Three islands disappeared in the past year. Is climate change to blame?

The same forces that sunk the remote islands could put
coastlines around the world at risk, scientists say.

Anote Tong can remember when Tebunginako, on the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati, was a thriving village.

But beginning in the 1970s, the tide started inching closer to the houses in the village. Over the years, as strong winds whipped up monster waves and climate change caused sea levels to rise, water inundated the island, overwhelming a seawall that had been built to protect the community.

Barely anything remains of the village today.

“It’s no longer there,” Tong said. “What we do have is a church sitting in the middle of the sea when the tide comes in.”

Villagers on the island of Abaiang had to relocate their village, Tebunginako, because of rising seas and erosion. (Justin Mcmanus/The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

Tong served as president of Kiribati, a country made up of 32 atolls, from 2003 to 2016. Over that time, he watched as erosion damaged food crops, seawater flooded freshwater ponds and residents were forced to retreat.

He has become outspoken in describing the “existential threat from climate change” his country faces.

“In the near future, communities may have to relocate,” he said. “When it hits you directly, it’s very difficult for you to deny it.”

Tong has good reason to be worried. As human activities continue to alter the environment, islands are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of the planet’s changing climate.

A family wades through their flooded village, floating an old fridge, collecting sea-bed stones to build a flood wall in Eita, Tarawa, Kiribati. (Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In October 2018, Hurricane Walaka washed away a remote, 11-acre Hawaiian island as the storm barreled through the Pacific Ocean. Several months before that, Russian scientists reported that a small Arctic island had disappeared, saying that only vast, open water remained at the site. And near the end of 2018, a local newspaper reported that an uninhabited islet off the coast of Japan could no longer be found, presumably because it had sunk beneath the water’s surface.

In these recent examples, the islands were small and uninhabited, but scientists say the fate of these tiny pieces of land could be a harbinger of what’s to come.

“With some of these small islands, maybe it’s no big deal to the average person because they’re uninhabited, but you’re going to see these same processes happen on larger islands and populated ones,” said Curt Storlazzi, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California.

Storlazzi has conducted research on coastal erosion in the tropics. He says that one way rising sea levels can redesign coastlines is by generating bigger waves, adding layers of sediment in some places while causing erosion and flooding in other areas.

“If sea levels continue to rise as projected,” Storlazzi said, “there’s going to be even greater change.

The threat of rising seas

The link between climate change and sea level rise is well understood among scientists. Burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. As global surface temperatures increase, the planet’s glaciers and ice sheets melt, raising sea levels.

In 2013, the United Nations released a sweeping report projecting that without major reductions in emissions, sea levels could rise between 1.5 feet and 3 feet by 2100.

Since the report’s release, some scientists have suggested that these estimates are too conservative. Among them is Patrick Nunn, a professor of geography at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, who was one of the authors of the chapter on sea level rise in the U.N. assessment.

Nunn said most scientists now agree that even if countries took steps today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, average sea levels would still rise by up to 6.5 feet by the end of the century.

“What we’ve done thus far, as of the last 150 years or so, has been locked in,” Nunn said. “There is a bit of uncertainty, but the general consensus is that we can get temperatures under control but it’s a much larger challenge to get sea level rise under control.”

Even without sinking whole islands, that amount of sea level rise is enough to engulf most coastlines, potentially displacing millions of people.

“On many islands — even ones that aren’t low-lying — the majority of critical infrastructure is right at the shoreline, whether it’s ports, airports, primary roads, power plants or water treatment plants,” Storlazzi said. “Most of these things are very close to the coast.”

Extreme weather’s ‘knockout blow

Another force reshaping islands is extreme weather. That’s what happened in Hawaii, when the category 5 Hurricane Walaka wiped out tiny, uninhabited East Island.

Studies have shown that climate change could make storms more intense, particularly in the Caribbean and the western Pacific. Catastrophic storms could disrupt the natural processes that erode coastlines and move sediments to build them back up again.

“In a situation where the climate is not changing and sea levels are not rising, what has normally happened is these islands would eventually re-form after the storm passes,” Nunn said. “In a changing climate, particularly one where the sea level is rising, I think intense storms of that kind will be a bigger knockout blow.”

Satellite photos taken last month show that a narrow swath of East Island appears to be re-forming, with seals returning to its beaches. But Nunn said that even if some islands do return, it’s unclear whether they will grow back to their original size.

Pacific islands under siege

Even with ample evidence of how the planet’s climate has changed since the Industrial Revolution, many scientists are cautious about drawing direct links between disappearing islands and climate change. The Earth is complex, and many things are working in tandem to reshape coastal landscapes.

“You’re probably never going to be able to prove definitively that climate change was responsible for a particular phenomenon,” Nunn said, “but at the same time, the evidence is just so overwhelming.”

Nunn has spent more than 30 years studying countries in the western and South Pacific, including Micronesia and the Solomon Islands, where sea levels are rising the fastest. Whereas seas are rising an average of 3.2 millimeters per year globally, parts of the western Pacific are seeing an average jump of 8 to 12 millimeters per year, driven by wind patterns that are moving more water to the region.

That makes islands in this part of the world especially vulnerable.

“For now, sea levels are rising along every coast and in some places, it’s rising much faster,” Nunn said.

Paul Kench, a coastal geomorphologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada,  and his colleagues have surveyed thousands of islands in the Pacific. While islands have always been at the whim of the waters that surround them, they found that erosion is accelerating as a result of rising seas and intensifying storms. And though larger islands are more stable than smaller ones, they, too, will likely experience dramatic changes, he said.

“There is no doubt that climate change is having an influence on the rate at which some of these islands are changing,” Kench said.

‘A window into the future’

Current rates of sea level rise are expected to continue for at least 100 years, so scientists project that coastlines will continue to be bombarded for generations to come. And it likely won’t be just small, uninhabited islands that face an existential threat.

Scientists say the islands that disappeared in Hawaii, Japan and the Arctic are warnings of what could happen to much larger islands — and even continental coastlines around the world.

“This gives us a window into the future,” Nunn, of the University of the Sunshine Coast, said. “It tells us this is what’s likely to happen in the next 20 years or so, and not just in the island context.”

He says governments should pay attention to the islands in the western Pacific and make their own coastal communities more resilient. This includes fortifying critical infrastructure near the coasts and being smart about rebuilding after storms, including not erecting new structures in known flood zones.

“The evidence is there. We can see what’s going to happen,” Nunn said. “What’s happening to these islands is the same thing that is going to happen to New Orleans, Los Angeles and all sorts of coastal cities. The sooner we start thinking about this, the less painful it’s going to be.”

India cyclone kills at least 33, hundreds of thousands homeless

PURI, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless after a cyclone packing winds of about 200 km per hour slammed into eastern India, ripping out tin roofs and destroying power and telecom lines, officials said on Sunday.

Damaged houses are pictured following Cyclone Fani in Puri, in the eastern state of Odisha, India, May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jatindra Dash

At least 33 people were killed after cyclone Fani struck the state of Odisha on Friday but a million people emerged unscathed after they moved into storm shelter ahead of landfall.

The death toll could have been much greater if not for the massive evacuation in the days before the storm made landfall, officials said.

The seaside temple town of Puri, which lay directly in the path of Fani, suffered extensive damage as winds gusting up to 200 kph (124 mph) tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines, and uprooted trees on Friday.

“The cyclone has killed 21 people in Puri and about 300 people are injured,” Brajabandhu Dash, medical officer at Puri, told Reuters. Earlier, 12 deaths were reported from other parts of the state.

The depression over the Western Meghalaya and adjoining Bangladesh has weakened, and will become insignificant in the next 24 hours, India’s met department said on Twitter early on Sunday.

According to preliminary reports, Fani damaged power infrastructure worth more than 12 billion rupees ($173.7 million) and the authorities are trying to restore electricity supply for emergency services, another official said.

More than 60,000 people including officials and volunteers were involved in relief operations, said special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi, who monitored the evacuation.

The relief effort used sirens, loudspeakers and sent more than 20 million mobile messages to the targeted people, he said.

The cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal can last from April to December, and storms can be deadly. In 1999, a super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people.

Fani was the strongest summer cyclone in 43 years to hit Odisha, disrupting water supplies and transport links, the state’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement.

“We are in the process of restoring physical infrastructure,” he told reporters.


Relief agencies were trying to provide food and medicine to victims in other parts of the state, while hundreds of thousands were still not accessible due to roadblocks and disruption in the communication network, officials said.

The town of Puri was littered with tree branches, the debris of damaged houses and broken glass. Relief teams were trying to clear the roads.

“There was no wind at night (before landfall). We thought nothing will happen,” P. Chittmma, 45, told Reuters while laying on a bed at a government hospital, showing her fractured leg.

Why cold weather doesn’t mean climate change is fake

A pedestrian walks across the street in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania January 20 after a major winter storm brought some of the coldest temperatures of the season and covered a

… Read More


Weather and climate aren’t the same thing, meaning you can expect harsher winters in a warming world.

A record-breaking cold snap is relentlessly descending on parts of the U.S. this month. It spawned from a split polar vortex that sent cold, Arctic air across the continent.

In a time when climate change is discussed in the context of record highs, droughts, and wildfires, cold weather and blizzards can seem out of place. For those who deny that climate change is happening, it’s an opportunity to undermine scientific consensus.

How do you explain a cold winter in a world that scientists say is getting hotter?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between climate and weather. Climate is defined as the average weather patterns in a region over a long period of time. It’s the difference between Europe’s temperate and Mediterranean zones versus the harsh cold conditions of the Arctic tundra. Each of these climate regions experiences day-to-day fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, air pressure, and so on—daily variations known as weather.

How warming can lead to cooling

When the term global warming was popularized a few decades ago, it referred to the phenomenon of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming the average temperature of the planet. Though record high temperatures in many places have been one impact of this decades-long shift, scientists now understand that an atmosphere changed by rising levels of gases like carbon and methane leads to more climate changes than just warming.

Scientists believe Earth will experience more extreme, disastrous weather as the effects of climate change play out.

In response to President Trump’s January 20 tweet about cold temperatures, Potsdam University physicist Stefan Rahmstorf noted on Twitter that, while North America was experiencing cold Arctic air, the rest of the world was abnormally hot. And, the polar vortex bringing that cold air to the U.S. may actually become increasingly unstable, Rahmstorf noted.

As more Arctic air flows into southern regions, North America can expect to see harsher winters. That was the conclusion of a study published in 2017 in the journal Nature Geoscience. It found a link between warmer Arctic temperatures and colder North American winters. A separate study published in March of last year in the journal Nature Communications found the same link but predicted the northeastern portion of the U.S. would be particularly hard hit.

“Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer,” said study author Jennifer Francis in a press release.

A future of extreme weather

Record cold temperatures and blizzards aren’t the only extreme weather patterns expected.

High altitude, east-to-west winds known as jet streams rely on the difference between cold Arctic air and warm tropical air to propel them forward. As the air in the Arctic warms, those jet streams slow and prevent normal weather patterns from circulating—floods last longer and droughts become more persistent. One study published in Science Advances last October predicted extreme, deadly weather events could increase by as much as 50 percent by 2100.

But we don’t have to wait until 2100 to see how climate change is leading to deadly weather.

Scientists have already found climate change contributed to California’s historic, deadly wildfires and powerful, destructive hurricanes.

Oceans are warming dramatically faster, new study warns

A new study finds the world’s oceans are warming significantly faster than previously thought. The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, raises the stakes for curbing climate change.

Since 1970, the ocean has warmed 40 percent more than previous estimates, according to climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, one of the authors of the study.

The study examined four new or updated Ocean Heat Content records — a fancy term for measuring how warm the ocean is, taking into account deeper water, not just surface temperatures — and finds the ocean warming is significantly higher than estimated in the last comprehensive report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013.

Ninety-three percent of the excess heat trapped in the Earth’s system by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is stored in the oceans. If it weren’t for this ocean buffer absorbing so much heat, our atmosphere would be roasting us by now.

According to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and co-author of the study, the increase in ocean heat content observed since 1992 is about 2,000 times the total electricity generation by U.S. utility companies in the past decade.

That heat build-up has a debilitating impact on many aspects of ocean life. Coral reefs are a good example.

Coral is very sensitive to increases in water temperature. When the water is too warm the corals bleach, turning white. A 2016 study estimates that 98 percent of coral reefs worldwide will experience bleaching-level stress each year by 2050.

Bleaching can eventually lead to death of the reef community, turning them into Ghost Reefs. Since 25 percent of all life in the ocean depends on coral reefs, this loss has a ripple effect on the ecosystem.

Warmer water also holds less carbon dioxide, meaning more heat-trapping gas escapes back into the atmosphere, creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop of perpetuated warming.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, literally. Warm water hastens the rate of glaciers melting, and expands the water column, and together the two phenomena raise sea levels. By 2100 the IPCC estimates sea levels may rise 2 to 3 feet, and some studies say more. The destabilizing effects of this on society are incalculable.

The most dramatic effect of warmer water is the impact we already feel most directly: extreme weather. A warmer ocean means stronger hurricanes and heavier flooding events.

For example, it’s estimated that rainfall from Hurricane Harvey was 15 percent to 38 percent greater because of climate change. As the ocean and air warms, extreme flooding events will increase.

Embedded video

NASA Precipitation


Last Friday 8/25 the GPM satellite measured heavy rainfall in Hurricane as it moved towards the Texas coast 

25 people are talking about this

A well-cited study by highly respected NOAA climate modeler Tom Knutson shows that by late this century the number of Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes may increase by 42 percent in the Atlantic Basin and over 300 percent in the Eastern Pacific. This is due to warmer water which acts as high-octane fuel to power storms. Stronger storms mean exponentially more damage.

Because the oceans are so large and less variable than the atmosphere, it makes ocean heat content a much better gauge for the pace of global warming.

Trenberth says, “The warmer ocean is the memory of the past climate change and the ocean heat content is breaking records every year.”

Unlike the surface temperature record which can vary dramatically from year to year, the Ocean Heat Content record acts a bank and steadily accumulates heat. So, if the Earth is trapping excess heat, the Ocean Heat Content record will tick upward, with no ambiguity.

And that is where this study lays to rest a misconception about whether there was a global warming “hiatus” between 1998 and 2013. If you look at a short-term snippet of the surface temperature record, one could conclude that warming was negligible during that 15-year period. Those skeptical of climate change often refer to this to poke holes in the evidence.

But in this new analysis, the authors of the study say, “Although climate model results have been criticized during debates about a ‘hiatus’ or ‘slowdown’ of global mean surface temperature, it is increasingly clear that the pause in surface warming was at least in part due to the redistribution of heat within the climate system.”

In other words, the oceans were just hiding the heat and now new tools have enabled scientists to find it.

Zeke Hausfather@hausfath

The broader point I was trying to make is that unlike in the case of surface temperature, ocean heat content has increased fairly smoothly, with no decadal-scale slowdowns or “hiatuses”. You can see this clearly in the Cheng et al data, for example:

34 people are talking about this

The improvement in the four new datasets examined in this study is due partially to new analysis methods and partly due to the development of a vast network of ocean sensors called Argo. It’s a global array of nearly 4,000 temperature and salinity profiling floats measuring temperatures as deep as 2,000 meters down.

The study also lays to rest a long-standing discrepancy in the climate science community, namely the question of why climate models over-project ocean heating. According to this new study, it turns out they don’t.

The new measure of actual ocean heat matches almost perfectly the average projection from the best coupled ocean-atmosphere models (CMIP5). By this metric, the climate models are performing very well. It gives climate scientists and the public greater reason for confidence in future projections.

This study is a reminder that the state of our oceans is the best bellwether of our changing climate. And the evidence shows our current climate is changing much faster than at any time in human history.


November 06, 2018 07:00 AM

Updated 4 hours 52 minutes ago

Super Typhoon Yutu Shows Not All U.S. Cyclones Get Equal Treatment

“We want people to remember we are Americans and we exist,” a Northern Mariana Islands lawmaker said.
This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Typhoon Yutu east of Guam W

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Typhoon Yutu east of Guam Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 24, 2018 local time.

With maximum sustained winds of 180 mph, Yutu was the most powerful storm on Earth this year and the second-strongest ever to strike U.S. soil, topped only by the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935. The eye of Yutu passed over the islands of Tinian and Saipan, causing what National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Aydlett described as “catastrophic damage.”

Michael Lowry, a strategic planner for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called it “one of the most intense tropical cyclones we’ve observed worldwide in the modern record.” The National Weather Service in Guam said it would “likely become the new yard stick by which future storms are judged.”

Despite its impact on thousands of American citizens, the historic and devastating storm seemed like something of an afterthought back in the continental U.S.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Bob Henson


Judging from the crickets on major U.S. news sites, who would ever know that a hurricane () is expected to slam into a U.S. commonwealth as a Category 5 storm in about 12 hours? Most of the 53,000 residents of the are U.S. citizens 

Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia and a former president of the American Meteorological Society, said the public and media tend to pay more attention to hurricanes in the Atlantic.

“I get it on one hand, but the problem is when we talk climate change and hurricanes, the activity in those other basins are forgotten,” Shepherd told HuffPost in an email. “It is critical that people understand that record-breaking storms are happening globally and threatening many lives.”

Coverage of Yutu was “pretty spartan,” Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane expert at Colorado State University, said.

“I’m afraid most Americans don’t know that we have overseas territories, as we found out last year in Puerto Rico with [Hurricane] Maria,” Klotzbach said.

President Donald Trump declared an emergency in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday. But as of Friday morning, he had not commented publicly or posted anything to Twitter about the Category 5-equivalent typhoon.

Instead, Trump spent Thursday applauding Republican candidates ahead of the November election, phoning European leaders, urging caravan migrants to “Go back to your Country” and blaming the media in the pipe bomb packages sent to prominent Democrats and CNN.

This New World
The current capitalist system is broken. Get updates on our progress toward building a fairer world.

Trump’s silence about Yutu stands in stark contrast to his public response during hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Florence and Michael, which struck the U.S. mainland.

Donald J. Trump


Wow – Now experts are calling a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!

Donald J. Trump


Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way,if possible. Federal G is ready!

Donald J. Trump


I was just briefed on Hurricane Florence. FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready. We are with you! 

Donald J. Trump


…Looks to be a Cat. 3 which is even more intense than Florence. Good news is, the folks in the Pan Handle can take care of anything. @FEMA and First Responders are ready – be prepared!

In the cases of those storms, Trump stressed on Twitter that government agencies were prepared. He also participated in televised briefings and traveled to affected areas.

Trump’s administration has been widely criticized for its response to the crisis caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which a Politico investigation found was “much slower” than relief efforts in Texas for Hurricane Harvey. But unlike with Super Typhoon Yutu, Trump tweeted about Hurricane Maria as it pummelled Puerto Rico. And he eventually traveled to the U.S. territory, where he spoke during an emergency briefing and tossed paper towels into a crowd of survivors.

Donald J. Trump


Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!

He has since gone on to deny that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico in the wake of Maria ― a death toll calculated by a government-commissioned study ― and has applauded his administration’s response to the storm as “an incredible, unsung success.”

Amid Trump’s silence about Super Typhoon Yutu, the White House has not announced plans for the president to travel to the Northern Mariana Islands.

On Friday, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, wrote to Trump to request that he declare a major disaster, which would free up additional federal disaster aid.

“While joint preliminary damage assessments are ongoing, initial surveys of the devastation from Super Typhoon Yutu are grim and far surpass the destruction seen after Typhoon Soudelor in 2015,” Torres wrote to the president.

Edwin Propst, a member of the territory’s House of Representatives, told The Associated Press that he’s lived through dozens of typhoons, but this was the first time he’s feared for his life.

“We want people to remember we are Americans and we exist,” Propst said.

Climate Change Is Already Damaging American Democracy


The damage from hurricane michael is still being cataloged. After the Category 4 storm made landfall in the Florida Panhandle two weeks ago, it ripped through parts of Florida and Georgia, killing dozens and destroying homes and vital infrastructure in rural communities. Residents don’t yet have a full account of the lives and property erased in the calamity, and even when they do, that accounting will only provide a rough estimate of what was lost. More difficult still will be dealing with the intangibles: the exhaustion and mental-health consequences, the frayed sense of security and safety, the missed school days, and the deepening vulnerability among people who faced the storm.

As the country deals with an onslaught of powerful hurricanes and other weather-related events, those intangibles have become more evident, and more and more important. Michael is—according to experts I spoke with—both a harbinger of a future climate and a representative of a class of disasters that in the past few years have exposed the vulnerabilities of local and national institutions. Those disasters have highlighted the role of inequality, civic instability, and poor planning in amplifying the effects of both extreme and mundane weather. The evidence seems to be mounting that not only will the developing climate regime, if sustained, expose the cracks in the American democratic project, but it will also widen them.

The recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides a grim vision of the near future. It finds that major, irreversible effects on ecosystems and natural resources are all but unavoidable, because they will likely occur at a lower temperature threshold than previously estimated.

On a human level, the IPCC report portends a cascade of troubling scenarios unless immediate action is taken: Droughts, floods, rising seas and heat indices, and famines will be disastrous for populations, especially the masses that continue to crowd global urban areas. Coastlines and wetlands will change faster than cities’ abilities to adapt. Human movement will warp boundaries and spark conflict. The report finds that, in the present day, “poverty and disadvantage have increased with recent warming,” and that those disadvantages will increase over time.

Even under President Donald Trump—who has abdicated national climate responsibilities—the global realities of a changing planet have become a part of American security policy. The 2017 defense-reauthorization bill included findings that “climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.” Those conclusions build on quadrennial reviews from the Defense Department that conceptualize climate change as a global security risk. “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions,” states the 2014 review.

Taken together, all of these forecasts envision a world in which major disasters weaken states and deepen conflicts, breaking safety nets and alliances alike. They predict the degradation of governance as economic outputs decrease, people are displaced, and global food resources falter. The Defense Department calls climate effects “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.” As Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, told me, these dramatic scenarios are actually supported by human history, which illustrates the rise of conflict during times of environmental pressure. “This seems almost like a science-fiction scenario, but in fact it’s a well-written thing in the geological and climate record,” said Zaelke, whose Washington-based nonprofit focuses on the future of international governance.

According to several climate researchers, those long-term global trends are already identifiable at the local level. Zaelke told me Hurricane Michael, like other recent storms, provided a sneak peek at the ways that climate-linked disasters are intensified by a lack of political will to mitigate climate change, which can in turn destabilize governments and sap them of the policy muscle needed to adapt. Though Michael hit a storm-prone stretch of the Deep South, this feedback loop is relevant across the country. Climate denialism among Republican policy makers, who dominate at the state and national levels, dictates that even acknowledging changing weather patterns can constitute a political loss, let alone planning for them in advance. When catastrophes hit, lawmakers funnel funds toward recovery, but they don’t invest in measures that could improve future resilience.

And even if state and local governments do want to plan for the future, disasters’ aftereffects are already constraining their ability to do so. “Costs are starting to mount for adaptation and resilience,” Zaelke says. As a 2016 Freddie Mac report about the risks of climate change to housing markets states: “Rising sea levels and spreading flood plains [appear] likely to destroy billions of dollars in property and to displace millions of people. The economic losses and social disruption may happen gradually, but they are likely to be greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”

Property taxation is the foundation of most local governance, and climate risks, in some areas, threaten municipalities’ ability to meet the needs of their citizens. This is already evident in Miami, where the city has spent over $100 million to combat flooding and protect the city from sinking into the ocean—a sum that will only rise in future years and must be diverted from the local budget. And climate change is influencing the property-tax base that fuels that budget, too. As the Miami Herald reports, about $17 million worth of property will face regular flooding by 2030. Under current projections, about $100 million worth of property will face regular flooding by 2100.

According to the Freddie Mac report, Miami is representative of the threat facing coastal cities across the United States. But property is only one part of the tax-and-local-governance equation. Metropolitan areas also face rising populations, which create a classic supply-demand crisis in housing markets where attrition from climate change and the threat of hurricane damage are becoming more and more burdensome. As a result, “climate gentrification”—involving the inflation of the land value of high ground and the displacement of poorer people from those areas—looms over American cities. As a study this year from Harvard University researchers indicates, the theoretical risk of climate gentrification may already be shaping Miami’s housing market, as preferences for higher ground appear to be emerging.

In Georgia and Florida alike, Hurricane Michael inflicted visible political and economic effects on the hardest-hit counties, which tended to be rural and poor. The infrastructure in many places—like the dirt roads in Jackson County, Florida, or the water and power lines sustaining small towns and hamlets across the region—is incredibly fragile, and the loss of those systems has multiplicative effects in the near and longer term. In the aftermath of the storm, the infrastructure damage remains life-threatening: It’s endangered people who have chronic illnesses, made the work of rescue and recovery that much more difficult, and compounded the other woes brought on by the storm, like reduced access to groceries and clean water. The need to rebuild infrastructure will squeeze cash-strapped counties and could spur more people to move away, depleting local tax bases.

Essentially, both the steady drumbeat of ordinary climate-based problems and the crescendo of exceptional disasters could strain the basic model of how American government works, destroying tax bases, uprooting people, and sending them careening from one vulnerable area to the next. The same framework can be applied in places where sea-level rise isn’t a major threat—for example, inland towns, such as Princeville, North Carolina, that are located on major waterways and see existential risks from floods, or drought-plagued California towns that haven’t built enough of a tax base to fight those dry spells over the long term.

As heat, disaster risks, and rising seas bombard local governments, the ability of those governments to fulfill their basic functions—the delivery of services, the maintenance of the safety net, and managing civil, familial, and educational institutions—could be degraded, too. This could manifest in three distinct phenomena that are already on display in disaster-affected areas: the increased dominance of private and developer-class interests in local politics, the acceleration of existing wealth inequality, and the collapse of institutions dedicated to disaster response.

With the current science available, it’s impossible to tell whether the recent hurricanes, fires, floods, heat waves, and droughts that have affected cities across the United States were themselves caused by a changing climate. But what research does indicate is that a warmer Earth is intensifying, and will continue to intensify, those events, which means stronger hurricanes, storms that grow more quickly before landfalllonger-lived forest fires, and more unpredictable flash floods.

A white paper on Hurricane Sandy from the Superstorm Research Lab sums up the three social phenomena of disasters and describes how they might be intensified, too. “On one hand, the crisis was seen as a weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo,” the authors write, referring to the 2012 storm. “On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm and continued afterwards in heightened form, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally.”

As Hurricane Sandy illustrated—like Katrina had years before—disasters and hostile climate conditions don’t create inequalities; they exacerbate them. “Disasters do not discriminate on their impact, but when we see differential consequences that’s [when] we see the disparities in preexisting conditions,” said Erin Bergren, a visiting professor at North Central College in Illinois and one of the authors of the Sandy paper. “The post-disaster conditions are premised on the pre-disaster conditions.”

Vulnerable people—especially racial minorities—are more likely to live in floodplains and have housing that isn’t insured or built to code. They are less likely than people with means to have reliable air conditioning. They are less likely to be able to evacuate, and they have less built-in community and familial resilience to deal with short- or long-term weather shocks than do people in wealthier, whiter communities.These differences pose existential risks to the lower classes in America. But over the next century, they could also sap savings and wealth, and could hide or reverse any wage gains these communities have made. In other words: If American society is already trending toward greater inequality, this all means that climate change will accelerate that trend. “If disasters are possibilities for social reorganization, then climate change is as well,” Bergren said.

Evidence exists that this social reorganization is already under way. In an August article in the quarterly journal Social Problems, the researchers Junia Howell from the University of Pittsburgh and James Elliott from Rice University indicate that the “two defining social problems of our day—wealth inequality and rising natural hazard damages—are dynamically linked.” The findings are stark. Using data on thousands of families in areas where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent disaster aid, Howell and Elliott demonstrate that white families in disaster-prone areas actually gained an average of $126,000 between 1999 and 2013. But black families in those areas lost an average of $27,000, and Latino families lost an average of $29,000. To put it more succinctly: “The more fema aid a county receives, the more unequal wealth becomes between more and less advantaged residents, holding all else constant.”

The most immediate consequence of climate change won’t be an abrupt entry into an alien Anthropocene hell. It’s more likely to be a slow descent. Racial wealth gaps will increase. Racial health disparities will be exacerbated. Sprawling metropolises and rural hamlets alike will face steeper and steeper budgetary constraints (and could be forced to rely heavily on fees and fines to keep the lights on, a move that some cash-strapped local governments have already made and one that disproportionately affects poor or minority residents).

Housing markets will continue to realign in favor of displacement and the creation of a migrant, renter class. Marginalized neighborhoods will continue to shoulder a majority of the environmental burden. Trust in government will continue to decline as it proves unable to help people plan for or respond to climate effects. Elections will be disrupted by disasters, fewer and fewer people will have real attachments to local civic life, and even the concept of a local or national shared destiny will suffer as the haves are shielded from consequences. And disasters can and will rapidly push each of these weaknesses to crisis points, even as the rolling disaster of environmental change makes crises incrementally more likely every day.

And underlying every crisis is the threat of autocracy.

My colleague robinson meyer has suggested that Donald Trump is the first global leader who embodies the future of climate authoritarianism. This is a persuasive argument. Although the president routinely dismisses climate science, he does have a keen eye on widening social and economic fault lines, and—most critically—he knows how to wield them to his advantage. He instinctively picks up on rising anti-immigrant sentiment, which is spreading internationally and is linked to climate change; identifies burgeoning insecurities about the global distribution of resources; and sells himself as a figure of stability and order amid visions of chaos.

“Insofar as his supporters are drawn to him by a sense of global calamity,” Meyer writes, “and insofar as his rhetoric singles out the refugee as yet another black and brown intruder trying to violate the nation’s cherished borders, Trump is the first demagogue of the Anthropocene.”

In the two years since Meyer wrote that essay, Trump has done nothing to rebut the argument. There’s probably never been an administration in American history more ill-equipped to deal with disasters. Owing at least in part to the administration’s incompetence, the federal response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation last year in Puerto Rico was a disaster. Trump has since abandoned responsibility by claiming that credible reports of thousands of deaths on the island are partisan hoaxes. Since the storm hit, Puerto Rico has felt its own slide into the murky waters of a less-than-democratic future, as its colonial status has clearly limited recovery options and accelerated migration to the mainland, and a new federally mandated austerity program reorganizes the island’s economy to meet the needs of creditors.

At the same time, Trump has only escalated his anti-immigration rhetoric, presenting a strongman figure for his base. His racism and racial divisiveness seem to serve a millennialist view of a world in decline—one where there isn’t enough to go around, where martial strength is the only recourse, and where the rules and niceties of a previous era must be abandoned.

Donald Trump is a character of the moment. He’s a developer with famous properties in New York, New Jersey, and Miami, during a time when developers in flooding areas have been ceded more and more local control. He’s the culmination of a crisis of faith in government and widening racial differences in opinion over the future, both of which can possibly be traced back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The political polarization and gerrymandering that enabled both his ascent and the strength of his party in Congress were most certainly aided by the displacement of people of color from cities over the past few decades. He’s the natural political conclusion of widening class and racial wealth gaps, and the heir of a system in which state and local governments have more regularly faced budget shortfalls. And climate change contributed to, contributes to, or will contribute to each of these in due time.

“It’s a crisis that we can still deal with if we wake up,” Zaelke says. But the awakening doesn’t just mean accepting the science, and in the American context doesn’t just mean finally overcoming the grip of climate denialism on politics. In the IPCC’s reading, and in the telling of several of the most vocal climate activists, the changes that the world must undertake in order to rein in climate change will be “unprecedented” and will require monumental shifts in governance and economics.

By all accounts, the task ahead is a moonshot. But perhaps the familiarity of the challenges before the country provide an opportunity. The disasters predicted under even the worst-case scenarios aren’t supernatural; rather, they are macro-level disturbances created by millions of local, often imperceptible perturbances. The cracks of inequality that look likely to widen into chasms of autocracy in the next century were all created by humans, and can all be conquered by them, too.

Supercharged overnight, Hurricane Michael menaces Florida

Hurricane Michael beras down on Florida panhandle (NOAA/GOES 16 Image)


PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Supercharged overnight, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 145 mph, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.

With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast warned to evacuate, the hurricane’s leading edge began lashing the white-sand shoreline with tropical storm-force winds, rain and rising seas before daybreak, hours before Michael’s center was expected to blow ashore.

“I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time,” Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email.

The brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, reaching a furious Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters, an unseasonably high 84 degrees. Less than a day earlier, Michael was a Category 2.

“The time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, while the sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn.

In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and evacuated to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home. His 11-year-old son, Jayden, carried one of the family’s dogs in a laundry basket in one arm and held a skateboard in the other as he waded through calf-high water.

Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm.

“We basically just walked away from everything and said goodbye to it,” he said, tears welling up. “I’m freakin’ scared I’m going to lose everything I own, man.”

As of 11 a.m. EDT, Michael was centered about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Panama City, its winds at 145 mph (230 kmh), with forecasters saying it could intensify further. It was moving at 14 mph (22 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometers) from its center.

Rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 meters).

The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding.

“We are in new territory,” National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. “The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.”

With Election Day less than a month away, the crisis was seen as a test of leadership for Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor. Just as Northern politicians are judged on how they handle snowstorms, their Southern counterparts are watched closely for how they deal with hurricanes.

Several hours ahead of landfall, seawater was already lapping over the docks at Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City, and knee-deep water was rising against buildings in St. Marks, which sits on an inlet south of Tallahassee.

Huge waves pounded the white sands of Panama City Beach, shooting frothy water all the way to the base of wooden stairs that lead to the beach.

More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in the capital city, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.

Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. The home of the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm’s fury, and leaders declared HURCON 1 status, ordering out all but essential personnel.

The base’s aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of miles away as a precaution. The National Hurricane Center predicted 9 to 14 feet of inundation at Tyndall.

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Panhandle into north-central Florida. But civilians don’t have to follow orders, and authorities feared many failed to heed their warnings to get out.

“We’ve told those who stayed to have their life jackets on when the storm comes,” Tress Dameron, Franklin County emergency management coordinator, told The News Herald in Panama City.

Meteorologists watched in real time as a new government satellite showed the hurricane’s eye tightening, surrounded by lightning that lit it up like a Christmas tree.

“I guess it’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,” meteorologist Ryan Maue of said. “This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane-force winds inland.”

The University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a “life-altering event,” writing on Facebook that he watched the storm’s growth on satellite images with a pit in his stomach.

North Carolina Has A Massive Mosquito Problem After Hurricane Florence

The governor ordered $4 million for mosquito control as residents battle giant-sized insects that can reportedly bite through two layers of cotton.

Some of the largest known mosquitoes in the world are creating a buzz across parts of North Carolina, and residents have Hurricane Florence to thank for it.

An outbreak of blood-sucking mosquitoes called Psorophora ciliata, or “gallinippers,” which can grow three times larger than regular mosquitos, is being reported in parts of the state flooded by the storm, creating a public nuisance, health concerns as well as jokes that North Carolina has a new state bird.

“They’re not wasps, baby, they’re mosquitoes,” the woman filming answers as the insects cover her car’s windows.

Cassie Vadovsky, who filmed the video, compared the mosquitoes to a snowstorm, and said the swarm hit her area a few days after Hurricane Florence passed.

“It didn’t hit automatically. It was more gradual. It took maybe three or four days after the storm passed before it got to this epidemic level,” she told USA Today. “And I’m not even on the side of town that had the major flooding. Imagine how bad it could be over on that end.”

Gallinippers, or “shaggy-legged gallinippers” as they are also commonly known, are floodwater mosquitos that lay their eggs in low-lying areas with damp soil and grassy overgrowth. The eggs hatch after these areas flood, and within just six days the larvae can develop into adults, according to the University of Florida’s entomology website.

“They were inundating me, and one landed on me,” he told The Fayetteville Observer. “It was like a small blackbird. I told my wife, ‘Gosh, look at the size of this thing.’ I told her that I guess I’m going to have to use a shotgun on these things if they get any bigger.”

On Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered $4 million in funding for mosquito control efforts in 27 counties that are under a major disaster declaration from the recent hurricane.

Scott Harrelson, the health director of Craven County, which is among those affected, was quoted as thanking Cooper for helping provide “a critical public health service” in the wake of the storm.

“This has been a serious issue for our county and many others impacted by Hurricane Florence,” he said.

A hog farm surround by floodwater is seen in this aerial photograph taken above New Bern, North Carolina, on Sept. 21.

A hog farm surround by floodwater is seen in this aerial photograph taken above New Bern, North Carolina, on Sept. 21.

The governor’s office assured residents that most floodwater mosquitos do not transmit human disease, though “they still pose a public health problem by discouraging people from going outside and hindering recovery efforts.”

Michael Reiskind, an associate professor in North Carolina State University’s department of entomology and plant pathology, advised that residents wear insect repellant and long-sleeved clothing ― though he cautioned that this species of mosquito can bite through one or two layers of cotton “pretty easily,” he told KENS 5 News.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services has also released some tips on how to deal with the mosquito outbreak on its website, which can be found here.

Like Hurricane Florence, Climate Policy Has Dangerously Stalled

Call it “The Great Stall.” Hurricane Florence lingered over the Carolinas for four days, dumping some 30 inches of rain. Flood waters are still rising, even as Typhoon Mangkhut, a superstorm 500 miles across, rakes the Philippines and Hong Kong and crashes into China. Florence is just the latest in a long series of catastrophic events generated by stalled weather patterns — slow-moving systems which occur when one of the jet streams that flow around the Earth pinches off a massive section of air from normal wind flows for a prolonged period of time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has compiled a long list of severe weather events in the US, and most of them are linked, in one way or another, to stalled weather systems.

Just in the past few months, the NOAA has reported that “wildfires are burning larger and more intensely than before,” and that “unusually persistent harmful algal blooms” are plaguing Florida. The Western US is baking under high temperatures, while the Eastern US is “getting increasingly soggy.” The NOAA has even reported that land areas in 2017 “recorded more than 60 days of extreme daytime heat worldwide, nearly double the 1961-1990 average.”

Whether it’s record heat, torrential rain or slow-moving currents, stalls can be catastrophic. Last year, Hurricane Harvey stalled out over Houston, dropping as much as 60 inches of rain in some areas and inflicting an estimated $125 billion in damages on the area.

Just last month, one of the leading climate research institutes, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, cautioned that the warming of the Arctic is “messing” with the giant airstreams that encircle the Earth and contributing to a slowdown in weather patterns in the mid-latitudes. As Dim Coumou, a researcher at the Institute, noted just a few weeks ago, these changes in airstreams can, together with other factors, create “extreme extremes.”

The growing frequency of extreme weather events is not a matter of bad luck; it is bad environmental policy made manifest. Nature, as it turns out, imitates politics. The critically needed political momentum has stalled, and politicians contribute to stalling weather patterns by stalling on climate change action.

Despite the 2015 Paris climate agreement, officially ratified in November 2016, we have yet to reach “global peaking” of greenhouse gas emissions. Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a record high of 32.5 gigatons in 2017. With the Trump administration’s repudiation of the Paris agreement and India and China’s continued reliance upon coal, the hope of keeping the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius — let alone to 1.5 degrees — is rapidly fading.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would give states far more leeway in regulating carbon emissions from coal-fired plants. Market forces will continue to reduce the US’s reliance upon coal-fired plants, but the proposed rule, if adopted, would almost certainly slow the rate at which such plants are retired. The EPA also just announced rules that would roll back regulation of methane emissions from the natural gas industry.

But it’s not just the US that is stalling on curbing emissions. After declines in 2015 and 2016, the International Energy Agency reported earlier this year that global demand for coal rose 1 percent in 2017, principally due to rising demand in Asia.

Population growth and rising consumer demand for energy are working against us. The United Nations projects that the world population will increase nearly 50 percent, from 7.6 billion today to 11.2 billion by the end of the century. At the same time, the size of the world’s middle class and resulting resource consumption will likely expand at an even faster rate.

Political action is urgently required. Renewable energy is economically competitive in many parts of the globe, but unless the world’s political leaders — not just Trump — take steps to close down outdated fossil fuel plants, efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions will fall far short of what is required to avoid more extreme extremes.

It is widely believed that Republicans in Congress are gradually awakening to the reality of human-induced climate change, and there are encouraging signs in China that the political leadership in response to domestic concerns about pollution will, at long last, get serious about curbing carbon emissions from coal-fired plants. But before long, it may be too late.

Stalls, whether political or meteorological, can be costly, dangerous and even life-threatening. It’s time to break the “great stall” on climate change.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.