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May 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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MAY THIRTEENTH-FOURTEENTH

Tanner Johnson, now with NFWF.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation managing some of the BP funds

Mark Schleifstein reported in NOLA.com today (May 14) that a public/private nonprofit corporation called the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will administer $2.54 billion paid by BP and Transocean for criminal plea agreements over the company’s actions during the massive Deepwater Horizon oil release in 2010. These funds are earmarked for coastal projects to mitigate environmental damage experienced in all five Gulf states during the oil release.

Schleifstein described the NFWF as follows:

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation better known for putting together land donations for additions to national wildlife refuges and supporting species conservation and general conservation programs.

Half of these funds ($1.57 billion) will be spent in Louisiana for barrier shoreline and river diversion projects, some of which are still in the design stage. Louisiana not only suffered the most damage from the blowout but is also the best prepared to spend the money effectively, having s state-approved master plan that has been publicly vetted.

Here’s a link to a description of the program by the NFWF.

It should be noted that the NFWF recently hired Tanner Johnson to watchdog the funds spent in Louisiana and Texas. That’s good news. Johnson is an attorney who formerly served as a senior staffer to Sen. Mary Landrieu, advising her on coastal issues, among other duties. It’s also encouraging that Mr. R. King Milling, an active member of virtually every coastal advisory group of note in Louisiana, was recently appointed to the NFWF board as well. It’s a good thing that King retired from his day job as Chief Executive of Whitney National Bank!

 MAY ELEVENTH-TWELTH

Top carbon emitter takes the lead in fighting climate change

A tourist at Beijing's Forbidden City wears a mask to guard against the pollution covering the city in January. Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images

Environmental news this week has been dominated by the fact that atmospheric CO2 reached an all time record of 400 ppm for an extended period, higher than Homo sapiens sapiens has ever experienced.  Here’s a quote from an article in Huffpost Green by James Gerken:

“The last time we’re confident that CO2 was sustained at these levels is more than 10 million years ago, during the middle of the Miocene period,” climate scientist Michael Mann told The Huffington Post in an email. “This was a time when global temperatures were substantially warmer than today, and there was very little ice around anywhere on the planet.”

 

 China 9,700,000 tons CO2/yr 7.2 tons/capita yr
 U.S. 5,420,000 tonsCO2/yr 17.3 tons/capita yr

 

The most serious emitter of industrial CO2 in absolute terms is the most populous country in the world, an autocracy. The second most serious emitter of CO2 and the highest per capita emitter, is a democracy, in which one of the two major political parties is largely in denial of climate change.

On May 8 Ramez Naam reported in Slate.com that China is far ahead of the U.S. in fighting climate change for the following 7 reasons:

1. China is launching a cap-and-trade plan.

2. China is also launching a carbon tax.

3. China is investing more in renewable energy.

4. China dominates in solar production…

5. … and is second only to Germany in solar deployment.

6. China loves wind more than coal, and more than we do.

7. China’s leaders are not like America’s. There’s a preponderance of scientists and engineers among China’s rulers. New President Xi Jinping was trained as a chemical engineer. His predecessor, Hu Jintao, earned a degree in hydraulic engineering. His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, held a degree in electrical engineering.

Unfortunately, although our GOP majority congress includes a number of medical doctors, including Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge) and Dr. John Fleming (R-Shreveport) those guys are technicians, NOT scientists. What’s more, like all of their GOP colleagues, they’re climate change deniers.

MAY NINTH-TENTH

New flood insurance rates cause major coastal angst

The cost of living in our delta will doubtless dominate the coastal conversation throughout the foreseeable future. This includes the public cost of providing sufficient dry land to support the lifestyle of let’s say three billion people and the private cost for property owners to insure their homes against flood damage.

Paying the cost of the protection/restoration effort is so far limited to whatever funding is ultimately squeezed from BP, rather than from the U.S. Treasury. Bt the same token, the market-based insurance cost of coastal living will be paid by us and will no longer be subsidized by the feds.

On May 8 Bruce Alpert reported in NOLA.com that the fiscal impact of potential huge increases in flood insurance rates is beginning to sink in to residents of south Louisiana. Jordan Blum covered the same issue in The Advocate on May 9. Both reports describe efforts by Senator Mary Landrieu to delay the starting date of the law, which is supposed to take effect next year. Coastal residents whose property is not on the upland side of what is called the 1% level of flood protection will see their annual flood insurance rates rise from 20 to 25% per year until equity is achieved or the coast is abandoned, whichever happens first.

The times they are a changing.

MAY EIGHTH

Strange senate bedfellows

Boxer and Vitter

Bruce Alpert reported in today’s NOLA.com on the state of the draft Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill that has been crafted by a bizarre partnership between Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and David Vitter (R-LA), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. The WRDA process is essential to the authorization of all water related public works projects. Here’s a key paragraph:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., whose environmental credentials are generally unchallenged, stood by a compromise she reached with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., for a streamlined review process of the (WRDA) projects. It has generated criticism from environmental groups and the Obama administration with complaints it might advance Army Corps of Engineers projects that harm the environment.

Speaking of environmentally damaging projects, Jordan Blum covered the WRDA debate for The Advocate. His opening paragraph lists the Morganza to the Gulf (MTTG) project, which, to my mind is a perfect example of a politically popular project that would harm the environment on a scale perhaps as big as the recently de-authorized Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO):

The U.S. Senate began debate Tuesday on the comprehensive water infrastructure bill that is intended to expedite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes, set aside more dollars for river dredging and speed up flood-protection projects like southern Louisiana’s Morganza to the Gulf plan.

MAY SEVENTH

Tulane professor creates website on New Orleans flood vulnerability

Graphic from NOLA.com

On May 3 NOLA.com published a note by Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.com, who called attention to a very useful website on the geological history of the New Orleans area and the history and causes of flooding in the city, including the great flood of 2005. The website is the creation of Stephen Nelson, Associate Professor in Earth & Environmental Sciences at Tulane University. Check this out!

MAY SIXTH

Graphic from NOLA.com

Mississippi officials worried about Louisiana levee

Yesterday’s The Times-Picayune carried an AP report that the Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is concerned that the construction of a proposed $1.1 billion levee between Lake Borne and Lake Pontchartrain, as called for in the Louisiana Master Plan, would increase flooding in Hancock County in our neighbor state. The proposed levee system was described by Mark Schleifstein in NOLA.com on December 20, 2012.

This project is the evolutionary ‘offspring’ of the so-called barrier plan that was proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the seventies and then abandoned in the early eighties, in favor of raising the levees around Lake Pontchartrain.

Given the ambitious goal of this project, its cost, the absence of a funding source and the cumbersome process for planning, authorizing and constructing large scale projects, I would say that Mississippi is not in imminent danger.

MAY FIFTH

Louisiana science

Graphic from Slate.com (6,000 refers to the age of the universe in years).

I’m currently dealing with a medical condition that makes walking a serious challenge. Thus, after paying $25 to park six long blocks away from the Jazzfest yesterday and enduring a slow and painful walk to the Fairgrounds, my soul mate and I hailed a pedicab to return to the car. Our ‘cabbie’ was a friendly Loyola law student with degrees in physics and geology from a Baptist school the name of which I can’t remember.

Upon hearing about his science background I shared my deep frustration with our governor’s disdain for science, as demonstrated by his disbelief in climate change and evolution. To my astonishment our intrepid pedaler defended Jindal by asserting that both global warming and evolution are highly controversial subjects.

This is probably true with respect to the general Louisiana population but there is virtually no controversy in the minds of those of us who deal with testable information. The pervasive scientific ignorance in our state is presumably reflected by the opinions of our elected officials, legislators and the governor…including some of our college graduates in science!

A post by science writer Phil Plait today in Slate.com described the third failure last week of our legislature to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act* that was promulgated by the ultra-right Louisiana Family Forum and proudly promoted by Bobby Jindal. The tone of Plait’s piece indicates his amazement that Louisiana is so nonplussed by its growing national reputation of ignorance. So sad.

*Despite the heroic efforts of Louisiana’s wunderkid Zack Kopplin, Rice University undergraduate, and State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, who have tirelessly attempted to open eyes in the legislature.

MAY FOURTH

Climate predicting to 2100 is a real challenge 

The highly unusual May snowfall in the Midwest, breaking 66 year records in Iowa, predictably prompted sarcasm about global warming by the ignoramuses on Fox and Friends.

Yesterday Salon.com published a primer on climate change that was excerpted from the publication Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future.

This is a clear (if somewhat redundant) summary of the current state of climate model predictions and the challenges to the reliable prediction of trends through the 21st Century. The good news is that the models are improving steadily. The bad news is that the predictions get more and more bleak.

MAY THIRD

This Koch's not for you. (Philip Elllender with his boss David Koch).

Koch Bro’s weigh into Louisiana politics

Bruce Alpert reported today in NOLA.com that the infamous billionaire Koch brothers are backing Bill Cassidy over Mary Landrieu for her senate seat. This doesn’t speak well for Dr. Cassidy’s environmental reputation.

I would call your attention to the Koch bros’ determination to eliminate government regulation of all kinds and to totally dismiss anthropogenic climate change. One of their most revealing ‘accomplishments’ was to found Americans for Prosperity, which preaches pure free market principles and promotes the profit motive above all else.

It’s particularly ironic that these two powerful right wingers have successfully recruited Louisiana native son Philip Ellender and grandson of the late Louisiana congressman Allen Ellender as a loyal gofer. This was described here on March 12, 2015.

MAY SECOND

More on the congressional and state wars on science

Bobby Jindal, Luddite in charge.

Phil Plait reported on the anti-science bill introduced by chairman Lamar Smith and his GOP cronies in the House Science Committee. In an article posted in Slate.com Plait cited Louisiana and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who promotes spending public money on private religious schools that teach creationism. Zack Kopplin, Baton Rouge native and Rice University undergrad, is mentioned in the article as a hero in the struggle against ignorance.

At the state level, the draft bill to repeal Louisiana’s so-called science education act failed as expected, thanks to a majority of no-nothing legislators meeting at the State Capitol. They’re dealing with much more important issues…like encouraging more gun totin’ in public. Here’s a national news item on this issue by Nick Wing, posted today in HuffPost.  Young Zack Kopplin figures prominently in this story as well.

Our governor and most of our legislators continue to make our state a laughingstock among educated Americans. Make no mistake, Bobby, this issue will come back as the presidential election cycle gets into full swing. There are lots of American Creationists out there but not enough to elect you to national office. I can’t wait to hear you bragging about trying to save our coast that’s exactly the same age as the Garden of Eden.

MAY FIRST

Alex Jones, radio host and conspiracist (Photo from The National Review).

Conspiracy theories v common sense

In yesterday’s Salon.com Sander van der Linden posted an article originally published in Scientific American that explores the conspiracy theory phenomenon and discusses why a large proportion of Americans fall for even the most implausible and convoluted explanations for historic events. Although it’s easy to laugh at those who, for example, believe that the president is a foreign born Muslim, there are too many birthers (and climate change deniers) to dismiss them all out of hand.

According to the article, conspiracy believers tend to fall a class of folks who are are distrustful of authority in any form, including science and government.

Pulling off a conspiracy successfully would at the minimum require convincing a number of co-conspirators to keep deep secrets for life. I consider myself something of an authority on both science and government, having spent my entire working career among practitioners of each profession. I can attest to the inability of either group to keep secrets (just like most Americans).

One of the leading practitioners of the wave of conspiracy theories is right wing radio host Alex Jones, whose persona is described in this post in The National Review by Betsy Woodruff. Mr. Jones manages a blog site infowars.com, and Woodruff calls him an evangelist in conspiracy theology. I call him at best an ignoramous and at worst a menace to society.

This afternoon I received a phone call from an irate coastal resident who opposes river diversions…especially the Caernarvon project. He implied that scientists like myself are engaged in a political strategy to promote diversion projects when we should be dredging sediments to build land. His dismissal of the science behind river diversions sounded like a coastal conspiracy in the making.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Interesting letter to the editor in the Times-Picayune last Friday, May 10th

    http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2013/05/state_cant_depend_on_river_div.html#incart_river

  6. riverrat says:

    Re the WRDA Bill and expediting Morganza to the Gulf: despite its flaws, the MtG project is moving forward, with the backing of the Corps and a very questionable review process. It was authorized in the previous WRDA, but received no appropriations, so one should hope that the staffers on the Hill keep giving it that kind of skeptical scrutiny. The estimated $10-13 billion price tag won’t help on that front, but misguided support like that of Boxer, who may take Vitter’s word that Louisiana’s survival will be helped by the project, could prove a key factor. This project may also end up being the real legacy of the large NGO’s who lacked the integrity to oppose it (as Len pointed out in his famous “Silence of the Eco-Lambs” post some time ago.)

  7. Dr Trout says:

    Did the enraged caller happen to be Mike Lane? George Ricks? Pat Fitzpatrick? They have been attempting to rope in Nungesser, Peralta, WWL, The Times Pic, Fox 8 and more into their misunderstandings of the laws of hydrology, geology, and biology.

    The characterization of rejecting reality and supplanting it with their own surely does apply to all 3.

    • Dr. Trout-
      I won’t divulge his name but it was one of the three folks you mentioned. I promised to lay out the science of delta ontogeny in person if the opportunity arises.

  8. Emilie says:

    I think he’s from austin. there was a guy who i think was supposed to be him in the movie waking life, which is set in austin.

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