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Philip Bump's Posts


On Sept. 11, 2012, the Times asks: Is New York ready for disaster?

Several weeks ago, we looked at what New York (and its lesser companion, Boston) is doing to prepare for higher tides, storm surges, and severe weather. But is it enough? Is New York City ready for climate change?

New York Harbor. Manhattan is at far right.

Critics, as they are wont to do, say no. From page A1 of today's New York Times:

Only a year ago, they point out, the city shut down the subway system and ordered the evacuation of 370,000 people as Hurricane Irene barreled up the Atlantic coast. Ultimately, the hurricane weakened to a tropical storm and spared the city, but it exposed how New York is years away from -- and billions of dollars short of -- armoring itself.

“They lack a sense of urgency about this,” said Douglas Hill, an engineer with the Storm Surge Research Group at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.

The primary threat is flooding.

Unlike New Orleans, New York City is above sea level. Yet the city is second only to New Orleans in the number of people living less than four feet above high tide — nearly 200,000 New Yorkers, according to the research group Climate Central.

The waters on the city’s doorstep have been rising roughly an inch a decade over the last century as oceans have warmed and expanded. But according to scientists advising the city, that rate is accelerating, because of environmental factors, and levels could rise two feet higher than today’s by midcentury. More frequent flooding is expected to become an uncomfortable reality.

With higher seas, a common storm could prove as damaging as the rare big storm or hurricane is today, scientists say. Were sea levels to rise four feet by the 2080s, for example, 34 percent of the city’s streets could lie in the flood-risk zone, compared with just 11 percent now, a 2011 study commissioned by the state said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Paul Ryan pushed for greener cars, until he didn’t

At the 3:00 mark of the video above, Paul Ryan says this:

I would just say, if you take a look at the president’s policies, he calls them investments. It’s borrowing money and spending money through Washington, picking winners and losers, spending money on favorite people like Solyndra or Fisker ...

It's a common line from the vice presidential candidate and his party: The Obama administration has "picked winners and losers," granting government money to companies that the president politically favors. It's hypocritical, of course; elected officials of every stripe -- Ryan included -- advocate for funding for their constituents and for issues they support. Like Charles Koch's attack on cronyism, elected officials who argue that an opponent's policies are exclusionary and preferential are setting themselves up for an easy rebuttal.

And here's the rebuttal to Ryan, in case you didn't see where this was going.


How much ice has the Arctic lost? Enough to cover Canada

A bit of good news: The extent of Arctic sea-ice melt may have reached its maximum for 2012. The record-setting melt isn't good news itself, of course -- just that it is near its bottom.

In 2007, the previous record-low year, the lowest extent of 4.25 million square kilometers was reached on Sept. 24. The lowest point we've reached this year was last Friday, at 3.66 million sq. km. -- 13.8 percent less than the previous record. (All data here is from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.)

Ice extent, as of yesterday. (Image courtesy of the University of Colorado.)

A post at Climate Central raises an interesting question: What does this year's ice-coverage loss compare to in surface area?

The loss from the year's high point (which came on March 17) has been massive -- 10.77 million sq. km., a loss of 74.6 percent.

Read more: Climate & Energy


To pay fines from the Gulf spill, BP is selling oil fields in the Gulf

For sale: Gulf of Mexico oil fields.

Asking price: $5.6 billion.

Seller: British Petroleum.

Reason for selling: Need to raise money to pay huge fines levied after poking a hole in a Gulf of Mexico oil field and not closing it up for a few months.

Sorry, gang. This one is not for sale.


Only one-third of Americans think limiting climate change is a very important goal

The minority viewpoint.

Eleven years after 9/11 -- if you can believe it has been that long -- the Chicago Council on Global Affairs decided to gauge how Americans' views on global security have evolved.

First and foremost, concern over global terrorism has dropped precipitously, with more significant declines evident among younger populations. But we're here to talk about the changing climate. How do Americans feel climate change ranks as an important foreign policy goal?

They don't.

Click to embiggen.

Only one-third of respondents listed climate change as a "very important" goal, down two percentage points from 2010. Worse, climate change was third-to-last, after "strengthening the United Nations." A February poll suggested that 61 percent of Americans think the U.N. is doing a "poor job," if that gives you any indication of the esteem in which it is held.


Coral in Caribbean is in big trouble

Caribbean coralPhoto by Shutterstock.

Coral reefs in the Caribbean are on the brink of complete collapse. From the Guardian:

The decline of the reefs has been rapid: in the 1970s, more than 50% showed live coral cover, compared with 8% in [a] newly completed survey [by the International Union for Conservation of Nature]. The scientists who carried it out warned there was no sign of the rate of coral death slowing. ...

Warnings over the poor state of the world's coral reefs have become more frequent in the past decades as pollution, increasing pressure on fish stocks, and the effects of global warming on the marine environment -- in the form of higher sea temperatures and slightly elevated levels of acidity in the ocean -- have taken their toll.

Last year, scientists estimated that 75% of the Caribbean's coral reefs were in danger, along with 95% of those in south-east Asia. That research, from the World Resources Institute, predicted that by 2050 virtually all of the world's coral reefs would be in danger.

Read more: Climate & Energy


RIP, Larry Gibson: Longtime mountaintop-removal activist dies on mountain he loved

Larry Gibson, a key figure in the fight to stem mountaintop-removal mining, died of a heart attack Sunday on Kayford Mountain in Raleigh County, W.Va. Here's a clip about his activism from a 2007 documentary:

West Virginia's State Journal describes Gibson's impact:

"When it came time for him to walk through the coalfields [on a 1999 trip to raise awareness about MTR], people who had been walking with him were very understandably reluctant and everybody was trying to talk him into changing his route -- he absolutely refused," [said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition]. "He was jeered, he was heckled, but he didn't give up and he made it, over 500 miles from one end of the state to the other. To me, remembering Larry, that is just so poignant because it speaks to the incredible courage and determination that this man had."

Mountaintop mining expanded over time to surround Gibson's family home. Bady thought of an incident in the early 2000s when Gibson watched as mining equipment ripped through a family cemetery, his best efforts unable to stop it.

His experience led to a push by [Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition] and others that resulted in legislation that increased protections for family cemeteries.

Photo by NESRI.

In 2007, Gibson was named an environmental hero by CNN.

Read more: Living


Rush Limbaugh said something obnoxious, this time about energy policy

Rush wonders how magnets work. (Image by Chris Piascik.)

Rush Limbaugh said something dumb again, but this time it was about energy, so we figured we'd link to it. Here it is.

It is important to note, however, that Limbaugh is an obnoxious person who is a pioneer in trolling via radio. The less frequently one encounters his name and the things he's said, the happier one's life. This is a scientifically proven fact. A Google search for "condemn Limbaugh" returns 1.4 million results, which seems low.

If you're going to click that link to see what stupid, obnoxious thing Rush Limbaugh said while rubbing his greasy hands together and drooling into a microphone, you should also check out, which asks advertisers on Limbaugh's shows to reconsider. After all, someone gives him the money for his cigars and houses and wives (he's up to four!) -- and should probably be pretty embarrassed about having done so.

If, however, you'd rather not hear Limbaugh's voice (who can blame you!), here is a video of a really tiny puppy playing with a tennis ball set to ragtime music.


Shell starts drilling, hasn’t ruined the Arctic yet

On Sunday, Shell began drilling in the Arctic, after the EPA granted a waiver to the company allowing it to exceed regulated air-pollution levels. As of this writing (Sept. 10, 2012, about 1:00 p.m. Eastern), the company has not yet experienced a massive accident spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil on the Alaskan coastline.

Current location of Shell's drilling vessel, the Noble Discoverer. (Image courtesy of

The company can't actually drill for oil yet, because it has to wait for the arrival of the Arctic Challenger, a vessel specially designed to contain any spill -- a ship which itself was cited for illegal hydraulic fluid discharges earlier this year. The vessel doing the drilling, the "Noble" Discoverer (quotes added), is the one that slipped its anchor in July, probably out of excitement about drilling holes in the ocean to let all that oil out. It can only drill to 1,400 feet until the Arctic Challenger (an appropriate name!) arrives.

Part of this detail-attentive company's response plan in the event that there's a massive spill involves placing a dome over a broken well head. Some sticklers, though, suggest that Shell's testing of said dome could perhaps have been more rigorous.

Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request suggest field-testing of a containment dome took place over two hours on 25 and 26 June. The dome, known as a "capping stack", would be dropped over any stricken wellhead. …

"The first test merely showed that Shell could dangle its cap in 200ft of water without dropping it," said Kathryn Douglass, a [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility] staff lawyer. "The second test showed the capping system could hold up under laboratory conditions for up to 15 minutes without crumbling. Neither result should give the American public much comfort."


Hope you enjoyed the third-hottest summer ever!

BREAKING NEWS: The summer was hot.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its monthly "State of the Climate" assessment this morning. Think of it as the medical chart at the foot of the country's bed as it withers from its fever. Here's how the summer shaped up.

The warmer than average August, in combination with the hottest July and a warmer than average June, contributed to the third hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States. The summer season’s nationally-averaged temperature was 74.4°F, 2.3°F above the 20th century average. Only the summers of 2011 (74.5°F) and 1936 (74.6°F) had higher temperatures for the Lower 48.

Click to embiggen.

Some good news: The month of August itself was only the 16th warmest on record, meaning that climate change isn't real and we should all dump some burning oil into nearby rivers in celebration.

Read more: Climate & Energy