Sustainability Blog - The Grid
Eleven years, one month, three weeks and five days ago I stood on West Street in southern Manhattan and watched many hundreds of people murdered, as a gray avalanche of concrete, glass and steel poured forth from a disintegrating tower to the street below. The 9/11 attacks changed everything, for all time, and we all felt it instantaneously.
Superstorm Sandy delivers a message first heard on Sept. 11, 2001: New York, as a proxy for the United States, is unprepared for anticipated 21st century threats.
Sure, it would be rash to describe Hurricane Sandy as climate change incarnate. But it does make one wonder just how much longer we can ignore the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that of a storm eating the northeastern United States from the Carolinas in the South to Lake Michigan in the West. More than 60 million Americans have been affected, many of them in areas where hurricane damages have not historically been a concern. Initial estimates by Eqecat put insured losses at $10 billion to $20 billion, with up to another $50 billion in economic damages. Once economists tally the total losses from property damage to homes, stores, cars, and utilities, as well as the opportunity costs of foregone wages and other productivity losses, the figure is likely to be even higher.
Hurricane Sandy was a massive and deadly storm, extending more than 1,000 miles, bringing huge waves and more than 13 feet of water to parts of New York City. In Manhattan, floods swept away cars and overflowed subway stations. Along the Jersey shore, homes, property, and businesses were washed away in just a few hours. More than 8 million people in the northeastern United States lost power. Tens of millions more have been affected. And, tragically at least 160 people lost their lives in total. Outside of the United States, six Caribbean countries were battered by the storm, taking lives and destroying property as it struck. Some early estimates say the storm will cost $50 billion; others say it will be more.
Sadly, science tells us that this type of event will become much more common as our climate continues to change.
Research has shown for several years that Manhattan faces serious flood risk.
A 2008 study concluded that New York was vulnerable to storm-surge flooding from even a moderate storm and recommended that local authorities build protections as other cities have. The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier, which spans the Providence River in Rhode Island, was built in the middle of the last century after major storms. London's Thames Barrier has protected London since 1982.
As Hurricane Sandy approaches the New York, the New York Stock Exchange has closed, shut down by weather for the first time since a Hurricane Gloria, 27 years ago (a decision perhaps helped along by the fact that New York has shut down the subways and evacuated parts of downtown).
Already responsible as of yesterday for 65 deaths in the Caribbean, the hurricane is now threatening much of the East Coasr. In addition to considering the human toll, it's worth thinking about the more general question of how the market handles the "fat tail" risk of a major hurricane. The National Weather Service's excellent hurricane map shows a 30% to 40% risk (that's the yellow band in the map above) of 50-knot (58-mph/93-kmh) winds in New York.
The drought that damaged corn and soybean fields across the U.S. Midwest this year provided near- ideal conditions for pumpkin farmers in Illinois, where a bumper crop is ensuring cheaper jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween.
Illinois, the nation’s largest grower, may boost output by as much as 5 percent to a record 546.4 million pounds (247,852 metric tons), said Mohammad Babadoost, a plant pathologist and extension specialist at the University of Illinois in Urbana. The biggest harvest ever was 542 million pounds in 2007, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
InsideClimateNews.org -- Utah officials have given a Canadian company the greenlight to begin mining oil sands on a remote plateau in Eastern Utah without first obtaining a pollution permit or monitoring groundwater quality, an action that sets the stage for a possible court battle over the fragile region.
The board of the Utah Division of Water Quality sided with Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands contends that there was little or no water in the area of the company's proposed mine site and affirmed the agency's earlier decision not to require the permits or monitoring.
InsideClimateNews.org -- The argument is familiar to just about every American by now: The United States needs to import more Canadian crude oil to secure its energy independence, and building the proposed Keystone XL import pipeline is critical to accomplishing that goal.
Within the U.S. oil industry, however, the hot topic these days is not the nation's need to import Canadian oil—it's the possibility of exporting crude oil produced in the United States.
Vinod Khosla, the billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist, told Bloomberg TV in 2010 that "there'll be ten Googles in the next ten years in energy."
While Khosla made no such sweeping predictions when he visited Bloomberg News's San Francisco bureau Oct. 17, his energy investment strategy remains focused on transformative technologies. Two high-profile IPOs have failed so far to live up to the "energy Google" hype. Gevo, a high-tech maker of diesel and jet fuel, closed yesterday at $1.92, down 93 percent from its high of $25.55 in April 2011. Kior, which manufactures oil from biomass, traded at $4.97, down from its September 2011 high of $21.55. "We don't mind failing, but if we succeed, it better be worth succeeding," Khosla said.