Here on my climate adaptation tumblr, I try (my best) to post about environmental issues that are roughly related to the impacts from shifts in the climate. Sea-level rise is the most obvious impact. Melting glaciers and Arctic ice are raising the levels of the ocean. And cities around the world are scrambling to deal with the impacts, which are mind-blowingly huge, incredibly expensive, and often politically vexing.
I have masters degrees in environmental law and city planning. The focus of my research was/is how land-use laws were able (or, rather, unable) to accommodate climate science. So, naturally, I’m interested in how climate will affect infrastructure, economies, demographics, ecosystems, etc.
For example, I’m quite interested how can coastal communities deal with a rising sea. Especially big cities like New York City or San Fransisco, which have thousands of buildings, roads, ports, and pipelines literally built inches from the ocean.
Cities are prepared for certain levels of disasters. There are sea walls and evacuation plans, flood pump stations and hurricane barriers. And buildings and infrastructure are generally built to high standards. But, cites are not prepared for higher oceans (why would they be?). Climate change changes the equations and calculations of managing disasters in cities. They’re forced to adapt, regardless of how many solar panels are slapped onto rooftops.
It’s a complicated issue. Greenhouse gasses trap in more heat in the atmosphere, causing a bunch of crazy environmental things to happen. So the obvious response is to stop pumping carbon into the air. That’s Al Gore’s primary message.
The problem with this is that storms and fires and diseases are increasing as a result from rising temperatures. Climate change is occurring regardless of mitigation. Thus, the impacts have to be dealt with. In fact, our troubles are only going to increase. I choose to be on the impacts side of this conundrum (eg, adaptation).
So, what’s my deal with oil leaks and spills? The short answer is that oil and gas infrastructure, such as pipelines and oil rigs, are very vulnerable to climate impacts. Oil - like it or not - makes the world go round. It’s in nearly everything we use - from plastics to medicine to soap. There is no stopping oil.
I wrote about this last year for GOOD Magazine. IBM and a climate consulting firm called Acclimatise did a study on the oil and gas industry’s vulnerability to climate change. I showed that oil pipelines in Alaska are more likely to break and leak oil than ever before, and that the oil industry is way under-prepared to deal with these new types of leaks:
In one of most ironic flip-flops in environmental history, the oil and gas industry is beginning to adapt to climate change. And it’s no wonder. The majority of industry’s infrastructure is located in some of the most climate vulnerable regions on the planet. Nearly 75 percent of the Alaskan pipeline, for example, is built over increasingly unstable permafrost, which is now thawing under warmer temperatures. The Mackenzie Valley in Canada alone has recorded over 2,000 sink holes, rock slides, and large depressions from thawing permafrost.
The pipeline’s famous elevated design was the result of a 20 year study (PDF) on the stability of climate and permafrost from 1950 to 1970. Based on the historic record, engineers designed the supports for the pipeline to withstand some fluctuation in permafrost, but not for the extensive melts now predicted. Indeed, that 20 year study was the one of the coldest periods in Alaskan history. Whoops.
The study I referred to, Global Oil & Gas - The Adaptation Challenge, showed that infrastructure was dangerously unprepared for climate impacts. Thousands of miles of oil pipelines are perched on permafrost in Canada, Russia, and Alaska.
Permafrost is permanently frozen soil - essentially the land is mixture of ice, rocks, and soil. Permafrost does move around a bit and any infrastructure built on it is (usually) engineered to handle a certain level of flex (the EPA has a decent primer on permafrost).
But, when the ice melts in substantial volumes, the soil shrinks and contracts. As a result, anything built on permafrost is in big trouble. Oil and gas pipelines could rupture, causing tremendous environmental damage, as well as incredible costs to economies in terms of clean up costs (who pays?), damage to fisheries and tourism, and lowered property values (and tax revenues). Not to mention health troubles for workers and residents.
So, that’s pretty much why I post so much on oil - infrastructure vulnerability. Oil spills are nasty, nasty creatures. Their economic and environmental impacts are super gnarly to deal with. And they’re expected, as IBM showed, to increase unless the infrastructure adapts to the “new normal”.
I wrote this for GOOD just before the Egyptian government collapsed last year (thanks Ben!). I thought it’d be interesting to re-read what I wrote considering the recent military coup d’état and today’s Mubarak news.
"Because it doesn’t make a difference" strangely absent.
I’ve written three pieces for GOOD, and probably will write no more. I’ve covered Egypt’s climate change troubles post Mubarak, the deep irony of Oil companies adapting to climate change impacts, and the little discussed Executive Order by President Obama on climate change.
I am calling on GOOD to apologize to its readers for publishing this piece of trash:
Disclosure: These views are my own.
GOOD magazine has jumped the shark. Once sailing a lean tack, the magazine now seems mastless, grasping for both attention and direction. Their front pages are filled with regurgitated aggregates of schlock and candy.
Just last week, GOOD published a piece on how cigarettes are cool. I’m not kidding you. “The Upside of Smoking,” was posted June 14 by Nona Willis Aronowitz. Nona is no guest blogger, she’s one of GOOD’s associate editors. She helps shape the magazines content (granted, her column is pure fluff that trolls for page views).
In The Upside of Smoking, Nona wrote smoking helps girls lose weight. She argues that smoking is cool. She states that smoking keeps your brain sharp. And that smoking can help you avoid awkward social moments - just fire up a butt and your talkative friend will auto-close his gabber.
Look, my understanding is that GOOD editors pre-approve content during weekly and/or morning meetings. If so, then this piece got the green light from the masthead. This tells me that GOOD doesn’t give a shit about human health, a rats ass about its reputation, or the effect the article would have on future collaborations with other writers, like me.
Does GOOD or Nona really believe that cigarettes have an upside? No. I think they’re tactlessly trying to stoke flames to increase pageviews, which is just plain trashy.
It also shows that, to my mind, not one of their mastheads has experienced the deep emotional and financial pains from losing a loved one to cancer. And if they have, shame on them! Further, the fact this garbage was published also shows the editors probably do not have kids of an age susceptible to picking up smoking for the first time in their young lives.
Disingenuous fluff pieces have no place in the pages of GOOD. It’s disrespectful of the type of readership GOOD deserves. Dangerous to its young readers. This trash chips away at the magazine’s credibility. This is the road to failure.
If people at GOOD read this rant and claim ignorance of the content its own editors publish, then clearly there are much deeper problems at the management level. (GOOD, I prefer you reply to me publicly. But if you wuss out, you can reach me here.)
Cigarette smoking is not cool. It fucking kills people. It causes miscarriages and birth defects. The ag-waste and littered-butts pollutes the environment. Growing tobacco causes deforestation, uses loosely regulated pesticides, and is socially stigmatizing. And, apparently, it makes men impotent. To say otherwise is stupid and indefensible. GOOD needs to publicly apologize.
Editors, writers, interns, finance, webbies, sales go get’em: http://www.good.is/about/jobs
My latest article for GOOD Magazine is up, here. It’s one of the most surreal moments in environmental history: Oil companies are adapting to climate change. Companies like BP and Exxon are worried about climate impacts to their infrastructure, pipelines, drill rigs, and operations. They’ve hired climate experts and IBM to evaluate vulnerabilities, and industry is expected to spend billions in upgrades.
Above, a Russian pipeline ruptures as it sinks into melting permafrost.
I argue that:
(T)he very industry that publicly denies the very reality of climate change, is looking to climate experts for help. They cooperated with consultants who analyzed oil and gas industry’s ability to absorb impacts from a changing climate. The resulting report was a terse assessment showing that the oil and gas industry was far behind the climate action curve.
IBM teamed with two heavyweight climate consultancies, Acclimatise and Carbon Disclosure Project to produce the report, Building Business Resilience to Inevitable Climate Change. Located in the UK, the climate consultants work primarily with very large corporations to identify how climate change will impact their products. The oil and gas industry, already overly sensitive to political and economic swings, is not prepared for the impacts to their physical assets. For example, oil platforms located in shallow oceans were not at all built with sea level rise in mind. This is not to mention being battered by bigger and more frequent storms such as Hurricane Katrina.
A British panel on Wednesday exonerated the scientists caught up in the controversy known as Climategate of charges that they had manipulated their research to support preconceived ideas about global warming.