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Tagged with Hurricane Sandy

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Cities in the age of climate consequences: ‘Carbon Zero,’ chapter 1

Editor's note: Welcome to Grist's presentation of Alex Steffen's new book Carbon Zero. We'll be posting a new chapter every day for a week -- here's the full table of contents. And this post will tell you a little more about the project. If you like what you read, you can order Carbon Zero from Amazon.

Forewarned

On Monday the 29th of October, 2012, a tidal surge 13.9 feet high (the highest ever recorded) washed up and over the waterfront in Lower Manhattan, pushed forward by the superstorm Sandy. That same week, the storm destroyed large swathes of coastline from the New Jersey shore to Fire Island, while driving torrential rains, heavy snows, and powerful winds inland across the eastern U.S. and Canada. By the time the storm blew out, it had killed more than 100 Americans, made thousands homeless, left millions without power, and caused at least $50 billion in damage. Sandy was, by any reckoning, one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

Maybe, though, the word “natural” belongs in quotes. Because what was surprising about Sandy wasn’t that it happened (indeed, many had predicted that rising sea levels and storms intensified by warmer oceans would make something like Sandy inevitable), but that it was seen so clearly, and so immediately, for what it was: a forewarning of what a planet in climate chaos has in store for us.

Buy Carbon Zero on Amazon.

Sandy was far from the first sign that climate change is here -- scientists have been warning for decades of the dangers of a heating planet, and in the last 10 years we’ve seen a flurry of unprecedented storms, droughts, floods, melting glaciers, and wildfires, as well as record-breaking heat waves following one after another. Sandy, though, knocked down walls of denial and inattention that have kept us from admitting what’s happening to our world.

What’s happening is that we’re losing the climate fight. Climate change is here, it’s worsening quickly, its effects are more dire than many thought they would be, and -- if we continue with business as usual -- we’re on a track to unleash an almost unimaginable catastrophe on ourselves, our children, and our descendants.

"Part of learning from [Sandy] is the recognition that climate change is a reality," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the time. “Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.” He added later, ”Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.”

Our choice: “extremely dangerous” or “catastrophic”

To not warm the planet at all no longer remains an option. The Earth is already dangerously hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Sandy-battered neighborhood gives thanks for solar [VIDEO]

Since Hurricane Sandy, the historic Belle Harbor Yacht Club in the Rockaways -- one of New York City's hardest-hit neighborhoods -- has become an indispensable hub for supplies, volunteers, and a much-needed round of drinks. Three weeks after the storm, the oft-maligned Long Island Power Authority still hasn't reconnected this building, not to mention its neighbors, back to the grid, leaving locals to face the prospect of a cold, dark Thanksgiving.

But outside, the sun is shining, and three local solar power companies have seen an opportunity to bridge the gap left open by the electric utility. The yacht club, among several area buildings, is now plugged into a portable solar power generator, which frees volunteers from the endless gas lines that plague those dependent on traditional generators and leaves them ready to dish out hot plates of turkey and stuffing to the beleaguered community.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

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Why President Obama should keep his promise to tackle climate change

President Obama
Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

A little less than four years ago, I was a bright-eyed intern in the Obama White House. The halls buzzed with hope, and optimistic predictions that we would tackle health care and then move on to the more challenging issues of climate change and immigration reform.

It wasn’t long, however, before the realities of the recession and extreme partisanship set in. The public’s disillusionment with politics grew almost as fast as the president’s gray hairs.

Obama’s victory on Nov. 6, though narrow, has offered a chance to reframe the debate. He has already promised that immigration reform will be introduced soon after his inauguration. Here’s why a climate bill should follow soon after:

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Former ‘Miss Subways’ beauty queens unite for Sandy relief

From the early '40s into the '70s, New York City had a Miss Subways campaign. It involved pretty young New York women having their photos on trains, so that their beauty and winning personalities could be appreciated by all New Yorkers. [Ed. note: My uncle can still recite the entire text for some of these posters, so they apparently hit their mark among adolescent boys.] This program is no longer alive, but former Miss Subways beauty queens have gone on to important lives, some in civil service -- and with New York's recent hurricane, they have decided to give back to the city that gave them so much.

Here's a video of the Misses Subways raising money for Sandy, featuring some amazing New York accents:

Read more: Cities

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New York Gov. Cuomo: ‘We will lead on climate change’

Two days after Sandy struck, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gave this statement on climate change, as excerpted by The Rachel Maddow Show.

Today, the governor struck a much stronger tone on the link between climate change and weather disasters in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News.

Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.

We need to act, not simply react.

MTAPhotos
Cuomo, at center-left, prepares to inspect a tunnel flooded by Sandy.

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Al Gore calls on Barack Obama to ‘act boldly’ on climate change

Center for American Progress Action Fund

The former vice president and climate champion, Al Gore, has called on Barack Obama to seize the moment and use his reelection victory to push through bold action on climate change.

The president has faced rising public pressure in the wake of superstorm Sandy to deliver on his promise to act on global warming.

But none of those calling on Obama to act carries the moral authority of Gore, who has devoted his post-political career to building a climate movement.

Now, Gore said, it is the president's turn. He urged Obama to immediately begin pushing for a carbon tax in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" budget crisis.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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New York’s bikeshare takes another hit, this time from Sandy

The bikeshare in D.C., which for some reason New York is having trouble duplicating.

In some parallel universe, New Yorkers took advantage of the city's massive, distributed (at least in Manhattan) bike-sharing network to get around in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Maybe Citi even waived fees for the vehicles, eager to get a little bump of goodwill at a moment of extreme need. But, as longtime viewers may remember, despite plans to unveil the 10,000-bike system this year, it got pushed to March of 2013 due to technical glitches.

Or, at least March was the target date in August. It's not clear if that is still the new date, because the system got damaged again. By Sandy.

From the Times:

The storm dumped several feet of water at some points across the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the city had been storing equipment like bicycles and docking stations in Building 293, near the northern tip of the yard and the waters of Wallabout Bay.

Building 293 was among those that flooded, and a spokesman for the mayor’s office said Tuesday that there appeared to be damage to program equipment, including docking stations for bicycles, as a result. …

Officials said it was premature to estimate whether the flooding could affect the program’s start date, scheduled for next March.

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Budweiser provided canned water for Sandy victims

Sweeneyville
Wow, this Bud tastes like water -- oh, it is water.

So, the Budweiser Corporation is putting water in cans. Wait. Why is that new? Doesn't it already put water in cans? Ha, ha. That's very funny. I'm sure it's never heard any jokes before from microbrew-obsessed America about the fact that its beer sucks. But this time, it really is water, to help Hurricane Sandy victims whose drinking water isn't safe.

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Scientists can use satellites to track how much raw sewage Sandy deposited in our waterways

You probably would rather not think about the fact that Hurricane Sandy created a lot of sewage problems. Well, you're lucky you don't have to, because there are people whose job it is to do that. And they have satellites that allow them to get a sense of ... well, there's no way to say this nicely: how much raw sewage made it into our waterways as a result of the devastating storm.

You can't actually detect sewage from a satellite. Meaning it can't take a picture of water that would allow them to look at an image and deduce, oh, that part of the water? That has human waste in it. However, "you can find river discharge that you suspect has raw sewage,” Matthew Oliver, assistant professor of oceanography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at University of Delaware, said in a press release. “The reason why is because river discharge usually has a very different temperature and color than the surrounding waters.” 

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Superstorm Sandy hit Superfund sites, spread toxic pollution

Superfund sites and fuel spills and lead contamination, oh god!

U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard sets about cleaning up an oil spill in New Jersey's Arthur Kill waterway.

We’re learning more about the eco-impact of Hurricane Sandy, and it's not looking good.

Nearly a quarter of New Jersey and New York's Superfund toxic sites are within a half-mile of vulnerable coastal areas. Those the Environmental Protection Agency says were "impacted by the storm" include New York's Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, both designated Superfund-supergross in 2010. From The Wall Street Journal:

The EPA said it tested water samples its workers took from Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal and nearby flooded buildings, but found only "low levels" of potentially cancer-causing pollutants, which it said may be "related to spilled fuel and runoff from asphalt." New York state officials say they think the floodwaters probably traveled over the Gowanus and Brooklyn's other Superfund site, Newtown Creek, without disturbing the pollutants that line the bottoms of both waterways.

But Thomas Burke, a professor and associate dean at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said the Gowanus and Newtown Creek—whose cleanups haven't begun in earnest yet—are more vulnerable to flooding risks than sites in more advanced stages of remediation, where caps and liners have already been placed over bottom-lying toxic material.

Read more: Climate & Energy