Briefly

Stuff that matters


eye for an eye

Here’s why Irma is a monster hurricane, in one GIF.

The last Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Andrew, which lashed South Florida with wind gusts of up to 177 miles per hour in 1992. It caused immense devastation and forever changed Florida’s approach to hurricanes.

Twenty-five years later, we have Hurricane Irma — a storm that could be even worse.

Twitter / @JoelNihlean

The above GIF, assembled from GOES satellite data by Joel Nihlean, combines images of the two hurricanes to compare them side-by-side to scale. Not only is Irma more powerful, it’s also much larger: One recent estimate showed that Irma packs more than five times Andrew’s destructive potential. Its hurricane-force winds cover an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.

Irma’s sustained winds are now 175 mph, with gusts reaching 210 mph. Meteorologists expect very little weakening before it makes landfall in Florida on Sunday. In a briefing on Thursday, the National Weather Service in Miami said that Irma could leave parts of South Florida “uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Governor Rick Scott urged Florida residents to take the storm seriously, pointing out that Irma is “wider than our entire state.” Let’s hope they take his advice.

Support Grist, win an electric bike! ENTER


green markets

Climate solutions need cold, hard cash. This group aims to make those investments easier.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”


maria

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with record-breaking rains.

The most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century brought ravaging winds and rainfall on Wednesday, destroying homes, knocking out all of the power, and snapping concrete poles in half. Maria wrecked many repairs that had just been completed after Irma swiped at Puerto Rico two weeks ago.

The National Hurricane Center reports that the island could receive an additional 4–8 inches of rain through Saturday. Puerto Rico remains under a watch for life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Grist contributing writer Eric Holthaus pointed out some surprising stats regarding Maria’s rainfall on Twitter:

  • In one day, parts of Puerto Rico received 24–36 inches of rain. Compare that to Houston, which received 32 inches in three days during Harvey.
  • In Caguas, a city in the mountains of eastern Puerto Rico, rain gauges measured more than 14 inches in one hour — apparently a candidate for a new world record.
  • For reference, Caguas got more rain in a single day (nearly 40 inches) than Seattle does in an average year (37 inches).

After Puerto Rico, Maria headed toward the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Southeast Bahamas — bringing debilitating rain with it.


hurry up!

Can we still avoid the worst of climate change? Maybe.

A new study in Nature Geoscience shook the climate science world by suggesting that we may have more leeway in the fight to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C.

The researchers found that IPCC models were overestimating how much warming has already occurred. That means we may actually have a chance of not blazing past the 1.5 degrees C goal and well into the 2 degrees C danger zone — which is where it has previously looked like we were headed.

Of course, the results are so new — and so drastic — that many are skeptical they will stick. For one thing, the new analysis focuses on a period of time when temperatures were relatively cool, a fact that most other scientists have chalked up to natural, temporary factors.

And even if the new study’s numbers play out, it will still be very hard to limit greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as we need to. Still, “very, very difficult” is better than “impossible” and 1.5 degrees C is much better than 2 degrees C.

And as Justin Gillis of the New York Times pointed out recently, the real uncertainty is not in our models, but in ourselves.


Mommy dearest

‘Mother!’ is a climate change parable, and it sounds terrifying.

No movie this year has generated more intrigue than director Darren Aronofsky’s horror flick mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

While many have teased out the biblical themes in the controversial film, there’s another story you might miss in this symbolism-heavy nightmare. Aronofsky and Lawrence explained the film’s climate change connection to the New York Times. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

“Mother!” is about Mother Earth (Ms. Lawrence) and God (Mr. Bardem), whose poetic hit has the weight of the Old Testament: hence all the visitors clamoring for a piece of Him, as his character is called. The house represents our planet … The movie is about climate change, and humanity’s role in environmental destruction.

Sound weird? Heck yeah. Critics have characterized mother! as a “tour de force of choreographed insanity” that thrives on the “horror of confusion.”

And to point out one further similarity with climate change: Just like watching the damage climate change is wreaking on the planet unfold, watching mother! leaves us uneasy and outraged at what we’re witnessing.


not a drill

Mexico City was built on land that’s prone to severe earthquake damage.

Less than two weeks after the second-biggest earthquake in Mexico’s history, a second quake hit, causing more than 200 deaths and toppling buildings around the country.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday afternoon just a few hours after Mexico City held earthquake drills to mark the anniversary of the country’s deadliest shock in 1985.

“It’s very horrendous,” Guillermo Lozano, humanitarian and emergency affairs director for World Vision Mexico, told the L.A. Times. “Most of the people were at work and children were at school.”

The soft soil underneath Mexico City tends to amplify the damage from quakes. The megalopolis is built on ancient lakebed filled with wet clay deposits that experts compare to jello. When seismic waves pass through, the lakebed jiggles, causing even more violent shaking aboveground.

Seismologists say it’s unlikely that Tuesday’s quake is related to the 8.1-magnitude one that shook the country Sept. 8, since they struck hundreds of miles apart and occurred weeks, not minutes, apart.

It’s been a hectic month for North America, from hurricanes to wildfires. But unlike intense superstorms, at least earthquake devastation is one thing we can’t blame ourselves for, right?

Well, it’s more complicated than you might think.


environmental injustice

Trump’s policies put the most vulnerable Americans in danger.

A new report from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a group of academics and nonprofit professionals, finds that over the past eight months, the new president has amplified risks to the country’s environmentally disadvantaged people and torn down some hard-won protections.

“Through proposed budget cuts and personnel reductions at agencies like EPA,” the report reads, “the new administration has crippled the government’s ability to address environmental problems, including inequalities in toxic exposure.”

President Trump has undone decades of progress on environmental justice. He allowed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to resume, reversed a planned ban on the agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos (despite its link to neurological disorders in children), and proposed slashing funds for toxic Superfund site cleanup. Perhaps most alarming, the administration has obscured public data. For example, it has failed to maintain the Toxics Release Inventory that informs communities of nearby exposure risks.

Hurricane Harvey, the reports’ authors note, offers a glimpse into the increased burden that poor communities will experience from climate change — effects that Trump’s actions will likely magnify.

“In a moment that calls for a greater awareness of the intersection of environment and inequality,” they wrote, “the policies and priorities of Trump’s administration are especially disheartening.”

×