Louisiana needs sand to rebuild its coast. Old oil and gas pipelines are blocking the way.
By Sara Sneath August 5, 2021
Energy companies, many of them now bankrupt, have been allowed to abandon infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico without penalty
A Houston-based energy company is asking a federal bankruptcy court for permission to walk away from its aging infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. Fieldwood Energy is attempting to shift responsibility for removing 1,715 wells, 276 platforms and 281 pipelines to oil and gas companies that previously held leases for the same area, according to court documents.
Under existing federal regulations, companies remain liable for decommissioning infrastructure on areas of federally owned seafloor where they previously produced oil and gas. But the former holders of the Fieldwood leases — including Chevron, BP and Shell — are attempting to get out of that obligation because of the cost, estimated at $9 billion.
It’s a familiar story. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that oil and gas companies have been allowed to abandon 97 percent of offshore pipelines in place without penalty. The abandoned infrastructure poses environmental concerns, but it has also created another problem: The pipelines are blocking access to the sand that Louisiana and other gulf states desperately need to rebuild their coastlines in the face of rising seas.
The Gulf of Mexico swallows a football field of Louisiana coastline every 100 minutes on average. Barrier islands that have historically acted as speed bumps to hurricanes headed toward coastal communities are among the areas losing ground. Without them, the state is more vulnerable to climate change and severe weather.
Geologists estimate that up to 11,000 million cubic meters of sediment are needed to restore the state’s coastline, but about 58 percent of the offshore sediment in the gulf that could be used to rebuild Louisiana’s coast is blocked by pipelines, said Syed Khalil, a geologist with the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. While there is enough sand for the coastal restoration projects that Louisiana has planned in the short term, the state’s fight to fend off rising seas will require more.
“We need every grain of sand for the restoration of coastal Louisiana,” Khalil said.
Other Gulf Coast states are facing the same problem. But the issue has come to a head in Louisiana, where coastal land is disappearing faster than anywhere else in the nation. Flood control levees built along the Mississippi River are partly to blame for the Bayou State’s land loss. Levees block off the supply of sediment once carried by the river into coastal wetlands.
Canals dug through the wetlands to build and service pipelines — which create pathways for saltwater to flow into the marsh — are also partly to blame for Louisiana’s coastal erosion. Now, those pipelines are hindering the solution.
Federal regulations require the removal of offshore pipelines once they are decommissioned, but the rules are rarely enforced. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the Interior Department agency that regulates offshore energy, has been mostly unsuccessful at getting companies to pay for the removal of pipelines decommissioned in place when they are later determined to be in the way.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) was established after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in 2010 to address the conflicting interests of the Minerals Management Service, which was tasked with collecting lease payments from oil and gas companies and enforcing environmental and safety regulations for those same companies.
But oil and gas companies have continued to benefit from lax enforcement for decommissioning pipelines, said Megan Milliken Biven, a public policy expert who worked for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The BSEE allows major oil companies to sell their leases to smaller operators, such as Fieldwood, that lack the resources to clean up when wells are drained.\
“There’s no revenue from cleaning up after yourself,” she said. “Every incentive is to avoid it.”
Often, previous pipeline operators have gone bankrupt or fight the decision by appealing to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. The previous operators of more than 100 miles of pipelines buried in sediment no longer exist, according to the GAO report. This number is expected to increase as more companies go bankrupt because of a drop in oil prices and the growth of onshore fracking that has priced out offshore gas.
Louisiana has identified the best places to get sand and sediment to rebuild its coast. But all of these underwater sediment deposits in federal waters, called “borrow areas,” contain pipelines that dredges have to navigate around, said Jessica Mallindine, a marine biologist for BOEM’s Marine Minerals Program in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dredges used to suction up sand from the bottom of the gulf are not allowed to excavate within 1,000 feet of pipelines. This is to keep the pipelines intact and to ensure the safety of workers. It is estimated that a pipeline one kilometer long (0.6 miles) — in addition to the required offset — will make about 2.3 million cubic yards of sand inaccessible. The pipelines also force dredges to operate in smaller footprints, which increases the price tag of coastal restoration projects.
It’s the difference between mowing a large, open backyard compared to mowing a small yard with garden hoses in the way. “Every time a dredge turns, it costs money, or more money than to go in a straight line,” Mallindine said. “By reducing the efficiency of the design, you’re increasing project costs.”
In 2009, BOEM sent a letter to oil and gas companies leasing federal land in the Gulf of Mexico discouraging them from leaving inactive pipelines in areas where sediment could be used for coastal restoration. In 2016, BOEM sent a letter to the BSEE with the same message: Pipelines in these areas must be removed when they are no longer in use.
Before 2016, the safety and environmental enforcement bureau allowed 3,405 miles of decommissioned pipelines to be left in these areas, BSEE spokesman Mike O’Berry said. Now when BSEE gets a request from a company to decommission a pipeline in place, the agency defers to BOEM for recommendations to remove such pipelines — or portions of pipelines — in significant sediment resource areas. In cases where BOEM recommends removal of the pipeline, BSEE denies the operator’s request to decommission in place.
Since 2016, the two agencies authorized 195 miles of pipeline to be left in areas of the gulf with sediment deposits, he said. The agency has the authority to require removal of previously decommissioned-in-place pipelines when it is determined that the pipeline is an obstruction.
But BSEE has had difficulty in getting those companies to retroactively remove pipelines because the companies are not required to set aside money for pipeline removal, and they may be bankrupt or liquidated. The agency is currently reviewing its regulations related to pipelines and is expected to release its recommendations for rule changes this year for public comment, O’Berry said.
Milliken Biven expressed doubt that a change in BSEE policy would stop oil and gas companies from abandoning pipelines in the Gulf. “The regulations are such that they should be removing pipelines,” she said. “What makes you think they’ll follow new regulations, if they don’t follow old regulations?”
Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country
The cotton’s gone.
The alfalfa barely exists.
“Can you even call this a farm?” asked Nancy Caywood, standing on a rural stretch of land her Texas grandfather settled nearly a century ago, drawn by cheap prices and feats of engineering that brought water from afar to irrigate central Arizona’s arid soil.
On the family’s 247 acres an hour south of Phoenix, Caywood grew up tending to cotton and alfalfa, two water-intensive crops that fed off melted mountain snows flowing from a reservoir 120 miles away. She grew up understanding the rhythms of the desert and how fields can blossom despite a rugged, sand-swept terrain where sunlight is a given but water is precious.
Now more than ever. Looking out at her farmland recently, Caywood held back tears.
The eastern Arizona reservoir that provided much of her water was drying up, leaving empty the canals and ditches that surround her property. Bigger-than-usual summer rains did not prove ample to rescue dead fields. The drought was at her door.
Across the U.S. West, shifting climate patterns are wreaking havoc. An early start to fire season is scorching rural Oregon and parts of Northern California. Record temperatures have led to deaths of hundreds of residents of Seattle and Portland, Ore. Lake Mead, the massive Colorado River reservoir outside Las Vegas, is at its lowest point since its 1935 federal construction, threatening water supplies to Arizona, Southern California, Nevada and Mexico.
In Arizona, 99% of the land is undergoing years-long drought that has accelerated. Large swaths of the region are now in extreme distress and the picture may well get worse, with less reliable mountain snowfall to feed streams and a morphing monsoon season that has only proved a temporary reprieve and even led to flooding. The state, where more than a third of all water can trace itself up the Colorado River to Lake Mead, will also be forced to make do with less beginning next year because of the lake’s dwindling supply.
“Arizona is pretty much an irrigated state and we’ve managed our water resources generally well,” said Stephanie Smallhouse, a fifth-generation cattle rancher on the far outskirts of Tucson who is the president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “But it’s near impossible to manage yourself out of a drought.”
The history of Arizona is the history of water. Before European colonizers and American settlers moved in, Indigenous people relied on the Gila, Salt and Verde rivers outside Phoenix. The Colorado River flowed on what’s now the state’s western edge, while snowmelt from New Mexico’s Black Mountain Range formed the Gila River that came from the east to meet the Colorado, creating a lifeline for tens of thousands of subsistence farmers in Native American communities.
But as technological advances led to the construction of dams and reservoirs in the early 20th century to divert rivers for new residents — like Caywood’s grandfather — Native land went fallow, leading to sickness and poverty. As cities such as Tucson and Phoenix and farmlands between them grew over the decades, they were aided by another feat in water engineering when construction on the Central Arizona Project launched in 1973. Today, the intricate canal system carries Colorado River water hundreds of miles from Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border to taps and irrigation ditches across central Arizona.
It’s a history that informs who wins and loses amid drought. The state has dozens of irrigation districts that tax customers in exchange for regulating water flow from different sources. The map they form can at times resemble gerrymandered congressional districts, with it not unusual for neighboring farms to get water from canals that lead to mountains and reservoirs in opposite directions.
Longevity also goes into the equation.
“Water policy in Arizona is also rooted in the idea that a person who comes and diverts water for a beneficial use should have higher priority than the next one who comes along if there is a risk for shortage,” said Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.
When it comes to water, one city or farm is not always equal to the other in the state where the $23-billion agriculture industry uses up more than 70% of irrigated water, a large chunk of it on crops the federal government encourages with subsidies, such as cotton. In central Arizona, city dwellers and tribal lands tend to get first dibs on water before farms. Still, nearly everyone is preparing. Cities are raising water prices. The state is locked in a battle with hundreds of lush golf courses over demands that they cut back on water.
Yuma, a major farming region known as the “Salad Bowl” for growing broccoli, lettuce and leafy greens that are shipped across the country each winter, is in many ways spared. It has priority over water from the nearby Colorado River in part because irrigated agriculture has taken place there for more than a century. Vegetables also need significantly less water than crops that are popular inland.
It’s farmers in the center of the state who are most worried as shortages loom. Among the hardest-hit are those in Pinal County, a largely rural patchwork of farms and cattle and dairy ranches nestled between Phoenix and Tucson where family farmers live alongside exurbs that are rapidly expanding as agriculture recedes.
Along Interstate 10, typically green farms have turned brown, skinny cattle are left with little grass to graze and saguaros lie dead. “For sale” signs advertise desperate owners looking to sell their land at discount for solar power panels and housing developments.
“There’s nothing nefarious about how the water is divided,” said Paul Orme, an attorney who represents several irrigation districts in the county. “But because of agreements that have been negotiated and where these farmers have fell in those, you could see up to 30% of farmland in Pinal County no longer irrigated over the next few years.”
For those like Caywood, that time has already come.
Casa Grande, a city of 55,000 founded in 1879 as a mining town that’s named after a structure built by the ancient Hohokam people, is one of those places at the center of the water crisis. Home to dozens of alfalfa, cotton, wheat and corn farms and as well as dairy and beef ranches, it’s long been sustained by a mix of rains, aquifers and canals drawing on the Colorado River, among other reserves.
The Caywood farm has a different source. When Caywood’s grandfather, Lewis Storey, established it in 1930, he agreed to pay for water from canals connected to the San Carlos reservoir 130 miles away. Storey thought the reservoir, formed on the Gila River, would be plentiful for generations with its 19,500 acre-feet supply. An acre-foot covers the amount of water that could seep a foot deep across a football field.
The family had long used that water to grow cotton that made up towels and sheets found in big-box stores. The seeds went separately for cattle feed. Alfalfa was cut and baled for ranches across the Southwest.
This summer, the San Carlos reservoir hit zero acre-feet.
“If you want to eat ice cream, you need people like us growing the feed,” Caywood said recently as she sat in the small, wooden shed on the property where she keeps a digital slideshow of the once-lively green and white fields to show kids who still come by on field trips. All that survived now were old mesquite and cottonwood trees on the edges of the land.
An hour south of the the Caywood property at the Pinal County line, the ranchers who show up each week at Marana Stockyards are feeling the trickle-down effects of the drought. The Parsons family has auctioned cattle here for 25 years. Business is picking up.
Dozens of men in cowboy hats and leather boots arrive each Wednesday to watch their bulls, cows and calves sold off. Clay Buck Parsons, a third-generation rancher and auctioneer, ushers cattle into holding pens outside the red barnyard-like building while Parsons’ dad mans a computer as locals in the stands make bids and buyers log in online.
“We’ve sold 12,000 more head this year already than last year,” said Parsons, 29. Most go to Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“You can’t feed the animals without grass,” he said, looking out at dozens of black Angus mother cows whose shoulders and ribs jutted out from grazing on dying fields.
“If you can’t grow grass, you buy it. But the hay is too expensive because there’s less water to grow it and less water expected down the line. So the ranchers are cutting down on their herd to maintain smaller numbers where they can still make a profit.”
Buck said it costs up to $4 a day per cow for hay, four times more than grazing on grass. The cost of raising beef can be several thousand times more than some vegetables, such as lettuce. But ranchers here said family history — and profits — had until recently seemed worth holding on to.
One of the regulars to come that day was Mike Mercer. At 54, he has been ranching since his teens. For many years, his land in Mammoth, a village of 1,650, provided for 700 mother cows. Now, he can’t have more than 100 at a time as grass disappears.
“You can’t run cattle. It’s just — everything’s gone,” Mercer said. “A lot of guys are switching into copper mining or welding or trucking.”
These days, Mercer buys skinny, sickly cows, feeds them for a few months on hay in a covered feedlot, and resells them at a profit. On that day, he sold 88 to buyers in Texas and Oklahoma.
A Christian who believes God is responsible for the drought, he prayed for a change.
“You just keep saying we can’t have another year this bad and then we have another year even worse…. Leave it in God’s hands. Because I don’t know what else to do. You pray for rain. Oh, God, yeah. Pray for rain.”
Caywood, a former farming teacher at the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources Division in El Centro, Calif., also questions those who say climate change is to blame for her struggles.
“I don’t believe in it. I believe things are cyclical. But I can’t believe that it’s happening so quickly,” said Caywood, who has a master’s degree in agricultural education.
Her son, Travis, built a home on the farm where he lives with two sons. She is thankful that he has continued in the family tradition. But she is more thankful that he is also a firefighter and EMT, a job that provides a stable income. Her `14-year-old grandkids Thomas and Cameron are learning to farm, raising steer and chickens. She has encouraged them but also told them to consider backup plans.
In the good years, the farm would easily make tens of thousands of dollars in profits, more than enough to cover $22,000 in annual property taxes. This year, Caywood, who had hoped to retire, may dip into savings to cover the bill.
Recently, her son leased two 80-acre plots in different irrigation districts that have access to canal water from the Colorado River. Just a few miles from Caywood Farms, corn stalks reach 5 feet into the air. They’ll be chopped up for dairy cow feed.
The family didn’t want more farming land but found it necessary to cover the taxes on its dying historic property.
Except there’s one problem.
Because of the drought, Arizona will have 18% less water from the Colorado River next year. Farms like Caywood’s son’s will be hit hardest because of rules governing how water is divided in the state.
“It seems there’s really no way out of drought,” Caywood said the other week, browsing old photos of her parents and son standing by cotton bales.
Sometimes, she felt as though it wasn’t just a farm but a family and way of life slipping away. Her father, Tommy, died in January at 98. Her 94-year-old mother, Sammie, was in and out of the hospital.
All around her, farms were disappearing. Next door, the Wuertzes sold much of theirs for solar panels. Down the street, an abandoned construction project stood where alfalfa once grew. Caywood had gotten offers from buyers too. She rejected them.
She looked at the barren fields where her grandfather taught her how to examine the changing color of a cotton blossom to tell where the plant was in its life span. She thought back to when water flowed freely in the dried-up irrigation canals where she would sneak away to swim as a kid.
Days like those seemed long gone. She prayed for them to come back again.
Temperatures challenge all-time records in Europe as wildfires rage in Greece, Turkey
Relief from intense and record-setting heat in southeast Europe is still days away, and AccuWeather meteorologists warn the prolonged warmth will continue to fuel dangerous wildfires across parts of the parched continent.
Fires have scorched large portions of southwest Turkey during the end of July and the start of August. At least eight people have been killed by the flames, while many others have suffered injuries, according to Reuters.
Over 100 fires across Turkey during the past week have already been contained, though a number of fires in southwestern parts of the country remain out of control.
One of the fires burned near the popular resort community of Bodrum, which led to the evacuation of over 1,000 people by boat as the flames neared the coast.
A satellite image of the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Friday, July 30, 2021, shows smoke from wildfires across southwest Turkey. (Photo/NASA/WORLDVIEW)
Fires have also charred parts of southern Italy, Greece and Cyprus as intense heat and dry conditions remain in place across the region.
A wildfire near an industrial part of Athens quickly spread on Tuesday which disrupted rail travel and closed a portion of the national motorway, Reuters reported. According to local media, 80 children were safely evacuated from a camp near the fire. The fire was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out in Greece within the span of 24 hours, The Associated Press reported.
The setup that led to the intense heat across southeast Europe included a strong area of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere that has remained over the Balkans, allowing a heat dome to form, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer.
Much of eastern Europe had temperatures average 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit (3-6 degrees Celsius) above normal for the month of July. During this time, parts of southern Greece and southwest Turkey reported no rainfall.
“A deficit in rainfall from dry weather earlier in the summer exacerbated the temperatures further as the dry surface heated up much more easily than what moist soil would,” Smithmyer said.
Temperatures in parts of Athens neared 110 F (43 C) on Tuesday. The current record for continental Europe stands at 118.4 F (48 C); that temperature record was set in Athens on July 10, 1997, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Due to the extreme heat, authorities in Greece closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during afternoon hours, the AP reported. The closures were in effect from noon to 5 p.m., which is typically the hottest part of the day.
The high temperature in Trikala, Greece, was able to rise into the mid-110s F (~46 C) on Monday.
Temperatures can soar to near 116 F (47 C) across the hottest parts of central Greece.
Even during the second half of the week as temperatures abate slightly, it will still be dangerously hot for outdoor activities.
“Conditions look to remain very hot for much of the week, and will continue to rival record-high temperatures,” said Smithmyer. A break from the intense heat won’t occur until late this week and into the weekend, she added.
The storm bringing the relief in temperatures will also bring much-needed showers and thunderstorms to the central and northern Balkans.
Unfortunately, no rainfall is expected across Greece and southern Turkey through at least the end of the week and potentially through the middle of August. AccuWeather forecasters say this will keep the wildfire threat very high and can lead to additional rapidly spreading and large fires.
“Conditions for the second half of August may still remain hot and above normal, but patterns hint towards slightly above-normal temperatures rather than the extreme heat being experienced currently,” said Smithmyer.
Earth’s energy budget is out of balance – here’s how it’s warming the climate
Professor of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University
You probably remember your grade school science teachers explaining that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. That’s a fundamental property of the universe.
Energy can be transformed, however. When the Sun’s rays reach Earth, they are transformed into random motions of molecules that you feel as heat. At the same time, Earth and the atmosphere are sending radiation back into space. The balance between the incoming and outgoing energy is known as Earth’s “energy budget.”
Our climate is determined by these energy flows. When the amount of energy coming in is more than the energy going out, the planet warms up.
That can happen in a few ways, such as when sea ice that normally reflects solar radiation back into space disappears and the dark ocean absorbs that energy instead. It also happens when greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere and trap some of the energy that otherwise would have radiated away.
99.9 watts are reflected back into space by clouds, dust, snow and the Earth’s surface.
The remaining 240.5 watts are absorbed – about a quarter by the atmosphere and the rest by the surface of the planet. This radiation is transformed into thermal energy within the Earth system. Almost all of this absorbed energy is matched by energy emitted back into space. A tiny residual – 0.6 watts per square meter – accumulates as global warming. That may not sound like much, but it adds up.
The atmosphere absorbs a lot of energy and emits it as radiation both into space and back down to the planet’s surface. In fact, Earth’s surface gets almost twice as much radiation from the atmosphere as it does from direct sunshine. That’s primarily because the Sun heats the surface only during the day, while the warm atmosphere is up there 24/7.
Together, the energy reaching Earth’s surface from the Sun and from the atmosphere is about 504 watts per square meter. Earth’s surface emits about 79% of that back out. The remaining surface energy goes into evaporating water and warming the air, oceans and land.
Earth’s energy budget is at the heart of the upcoming IPCC climate assessment, written by hundreds of scientists reviewing the latest research. With knowledge of what’s changing, everyone can make better choices to preserve the climate as we know it.
Our leaders look climate change in the eyes, and shrug
If you have cultivated an Edgar Allen Poe-like appreciation for the macabre, there is a certain sort of amusement to be had in watching the developed world deal with the insistent onslaught of climate change. Like many horror stories, this one features a main character full of futile determination to maintain a sense of normalcy even as the ominous signs of doom become ever more impossible to ignore. We can chuckle knowing that the monster is going to come for our designated protectors. We stop chuckling knowing that it’s coming for all of us next.
It is easy to imagine that a real live existential threat to our way of life would prompt any society to assume war footing and marshal everything it has to fight for survival. Unfortunately, this response only takes hold in actual war situations, where the threat is “other people that we can shoot and kill in glorious fashion”. When the threat comes not from enemy people, but from our own nature, we find it much harder to rise to the occasion. Where is the glory in recognizing the folly of our own greed and profligacy? Leaders are not elected on such things. We want leaders who will give us more, leading us ever onwards, upwards and into the grave.
The latest demonstration of this comes from the G20, that coalition that is as good a proxy as any for the combined will of the world’s richest countries. The latest G20 meeting wrapped up last week without firm commitments on phasing out coal power, or on what steps nations will promise to take to try to hold global warming to 1.5C. This goal is both necessary and, perhaps, unlikely – a report by scientists found that China, Russia, Brazil and Australia are all pursuing policies that could lead to a cataclysmic five degrees of warming.
The G20 is a perfect model of our collective failure to build institutions capable of coping with deep, long-term, existential problems that cannot be solved by building more weapons. On the one hand, the head of the United Nations says that there is no way for the world to meet its 1.5C warming goal without the leadership of the G20; on the other hand, a recent analysis found that G20 members have, in the past five years, paid $3.3tn in subsidies for fossil fuel production and consumption. The same group that claims to be bailing out humanity’s sinking ship with one hand is busily setting it aflame with the other hand. It is not good to be too pessimistic on climate change, because we must maintain the belief that we can win this battle if we are to have any hope at all. That said, it sure does seem like we’re screwed.
As overwhelming and omnipresent as the climate crisis is, it is not the core issue. The core issue is capitalism. Capitalism’s unfettered pursuit of economic growth is what caused climate change, and capitalism’s inability to reckon with externalities – the economic term for a cost that falls onto third parties – is what is preventing us from solving climate change. Indeed, climate change itself is the ultimate negative externality: fossil-fuel companies and assorted polluting corporations and their investors get all the benefits, and the rest of the world pays the price. Now the entire globe finds itself trapped in the gruesome logic of capitalism, where it is perfectly rational for the rich to continue doing something that is destroying the earth, as long as the profits they reap will allow them to insulate themselves from the consequences.
Capitalism is a machine made to squeeze every last cent out of this planet until there is nothing left
Congratulations, free market evangelists: this is the system you have built. It doesn’t work. I don’t want to lean too heavily on the touchy-feely, Gaia-esque interpretation of global warming as the inevitable wounds of an omniscient Mother Earth, but you must admit that viewing humanity and its pollution as a malicious virus set to be eradicated by nature is now a fairly compelling metaphor. Homo sapiens rose above the lesser animals thanks to our ability to wield logic and reason, yet we have somehow gotten ourselves to a place where the knowledge of what is driving all these wildfires and floods is not enough to enable us to do anything meaningful to stop it. The keystone experience of global capitalism is to gape at a drought-fueled fire as it consumes your home, and then go buy a bigger SUV to console yourself.
This year, the G20 is patting itself on the back for “[recognizing] carbon pricing as a potential tool to address climate change for the first time in an official communique”. This would have been encouraging 30 years ago, when we should have established a carbon tax after it became clear that carbon emissions cause tangible damage to the environment. In 2021, this sort of diplomatic marginalia is the equivalent of a child on the Titanic proudly showing his parents his completed homework, just as the ship slips beneath the waves.
Of course we need a price on carbon. Of course we need extremely strict emissions regulations, massive green energy investments, and a maniacal focus on sustainability fierce enough to radically change a society that is built to promote unlimited consumption. But, to be honest, there is little indication that we will get those things any time soon. The path we are on, still, is not one that leads to a happy ending. Rather, it is one that leads to the last billionaire standing on dry land blasting off in his private rocket as the rest of us drown in rising seas.
Capitalism is a machine made to squeeze every last cent out of this planet until there is nothing left. We can either fool ourselves about that until it kills us, or we can change it.
Atlantic Ocean currents weaken, signaling big weather changes – study
LONDON (Reuters) – The Atlantic Ocean’s current system, an engine of the Northern Hemsiphere’s climate, could be weakening to such an extent that it could soon bring big changes to the world’s weather, a scientific study said on Thursday.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a large system of ocean currents which transports warm water from the tropics northwards into the North Atlantic.
As the atmosphere warms due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the surface ocean beneath retains more of heat. A potential collapse of the system could have severe consequences for the world’s weather systems.
Climate models have shown that the AMOC is at its weakest in more than a 1,000 years. However, it has not been known whether the weakening is due to a change in circulation or it is to do with the loss of stability.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said the difference is crucial.
“The loss of dynamical stability would imply that the AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers at the Potstdam Insitute for Climate Impact Research and author of the study.
By analyzing the sea-surface temperature and salinity patterns of the Atlantic Ocean, the study said the weakening of the last century is likely to be associated with a loss of stability.
“The findings support the assessment that the AMOC decline is not just a fluctuation or a linear response to increasing temperatures but likely means the approaching of a critical threshold beyond which the circulation system could collapse,” Boers said.
If the AMOC collapsed, it would increase cooling of the Northern Hemisphere, sea level rise in the Atlantic, an overall fall in precipitation over Europe and North America and a shift in monsoons in South America and Afria, Britain’s Met Office said.
Other climate models have said the AMOC will weaken over the coming century but that a collapse before 2100 is unlikely.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Record-smashing heat extremes may become much more likely with climate change – study
Wildfires in British Columbia.
(Reuters) – Cyprus. Cuba. Turkey. Canada. Northern Ireland. Antarctica. All recorded their hottest-ever temperatures in the last two years, and according to a new study, more such extremes are coming.
In the next three decades, “record-shattering” heat waves could become two to seven times more frequent in the world than in the last 30 years, scientists report in a study published Monday https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01092-9 in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Beyond 2050, if current greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, such record-breaking heat waves could be three to 21 times more frequent, the study found.
Even with the records seen in 2021, “we haven’t seen anything close to the most intense heat waves possible under today’s climate, let alone the ones we expect to see in the coming decades,” said co-author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich.
For the study, the researchers used climate modeling to calculate the likelihood of record-breaking heat that lasted at least seven days and far surpassed earlier records.
Communities preparing for climate change need to be preparing for such extremes, he said.
“Every time record temperatures or precipitation go well beyond what we’ve experienced during our lifetime, that’s usually when we’re unprepared and the damage is largest,” Fischer said.
Last month’s Canadian heat wave killed hundreds of people and reached 121 Fahrenheit (49.6 Celsius) – an eye-popping 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.6 degrees Celsius) above the country’s previous record, set in 1937.
“We should no longer be surprised if we see records smashed by large margins,” Fischer said.
If greenhouse gas emissions are aggressively cut, the likelihood of heat waves would remain high but the chances of exceeding records would eventually fall over time, the study suggests.
The new research shows that “we must expect extreme event records to be broken – not just by small margins, but quite often by very large ones,” climate scientist Rowan Sutton at the University of Reading’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science said in a statement.
“This highlights the huge challenge to improve preparedness, build resilience and adapt society to conditions that have never previously been experienced,” Sutton said.
The study was released as scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change begin two weeks of virtual meetings https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-change-ipcc-idUKKBN2EW0CK to finalize their next global climate science assessment.
(Reporting by Andrea Januta; Editing by Katy Daigle and Dan Grebler)
As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds
Rancher Jim Stanko checks the water level of an irrigation ditch, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, on his ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo. Stanko said that due to drought conditions this year, if he can’t harvest enough hay to feed his cattle, he may need to sell off some of his herd. (AP Photo/Brittany Peterson)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — With his cattle ranch threatened by a deepening drought, Jim Stanko isn’t cheered by the coming storm signaled by the sound of thunder.
“Thunder means lightning, and lightning can cause fires,” said Stanko, who fears he’ll have to sell off half his herd of about 90 cows in Routt County outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado if he can’t harvest enough hay to feed them.
As the drought worsens across the West and ushers in an early fire season, cattle ranchers are among those feeling the pain. Their hay yields are down, leading some to make the hard decision to sell off animals. To avoid the high cost of feed, many ranchers grow hay to nourish their herds through the winter when snow blankets the grass they normally graze.
But this year, Stanko’s hay harvest so far is even worse than it was last year. One field produced just 10 bales, down from 30 last year, amid heat waves and historically low water levels in the Yampa River, his irrigation source.
Some ranchers aren’t waiting to reduce the number of mouths they need to feed.
At the Loma Livestock auction in western Colorado, sales were bustling earlier this month even though its peak season isn’t usually until the fall when most calves are ready to be sold. Fueling the action are ranchers eager to unload cattle while prices are still strong.
“Everybody is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it while the price is up before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Moab, Utah who was selling 209 cow-calf pairs, or about 30% of his herd.
Bates decided to trim his herd after a fire set off by an abandoned campfire destroyed part of his pasture, curbing his ability to feed them.
Weather has long factored into how ranchers manage their livestock and land, but those choices have increasingly centered around how herds can sustain drought conditions, said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“If it rained four inches, there wouldn’t be a cow to sell for five months,” said George Raftopoulos, owner of the auction house.
Raftopoulos says he encourages people to think twice before parting with their cows. Having to replace them later on might cost more than paying for additional hay, he said.
Culling herds can be an operational blow for cattle ranchers. It often means parting with cows selected for genetic traits that are optimal for breeding and are seen as long-term investments that pay dividends.
Jo Stanko, Jim’s wife and business partner, noted her cows were bred for their ability to handle the region’s temperature swings.
“We live in a very specialized place,” she said. “We need cattle that can do high and low temperatures in the same day.”
As the Stankos prepare to shrink their herd, they’re considering new lines of work to supplement their ranching income. One option on the table: offering hunting and fishing access or winter sleigh rides on their land.
The couple will know how many more cattle they’ll need to sell once they’re done storing hay in early September. They hope to cull just 10, but fear it could be as many as half the herd, or around 45 head.
Already, the family sold 21 head last year after a disappointing hay harvest. This year, the crop is even worse.
“With the heat, it’s burning up. I can’t cut it fast enough,” Jim Stanko said of the hay crop.
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What is La Niña? Does it bring more snow? How climate pattern could affect US weather.
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
So what exactly is La Niña?
The La Niña climate pattern is a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean. It is one of the main drivers of weather in the United States and around the world, especially during the late fall, winter and early spring.
It’s the opposite to the more well-known El Niño, which occurs when Pacific ocean water is warmer than average.
Both are Spanish language terms: La Niña means “little girl,” while El Niño means “little boy,” or “Christ child.” South American fishermen first noticed periods of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean in the 1600s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The full name they used was “El Niño de Navidad” because El Niño typically peaks around December.
The entire natural climate cycle is officially known by climate scientists as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a see-saw dance of warmer and cooler seawater in the central Pacific Ocean.
During La Niña events, trade winds are even stronger than usual, pushing more warm water toward Asia, NOAA said. Off the west coast of the Americas, upwelling increases, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface.
These cold waters in the Pacific push the jet stream northward, which affects weather patterns in the U.S. and globally.
What is a La Niña winter?
A typical La Niña winter in the U.S. brings cold and snow to the Northwest and unusually dry conditions to most of the southern tier of the U.S., according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic also tend to see warmer-than-average temperatures during a La Niña winter.
New England and the Upper Midwest into New York tend to see colder-than-average temperatures, the Weather Channel said.
Because La Niña shifts storm tracks, it often brings more snow to the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. “Typically La Niña is not a big snow year in the mid-Atlantic,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “You have a better chance up in New England.”
Texas A&M University agricultural economist Bruce McCarl said La Niña years are often bad for agriculture in Texas and the surrounding region. U.S. production of most crops – except corn – generally goes down in La Niña years, according to research by McCarl.
Globally, La Niña often brings heavy rainfall to Indonesia, the Philippines, northern Australia and southern Africa.
During La Niña, waters off the Pacific coast are colder and contain more nutrients than usual. This environment supports more marine life and attracts more cold-water species, such as squid and salmon, to places like the California coast.
Can La Niña worsen the Atlantic hurricane season?
Yes, according to the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña can contribute to an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity by weakening the wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Basin, which enables storms to develop and intensify,” Halpert said in 2020.
Vertical wind shear refers to the change in wind speed and direction between roughly 5,000-35,000 feet above the ground, NOAA said. Strong vertical wind shear can rip a developing hurricane apart, or even prevent it from forming. This is what can happen in the Atlantic during an El Niño when Atlantic hurricane activity is often suppressed.
While La Niña tends to increase hurricanes in the Atlantic, it also tends to decrease their numbers in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean basins.
Southwest monsoon rain bringing drought relief — but also dangerous flooding
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
Monsoon rain in the Southwest is putting a dent in the extreme to exceptional drought across the region, and portions of Arizona and New Mexico are seeing some of the most significant improvements.
Over the next couple of days, the monsoon rain threat will diminish across those states, the National Weather Service said, and focus instead on southern portions of California, Nevada and Utah.
Rain was reported Monday morning in the Los Angeles area.
Although the rainfall helps diminish the drought, it can lead to dangerous floods.
“The heavy rain will create mainly localized areas of flash flooding, with urban areas, roads, and small streams the most vulnerable through Tuesday morning,” the weather service said. In the San Diego area, the weather service warned that “life-threatening debris flows will be possible near recent burn scars.”
Over the weekend, a flash flood swept away a 16-year-old girl in Cottonwood, Arizona. The girl, Faith Moore, who had been trying to cross a flooded road in her car, was missing as of Sunday evening.
“I want to stress again to the public how dangerous these water crossings can be, even when it looks shallow,” Verde Valley fire district chief Danny Johnson said. “A simple decision to cross the road with running water can quickly turn tragic.”
The body of a 4-year-old girl swept away by floodwaters in southeastern Arizona last Thursday was discovered Monday.
And three flood fatalities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week mark the deadliest flooding event at least in recent memory in Albuquerque, said Lt. Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue.
Although there was a slight chance for thunderstorms over Northern California and into Oregon, including where some of the nation’s worst wildfires are raging, the threat of lightning strikes and gusty, erratic winds was not good news for firefighters battling the blazes there, the weather service in Sacramento said.
In Arizona, nearly 99% of the state is in some form of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, which is published each Thursday.
The extent of the drought improved across the Southwest over the past week because of the rain, according to CNN. “The highest level of drought fell from 58% to 36% and marked improvements are expected again this week, with this current burst of monsoon moisture,” the network said.
Though the rain itself is popularly called a “monsoon,” the term scientifically means a seasonal shift in wind direction. In July, winds shift from the usual dry, westerly direction to the south and southeast, which taps into moisture from northern Mexico.
It’s that moisture that contributes to the summer thunderstorms that cause flash flooding. Even a small amount of rain can cause flooding, because it can’t soak into the rock-hard, bone-dry ground. Still, the monsoon provides more than half the annual rainfall to many communities in the Southwest.
The word “monsoon” is derived from the Arabic mausim, meaning “season,” according to the American Meteorological Society. Monsoon season usually runs from July until September in the Southwest.
The Southwest monsoon is not nearly as intense as the Asian monsoon, which often brings catastrophic flooding to India and other nations.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; Chelsea Curtis, The Arizona Republic; The Associated Press.