Floods, Fires & Earth Overshoot Day
While I was visiting friends and family during a trip to the New York area last weekend, we tried sitting outside by the pool for a while. But we soon gave up and went inside. The heat index had just topped 110°F.
Floods: Two hundred miles south of us, in Ellicott City, Maryland, people were trying to recover from a huge, “off-the-charts”, thousand-year flash flood that had dumped six inches of rain on them in less than two hours.
Further south, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, more than 1,000 people were being rescued as two months’ worth of rain deluged the city in a single day.
The disaster, described as “a hurricane without the hurricane”, spread across four southern states, leaving up to 20,000 people stranded. At one point, 1,000 cars were trapped on an interstate highway, with helicopters dropping food for hungry motorists.
Fires: Meanwhile, across the country in California, 82,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes as an out-of-control fire swept across 30,000 acres in San Bernardino County.
“A lot of these families will come home to nothing,” Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said.
Just Missed! In the relatively calm area where I live in Southern Utah, a storm in Zion National Park dislodged a giant, house-sized boulder, which came crashing down onto the narrow, two-lane road that winds through the canyon.
Not a disaster in itself, but imagine if it had landed a moment earlier or later, crushing one of the hundreds of fancy buses full of tourists from all over the world.
As it was, long lines of coaches, motor homes, pickups hauling boats and trailers, and regular cars had to carefully reverse their way back to one of the few pull-outs where anything larger than a small car can turn around.
Hottest Place in the World: Overall, there was hardly anywhere, from sea to shining sea and far beyond, that didn’t have some kind of weather-related drama going on.
In Iran, for example, the town of Bandar Mahshahr broke global records with a killer heat index of 165°.
Peat Bogs Melting: Parts of the Arctic were more than 7°F above average. And one of the effects of this is that frozen peat bogs are now melting.
In the northern latitudes in Canada, Alaska, Europe and Russia, peat lands cover 1.6 million square miles of land (roughly 3 percent of all the Earth’s land surface) and store vast amounts of carbon that’s accumulated over thousands of years.
As it melts, the peat releases carbon dioxide and methane back into the atmosphere. And as the peat dries out, it can catch fire and burn for months on end, setting off feedback loops of warmer air, leading to more melting and drier peat and more fires and so on.
What’s Causing It All? The fact that July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded was no fluke.
- Temperatures are moving relentlessly in the same direction: up;
- It was the 15th straight month of record-breaking temperatures;
- And the 379th consecutive month of temps above the 20th Century average.
Climate scientists explained that the deluges are the result of a warmer atmosphere being able to hold more water. And what goes up must come down, as indeed it did. (For a good explanation of how this works, check out this Washington Post article.)
The Cost: By Wednesday, the toll, from Maryland to South Carolina to Louisiana and then moving on to Texas, includes scores of human lives and billions of dollars in economic losses.
The cost in nonhuman animal lives remains, as usual, uncounted. But we do know that thanks to the PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) Act, there were fewer companion animals left behind when people were rescued from their homes. (The PETS law was pushed through Congress by the late Rep. Tom Lantos in 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to ensure that, in future, people could take their pets with them when being evacuated.)
Earth Overshoot Day: Adding insult to injury, we just hit this year’s Earth Overshoot Day – the day on which humanity’s consumption of the planet’s resources (everything from food to water to energy to paper towels to all the “stuff” we can’t stop buying at Walmart etc.) exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate what we’ve taken in that year. In other words we’re going ever deeper into debt with Mother Nature.
Back in 1971, Earth Overshoot Day fell on December 24th; in 1985 it was November 6th; and in 2000 it was September 25th. This year we got there by August 8th.
So, every time you hear a political candidate telling you how he/she is going to achieve more “growth” and more “progress”, bear in mind that what they’re really telling you is how much more of this totally unsustainable and unrepayable debt to nature they’re willing to take us into.