How Speaker Ryan Reconciles EPA Rollbacks with New UN Report

At a private National Press Club press conference broadcasted on C-SPAN on Monday, October 8th, I asked Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, how he was able to reconcile his party’s EPA rollbacks with the recent UN report stating that catastrophic impacts of a warming planet could be felt by 2030. The speaker responded primarily with the need for better investment in technology, as well as the need for developing countries like India and China to dramatically improve upon their polluting.

He proudly noted the recently passed FAA Reauthorization Bill included modernizing America’s financing system that included helping developing countries finance their infrastructure (e.g., power). This primarily “counter-China strategy” could then also help countries convert to cleaner based energy sources, indirectly combating pollution.

The Speaker stated the U.S., as a developed country, is “as clean as it gets.” This could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but let’s just be clear: the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history.

I didn’t expect an informed answer from the Speaker when I asked this question, but I also didn’t expect blatant inaccuracies. It’s okay to not know the state of science and technology, and it’s also okay to not grasp the magnitude of the global crisis. We can’t expect our policymakers to be innovation experts or to transcend their cognitive limitations. As a risk and behavioral scientist, I’m all too familiar with how humans systematically under react to risks that deserve our attention as well as the vice versa. But it is NOT okay to attenuate the immensity of the risk we are facing when speaking from a position of significant consequence to the lives of millions.

This what happens when science and science advisors are left out of the policymaking process. Credible science is no longer informing critical legislation to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Rather, our Speaker just stated that the trade war with China will help address climate change. This is asinine.

We have heard from the National Academies, and now the IPCC where the state of scientific consensus is on the impacts of climate change. The planet is headed towards a “hothouse earth,” and we may very well begin experiencing catastrophic impacts within 12 years. While I am largely optimistic about human ingenuity and our ability to innovate and find the technological and behavioral solutions to address a rapidly changing planet, I know we are well behind geo-engineering ourselves out of the magnitude of the crisis that’s upon us. We need to aggressively, globally cut emissions and change our behaviors if we are going to stave off the more intense, longer lasting, and slower moving extreme weather systems–all the while knowing we need to rapidly adapt to a new global topography that we can no longer reverse.

Speaker Paul Ryan and the current administration are currently providing at best, irresponsible, and at worst, murderous, leadership in combating climate change in the face of fact and scientific consensus. Would you ask your dog sitter to fix your plumbing problem? At least that’s just a leak. Imagine not bringing in experts to address a global policy challenge that includes hundreds of thousands of coastal communities submerged from sea level rise. That’s what is currently happening.

Alternate leadership is sprouting up everywhere, thankfully. The private sector, and local and state leaders are stepping up to show solidarity in alliance with the scientific consensus that we must net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the coming days I will be attending the sold out World Woman Summit at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR where I’ll be speaking on a panel titled “Women Driving the Future of Sustainability.” My fellow speakers at the summit and the delegates in attendance are examples of global citizens who understand the urgency of proactive planning. It’s not just human ingenuity, but thoughtful and collaborative execution that will get our planet and the inhabitants on it back on track.

 

 

 

 

5 places threatened by Climate Change-NYC no.3!

Photo cred: Heidi Cullen

 

The Telegraph published the following 5 places threatened by climate change. NYC is number 3!

 

Osaka: The port city on the Japanese Island Honshu could completely disappear by the end of the century putting 19 million people at risk according to the UN which announced in November that despite efforts to limit the increasing global temperature to 2C above pre-industrial levels the world will see a 3C inflation by 2100.

 

Haiti: Haiti has been declared the country most at danger from climate change. At the 23rd annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in 2017 data about the extent countries have been impacted by extreme weather events such as floods storms and heatwaves since 1997 showed that Haiti is the country most likely to experience more of these weather types.

 

NYC: New York is the city in the US most vulnerable to major coastal floods. Flooding linked to climate change would put 426000 people in jeopardy in New York by 2050 according to a 2017 study of rising sea levels in 2017 by Climate Central a nonprofit group.

 

Honduras: Honduras was the country most affected by extreme weather events from 1996 to 2015 according to the Global Climate Risk Index in 2017. The country endured 61 major weather events most recently Storm Nate in October 2017 which was responsible for the deaths of three people.

 

Manila: The capital of the Philippines is at high risk of flooding with the chance of having huge portions of its communities submerged the UN run Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said this month. Last September a landslide caused by torrential rains killed two people in the city.

 

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/07/gas-boilers-must-scrapped-within-decades-combat-climate-change/

The Affordable Clean Energy Rule Should Be Renamed ‘Path to Hothouse Earth’

President Donald Trump’s most recent Environmental Protection Agency rollback was unveiled Aug. 21 as the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.” The purpose of the plan is to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. While these title descriptions may sound similar, the plans couldn’t be further apart.

 

The Obama administration’s plan was to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Trump’s plan is a carefully crafted gross misnomer. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule at best will not impact the Obama-era efforts, but at worst could impede or reverse the progress made.

 

Read the full article at: https://morningconsult.com/opinions/the-affordable-clean-energy-rule-should-be-renamed-path-to-hothouse-earth/

 

See my ABC7 segment on the topic:

 

Rename Florida’s “Sunshine Protection Act” to the “Energy Consumption Act!”

Florida’s recent vote approving the Sunshine Protection Act is clever wording for opting into daylight saving time (DST) all year round. It suggests securing a resource that is limited, which sunshine is not, but who can be against protecting sunshine? From a cognitive behavioral perspective, the Act is really a very clever framing of increased energy consumption that will inevitably follow if it is ever implemented. Protecting sunshine is an easy sell, but do Florida’s citizens understand what they are buying into?

 

The United States standardized time and scheduled time zones in 1966 through the Uniform Time Act. The same act established daylight saving time where all time zones would advance in hour in the spring and fall back in autumn primarily to experience more sunshine during the summer months. The primary reasoning for this was energy conservation. That all sounds great if it panned it, but studies increasingly have shown that any energy savings have been negligible (e.g., a 2008 Department of Energy report showing .03% in savings) primarily because of the heating and cooling energy needed to compensate for the extra hour of sunlight. People needed extra heat in the mornings and extra air conditioning in the evenings to maintain comfortable indoor conditions rather than go outdoors as intended. Policy fail.

 

Because of how far we have come in terms of energy efficiency and understanding human behavior, it makes sense to opt out of DST and observe standard time year round.  This is what both Hawaii and Arizona have chosen to do within the continental United States. Federal provisions allow for states and territories to opt out of DST, but not standard time.

 

Florida’s move to observe DST all year round is a new precedent that would require rewriting federal law. New England states, where observing DST all year round would actually be significantly noticeable as compared to Florida, have tried on several occasions to make the same move Florida just did. Various reasons, but primarily the commuting across states lines for work, have halted any real effort towards any one state adopting DST full year around. It wouldn’t be very neighborly! Florida’s citizens, who primarily work within the state, do not have the same barriers as New England, and the vote passed overwhelmingly. After all, who can vote against the Sunshine Protection Act?

 

The reality is this framing is exploiting advances in cognitive behavioral science. All advances can have dual-uses—uses that are good and also uses that are nefarious in nature.  Advances in psychology and economics are no different. Suggesting something needs to be “protected” suggests that it is finite, which we of course know that sunshine is not. Short of a supernova, earth will receive sunshine, likely long after humans exist on the planet.

 

Rather, we have limited energy. And energy consumption will increase upon adoption of DST as we saw with Indiana in 2006. Arizona opted out of DST for exactly this reason. With climate change ensuring increasing numbers of hotter days, it’s more important than ever to be sensible about federal policies around energy consumption, which the Sunshine Protection Act actually is. Opting into year-round DST will consume more energy as people create bearable conditions indoors.

 

DST began as a policy to conserve fuel. Today it has evolved into doing the opposite of what it intended. Therefore, statewide, we need to do the opposite of what Florida just did. We need to drop DST altogether and observe standard time. We can amend the Uniform Time Act to drop DST and perhaps rename it as the “National Harmony and Order Amendment.” Who can oppose harmony and order? Perhaps there’s something to appropriating advances in cognitive behavioral science to benefit society after all.

Puerto Rico is the Private Sector’s Wake Up Call to Invest in Climate Adaptation NOW

Look at Puerto Rico. The earth is in open rebellion! The challenges of climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, pandemics, and overpopulation cannot be solved by the public sector. The burden of investing in solutions lies on the shoulders of businesses. The private sector must acknowledge and address the pressing challenges faced by our planet. Inaction has a cost. Business bottom lines will directly suffer from a lack of proactive mitigation against the risks we collectively face, but also from a lack of adaptation to the new global landscape.

 

Climate adaptation is now mandatory. Reinsurance companies like Munich Re Group are reporting that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events are increasing, along with their associated losses. This should not be surprising given what the world has witnessed in the past few weeks. In the U.S. alone hurricanes have devastated major cities, sea level rise is lapping at coastal infrastructure, and wildfires no longer adhere to a season. These recent examples are just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg!

 

Climate impacts and subsequent devastation have already begun to result in secondary and tertiary impacts that have increasing implications for a business’s bottom line. Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico might suffer from no access to power and water for up to six months! The humanitarian costs are immediately obvious in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and the economic costs of an extended period of brutal recovery are also astronomical.

 

Ignoring the $74 billion in Puerto Rican government debt, the measly $15 billion slotted for recovery is less than half of estimated hurricanes’ costs. Business will hurt from decimated infrastructure, crop value losses of 80%, up to 3.5 million climate refugees, lost productivity, and additional ripple effects. For companies operating fully or partially in Puerto Rico, the implications for business bottom lines are enormous.

 

The climate impacts we are witnessing in Puerto Rico will be increasingly repeated in locations throughout the world in various forms (e.g., extended droughts, uncontrollable wildfires, heavy flooding). These challenges must be proactively addressed before the costs of mandatory reaction overwhelm expendable business capital and reserves.

 

Costs for adaptation are substantial by any measure, and delay in action will only increase these costs. A 2010 World Bank report has estimated adaptation cost at $70-100 billion a year globally by 2050, while the 2015 UNEP Adaptation Gap Report estimates it to be 4-5 times higher taking into account equity, communities, and ecosystems. These costs will vary based on how successful we are globally at mitigation efforts, but even with zero carbon emissions today we need to adapt, and we need to adapt quickly.

 

The private sector must play a leading role in these efforts. Adaptation costs are too high for governments to solve alone. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are projected to cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in post-disaster recovery funding. The Universal Ecological Fund just put forward a report titled “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the U.S.” which highlights the hundreds of billions in economic losses from inaction.

 

Despite what we know about the costs of inaction, relief and recovery, proactive adaptation measures are painfully miniscule. The Climate Policy Initiative reports that adaptation efforts receive less than 10-20% of approved public funding. The private sector has thus far had limited involvement despite the critical role of private finance and investment in addressing the direct and indirect threats to our planet.

 

The private sector’s delay in leadership and investment in proactive adaptation measures can be traced to three key issues: 1) the risk perception versus real risk gap, 2) the inherent uncertainty of the real risk, and 3) the perceived lack of options for investing in adaptation measures.

 

First, aligning actual risks to a company’s bottom line with perceptions of risks held by business stakeholders (e.g., shareholders, regulators, consumers) is critical. Closing this gap through the application of advances in the field of cognitive behavioral science is the first step in ensuring precious resources are being prioritized and allocated appropriately. Stakeholder support will be necessary for successful adaptation investments.

 

Second, the private sector can exhibit leadership in adaptation by voluntarily disclosing an investment’s climate change related risks. While the majority of the private sector is aware of climate change risks to business, hesitation in disclosure stems from the accompanying inherent uncertainty (e.g., what, how big, where). Acceptance that actual impacts, both direct and indirect, cannot be known with certainty will encourage the disclosure needed for better adaptation.

 

Finally, there is a perception of limited opportunities for adaptation investment and an accompanying uncertainty of return on investment. Investing in higher surge walls or more efficient water pumping systems fall woefully short of the magnitude of adaptation measures required. Transformative climate adaptation and resilience investments (e.g., new business models, transformative technologies, behavioral changes) are where private sector collaboration and leadership are urgently needed.

 

While there are many examples of “climate-proofing” investments (e.g., drought resistant agriculture, water surge resistant infrastructure), these are primarily short-term adaptation measures. Increasingly, opportunities are being presented to the private sector. From smart grids that protect against extreme weather events to resilient manufacturing companies, sector specific investment prospects are becoming available.

 

In addition to science and technology innovations, cutting-edge solutions from the field of cognitive behavioral science must be considered as part of the adaptation investment portfolio. Subject matter expertise will be of utmost value as businesses think strategically about fortifying products and services in this new global landscape.

 

The reasons for private sector delay in proactive adaptation investment measures are no longer justifiable. Companies must act now to offset the enormous costs of inaction. Even with inherent uncertainty of climate change risks, it is clear that risk reduction efforts now will ensure business survival and resilience in an increasingly risky world.

 

Mar-A-LaGone!

Hurricanes do not discriminate against the affluent and the less affluent.

 

Hurricanes, exacerbated by climate change, belong to a category of climate change related events (e.g., drought, sea level rise, wildfires) that impact all inhabitants of this planet, regardless of how much is in their bank accounts.

 

The science community is unified in how climate change will impact every citizen of America. Immediately vulnerable are those on the coast, occupied by both the rich and poor. The rich may choose to self-insure and prolong their luxury living, but ultimately all taxpayers are paying for their choices.

 

Donald Trump has already received a $17 million insurance payout for previous Hurricane Wilma “damage” to his wealthy, private estate Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. There wasn’t actually that much damage following Wilma, and the estate has been relatively lucky following Irma. How much taxpayer-funded compensation will he receive this time? Will we continue to subsidize luxurious real estates along our vulnerable coastlines? Our shorelines will be increasingly impacted as ocean temperatures warm and sea levels rise–ensuring progressively frequent and devastating hurricanes going forward. By the mid-century, vulnerable east U.S. coastlines are predicted to experience “Sandy-like” hurricanes every other year!

 

What about the poor who can’t rebuild and redecorate? They will inevitably retreat from the shoreline. The rich, however, will hold out. Eventually when basic government services become impossible (e.g., postal delivery, emergency services) even the rich will give in and retreat. By then how much more money will be lifted from the wallets of everyday citizens to subsidize elite lifestyles? Where will this money originate? Even extreme conservatives will find it hard to justify government subsidization of vital services to selfish developments.

 

Entities or individuals with the current means to develop along vulnerable shorelines must recognize their decisions impact their communities and our country as a whole. A collective multi-stakeholder effort (e.g., public officials, economists, journalists) is required to educate and raise awareness of the immediate and future risks of living and further developing infrastructure along the coast.

 

Economic alternatives must also be explored in order to ensure community sustainability. This type of anticipatory planning has varied considerably across vulnerable communities throughout the U.S. Some Florida cities (e.g., Tampa, St. Petersberg) have proactive measures in place. This will prove vitally helpful as they begin to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

 

Part of proactive adaptation to increasing climate change events is discouraging development in flood risk areas and permanently removing structures following disastrous events. Relocation of low-income communities will begin the necessary and inevitable shoreline retreat. Finally and most controversially, properties must be transitioned from private ownership to the public domain. This type of policy has never been popular, but must remain on the table as an option.

 

If and when Mar-A-Largo receives an insurance payout from Irma, it could lead the adaptation initiative and transition to a public recreation area for the remainder of time it would receive public services. The reality of how long this will be is definitely shorter than what people perceive. Science is very clear. Palm Beach County will be significantly flooded within 30 years! Incentivizing the wealthy to transition prime coastal real estate sooner than later will not only release private ownership from the burden of an increasingly at-risk property, it will also translate to precious shared savings.

 

Transitioning Mar-A-Lago would be a much needed strong, clear signal for the future of luxury coastal living. Leading in the face of harsh reality isn’t always fun, but it would command respect. Let’s collectively encourage this type of leadership.

 

As long as there is demand for those ocean views, there will be developers competing to supply. A true cultural shift is required to change the deep-rooted attraction to the shores. This needs to happen before the very beauty that compels us to the beach becomes the very thing that destroys our collective health and safety. Let’s prudently plan and adapt to the reality of climate change impacts before everything is Mar-A-LaGONE!

Earth in Open Rebellion!

Is it obvious yet? Every major disaster converts a few more nonbelievers. There will always be those stubborn final few clinging to their “values” as Earth gets closer to purging itself of the species that sickened it. Let’s not wait for those people to act, but let’s continue to hold out a hand as we do.

 

Earth is furious with us, and is acting out. The cumulative impact of our actions will be increasingly and painfully obvious if they aren’t already. Smoking one cigarette probably won’t kill you, but the cumulative impact of smoking many cigarettes will land you on life support. We have all been chain-smoking. We are now at the impact stage from our collective bad habits as the human race.

 

We are seeing Earth’s rebellion all over the world in recent days– from Houston to Niger to Bangladesh. The Pope is calling for global leaders to acknowledge our deteriorating plant! Earth is so clearly over it.

 

Global warming raises sea level by melting glaciers and ice sheets in places like Greenland and Antarctica, but also by heating up and expanding water. Those rising sea levels make devastating storm surges and subsequent flooding more likely. Warming sea level has DOUBLED the probability of storm-surge flooding since the mid-1900s.

 

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put forward that “Sandy-like” storm surges and subsequent sea water inundation would occur more frequently (up to once a year!) from the combination of sea-level rise and warming waters by the end of this century. Imagine the east coast of the U.S. from Atlantic City to Florida flooded every year starting within the lifetime of our mortgage cycles! This isn’t fear mongering. This is a millennial scientist hoping to have some semblance of the life we know now!

 

The devastating storm surges and flooding that we are witnessing today will not require the same magnitude of hurricanes in the future that they require now because of the increasing and irreversible rise in sea-level. So imagine when the hurricanes are severe!

 

Global warming makes the strongest hurricanes more intense because hurricanes draw their energy from ocean warmth. Once hurricanes form, warmer ocean temperatures provide more fuel. Warming sea temperatures also translate to more water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in 5-10% more rainfall. We can attribute several inches (scientists are saying up to 30%!) of the whopping 60 inches of rainfall in some places during Harvey to global warming.

 

Irma might boot Harvey out of first place, but for now, Harvey has become the costliest storm in U.S. history, overtaking Sandy and Katrina before it. Soon we will have more detailed analysis of the role climate change played in Harvey like we do for Sandy. We know with Sandy that sea level rise added nearly one foot to the total storm surge that devastated the east coast of the U.S., and exposed an additional 25 square miles and 40 thousand people to flooding. The gulf has experienced four feet of sea level rise in the past century, and we will know soon the role of that rise in the destruction we are still wrapping our heads around in Texas and bracing ourselves for Irma.

 

Let’s hope a positive outcome from both Harvey and Irma is that we do not stick our heads back in the sand. It is utterly irresponsible to return to business as usual following Harvey not just in the areas affected by Harvey, but in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to similar impacts like Florida and the U.S. east coast. If there was ever a time that people, both believers and nonbelievers alike, were paying attention to efforts at adaptation or even retreat from the coastline, it’s now. We need congressional delegations to recognize that Hurricanes transcend partisan politics. The time to act is now.

 

It is imperative for scientists to advise policymakers on responding swiftly and responsibly from facts entrenched in credible science.  This requires the science community to continue to advance knowledge and communicate with key decision makers. This is mandatory as we approach more critical times.

Without science leaders in key roles in the U.S. government, we must loudly, clearly, and collectively voice consensus on the relationship between severe storms and climate change. Harvey is offering this opportunity to present evidence and facts over politics and ideology. The truth of science will prevail if it is followed.

 

With Earth sending another rebel in the form of Hurricane Irma to the southeast coast of the U.S., we may be converting a significant number of nonbelievers just in time. Let’s take advantage of people listening and ADAPT to the new normal of living on a planet that is angry with us—rightfully so.

Answers to those questions in your head you think everyone understands but you (e.g., How is more snowfall a sign that the earth is warming?)

I commiserate with your confusion. Despite being a scientist, I am not an environmental scientist and there was a steep learning curve for me going into this space professionally. I get it now. Please allow me to clarify a few key misconceptions that always come up in conversations with my family/friends (I won’t name names).

 

  1. Droughts and heavy rainfall are both impacts of climate change?

 

Warming temperatures and air are causing more extreme climate conditions included extended periods of drought and heavy periods of rainfall. Higher temperatures have lead to increased rates of water evaporation. Even in areas where precipitation does not decrease, increases in surface evaporation and loss of water from plants lead to more rapid drying of soils. As soil dries out, a larger proportion of the incoming heat from the sun goes into heating the soil, resulting in hotter temperatures under drier conditions.

 

Heavier rainfall results from increasingly warmer air, which can hold more water vapor than cooler air. This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. We need to recognize that both wet and dry extremes will increase in intensity, frequency, and duration.

 

  1. Shouldn’t sea level rise be the same increase globally?

 

Just as the surface of the earth isn’t flat, the surface of the ocean isn’t flat. The absolute water height of the ocean is higher on the U.S. east coast than on the U.S. west coast. When seal level rise (SLR) is referred to in the singular, it refers to the average global sea level rise trend.

 

Over the last century, global average sea level has been approximately eight inches. Historical and future sea level change has not and will not be the same everywhere, and in fact, varies greatly. For example, in the U.S., New Orleans has had forty-six inches of SLR while Los Angeles has had only four. These differences are mostly due to land subsidence (i.e., land sinking) or uplift, which increases or reduces the global average sea level change.

 

  1. Despite increasing water from melting glaciers and ice sheets, we still have less water?

 

For anyone who’s swallowed seawater, it should be no surprise that filling your cups from the ocean is not an option. Melting ice increases sea level rise, which may seem to imply an increase in water supply, but the energetic demands and financial costs of desalination techniques (which would be required to actually use the “extra” water) are far from being commercially viable.

 

As ocean levels rise, saltwater intrusion will contaminate drinking and irrigation water supplies, impacting not only surface water, but also seeping into aquifers and other groundwater sources. Saltwater intrusion will penetrate farther inland than in the past, and both current measurements and modeled projections suggest that drinking water losses either have occurred or will soon manifest in numerous locations around the world. For example, it is expected that Bangladesh will experience a shortage of potable drinking water by the year 2050.

 

In edition to being infeasible for human consumption, saltwater is devastating for agriculture. Twenty percent of the world’s irrigated farmland is already contaminated with salt. Saltwater for a farmer means certain crop failure.

 

  1. How did we not have more notice that Harvey was coming? What have scientists been doing this whole time?

 

Scientists widely agree that the pace of warming is tens or even a hundred times faster than at any known period in the last five hundred million years of geologic history. This has created conditions for which there is no comparison historically. The earth’s temperatures and climate events were largely stable for the past several millennia, only recently changing course in the anthropogenic period (or period of man-made climate change). Therefore historical data does not exist from which to make comparable predictions.

 

  1. How is more snowfall a sign that the earth is warming?

 

Snowfall and rainfall cascade to the earth as forms of precipitation. Snow falls instead of rain because of the temperature at the time of precipitation release, NOT because of a decreasing global temperature trend. Increased precipitation is caused by more water being evaporated from the oceans due to warmer ocean temperatures. Despite it feeling counterintuitive, increased snowfall has actually been an offshoot of warming oceans.

 

Oceans have warmed by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) this century. The rate of warming is increasing, resulting in record rainfall (and snowfall when the temperature is appropriate) events worldwide.

 

  1. Why can’t we reverse it?

 

No amount of collective global effort can change the fact the sea level will rise. This is because the melting that has already taken place of the earth’s glaciers and ice sheets cannot be undone before the impacts are felt worldwide. In fact, it will take centuries or even millennia to reverse the extent of melting that has already taken place. We must accept that SLR is a permanent new fixture that will permanently change the ocean’s height for generations to come, and subsequently reshape continents, as we know them now.

 

For answers to more questions, please email me directly sweta@swetachakraborty.com and I will aim to address them in a future blog post.

Killer floods in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India: We need to talk adaptation to Sea Level Rise

My family is West Bengali, a term that only came into existence following Partition and the formation of “West Bengal,” in India, and “East Bengal” originally part of Pakistan, but now present-day Bangladesh. Prior to that, East and West Bengal were simply Bengal. My father’s side of the family has ancestral roots from the land that is present day Bangladesh. My family, primarily based in Calcutta, India, continues to share a language, food, and many customs with the people of Bangladesh. The primary difference is the recognized national religion: Hindu versus Muslim.

 

This isn’t a post about arbitrary political borders and deep religious divides (I want to sleep tonight), it’s about a geographic area that is very close to my heart and makes up the DNA that manifests as my caramel mocha skin (thanking Starbucks for giving me an alternative to “brown”) and goldfish-like eyes that through most of my childhood were just too big for my face.

 

This geographic area has recently been devastated by intense rainfall and subsequent flooding, resulting in at least 1200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Bangladesh, along with Nepal and northern India are in the midst of a major crisis. The immediate reaction by devastated governments and aid agencies experiencing natural disasters is to provide relief, but future planning for population adaptation to these types of events must reach the national consciousness now. This is the new normal.

 

The flooding is bad, and will only be intensified as sea level continues to rise. Sea level rise is unstoppable. The present day elevated global temperatures have already kicked off the irreversible melting of glaciers and the great ice sheets. There is no viable science or technology solution today to address this stark reality. We can, and we must still work to mitigate against global temperatures increases to prevent against the worst-case scenarios, but even if we were to collectively switch to a sustainable, non-carbon based energy today, or yesterday, it’s still too late.

 

Impacts of sea level rise are felt in various ways. In the case of Asia, the intense flooding and saltwater contamination is resulting in devastation to human lives and their livelihoods. Communicable diseases are an increasing risk due to the prevalence of conditions that mosquitoes thrive in, and the economic ramifications are also dire. This cannot be another disaster that the relevant governments simply put band-aids on, but rather serious policy upheavals are required. Building another embankment that washes away is futile as the new normal of where our planet is habitable versus inhabitable sets in. Bangladesh and other vulnerable areas that will NOT be habitable must adapt to the impacts of sea level rise. Bengal was divided on man-made conflicts, and might it reunite on man-made climate impacts? We are all caramel mocha after all.

Double Whammy! Hurricane Harvey Hits as Scientific Advisors Continue to Resign

I.M.P.E.A.C.H. coded into science envoy to the State Dept. Daniel Kammen’s resignation letter. THERE’S a way to garner attention to what might otherwise be lost in the endless media Trump-eting. I.M.P.E.A.C.H. definitely got the attention it was seeking, and the timing of losing another science advisor as the first major national disaster hits the Trump presidency is disturbingly ironic.

 

Several scientist colleagues have been ominously predicting that a major natural disaster would inevitably strike during the Trump presidency at which point it would become painfully clear to the administration that disenfranchising scientists serving in public service roles was a bad idea. As Hurricane Harvey’s effects are beginning to be felt in the American south, I fear their predictions could be right.

 

Scientists, like public officials, serve a greater good, and circumstantial factors like the president must not impact that commitment to serve. Public officials work for the people, and scientists aim to advance knowledge with the ultimate end goal of ensuring credible science-based policymaking. Perhaps the practical and useful application of science is not always obvious or even promoted by the researchers, but ultimately science aims to dictate policies in a manner that is not influenced by subjective values. Credible science-based policymaking seems like a no-brainer for policymakers, given that the alternative is a spectrum of belief systems often at odds with one another. Science has always been a framework for policymaking that unites us all despite our many differences.

 

This is true even in regards to the very polarized arena of climate change. Where value-based policy recommendations harp on whether or not climate change is influenced by human activities (doesn’t matter!!), the serious threat from sustained storm surges following hurricane landfall is a matter of science. Natural disasters have very real impacts, and these impacts can be proactively mitigated against based on scientific models and projections. Rejecting science at the top tiers of government leaves a vacuum for information, and newly places science on the spectrum of viewpoints that it once aimed encompass. It’s somewhere leftish..,mid-left?… just left then.

 

This could explain why Trump has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who traditionally also serves as the president’s science advisor. Having this position empty along with a meager OSTP staff (currently 35 versus the previous administration’s 135) is especially jarring when prominent science related events transpire at a national stage. Who is explaining the science behind hurricane landfall and consequent storm surges to the president? Is science communication considered liberal and therefore irrelevant to the administration’s policy? De-neutralizing science is dangerous when it comes to federal policy responsible for lives.