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Trump admin lets Florida opt out of controversial offshore drilling plans.

People who lived through last year’s hurricanes may experience grief, anxiety, and depression for months or years, experts say.

“They’re grieving about the loss of what was,” Judith Andrews, co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association, told AP. Her organization provides free counseling to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Following a natural disaster, people experience an arc of emotional responses. This usually starts with a “heroic” phase, when people rise to the occasion to survive and help others, Andrews says. Then disillusionment sets in as people come to grips with a new reality post-disaster.

In Puerto Rico, calls to the health department’s emergency hotline for psychiatric crises have doubled following Hurricane Maria, and the number of suicides has also risen.“Hurricane Maria is probably the largest psychosocial disaster in the United States,” Joseph Prewitt-Diaz, the head of the American Red Cross’ mental health disaster response, told Grist.

Hurricanes can have long-term effects on mental health. Five years after Hurricane Sandy, the rate of adult psychiatric hospitalizations in the Queens neighborhoods hit worst by the storm are nearly double that of New York City as a whole. The city’s health department is working with local organizers to connect residents with preventative care so that they can get help before reaching a crisis point.

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Trump admin lets Florida opt out of controversial offshore drilling plans.

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New York City is taking BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell to court.

People who lived through last year’s hurricanes may experience grief, anxiety, and depression for months or years, experts say.

“They’re grieving about the loss of what was,” Judith Andrews, co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association, told AP. Her organization provides free counseling to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Following a natural disaster, people experience an arc of emotional responses. This usually starts with a “heroic” phase, when people rise to the occasion to survive and help others, Andrews says. Then disillusionment sets in as people come to grips with a new reality post-disaster.

In Puerto Rico, calls to the health department’s emergency hotline for psychiatric crises have doubled following Hurricane Maria, and the number of suicides has also risen.“Hurricane Maria is probably the largest psychosocial disaster in the United States,” Joseph Prewitt-Diaz, the head of the American Red Cross’ mental health disaster response, told Grist.

Hurricanes can have long-term effects on mental health. Five years after Hurricane Sandy, the rate of adult psychiatric hospitalizations in the Queens neighborhoods hit worst by the storm are nearly double that of New York City as a whole. The city’s health department is working with local organizers to connect residents with preventative care so that they can get help before reaching a crisis point.

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New York City is taking BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell to court.

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People of color and low-income residents still haven’t gotten the help they need after Hurricane Harvey.

A new report by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation found economic and health disparities among those affected by Harvey.

Sixty-six percent of black residents surveyed said they are not getting the help they need to recover, compared to half of all hurricane survivors. While 34 percent of white residents said their FEMA applications had been approved, just 13 percent of black residents said the same.

And even though they are receiving less assistance, black and Hispanic respondents and those with lower incomes were more likely to have experienced property damage or loss of income as a result of the storm.

Additionally, 1 in 6 people reported that someone in their household has a health condition that is new or made worse because of Harvey. Lower-income adults and people of color who survived the storm were more likely to lack health insurance and to say they don’t know where to go for medical care.

“This survey gives an important voice to hard-hit communities that may have been forgotten, especially those with the greatest needs and fewest resources following the storm,” Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation, said in a statement.

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People of color and low-income residents still haven’t gotten the help they need after Hurricane Harvey.

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Is the end near for the green biofuel dream?

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Is the end near for the green biofuel dream?

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Flint’s mayor, who promised to clean up its water problems, faces a recall election.

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Flint’s mayor, who promised to clean up its water problems, faces a recall election.

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Spineless – Juli Berwald

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Spineless

The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

Juli Berwald

Genre: Nature

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: November 7, 2017

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


A former ocean scientist goes in pursuit of the slippery story of jellyfish, rediscovering her passion for marine science and the sea's imperiled ecosystems. Jellyfish are an enigma. They have no centralized brain, but they see and feel and react to their environment in complex ways. They look simple, yet their propulsion systems are so advanced engineers are just learning how to mimic them. They produce some of the deadliest toxins on the planet and yet are undeniably alluring. Long ignored by science, they may be a key to ecosystem stability. Juli Berwald's journey into the world of jellyfish is a personal one. Over a decade ago she left the sea and her scientific career behind to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas. Increasingly dire headlines drew her back to jellies, as unprecedented jellyfish blooms toppled ecosystems and collapsed the world's most productive fisheries. What was unclear was whether these incidents were symptoms of a changing planet or part of a natural cycle. Berwald's desire to understand jellyfish takes her on a scientific odyssey. She travels the globe to meet the scientists who devote their careers to jellies, hitches rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raises jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marvels at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders. Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless reveals that jellyfish are a bellwether for the damage we're inflicting on the climate and the oceans and a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.

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Spineless – Juli Berwald

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Tesla and solar groups put Puerto Rico back on the grid

It was a transaction concocted on Twitter — and in a few short weeks, declared official: Tesla is helping to bring power back to Puerto Rico.

Early this month, Elon Musk touted his company’s work building solar-plus-battery systems for small islands like Kauai in Hawaii and Ta’u in American Samoa. He suggested a similar setup could work for Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, tweeted that he was game. Musk replied quickly: “Hopefully, Tesla can be helpful.”

After earlier reports of the company’s batteries arriving at San Juan’s port, Tesla announced today that it has started constructing its first microgrid installation, laying out a solar field and setting up its refrigerator-sized Powerpack batteries to supply electricity to a children’s hospital in the Puerto Rican capital.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria destroyed swaths of the island’s electrical grid, 85 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Total grid repair costs are estimated at $5 billion — an especially steep price for a public utility already $9 billion in debt. The lack of power is especially dire for hospitals, where unreliable electricity may spoil medicines that require refrigeration and complicate crucial medical procedures. The results could be deadlier than the storm itself, but solar power could help head off further disaster.

The idea that solar could serve as a viable source of emergency relief is new. Sure, renewable technologies have proliferated and become more affordable, but there’s a tried-and-true response to natural disasters: Fall back on diesel generators and fuel until utilities have a chance to restore grid power.

This has largely been the pattern in post-Maria Puerto Rico. One hardware store told the New York Times it was selling up to 300 generators a day. FEMA claims it has installed more generators in Puerto Rico than in hurricane-ravaged parts of Texas and Florida combined. But generators are expensive, inefficient, and prone to failure. And burning diesel in homes comes with health risks like carbon monoxide poisoning.

By contrast, a microgrid setup — that is, a combination of solar panels, battery storage, and electrical inverters that doesn’t require input from the main power grid — can potentially take immediate effect, providing reliable electricity with no pollution. And, once installed, these self-contained systems could help eliminate the rolling blackouts that were a problem for Puerto Rico’s major utility even before Maria.

Tesla is only the most prominent company to bypass the conventional avenues of rebuilding to install renewable power and batteries. Other companies and nonprofits have been marshalling resources to fill the void left by federal relief efforts. German renewable energy outfit Sonnen has pledged to build microgrids in priority areas, working with local partner Pura Energia to install donated batteries to power first aid and community centers. Another group, Resilient Power Puerto Rico, is distributing solar generators to remote communities, where they can serve as hubs for immediate necessities like charging phones and filtering water.

Marco Krapels, founder of the nonprofit Empowered by Light, traveled with a solar installation team to Puerto Rico in early October to deploy solar-plus-battery microgrid systems on fire stations. The nonprofit partnered with local firefighters to quickly cut through red tape paralyzing much of the disaster response.

“It takes only 48 hours to deploy once it arrives in the San Juan airport,” Krapels says of the standalone systems. “The firefighters, who have 18 flat-bed trucks, pulled up to our cargo plane; three hours later we were installing the system; and 48 hours later we’re done.”

The microgrid systems provide electricity and communications to the fire stations, as well as water purification technology that can provide up to 250 gallons of drinkable water a day — crucial on an island where 1 in 3 residents currently lack access to clean water.

There are 95 fire stations in Puerto Rico, Krapels says, and he estimates it will take just under $5 million for Empowered by Light to outfit them all. So far, the nonprofit has transformed two stations, one in the low-income Obrero neighborhood of San Juan and one in the town of Utuado, in the remote center of the island. After both installations, Krapels says, the local fire station was the only building with the lights on after dark — outlying and underserved communities are always among the last to receive emergency relief.

“There are parts of the island that are so destroyed that there is no grid,” Krapels says. “There is nothing to fix: The transformers are all burnt, the poles are gone, the wires are laying on the street.”

As much as 80 percent of the island’s high-power transmission lines were destroyed, Bloomberg reported, and even optimistic estimates of repair work have a majority of the island off the grid until late this year.

In the coming months, as communities and companies work to rebuild that infrastructure, there will be an opportunity to make the island more resilient. Companies like Tesla offer one path to less vulnerable electricity infrastructure. Meanwhile, organizations like Resilient Power Puerto Rico emphasize the importance of economic resilience, too. The New York-based founders want to put power in the hands of the island’s residents, modeled after similar efforts in the Rockaways post-Sandy. The nonprofit has ambitions to establish 100 solar towns, a robust green economy, and more electrical independence for all.

“If we’re going to rethink energy in Puerto Rico, let’s really empower people to deploy their own distributed renewable generation and storage,” Krapels says. “The sun is there every day, and it’s going to shine for the next 5 billion years.”

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Tesla and solar groups put Puerto Rico back on the grid

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Europe’s hurricane-fueled wildfires might become a recurring nightmare

This week, a hurricane broadsided Europe — a rare event considering most of the continent is closer to the North Pole than it is to the tropics. That would have been enough to make worldwide news, but the continent was due for much more.

As the storm, named Ophelia, approached, it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the eastern Atlantic. Although weather watchers were initially focused most closely on Ireland, where the storm made landfall, its deadliest impact occurred hundreds of miles south in Portugal and Spain.

There, strong winds stoked hundreds of wildfires, killing more than 40 people. The ghastly images from southwestern Europe looked less like real life than illustrations from a cautionary fairy tale about the end of the world. Being there, as one person wrote, was like “a nightmare world of smoke and ash.”

These fires would have been the deadliest in Portugal’s history, were it not for massive blazes in June that killed more than 60 people, trapping many in their cars, as flames advanced too quickly for them to escape.

With its vast forests and typically warm and dry summers, Portugal is already Europe’s wildfire capital. And in recent decades, its profound and unique socioeconomic vulnerability to fire has only grown. Last year, half of the fire acreage burned in all of Europe lay in Portugal — a trend attributed both to haphazard forestry practices and climate change bringing hotter and drier weather.

This year, the sheer scale of the fires has been staggering. On Sunday alone, wildfires burned at least 300,000 acres — more than is normally burned in an entire year. Smoke from the fires quickly spread as far away as London.

Portugal’s wildfires this year have brought sharp focus on the escalating risk of these blazes — and what little officials have done to prevent them. Popular backlash prompted the resignation of a senior government minister and a formal request for a vote of no confidence in the ruling party. But they have also brought a lesson for the rest of the world: As climate change escalates, wildfires are a problem without an easy solution. (Just ask California.)

In a struggling post-recession Portugal, suppliers to its huge paper industry have accelerated a switchover from native species to faster-growing eucalyptus. Since trees consumed by fire can now be replaced more quickly, fire prevention — simple actions like trimming branches and clearing underbrush that could greatly reduce the country’s fire risk — has fallen by the wayside due to cost cutting. Add to that, more and more people are fleeing Portugal’s rural areas — leaving an aging population behind — it’s not clear who will be able to do that work even if resources were available to fund it.

“It really is a textbook example of wildfire as a socio-natural hazard,” José Miguel Pereira, a forest ecologist at the University of Lisbon tells Grist via email. Or to put it another way, human activity is making wildfires worse. These infernos are a product of our disregard for the fact that nature is now almost entirely something we’ve created — these disasters aren’t natural.

And as you know, our influence goes beyond simply neglecting tree management. There’s a growing consensus that the most important reason behind the recent surge in megafires is weather. September was the driest month in Portugal for at least 87 years, and this summer was among the hottest ever measured. All that’s led to a wildfire season that’s 525 percent worse than normal.

Climate models show that a warmer world will mean a drier southern Europe, and increasing ocean temperatures will likely bring more hurricanes further northward. That combination will boost the frequency of massive wildfires in Europe, especially in places like Portugal. On our current warming track, recent research shows the Mediterranean will cross a threshold into megadrought in the next few decades. Many of the trees in the region will likely go up in flames before next century.

This week, with the addition of Ophelia’s winds, weather conditions favorable for fire growth were extreme — and they occurred at a time of the year when farmers routinely set the ground ablaze to clear land. The mix resulted in fires so intense they created their own weather, spawning rare pyrocumulus clouds, literally a fire cloud.

“To the best of my knowledge this is new in Europe,” Paulo Fernandes, a forest ecologist at the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, wrote to Grist, adding the weather was far outside what would be expected for mid-October. ”Extreme fires cannot be mitigated by a stronger firefighting force.”

What happened this week in Portugal points toward the scariest aspects of the Anthropocene: We are changing the world around us so fast that, in many cases, adaptation will be near impossible. As a hurricane, Ophelia was literally off the charts, and meteorologists have no doubt that the storm made the fires worse, rapidly transforming the smallest flames into towering infernos.

In my discussions with colleagues this week, not one weather or climate expert could think of an example of a tropical cyclone in the last 90-plus years that has sparked such a series of megafires. The closest corollaries were a 1978 storm in western Australia and a 2011 storm in Texas. Each fanned large fires, but the loss of life was relatively low. In 1923, a typhoon worsened the impact of fires sparked by a massive earthquake in Japan – but again, that required an earthquake.

Like Portugal, California has a Mediterranean climate that features a long summer dry season. In the wake of the state’s record-breaking wildfire season, which occurred under similar weather and climate conditions as the Portuguese fires, there’s a lot the West Coast can learn from what’s going wrong in Portugal. The most important lesson: Once huge fires get going, there’s not much that can stop them. The best hope, instead, is reducing risk in advance by preparing forests for the inevitable.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of Western senators proposed a reform of forestry practices that will do just that. And it’s already getting praise from firefighters, environmentalists, and industry. In 2017, the U.S. spent a record $2 billion on fighting wildfires, and the new bill would support low-cost preparedness efforts — like those shelved in Portugal — to try to prevent future fires.

In a statement accompanying the release of the bill, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, one of its sponsors said the time for action is now: “We can’t sit by and let devastating wildfires become the new normal.”

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Europe’s hurricane-fueled wildfires might become a recurring nightmare

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New Mexico: OK, fine, we’ll put science back in science standards.

The mayor of the coastal town of Rockport, Texas, said on Tuesday that the community will likely suffer permanent damage from the Category 4 storm.

It’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas, leaving behind decimated buildings, torn-up infrastructure, and thousands of displaced people. While most national media attention focused on Houston, Rockport, population 10,645, suffered some of the hurricane’s worst wind and storm surge damage.

During a panel discussion in Victoria, Texas, Mayor Charles Wax said that approximately one-third of the town was destroyed in the hurricane, and a significant portion of that will be impossible to rebuild.

Only 300 of Rockport’s 1,300 businesses have reopened since the storm, 856 of Rockport’s 2,400 students have left the school district, and the town lost most of its trees in the storm. Disaster relief crews have cleared almost 800,000 cubic yards of vegetation felled by hurricane winds and rain. 

Wax, along with three other coastal Texas mayors coping with staggering devastation from the hurricane, said he has received more help from the state government than from FEMA. The agency is definitely spread a bit thin, it seems.

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New Mexico: OK, fine, we’ll put science back in science standards.

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California’s out-of-control wildfires are officially the worst in state history.

While we’re all talking about IQ tests, here’s a math problem: Imagine you’re a tree with 56 apples to take care of. One day, a massive storm comes and knocks out about four of those apples. They’re all on the ground now, kind of smushed.

But one of those apples didn’t have the same advantages as the other ones — too many pesticides growing up, let’s say — and it’s extra-smushed. It is also $74 billion in debt. (You may ask: Who loaned an apple $74 billion? Hedge funds have long embraced predatory lending practices, but that’s a math problem for another time.)

Anyway — as the tree, it’s your job to get those apples back in shape. You decide to allocate $36.5 billion in fallen-apple assistance. But only $5 billion specifically goes to that extra-smushed, indebted apple, and then that apple has to pay it back. It has to share about $14 billion with the other less-indebted and -smushed apples.

Surprise! This isn’t really a math problem — it’s an ethics problem. The tree is the United States government, the apples are all of its states and territories, the smushed apples are Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the extra-smushed apple is Puerto Rico. Donald Trump’s self-lauded aid plan for the ailing and indebted territory is a loan.

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California’s out-of-control wildfires are officially the worst in state history.

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