How prepared are American cities for increased natural disasters? Over the years, Americans have insisted on expanding and building cities and suburbs in locations that are clearly threatened by natural hazards. This week’s monster tornado in Oklahoma demonstrates this. Cities and states have encouraged people to live in these areas through city planning, architectural design, and the so-called need for “economic development.”
Thus, instead of encouraging people to not live in these hazard zones, city leaders have created methods to help people survive relatively normal lives there. Houses in California must meet specific earthquake design standards, buildings in Oklahoma have “safe rooms,” and countless structures must be stable enough to handle floods and erosion along American coastlines. These are adaptations. Not good adaptations (I believe people should not be encouraged to live in these areas), but there it is.
With the climate changing, the impacts on communities are likely to increase. Incidences of natural disasters are expected to rise, costing many lives and causing a need for an endless stream of disaster aid.
Researchers at MIT teamed up with the non-profit ICLEI to survey cities around the world. The goal was to compare how they were adapting to climate change impacts, or preparing for future impacts. Progress, the researchers found, is very slow in the US, while cities around the world are far more advanced.
It’s a great read, very visual so if you don’t have time you can skim it.
Early warning, communication, training, and “safe rooms” combined to save thousands of lives from the Okla. monster tornado. It is a very clear example of how cities have designed adaptation systems to respond to local weather conditions.
How could so many have survived the Okla. tornado?
Viewers glued to TV following Monday’s tornado that hit here with the destructive force of an atomic bomb very likely expected to wake up Tuesday to a death and injury toll in the thousands.
How could anyone have survived the apocalyptic destruction of a worst-of-the-worst EF5 category storm? Miraculously, most did, despite an official warning coming just 16 minutes before the twister cut a 17-mile war-zone-like path through this city of 56,000.
Local, state and federal officials credit luck, happenstance, timing, faith, heroics, preparation and the seasoned experience that comes with living in the heart of Tornado Alley for the relatively low victim count.
“If they say there’s a chance of severe tornadoes, people take it really seriously,” said Tyler Porter, who lives in Oklahoma City, 10 miles north of Moore. “They pretty much know when it’s time to take cover.”
Christopher Alberts, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Geographic Channels, told me that they have “one of the best policies there is”, but refused to send it to me or tell me anything about it.
Why are these factual networks, whose survival depends on building trust with their audiences, so reluctant to clarify their ethics policies with respect to wildlife?
What does it mean for conservation if high-rating shows on leading channels are portraying wildlife in a negative, seemingly misleading way to millions of viewers worldwide? And why are so few people saying anything about it?
The Guradian’s Adam Welz eviscerates NatGeo, Discovery, Animal Planet, and the History Channel’s horrific violence against animals, including shooting bears, wolves, wolverines, crocodiles, snakes, and many other animals in full view of the camera.
Welz’s piece struck a cord with me this weekend. This is not education, it’s promotion of fear of nature for ratings and money. It’s exploitation to the vilest degree. I believe these channels have to answer for this bizarre blood lust.
Journalist Adam Welz blows the lid off of how major US TV networks are depicting killing animals for profit. Wolves, grizzly bears, lynx cats, and other animals are being trapped, shot with AK-47s, and painted as dangerous threats on national networks NatGeo, Discovery, and other “reality TV” shows. Click through for more.
Climate science researchers from Arizona State Univ. are launching a first-of-its-kind online “game” to better understand the sources of global warming gases. By engaging “citizen scientists,” the researchers hope to locate all the power plants around the world and quantify their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The game has officially begun and is housed on a website called “Ventus.” Ventus (the Latin word for wind) has a simple interface in which users enter basic information about the world’s power plants. By playing the game, people around the globe can help solve the climate change problem.
What is it about human psychology that makes meteor strikes and volcanoes so compelling, while global warming languishes as a political afterthought?
The answer has many strands, but I’ll focus on three, beginning with The Hollywood Test. According to The Hollywood Test, the content of our culture’s films reflects our most vivid fears. Over the past several decades, Hollywood producers have funded dozens of big-budget disaster films. In descending order of frequency, those films depicted alien invasions (approximately 100), epidemic and pandemic outbreaks, tsunamis and destructive waves, earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor, asteroid and comet strikes. Absent from the list is a scintillating portrayal of global warming, though two films,The Day After Tomorrow and Lost City Raiders, described global warming as the catalyst for floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a protracted Ice Age.
Al Gore’s important documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, is perhaps the only film that focuses squarely on global warming, and then it’s long on information, and short on Hollywood stars and scenes of graphic devastation.
And that sums up the first major problem with global warming: its precise consequences aren’t vivid enough. Humans are better at focusing on the moderate, specific, localized devastation of a major earthquake than on the great but murky devastation that global warming will bring in the middle part of the 21st century.
One of the best illustrations of this difficulty comes from research in a different domain: on our willingness to contribute to charitable causes. (Image of Hurricane Sandy via)
About six in ten Americans (58%) say “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.”
Many Americans believe global warming made recent extreme weather and climatic events “more severe,” specifically: 2012 as the warmest year on record in the United States (50%); the ongoing drought in the Midwest and the Great Plains (49%); Superstorm Sandy (46%); and Superstorm Nemo (42%).
About two out of three Americans say weather in the U.S. has been worse over the past several years, up 12 percentage points since Spring 2012. By contrast, fewer Americans say weather has been getting better over the past several years - only one in ten (11%), down 16 points compared to a year ago.
Overall, 85 percent of Americans report that they experienced one or more types of extreme weather in the past year, most often citing extreme high winds (60%) or an extreme heat wave (51%).
Of those Americans who experienced extreme weather events in the past year, many say they were significantly harmed. Moreover, the number who have been harmed appears to be growing (up 5 percentage points since Fall 2012 and 4 points since Spring 2012).
Over half of Americans (54%) believe it is “very” or “somewhat likely” that extreme weather will cause a natural disaster in their community in the coming year.
Americans who experienced an extreme weather event are most likely to have communicated about it person-to-person - either in person (89%) or on the phone (84%).
The report includes an Executive Summary and a breakdown of results by region and can be downloaded here.
The Beverage Marketing Corporation, which tracks sales and consumption of beverages, is reporting that sales of bottled water grew nearly 7 percent between 2011 and 2012, with consumption reaching a staggering 30.8 gallons per person.
Despite having one of the best municipal tap water systems in the world, American consumers are flocking to commercial bottled water, which costs thousands of times more per gallon. Why? Four reasons:
First, we have been bombarded with advertisements that claim that our tap water is unsafe, or that bottled water is safer, healthier, and more hip, often with celebrity endorsements. (Thanks a lot, Jennifer.)
Second, public drinking water fountains have become increasingly hard to find. And the ones that exist are not being adequately maintained by our communities.
Third, people are increasingly fearful of our tap water, hearing stories about contamination, new chemicals that our treatment systems aren’t designed to remove, or occasional failures of infrastructure that isn’t being adequately maintained or improved.
Fourth, some people don’t like the taste of their tap water, or think they don’t.
Some people, including the bottled water industry, argue that drinking bottled water is better than drinking soft drinks. I agree. But that’s not what’s happening. The vast increase in bottled water sales have largely come at the expense of tap water, not soft drinks. And even if we pushed (as we should) to replace carbonated soft drinks with water, it should be tap water, not expensive bottled water.
This industry has very successfully turned a public resource into a private commodity.
Last week, while media attention was focused on Boston, a massive explosion took place at the West Fertilizer Company, in the small town of West, Texas. The blast damaged 150 buildings, including three of West’s four schools, killed 14 people and injured more than 160 others.
It was so powerful that it set off seismographs, registering as a 2.1-magnitude tremor. The cause remains unknown, and investigators are still sifting through the rubble. Today, about 1,500 West students returned to school, set up in makeshift classrooms or in nearby districts. [More: 40 photos]
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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