Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Charleston aims to force fossil fuel companies to pay $2bn to combat climate crisis

This is deliberate deception. Most Charleston residents would be aware that their problem is land subsidence, not rising seas. If they are not aware of it, the oil companies will soon make them aware of it. The lawsuit has zero merit

Charleston, the architectural jewel of the US south, has survived the ravages of revolutionary wars, an earthquake and even a siege waged by the notorious pirate Blackbeard. But the city now needs saving from its largest existential threat yet – the climate crisis.

Flooding has, in recent years, become a regular menace to streets lined with colonial and Georgian buildings. Protecting the historic core of South Carolina’s largest city from being consumed by the rising seas now comes with such a hefty price tag – around $2b – that Charleston is pinning its hopes on a bold gambit to force fossil fuel companies to foot the bill.

Charleston recently became the first city in the US south to sue large oil firms for damages, claiming they concealed knowledge that their product would heat up the planet and cause the sort of inundation that now bedevils many coastal cities around the world.

A trove of internal documents show oil companies knew from at least the 1960s that burning oil and other fossil fuels would cause the global temperature to rise, triggering heatwaves and causing the seas to rise due to rapidly melting glaciers. Charleston’s lawsuit claims that by obscuring these findings and funding a campaign of misinformation, the oil companies are liable for damage caused due to deception.

“It’s tragic, just imagine what we could’ve done to avoid all this if they didn’t deceive everyone,” said John Tecklenburg, Charleston’s mayor, who said the world hasn’t seen such flooding “since Noah built the Ark”.

Flooding was a rare occurrence when Tecklenburg, who is 65, was growing up in Charleston but it now blights the city. Each of his five years as mayor has seen a major flood, with Hurricane Matthew, in 2016, and Hurricane Irma, in 2017, causing vast volumes of water to pour over the Battery, a historic seawall and tourist drawcard.

“Our city and harbor became one,” he said. “It’s now an annual occurrence. People’s homes have been damaged, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims. It’s a major threat to our city.”

Even regular high tides now drench downtown Charleston, which is perched on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. Half a century ago, water flowed onto the streets around four days a year. By 2019, this had increased to around 89 days a year on average. Within 30 years, Charleston faces its downtown streets being underwater every other day of the year.

Several people have had their homes inundated multiple times, others have fled the city while some with the means to do so have made the costly decision to elevate their stately abodes beyond the reach of the floodwater, 16ft or more above the mean sea level.

“You’ve got these multimillion dollar homes that are historic, so what can you do?” said Buz Morris, an architect who has overseen the raising of seven homes in the last few years. “On a rainy day here you can a foot or two of water in the street. We are helping protect the historic fabric of Charleston.”

The majority of residents can’t afford such expensive fixes, however, so the city is looking to make a huge investment to fend off the encroaching Atlantic ocean. A new seawall, fortifying the aging Battery, and a new network of drainage tunnels will, Charleston hopes, buy it some time. “This is a treasure of a city, a gem of American history and elegance,” said Tecklenburg. “I’m not going to be the mayor that raises the white flag of surrender and evacuates.”

The Charleston lawsuit – which targets a clutch of oil companies including Exxon, Shell, BP and Chevron – is the latest in a flurry of court actions aimed at forcing fossil fuel giants to meet the mounting costs of the climate crisis they helped stoke. Since 2017, nearly two dozen cities, counties and states, including San Francisco, New York and Massachusetts, have attempted to recover billions of dollars from the industry.

Over the past week this number has swelled further, with Hoboken in New Jersey, the state of Delaware and Charleston entering the fray. “We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made,” said Kathy Jennings, Delaware’s attorney general.

These efforts have yet to garner a significant breakthrough, with a number of cases dismissed by judges, as the oil companies have argued the moves are a frivolous waste of time. “There is no merit to the claims,” said a Chevron spokesman in response to the Charleston lawsuit. “They are not a serious solution to a serious problem. There is no evidence Chevron misled the public about climate change. Those claims are false.”

Climate activists have retained hope, however, that the courts will start to swing behind the cases and have been further buoyed by promises made by Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for US president, that his administration would pursue fossil fuel companies for climate damages.

The best sign the legal strategy is working is that “these cases are proceeding through the court system”, according to Ama Francis, a fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

“The public is ready to hold this corrupt industry accountable for causing and lying about climate change, and officials across the country are stepping up to take action,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity.

“As climate change floods cities like Charleston, Big Oil is now knee-deep in lawsuits seeking justice for decades of the industry’s lying about their central role in causing the problem.”


‘Climate arson’ and other wildfire nonsense

Real goal is to avoid responsibility for policies, and increase control over energy, lives, property

Paul Driessen

In what has become an annual summer tragedy, wildfires are again destroying western US forests. Millions of acres and millions of animals have been incinerated, hundreds of homes reduced to ash and rubble, dozens of parents and children killed, and many more people left missing, injured or burned.

Air quality across wide regions and entire states is so bad people are told to stay indoors, where many have hibernated for months because of the coronavirus, but indoor air is also contaminated. Acrid smoke and soot have been carried to Chicago and beyond. Firefighters are profiles in courage, as they battle the blazes for days on end, while all too many politicians are displaying profiles in opportunism.

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if more of America is ablaze?” Joe Biden thundered. “Mother Earth is angry,” Nancy Pelosi pontificated. “She’s telling us with hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, fires in the West, that the climate crisis is real.”

Despite finally starting to thin out overgrown forests, California Governor Gavin Newsome resorted to the longstanding party line about his state’s wildfires: Manmade “climate change is real. If you don’t believe in science, come to California and observe it with your own eyes.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee agreed. “These are climate fires,” he said. “And we cannot, and we will not, surrender our state and expose people to have their homes burned down and their lives lost because of climate fires,”

It’s ideological nonsense, intended to deflect blame and avoid responsibility for decades of public policy errors and forest mismanagement – and to justify new laws that would multiply government control over energy, industries, jobs, living standards, lives, property, and freedom to choose where and how we live.

One could argue that people shouldn’t have built homes in and near these forests. That they should have been persuaded or compelled to live in crowded urban areas, where crime, riots and Covid run rampant. But they do live in rural areas – and our politicians, land managers and judges have a duty to implement policies and practices that protect their homes, communities and lives, as well indigenous wildlife.

Perhaps slightly warmer or drier summers have made the wildfires slightly more likely or frequent. But decades of laws, lawsuits, fire suppression policies and forest mismanagement practices have guaranteed the buildup of massive amounts of dead and diseased trees, dry brush and grass, and decaying leaves, needles and debris. With every wet spring spurring plant growth that dries up every dry summer, just one lightning strike, careless camper, gender-revealing pyrotechnic or angry arsonist can ignite an inferno.

Because timber harvesting and thinning have been banned for decades, thousands of scrawny trees grow on acreage that should have just a few hundred full-sized mature trees. As of 2017, tens of billions of scrawny trees mix with 6.3 billion dead trees in 11 Western states; state and federal forests in California alone had over 129 million dead trees. Those numbers have most assuredly skyrocketed since 2017, while steadily increasing dry brush and debris now provide even more tinder for super-heated conflagrations.

Flames in average fires along the ground in managed forests might reach several feet in height and temperatures of 1,472° F (800° C), says Wildfire Today. But under conditions now found in western tinderboxes, flame heights can reach 165 feet (50 meters) or more, and crown fires can generate critter-roasting, soil-baking temperatures that exceed 2192 degrees F (1200 C). Wood bursts into flame at 572 F. Aluminum melts at 1220, silver at 1762, and gold at 1943 degrees F (1064 C)! 2192 degrees is hellish.

Most of this heat goes upward, but super-high temperatures incinerate endangered wildlife – as well as organisms and organic matter in thin western soils that for decades afterward can support only weeds, grass and stunted, spindly trees. Western conflagrations jump fire breaks because these ferocious fires are fueled by the unprecedented increase in combustibles that radical environmentalist policies have created.

These monstrous fires generate their own high winds and even mini tornados that carry burning branches high into the air, to be deposited hundreds of feet away, igniting new fires.

None of this has a thing to do with climate change. To say a 0.1, 0.5 or even 1.0 degree change in average global temperatures would alter these forest fire dynamics defies credibility. To say the monumental fuel buildups in our forests are irrelevant is like claiming a minimally furnished home will burn as easily and ferociously as one filled to the brim with furniture, books, old newspapers and cans of gasoline.

The solution is simple, though expensive and time-consuming at this point. Cut the red tape. Remove some of that fuel, so that fires don’t get so big, hot, powerful, and destructive. Clear wider areas around buildings, homes and communities. Create more, wider fire breaks. Build more roads that let people escape the flames. Send the timber to sawmills, to create jobs and tax revenues, and American lumber for affordable homes. Clear out brush and grass under transmission lines – and upgrade the transmission lines. Bolster rapid-response airborne and ground-based firefighting capabilities.

Up to now, all this has been prohibited, litigated and shut down in states that now have horrific fires. Radical Greens have even blocked cattle grazing that would control grass and brush in national forests.

Still not convinced? Look at recent major fires that petered out when they reached managed forests.

For years, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation foresters chain-sawed overgrown trees, harvested better timber, improved timber stands, and used controlled, prescribed burns, weed killer and other measures to keep their forests healthy, protect sacred sites, and preserve jobs and wildlife. They even turn scrubby trash trees into particle board and sell it for furniture, as part the tribe’s timber business.

In 2017, the Wallow Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Arizona history, burned 538,000 acres – but fizzled out when it reached the reservation’s well-managed forest. A year later, the Rattlesnake Fire torched more than 20,000 acres in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest – but likewise faded out when it reached the neighboring White Mountain Apache timberlands, which had also been managed responsibly and proactively, using the same management practices that guide San Carlos Apache foresters.

Similar success stories can be found in the most unlikely place: California. For decades, the Southern California Edison electric utility employed selective logging, prescribed burns and other management strategies in its Shaver Lake Forest. This year’s Creek Fire raged through treetops and several hundred thousand acres in the Sierra National Forest. But when it reached the SoCalEd timberlands, it dwindled into a low-intensity surface or ground fire – which doesn’t incinerate big trees and wildlife.

Back in August 2013, the monstrous high-intensity Rim Fire immolated 180,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest. Thankfully the National Park Service (NPS) had been employing prescribed burning and other proactive management practices for years in Yosemite National Park next door. When the wildfire reached the park, it turned into a far less destructive surface fire.

The ferocious Rough Fire of 2015 roared through California’s Sequoia and Sierra National Forests, totally torching 150,000 acres. But it too became a ground fire when it reached Sequoia National Park, where the NPS had also used prescribed burns and other good management practices for decades.

A final point. The raging fires in our long mismanaged forests are not natural. They are not what used to burn with regularity through America’s forests. A century of fire suppression and fuel accumulation means they turn into superheated infernos. Manage them properly first. Then let nature work again.

The lesson? Regardless of what Earth’s climate may do – regardless of who or what may be responsible for any fluctuations – we must take responsible, appropriate, effective measures now. Doing so will save habitats, wildlife, homes and human lives today, and tomorrow.

We cannot and must let more megafires incinerate forests and people for decades to come, under an hubristic, misguided, ideological belief that we can eventually end global fossil fuel use and control planetary climate and weather conditions, thereby somehow making monster wildfires a dim memory.

Via email

Blaming Trump for climate change is ‘ironic’ given two per cent emissions reduction

Environmental policy expert Michael Shellenberger says it is completely unscientific and “crazy talk” to suggest temperatures rise and forests burn because Donald Trump is the president.

Mr Shellenberger said it’s ironic how climate activists level blame upon President Donald Trump for climate change when emissions are “lower now than when he took office”.

“They declined two per cent last year”.

He said it’s a crazy notion to suggest Donald Trump is responsible for the current Californian wildfires given it takes “30 years or more for the carbon dioxide to translate to warming”.

“It’s so unscientific and yet it’s clearly been given a pass because the media has been so bias on this because they hate Trump so much,” Mr Shellenberger said.

“They basically want to ascribe every natural disaster, every fire on him.

“It’s really the state’s fault that you have this huge accumulation of wood fuel, Donald Trump doesn’t have anything to do with that.”


The most infuriating protest ever: Climate activist pests bring peak-hour traffic in Brisbane to a standstill by deliberately cycling as slowly as possible on a busy major road

Interesting that I had an easier than usual drive from Woolloongabba to the Valley this morning

Climate change activists have brought Brisbane’s peak hour traffic to a crawl by cycling as slow as possible on a major road.

Up to 45 demonstrators from Extinction Rebellion are riding bicycles through the city in a slow-moving blockade on Monday.

Kicking off at Kurilpa Park, South Brisbane, at 7.30am the two-hour-long protest is part of a push for Australia to sign on to a binding target of zero net carbon emissions by 2025, overseen by a citizen’s assembly.

‘We will be riding as slowly as possible to disrupt peak hour traffic to bring attention to the climate and ecological crisis,’ organisers said in a Facebook post.

‘We are headed for complete annihilation. The amount of warming we are on track for, will literally mean the death of billions of people.’

‘Scientists say that at 4 or 5 degrees of warming, the earth could sustain a billion people. Our governments could push us to 7 degrees of warming.’

Rally organisers have told demonstrators to be COVID-19 safe by travelling in small groups of 10, social distancing and donning masks as they cycle towards King George Square.

Organisers listed ‘legal tips’ in a Facebook post advising attendees not to communicate with police.

‘There will be police liaisons at this protest, they will communicate between the police and activists,’ the post read.

‘If the police approach you please direct them to the designated police liaisons.’

‘In the past they have not arrested anybody for cycling slowly at similar events …’

Protesters live streamed the disruptive ride over Facebook, with footage showing them chanting ‘climate justice’ and blasting anthems, such as John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’.




Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life — as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together — which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here


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