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     Back on July 8, I posted a diary about a couple of climate related news stories, and made the following observation:

  My point is simple. If climate change is shifting weather patterns away from their historical norms (and the evidence seems to be building), highs, lows, rainfall, drought  - the expectations we've built our infrastructure around are no longer going to be adequate. Stories about heat bending railroad tracks are common this time of year, ditto for buckling pavement. But, we may start seeing changes in frequency and severity of these and related events that we're not prepared to cope with. Our infrastructure is in bad shape - years and decades of deferred maintenance (and GOP budget slashing) mean we're less able than ever to deal with conditions that push the limits of what we originally built our systems to stand.
It's happening. More below the Orange Omnilepticon

  Lately, it seems as though our infrastructure keeps getting pounded. As the Guardian UK reports, extreme weather has taken a toll again.

Reuters reported that "more than 100,000" people were without power following the storm. Pennsylvania residents accounted for the majority of those without power, with more than 85,000 customers in the dark early Friday, while roughly 34,000 people in New York were without power and some 13,500 customers in eastern Ohio were still offline, according to AEP Ohio.
  On July 25, the New York Times ran an article Weather Extremes Leave Parts of U.S. Grid Buckling. Here's some snippets.
"...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.

...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.

...In Washington, the subway system, which opened in 1976, has revised its operating procedures. Authorities will now watch the rail temperature and order trains to slow down if it gets too hot. When railroads install tracks in cold weather, they heat the metal to a “neutral” temperature so it reaches a moderate length, and will withstand the shrinkage and growth typical for that climate. But if the heat historically seen in the South becomes normal farther north, the rails will be too long for that weather, and will have an increased tendency to kink. So railroad officials say they will begin to undertake much more frequent inspection.

...Pepco, the utility serving the area around Washington, has repeatedly studied the idea of burying more power lines, and the company and its regulators have always decided that the cost outweighed the benefit. But the company has had five storms in the last two and a half years for which recovery took at least five days, and after the derecho last month, the consensus has changed. Both the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md., have held hearings to discuss the option — though in the District alone, the cost would be $1.1 billion to $5.8 billion, depending on how many of the power lines were put underground."

Read the whole piece by Matthew L. Wald and John Schwartz - they've done some good work putting the pieces together. The Green blog at the Times has more.

  While the extreme weather is bad enough, the extreme storms it generates is having an additional effect: destroying the ozone layer.

In a study published online by the journal Science, Harvard University scientists reported that some storms send water vapor miles into the stratosphere — which is normally drier than a desert — and showed how such events could rapidly set off ozone-destroying reactions with chemicals that remain in the atmosphere from CFCs, refrigerant gases that are now banned.

The risk of ozone damage, scientists said, could increase if global warming leads to more such storms.

“It’s the union between ozone loss and climate change that is really at the heart of this,” said James G. Anderson, an atmospheric scientist and the lead author of the study.

    Increasing levels of UV radiation at ground level are going to lead to health effects of course, affect agriculture, and also affect materials we use to construct things. One of the ways we're trying to make structures like aircraft and shipping containers more fuel efficient is by increasing use of light weight composite materials - but long term effects of UV light on them are still being worked out. If exposure levels are going to be rising, everyone is going to have to rethink their basic assumptions on how to build stuff and how it's going to hold up.

    Bottom line: the longer we allow our political leaders to ignore climate change, the higher the cost of dealing with it is going to be - and more items are going to keep getting added to the bill.

    The news is not entirely bleak. New Scientist has an article showing how better understanding of the microbiome around the root systems of plants could enable them to survive harsh conditions - and anything that can reduce water usage even under normal conditions would be welcome.

THE US is in the grip of the worst drought in over 50 years. Across the nation, crops that should be at their greenest in July are instead small and withered, and are expected to produce 35 per cent less food than normal. During such droughts, plants that have been genetically modified to need less water become more attractive. But the expense and time needed to get GM plants to market has many looking for faster solutions.

One shortcut might lie in the plant microbiome - the consortium of fungi, bacteria and viruses that live in the root systems of every plant. Plants that live in extreme environments, such as the slopes of Mount Everest or the deserts of Utah, use the microbiome to survive stressful conditions. "Plants can't do it on their own," says Russell Rodriguez of the University of Washington in Seattle.

In exchange for nutrition, the symbiotic microorganisms help the plants take up nitrogen from the soil and protect them from heat, drought and disease-causing organisms.

  The Scientist reports on an extensive experiment in reducing carbon emissions - although that was not the primary reason it was carried out; it was to have breathable air for Olympic athletes back at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Beijing reduced its carbon dioxide emissions during the 2008 Olympic games by 24,000 metric tons per day, as compared to measurements taken at the same time in the previous year, according to a new study by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado. Overall emissions still reached 96,000 metric tons daily, but researchers said that if several other cities around the world generated sustained reductions of that amount, it could be possible to reduce global emissions enough to slow climate warming, preventing a temperature rise that would affect society.

Beijing achieved this feat by enforcing strict limitations on motor vehicle use and industry. Car owners were only allowed to drive into the city every other day, thereby reducing city traffic from private vehicles by 50 percent. The city also suspended construction projects and limited some industrial operations.

  While this sounds like a pretty stringent set of measures, there's no reason less stringent ones couldn't have a comparable effect IF they were implemented over a larger area for the long term. Again, the longer we take to do anything, the higher the cost and the harder it's going to be. Time is the one resource we can never get back or replace.

      One thing that is already being forced on those who have to come in and do clean up after a major weather event is to find ways to make the process faster and more effective. The NY Times has an article today in the Green blog showing how utilities are looking at tools that might not come to mind at first, in coping with a blackout: iPads and drones. Here's a snippet from the piece by Matthew Wald.

....A prototype app for the iPad, developed by the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit utility research consortium, is aimed at solving part of that problem. Here is how it works: The electric company preloads the iPad with data about the equipment in the field. With GPS, the device knows its location. A field worker can then point the device at a utility pole and quickly see an “augmented reality” view, showing precisely what kind of pole, crossbar, transformer and wire are present, and how the system is wired.

The technician selects the image of the parts that need replacing, and “click, click, it goes back to the loading dock,” where workers begin loading trucks with what is needed for that spot, said Clark Gellings, a senior researcher at the institute.

It even has a “Star Wars” name: Field Force Data Visualization. The Field Force, though, refers to the workers, not to the subliminal energy field sensed by the Jedi.

The industry is also testing remote-controlled drones to help it quickly count downed poles, wires and transformers on streets that are still impassable because of fallen trees.

The technology has helped the military find the enemy around a corner or over the next hill. Applying it to a broken distribution system is “a no-brainer,” said Matthew Olearczyk, a senior program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute.

     Obviously this is going to take an investment of time and money. For one thing, documenting a power grid down the level of individual poles and wires is not a trivial task. Neither is putting it into a format that can be quickly accessed, especially by crews that may have been brought in from elsewhere to cope with a disaster. But, it needs to be done. The role of government in driving this is a factor that can't be ignored - corporate budget cutting and payroll trimming to reward investors at the cost of service to customers made a bad situation in New England worse than it had to be.
...According to [Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley's office, National Grid had "unacceptably low staffing levels" and failed to adequately communicate with municipal officials, first responders and customers in the wake of the two storms.

The attorney general says National Grid failed to respond to emergency calls concerning downed wires in a timely manner. She said some of the delay was due to insufficient staffing. There were about 13,000 downed wires in Massachusetts during Irene and 22,000 during the snowstorm.

Coakley's office said the company's response during both storms would have been better if National Grid had used more technical methods of predicting storms rather than just "relying on personal experience."

In addition to a lack of staffing and scientific methods, the attorney general suggests that National Grid failed to communicate helpful information with local officials during the storms, such as when power was turned-off at downed wires. This lack of communication, the office alleges, led municipalities to leave emergency responders at downed wires to protect the public.

     As for money, Paul Krugman handily points out that there is an incredible opportunity for our government to invest heavily now in our future. To not do anything in the face of all this is, to put it bluntly, criminal.

    What the hell are we waiting for?

10:34 AM PT: UPDATE: Just noticed a story coming up in the weekend NY Times on changing ideas on how to deal with climate change at a policy level, some things that are already happening, and some numbers to kick around.

Originally posted to xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    Whatever else may be going on with the Boy Scouts these days, they still have one thing right: BE PREPARED. It's a test our politicians are flunking.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:22:35 AM PDT

  •  Permission. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CherryTheTart, xaxnar, divineorder

    That's what we're waiting for. Nobody knows how to get it yet.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:33:33 AM PDT

    •  Nobody asks permission to survive (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      When it gets to that point, action will happen. We're getting closer to it every day.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:35:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't have any faith (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, dewley notid, OldDragon

    in our ability to manage this. Global warming will continue until industrial civilization is damaged enough to create a new equilibrium, whatever that is.

    The universe may have a meaning and a purpose, but it may just specifically not include you.

    by Anne Elk on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 10:55:55 AM PDT

  •  Less infrastructure (0+ / 0-)

    The diary is discussing what happens  with one degree of warming. We could invest trillions to harden our infrastructure so it would reliably survive one degree of warming.

    We will have two degrees. We will likely have more. We can't even know what variables and what parameters we should design for even ten years out. Or five years out. We will just have less of everything. Start planning for less now.

    •  Sorry, not quite the case (4+ / 0-)

      Two degrees is pretty much inevitable at this point, if I understand the current consensus. What I'm discussing here is not predicated on a specific temp rise - these are things we will need to do in any case, or at least consider.

      You seem to be suggesting we are so screwed, there is no point in doing any planning - just resign ourselves to the Great Die-Off. That's as self-defeating as denying climate change in the first place.  

      Yes, things are deteriorating faster than had been predicted - but we also seem to be making more progress faster than had been predicted; take a look at the last article linked above for some specifics. This is happening without any kind of organized, large scale effort - imagine what could happen if we suddenly woke up and started throwing resources at this the way we did with the Manhattan Project or Apollo.

      We are in deep doo doo for sure, but it's not game over yet. Paul Krugman joked we could get the economy turned around if we created the the threat of an alien invasion and ramped up spending to meet it. Well, dealing with climate change to the same degree could serve just as well - and it's a real threat that's getting harder to ignore.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 12:55:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  FYI ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        divineorder, xaxnar

        That last article is echoing 'techno optimists' who are, not just in my opinion, downplaying the seriousness of the risks/situation and exaggerating just how 'great' our techno-progress is.  I am a 'techno-optomist' in many ways but that work doesn't sit very well with me -- especially because of how it has been propagandized.  I have been planning to write a response -- especially because a key press release had 100% of the people open on the list (including the NYTimes article author), thus I will be able to blast email everyone who received the article with my response.

        Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

        by A Siegel on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 01:51:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Can't wait to see your response (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OldDragon, A Siegel

          There's a lot in there that needs to be addressed, certainly. The praise of shale gas ignores the problems that go with it - the "F" word fracking does not appear I notice. Still, anything that moves us away from using coal to generate power isn't entirely bad.

          The suggestion that we might be able to forget about putting a price on carbon is not helpful; the idea that alternatives are more expensive is only true if we ignore the costs of carbon fuels that have been externalized. It may accord with political realities (4-8 more years of denial under Romney would be a disaster), but Nature appears to be forcing the issue. The differences between cost to build versus cost to operate carbon fuels against alternatives needs to be mentioned as well.

          That being said, there were a couple of encouraging items in the article. One was the recognition that wind and solar is coming on line much faster than experts had predicted. That's news that bears repeating - especially if we want people to stop thinking of them as alternatives and think about them as real choices now.

          More encouraging I thought is the explicit recognition that government has a crucial role to play and can make a major difference in the outcome. We are not going to get effective policies in place without that; we've seen what market forces do left to their own devices and it's not pretty. After decades of demonization of government in any form, I'll take what I can get where I can find it.

          That this article is appearing at all I think can be taken as a sign that climate change is not allowing us to ignore it any more. This is a small step in shifting the Overton window back in the right direction. Not that we have a lot of choice. Mother Nature does not believe in bipartisan compromise. By all means address the problems with the article - but don't forget to thank them for what they got right as well.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 04:11:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Actually ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I see this as another part of the "Breakthrough Institute"-type rhetoric/world that all those enviro-whiners are the problem and that technology will save us. We shouldn't be thinking about how to 'make fossil fuel more expensive (horrid phrasing -- issue is not to make 'more expensive' but to have its commercial price include its real costs rather than socialize its costs to artificially lower the price) but, instead, focusing on how to make renewables cheaper. Energy efficiency is a mirage.

            Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

            by A Siegel on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 10:36:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Plan for reality (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        divineorder, xaxnar

        Efforts to perpetuate a profligate and energy-intensive lifestyle are not only doomed to failure, they reinforce the very problems that put us here.

        The linked article talks about shale gas as if that's a good thing. And says wind and solar are still too expensive. As if it matters what it costs when the question is shall we have any power at all. And the other alternatives are "cheap" but cook us.

        The great die-off that's easy to foresee is the die-off of business as usual.

        •  True (0+ / 0-)

          Good points - take a look at my response to Adam Siegel above where I respond to some of them.

          The point I'm trying to make with this diary is that like it or not, climate change is going to force us to address the problems it is creating with our current infrastructure. The  denialists can no longer make the case that doing anything about climate change is too expensive because doing nothing is no longer an option - and it's hitting us in places we hadn't been considering. The tab is already running.

               So, IF we have to address what is happening now AND that involves making serious investments, it's all the more reason to make it part of a larger effort to deal with the whole problem.

                We're going to be making changes what ever happens; the only question is how much they are forced upon us and where we're going to end up.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 04:19:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  All I'm thinking (0+ / 0-)

            is that it's not entirely possible to plan for unknowns. We do not know how bad it will be. Whatever infrastructure we may retain will need to be extraordinarily resilient.

            It's not possible to armor the entire coast with seawalls high enough to withstand worst case scenarios for sea level rise. So a tactical retreat is in order. Same goes on down the line for roads, rail. This week I read about water mains in Pittsburgh expanding and rupturing in the heat. Rebuilding everything and building it to an extravagant standard is not going to happen. Building to a high standard and then finding out it wasn't adequate is worse than nothing. An extraordinary level of planning will be needed.  I have no idea how such planning might occur.  Jumping in with both feet on the famous "shovel ready" project would be madness.

            Where are we going to end up indeed.

            •  All I can say is, you seem pretty fatalistic (0+ / 0-)

              You seem to have reached the conclusion there's no point in doing anything except sitting back and letting it happen.

              "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

              by xaxnar on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:37:37 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  If you think these are ordinary times (0+ / 0-)

                calling for ordinary solutions, then yes, I'll sit that out.

                If you can only see the world of BAU and minor extrapolations of BAU you'll not get a grip on anything but an imagined past.

                •  You sir are a nattering nabob of negativity (0+ / 0-)

                  By all means, please do sit this out.

                  "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                  by xaxnar on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 09:28:58 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Obstacle #1. The gop. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That's the only obstacle that counts right now.
    They're trying to obstruct progress enough that Pres. Obama will be defeated.
    (We all know that.)

    Their obstruction should be the primary subject of political discussion in the media. Dems and progressives should force it into the newscycle.
    We should be assholes about it if we have to. Steal from the gop playbook on rigidly (if crazily) coherent messaging.

    If Obama is elected and the Dems have a significant victory, then we can get moving on this.

    It will actually be good for business. There's a demand deficit in the general economy, and there's a lot of pent-up demand in climate change response and clean energy and energy efficiency.
    The long term solution is going to involve reducing the growth rate of the population. Hopefully by family planning rather than famine.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 01:01:37 PM PDT

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