Wildfires and climate deniers

September 8th, 2011

We’ve had an unbearable heat wave here in Los Angeles the past few days,┬ábut it’s not nearly as scorching as it is in Central Texas, where catastrophic wildfires have claimed 2 lives, hundreds of homes and thousands of acres. It’s been the worst wildfire season in Texas history, fueled largely by all the tinder created by the state’s worst drought year on record.

That makes for one hell of a fast-moving fire. Watch:

[Watch video on The Weather Channel]

Scientists say climate change is already leading to more severe and frequent wildfires in the West. If this year is any indication, the Southwest may be experiencing the same. Good thing Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t believe in climate change. Maybe that’s why he felt fine about cutting state funding for volunteer firefighters earlier this year?

–Jennifer Grayson

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Don't count on FEMA to be there waiting with water; start stockpiling your own supply now. Photo via Flickr: USACEpublicaffairs

Earthquakes in Virginia, hurricanes in New York City, blizzards in Dallas. Whether you believe these events are being brought on by global warming or the wrath of god, one thing is certain: An unlikely natural disaster is most likely headed its way toward you.

So what can you do to prepare? For one, not count on the federal government to come rescue you. Ron Paul was blasted in the media last week for saying that no federal response would be necessary for Hurricane Irene. It may have been an insensitive comment, considering millions of people were about to be put in harm’s way, but I do agree with part of the point he was trying to make, which is: We have to take responsibility as individuals for our own safety.

Every American should have an emergency kit, yet as many as 90 percent of us don’t even have a 3-day supply of food and water at hand. Why? Blame it on laziness, blame it on wishful thinking, but there’s really no excuse.

The federal budget is stretched to the max and natural disasters are on the rise. We can’t expect FEMA to be there waiting with bottles of water when the next hurricane strikes.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: lavocado@sbcglobal.net

The evidence keeps mounting that blue is the new green: A report released earlier this week by the Interior Department predicts that we in the Western US are going to have to make do with a lot less water over the next few decades, due to the drought-inducing effects of climate change.

From HuffPost:

…Annual flows in three prominent river basins — the Colorado, Rio Grande and San Joaquin — could decline by as much 8 percent to 14 percent over the next four decades. The three rivers provide water to eight states, from Wyoming to Texas and California, as well as to parts of Mexico. The declining water supply comes as the West and Southwest, already among the fastest-growing parts of the country, continue to gain population.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called water the region’s “lifeblood” and said small changes in snowpack and rainfall levels could have a major effect on tens of millions of people.

Before you start stockpiling the Evian, consider: We won’t go thirsty if, and only if, we adopt a radical measure: It’s called conservation.

In Los Angeles, for example, the city literally throws $1 billion a year down the drain, importing water from the Colorado River and other far-flung sources. A full half of that imported water (potable water!) goes to irrigation — i.e., watering people’s lawns.

Southern California had record-setting rainfalls this winter. Yet LA’s rainwater harvesting program — something as simple as putting a barrel in one’s backyard — is still only in the pilot stages.

In the not-so-distant future, a patch of pretty-looking grass or one’s own private watering hole will seem like an exercise in futility. And insanity.

–Jennifer Grayson

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The Japan quake and tsunami was so powerful that it moved Japan's coast in some areas by 8 feet -- and shifted the Earth's axis. Photo via Flickr: Nasa Goddard Photo and Video

As if a death toll approaching 10,000 and nuclear meltdown aren’t evidence enough of the violence of the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that devastated Japan last Friday, there’s now been buzz about how the earth’s axis has shifted as a result of the event.

That sounds incredibly dramatic; but what does that mean, exactly? Before you have nightmares of our beautiful blue planet being flung like an out-of-control top toward the outer reaches of our solar system (admittedly what flashed in my mind when I first heard this), read the below. It’s the best explanation I’ve found for all us lay scientists out there:

From CNN:

A large quake shifts massive amounts of rock and alters the distribution of mass on the planet. When that distribution changes, it changes the rate at which the planet rotates. And the rotation rate determines the length of a day. “Any worldly event that involves the movement of mass affects the Earth’s rotation,” Benjamin Fong Chao, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said while explaining the phenomenon in 2005.

Worldly events such as the 2010 Chile earthquake, which the description above is actually referencing. Or the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami, which shifted enough mass to shorten the length of days by 6.8 microseconds. (Scientists are estimating the Japan quake may have shortened the day by 1.8 microseconds.)

But don’t worry: It’s been speculated that increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere could slow down the rotation of the earth, lengthening out those days once again.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Pinkyracer

Will it be a white Christmas? Depends on where you live. If you’re in Victoria, Australia, you’re enjoying a snowy surprise to the start of your summer; if you’re in London, you’re likely staying there for a while, thanks to the snowiest December in 30 years.

In Los Angeles, where I am, you may be seeing a wet one: This week’s record-setting rains may clear just in time for Santa to make his way down your chimney (right before your house comes sliding down the mountain).

All this wacky weather. Kind of makes you want to call out all the climate change deniers, right? (See, the world is coming to an imminent end.) Please don’t.

I’m with the 50 percent of Americans (depending on which poll you read) who believe that climate change is real and man-made, but I also think that we don’t understand the science fully enough to know precisely how it’s affecting our day-to-day weather.

Do we really want to spend another winter arguing with Rush Limbaugh over snowstorms? By focusing on the micro, we’re missing the opportunity to find common ground on the macro: catching up to China’s green energy revolution, preventing another oil disaster, and finding conserving resources for 100 million more Americans.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Whether or not you believe that global warming was responsible for the devastating floods in Nashville, you can’t argue with the environmental destruction left in their wake. Below, photos of the rubble awaiting landfill disposal, from my uncle who lives in Nashville. As of yesterday, more than 31,000 tons of flood debris had been collected.

nashville_4

nashville_2

nashville_1

He says:

The city hired contractors to collect refuse from people’s lawns, then moved everything to sites around town until such time as they can transfer all of this stuff to disposal locations. These collections have to be breeding bacteria, but are better off on these sites than in neighborhoods. These collections are in every part of town.

Not much else to say, is there? Except: Here’s what you can do to help.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Biofriendly

Photo via Flickr: Biofriendly

By the end of this week, four severe storms will have pummeled Southern California, flooding the streets with rain as heavy as 3/4 inch per hour and even producing a tornado that touched down in Huntington Beach (how’s that for evidence of climate change?). The rain is pounding on my roof as I write this, and all I can think is, what a waste.

The city of Los Angeles spends $1 billion a year importing water from far-flung sources like the Colorado River, and half of that potable water is used to irrigate people’s lawns. Does anyone see the irony here? Millions of gallons of water are pouring from the sky right now — for free — in an area of the country that has been suffering a severe drought for the past three years. And we’re just letting it all wash out to sea. With all the motor oil, pesticides, trash, and animal waste it picked up along the way, I might add.

While the city has taken great pains to save water with its two-day-only lawn watering rule, and should be applauded for helping residents to cut water consumption by 17 percent last year, I’m amazed that rainwater collection hasn’t been seriously enlisted as part of the solution. The annual rainfall in LA averages 15.5 inches; if every home in the city could harvest this, it would equal 9,600 gallons per home a year — that’s nearly a quarter of the water a year used to irrigate a 1,000-square-foot lawn.

LA started a rainwater harvesting program in July of last year, but it’s in the pilot stage and only includes 600 property owners. We can only hope that the city hustles up and expands the program to harvest our precious rainwater. Climate scientists are predicting that America’s Southwest is only becoming drier, and we’re going to need to save every last drop.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Click here to read how to capture rainwater yourself, courtesy of environmental nonprofit TreePeople.

Related posts:
Avoiding bottled water at the airport
Update: Save water, pee in the shower

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[Watch video of the devastation on YouTube]

With the horrible news that over 100,000 people may have been killed in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti yesterday afternoon, we’re reminded of how small and powerless we humans are in the face of Mother Nature. But with hundreds of humanitarian workers already pouring into the flattened capital of Port-au-Prince, I’m also reminded of the incredible generosity and selflessness of people coming to the aid of others in a crisis. It’s times like these that I’m particularly proud to be an American; the Obama administration is coordinating a massive military response that includes ships, helicopters, transport planes, and a 2,000-member marine unit.

How you can help:

Doctors Without Borders. With nearly every hospital destroyed in the earthquake, DWB teams are working to provide medical care to the thousands of injured people who have nowhere to go. Click here to donate.

American Red Cross. The American Red Cross is pledging an initial $200,00 to provide immediate needs for the Haitians, like food, water, shelter, and medical services. Text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund. This is Haitian-American Wyclef Jean’s grassroots organization, and 100 percent of funds raised will go directly to the earthquake relief operation. Visit the website to donate, or donate $5 via cellphone by texting “YELE” to 501501.

Our hearts go out to those affected by the earthquake, and godspeed to all those on the ground helping them.

–Jennifer Grayson

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