Review of (Chapter 4 of) American Exodus

Posted: 14 February 2015 New Orleans underwater after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the 4th chapter of his book, American Exodus, titled “Seaboard Diasporas”, Giles Slade writes about climate events that are associated with flooding and sea level rise (SLR).  He also discusses other coastal weather events like Hurricanes, such as Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. "Superstorm Sandy (which began as a hurricane) was the 3rd once in a century storm to strike the northeast coast in the 2nd decade of our new century.” - American Exodus p.88 For a reminder as to how destructive hurricanes were in 2005, following is a quote from Wikipedia about the 2005 Hurricane season: “Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Part of the record breaking 2005 Atlantic Hurricane season, which included 3 of the 6 most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever (along with #4 Rita and #6 Katrina), Wilma was the 22nd storm, 13th hurricane, 6th major hurricane, 4th category 5 hurricane and 2nd most destructive hurricane of the 2005 season.” - Wikipedia In chapter 4 Slade introduces the concept of the melting of ice sheets, which are sheets of sea ice on land. The global temperature rise is causing the ice sheets to melt into seawater on land. Like deglaciation, ice sheet melting is another indicator used by scientists to determine how rapidly greenhouse gases are warming the surface of the planet.“Today widespread deglaciation is accelerating both in Greenland and the western Antarctic. The last time this happened (14-15,000 years ago) the oceans rose 20 meters (65 feet) over a period of about 400 years. Things will happen much faster this time.” - American Exodus, p. 89 Ironically, the planet is getting wetter and drier.  While warmer winters mean less rainfall in hot places like California and Mexico, in other cooler places, warmer winters equates to more rainfall as less rain freezes into snow.   “With these temperatures, winter rainfall across the continental United States will increase substantially. Warmer temperatures and earlier springs will mean much less water will be stored as snowpack, so flooding will also increase significantly. Moreover as the planet heats up, thermal expansion will enlarge the volume of water on the planet’s surface and elevate current sea levels. - American Exodus, p. 88 Ice sheet melting, and glacier ice melting are phenomena that are also contributing to sea level rise (SLR), a factor that will be a major problem long before the next century (2100) arrives. People living in coastal regions will become environmental refugees when the coastline erodes and be on the move looking for a new place to live as their cities become uninhabitable. Regarding the unevenness of sea level rise (SLR) Slade quotes Asbrey Sallenger of the U.S. Geological Survey who wrote: “Climate warming does not force sea level rise (SLR) at the same rate everywhere. Rather, there are spatial variations of SLR…forced by dynamic processes…from circulation and variations in temperature…salinity, and…static equilibrium processes arising from mass redistributions.” - American Exodus, p.111 He predicts that the region that will see “a more rapid coastal erosion, sea surges, and destruction of coastline infrastructure” in the Continental U.S. on the east coast north of Cape Hatteras as a result of Greenland ice entering the Atlantic Ocean as melt-water. “The IPCC’s overly cautious warning several years ago that a 0.5 meter rise could reasonably be expected in the next century didn’t take into account the melting of the western Antarctic or the speed at which the world’s ice sheets are becoming sea water. The conversion of sea ice to sea water is now happening at about 3 times the predicted rate.” - American Exodus, p.89 Slade includes some information about the vulnerability of New York City to flooding and sea level rise, a problem that New Yorkers know about since their subway system is often flooded during the summer. By 2100, the maximum sea level rise that is expected in New York City is 5 meters or approximately 15 feet. “New Yorkers are sadly all too aware that much of their city’s infrastructure is well below sea level. They’re reminded every summer when the subways close due to flooding in lower Manhattan. But before Superstorm Sandy very few people were aware that New York is vulnerable to once a century storms. Seventy years had passed since the hurricane of 1938, and each year brought increasing sophistication in our ability to plot and predict hurricanes. Still, as Katrina demonstrated our ability to predict disaster accurately means very little if no one pays attention to such predictions.” - American Exodus,  p.108 One of the dangers of climate change related phenomena such as  sea level rise, is that it will probably occur much faster than it ever has in history, due to the greenhouse gas effect, and scientists will fail to admit the extent of the problem, due to their extremely cautions way of observing and analyzing information related to climate change.  Rising sea temperatures are also a factor related to a warming climate, and they contribute to hurricanes, which also cause damage along coastlines. Slade writes that the minimum average rise in temperature expected by the end of the century is 6 degrees Celsius. At that point it does not seem like very much snow will fall on Earth. “Unfortunately, it is now clear that the absolute lowest temperature increase we can hope for is 4 degrees Celsius and that an increase of about 6 degrees Celsius is extremely likely. - American Exodus, p. 88 That kind of a jump in temperature will mean a severe alteration for life on planet Earth and will have scary consequences for humanity, endangering many lives. Life on Earth will be one weather disaster after another and who knows how many will survive on a yearly basis and under what conditions? “The Pacific Institute finds that a 1.4 meter sea level rise stretching from Oregon to Mexico would put nearly 1.2 million people at risk of flooding and endanger $100 billion worth of seaside infrastructure, including 30 power plants, 28 wastewater treatment facilities and both the San Francisco and Oakland airports.” - American Exodus, p.90 “In the next century, global warming will accelerate the occurrence of 100 year storms like the 1938 hurricane, while heat waves also become more intense and more frequent. And the same climactic change will bring a period of accelerated sea level rise (SLR)..the predicted range is disconcertingly wide…; extending from the IPCC’s extremely conservative 0.5 meters to the more reasonable (but still conservative) level of 1-3 meters predicted by the World Bank, to the extreme maximum of 12 meters which is what Kevin Trenbreth says would be the case if the Earth’s entire cryosphere melts in the next 100 years.” - American Exodus, p.110      With his knowledge about weather phenomena, Slade refers to different tools used by scientists such as the computer modeling software SLOSH, and the Safir-Simpson scale, which is the scale used to determine the severity of hurricane winds and assigns it to a category, such as Category 1-5. He makes the point that the SS scale was bad at calculating the devastating effect of Katrina because it didn’t take into account the “tremendous wave and storm surge related destruction” that Katrina brought, although Katrina was only a Category 3 hurricane when it made the 2nd landfall in New Orleans on August 29th. Slade writes that Hurricane Camille, which struck New Orleans in 1965 was a Safir Simpson- 5 hurricane (category 5) although Katrina had much more destructive power than Camille. Slade explains how, in regards to Katrina everyone from weather forecasters to the residents of New Orleans knew long before hand that the Big One was coming. Those familiar with the region and its vulnerability to hurricanes had been expecting with certainty a hurricane to flood New Orleans for decades, unfortunately, Slade writes that there was deliberate destruction of certain levees over others that would have caused less damage to the city's poor prior to Katrina. Nonetheless the citizens of New Orleans are no strangers to hurricanes, (why a drink from there is named ‘the hurricane’) and as Slade writes, the residents long-held attitude towards hurricanes was we don’t evacuate. However, this tough attitude was not purely by choice, as Slade explains the sociological side of not evacuating, much of the reason was because people, particularly African American women, did not have access to cars. Slade writes that New Orleans ranked 4th out of 300 metropolitan cities for people who did not have access to cars.  One statistic he gives pointed out that 54% of poor black people did not have access to cars and 17% of poor white people did not have access to cars, which explains why the majority of people who were left behind in Hurricane Katrina were African Americans. “Like the issue of access to cars, this is just one more example of  how all too often, the survival choices of America’s poorest citizens are bitterly constrained by their lack of resources.” -American Exodus, p. 106 Slade tells the heroic story of a New Orleans man named Jabar Wilson who was 18 years old in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. During Katrina, the national emergency response organization called FEMA, was no help in providing assistance to those with no way out of the city.  A few days after August 29th, after Katrina had completely flooded the city, in desperation Jabar took the school bus keys from a school office and drove 70 people from his street and other survivors they picked up along the way, many of whom were barefoot because they had swam away from their houses, and he drove them to the Houston Astrodome in Texas where they heard there was shelter for survivors. They had to beg for gas and diaper money along the way, and when they got there they were not accepted, although none of them had eaten or slept well, and had been offered no help otherwise.  Jabar Wilson acted as anyone would have in such an extreme case, to save his own life and that of others when they realized no help was coming for them. Although he saved many peoples lives, Wilson was not treated like a hero, and criminal proceedings were brought against him for stealing the school bus, although the charges were later dropped.  Slade got in contact with Jabar Wilson, age 26 at the time of their conversation, and provides a direct quote from him in chapter 4. Survivors of Hurricane Katrina on beds at the Houston Astrodome. Wilson's story is an important one for Giles Slade to memorialize in his book, because it is a perfect example of being being poor and African American in the United States. Wilson and the busload of survivors were treated subhuman, and undeserving of resources by the authorities in a very serious emergency situation. Being Canadian, Giles Slade recognizes the hubris of Americans, which seems to be a major impediment to being well prepared for disasters such as Katrina. Long before Katrina hit, in preparation for the hurricane it was suggested to obtain tents like used to shelter refugees of war in Kosovo, however the idea was laughed at by one emergency preparation worker whose response was “Americans do not live in tents.” Tents would have been a start in helping many of the displaced people from New Orleans at the Astrodome, however no such preparations had been made for them. Instead what the emergency preparation people did was nothing.  Quoting from a 1999 study from the Environmental Defense Fund he quotes that the alternative to planning ahead is to do nothing since “it is notoriously difficult to affect change until disaster strikes.” (p.110). “Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster as well as 1 of the 5 deadliest hurricanes in the history of United States. The storm is also ranked as the 3rd most intense United States land falling tropical cyclone behind only the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969.  Overall at least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, making it the deadliest United States hurricane since the 1928  Okeechobee hurricane. Total property damage was estimated at $108 billion (2005 USD), roughly 4x’s the damage brought by hurricane Andrew in 1992.” - Wikipedia Slade's research shows a number of dead people caused by Hurricane Katrina are 4 times higher than Wikipedia’s conservative and probably inaccurate estimate of “1,833”. He states that by some accounts the death toll was as high as 11,000. Wikipedia overall rates Katrina as a Category 5 hurricane, although admits that she was a Category 3 hurricane when she made 2nd landfall in New orleans, and traces out the hurricanes journey: “The storm strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but weakened before making its second landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on August 29th in southeast Louisiana.” - Wikipedia Global Temperature Rise and Carbon Emissions Public and private industries are still choosing their vehicles based on the shape of the body and the brand name and the superficial features of the car like the dashboard and seats rather than the engine of the vehicle and whether it runs on gas and produces carbon emissions or more realistically for our times, runs on clean, solar powered electricity. Federal agency's are guilty of making no attempt to transition the postal system vehicles to electric, although they are losing billions every year and the amount they lose in revenue is probably exactly equal to what they purchase in gasoline for Northrop Grumman gas guzzling postal vehicles. Today for an environmentally green person who does not want to contribute to the deterioration of quality of life for the planet in the from of greenhouse gases, choosing a vehicle that gets good gas mileage is not good enough. These people have to stop hiding in anonymous cars on roads made dirty by carbon run off, listening to distracting, feel-good dance music while driving, and be the first in their group of friends, to buy an electric vehicle and demonstrate to others how much better life will be experienced when a significant portion of every week is not spent at the gas station contributing to the problem and ignoring the solution. [reference list] by Andi Boggs