Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chris Mooney on Readiness

Chris Mooney (Washington correspondent for Seed magazine, owner of the blog The Intersection, and author of the forthcoming book Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming) wrote this article for Truthdig, which does a great job of putting the imperative of preparing our most vulnerable coastal cities from storm damage into words.

As things stand now, there's plenty of evidence that more powerful storms are more likely to visit not only the usual suspects on the Gulf coast and Atlantic coast of Florida, but are also more likely to reach further north than we've come to expect. Locations such as Long Beach, California and Rhode Island have been hit by large storms in the past - at times when infrastructure and population were much less than today. Some key quotes:

The estimated damage total if the devastating 1926 Miami hurricane were to occur today is a staggering $164 billion

As the National Hurricane Center notes, as of 1990, 85 percent of U.S. coastal residents had never experienced a major hurricane landfall. Since that time, the number of these inexperienced residents has only increased, as what some hurricane scientists dub our “lemming-like march to the sea” has proceeded apace. Today, 53 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline.
And this sensible proposal:
Let’s move now with a national project to protect our most vulnerable areas against hurricane devastation, not just for the present, but with an eye toward our globally warmed future. We can prioritize by starting with the most exposed places and then moving down the list.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Desert Reclaiming Its Place

My wife recently returned from visiting her mother in Scottsdale, Arizona. She was amazed at the continuing pace of development in the Valley of the Sun. The highways are clogged, housing developments continue to spread in every direction from Phoenix toward the mountains that bound the broad flats of the valley. People apparently continue to flock to that location, where the recent summers have seen extended stretches of 110-degree-plus heat. I've written here about the concern over water supply for the millions of residents of this desert region. Today, USA Today published a story about the prospects of a moister future, and those prospects are slim to none. The lede:

Drought, a fixture in much of the West for nearly a decade, now covers more than one-third of the continental USA. And it's spreading.
Of course, the Southwest is not the only region suffering extreme drought. The Southeast is about 50 inches behind in precipitation. The central valley of California sees cattle ranchers selling off their herds.
"It seems extremely likely that drought will become more the norm" for the West, says Kathy Jacobs of the Arizona Water Institute, a research partnership of the state's three universities. "Droughts will continue to come and go, but … higher temperatures are going to produce more water stress."
So what I'm looking for is the first indication that growth in population and land development is slowing down in these desert regions that were only settled because technology allowed water to be supplied through unnatural means. When even our dams, pumps and deep water wells aren't enough, and rationing cuts into lifestyle issues, what will residents do. And where will they go?