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.
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.