTA video taken just days after the flooding show tracks twisted as easily as pieces of chewing gum, mangled into undulating waves. “That water could do this,” Chidester tells me, his voice trailing off into silence as he shakes his head.

The tracks of the Port Jervis line, following Tropical Storm Irene (image courtesy of NY MTA)

The Port Jervis line serves about 2,600 people a day. That’s tiny compared to the 5.2 million who ride the subway, but for those 2,600, the commute has been maddening. Those who ride the line are already super-commuters, with commutes easily two or even two-and-a-half hours. Even when it’s running properly, to get to or from Manhattan, riders have to switch in Secaucus or Hoboken. The line then travels through northern New Jersey to Port Jervis on the Delaware River, about 90 miles upstate, making a hook at the end.

After Irene, the line was cleaved in two.  Right where it crosses into New York and up to Harriman, the tracks have been unusable..The MTA provides buses, but the switch from the train to the bus causes both delays and anxiety. Jen Weisenberg’s commute now takes almost three hours. “I was hysterical crying. I was cursing my boyfriend out. I was asking why did I move here.”

Another view of the tracks of the Port Jervis line (image courtesy of NY MTA)

But the outage isn’t just inconvenient. The MTA invoked emergency powers to repair the Port Jervis line, at a cost of $50 million -- money it surely doesn’t have. A year and a half ago, to save money, the MTA cut some far-cheaper bus lines because its budget has been so stressed. But not fixing the line, for the MTA, is unthinkable.

Adding to the costs are a set of preparations to mitigate or prevent future flood damage. Chidester shows me where special culverts have been built under the tracks to absorb the force of the water. The ballasts are being shored up.

Metro North's Fred Chidester Shows New Drainage Pipes Under the Port Jervis Line (photo: Andrea Bernstein)

It’s hard to figure out how much extra that’s costing, because neither the MTA nor any railroad operator has experience this kind of washout in modern history. But, as Chidester says, “there’s no choice. I work for a railroad. I want to see trains running. I want to make sure they’re running right in the way they are advertised.”

Chidester says he’s no climate scientist. After trying to keep the line running through the worst snow season on record last year, and this October’s early storm, Chidester says he’s not sure about global warming. But the MTA is.

Projjal Dutta was hired by the MTA about five years ago to “green” its operations. But Dutta started just after a “freak” storm shut down the subway during rush hour in August, 2007, and his job morphed into something else: developing the MTA’s “climate adaptation” response. Making sure that the authority’s commuter rails can better withstand intense storms is part of that effort.

The MTA's Climate Adaptation Specialist, Projjal Dutta

But a lot of what Dutta does is focused on keeping water out of the subways. He takes me down to a subway vent in lower Manhattan. Most subway vents are flush with the sidewalk, like those “made most famous by Marilyn Monroe,” Dutta says.

When storm run-off rushes down city streets, it can run right down those storm drains into the subways. “With climate change and frequent flooding events and ever-higher water marks, their old levels were just not enough.” So the MTA has raised them about six inches, so floodwater will flow around them and into the storm drains -- not the subways.

Raising Subway Vents Prevent Subway Flooding During Storms (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

There are other things the MTA is doing: platforms on the brand-new Second Avenue Subway and Number 7 lines will be “air tempered.” This century, stations will be hotter.

“We have to get that heat out,” Dutta says. “This is not for something as superficial as personal comfort, there’s lots of electronics that a train carries. We had a lot of heat related problems, so we’ve had to introduce cooling into areas that did not hitherto require heating.”

Dutta speaks matter-of-factly, but his words carry a punch. “Our core mission is to provide trains, buses, and subways.” Climate change adaptation, he says “takes something away from that core mission. If you did not need the air tempering, you could have built another station.”

He continues: “If there were more public transportation there would be less of this problem. It is ironic (that) in order to fight this greenhouse gas problem, resources have to be diverted from the regular running of a system. That’s a real tragedy.”

But perhaps not as tragic as having the entire system flooded, an eventuality that Columbia’s Klaus Jacob says is real. 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.

The thing is, Jacob says, the city came within a foot of that happening during Irene. Because the astronomical tides were so high, and the storm so intense, the storm surge mimicked a future where the sea is much higher than it is now. During Irene, Jacob says, the storm surge was 3.6 feet. “Had it been not 3.6 feet but 4.6, we would have been in deep trouble.”

Manhattan Flood Zones Under 4-Foot Sea Level Rise (Map Courtesy LDEO & Civil Engineering, Columbia University)

Remember what Jay Walder said at that Sunday afternoon briefing?

“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.

This time.

As for the Port Jervis line, after $50 million in emergency repairs, repaired tracks are expected to be open by months’ end.

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The Takeaway

Exxon Makes Oil Deal With Russia

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alaskan waters remain off-limits to drilling, much to many oil companies' dismay. But Exxon has decided to hop over the Bering Strait, and make a deal with Russia to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean in their territory. This deal may show how lucrative climate change has become to the oil business, since more oil is becoming available as Arctic ice recedes.

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It's A Free Country ®

Why did Bloomberg Tap the Sierra Club for his $50 Million Donation?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why the Sierra Club?

They were the lucky environmental group to get $50 million pledged from Bloomberg Philanthropies Thursday. Turns out that Mayor  Bloomberg, who was the nation's second largest donor in 2010, has been chummy with the senior leadership of the Sierra Club since 2007. Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Cub, was present at the launch of the city's Greener Greater Buildings Plan in 2009, one of the mayor's signature environmental achievements.

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The Takeaway

As Heat Wave Hits U.S., Chicago Readies with 50-Year Forecast

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A heat wave is hitting much of the United States, and some states say they’ll soon be reeling from the effects of climate change. Chicago’s long-term forecast looks like a scene from a horror movie: lethal and extreme weather, including blizzards; a termite invasion, and even a 1.5 foot drop in the depth of Lake Michigan.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tim Flannery, scientist, explorer, conservationist, and co-founder and Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, discusses the Earth’s evolution—from a galactic cloud of dust and gas to a planet teeming with life. Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet describes how the Earth’s crust and atmosphere formed, how its oceans transformed from toxic brews of metals to life-sustaining bodies of water covering 70 percent of the planet’s surface, and how our own species evolved.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Tropic of Chaos

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Investigative journalist Christian Parenti explains how extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and failed states from Africa to Asia and Latin America. In Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering crisis and describes how to confront the challenge of climate-driven violence with sustainable economic and development policies.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Following Up: Climategate

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ron Bailey, Reason magazine science correspondent and former global warming skeptic, gives his view of why Republican presidential candidates are arguing over the science of, not just the solutions to, climate change.

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It's A Free Country ®

What's Happening in Conservatism?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is this a war to be won by improving or changing political culture in Middle East?...Conservatives have to look at that and see how would you affect such a thing, what are steps toward it, how do you go about doing this? Or is it the way to go at all?...You can't advance on all fronts at once. You have to see which ones are the most important ones, and you have to pick your battles. We need a lot more strategic thinking about that.

Richard Brookhiser, senior editor of the National Review and author of Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement, on The Brian Lehrer Show.

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WNYC News

Supreme Court Slaps Down Climate Suit by Attorneys General

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Supreme Court has handed a firm rebuke to eight state attorneys general — including New York's — in a case that touched on climate change and business.

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The Takeaway

A Plea For Tolerance Towards 'Non-Native' Plants

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Over the past few decades, an incredible amount of time and money has been spent trying to remove populations of "non-native" plants. But according to a panel of ecologists, climate change, urbanization and other changes in land use have largely invalidated the theory that foreign plants are inherently harmful to their newly adopted ecosystems.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Tackling the Food Crisis

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, talks about the organization's new report, which says food prices will double within the next 20 years because of climate change and other factors.

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