Climate change and the US south for a year

I crisscrossed a region my own that is mired in a culture of denial and delay. The conversation on the climate crisis has not changed fast enough

atmosphere

Its 96 degrees in downtown Beaufort, North Carolina, a place where I spent much of my childhood. The sidewalk is too hot for dogs to walk on. The iconic wild horses, visible on Shackleford Banks, wade in the marsh, munching cordgrass. Ive been watching the horses since I was in elementary school, and now Im sharing them with my elementary school-aged daughters on summer vacation.

My girls love them, as I did. The legend is that the horses swam to safety from an old Spanish shipwreck. Its moving to watch the small, strong horses grazing on the dunes. For now, theyve survived the latest big hurricane, and theyre free.

The 100 or so wild horses have one square kilometer of high ground on which to weather hurricanes and sea level rise, and a shortage of fresh water endangered by encroaching salt water and storm surge. Some scientists recommend that the Shackleford horses be relocated, although they have been there for centuries.

The story is a familiar one that will be told in a thousand different ways as the atmosphere warms in the years to come: we must think creatively and quickly to save the things we love.

I wrote my Climate Changed column between hurricane seasons, in the wake of Hurricane Florence and before the start of Hurricane Barry. I close the column from Beaufort, a place where Florence brought a record storm surge; it caused $17bn in damage to the state. As my daughters and I drive over the bridge into Morehead City, I see bulldozers still clearing the last of the Channel Marker restaurant, a fixture of Atlantic Beach flooded during Florence.

I thought that Hurricane Florence might serve as a turning point in the conversation about the realities of climate change in a region still mired in a culture of denial and delay. After a year of research and reporting, I am not convinced that the conversation has changed fast enough, if much at all. Here in Beaufort, like Miami and Charleston, I encounter deniers, continued waterfront development, hurricane damage and blistering temperatures.

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A great blue heron is silhouetted by the reflection of the rising sun at Lake Johnson Park in Raleigh. Photograph: Alamy

 

If there is any part of the south where technology, tax dollars and public opinion are aligning to make changes, its Miami, even though new waterfront real estate is still being built. But for the most part, climate change discussions continue to fall along party lines in a divided nation. To many rural southerners, the bigger, well-funded environmental movements seem to be rooted in California and New England. The conversations appear to be taking place in the echo chamber of privileged believers.

I saw more of the south while reporting for this column than I ever saw in my 30 years of living there. My travel reinforced what I already knew: there is no one south. In 2019 it is multitudinous, diverse and still reckoning with its plantation economy and cruel social history. It has PhDs, evangelicals, Trump enthusiasts, environmentalists, artists and activists. Its this very tension that has often made the south the genesis of social movements; one hopes it might happen again, and soon.

Social and environmental racism, income inequality and poverty are as present as they have ever been, and are only weaponized by climate change, as I reported from Virginia and Natchez, Mississippi.

I found that in places like eastern North Carolina, the river parishes of Louisiana, Miami, and Mississippis Gulf coast, chronic exposure to natural disasters has resulted in psychological resilience, and created a desire in some to go down with the ship. In places like New Orleans, trauma strengthens the sense of community. As Tropical Storm Barry moved in to New Orleans, I emailed with former interviewees who shared forecasts and concerns. Im gritting my teeth, one wrote. But Im not evacuating. Home is sometimes more an emotional than a rational commitment.

In eastern North Carolina, where I grew up and write from, climate change was never a polite topic of conversation. I was told the same in a coffee shop in Mississippi, and by a minister in Georgia. Too many southerners are still dancing around the reality of climate change, and the cost of avoiding the conversation is going to be steep.

What does a better and more inclusive conversation look like? Non-traditional environmentalists can be critical allies in addressing the culture of climate change denial below the Mason-Dixon Line, like hunters in Arkansas and evangelical Christians in places like St Simons, Georgia. But too often, the perspectives and interests of frontline communities are ignored, further exacerbating the environmental racism so pervasive in the south.

When it comes to climate change preparedness in this region, part of the continued challenge is that the power structures of the old south remain in place. A Pew survey indicated that white evangelical protestants are the least likely to profess a belief in climate change. Power companies, developers and conservative politicians have a vested interest in deregulation and maintaining the environmental status quo, and many paint environmental concerns as nothing but liberal pagan ideas.

When I began this column, I felt more of a duty to listen to all sides, but frankly I do not believe that climate change is an issue of which one can pretend, or afford, to hear both sides. I believe that to deny climate change and delay productive action in 2019 is malicious and akin to governmental malpractice. A government that is not actively protecting its citizens from the future challenges of climate change (property loss, food system collapse, increased intensity of storms, flooded infrastructure, extreme heat, economic disruption) is not acting in the interests of its citizens. A politician who delays climate action is not acting in his or her constituents best interests, and may be going so far as to actually cause harm.

We do not need to hear another word from deniers, or cater to their anti-science position. Something the progressive south has always struggled to do: take the megaphone away from the people who want to live in the past.

Now that Ive seen more of the south, I cant help but feel losses and concerns in a specific way. As I began to write this final column, a fire raged through the Everglades, which I had driven through just months before. Storms threatened to challenge the already saturated Mississippi and its river control structures. I thought about the gators in the marsh, the last wild panthers darting to safety in the Everglades, the bartender who was kind to me in an ancient pub on Natchez-under-the-hill. The loss of life and landscape in climate change scenarios has always troubled me, but now it is real and urgent in a way it has never been before.

When the wild horses of Shackleford Banks weather storms, the dominant male gathers his harem on high ground or in the deep parts of the maritime forest, and they turn their backs to the wind and rain. A researcher observed that while wild herds are typically divided into harems, the divisions break down in extreme weather. The horses gave up their internal political dynamics, he said, staying together on the relatively highest ground of that site. That is how they survive.

To navigate the decades ahead, and save the places we love and call home, southerners will need to dismantle old political dynamics and build new, inclusive alliances.

 

 

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RAF and a damaged dam

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAn RAF Chinook is dropping 400 tonnes of aggregate to shore up the dam and divert water

Emergency crews are racing to save a damaged reservoir, as “terrified” residents fear their Derbyshire town could be flooded.

Police say the wall holding back the 300-million-gallon Toddbrook Reservoir could still fail despite about 24 hours of efforts to shore it up.

Part of the dam wall collapsed on Thursday afternoon.

The 1,500 people evacuated from Whaley Bridge amid “mortal danger” warnings will not be allowed home tonight.

But the water level has dropped by half a meter thanks to ten fire service pumps moving 4.2 million litres of water every hour – with more pumps on the way.

An RAF helicopter is also halfway through dropping 400 tonnes of aggregate on the collapsed section.

How dangerous is it?

BBC Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The clay under the slipway has been undermined

Police, the Environment Agency, and the Canal and River Trust have all said there is a “real risk” the dam could collapse.

Julie Sharman, from the Canal and Rivers Trust, said it was “a critical situation” but added the weather had improved and the water levels had reduced by 20cm.

“We aren’t putting a figure on any risk of collapse but everything that can be done is being done,” she said.

Engineers are attempting to get the reservoir’s water level down, to reduce pressure on the wall and allow repairs to begin.

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Image caption The dam holds back 1.3 million tonnes of water

What does it mean for residents?

About 1,500 people left their homes after police told them to pack up their medication and pets and gather at an evacuation point.

Some stayed with relatives while others bedded down in pubs and hotels, with lots of businesses offering free rooms.

Police said residents would not be allowed back on Friday so would spend a second night away from their homes.

BBC
Image caption Bev Goodwin has put up friends and family after they left Whaley Bridge

Bev Goodwin lives in Chapel-en-le-Frith and put up her mum and dad, Joy and Steve and two friends – Susie and Angela.

Joy said: “We have nothing. No clothes, no toothbrush, nothing.

“We have been thinking about what’s in our house that we would miss – all our kids’ pictures and of our grandchildren – it’s upsetting.”

Susie said: “It’s just surreal that it’s happening in our town, it’s just bizarre.”

Mike Breslin described it as a “crazy situation”.

“They should never have built a school and a social club at the bottom of a dam. It’s madness,” he said.

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Image caption Resident Mike Breslin said it was ‘madness’ to build a school at the base of the dam

Eric Baker, who has lived in the town for 30 years said: “It’s shocking really, it’s like living next to a ticking bomb. If that goes the devastation will be unimaginable.

“We saw the water coming over at a tremendous rate on Wednesday and the park was flooded but it wasn’t until Thursday the people who look after it started to look worried.

“Then it started to collapse on Thursday and it made a tremendous noise as the concrete slabs began to collapse.

“The disruption is huge, the small shops and businesses are really being hit and of course we don’t know when it will be over.”

BBC Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Public agencies and the army have been praised for their efforts

Another resident, who did not want to be named, said: “We just fled. I managed to take my nightdress and we’ve got the tortoise in the washing up bowl in the car.

“It’s quite terrifying. If the dam goes, it will take out the whole town.”

When will it be fixed?

news Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Teams have worked through the night

Nigel Carson, who lives near the dam, said he had been told it would take two or three days to reduce the reservoir to a safe level if it does not rain.

There are no weather warnings in place for Friday, and the Met Office has said it expects much drier conditions.

BBC reporter Richard Stead described the operation to fix the dam as “a two-pronged attack”.

He said: “The Chinook is bringing aggregate on the one hand to shore up the dam, but also to divert water further up the valley away from the reservoir.

“There are also 16 high-volume pumps being used to relieve the pressure on the dam.

“Only when that is done can work start on permanent repairs and finding out what went wrong.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked the Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers to chair an emergency meeting.

BBC

Ms Villiers said she was receiving regular updates on the situation and the government’s COBR committee would make sure everything possible was being done to help.

People have shared their admiration for the emergency services on social media, with Twitter user @nmstoker naming the chinook pilots #DamUnbusters.

BBC

Analysis

By David Shukman, BBC science editor

This isn’t the first time communities have faced the nightmare of a dam that could collapse.

Back in 2007 a dam near Rotherham was the cause of a major alert, and the scenario is very similar to now. Torrential rain had filled the Ulley reservoir to overflowing.

Cracks appeared in the dam itself. People downstream were told to leave. The M1 motorway was in the path of a potential burst so part of it was closed.

As with the dam at Whaley Bridge, the one at Ulley was built in the 19th Century with the same combination of clay and mud.

In the end, pumps relieved the pressure and nearly 3000 tonnes of rock strengthened the structure so the emergency passed.

But over the following three years a huge repair operation costing £3.8m was needed. And a major review of the 2007 floods was highly critical of the way many of Britain’s dams are monitored.

Whatever happens at Whaley Bridge, questions will be asked about safety and whether ageing infrastructure can cope with the heavier downpours predicted as the climate warms.

BBC

What happened?

news

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionToddbrook Reservoir: Footage shows fast-flowing water before collapse

Part of the reservoir’s spillway broke away on Thursday.

It was damaged after large swathes of the country were battered by heavy rain and floods earlier in the week.

Police told residents in Whaley Bridge to gather at Chapel High School in neighbouring Chapel-en-le-Frith.

They were told to take pets and medication with them as it was unclear how long it would take to repair the damaged wall.

BBC
BBC

Pumps from fire services across the country have been pumping out 7,000 litres of water a minute.

Army engineers are clearing trees and bushes to get “five or six” more water pumps in on south side of reservoir.

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service said more than 150 firefighters from across the UK have been supporting the work at the dam and in the town.

A severe flood warning, which means a threat to life, has been issued for the River Goyt below the reservoir.

BBC Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Sandbags are shoring up the structure

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Journalists Under Attack

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its sixth monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice.

Paul Chouta, the Cameroon Web reporter who was arrested in May, denied bail, and charged with defamation and spreading false news. His case has been delayed until August 13 and he remains in a maximum-security prison. Aasif Sultan, a reporter for Kashmir Narrator, was arrested on “anti-state” charges and will have been imprisoned for one year on August 27. He has been repeatedly interrogated by police, demanding that he reveal his sources.

Here is the August list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia): Stonewalling continues after new UN report implicates Saudi prince for journalist’s murder.

Months after his brazen killing, and despite findings from the UN and the CIA that point to the Saudi crown prince’s involvement, there has been no independent criminal investigation. Calls for the White House to release intelligence reports have gone unheeded, along with a deadline to reply to Congress as required under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act.

2. Azory Gwanda (Tanzania): Tanzanian official claims missing journalist is dead—then backtracks.

Azory Gwanda, a freelance journalist investigating mysterious killings in rural Tanzania, has been missing since November 21, 2017, and the government has failed to conduct an investigation or disclose what it knows. On July 10, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi said in an interview that Gwanda had “disappeared and died,” but backtracked amid requests for clarification.

3. Juan Pardinas (Mexico): Mexican newspaper editor targeted with death threats for criticizing new president.

Mexican media organizations and journalists have recently reported a sharp increase in threats and online harassment over critical reporting of the López Obrador administration. Juan Pardinas, the editor-in-chief of Mexican newspaper Reforma, received a barrage of online harassment and threats after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized the newspaper in April. López Obrador acknowledged the threats against Pardinas and said that his government had offered protective measures to the journalist.

4. Paul Chouta (Cameroon): Journalist in maximum security prison blocked from seeing family.

Cameroon Web reporter Paul Chouta was arrested in May, denied bail, and charged with defamation and spreading false news. Chouta’s editor said he suspects the case was in retaliation for critical reporting. His case has been delayed until August 13 and he remains in a maximum-security prison.

5. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan): Kyrgyz court upholds life sentence for documenting human rights abuses.

Award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, has spent nine years in prison on trumped-up charges for his reporting on human rights violations. Despite persistent international condemnation and calls for his release, a Kyrgyz court that had reviewed his case in light of new legislation ruled to uphold his life sentence on July 30.

6. Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak (Turkey): Turkish journalist faces 30 years in solitary confinement.

A commentator for opposition newspaper Özgür Düşünce and Can Erzincan TV, Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested in 2016 and sentenced in February 2018 to life without parole for trying to overturn the constitution through her journalism. In a separate trial in January, she was sentenced to an additional five years for revealing state secrets. In Turkey, which has been the top jailer of journalists three years in a row, life sentences without parole equate to 30 years in solitary confinement, with limited visits.

7. Marzieh Amiri (Iran): Imprisoned journalist denied healthcare after for covering May Day demonstrations.

Iranian authorities arrested Marzieh Amiri, an economics reporter at Tehran-based newspaper Shargh Daily, as she covered May Day demonstrations, and her family has had limited contact with her since. Authorities have accused Amiri of committing crimes against national security without giving further details.

8. Jones Abiri (Nigeria): Journalist re-arrested on terrorism and cybercrime charges.

Jones Abiri, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source, is behind bars on charges under Nigeria’s cybercrimes act, anti-sabotage act, and terrorism prevention act for crimes allegedly carried out in 2016. The charges are the same ones that a court threw out after he was held without access to his family or a lawyer from 2016 to 2018.

9. Aasif Sultan (India): Journalist imprisoned one year without due process for covering conflict.

Aasif Sultan, a reporter for Kashmir Narrator, will have been imprisoned one year on August 27, arrested in 2018 and months later charged with “complicity” in “harboring known terrorists.” He has been repeatedly interrogated and asked to reveal his sources by police. Sultan continues to be denied due process, with ongoing delays in his hearings.

10. Truong Duy Nhat (Vietnam): Blogger who disappeared in Thailand imprisoned in Vietnam.

Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese reporter with Radio Free Asia, went missing in January in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had applied for refugee status. In March, his daughter learned he was jailed without charge in a Hanoi detention center. Nhat was previously sentenced to two years in prison in 2013 in connection to his critical reporting on the government.

According to CPJ research, the killers go unpunished in nine out of every 10 journalists murdered.

The One Free Press Coalition contains 33 prominent international members including: AméricaEconomía; The Associated Press; Bloomberg News; The Boston Globe; BuzzFeed; CNN Money Switzerland; Corriere Della Sera; De Standaard; Deutsche Welle; Estadão; EURACTIV; The Financial Times; Forbes; Fortune; HuffPost; India Today; Insider Inc.; Le Temps; Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Office of Cuba Broadcasting; Quartz; Radio Free Asia; Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Republik; Reuters; The Straits Times; Süddeutsche Zeitung; TIME; TV Azteca; Voice of America; The Washington Post; WIRED; and Yahoo News.

One Free Press Coalition partners with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) to identify the most-urgent cases for the list, which is updated and published on the first day of every month. News organizations throughout the world can join the Coalition by emailing info@onefreepresscoalition.com.


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Climatic change and human impact on climate

Scientists say July at least equalled and may have beaten hottest month on record

climate change

The record-breaking heatwave that roasted Europe last month was a one-in-a-thousand-year event made up to 100 times more likely by human-driven climate change, scientists have calculated.

Around the globe, July at least equalled and may have surpassed the hottest month on record, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization. This followed the warmest June on record.

Temperature records were broken in many countries, wildfires continue to devastate vast areas of Siberia, the Greenland ice sheet is melting at a near record rate, and the risk of drought has grown more acute across wide areas of central and eastern Europe.

The extreme heat is particularly unusual because it is not an El Nio year the phenomenon usually associated with prolonged temperature surges. Instead, scientists say it is driven to a large extent by carbon emissions from car exhausts, power plant chimneys, burning forests and other human sources.

How much these factors loaded the dice in the two- to three-day heatwave during the last week of July was the subject of an attribution study by a consortium of meteorologists and climatologists at the UK Met Office, Oxford University and other prominent European institutions.

It found that the extreme heat in France and the Netherlands, where temperatures peaked above 40C, was made at least 10 times and possibly more than 100 times more likely by climate change. In the UK, which set a record of 38.7C on 25 July, the human impact on the climate made the high temperatures at least two to three times more probable.

There was considerable variation from place to place, but in all the studied locations the scientists said it would have been 1.5C to 3C cooler without climate change.

Satellite
A Nasa satellite image shows winds carrying plumes of smoke over Russia, centre right, as wildfires raged in Siberia. Photograph: Joshua Stevens/Nasa/AP

 

Although the recent heat has been described as historic, it is unlikely to remain that way for long, according to the authors of the study. It will not make history. These records will be broken in few years, said Friederike Otto, of the University of Oxford. What we see with European heatwaves is that all the climate models are underestimating the change that we see. She said further study would investigate how likely it was to have two intense heatwaves in the space of two months.

The paper says the extreme heat will have an impact on human wellbeing, though the data on this often lags, which can mean it fails to draw much public attention.

Heatwaves during the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially lethal, the paper says. The full impact is known only after a few weeks when the mortality figures have been analysed. Effective heat emergency plans, together with accurate weather forecasts such as those issued before this heatwave, reduce impacts and are becoming even more important in light of the rising risks.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, who has called a special climate summit of world leaders in September, said the seasons were moving alarmingly far from their usual path. We have always lived through hot summers, but this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfathers summer, he said. Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives, and for our lives. It is a race that we can and must win.

The World Meteorological Organization expects 2015-19 to be the warmest five-year period ever recorded. July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level, said the organisations secretary general, Petteri Taalas. Unprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests which used to absorb carbon dioxide and instead turning them into fiery sources of greenhouse gases. This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action.

 

 

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Belgium: Dismantling of gothic bridge

After years of argument workers have begun taking apart Tournais Bridge of Holes

Architecture

The dismantling of Tournais gothic Bridge of Holes to make room for larger boats down the Scheldt river has been met with solemn protest and a withering attack on local politicians by a minister in Belgiums federal government.

After years of argument over the project, a crane attached to a barge was deployed from 6:00am on Friday morning to take apart the three arches of the Pont des Trous as a local cellist played mournfully on the river bank.

The bridges bricks will be retained for its later reconstruction on similar lines to the original, albeit with a wider and higher central arch.

The council had initially supported a contemporary replacement described by opponents as a Bridge of McDonalds due to its similarity to the burger chains logo, and officials have been criticised for their willingness to dismantle the landmark.

A crowd on the rivers banks audibly reacted when some of the brickwork was seen falling into the water on Friday. Many watching a live stream on the website of the regional television station, Notele, wrote of their sadness at saying goodbye.

Among those on the river bank was Belgiums minster for energy, Marie-Christine Marghem, who in a Facebook post deplored the lack of empathy for local people by the council.

She wrote: Because a Tournaisien lives his city in joys and sorrows, I am at the foot of our Bridge of Holes since the sunrise to see how institutional killjoys attack a monument without prior heritage procedure, under the gloomy eye of the little local potentates.

Prima facie, I obviously don’t see any numbered stone. Are we surprised? Throughout, in addition, no word of empathy has been addressed to the population which long expressed in a popular consultation her love for its roots, its identity, its history.

Built between 1281 and 1304, the Pont des Trous is one of only three remaining 13th-century military bridges in the world.

Bombed and partially destroyed during the second world war, the central arches were rebuilt and widened in 1947. Only its medieval towers the Bourdiel, built in 1281 on the left bank and the Thieulerie, built on the rivers right bank between 1302-04 are original.

The bridges name comes from a nearby lock that was called Les Trous, or the holes, by Tournaisiens.

The reconstruction was said to be necessary as part of a (4.2bn) (3.8bn) project to create a 65-mile (105km) canal, connecting the Seine and Scheldt rivers. The council wants to allow passage for boats of up to 2,000 tonnes rather than continue with the current 1,500-tonne limit.

The dismantling of the bridge has been met with resistance throughout the process, with the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, asked to intervene.

The criticism was at its most vociferous in 2016 when the council approved plans by the architect Olivier Bastin for a minimalist and contemporary style.

A petition calling for the plan to be ditched attracted more than 20,000 signatures and the backing of the French radio and TV host Stphane Bern.

It was only in March this year that the minister of public works in the francophone Walloon region, Carlo Di Antonio, announced that the modern design was being ditched and that the bridge would be rebuilt almost identically.

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