Stormy Weather

May 28, 2019

BW photograph of a hat outside of a destroyed house in New Orleans post Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

With all due respect to the song by the same title, this post is about weather.  The lyrics of the song, though, are entirely appropriate as they reflect the bone-weariness of loss.  Rain is often a metaphor for feelings of sadness, depression, and grief-climate change induced weather patterns featuring inundations of water and scouring winds leave such emotions in their wake.

We are on the cusp of the 2019 hurricane season, which begins June 1, and the National Hurricane Center has posted its prediction.  Come December 2019, we will be able to assess its accuracy.  In between now and then, many will have to deal with the reality, not the prediction.

Meanwhile, with the official start of the hurricane season just a bit ahead of us, the Midwest has already been hammered by significantly violent tornadoes .  A couple of days ago, El Reno, OK was hit again.  Significantly, that area is also dealing with flooding from excessive rainfall that has caused waterways to exceed their banks. (As I am writing this, a weather update on the radio just advised that the Washington D.C. area could have thunderstorms accompanied by wind gusts of “up to 22 mph” this afternoon.  That hardly seems worth mentioning in this context.)

Given that climate change is one of the central themes of this blog, my teaching, and certainly my personal reading, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the severity and scope of the problem.  After having read David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, I realized that I did not.  Truthfully, that statement may not be entirely accurate, but the reports and statistics presented in the pages that follow certainly support the book’s opening sentence:  “It is worse, much worse, than you think” (pg. 3).  Indeed.  As the Guardian review linked above reports, and the book itself clearly documents, it is the speed by which the environment has been altered that is most shocking.  And it is not nearly finished as CO2 and methane emissions continue to rise, not fall.

If there is an upside to this, it is that, as Wallace-Wells describes, the human race has the ability to make in-roads so as to minimize the more extreme of the outcomes of our behaviour.  Having said that, he also very clearly states that millions around the world, including in the U.S., are already dealing with the catastrophes that accompany the rise in the planet’s temperature.  Those in the Midwest mentioned above, for example, have had yet another look into the maw.

Take care.

Photographer’s Note:  The above photograph was made outside of a destroyed house in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

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Protection

May 16, 2019

BW photograph of a plane flying into a cloud bank.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I fly.  Not too much.  But enough.

BW photograph a plane flying into a cloud bank.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Therefore, the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and the subsequent grounding of that fleet caught my attention.  (I had had a flight scheduled that most likely would have been on one of those planes for just after they had been grounded-otherwise, I would have faced the decision of whether or not to make that trip.)  Later, there were additional reports about quality control problems at Boeing.  That these issues appear to be related to the efforts to remain competitive with other manufacturers’ aircraft exacerbated the concern.  Yes, statistically I am more likely to be injured or killed on my daily commute than when flying.  However, when planes go down, often resulting in scores of deaths, one takes notice.  Given that it now appears Boeing knew about the issues with the 737 Max 8 in advance of the first crash, one begins to seriously wonder about the company’s priorities with regard to safety, communication with constituents, and quality control.   That the FAA has allowed Boeing to largely regulate itself does not inspire confidence.  More on this point in just a bit.

BW photograph of the cloud bank into which a plane just flew.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

On a related note, HBO is currently showing Chernobyl, which is about the nuclear reactor explosion that occurred in 1986.  I am currently reading Midnight in Chernobyl and have started to watch the series.  What is striking, if not surprising, is how similar the issues with that disaster are to the ones that led to the current problems at Boeing-obfuscation, secrecy, and regulatory concerns are examples.  At Chernobyl, those working in the facility, their families and neighbors in Pripyat, the emergency personnel called to the scene, and anyone/anything downwind of the reactor, paid that price.  The book is definitely worth a read.

While the scale of these disasters are not equal, Chernobyl presented a genuine global risk, the pain of loss felt is a common denominator.

So, this begs the political question:  to what degree are governments responsible to protect their citizenry from problematic business practices?  The relationship between Boeing and the FAA is one example.  That the U.S. was one of the last countries to ground the 737 Max 8s adds to the mix.  For another example, think about the issues presented by Facebook with privacy in general and the 2016 election in particular.  On a different note, what if the governmental practices are the problem?  That is certainly a large part of the issue with Chernobyl.  In the U.S., the current administration systematically gutted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.   There is enough in the Mueller Report and the Attorney General’s summary to be concerned about as well.

With regard to corporate malfeasance, it often takes individuals within the company to step forward and become what are known as whistleblowers.  There are laws to protect such individuals as otherwise problematic, if not outright illegal, behaviour may not come to light.  The Obama administration had a complex relationship with that practice.

If the above is not enough, there is also the content of this interview.  Please listen for the use of the term “whistleblower” toward the end.  Here is a link to the NPR book review of that which is discussed in the interview.

One conclusion to draw from all of this?  Caveat Emptor.

Take care.

 

BW photograph of the Monocacy River on a foggy morning.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

“Unprecedented threat” is how the recent U.N. report characterizes the human relationship to another one million species with whom we share the planet.

BW photograph of food trash laying at the base of a trash can.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Humans are but one of eight million species that populate Earth-and we are the one creating the clear and present danger to that one million.

1A’s host Joshua Johnson draws a critical parallel to genocide-after all, estimates for those killed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, as one example, range from 500,000 to over one million.  There are of course, other genocides in human history.

NPR aired this report, and here is a link to the U.N. IPBES media release.

In keeping with the current administration’s focus on climate change denial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the perceived economic advantages of polar ice melting.  As the panelists for the 1A discussion point out, this example of (extremely) selective attention ignores the larger global consequences resultant from the loss of polar ice.

Importantly, the U.N. report does point out that we, the humans of Earth, can still intervene in this destruction.  Individual states, cities, and corporations in the U.S. are making efforts to bring us into compliance with the Paris Accords.  This, though, also needs to be part of a nuanced review-the parameters of which are discussed by the 1A panel.  Please do listen to the full discussion.

Take care.

Transition

April 17, 2019

BW photograph of a burger restaurant transitioning to the Veggie Grill.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The results are clear:  transitioning from a meat/dairy-based diet is not only good for the individual, but for the planet as a whole.  Methane is a major issue-and there are many cows out there.

BW photograph of the upcoming Veggie Grill from across the street.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Please do read the articles linked above as they contain much useful information about the interaction between human behaviour and methane levels.  It is important to note that, as the second article points out, methane is also a by-product of decaying vegetation; however, by far the majority of methane released into the atmo is due to human activity-not natural biological processes.  While methane can be stored in the earth’s permafrost, a problematic feedback loop has been created:  human activity (a meat/dairy-based diet in this case) has increased the amount of methane (and other greenhouse gases) released, resulting in the rise of global temperatures.  As the planet warms, the permafrost melts, which then releases more of the stored methane.  That, in turn, exacerbates climate change.

Just as there is a clear and present need to transition to renewable energy resources, so, too, is there a need to transition to less-impactful eating habits.  Carnivores, though, do like eating meat. (Truth in disclosure:  I have been a vegetarian for decades now-the original decision was based on the manner by which the industrial beef/poultry/pork conglomerates raised and produced their products.  For me, the info about the impact on climate change came later and just reinforced the decision.  Still, the smell of bacon remains a trigger…)  Given that we do live in a bio-genetic age, this is one solution to the dilemma for one who likes the taste of beef but is concerned about the environmental impact.  This article reports on a variety of responses to that product.

There is a much older, less biotech solution as well:  eating insects.

The idea of eating lab-created meat or insects may well trigger other reactions.  Indeed, socialization and social learning theory form the basis for what is culturally acceptable to consume.  Given widespread availability (this will be an issue for those living in food deserts) and enough time, such alternatives may well become norms.  For example, when visiting a grocery store, check and see how many soy-based “meat” products there are…these have been mainstream for quite a while.

Take care.

Relationship

March 28, 2019

BW photograph of the sunrise on the solstice.

Copyright 2018 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

“Air Force Needs Almost $5 Billion To Recover Bases from Hurricane, Flood Damage”

“40 Years After A Partial Nuclear Meltdown, A New Push To Keep Three Mile Island Open” 

There is a direct relationship between these two reports.  The economic consequences of climate change-charged storms continue to rise.  Sea-level rise is a clear and present danger to coastal populations and infrastructure. (It is not just the Air Force needing to adapt to the effects of climate change-the Navy has issues, too.)  Expanding the use of renewable energy and non-fossil fuel options is seen as one of the main means by which to adapt to a volatile environment.  As such, attention has re-focused on nuclear energy-hence the report about keeping Three Mile Island in operation.

Interestingly, I was on my way back to college when the accident at Three Mile Island occurred.  I distinctly remember looking across and wondering why the highway lanes heading in the opposite direction were so unusually crowded-I was remarkably unaware of the problem.  As per the NPR report above, about 80,000 people evacuated in the days following the incident-some of whom did not return.  The fear of contamination drove people away from the immediate area.   It was also a point of alarm regarding the dangers of this form of energy production.

As per the report, Three Mile Island had its partial meltdown on March 28, 1979.  A few years later (April 26, 1986), the Chernobyl reactor exploded.  Later still (March 11, 2011), the Fukushima reactor had a meltdown following a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.  Those two links present information about the damage to the reactors as well as the current status of those geographic areas.  These incidents further exacerbated pre-existing concerns over the reliance on nuclear energy as a primary source of power-a history of which is presented by the Clean Energy Wire.  Countries around the world abandoned nuclear energy as a viable resource.

Climate change has necessitated a new look at the cost/benefit ratio provided by nuclear resources.  Would that be the case if more had been done with wind and solar energy in the years past instead of continuing drill and refine and burn?

BW photograph looking west down Thames Street before sunrise.

Copyright 2018 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

What if we in the developed world had placed greater emphasis on reducing our power consumptions and throw-away lifestyles?

BW photograph of a plastic water bottle laying amid some plants along a hiking trail.

Copyright 2018 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

What if we had done both?

Of course, it is less than useful to have a one way view looking back because doing so does not change the present.  However, examining the past does explain how we came to be where we are, so there is value in analyzing previous mistakes so as to avoid them in the present and future.  While we must also be open to exploring alternatives, critical thinking with an eye toward the future in the evaluation of the possibilities is critical.  There are alternatives-nuclear energy is one, geoengineering approaches are being explored by others.

We are in a position where extraordinary amounts of money are required for mitigation and adaptation to the current problems related to climate change-these costs are going to increase.  As such, long-term solutions do need to be found.  They, too, will require investment.  We have lived our way into an incredibly complex problem, which will require multiple solutions.  We must evaluate these options with due diligence and choose wisely, which puts me in agreement with the conclusions drawn in the Vox article linked above.  Some mistakes are, after all, more consequential than others.

Take care.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography.  All rights reserved.

Preview

March 23, 2019

BW photograph of Morgan Run still rushing after a flood even though it was clear that the water had receeded.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

NOAA recently released a report, and its title says all that needs to be said-“Spring Outlook:  Historic, widespread flooding to continue through May”.  Please be sure to give that link a read as the majority of states and “…more than 200 million people…” are at risk.

This aligns with the information contained in The Climate Report:  The National Climate Assessment-Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, which was published late last year.  That report is also worth a read-particularly for the  breakdown of what geographic areas can expect going forward.

BW photograph of a fallen tree after a flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

BW photograph of debris that accumulated after a recent flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

BW photograph of debris that accumulated after a recent flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

According to The Climate Report, “The recent dominant trend in precipitation throughout the Northeast has been towards increases in rainfall intensity, with increases in intensity exceeding those in other areas of the contiguous United States.” (2018, p. 117)  There are nuances to this, so please do read the report.  Such appeared to be the case when a hard rain fell this past Thursday night-after having rained all day.  As a result, Morgan Run flooded yet again.

BW photograph of tree roots exposed after more flooding.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

BW photograph of tree roots exposed after more flooding.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

BW photograph of tree roots exposed after more flooding.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The erosion is exacerbated due to the continual washing away of remaining topsoil.

BW photograph of a dead fish after being washed ashore during a flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Farmers in the Mid-West, who have been struggling with the impact crop tariffs have had on sales, have now watched as historic flooding has destroyed infrastructure and equipment, swamped fields, and swept away livestock.  Over the past few weeks, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has been re-stocking waterways with fish.  Indeed, during the week of March 3, “900 rainbow trout” were released into Morgan Run, as per their email to that effect.  Above is a photograph of one of the four that appear to have been washed onto fishing platform and perished.   As with all aquatic life deprived of oxygen, this fish’s death would have been unpleasant, and that registers on its face.   The livestock that perished in the flooding had the opposite problem, but it would have been no less excruciating.  There really is no comparison here:  most likely no one’s livelihood is dependent on the fish in Morgan Run.  However, families in Iowa, Nebraska, and elsewhere have a long road ahead to recoup their losses.

BW photograph of a short piece of log and other rocky debris after a recent flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

If what happened last week in the U.S., not to mention globally with the flooding in Africa and Asia, is indeed a preview, then the next couple of months will be quite stressful.

Take care.

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity

February 26, 2019

BW photograph of a distant tree line on a foggy afternoon.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There are many issues for which looking into the future and projecting outcomes is a difficult proposition.  The variables are such that clarity is difficult to achieve.

BW photograph of trail erosion at Morgan Run.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The escalating effect of climate change is not one of those issues.

BW photograph of the dunes and beach erosion at Bethany Beach.

Copyright 2017 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The Human Element, James Balog’s latest documentary, deftly picks up where Chasing Ice left off.  Not only does it reference that earlier, and ongoing project, The Human Element broadens the subject matter.  As with Chasing Ice, the imagery presented is immediate, powerful, and, as a result of that, quite humbling.  I have seen, firsthand, the effects of hurricanes and floods.  I have seen active and abandoned coal mines.  I work in an area where belching smokestacks are present-not to mention a nearly 100-mile highway commute to that job.  In other words, I have (as most do) a personal connection to the Water, Air, and Earth elements as presented in the documentary.  However, other than my parents taking me to see a local grocery store burn when I was a child, my experience with a large, active, fire is much more limited.  (I have seen burned areas in the North Cascades.)  Having said that, I can still remember the smell of the meat cooking and the sound of the bottles bursting-the cackle of the flames and their contrast with the night sky.  I remember having watched that fire with a child’s sense of awe.  What was once a bustling store was, quite literally, a hot mess.  I had never seen such a thing before.  It has been over five decades since watching that store burn.   Within Psychology, this experience would be considered an example of episodic memory.  This type of memory is formed when a combination of sensory stimuli (visual, somatosensory/tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), auditory (hearing), or gustatory (taste)) is accompanied by a strong emotional response.  It is memory for the experience, not the time-I cannot remember my exact age or the date of that fire.  (Now, it is also important to mention that the recall of such memories may, in fact, be distorted.  That is a subject for another time, though.)

I say all of that because of what Mr. Balog presents in the “Fire” segment of the documentary.  The notion of watching a fire race down a hillside toward your home can be nothing short of terrifying.  I know some folks who have been close enough to some of the California fires so as to have had ash fall on their cars-to have been able to see flames off in the distance from the highway.  Others who have had to cancel trips into the wilderness because of wildfires.  So again, my experience with what is referred to as “mega fires” in the documentary is entirely vicarious.  Other than the desire to provide first-hand photographic documentation of such events, I am OK with that.

Just as it is important to remember that the images in Chasing Ice are relatively old, one must also keep in mind that the mega fires documented in The Human Element have since been eclipsed in most metrics, including deaths.  That fulfills a point discussed in the film.

And that is reason for the clarity about the impact of climate change.

The human element is, indeed, the key.

Take care.

P.S.  None of the above is meant to be read as a minimization of any of the elemental impacts presented in the film.  Indeed, being trapped in a house with rising flood waters would present a similar experience to the progression of a mega fire.