Sunday, July 29, 2012

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out Your Wallet

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Rows of corn stalks in a field south of Blair, Neb., this week. The drought-damaged field was cut down for silage. Can you afford higher food prices?

So it's hot.

It's summer, it's what we should expect right?

Well, it's becoming increasingly clear that not only is it hotter than it ever used to be, but that we have only ourselves to blame.

A National Audubon Society chart of how the greenhouse effect
is making our world warmer.
This comes as no surprise to scientists or those who believe scientists who tell them things they don't want to hear.

It does come as a shock to those living in the fairy land where it's all-natural, it will all be fine and stopping the climate from changing the face of the earth is not more important than jobs (read corporate profits).

Reuters reported yesterday that a new report due out in 2014 will contain evidence that not only is global warming -- climate change, fucked up weather, whatever want to call it -- our fault, but we can now find evidence our carbon footprint can be tied to specific events.

Thanks humans. Thanks a lot.
We're seeing a great deal of progress in attributing a human fingerprint to the probability of particular events or series of events," said Christopher Field, co-chairman of a U.N. report due in 2014 about the impacts of climate change."

"A report by Field's U.N. group last year showed that more weather extremes that can be linked to greenhouse warming, such as the number of high temperature extremes and the fact that the rising fraction of rainfall falls in downpours," according to Reuters.

From the Reuters report: Experts have long blamed a build-up of greenhouse gas emissions for raising worldwide temperatures and causing desertification, floods, droughts, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.

But until recently they have said that naturally very hot, wet, cold, dry or windy weather might explain any single extreme event, like the current drought in the United States or a rare melt of ice in Greenland in July.

But for some extremes, that is now changing.
NOAA's map of the 2011 heatwave in Texas

A study this month, for instance, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had raised the chances of the severe heatwave in Texas in 2011 and unusual heat in Britain in late 2011. Other studies of extremes are under way.

Growing evidence that the dice are loaded towards ever more severe local weather may make it easier for experts to explain global warming to the public, pin down costs and guide investments in everything from roads to flood defenses.

"One of the ironies of climate change is that we have more papers published on the costs of climate change in 2100 than we have published on the costs today. I think that is ridiculous," said Myles Allen, head of climate research at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

"We can't (work out current costs) without being able to make the link to extreme weather," he said. "And once you've worked out how much it costs that raises the question of who is going to pay."

In just a few days this year, areas of the Greenland ice sheet that have
never shown any signs of melt before, did so.
Personally, I think the answer to that is pretty clear. You and I are going to pay, and in ways we might not have expected.

Sure, if you have a beach house on a barrier island in New Jersey, you may find it underwater in your lifetime or your children's, but you'll bail it out and rebuild it over and over again before it slips beneath the waves for the final time.

But for those of us without a beach house, we'll pay in other, more essential ways.

Like the 'freaky' storm that blew through the region Thursday. If one of those trees falls on your house, you'll have to pay to have it removed and to fix your house.

Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury
Thursday's "freaky" storm knocked
down this tree on W. Chestnut St.
And if one of those trees falls on some wires and knocks out power, you will have to pay to replace everything in your refrigerator or freezer.

Speaking of food, you'll soon be paying more for it anyway and you can thank global warming for that too.

As the New York Times reported Wednesday, the drought in the mid-west is now so bad, that prices for food basics will increase by 4 to 5 percent next year, just because of the loss of so much of the corn crop.

In fact, "more than half of the country was under moderate to extreme drought in June, the largest area of the contiguous United States affected by such dryness in nearly 60 years. Nearly 1,300 counties across 29 states have been declared federal disaster areas," the Times reported.

"The drought is now affecting 88 percent of the corn crop, a staple of processed foods and animal feed as well as the nation’s leading farm export," the Times reported.

"The drought comes along with heat. So far, 2012 is the hottest year ever recorded in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose records date to 1895," the Times reported (emphasis mine).

"That has sapped the production of corn, soybeans and other crops, afflicting poultry and livestock in turn," thus higher prices for beef and pork as well as vegetables.

2012 is already the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S.
Another way we'll pay is for new roads and, maybe, new or shored up nuclear power plants.

Also on Wednesday, the Times reported on how extreme weather conditions like heat, floods and wind storms, are taking their toll on the nation's infrastructure, infrastructure not designed to withstand such extremes.

"On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps."

We know a thing or two about that.

A buckled section of road in North Carolina. How long before this
happens again on Route 422?
Just last month, in Upper Providence, Route 422 cracked under the extreme and very early heat wave that hit us.

And, in Limerick, it happened last year too, at just about this time.

Then there's the matter of nuclear power plants. We have one of those as well.

"In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm."

At the Limerick Generating Station, the cooling water is provided for most of the year by the Schuylkill River, on whose shores the plant is built.

The Schuylkill River intake of the Limerick nuclear plant.
But during the warmer months, when the river, also a drinking water source for more than one million Americans,is low and warm, the plant must draw water from the Delaware River, piping it over to Perkiomen Creek and then over to the plant.

For eight years, Exelon has been pumping water from an abandoned coal mine and from a reservoir near the river's headwaters, into the Schuylkill to augment the flow, and allow the company to pull more water from the Schuylkill than originally envisioned.

On Aug. 28, the Delaware River Basin Commission which has jurisdiction over such experiments, will hold a public hearing at Sunnybrook Ballroom in Lower Pottsgrove on a proposal to make that practice permanent.

Whether rising temperatures made this move necessary -- or will ultimately prove it moot -- is unknown.

Of course, not everything is global warming's fault -- although it is often still our own fault.

Unprecedented floods in Thailand last year, for instance, that caused $45 billion in damage according to a World Bank estimate, were caused by people hemming in rivers and raising water levels rather than by climate change, a study showed, Reuters reported.

And as our food prices go up because of a drought in the Mid-West, we should ask ourselves: Why we are building houses in Lancaster County, home to some of the most fertile, best farming soil in the world, where, currently, there is no drought?

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