Arquivo da tag: Desastre

Bill Gates e o problema com o solucionismo climático (MIT Technology Review)

Bill Gates e o problema com o solucionismo climático

Natureza e espaço

Focar em soluções tecnológicas para mudanças climáticas parece uma tentativa para se desviar dos obstáculos políticos mais desafiadores.

By MIT Technology Review, 6 de abril de 2021

Em seu novo livro Como evitar um desastre climático, Bill Gates adota uma abordagem tecnológica para compreender a crise climática. Gates começa com os 51 bilhões de toneladas de gases com efeito de estufa criados por ano. Ele divide essa poluição em setores com base em seu impacto, passando pelo elétrico, industrial e agrícola para o de transporte e construção civil. Do começo ao fim, Gates se mostra  adepto a diminuir as complexidades do desafio climático, dando ao leitor heurísticas úteis para distinguir maiores problemas tecnológicos (cimento) de menores (aeronaves).

Presente nas negociações climáticas de Paris em 2015, Gates e dezenas de indivíduos bem-afortunados lançaram o Breakthrough Energy, um fundo de capital de investimento interdependente lobista empenhado em conduzir pesquisas. Gates e seus companheiros investidores argumentaram que tanto o governo federal quanto o setor privado estão investindo pouco em inovação energética. A Breakthrough pretende preencher esta lacuna, investindo em tudo, desde tecnologia nuclear da próxima geração até carne vegetariana com sabor de carne bovina. A primeira rodada de US$ 1 bilhão do fundo de investimento teve alguns sucessos iniciais, como a Impossible Foods, uma fabricante de hambúrgueres à base de plantas. O fundo anunciou uma segunda rodada de igual tamanho em janeiro.

Um esforço paralelo, um acordo internacional chamado de Mission Innovation, diz ter convencido seus membros (o setor executivo da União Europeia junto com 24 países incluindo China, os EUA, Índia e o Brasil) a investirem um adicional de US$ 4,6 bilhões por ano desde 2015 para a pesquisa e desenvolvimento da energia limpa.

Essas várias iniciativas são a linha central para o livro mais recente de Gates, escrito a partir de uma perspectiva tecno-otimista. “Tudo que aprendi a respeito do clima e tecnologia me deixam otimista… se agirmos rápido o bastante, [podemos] evitar uma catástrofe climática,” ele escreveu nas páginas iniciais.

Como muitos já assinalaram, muito da tecnologia necessária já existe, muito pode ser feito agora. Por mais que Gates não conteste isso, seu livro foca nos desafios tecnológicos que ele acredita que ainda devem ser superados para atingir uma maior descarbonização. Ele gasta menos tempo nos percalços políticos, escrevendo que pensa “mais como um engenheiro do que um cientista político.” Ainda assim, a política, com toda a sua desordem, é o principal impedimento para o progresso das mudanças climáticas. E engenheiros devem entender como sistemas complexos podem ter ciclos de feedback que dão errado.

Sim, ministro

Kim Stanley Robinson, este sim pensa como um cientista político. O começo de seu romance mais recente The Ministry for the Future (ainda sem tradução para o português), se passa apenas a alguns anos no futuro, em 2025, quando uma onda de calor imensa atinge a Índia, matando milhões de pessoas. A protagonista do livro, Mary Murphy, comanda uma agência da ONU designada a representar os interesses das futuras gerações em uma tentativa de unir os governos mundiais em prol de uma solução climática. Durante todo o livro a equidade intergeracional e várias formas de políticas distributivas em foco.

Se você já viu os cenários que o Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) desenvolve para o futuro, o livro de Robinson irá parecer familiar. Sua história questiona as políticas necessárias para solucionar a crise climática, e ele certamente fez seu dever de casa. Apesar de ser um exercício de imaginação, há momentos em que o romance se assemelha mais a um seminário de graduação sobre ciências sociais do que a um trabalho de ficção escapista. Os refugiados climáticos, que são centrais para a história, ilustram a forma como as consequências da poluição atingem a população global mais pobre com mais força. Mas os ricos produzem muito mais carbono.

Ler Gates depois de Robinson evidencia a inextricável conexão entre desigualdade e mudanças climáticas. Os esforços de Gates sobre a questão do clima são louváveis. Mas quando ele nos diz que a riqueza combinada das pessoas apoiando seu fundo de investimento é de US$ 170 bilhões, ficamos um pouco intrigados que estes tenham dedicado somente US$ 2 bilhões para soluções climáticas, menos de 2% de seus ativos. Este fato por si só é um argumento favorável para taxar fortunas: a crise climática exige ação governamental. Não pode ser deixado para o capricho de bilionários.

Quanto aos bilionários, Gates é possivelmente um dos bonzinhos. Ele conta histórias sobre como usa sua fortuna para ajudar os pobres e o planeta. A ironia dele escrever um livro sobre mudanças climáticas quando voa em um jato particular e detém uma mansão de 6.132 m² não é algo que passa despercebido pelo leitor, e nem por Gates, que se autointitula um “mensageiro imperfeito sobre mudanças climáticas”. Ainda assim, ele é inquestionavelmente um aliado do movimento climático.

Mas ao focar em inovações tecnológicas, Gates minimiza a participação dos combustíveis fósseis na obstrução deste progresso. Peculiarmente, o ceticismo climático não é mencionado no livro. Lavando as mãos no que diz respeito à polarização política, Gates nunca faz conexão com seus colegas bilionários Charles e David Koch, que enriqueceram com os petroquímicos e têm desempenhado papel de destaque na reprodução do negacionismo climático.

Por exemplo, Gates se admira que para a vasta maioria dos americanos aquecedores elétricos são na verdade mais baratos do que continuar a usar combustíveis fósseis. Para ele, as pessoas não adotarem estas opções mais econômicas e sustentáveis é um enigma. Mas, não é assim. Como os jornalistas Rebecca Leber e Sammy Roth reportaram em  Mother Jones  e no  Los Angeles Times, a indústria do gás está investindo em defensores e criando campanhas de marketing para se opor à eletrificação e manter as pessoas presas aos combustíveis fósseis.

Essas forças de oposição são melhor vistas no livro do Robinson do que no de Gates. Gates teria se beneficiado se tivesse tirado partido do trabalho que Naomi Oreskes, Eric Conway, Geoffrey Supran, entre outros, têm feito para documentar os esforços persistentes das empresas de combustíveis fósseis em semear dúvida sobre a ciência climática para a população.

No entanto, uma coisa que Gates e Robinson têm em comum é a opinião de que a geoengenharia, intervenções monumentais para combater os sintomas ao invés das causas das mudanças climáticas, venha a ser inevitável. Em The Ministry for the Future, a geoengenharia solar, que vem a ser a pulverização de partículas finas na atmosfera para refletir mais do calor solar de volta para o espaço, é usada na sequência dos acontecimentos da onda de calor mortal que inicia a história. E mais tarde, alguns cientistas vão aos polos e inventam elaborados métodos para remover água derretida de debaixo de geleiras para evitar que avançasse para o mar. Apesar de alguns contratempos, eles impedem a subida do nível do mar em vários metros. É possível imaginar Gates aparecendo no romance como um dos primeiros a financiar estes esforços. Como ele próprio observa em seu livro, ele tem investido em pesquisa sobre geoengenharia solar há anos.

A pior parte

O título do novo livro de Elizabeth Kolbert, Under a White Sky (ainda sem tradução para o português), é uma referência a esta tecnologia nascente, já que implementá-la em larga escala pode alterar a cor do céu de azul para branco.
Kolbert observa que o primeiro relatório sobre mudanças climáticas foi parar na mesa do presidente Lyndon Johnson em 1965. Este relatório não argumentava que deveríamos diminuir as emissões de carbono nos afastando de combustíveis fósseis. No lugar, defendia mudar o clima por meio da geoengenharia solar, apesar do termo ainda não ter sido inventado. É preocupante que alguns se precipitem imediatamente para essas soluções arriscadas em vez de tratar a raiz das causas das mudanças climáticas.

Ao ler Under a White Sky, somos lembrados das formas com que intervenções como esta podem dar errado. Por exemplo, a cientista e escritora Rachel Carson defendeu importar espécies não nativas como uma alternativa a utilizar pesticidas. No ano após o seu livro Primavera Silenciosa ser publicado, em 1962, o US Fish and Wildlife Service trouxe carpas asiáticas para a América pela primeira vez, a fim de controlar algas aquáticas. Esta abordagem solucionou um problema, mas criou outro: a disseminação dessa espécie invasora ameaçou às locais e causou dano ambiental.

Como Kolbert observa, seu livro é sobre “pessoas tentando solucionar problemas criados por pessoas tentando solucionar problemas.” Seu relato cobre exemplos incluindo esforços malfadados de parar a disseminação das carpas, as estações de bombeamento em Nova Orleans que aceleram o afundamento da cidade e as tentativas de seletivamente reproduzir corais que possam tolerar temperaturas mais altas e a acidificação do oceano. Kolbert tem senso de humor e uma percepção aguçada para consequências não intencionais. Se você gosta do seu apocalipse com um pouco de humor, ela irá te fazer rir enquanto Roma pega fogo.

Em contraste, apesar de Gates estar consciente das possíveis armadilhas das soluções tecnológicas, ele ainda enaltece invenções como plástico e fertilizante como vitais. Diga isso para as tartarugas marinhas engolindo lixo plástico ou as florações de algas impulsionadas por fertilizantes destruindo o ecossistema do Golfo do México.

Com níveis perigosos de dióxido de carbono na atmosfera, a geoengenharia pode de fato se provar necessária, mas não deveríamos ser ingênuos sobre os riscos. O livro de Gates tem muitas ideias boas e vale a pena a leitura. Mas para um panorama completo da crise que enfrentamos, certifique-se de também ler Robinson e Kolbert.

Fundação Renova deve ser extinta e Vale, BHP e Samarco precisam pagar R$ 10 bilhões em danos morais, pede o MPMG (Observatório da Mineração)

Maurício Angelo, 25 de fevereiro de 2021

A Fundação Renova não pode mais existir por representar os interesses das mineradoras – Vale, BHP e Samarco – que a mantém e ser incapaz de cumprir de forma independente com as ações de reparação do maior desastre ambiental da história do Brasil, o rompimento da barragem de Mariana.

Por isso, o MPMG acaba de ajuizar ação civil pública pedindo a extinção da Fundação Renova, a nomeação de uma junta interventora para exercer a função de conselho curador, incluindo um desenho institucional de transição e a condenação por danos morais no valor de R$10 bilhões.

O modelo atual da Fundação Renova, que teve as suas contas rejeitas pela quarta vez pelo MPMG, que apontou diversas ilicitudes na gestão da Fundação e a interferência direta das mineradoras, “é como se fosse autorizado que os acusados no processo penal e nos processos coletivos em geral pudessem decidir e gerir os direitos e as garantias fundamentais das suas próprias vítimas”, diz a ação.

Segundo o MPMG, é evidente a ilicitude constitucional e legal da Fundação Renova e impossível a sua manutenção, pois “não é razoável, diante dos direitos fundamentais, dos direitos humanos, da dignidade humana, ambiental e do próprio devido processo legal” que a Renova siga sendo responsável pela reparação do desastre de Mariana.

Esse pedido, que deverá ser analisado pela justiça estadual de Minas Gerais, mexe com todo o modelo fechado em acordos anteriores que definiram os programas executados e que se provaram insuficientes diante da gravidade e a complexidade do caso, que completou 5 anos em novembro último.

Foto de capa: Ismael dos Anjos

Extinção é consequência de anos de irregularidades

A extinção da Renova é a consequência de uma série de irregularidades e investigações que tenho denunciado no Observatório desde a criação da Fundação, em 2016.

a suspeita de que a Renova esteja sendo usada em manobras fiscais por Vale, Samarco e BHP para reembolsar parte dos bilhões gastos até hoje. Em 2020, a Renova também decidiu cortar o auxílio financeiro a sete mil pessoas em Minas Gerais e no Espírito Santo, foi denunciada por uma “possível violação em massa de direitos humanos” e obrigada pela justiça a voltar atrás.

As propagandas veiculadas pela Renova em alguns dos principais jornais e veículos do país ao custo de R$ 17 milhões foram consideradas enganosas e irregulares pelo Ministério Público Federal e defensorias públicas. A Renova foi usada para pressionar prefeitos da bacia do Rio Doce a abrir mão de ações judiciais no Brasil e no exterior.

Dezenas de milhares de pessoas sequer foram reconhecidas como atingidos pelo rompimento da barragem de Mariana até hoje e os distritos destruídos pela lama ainda não foram reconstruídos. Alguns, como Paracatu de Baixo e Gesteira, estão em fase prévia de estudos ou aguardam os projetos serem homologados pela justiça.

Falta de participação dos atingidos

Um ponto crítico de toda a história é a falta da participação dos atingidos, o que motivou inclusive uma repactuação do acordo original feito em 2016, reformado em 2018 para tentar garantir que as pessoas afetadas tivessem realmente voz no processo.

Não funcionou.

É o que afirma o MPMG na ação, destacando que ao longo desses mais de cinco anos, diversas foram as falhas dos programas da Fundação Renova apontados no âmbito do sistema do Comitê Interfederativo (CIF), no processo judicial, nos relatórios técnicos dos experts do Ministério Público e trabalhos e manifestações realizadas pelas representações dos atingidos.

“A resistência da Fundação Renova” em resolver os problemas, dizem os promotores, “decorre, em grande medida, da falta de participação dos atingidos na concepção, implementação e execução das medidas reparatórias”.

Outro fator relevante, continua o MPMG, é o fato de que a Fundação Renova insiste em desconsiderar estudos técnicos elaborados e/ou validados no âmbito do sistema CIF, bem como a produção técnica dos experts no diagnóstico socioeconômico e socioambiental e no monitoramento dos programas.

Para os promotores Gregório de Almeida e Valma Cunha, “é urgente que estes ilícitos e desvios de finalidade sejam imediatamente cessados como forma de restabelecer a incidência da ordem jurídica, dos direitos e das garantias constitucionais fundamentais e de próprio devido processo legal”.

Modelo de transição complexo

Segundo a ação, o regime de transição deverá assegurar tudo o que foi negociado até aqui, um caso complexo que envolve a manutenção do sistema de governança, com suas respectivas atribuições, incluindo o Comitê Interfederativo (CIF) e instâncias internas (Câmaras Técnicas, Comitês de Assessoramento), as Comissões Locais de Pessoas Atingidas e Assessorias Técnicas contratadas, Auditoria Externa Independente, experts e contratações específicas dedicadas ao monitoramento dos programas mediante Acordos de Cooperação Técnica-Científica.

O objetivo é realizar o processo de repactuação mediante plano de ação e cronograma a ser estabelecido em comum acordo pelo Ministério Público, Defensoria Pública, Empresas, a União, o Estado De Minas Gerais, o Estado Do Espírito Santo, com a participação dos atingidos, conforme os princípios e cláusula do TAC-Gov (acordo reformulado de 2018).

O Plano de Ação e o Cronograma deverão considerar duas frentes de atuação a serem trabalhadas no Processo de Repactuação, destacam, uma voltada à própria repactuação dos programas de reparação hoje em curso, considerando o respeito aos direitos humanos e a participação dos atingidos e outra relativa à nova governança voltada à condução dos Programas Socioambientais e Socioeconômicos, “garantindo-se que essa venha se dar por meio de processos e fluxos que assegurem imparcialidade, legitimidade, participação, transparência, preservando-se os objetivos e premissas estabelecidos nos acordos pelas partes e assumidos como compromissos pelas empresas envolvidas com o desastre”, destacam.

Durante a transição, as mineradoras devem garantir que nenhuma medida de reparação tenha seu cronograma suspenso ou atrasado. “Seria incoerência aceitar que as irregularidades da Fundação Renova possam justificar qualquer atraso ou não realização da reparação de todos os danos causados pelas empresas envolvidas no desastre, sobretudo considerando que já se passaram 5 anos e ainda há muito a ser feito para garantir a reparação integral”, afirmam os promotores.

O MPMG pede que seja contemplado pela decisão liminar de intervenção a nomeação de uma junta interventora judicial, que exercerá a função de conselho curador, composta por membros indicados pelo MPF, MPMG, MPES, o presidente do CIF, o estado de MG e do ES e as defensorias públicas da União, de Minas Gerais e do Espírito Santo.

Pedidos finais

Nesse caso, é importante conhecer os detalhes dos pedidos finais do Ministério Público de Minas Gerais, que mostram a responsabilidade das mineradoras e como será feita, na prática, a extinção da Renova, sem que isso acarrete mais prejuízos aos atingidos e sem que os dirigentes que eventualmente respondam por medias cíveis e criminais saiam impunes. São eles:

1- Extinguir a FUNDAÇÃO RENOVA, com a consequente averbação da sentença junto ao serviço de registro civil de pessoas jurídicas de Belo Horizonte e cancelamento da inscrição junto ao Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica (CNPJ);

2 – Condenar as instituidoras e mantenedoras SAMARCO MINERAÇÃO S.A, VALE S.A. e BHP BILLITON BRASIL LTDA, em responsabilidade solidária, à reparação dos danos materiais causados no desvio de finalidade e nos ilícitos praticados dentro e por intermédio da FUNDAÇÃO RENOVA, com a frustração dos Programas Acordados no TTAC e nos seus objetivos estatutários, com desvios de finalidade, sem prejuízo das medidas cíveis e criminais a serem adotadas posteriormente em face dos dirigentes que concorreram para a prática dos ilícitos, danos esses a serem apurados em liquidação de sentença, conforme admite o art. 324, §1º, inciso II, do CPC;

3 – Condenar as instituidoras e mantenedoras SAMARCO MINERAÇÃO S.A, VALE S.A. e BHP BILLITON BRASIL LTDA, em responsabilidade solidária, à reparação dos danos morais no valor de R$ 10 dez bilhões de reais, que corresponde aproximadamente aos valores gastos, com ineficiência dos Programas, até o presente momento por intermédio da FUNDAÇÃO RENOVA, revertendo o valor da condenação ao desenvolvimento de políticas públicas de direitos humanos e ambientais nas regiões atingidas pelos rejeitos decorrentes do rompimento da Barragem do FUNDÃO.

4 – Expedir ofício ao Ministério da Previdência e Assistência Social, para que informe se há débitos pendentes junto ao INSS; à Caixa Econômica Federal, referentemente aos débitos junto ao FGTS; às Fazendas Federal, Estadual e Municipal;

5 – expedir ofício aos Serviços de Registro Imobiliário de Belo Horizonte, a fim de levantar eventual patrimônio imobiliário da FUNDAÇÃO RENOVA; expedir ofício ao Banco Central do Brasil, requisitando informações sobre contas bancárias de qualquer natureza em nome da FUNDAÇÃO RENOVA; proceder à liquidação do patrimônio fundacional (inclusive com a publicação de edital para conhecimento de terceiros interessados) e à reversão dos bens residuais, com a nomeação de liquidante, nos termos do Estatuto e do artigo 69 do Código Civil.

“Faltam resultados, falta reparação, falta boa vontade das empresas: falta empatia e humanidade para com as pessoas atingidas. Cinco anos depois, as duas maiores empresas de mineração em todo o mundo não conseguiram reconstruir um único distrito”, conclui a ação.

Procurada para comentar, a Renova não se manifestou até a publicação desta reportagem.

Atualização: leia na íntegra a resposta enviada pela Renova após a publicação da matéria.

A Fundação Renova discorda das alegações feitas pelo Ministério Público de Minas Gerais relacionadas às contas da instituição e informa que irá contestar nas instâncias cabíveis o pedido de intervenção proposto em Ação Civil Pública nesta quarta-feira (24).  

Além das prestações de contas realizadas anualmente, a Fundação também encaminha ao MPMG as respectivas aprovações de suas contas feitas pelo Conselho Curador, pelo Conselho Fiscal e pela empresa independente responsável pela auditoria das demonstrações financeiras, conforme prevê a Cláusula 53 do TTAC. 

As contas da Fundação Renova são ainda verificadas por auditorias externas independentes, que garantem transparência no acompanhamento e fiscalização dos investimentos realizados e dos resultados alcançados. As contas da Fundação foram aprovadas por essas auditorias. 

A respeito do questionamento do MP relacionado ao superávit da Fundação Renova em 2019, é importante esclarecer que é recomendável que instituições do terceiro setor trabalhem com superávit, indicador de que o trabalho está sendo realizado de forma qualificada e técnica. No caso da Fundação Renova, o valor relativo ao superávit é reaplicado nas ações de reparação do ano seguinte. 

Sobre a remuneração de seus executivos, a Fundação Renova esclarece que adota uma política de mercado, com valores compatíveis com as responsabilidades assumidas. Importante esclarecer que os valores aportados pelas mantenedoras para o custeio da fundação (salários e custos administrativos) não comprometem e não são contabilizados nos valores destinados à reparação e compensação dos danos causados pelo rompimento de Fundão.  

Cabe ressaltar que a Fundação Renova é responsável pela mobilização para a reparação dos danos causados pelo rompimento da barragem de Fundão, cujo escopo engloba 42 programas que se desdobram nos projetos que estão sendo implementados nos 670 quilômetros de área impactada ao longo do rio Doce e afluentes e em ações de longo prazo. Cerca de R$ 11,8 bilhões foram desembolsados pela Fundação Renova até o momento, tendo sido pagos R$ 3,26 bilhões em indenizações e auxílios financeiros para 320 mil pessoas até janeiro deste ano. 

A indenizações ganharam novo impulso com o Sistema Indenizatório Simplificado, implementado pela Fundação Renova a partir de decisão da 12ª Vara Federal em ações apresentadas por Comissões de Atingidos dos municípios impactados. Ele tem possibilitado o pagamento de indenização a categorias com dificuldade de comprovação de danos. O primeiro pagamento por meio do sistema foi realizado em setembro. Até o início de fevereiro de 2021, mais de 5 mil pessoas foram pagas pelo Sistema Indenizatório Simplificado. O valor ultrapassou R$ 450 milhões. 

Reparação 

A Fundação Renova permanece dedicada ao trabalho de reparação dos danos provocados pelo rompimento da barragem de Fundão, em Mariana (MG), propósito para o qual foi criada.  

As obras dos reassentamentos têm previsão de desembolso de R$ 1 bilhão para 2021, um aumento de 14% em relação ao ano anterior. O valor refere-se a todas as modalidades de reassentamento, englobando as construções dos novos distritos de Bento Rodrigues, Paracatu de Baixo e Gesteira, e, também, a modalidade de reassentamento Familiar e a reconstrução de residências em comunidades rurais. O avanço da infraestrutura, priorizado dentro do plano estratégico de prevenção contra a Covid-19, permitirá a aceleração da construção das residências das famílias atingidas. Assim, os reassentamentos coletivos ganham desenhos de cidades planejadas.  

A questão do prazo de entrega dos reassentamentos está sendo discutida em um Ação Civil Pública (ACP) em curso na Comarca de Mariana, tendo sido submetido recurso para análise em segunda instância (TJMG), o qual ainda aguarda apreciação e julgamento. Nesse contexto, foram expostos os protocolos sanitários aplicáveis em razão da Covid-19, que obrigaram a Fundação a desmobilizar parte do efetivo e a trabalhar com equipes reduzidas, o que provocou a necessidade de reprogramação das atividades. 

A água do rio Doce pode ser consumida após passar por tratamento convencional em sistemas municipais de abastecimento. Além disso, foram recuperados 113 afluentes, pequenos rios que alimentam o alto rio Doce. Cerca de 888 nascentes estão com o processo de recuperação iniciado. Até o momento, as ações de restauração florestal alcançam mais de 1.000 hectares em Minas Gerais e no Espírito Santo, uma área equivalente a 1.000 campos de futebol. 

Na área de saneamento, 9 municípios iniciaram obras para tratamento de esgoto e resíduos sólidos com recursos repassados pela Fundação Renova. Estão previstos R$ 600 milhões para projetos nos 39 municípios impactados. 

Em 2020, a Fundação iniciou um repasse de R$ 830 milhões aos governos de Minas Gerais e do Espírito Santo e prefeituras da bacia do rio Doce, para investimentos em infraestrutura, saúde e educação. Esses recursos promoverão a reestruturação de mais de 150 quilômetros de estradas, de cerca de 900 escolas em 39 municípios e do Hospital Regional de Governador Valadares (MG), além de possibilitar a implantação do Distrito Industrial de Rio Doce (MG). 

White Supremacy Set the Stage for Texas’ Miserable Disaster Response (Thruth Out)

truthout.org

Scott Kurashige, February 21, 2021


In order to make sense of the natural and human-induced disaster that has struck Texas, the nation will first need an accurate picture of who lives here. Yes, Texas has its oil barons, fossil-fuel lobbyists, and opportunistic political “leaders” who have extracted wealth from the state at the expense of the environment and human needs. But the real figure that should stand out is 17 million people.

That’s roughly the Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and Asian population of Texas, which comprises nearly 60 percent of the state. Only 3 states and 69 countries have a larger total population. Denmark, Finland, and Norway combined do not total 17 million residents. Of the 13 cities in the U.S. with populations above 900,000 today, five are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth) and only 25 to 48 percent “non-Hispanic whites.” Thus, any story of Texans freezing, dying or hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning, losing power for vital medical equipment, or suffering without water or pipes bursting is more than likely occurring among the states BIPOC majority.

Outrage has erupted in Texas and throughout the nation, perhaps building on the momentum of the 2020 uprisings against white supremacy and police-perpetrated violence. Coming on the heels of the Trump-fueled mob attack on the Capitol and GOP refusal to hold the former president accountable, the catastrophe in Texas may be similar to the many “100-year” or “500-year” events that have now become commonplace. Floods, wildfires, freezes and heatwaves wreak havoc today but provide a preview of much worse effects to come from the compounded effects of industrial pollution and capitalist consumption.

As a result, three long overshadowed problems are now being widely discussed.

First, after the popular revolts of the 1960s, global powers responded with neoliberal restructuring designed to heighten the free reign of capital while weakening the collective power of workers and unions. This is what the Zapatistas called the Empire of Money, and it’s the mentality behind the deregulation and privatization of energy markets and utilities that leaves people literally in the cold when rapidly changing realities overwhelm systems designed to cut corners for immediate profiteering.

Second, Gov. Greg Abbott’s spurious scapegoating of renewable energy for the power outages—a perfect exposition of what Naomi Klein has called “disaster capitalism”—has escalated demands for a Green New Deal. More broadly, it has exposed the need for an immediate and transformative response to the climate crisis rooted in principles of climate justice that empower and uplift peoples in the global South and the most oppressed sectors of the global North bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Third, Ted Cruz’s “let them eat cake” vacation to Cancun was a visible reminder of the cruelty of our political system — a system that rewards politicians propped up by corporate money, right-wing lies, and racist ideologies for blaming others and evading responsibility. The elites most responsible for the disastrous effects of climate change, racism, ableism, and poverty would have us believe that it is always others who must suffer instead of their own families.

The policies that have caused death and suffering have not “failed”; they have worked exactly as intended. The exponential growth of the billionaire class has been a direct product of five decades of neoliberalism, but the gains for the working and middle classes have been deliberately illusory. Yet, there can be no innocent return to the era of liberalism and the New Deal. We need to appreciate from history how the problems illuminated now in Texas are interconnected with the decline of the white majority and the liberal order.

Herrenvolk Democracy and the New Deal Order

Prior to the policy reforms of the first half of the 20th century, there was little assumption that the government had a responsibility to intervene to redress even the most grotesque economic injustices, such as exploitation of child labor, starvation wages, deadly working conditions, or food contamination. FDR’s New Deal galvanized a new and unprecedented coalition in support of social and economic reform, creating both employment and relief programs in response to the Great Depression and safety net measures like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance that have continued to the present.

The age of FDR represented a dramatic shift from the laissez-faire Hoover administration and a form of dominance that has been largely unparalleled in U.S. politics since. At its core, however, the New Deal coalition embodied the central contradiction in American democracy. Going back to at least Jefferson and Jackson, the push to expand the franchise and economic opportunity was tied to white supremacy. Thus, in the words of the late sociologist Pierre van den Berghe, it promoted herrenvolk (master race) democracy, or the concept that only the dominant group was entitled to such rights and capable of using them responsibly. White small farmers, settlers and workers routinely internalized a belief that they earned their freedom and citizenship rights as Americans through wars of genocide, campaigns of dispossession and reactionary social movements to uphold white supremacy.

The New Deal, though never coming close to achieving full equality, provided a new opening for labor unionization, civil rights, and Native sovereignty, thereby raising the prospects for multiracial democracy. Yet, the New Deal also continued to reinforce the contradictory unity of democracy and white supremacy. For example, it established public housing on a limited and racially segregated basis. However, the greater and longer-term impact of federal intervention was to subsidize white homeowners to buy homes with government-backed mortgages in neighborhoods restricted to whites by racist developers, realtors, and covenants.

Particularly in the South, FDR and national party leaders embraced white supremacist Democrats who prevented most African Americans and Mexican Americans from voting. So long as Black and Brown voters were shut out of the system, whites could perceive their votes as being for liberal economic policies like infrastructure development that served their self-interest, rather than simply voting against what they feared.

In Texas — part of the “Solid South” backing the Democrats almost exclusively for over 100 years — FDR won his first three elections with over 80 percent of the vote. Even when prominent conservative and white supremacist Democrats defected in 1944, he prevailed with 71 percent. During this time, the population of Texas was on average 70 percent or greater “non-Hispanic whites.”

The End of Liberal Hegemony

The Civil Rights Movement was born of a refusal to allow the white supremacist rule of herrenvolk democracy to continue. The right-wing currents that emerged in response were thus distinctly grounded in white supremacy. Though the new right was led by the corporate class — eventually finding a firm home in the GOP of Nixon and Reagan — it came to power with the fracture of the liberal order by winning middle and working-class whites away from the Democrats. This was a national phenomenon not limited to a “southern” strategy. In my 2017 book The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit, I argue that Detroit, once the model of progress for capitalists and socialists, alike, became a model for the new right strategy of Black disenfranchisement and neoliberal dispossession.

During Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy engineered through a state takeover, the autocratic “emergency manager” worked with moneyed interests to take away or gut union jobs, homes, water, pensions, and health care benefits in order to impose austerity on the people and pave the way for billionaire developers and investors. This was an extreme form of a national trend to dismantle social programs and impose a Social Darwinist neglect of human needs by writing oppressed communities out of the social contract. The racist, classist and ableist response to COVID-19 has made this all too tragically clear.

As in Detroit, right-wing revanchism and race-baiting generally arose wherever demographic growth heralded a nonwhite majority. California was a pioneer of the dog-whistle racism that Republicans used to win over suburban whites from the 1960s to 1990s until the new majority came of age. Texas, whose once-commanding “non-Hispanic white” demographic majority disappeared between 1970 and 2010, has perfected much of the voter suppression, gerrymandering, and racist/heteropatriarchal scapegoating at the heart of the neo-Confederate playbook for minority rule by the current GOP.

The wealthy, privileged whites served by the Texas’s dominant political class are a small minority of the population. That’s the ongoing legacy of conquest, colonialism and proletarianization. Seen in this light, the unnecessary human suffering and death during the current catastrophe — whose full effects may not be known for some time — connect Texas to New Orleans and Flint, where short-term economic and political expediency have combined with racist, classist and ableist dehumanization to render mass populations disposable before, during, and after natural and human-induced disasters.

Contesting Minority Rule

This is how the bifurcation of herrenvolk democracy is now playing out: We are simultaneously moving toward a new social order that fulfills real democracy and a worse system driven by “master race” ideology. In Texas, where new and sustainable infrastructure is desperately needed, the New Deal has been supplanted by conspiracy theories and political Ponzi schemes. Like deregulated energy rates, these schemes promise cost savings at the expense of long-term stability and security, ultimately drowning households and local governments in debt while the Dow reaches record highs.

What is conceivable with the empowerment of a new majority in Texas and everywhere? We need structural change in politics to sweep away the politicians controlled by big money and dependent on lies, climate denial and scapegoating to remain in power. We all saw what Trump was able to get away with, and his legacy continues through the likes of Cruz and Abbott. But we also know that these crises are not limited to red states, and that Democratic policies have generally been inadequate, even as bolder and more promising proposals and leaders linked to activist movements have begun to arise and challenge the party’s establishment.

As Grace Lee Boggs recognized the growing illegitimacy of dominant institutions, she taught us that “the only way to survive is by taking care of one another.” That does not mean we should let those in power off the hook. What it implies is that we must do more than protest. We must to look to grassroots organizers, Indigenous peoples, and women of color feminists for models of solidarity in this transitional era of systemic collapse. In recent years, movements at Standing Rock and Mauna Kea have responded to colonial desecration by projecting a future centered on Earth, water and life.

During this catastrophe, Mutual Aid Houston has reported an “overwhelming wave of support” to provide food, blankets and money to people in need. The self-described BIPOC abolitionist collective formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality. It demonstrates scholar-activist Dean Spade’s point that mutual aid is not charity: “It’s a form of coming together to meet survival needs in a political context.” These local acts are putting into practice the values and concepts of community-based care that can establish relations for a more humane social order.

Texas Power Grid Run by ERCOT Set Up the State for Disaster (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Clifford Krauss, Manny Fernandez, Ivan Penn, Rick Rojas – Feb 21, 2021


Texas has refused to join interstate electrical grids and railed against energy regulation. Now it’s having to answer to millions of residents who were left without power in last week’s snowstorm.

The cost of a free market electrical grid became painfully clear last week, as a snowstorm descended on Texas and millions of people ran out of power and water.
Credit: Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Across the plains of West Texas, the pump jacks that resemble giant bobbing hammers define not just the landscape but the state itself: Texas has been built on the oil-and-gas business for the last 120 years, ever since the discovery of oil on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont in 1901.

Texas, the nation’s leading energy-producing state, seemed like the last place on Earth that could run out of energy.

Then last week, it did.

The crisis could be traced to that other defining Texas trait: independence, both from big government and from the rest of the country. The dominance of the energy industry and the “Republic of Texas” ethos became a devastating liability when energy stopped flowing to millions of Texans who shivered and struggled through a snowstorm that paralyzed much of the state.

Part of the responsibility for the near-collapse of the state’s electrical grid can be traced to the decision in 1999 to embark on the nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation, handing control of the state’s entire electricity delivery system to a market-based patchwork of private generators, transmission companies and energy retailers.

The energy industry wanted it. The people wanted it. Both parties supported it. “Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices about the power they use,” George W. Bush, then the governor, said as he signed the top-to-bottom deregulation legislation.

Mr. Bush’s prediction of lower-cost power generally came true, and the dream of a free-market electrical grid worked reasonably well most of the time, in large part because Texas had so much cheap natural gas as well as abundant wind to power renewable energy. But the newly deregulated system came with few safeguards and even fewer enforced rules.

With so many cost-conscious utilities competing for budget-shopping consumers, there was little financial incentive to invest in weather protection and maintenance. Wind turbines are not equipped with the de-icing equipment routinely installed in the colder climes of the Dakotas and power lines have little insulation. The possibility of more frequent cold-weather events was never built into infrastructure plans in a state where climate change remains an exotic, disputed concept.

“Deregulation was something akin to abolishing the speed limit on an interstate highway,” said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston. “That opens up shortcuts that cause disasters.”

The state’s entire energy infrastructure was walloped with glacial temperatures that even under the strongest of regulations might have frozen gas wells and downed power lines.

But what went wrong was far broader: Deregulation meant that critical rules of the road for power were set not by law, but rather by a dizzying array of energy competitors.

Utility regulation is intended to compensate for the natural monopolies that occur when a single electrical provider serves an area; it keeps prices down while protecting public safety and guaranteeing fair treatment to customers. Yet many states have flirted with deregulation as a way of giving consumers more choices and encouraging new providers, especially alternative energy producers.

California, one of the early deregulators in the 1990s, scaled back its initial foray after market manipulation led to skyrocketing prices and rolling blackouts.

States like Maryland allow customers to pick from a menu of producers. In some states, competing private companies offer varied packages like discounts for cheaper power at night. But no state has gone as far as Texas, which has not only turned over the keys to the free market but has also isolated itself from the national grid, limiting the state’s ability to import power when its own generators are foundering.

Consumers themselves got a direct shock last week when customers who had chosen variable-rate electricity contracts found themselves with power bills of $5,000 or more. While they were expecting extra-low monthly rates, many may now face huge bills as a result of the upswing in wholesale electricity prices during the cold wave. Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said the state’s Public Utility Commission has issued a moratorium on customer disconnections for non-payment and will temporarily restrict providers from issuing invoices.

A family in Austin, Texas, kept warm by a fire outside their apartment on Wednesday. They lost power early Monday morning.
Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

There is regulation in the Texas system, but it is hardly robust. One nonprofit agency, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, was formed to manage the wholesale market. It is supervised by the Public Utility Commission, which also oversees the transmission companies that offer customers an exhaustive array of contract choices laced with more fine print than a credit card agreement.

But both agencies are nearly unaccountable and toothless compared to regulators in other regions, where many utilities have stronger consumer protections and submit an annual planning report to ensure adequate electricity supply. Texas energy companies are given wide latitude in their planning for catastrophic events.

One example of how Texas has gone it alone is its refusal to enforce a “reserve margin” of extra power available above expected demand, unlike all other power systems around North America. With no mandate, there is little incentive to invest in precautions for events, such as a Southern snowstorm, that are rare. Any company that took such precautions would put itself at a competitive disadvantage.

A surplus supply of natural gas, the dominant power fuel in Texas, near power plants might have helped avoid the cascade of failures in which power went off, forcing natural gas production and transmission offline, which in turn led to further power shortages.

In the aftermath of the dayslong outages, ERCOT has been criticized by both Democratic and Republican residents, lawmakers and business executives, a rare display of unity in a fiercely partisan and Republican-dominated state. Mr. Abbott said he supported calls for the agency’s leadership to resign and made ERCOT reform a priority for the Legislature. The reckoning has been swift — this week, lawmakers will hold hearings in Austin to investigate the agency’s handling of the storm and the rolling outages.

For ERCOT operators, the storm’s arrival was swift and fierce, but they had anticipated it and knew it would strain their system. They asked power customers across the state to conserve, warning that outages were likely.

But late on Sunday, Feb. 14, it rapidly became clear that the storm was far worse than they had expected: Sleet and snow fell, and temperatures plunged. In the council’s command center outside Austin, a room dominated by screens flashing with maps, graphics and data tracking the flow of electricity to 26 million people in Texas, workers quickly found themselves fending off a crisis. As weather worsened into Monday morning, residents cranked up their heaters and demand surged.

Power plants began falling offline in rapid succession as they were overcome by the frigid weather or ran out of fuel to burn. Within hours, 40 percent of the power supply had been lost.

The entire grid — carrying 90 percent of the electric load in Texas — was barreling toward a collapse.

Much of Austin lost power last week due to rolling blackouts.
Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

In the electricity business, supply and demand need to be in balance. Imbalances lead to catastrophic blackouts. Recovering from a total blackout would be an agonizing and tedious process, known as a “black start,” that could take weeks, or possibly months.

And in the early-morning hours last Monday, the Texas grid was “seconds and minutes” away from such a collapse, said Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council.

“If we had allowed a catastrophic blackout to happen, we wouldn’t be talking today about hopefully getting most customers their power back,” Mr. Magness said. “We’d be talking about how many months it might be before you get your power back.”

The outages and the cold weather touched off an avalanche of failures, but there had been warnings long before last week’s storm.

After a heavy snowstorm in February 2011 caused statewide rolling blackouts and left millions of Texans in the dark, federal authorities warned the state that its power infrastructure had inadequate “winterization” protection. But 10 years later, pipelines remained inadequately insulated and heaters that might have kept instruments from freezing were never installed.

During heat waves, when demand has soared during several recent summers, the system in Texas has also strained to keep up, raising questions about lack of reserve capacity on the unregulated grid.

And aside from the weather, there have been periodic signs that the system can run into trouble delivering sufficient energy, in some cases because of equipment failures, in others because of what critics called an attempt to drive up prices, according to Mr. Hirs of the University of Houston, as well as several energy consultants.

Another potential safeguard might have been far stronger connections to the two interstate power-sharing networks, East and West, that allow states to link their electrical grids and obtain power from thousands of miles away when needed to hold down costs and offset their own shortfalls.

But Texas, reluctant to submit to the federal regulation that is part of the regional power grids, made decisions as far back as the early 20th century to become the only state in the continental United States to operate its own grid — a plan that leaves it able to borrow only from a few close neighbors.

The border city of El Paso survived the freeze much better than Dallas or Houston because it was not part of the Texas grid but connected to the much larger grid covering many Western states.

But the problems that began with last Monday’s storm went beyond an isolated electrical grid. The entire ecosystem of how Texas generates, transmits and uses power stalled, as millions of Texans shivered in darkened, unheated homes.

A surplus supply of natural gas, the dominant power fuel in Texas, near power plants might have helped avoid the cascade of failures.
Credit: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg

Texans love to brag about natural gas, which state officials often call the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. No state produces more, and gas-fired power plants produce nearly half the state’s electricity.

“We are struggling to come to grips with the reality that gas came up short and let us down when we needed it most,” said Michael E. Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

The cold was so severe that the enormous oil and natural gas fields of West Texas froze up, or could not get sufficient power to operate. Though a few plants had stored gas reserves, there was insufficient electricity to pump it.

The leaders of ERCOT defended the organization, its lack of mandated reserves and the state’s isolation from larger regional grids, and said the blame for the power crisis lies with the weather, not the overall deregulated system in Texas.

“The historic, just about unprecedented, storm was the heart of the problem,” Mr. Magness, the council’s chief executive, said, adding: “We’ve found that this market structure works. It demands reliability. I don’t think there’s a silver-bullet market structure that could have managed the extreme lows and generation outages that we were facing Sunday night.”

In Texas, energy regulation is as much a matter of philosophy as policy. Its independent power grid is a point of pride that has been an applause line in Texas political speeches for decades.

Deregulation is a hot topic among Texas energy experts, and there has been no shortage of predictions that the grid could fail under stress. But there has not been widespread public dissatisfaction with the system, although many are now wondering if they are being well served.

“I believe there is great value in Texas being on its own grid and I believe we can do so safely and securely and confidently going forward,” said State Representative Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano who has called for an investigation into what went wrong. “But it’s going to take new investment and some new strategic decisions to make sure we’re protected from this ever happening again.”

Steven D. Wolens, a former Democratic lawmaker from Dallas and a principal architect of the 1999 deregulation legislation, said deregulation was meant to spur more generation, including from renewable energy sources, and to encourage the mothballing of older plants that were spewing pollution. “We were successful,” said Mr. Wolens, who left the Legislature in 2005.

But the 1999 legislation was intended as a first iteration that would evolve along with the needs of the state, he said. “They can focus on it now and they can fix it now,” he said. “The buck stops with the Texas Legislature and they are in a perfect position to determine the basis of the failure, to correct it and make sure it never happens again.”

Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, Manny Fernandez and Ivan Penn from Los Angeles, and Rick Rojas from Nashville. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas.

Texas Blackouts Point to Coast-to-Coast Crises Waiting to Happen (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Christopher Flavelle, Brad Plumer, Hiroko Tabuchi – Feb 20, 2021


Traffic at a standstill on Interstate 35 in Kileen, Texas, on Thursday.
Traffic at a standstill on Interstate 35 in Kileen, Texas, on Thursday. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Continent-spanning storms triggered blackouts in Oklahoma and Mississippi, halted one-third of U.S. oil production and disrupted vaccinations in 20 states.

Even as Texas struggled to restore electricity and water over the past week, signs of the risks posed by increasingly extreme weather to America’s aging infrastructure were cropping up across the country.

The week’s continent-spanning winter storms triggered blackouts in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and several other states. One-third of oil production in the nation was halted. Drinking-water systems in Ohio were knocked offline. Road networks nationwide were paralyzed and vaccination efforts in 20 states were disrupted.

The crisis carries a profound warning. As climate change brings more frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme events, it is placing growing stress on the foundations of the country’s economy: Its network of roads and railways, drinking-water systems, power plants, electrical grids, industrial waste sites and even homes. Failures in just one sector can set off a domino effect of breakdowns in hard-to-predict ways.

Much of this infrastructure was built decades ago, under the expectation that the environment around it would remain stable, or at least fluctuate within predictable bounds. Now climate change is upending that assumption.

“We are colliding with a future of extremes,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw planning for climate risks on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “We base all our choices about risk management on what’s occurred in the past, and that is no longer a safe guide.”

While it’s not always possible to say precisely how global warming influenced any one particular storm, scientists said, an overall rise in extreme weather creates sweeping new risks.

Sewer systems are overflowing more often as powerful rainstorms exceed their design capacity. Coastal homes and highways are collapsing as intensified runoff erodes cliffs. Coal ash, the toxic residue produced by coal-burning plants, is spilling into rivers as floods overwhelm barriers meant to hold it back. Homes once beyond the reach of wildfires are burning in blazes they were never designed to withstand.

A broken water main in McComb., Miss. on Thursday.
Credit: Matt Williamson/The Enterprise-Journal, via Associated Press

Problems like these often reflect an inclination of governments to spend as little money as possible, said Shalini Vajjhala, a former Obama administration official who now advises cities on meeting climate threats. She said it’s hard to persuade taxpayers to spend extra money to guard against disasters that seem unlikely.

But climate change flips that logic, making inaction far costlier. “The argument I would make is, we can’t afford not to, because we’re absorbing the costs” later, Ms. Vajjhala said, after disasters strike. “We’re spending poorly.”

The Biden administration has talked extensively about climate change, particularly the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in renewable energy. But it has spent less time discussing how to manage the growing effects of climate change, facing criticism from experts for not appointing more people who focus on climate resilience.

“I am extremely concerned by the lack of emergency-management expertise reflected in Biden’s climate team,” said Samantha Montano, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy who focuses on disaster policy. “There’s an urgency here that still is not being reflected.”

A White House spokesman, Vedant Patel, said in a statement, “Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs” while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And while President Biden has called for a major push to refurbish and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, getting a closely divided Congress to spend hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, will be a major challenge.

Heightening the cost to society, disruptions can disproportionately affect lower-income households and other vulnerable groups, including older people or those with limited English.

“All these issues are converging,” said Robert D. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who studies wealth and racial disparities related to the environment. “And there’s simply no place in this country that’s not going to have to deal with climate change.”

Flooding around Edenville Township, Mich., last year swept away a bridge over the Tittabawassee River.
Credit: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

In September, when a sudden storm dumped a record of more than two inches of water on Washington in less than 75 minutes, the result wasn’t just widespread flooding, but also raw sewage rushing into hundreds of homes.

Washington, like many other cities in the Northeast and Midwest, relies on what’s called a combined sewer overflow system: If a downpour overwhelms storm drains along the street, they are built to overflow into the pipes that carry raw sewage. But if there’s too much pressure, sewage can be pushed backward, into people’s homes — where the forces can send it erupting from toilets and shower drains.

This is what happened in Washington. The city’s system was built in the late 1800s. Now, climate change is straining an already outdated design.

DC Water, the local utility, is spending billions of dollars so that the system can hold more sewage. “We’re sort of in uncharted territory,” said Vincent Morris, a utility spokesman.

The challenge of managing and taming the nation’s water supplies — whether in streets and homes, or in vast rivers and watersheds — is growing increasingly complex as storms intensify. Last May, rain-swollen flooding breached two dams in Central Michigan, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and threatening a chemical complex and toxic waste cleanup site. Experts warned it was unlikely to be the last such failure.

Many of the country’s 90,000 dams were built decades ago and were already in dire need of repairs. Now climate change poses an additional threat, bringing heavier downpours to parts of the country and raising the odds that some dams could be overwhelmed by more water than they were designed to handle. One recent study found that most of California’s biggest dams were at increased risk of failure as global warming advances.

In recent years, dam-safety officials have begun grappling with the dangers. Colorado, for instance, now requires dam builders to take into account the risk of increased atmospheric moisture driven by climate change as they plan for worst-case flooding scenarios.

But nationwide, there remains a backlog of thousands of older dams that still need to be rehabilitated or upgraded. The price tag could ultimately stretch to more than $70 billion.

“Whenever we study dam failures, we often find there was a lot of complacency beforehand,” said Bill McCormick, president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. But given that failures can have catastrophic consequences, “we really can’t afford to be complacent.”

Crews repaired switches on utility poles damaged by the storms in Texas.
Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

If the Texas blackouts exposed one state’s poor planning, they also provide a warning for the nation: Climate change threatens virtually every aspect of electricity grids that aren’t always designed to handle increasingly severe weather. The vulnerabilities show up in power lines, natural-gas plants, nuclear reactors and myriad other systems.

Higher storm surges can knock out coastal power infrastructure. Deeper droughts can reduce water supplies for hydroelectric dams. Severe heat waves can reduce the efficiency of fossil-fuel generators, transmission lines and even solar panels at precisely the moment that demand soars because everyone cranks up their air-conditioners.

Climate hazards can also combine in new and unforeseen ways.

In California recently, Pacific Gas & Electric has had to shut off electricity to thousands of people during exceptionally dangerous fire seasons. The reason: Downed power lines can spark huge wildfires in dry vegetation. Then, during a record-hot August last year, several of the state’s natural gas plants malfunctioned in the heat, just as demand was spiking, contributing to blackouts.

“We have to get better at understanding these compound impacts,” said Michael Craig, an expert in energy systems at the University of Michigan who recently led a study looking at how rising summer temperatures in Texas could strain the grid in unexpected ways. “It’s an incredibly complex problem to plan for.”

Some utilities are taking notice. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012 knocked out power for 8.7 million customers, utilities in New York and New Jersey invested billions in flood walls, submersible equipment and other technology to reduce the risk of failures. Last month, New York’s Con Edison said it would incorporate climate projections into its planning.

As freezing temperatures struck Texas, a glitch at one of two reactors at a South Texas nuclear plant, which serves 2 million homes, triggered a shutdown. The cause: Sensing lines connected to the plant’s water pumps had frozen, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

It’s also common for extreme heat to disrupt nuclear power. The issue is that the water used to cool reactors can become too warm to use, forcing shutdowns.

Flooding is another risk.

After a tsunami led to several meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the 60 or so working nuclear plants in the United States, many decades old, to evaluate their flood risk to account for climate change. Ninety percent showed at least one type of flood risk that exceeded what the plant was designed to handle.

The greatest risk came from heavy rain and snowfall exceeding the design parameters at 53 plants.

Scott Burnell, an Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, said in a statement, “The NRC continues to conclude, based on the staff’s review of detailed analyses, that all U.S. nuclear power plants can appropriately deal with potential flooding events, including the effects of climate change, and remain safe.”

A section of Highway 1 along the California coastline collapsed in January amid heavy rains.
Credit: Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The collapse of a portion of California’s Highway 1 into the Pacific Ocean after heavy rains last month was a reminder of the fragility of the nation’s roads.

Several climate-related risks appeared to have converged to heighten the danger. Rising seas and higher storm surges have intensified coastal erosion, while more extreme bouts of precipitation have increased the landslide risk.

Add to that the effects of devastating wildfires, which can damage the vegetation holding hillside soil in place, and “things that wouldn’t have slid without the wildfires, start sliding,” said Jennifer M. Jacobs, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire. “I think we’re going to see more of that.”

The United States depends on highways, railroads and bridges as economic arteries for commerce, travel and simply getting to work. But many of the country’s most important links face mounting climate threats. More than 60,000 miles of roads and bridges in coastal floodplains are already vulnerable to extreme storms and hurricanes, government estimates show. And inland flooding could also threaten at least 2,500 bridges across the country by 2050, a federal climate report warned in 2018.

Sometimes even small changes can trigger catastrophic failures. Engineers modeling the collapse of bridges over Escambia Bay in Florida during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 found that the extra three inches of sea-level rise since the bridge was built in 1968 very likely contributed to the collapse, because of the added height of the storm surge and force of the waves.

“A lot of our infrastructure systems have a tipping point. And when you hit the tipping point, that’s when a failure occurs,” Dr. Jacobs said. “And the tipping point could be an inch.”

Crucial rail networks are at risk, too. In 2017, Amtrak consultants found that along parts of the Northeast corridor, which runs from Boston to Washington and carries 12 million people a year, flooding and storm surge could erode the track bed, disable the signals and eventually put the tracks underwater.

And there is no easy fix. Elevating the tracks would require also raising bridges, electrical wires and lots of other infrastructure, and moving them would mean buying new land in a densely packed part of the country. So the report recommended flood barriers, costing $24 million per mile, that must be moved into place whenever floods threaten.

A worker checked efforts to prevent coal ash from escaping into the Waccamaw River in South Carolina after Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Credit: Randall Hill/Reuters

A series of explosions at a flood-damaged chemical plant outside Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 highlighted a danger lurking in a world beset by increasingly extreme weather.

The blasts at the plant came after flooding knocked out the site’s electrical supply, shutting down refrigeration systems that kept volatile chemicals stable. Almost two dozen people, many of them emergency workers, were treated for exposure to the toxic fumes, and some 200 nearby residents were evacuated from their homes.

More than 2,500 facilities that handle toxic chemicals lie in federal flood-prone areas across the country, about 1,400 of them in areas at the highest risk of flooding, a New York Times analysis showed in 2018.

Leaks from toxic cleanup sites, left behind by past industry, pose another threat.

Almost two-thirds of some 1,500 superfund cleanup sites across the country are in areas with an elevated risk of flooding, storm surge, wildfires or sea level rise, a government audit warned in 2019. Coal ash, a toxic substance produced by coal power plants that is often stored as sludge in special ponds, have been particularly exposed. After Hurricane Florence in 2018, for example, a dam breach at the site of a power plant in Wilmington, N.C., released the hazardous ash into a nearby river.

“We should be evaluating whether these facilities or sites actually have to be moved or re-secured,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization. Places that “may have been OK in 1990,” she said, “may be a disaster waiting to happen in 2021.”

East Austin, Texas, during a blackout on Wednesday.  
Credit: Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

Texas’s Power Crisis Has Turned Into a Disaster That Parallels Hurricane Katrina (TruthOut)

truthout.org

Sharon Zhang, Feb. 18, 2021


Propane tanks are placed in a line as people wait for the power to turn on to fill their tanks in Houston, Texas on February 17, 2021.
Propane tanks are placed in a line as people wait for the power to turn on to fill their tanks in Houston, Texas, on February 17, 2021. Mark Felix for The Washington Post via Getty Images

As many in Texas wake up still without power on Thursday morning, millions are now also having to contend with water shutdowns, boil advisories, and empty grocery shelves as cities struggle with keeping infrastructure powered and supply chains are interrupted.

As of estimates performed on Wednesday, 7 million Texans were under a boil advisory. Since then, Austin has also issued a citywide water-boil notice due to power loss at their biggest water treatment plant. Austin Water serves over a million customers, according to its website.

With hundreds of thousands of people still without power in the state, some contending that they have no water coming out of their faucets at all, and others facing burst pipes leading to collapsed ceilings and other damage to their homes, the situation is dire for many Texans facing multiple problems at once.

Even as some residents are getting their power restored, the problems are only continuing to layer as the only grocery stores left open were quickly selling out of food and supplies. As many without power watched their refrigerated food spoil, lines to get into stores wrapped around blocks and buildings and store shelves sat completely empty with no indication of when new shipments would be coming in. Food banks have had to cancel deliveries and schools to halt meal distribution to students, the Texas Tribune reports.

People experiencing homelessness, including a disproportionate number of Black residents, have especially suffered in the record cold temperatures across the state. There have been some reports of people being found dead in the streets because of a lack of shelter.

“Businesses are shut down. Streets are empty, other than a few guys sliding around in 4x4s and fire trucks rushing to rescue people who turn their ovens on to keep warm and poison themselves with carbon monoxide,” wrote Austin resident Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone. “Yesterday, the line at our neighborhood grocery store was three blocks long. People wandering around with handguns on their hip adds to a sense of lawlessness (Texas is an open-carry state).”

The Texas agricultural commissioner has said that farmers and ranchers are having to throw away millions of dollars worth of goods because of a lack of power. “We’re looking at a food supply chain problem like we’ve never seen before, even with COVID-19,” he told one local news affiliate.

An energy analyst likened the power crisis to the fallout of Hurricane Katrina as it’s becoming increasingly clear that the situation in Texas is a statewide disaster.

As natural gas output declined dramatically in the state, Paul Sankey, who leads energy analyst firm Sankey Research, said on Bloomberg, “This situation to me is very reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina…. We have never seen a loss [of energy supply] at this scale” in mid-winter. This is “the biggest outage in the history [of] U.S. oil and gas,” Sankey said.

Many others online echoed Sankey’s words as “Katrina” trended on Twitter, saying that the situation is similar to the hurricane disaster in that it has been downplayed by politicians but may be uncovered to be even more serious in the coming weeks.

Experts say that the power outages have partially been caused by the deregulation of the state’s electric grid. The government, some say, favored deregulatory actions like not requiring electrical equipment upgrades or proper weatherization, instead relying on free market mechanisms that ultimately contributed to the current disaster.

Former Gov. Rick Perry faced criticism on Wednesday when he said that Texans would rather face the current disaster than have to be regulated by the federal government. And he’s not the only Republican currently catching heat — many have begun calling for the resignation of Gov. Greg Abbott for a failure of leadership. On Wednesday, as millions suffered without power and under boil-water advisories, the governor went on Fox to attack clean energy, which experts say was not a major contributor to the current crisis, and the Green New Deal.

After declaring a state of emergency in the state over the weekend, the Joe Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would be sending generators and other supplies to the state.

The Biblical Flood That Will Drown California (Wired)

Tom Philpott, 08.29.20 8:00 AM

The Great Flood of 1861–1862 was a preview of what scientists expect to see again, and soon.

This story originally appeared on Mother Jones and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In November 1860, a young scientist from upstate New York named William Brewer disembarked in San Francisco after a long journey that took him from New York City through Panama and then north along the Pacific coast. “The weather is perfectly heavenly,” he enthused in a letter to his brother back east. The fast-growing metropolis was already revealing the charms we know today: “large streets, magnificent buildings” adorned by “many flowers we [northeasterners] see only in house cultivations: various kinds of geraniums growing of immense size, dew plant growing like a weed, acacia, fuchsia, etc. growing in the open air.”

Flowery prose aside, Brewer was on a serious mission. Barely a decade after being claimed as a US state, California was plunged in an economic crisis. The gold rush had gone bust, and thousands of restive settlers were left scurrying about, hot after the next ever-elusive mineral bonanza. The fledgling legislature had seen fit to hire a state geographer to gauge the mineral wealth underneath its vast and varied terrain, hoping to organize and rationalize the mad lunge for buried treasure. The potential for boosting agriculture as a hedge against mining wasn’t lost on the state’s leaders. They called on the state geographer to deliver a “full and scientific description of the state’s rocks, fossils, soils, and minerals, and its botanical and zoological productions, together with specimens of same.”

The task of completing the fieldwork fell to the 32-year-old Brewer, a Yale-trained botanist who had studied cutting-edge agricultural science in Europe. His letters home, chronicling his four-year journey up and down California, form one of the most vivid contemporary accounts of its early statehood.

They also provide a stark look at the greatest natural disaster known to have befallen the western United States since European contact in the 16th century: the Great Flood of 1861–1862. The cataclysm cut off telegraph communication with the East Coast, swamped the state’s new capital, and submerged the entire Central Valley under as much as 15 feet of water. Yet in modern-day California—a region that author Mike Davis once likened to a “Book of the Apocalypse theme park,” where this year’s wildfires have already burned 1.4 million acres, and dozens of fires are still raging—the nearly forgotten biblical-scale flood documented by Brewer’s letters has largely vanished from the public imagination, replaced largely by traumatic memories of more recent earthquakes.

When it was thought of at all, the flood was once considered a thousand-year anomaly, a freak occurrence. But emerging science demonstrates that floods of even greater magnitude occurred every 100 to 200 years in California’s precolonial history. Climate change will make them more frequent still. In other words, the Great Flood was a preview of what scientists expect to see again, and soon. And this time, given California’s emergence as agricultural and economic powerhouse, the effects will be all the more devastating.

Barely a year after Brewer’s sunny initial descent from a ship in San Francisco Bay, he was back in the city, on a break. In a November 1861 letter home, he complained of a “week of rain.” In his next letter, two months later, Brewer reported jaw-dropping news: Rain had fallen almost continuously since he had last written—and now the entire Central Valley was underwater. “Thousands of farms are entirely underwater—cattle starving and drowning.”

Picking up the letter nine days later, he wrote that a bad situation had deteriorated. All the roads in the middle of the state are “impassable, so all mails are cut off.” Telegraph service, which had only recently been connected to the East Coast through the Central Valley, stalled. “The tops of the poles are under water!” The young state’s capital city, Sacramento, about 100 miles northeast of San Francisco at the western edge of the valley and the intersection of two rivers, was submerged, forcing the legislature to evacuate—and delaying a payment Brewer needed to forge ahead with his expedition.

The surveyor gaped at the sheer volume of rain. In a normal year, Brewer reported, San Francisco received about 20 inches. In the 10 weeks leading up to January 18, 1862, the city got “thirty-two and three-quarters inches and it is still raining!”

Brewer went on to recount scenes from the Central Valley that would fit in a Hollywood disaster epic. “An old acquaintance, a buccaro [cowboy], came down from a ranch that was overflowed,” he wrote. “The floor of their one-story house was six weeks under water before the house went to pieces.” Steamboats “ran back over the ranches fourteen miles from the [Sacramento] river, carrying stock [cattle], etc., to the hills,” he reported. He marveled at the massive impromptu lake made up of “water ice cold and muddy,” in which “winds made high waves which beat the farm homes in pieces.” As a result, “every house and farm over this immense region is gone.”

Eventually, in March, Brewer made it to Sacramento, hoping (without success) to lay hands on the state funds he needed to continue his survey. He found a city still in ruins, weeks after the worst of the rains. “Such a desolate scene I hope never to see again,” he wrote: “Most of the city is still under water, and has been for three months … Every low place is full—cellars and yards are full, houses and walls wet, everything uncomfortable.” The “better class of houses” were in rough shape, Brewer observed, but “it is with the poorer classes that this is the worst.” He went on: “Many of the one-story houses are entirely uninhabitable; others, where the floors are above the water are, at best, most wretched places in which to live.” He summarized the scene:

Many houses have partially toppled over; some have been carried from their foundations, several streets (now avenues of water) are blocked up with houses that have floated in them, dead animals lie about here and there—a dreadful picture. I don’t think the city will ever rise from the shock, I don’t see how it can.

Brewer’s account is important for more than just historical interest. In the 160 years since the botanist set foot on the West Coast, California has transformed from an agricultural backwater to one of the jewels of the US food system. The state produces nearly all of the almonds, walnuts, and pistachios consumed domestically; 90 percent or more of the broccoli, carrots, garlic, celery, grapes, tangerines, plums, and artichokes; at least 75 percent of the cauliflower, apricots, lemons, strawberries, and raspberries; and more than 40 percent of the lettuce, cabbage, oranges, peaches, and peppers.

And as if that weren’t enough, California is also a national hub for milk production. Tucked in amid the almond groves and vegetable fields are vast dairy operations that confine cows together by the thousands and produce more than a fifth of the nation’s milk supply, more than any other state. It all amounts to a food-production juggernaut: California generates $46 billion worth of food per year, nearly double the haul of its closest competitor among US states, the corn-and-soybean behemoth Iowa.

You’ve probably heard that ever-more more frequent and severe droughts threaten the bounty we’ve come to rely on from California. Water scarcity, it turns out, isn’t the only menace that stalks the California valleys that stock our supermarkets. The opposite—catastrophic flooding—also occupies a niche in what Mike Davis, the great chronicler of Southern California’s sociopolitical geography, has called the state’s “ecology of fear.” Indeed, his classic book of that title opens with an account of a 1995 deluge that saw “million-dollar homes tobogganed off their hill-slope perches” and small children and pets “sucked into the deadly vortices of the flood channels.”

Yet floods tend to be less feared than rival horsemen of the apocalypse in the state’s oft-stimulated imagination of disaster. The epochal 2011–2017 drought, with its missing-in-action snowpacks and draconian water restrictions, burned itself into the state’s consciousness. Californians are rightly terrified of fires like the ones that roared through the northern Sierra Nevada foothills and coastal canyons near Los Angeles in the fall of 2018, killing nearly 100 people and fouling air for miles around, or the current LNU Lightning Complex fire that has destroyed nearly 1,000 structures and killed five people in the region between Sacramento and San Francisco. Many people are frightfully aware that a warming climate will make such conflagrations increasingly frequent. And “earthquake kits” are common gear in closets and garages all along the San Andreas Fault, where the next Big One lurks. Floods, though they occur as often in Southern and Central California as they do anywhere in the United States, don’t generate quite the same buzz.

But a growing body of research shows there’s a flip side to the megadroughts Central Valley farmers face: megafloods. The region most vulnerable to such a water-drenched cataclysm in the near future is, ironically enough, the California’s great arid, sinking food production basin, the beleaguered behemoth of the US food system: the Central Valley. Bordered on all sides by mountains, the Central Valley stretches 450 miles long, is on average 50 miles wide, and occupies a land mass of 18,000 square miles, or 11.5 million acres—roughly equivalent in size to Massachusetts and Vermont combined. Wedged between the Sierra Nevada to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west, it’s one of the globe’s greatest expanses of fertile soil and temperate weather. For most Americans, it’s easy to ignore the Central Valley, even though it’s as important to eaters as Hollywood is to moviegoers or Silicon Valley is to smartphone users. Occupying less than 1 percent of US farmland, the Central Valley churns out a quarter of the nation’s food supply.

At the time of the Great Flood, the Central Valley was still mainly cattle ranches, the farming boom a ways off. Late in 1861, the state suddenly emerged from a two-decade dry spell when monster storms began lashing the West Coast from Baja California to present-day Washington state. In central California, the deluge initially took the form of 10 to 15 feet of snow dumped onto the Sierra Nevada, according to research by the UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram and laid out in her 2015 book, The West Without Water, cowritten with Frances Malamud-Roam. Ingram has emerged as a kind of Cassandra of drought and flood risks in the western United States. Soon after the blizzards came days of warm, heavy rain, which in turn melted the enormous snowpack. The resulting slurry cascaded through the Central Valley’s network of untamed rivers.

As floodwater gathered in the valley, it formed a vast, muddy, wind-roiled lake, its size “rivaling that of Lake Superior,” covering the entire Central Valley floor, from the southern slopes of the Cascade Mountains near the Oregon border to the Tehachapis, south of Bakersfield, with depths in some places exceeding 15 feet.

At least some of the region’s remnant indigenous population saw the epic flood coming and took precautions to escape devastation, Ingram reports, quoting an item in the Nevada City Democrat on January 11, 1862:

We are informed that the Indians living in the vicinity of Marysville left their abodes a week or more ago for the foothills predicting an unprecedented overflow. They told the whites that the water would be higher than it has been for thirty years, and pointed high up on the trees and houses where it would come. The valley Indians have traditions that the water occasionally rises 15 or 20 feet higher than it has been at any time since the country was settled by whites, and as they live in the open air and watch closely all the weather indications, it is not improbable that they may have better means than the whites of anticipating a great storm.

All in all, thousands of people died, “one-third of the state’s property was destroyed, and one home in eight was destroyed completely or carried away by the floodwaters.” As for farming, the 1862 megaflood transformed valley agriculture, playing a decisive role in creating today’s Anglo-dominated, crop-oriented agricultural powerhouse: a 19th-century example of the “disaster capitalism” that Naomi Klein describes in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine.

Prior to the event, valley land was still largely owned by Mexican rancheros who held titles dating to Spanish rule. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which triggered California’s transfer from Mexican to US control, gave rancheros US citizenship and obligated the new government to honor their land titles. The treaty terms met with vigorous resentment from white settlers eager to shift from gold mining to growing food for the new state’s burgeoning cities. The rancheros thrived during the gold rush, finding a booming market for beef in mining towns. By 1856, their fortunes had shifted. A severe drought that year cut production, competition from emerging US settler ranchers meant lower prices, and punishing property taxes—imposed by land-poor settler politicians—caused a further squeeze. “As a result, rancheros began to lose their herds, their land, and their homes,” writes the historian Lawrence James Jelinek.

The devastation of the 1862 flood, its effects magnified by a brutal drought that started immediately afterward and lasted through 1864, “delivered the final blow,” Jelinek writes. Between 1860 and 1870, California’s cattle herd, concentrated in the valley, plunged from 3 million to 630,000. The rancheros were forced to sell their land to white settlers at pennies per acre, and by 1870 “many rancheros had become day laborers in the towns,” Jelinek reports. The valley’s emerging class of settler farmers quickly turned to wheat and horticultural production and set about harnessing and exploiting the region’s water resources, both those gushing forth from the Sierra Nevada and those beneath their feet.

Despite all the trauma it generated and the agricultural transformation it cemented in the Central Valley, the flood quickly faded from memory in California and the broader United States. To his shocked assessment of a still-flooded and supine Sacramento months after the storm, Brewer added a prophetic coda:

No people can so stand calamity as this people. They are used to it. Everyone is familiar with the history of fortunes quickly made and as quickly lost. It seems here more than elsewhere the natural order of things. I might say, indeed, that the recklessness of the state blunts the keener feelings and takes the edge from this calamity.

Indeed, the new state’s residents ended up shaking off the cataclysm. What lesson does the Great Flood of 1862 hold for today? The question is important. Back then, just around 500,000 people lived in the entire state, and the Central Valley was a sparsely populated badland. Today, the valley has a population of 6.5 million people and boasts the state’s three fastest-growing counties. Sacramento (population 501,344), Fresno (538,330), and Bakersfield (386,839) are all budding metropolises. The state’s long-awaited high-speed train, if it’s ever completed, will place Fresno residents within an hour of Silicon Valley, driving up its appeal as a bedroom community.

In addition to the potentially vast human toll, there’s also the fact that the Central Valley has emerged as a major linchpin of the US and global food system. Could it really be submerged under fifteen feet of water again—and what would that mean?

In less than two centuries as a US state, California has maintained its reputation as a sunny paradise while also enduring the nation’s most erratic climate: the occasional massive winter storm roaring in from the Pacific; years-long droughts. But recent investigations into the fossil record show that these past years have been relatively stable.

One avenue of this research is the study of the regular megadroughts, the most recent of which occurred just a century before Europeans made landfall on the North American west coast. As we are now learning, those decades-long arid stretches were just as regularly interrupted by enormous storms—many even grander than the one that began in December 1861. (Indeed, that event itself was directly preceded and followed by serious droughts.) In other words, the same patterns that make California vulnerable to droughts also make it ripe for floods.

Beginning in the 1980s, scientists including B. Lynn Ingram began examining streams and banks in the enormous delta network that together serve as the bathtub drain through which most Central Valley runoff has flowed for millennia, reaching the ocean at the San Francisco Bay. (Now-vanished Tulare Lake gathered runoff in the southern part of the valley.) They took deep-core samples from river bottoms, because big storms that overflow the delta’s banks transfer loads of soil and silt from the Sierra Nevada and deposit a portion of it in the Delta. They also looked at fluctuations in old plant material buried in the sediment layers. Plant species that thrive in freshwater suggest wet periods, as heavy runoff from the mountains crowds out seawater. Salt-tolerant species denote dry spells, as sparse mountain runoff allows seawater to work into the delta.

What they found was stunning. The Great Flood of 1862 was no one-off black-swan event. Summarizing the science, Ingram and USGS researcher Michael Dettinger deliver the dire news: A flood comparable to—and sometimes much more intense than—the 1861–1862 catastrophe occurred sometime between 1235–1360, 1395–1410, 1555–1615, 1750–1770, and 1810–1820; “that is, one megaflood every 100 to 200 years.” They also discovered that the 1862 flood didn’t appear in the sediment record in some sites that showed evidence of multiple massive events—suggesting that it was actually smaller than many of the floods that have inundated California over the centuries.

During its time as a US food-production powerhouse, California has been known for its periodic droughts and storms. But Ingram and Dettinger’s work pulls the lens back to view the broader timescale, revealing the region’s swings between megadroughts and megastorms—ones more than severe enough to challenge concentrated food production, much less dense population centers.

The dynamics of these storms themselves explain why the state is also prone to such swings. Meteorologists have known for decades that those tempests that descend upon California over the winter—and from which the state receives the great bulk of its annual precipitation—carry moisture from the South Pacific. In the late 1990s, scientists discovered that these “pineapple expresses,” as TV weather presenters call them, are a subset of a global weather phenomenon: long, wind-driven plumes of vapor about a mile above the sea that carry moisture from warm areas near the equator on a northeasterly path to colder, drier regions toward the poles. They carry so much moisture—often more than 25 times the flow of the Mississippi River, over thousands of miles—that they’ve been dubbed “atmospheric rivers.”

In a pioneering 1998 paper, researchers Yong Zhu and Reginald E. Newell found that nearly all the vapor transport between the subtropics (regions just south or north of the equator, depending on the hemisphere) toward the poles occurred in just five or six narrow bands. And California, it turns out, is the prime spot in the western side of the northern hemisphere for catching them at full force during the winter months.

As Ingram and Dettinger note, atmospheric rivers are the primary vector for California’s floods. That includes pre-Columbian cataclysms as well as the Great Flood of 1862, all the way to the various smaller ones that regularly run through the state. Between 1950 and 2010, Ingram and Dettinger write, atmospheric rivers “caused more than 80 percent of flooding in California rivers and 81 percent of the 128 most well-documented levee breaks in California’s Central Valley.”

Paradoxically, they are at least as much a lifeblood as a curse. Between eight and 11 atmospheric rivers hit California every year, the great majority of them doing no major damage, and they deliver between 30 and 50 percent of the state’s rain and snow. But the big ones are damaging indeed. Other researchers are reaching similar conclusions. In a study released in December 2019, a team from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that atmospheric-river storms accounted for 84 percent of insured flood damages in the western United States between 1978 and 2017; the 13 biggest storms wrought more than half the damage.

So the state—and a substantial portion of our food system—exists on a razor’s edge between droughts and floods, its annual water resources decided by massive, increasingly fickle transfers of moisture from the South Pacific. As Dettinger puts it, the “largest storms in California’s precipitation regime not only typically end the state’s frequent droughts, but their fluctuations also cause those droughts in the first place.”

We know that before human civilization began spewing millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, California was due “one megaflood every 100 to 200 years”—and the last one hit more than a century and a half ago. What happens to this outlook when you heat up the atmosphere by 1 degree Celsius—and are on track to hit at least another half-degree Celsius increase by midcentury?

That was the question posed by Daniel Swain and a team of researchers at UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences in a series of studies, the first of which was published in 2018. They took California’s long pattern of droughts and floods and mapped it onto the climate models based on data specific to the region, looking out to century’s end.

What they found isn’t comforting. As the tropical Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere just above it warm, more seawater evaporates, feeding ever bigger atmospheric rivers gushing toward the California coast. As a result, the potential for storms on the scale of the ones that triggered the Great Flood has increased “more than threefold,” they found. So an event expected to happen on average every 200 years will now happen every 65 or so. It is “more likely than not we will see one by 2060,” and it could plausibly happen again before century’s end, they concluded.

As the risk of a catastrophic event increases, so will the frequency of what they call “precipitation whiplash”: extremely wet seasons interrupted by extremely dry ones, and vice versa. The winter of 2016–2017 provides a template. That year, a series of atmospheric-river storms filled reservoirs and at one point threatened a major flood in the northern Central Valley, abruptly ending the worst multiyear drought in the state’s recorded history.

Swings on that magnitude normally occur a handful of times each century, but in the model by Swain’s team, “it goes from something that happens maybe once in a generation to something that happens two or three times,” he told me in an interview. “Setting aside a repeat of 1862, these less intense events could still seriously test the limits of our water infrastructure.” Like other efforts to map climate change onto California’s weather, this one found that drought years characterized by low winter precipitation would likely increase—in this case, by a factor of as much as two, compared with mid-20th-century patterns. But extreme-wet winter seasons, accumulating at least as much precipitation as 2016–2017, will grow even more: they could be three times as common as they were before the atmosphere began its current warming trend.

While lots of very wet years—at least the ones that don’t reach 1861–1862 levels—might sound encouraging for food production in the Central Valley, there’s a catch, Swain said. His study looked purely at precipitation, independent of whether it fell as rain or snow. A growing body of research suggests that as the climate warms, California’s precipitation mix will shift significantly in favor of rain over snow. That’s dire news for our food system, because the Central Valley’s vast irrigation networks are geared to channeling the slow, predictable melt of the snowpack into usable water for farms. Water that falls as rain is much harder to capture and bend to the slow-release needs of agriculture.

In short, California’s climate, chaotic under normal conditions, is about to get weirder and wilder. Indeed, it’s already happening.

What if an 1862-level flood, which is overdue and “more likely than not” to occur with a couple of decades, were to hit present-day California?

Starting in 2008, the USGS set out to answer just that question, launching a project called the ARkStorm (for “atmospheric river 1,000 storm”) Scenario. The effort was modeled on a previous USGS push to get a grip on another looming California cataclysm: a massive earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. In 2008, USGS produced the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, a “detailed depiction of a hypothetical magnitude 7.8 earthquake.” The study “served as the centerpiece of the largest earthquake drill in US history, involving over five thousand emergency responders and the participation of over 5.5 million citizens,” the USGS later reported.

That same year, the agency assembled a team of 117 scientists, engineers, public-policy experts, and insurance experts to model what kind of impact a monster storm event would have on modern California.

At the time, Lucy Jones served as the chief scientist for the USGS’s Multi Hazards Demonstration Project, which oversaw both projects. A seismologist by training, Jones spent her time studying the devastations of earthquakes and convincing policy makers to invest resources into preparing for them. The ARkStorm project took her aback, she told me. The first thing she and her team did was ask, What’s the biggest flood in California we know about? “I’m a fourth-generation Californian who studies disaster risk, and I had never heard of the Great Flood of 1862,” she said. “None of us had heard of it,” she added—not even the meteorologists knew about what’s “by far the biggest disaster ever in California and the whole Southwest” over the past two centuries.

At first, the meteorologists were constrained in modeling a realistic megastorm by a lack of data; solid rainfall-gauge measures go back only a century. But after hearing about the 1862 flood, the ARkStorm team dug into research from Ingram and others for information about megastorms before US statehood and European contact. They were shocked to learn that the previous 1,800 years had about six events that were more severe than 1862, along with several more that were roughly of the same magnitude. What they found was that a massive flood is every bit as likely to strike California, and as imminent, as a massive quake.

Even with this information, modeling a massive flood proved more challenging than projecting out a massive earthquake. “We seismologists do this all the time—we create synthetic seismographs,” she said. Want to see what a quake reaching 7.8 on the Richter scale would look like along the San Andreas Fault? Easy, she said. Meteorologists, by contrast, are fixated on accurate prediction of near-future events; “creating a synthetic event wasn’t something they had ever done.” They couldn’t just re-create the 1862 event, because most of the information we have about it is piecemeal, from eyewitness accounts and sediment samples.

To get their heads around how to construct a reasonable approximation of a megastorm, the team’s meteorologists went looking for well-documented 20th-century events that could serve as a model. They settled on two: a series of big storms in 1969 that hit Southern California hardest and a 1986 cluster that did the same to the northern part of the state. To create the ARkStorm scenario, they stitched the two together. Doing so gave the researchers a rich and regionally precise trove of data to sketch out a massive Big One storm scenario.

There was one problem: While the fictional ARkStorm is indeed a massive event, it’s still significantly smaller than the one that caused the Great Flood of 1862. “Our [hypothetical storm] only had total rain for 25 days, while there were 45 days in 1861 to ’62,” Jones said. They plunged ahead anyway, for two reasons. One was that they had robust data on the two 20th-century storm events, giving disaster modelers plenty to work with. The second was that they figured a smaller-than-1862 catastrophe would help build public buy-in, by making the project hard to dismiss as an unrealistic figment of scaremongering bureaucrats.

What they found stunned them—and should stun anyone who relies on California to produce food (not to mention anyone who lives in the state). The headline number: $725 billion in damage, nearly four times what the USGS’s seismology team arrived at for its massive-quake scenario ($200 billion). For comparison, the two most costly natural disasters in modern US history—Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017—racked up $166 billion and $130 billion, respectively. The ARkStorm would “flood thousands of square miles of urban and agricultural land, result in thousands of landslides, [and] disrupt lifelines throughout the state for days or weeks,” the study reckoned. Altogether, 25 percent of the state’s buildings would be damaged.

In their model, 25 days of relentless rains overwhelm the Central Valley’s flood-control infrastructure. Then large swaths of the northern part of the Central Valley go under as much as 20 feet of water. The southern part, the San Joaquin Valley, gets off lighter; but a miles-wide band of floodwater collects in the lowest-elevation regions, ballooning out to encompass the expanse that was once the Tulare Lake bottom and stretching to the valley’s southern extreme. Most metropolitan parts of the Bay Area escape severe damage, but swaths of Los Angeles and Orange Counties experience “extensive flooding.”

As Jones stressed to me in our conversation, the ARkStorm scenario is a cautious approximation; a megastorm that matches 1862 or its relatively recent antecedents could plausibly bury the entire Central Valley underwater, northern tip to southern. As the report puts it: “Six megastorms that were more severe than 1861–1862 have occurred in California during the last 1800 years, and there is no reason to believe similar storms won’t occur again.”

A 21st-century megastorm would fall on a region quite different from gold rush–era California. For one thing, it’s much more populous. While the ARkStorm reckoning did not estimate a death toll, it warned of a “substantial loss of life” because “flood depths in some areas could realistically be on the order of 10–20 feet.”

Then there’s the transformation of farming since then. The 1862 storm drowned an estimated 200,000 head of cattle, about a quarter of the state’s entire herd. Today, the Central Valley houses nearly 4 million beef and dairy cows. While cattle continue to be an important part of the region’s farming mix, they no longer dominate it. Today the valley is increasingly given over to intensive almond, pistachio, and grape plantations, representing billions of dollars of investments in crops that take years to establish, are expected to flourish for decades, and could be wiped out by a flood.

Apart from economic losses, “the evolution of a modern society creates new risks from natural disasters,” Jones told me. She cited electric power grids, which didn’t exist in mid-19th-century California. A hundred years ago, when electrification was taking off, extended power outages caused inconveniences. Now, loss of electricity can mean death for vulnerable populations (think hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons). Another example is the intensification of farming. When a few hundred thousand cattle roamed the sparsely populated Central Valley in 1861, their drowning posed relatively limited biohazard risks, although, according to one contemporary account, in post-flood Sacramento, there were a “good many drowned hogs and cattle lying around loose in the streets.”

Today, however, several million cows are packed into massive feedlots in the southern Central Valley, their waste often concentrated in open-air liquid manure lagoons, ready to be swept away and blended into a fecal slurry. Low-lying Tulare County houses nearly 500,000 dairy cows, with 258 operations holding on average 1,800 cattle each. Mature modern dairy cows are massive creatures, weighing around 1,500 pounds each and standing nearly 5 feet tall at the front shoulder. Imagine trying to quickly move such beasts by the thousands out of the path of a flood—and the consequences of failing to do so.

A massive flood could severely pollute soil and groundwater in the Central Valley, and not just from rotting livestock carcasses and millions of tons of concentrated manure. In a 2015 paper, a team of USGS researchers tried to sum up the myriad toxic substances that would be stirred up and spread around by massive storms and floods. The cities of 160 years ago could not boast municipal wastewater facilities, which filter pathogens and pollutants in human sewage, nor municipal dumps, which concentrate often-toxic garbage. In the region’s teeming 21st-century urban areas, those vital sanitation services would become major threats. The report projects that a toxic soup of “petroleum, mercury, asbestos, persistent organic pollutants, molds, and soil-borne or sewage-borne pathogens” would spread across much of the valley, as would concentrated animal manure, fertilizer, pesticides, and other industrial chemicals.

The valley’s southernmost county, Kern, is a case study in the region’s vulnerabilities. Kern’s farmers lead the entire nation in agricultural output by dollar value, annually producing $7 billion worth of foodstuffs like almonds, grapes, citrus, pistachios, and milk. The county houses more than 156,000 dairy cows in facilities averaging 3,200 head each. That frenzy of agricultural production means loads of chemicals on hand; every year, Kern farmers use around 30 million pounds of pesticides, second only to Fresno among California counties. (Altogether, five San Joaquin Valley counties use about half of the more than 200 million pounds of pesticides applied in California.)

Kern is also one of the nation’s most prodigious oil-producing counties. Its vast array of pump jacks, many of them located in farm fields, produce 70 percent of California’s entire oil output. It’s also home to two large oil refineries. If Kern County were a state, it would be the nation’s seventh-leading oil-producing one, churning out twice as much crude as Louisiana. In a massive storm, floodwaters could pick up a substantial amount of highly toxic petroleum and byproducts. Again, in the ARkStorm scenario, Kern County gets hit hard by rain but mostly escapes the worst flooding. The real “Other Big One” might not be so kind, Jones said.

In the end, the USGS team could not estimate the level of damage that will be visited upon the Central Valley’s soil and groundwater from a megaflood: too many variables, too many toxins and biohazards that could be sucked into the vortex. They concluded that “flood-related environmental contamination impacts are expected to be the most widespread and substantial in lowland areas of the Central Valley, the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, the San Francisco Bay area, and portions of the greater Los Angeles metroplex.”

Jones said the initial reaction to the 2011 release of the ARkStorm report among California’s policymakers and emergency managers was skepticism: “Oh, no, that’s too big—it’s impossible,” they would say. “We got lots of traction with the earthquake scenario, and when we did the big flood, nobody wanted to listen to us,” she said.

But after years of patiently informing the state’s decisionmakers that such a disaster is just as likely as a megaquake—and likely much more devastating—the word is getting out. She said the ARkStorm message probably helped prepare emergency managers for the severe storms of February 2017. That month, the massive Oroville Dam in the Sierra Nevada foothills very nearly failed, threatening to send a 30-foot-tall wall of water gushing into the northern Central Valley. As the spillway teetered on the edge of collapse, officials ordered the evacuation of 188,000 people in the communities below. The entire California National Guard was put on notice to mobilize if needed—the first such order since the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Although the dam ultimately held up, the Oroville incident illustrates the challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of people out of harm’s way on short notice.

The evacuation order “unleashed a flood of its own, sending tens of thousands of cars simultaneously onto undersize roads, creating hours-long backups that left residents wondering if they would get to high ground before floodwaters overtook them,” the Sacramento Bee reported. Eight hours after the evacuation, highways were still jammed with slow-moving traffic. A California Highway Patrol spokesman summed up the scene for the Bee:

Unprepared citizens who were running out of gas and their vehicles were becoming disabled in the roadway. People were utilizing the shoulder, driving the wrong way. Traffic collisions were occurring. People fearing for their lives, not abiding by the traffic laws. All combined, it created big problems. It ended up pure, mass chaos.

Even so, Jones said the evacuation went as smoothly as could be expected and likely would have saved thousands of lives if the dam had burst. “But there are some things you can’t prepare for.” Obviously, getting area residents to safety was the first priority, but animal inhabitants were vulnerable, too. If the dam had burst, she said, “I doubt they would have been able to save cattle.”

As the state’s ever-strained emergency-service agencies prepare for the Other Big One, there’s evidence other agencies are struggling to grapple with the likelihood of a megaflood. In the wake of the 2017 near-disaster at Oroville, state agencies spent more than $1 billion repairing the damaged dam and bolstering it for future storms. Just as work was being completed in fall 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission assessed the situation and found that a “probable maximum flood”—on the scale of the ArkStorm—would likely overwhelm the dam. FERC called on the state to invest in a “more robust and resilient design” to prevent a future cataclysm. The state’s Department of Water Resources responded by launching a “needs assessment” of the dam’s safety that’s due to wrap up in 2020.

Of course, in a state beset by the increasing threat of wildfires in populated areas as well as earthquakes, funds for disaster preparation are tightly stretched. All in all, Jones said, “we’re still much more prepared for a quake than a flood.” Then again, it’s hard to conceive of how we could effectively prevent a 21st century repeat of the Great Flood or how we could fully prepare for the low-lying valley that runs along the center of California like a bathtub—now packed with people, livestock, manure, crops, petrochemicals, and pesticides—to be suddenly transformed into a storm-roiled inland sea.

‘Se Brasil parar por duas semanas, é possível evitar as 125 mil mortes’, diz especialista (Folha de S.Paulo)

www1.folha.uol.com.br

Marina Dias, 28 de maio de 2020


Ali Mokdad dirige parte das projeções feitas pelo IHME, instituto de métrica da Universidade de Washington utilizado pela Casa Branca como um dos principais modelos para monitorar Covid-19.

Desde o meio de maio, Mokdad e sua equipe acompanham o avanço da pandemia no Brasil e suas conclusões são bastantes sombrias. Na segunda-feira (25), o instituto atualizou para cima a expectativa de mortes pela doença no país: de 88 mil para mais de 125 mil óbitos previstos até agosto.

Em entrevista à Folha, Mokdad diz que a tendência de casos e mortes no país é de alta e que a situação pode ser ainda pior se governo e população não levarem a crise a sério e adotarem “lockdown” por duas semanas.

“As infeções e mortes vão crescer e, o mais assustador, haverá a sobrecarga total do sistema de saúde.” Caso cumpra o confinamento total por 14 dias, explica Mokdad, o Brasil conseguirá controlar a propagação do vírus e poderá fazer a reabertura das atividades econômicas de maneira estratégica –e até mais rapidamente.

Especialista em saúde pública, diz sofrer críticas por ter um modelo que varia bastante, mas, no caso da pandemia, prefere que suas projeções se ajustem com o tempo. “Se os brasileiros ficarem em casa por duas semanas, meus números vão baixar. E não porque fiz algo errado, mas porque os brasileiros fizeram algo certo.”

Qual a situação da pandemia no Brasil? Infelizmente o que vemos no Brasil é uma tendência de aumento de casos, que vai resultar no crescimento das mortes no país. Isso se dá por várias razões. Primeiro porque o país não entrou em “lockdown” cedo para impedir a propagação do vírus. O governo e a população brasileira não levaram isso a sério e não fizeram logo as coisas certas para impedir a transmissão do vírus.

Segundo, há muita disparidade no Brasil e a Covid-19 aumenta isso. Nesse caso, é preciso proteger não só os trabalhadores de saúde mas os trabalhadores de serviços essenciais, pessoas pobres que trabalham em funções que as obrigam a sair de casa. Elas não estão protegidas e estão morrendo. A terceira e mais importante preocupação é a sobrecarga do sistema de saúde. Se o país não agir, vai haver mais casos no inverno e não haverá tempo para se preparar. É perigoso e arriscado. Se você colocar tudo isso junto, o Brasil ainda vai enfrentar sérias dificuldades diante da Covid-19.

Em duas semanas, o IHME aumentou as projeções de morte no Brasil de 88 mil para mais de 125 mil até agosto. O que aconteceu? Adicionamos mais estados [de 11 para 19] na nossa projeção, isso é uma coisa. Mas estamos vendo no Brasil mais surtos e casos do que esperávamos. O país está testando mais e encontrando mais casos, mas, mesmo quando ajustamos para os testes, há uma tendência de alta.

No Brasil há também um erro de suposição quando falamos de circulação. Os dados [de mobilidade da população] são baseados no Facebook e no Google, ou seja, em smartphones, ou seja, em pessoas mais ricas. Percebemos que a circulação não parou nas favelas, por exemplo, em lugares onde pessoas mais pobres precisam sair para trabalhar. Se as pessoas se recusarem a levar isso a sério, infelizmente vamos ver mais casos e mortes.

Quais medidas precisam ser tomadas? Fechar escolas e universidades, impedir grandes aglomerações e encontros de pessoas, fechar os estabelecimentos não essenciais, igrejas, templos e locais religiosos. Nos locais essenciais, como mercados e farmácias, é preciso estabelecer regras, limitando o número de pessoas dentro, garantindo que elas se mantenham distantes umas das outras.

A última e mais importante coisa é pedir para quem precisa sair de casa—e sabemos que há quem precise— usar máscara e manter distância de 2 metros de outras pessoas. Para o sistema de saúde, é aumentar a capacidade de tratamento, de detectar cedo a chegada de um surto, fazendo rastreamento e o isolamento de casos, o que é um desafio para o Brasil, onde muitas vezes dez pessoas vivem em uma mesma casa.

Se o Brasil não cumprir essas medidas, qual é o pior cenário para o país? As infeções e mortes vão crescer e, a parte mais assustadora, haverá a sobrecarga total do sistema de saúde. Isso vai causar mais prejuízo à economia do que se fizer o isolamento por duas semanas. Se a população ficar em casa e levar isso a sério por duas semanas, registraremos diminuição da propagação do vírus e poderemos reabrir em fases. É preciso garantir que a retomada econômica seja feita de maneira estratégica, por setores.

É possível evitar o pico de 1.500 mortes diárias em julho e as 125 mil mortes até agosto se o país parar agora? Sim. O Brasil está em uma situação muito difícil e pode ser assim por muito tempo, mas ainda há esperança. Se o governo e a população pararem por duas semanas, podemos parar a circulação do vírus e reabrir o comércio. Se você olhar para estados americanos, como Nova York, depois que há o “lockdown”, as mortes e os casos diminuem. O “lockdown” salvou muitas vidas nos EUA. Fizemos as projeções para o Brasil de 125 mil mortes até 4 de agosto, mas não significa que vai acontecer, podemos parar isso. É preciso que cada brasileiro faça sua parte.

O presidente Jair Bolsonaro é contra medidas de distanciamento social, compara a Covid-19 com uma gripezinha e defende um medicamento com eficácia não comprovada contra a doença. Como essa postura pode impactar a situação do Brasil? Aqui nos EUA temos também uma situação política nesse sentido, infelizmente. Não sou político, vejo os números e dou conselhos a partir do que concluo deles. Pelos dados, o Brasil precisa de uma ação coordenada, caso contrário, vamos ter muitas perdas.

Mas precisamos ter uma coisa clara: Covid-19 não é uma gripe, causa mais mortalidade que gripe, a gripe não causa AVC e nem ataca os pulmões da maneira que a Covid-19 ataca. Contra Covid-19 não há medicamento e ponto final. Não tem vacina. Não é possível comparar Covid-19 e gripe. Fazer isso é passar mensagem errada. Dizer para a população que é possível sair e ver quem pega a doença é inaceitável, é falha de liderança.

Como ganhar a confiança dos governos e da população com projeções que variam tanto e com tanta gente trabalhando com dados sobre o tema? Há muita gente fazendo projeção mas, pela primeira vez na história da ciência, todos concordamos. Os números podem ser diferentes, mas a mensagem mais importante é a mesma: isso é um vírus letal e temos que levá-lo a sério. Meus números mudam porque as pessoas mudam. Se os brasileiros ficarem em casa por duas semanas, meus números vão baixar. E não porque fiz algo errado, mas porque os brasileiros fizeram algo certo. Aprendemos que o modelo muda se novos dados aparecem.

O sr. já foi acusado de ser alarmista ou de produzir notícias falsas quando seus números mudam? Acusado é demais, mas tem gente que fala que meus números são mais altos ou mais baixos do que deveriam ser, e isso eu nem resposto, porque não é um debate científico, é um debate político. No debate científico está todo mundo a bordo com a mesma mensagem.

Trump parece ter sido convencido da gravidade da pandemia em parte baseado nos seus números. Foi isso mesmo? Sim. Nos EUA e também na Inglaterra nossos números mudaram a postura do governante. Claro que lá o primeiro-ministro [Boris Johnson] pegou Covid-19 ele mesmo.

Como é trabalhar tendo isso em vista, com números tão sensíveis e poderosos? A gente não dorme muito por esses dias, é muito trabalho. É muito difícil dizer que 125 mil pessoas vão morrer no Brasil até agosto. Isso não é um número, são famílias, amigos, é muito duro.

Brazil coronavirus deaths could surpass 125,000 by August, U.S. study says (Reuters)

May 26, 2020 / 1:21 PM

Gravediggers work during a mass burial of people who passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, May 26, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

BRASILIA (Reuters) – As Brazil’s daily COVID-19 death rate climbs to the highest in the world, a University of Washington study is warning its total death toll could climb five-fold to 125,000 by early August, adding to fears it has become a new hot spot in the pandemic.

The forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), released as Brazil’s daily death toll climbed past that of the United States on Monday, came with a call for lockdowns that Brazil’s president has resisted.

“Brazil must follow the lead of Wuhan, China, as well as Italy, Spain, and New York by enforcing mandates and measures to gain control of a fast-moving epidemic and reduce transmission of the coronavirus,” wrote IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray.

Without such measures, the institute’s model shows Brazil’s daily death toll could keep climbing to until mid-July, driving shortages of critical hospital resources in Brazil, he said in a statement accompanying the findings.

On Monday, Brazil’s coronavirus deaths reported in the last 24 hours were higher than fatalities in the United States for the first time, according to the health ministry. Brazil registered 807 deaths and 620 died in the United States.

The U.S. government on Monday brought forward to Tuesday midnight enforcement of restrictions on travel to the United States from Brazil as the South American country reported the highest death toll in the world for that day.

Washington’s ban applies to foreigners traveling to the United States if they had been in Brazil in the last two weeks. Two days earlier, Brazil overtook Russia as the world’s No. 2 coronavirus hot spot in number of confirmed cases, after the United States.

Murray said the IHME forecast captures the effects of social distancing mandates, mobility trends and testing capacity, so projections could shift along with policy changes.

The model will be updated regularly as new data is released on cases, hospitalizations, deaths, testing and mobility.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Steve Orlofsky

Opinion | Forty Years Later, Lessons for the Pandemic From Mount St. Helens (New York Times)

nytimes.com

By Lawrence Roberts – May 17, 2020

The tensions we now face between science, politics and economics also arose before the country’s most destructive volcanic eruption.

Mr. Roberts is a former editor at ProPublica and The Washington Post.

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980.
United Press International

When I met David A. Johnston, it was on a spring evening, about a month before he would be erased from existence by a gigantic cloud of volcanic ash boiling over him at 300 miles per hour. He was coming through the door of a makeshift command center in Vancouver, Wash., the closest city to the graceful snow-capped dome of Mount St. Helens, a volcano that had been dormant for 123 years. This was April 1980, and Mr. Johnston, a 30-year-old geologist, was one of the first scientists summoned to monitor new warning signs from the mountain — shallow earthquakes and periodic bursts of ash and steam.

As a young reporter I had talked my way into the command center. At first Mr. Johnston was wary; he wasn’t supposed to meet the press anymore. His supervisors had played down the chance that the smoking mountain was about to explode, and they had already reprimanded him for suggesting otherwise. But on this night he’d just been setting measuring equipment deep in the surrounding forest, and his runner-thin frame vibrated with excitement, his face flushed under his blond beard, and Mr. Johnston couldn’t help riffing on the likelihood of a cataclysmic event.

“My feeling is when it goes, it’s going to go just like that,” he told me, snapping his fingers. “Bang!” At best, he said, we’d have a couple of hours of warning.

Mr. Johnston was mostly right. Early on a Sunday morning several weeks later, the mountain did blow, in the most destructive eruption in U.S. history. But there was no warning. At his instrument outpost, on a ridge more than five miles from the summit, Mr. Johnston had only seconds to radio in a last message: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

A photograph of David Johnston, who was killed when Mount St. Helens erupted.
Chris Sweda/Daily Southtown, via Associated Press

Monday, May 18, marks the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, and as we now face our own struggle to gauge the uncertain risks presented by nature, to predict how bad things will get and how much and how long to protect ourselves, it may be useful to revisit the tension back then between science, politics and economics.

The drama played out on a much smaller stage — one region of one state, instead of the whole planet — but many of the same elements were present: Scientists provided a range of educated guesses, and public officials split on how to respond. Business owners and residents chafed at the restrictions put in place, many flouted them, and a few even threatened armed rebellion. In the end, the government mostly accepted the analyses of Mr. Johnston and his fellow geologists. As a result, while the eruption killed 57 people and flattened hundreds of square miles of dense Pacific Northwest forestland, the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, were spared.

At the first warning signs, state and federal officials moved to distance people from the mountain. They sought to block nonessential visitors from nearby Spirit Lake, ringed with scout camps and tourist lodges. Other than loggers, few people hung around the peak year-round, but the population surged in late spring and summer, when thousands hiked, camped and moved into vacation homes. Many regulars dismissed the risk. Slipping past roadblocks became a popular activity. Locals sold maps to sightseers and amateur photographers that showed how to take old logging roads up the mountain. The owner of a nearby general store shared a common opinion of the threat: “It’s just plain bull. I lived here 26 years, and nothing like this happened before.”

Like the probability of a pandemic, though, it was well-established that one of the dozen or so volcanoes in the 800-mile Cascade Range might soon turn active. Averaging two eruptions a century, they were overdue. A 1978 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, where Mr. Johnston worked, identified Mount St. Helens as most likely to blow next. Yet forecasting how big the event could be was a matter of art as well as science. Geologists could model only previous explosions and list the possible outcomes. (“That position was difficult for many to accept, because they believed we could and should make predictions,” a U.S.G.S. report said later.)

Some scientists suggested a much larger evacuation, but uncertainty, a hallmark of their discipline, can be difficult for those making real-time public policy. The guidelines from federal and state representatives camped out in Vancouver, and from Washington’s governor, Dixy Lee Ray, often seemed in conflict. Moreover, the Weyerhaeuser Company, which owned tens of thousands of acres of timber, opposed logging restrictions, even as some crews got nervous about working near the rumbling dome.

By mid-April, a bulge grew on the north flank, a clue that highly pressurized magma was trapped and expanding. If it burst, a landslide might bury Spirit Lake. The governor, a conservative Democrat who was a biologist by training, finally agreed to stronger measures. She ordered an inner “red zone” where only scientists and law enforcement personnel could enter, and a “blue zone” open to loggers and property owners with day passes. If the zones didn’t extend as far as many geologists hoped, they were certainly an improvement.

Then the mountain got deceptively quiet. The curve of seismic activity flattened and turned downward. Many grew complacent, and restless. On Saturday, May 17, people with property inside the red zone massed in cars and pickup trucks at the roadblock on State Highway 504. Hearing rumors that some carried rifles, the governor relented, allowing them through, with a police escort, to check on their homes and leave again. The state patrol chief, Robert Landon, told them, “We hope the good Lord will keep that mountain from giving us any trouble.” The property owners vowed to return the next day.

The next day was Sunday. At 8:32 a.m., a powerful quake shook loose the snow-covered north face of Mount St. Helens, releasing the superheated magma, which roared out of the mountain in a lateral blast faster than a bullet train, over the spot where Mr. Johnston stood, mowing down 230 square miles of trees, hurling trunks into the air like twigs. It rained down a suffocating storm of thick gray ash, “a burning sky-river wind of searing lava droplet hail,” as the poet Gary Snyder described it. Mudflows clogged the river valleys, setting off deadly floods. A column of ash soared 15 miles high and bloomed into a mushroom cloud 35 miles wide. Over two weeks, ash would circle the globe. Among the 57 dead were three aspiring geologists besides Mr. Johnston, as well as loggers, sightseers and photographers.

About a week later, the Forest Service took reporters up in a helicopter. I had seen the mountain from the air before the eruption. Now the sprawling green wilderness that appeared endless and permanent had disappeared in a blink. We flew for an hour over nothing but moonscape. The scientists had done their best, but nature flexed a power far more deadly than even they had imagined.

Lawrence Roberts, a former editor at ProPublica and The Washington Post, is the author of the forthcoming “Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest.”

Italians over 80 ‘will be left to die’ as country overwhelmed by coronavirus (The Telegraph)

Hardest-hit region drafts new proposals saying who will live and who will die

By Erica Di Blasi Turin 14 March 2020 • 4:38pm

Coronavirus victims in Italy will be denied access to intensive care if they are aged 80 or more or in poor health should pressure on beds increase, a document prepared by a crisis management unit in Turin proposes.

Some patients denied intensive care will in effect be left to die, doctors fear.

The unit has drawn up a protocol, seen by The Telegraph, that will determine which patients receive treatment in intensive care and which do not if there are insufficient spaces. Intensive care capacity is running short in Italy as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The document, produced by the civil protection deparment of the Piedmont region, one of those hardest hit, says: “The criteria for access to intensive therapy in cases of emergency must include age of less than 80 or a score on the Charlson comorbidity Index [which indicates how many other medical conditions the patient has] of less than 5.”

The ability of the patient to recover from resuscitation will also be considered.

One doctor said: “[Who lives and who dies] is decided by age and by the [patient’s] health conditions. This is how it is in a war.”

The document says: “The growth of the current epidemic makes it likely that a point of imbalance between the clinical needs of patients with COVID-19 and the effective availability of intensive resources will be reached.

“Should it become impossible to provide all patients with intensive care services, it will be necessary to apply criteria for access to intensive treatment, which depends on the limited resources available.”

It adds: “The criteria set out guidelines if the situation becomes of such an exceptional nature as to make the therapeutic choices on the individual case dependent on the availability of resources, forcing [hospitals] to focus on those cases in which the cost/benefit ratio is more favorable for clinical treatment.”

Luigi Icardi, a councilor for health in Piedmont, said: “I never wanted to see such a moment. It [the document] will be binding and will establish in the event of saturation of the wards a precedence code for access to intensive care, based on certain parameters such as potential survival.”

The document is already complete and only approval from a technical-scientific committee is needed before it is sent to hospitals. The criteria are expected to apply throughout Italy, government sources said.

More than 1,000 people in Italy have now died from the virus and the number is growing every day. More than 15,000 are infected.

Italy has 5,090 intensive care beds, which for the moment exceeds the number of patients who need them. It is also working to create new bed capacity in private clinics, nursing homes and even in tents. However, the country also needs also doctors and nurses – the government wants to hire them – and equipment.

Lombardy remains the most critical region. However, the situation is also serious in neighboring Piedmont. Here, in just one day, 180 new cases were recorded, while deaths numbered 27. The trend suggests that the situation is not about to improve.

Roberto Testi, president of the coranavirus technical-scientific committee for Piedmont, told The Telegraph: “Here in Piedmont we aim to delay as long as possible the use of these criteria. At the moment there are still intensive care places available and we are working to create more.

“We want to arrive as late as possible at the point where we have to decide who lives and who dies. The criteria relate only to access to intensive care – those who do not get access to intensive care will still receive all the treatment possible. In medicine we sometimes have to make difficult choices but it’s important to have a system about how to make them.”

How Spanish flu helped create Sweden’s modern welfare state (The Guardian)

The 1918 pandemic ravaged the remote city of Östersund. But its legacy is a city – and country – well-equipped to deal with 21st century challenges

Brian Melican

Wed 29 Aug 2018 07.15 BST Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 12.47 GMT

Archive black and white picture Östersund
Spanish flu reached Östersund a century ago. Photograph: Alamy

On 15 September 1918, a 12-year-old boy named Karl Karlsson who lived just outside Östersund, Sweden, wrote a short diary entry: “Two who died of Spanish flu buried today. A few snowflakes in the air.”

For all its brevity and matter-of-fact tone, Karlsson’s journal makes grim reading. It is 100 years since a particularly virulent strain of avian flu, known as the Spanish flu despite probably originating in America, ravaged the globe, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. While its effects were felt everywhere, it struck particularly hard in Östersund, earning the city the nickname “capital of the Spanish flu”.

“Looking back through contemporaneous accounts was quite creepy,” says Jim Hedlund at the city’s state archive. “As many people died in two months as generally died in a whole year. I even found out that three of my forbears were buried on the same day.”

There were three main reasons why the flu hit this remote city so hard: Östersund had speedy railway connections, several army regiments stationed in close quarters and a malnourished population living in cramped accommodation. As neutral Sweden kept its armed forces on high alert between 1914 and 1918, the garrison town’s population swelled from 9,000 to 13,000.

By 1917, when navvies poured in and construction started on an inland railway to the north, widespread food shortages had led to violent workers’ demonstrations and a near mutiny among the army units.

The city became a hotbed of political activism. Its small size put the unequal distribution of wealth in early industrial society under the microscope. While working-class families crowded into insalubrious accommodation, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and further afield came for the fresh mountain air and restorative waters – as well as the excellent fishing and elk hunting (passionate angler Winston Churchill was a regular visitor).

“The catastrophic spread of the flu was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions” – Hans Jacobsson, historian

“Many of the demonstrators’ concerns seem strikingly modern,” says Hedlund, pointing to a copy of a political poster that reads: “Tourists out of our buildings in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for workers!”

It wasn’t just the urban proletariat demanding better accommodation. At Sweden’s first ever national convention of the indigenous Sami peoples held in Östersund in early 1918, delegates demanded an end to discriminatory policies that forced them to live in tents.

Social inequality in the city meant the Spanish flu hit all the harder.

As the epidemic raged in late August, when around 20 people were dying daily, the city’s bank director Carl Lignell withdrew funds from Stockholm without authorisation and requisitioned a school for use as a hospital (the city didn’t have one).

View of Ostersund
‘You can drop your kids off at kindergarten on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.’ Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TASS Advertisement

“If it hadn’t been for him, Östersund might quite literally have disappeared,” says Hedlund. For a brief period, Lignell worked like a benevolent dictator, quarantining suspected cases in their homes – and revealing the squalor in which they lived.

As his hastily convened medical team moved through Östersund, they found whole families crowded into wooden shacks, just a few streets away from the proud, stone-built civic structures. In some homes, sick children lay on the floor for want of beds.

The local newspaper Östersunds-Posten asked rhetorically: “Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution?”

People of all political convictions and stations in life started cooperating in a city otherwise riven by the class divisions of early industrial society. Östersunds-Posten itself moved from simply reporting on the epidemic to helping to organise relief, publishing calls for money, food and clothing, and opening its offices for use as storerooms. The state had proven itself inadequate, as historian Hans Jacobsson wrote: “The catastrophic spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions.”

“After the epidemic, the state made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform” – Jim Hedlund, archivist

He cites the fact that Stockholm High Command refused to halt planned military exercises for weeks, despite the fact that regimental sickbays were overflowing. “What is interesting is that, after the epidemic, the state dropped investigations against Lignell and made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were on the political agenda,” says Hedlund. Anyone trying to date the inception of Sweden’s welfare state cannot overlook the events of autumn 1918.

One hundred years on, there are few better places than Östersund to see the effects of Sweden’s much-vaunted social model. The city is once again growing rapidly, but nothing could seem further away than epidemics and political radicalism. The left of centre Social Democrats have been in power in city hall since 1994, and council leader AnnSofie Andersson has made housing a priority – new developments are spacious, well-ordered and equipped with schools and playgrounds.

“There’s nothing that shows confidence like building stuff,” she says. “In fact, our local authority building partnership should, in my view, keep a small excess of flats in hand, because without a reserve people won’t move here.”

Östersund attracts a net inflow of people from southern Sweden. “It’s partly a quality of life issue,” says Andersson. “You can drop your kids off at kindergarten in the morning on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.”

The city has recovered from the relocation of the Swedish armed forces fighter jet squadron in the 1990s by playing to its strengths: sports and tourism. A university now occupies the old barracks with a special focus on sports materials and technology. The airbase has become a thriving airport, handling half a million passengers a year.

Despite the net inflow of working-age people however, Östersund is facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers begin to retire. The shortages are being felt most acutely at the regional health authority, which occupies the Epidemisjukhusthe building hastily converted into wards during the Spanish flu by Carl Lignell. Clinical staff are proving hard to find and retain, and the region’s health service is underfunded. Some residents still suggest solving that lack of funding from central government “the Jämtland way”, like Lignell once did.

History doesn’t repeat itself identically, though. Sweden’s consensus-orientated political model now tends to defuse conflict even in proud cities with a liking for mavericks. One of Andersson’s strategies for dealing with the approaching lack of labour, for instance, is cooperating with local and national institutions to train up the young refugees the city has welcomed since 2015.

“School starts tomorrow – for the last time,” confides Karl Karlsson to his journal on 4 September 1918. “I leave in spring and it feels melancholy. I like farming, but I would still prefer to continue at school and study. But it’s impossible.” Ten days later, he notes that his family’s food stores are running low. “We’re almost out of flour and bread, the barley hasn’t dried yet, and we shan’t get any more rations, everything is being requisitioned.”

One hundred years later, a city – and a society – once unable to educate or even feed its youth is now one of the world’s wealthiest and fairest.

O coronavírus revela que éramos cegos e não sabíamos (El País)

Somente quando o vírus nos encerra em nossas casas e limita nossos movimentos percebemos como é triste a solidão forçada. Quando nos privam da cotidianidade nos sentimos escravos, porque o homem nasceu para ser livre

"Tudo ficará bem", diz um cartaz na varanda de um prédio de Torino ( Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images).
“Tudo ficará bem”, diz um cartaz na varanda de um prédio de Torino ( Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images).

Juan Arias – 14 mar 2020 – 18:49BRT

A imagem mais dramática e terna, que simboliza ao mesmo tempo a tristeza e a solidão do isolamento ao qual a loucura do coronavírus está nos arrastando, é a dos italianos, habitantes de um país da arte, do tato e da comunicação, que hoje cantam nas janelas das casas diante de ruas e praças vazias. Cantam para consolar os vizinhos encerrados em suas casas. Os lamentos de suas vozes são o símbolo da dor evocada pelos tristes tempos das guerras e dos refúgios contra os bombardeios.

Mas é às vezes nos tempos das catástrofes e do desalento, das perdas que nos angustiam, que descobrimos que, como dizia o Nobel de literatura José Saramago, “somos cegos que, vendo, não veem”. Descobrimos, como uma luz que acende em nossa vida, que éramos cegos, incapazes de apreciar a beleza do natural, os gestos cotidianos que tecem nossa existência e dão sentido à vida.

A pandemia do novo vírus, por mais paradoxal que pareça, poderia servir para abrir nossos olhos e percebermos que o que hoje vemos como uma perda, como passear livres pela rua, dar um beijo ou um abraço, ir ao cinema ou ao bar para tomar uma cerveja com os amigos, ou ao futebol, eram gestos de nosso cotidiano que fazíamos muitas vezes sem descobrir a força de poder agir em liberdade, sem imposições do poder.

Descobri essa sensação quando, dias atrás, fui dar a mão a um amigo e ele retirou a sua. Tinha me esquecido do vírus e pensei que meu amigo poderia estar ofendido comigo. Foi como um calafrio de tristeza.

Às vezes abraçamos, beijamos e nos movemos em liberdade sem saber o valor desses gestos que realizamos quase de forma mecânica. Quando os pais sentem às vezes, no dia a dia, o peso de terem que levar as crianças ao colégio e as deixam lá com um beijo apressado e correndo, mecânico, apreciam, depois do coronavírus, a emoção de que seu filho te peça um beijo ou segure a sua mão. E apreciamos a força de um abraço, do tato, de estarmos juntos apenas quando nos negam essa possibilidade.

Somente quando o vírus nos encerra em nossas casas e limita nossos movimentos percebemos como é triste a solidão forçada, e entendemos melhor o abandono dos presos e dos excluídos. Somente quando nos impedem de nos aproximarmos dos nossos animais de estimação é que descobrimos a maravilha que é poder acariciá-los e abraçá-los.

Se, como dizia Saramago, no cotidiano somos cegos quando não apreciamos a força da liberdade, também, muitas vezes, amando não amamos e livres nos sentimos escravos. O que nos parece cansaço e castigo da rotina revela-se como o maior valor. Quando nos privam dessa cotidianidade nos sentimos escravos, porque o homem nasceu para ser livre.

Na obra Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (Companhia das Letras), de Saramago, tão recordada nestes momentos de trevas mundiais, na qual uma cidade inteira fica cega e as pessoas enclausuradas, descobre-se melhor nossa insolidariedade e nosso egoísmo. O escritor é duro em seu romance ao fazer daqueles cegos a metáfora de uma sociedade onde cada um, nos momentos de perigo e angústia, pensa apenas em si mesmo.

A única que redime aquela situação perversa dos cegos é uma mulher, a esposa do médico, a única que não perdeu a visão e que se faz passar por cega para ajudar os que de fato são. Aquela mulher é representada hoje pelos italianos que usam suas vozes para, com suas notas doloridas, aliviar a solidão dos vizinhos.

Nestes momentos vividos por boa parte das pessoas do mundo, enclausuradas e presas pelo rigor do poder que as condena negando-lhes a liberdade de movimento, que a dor coletiva nos ajude a vencer nosso atávico egoísmo cotidiano, ao contrário dos cegos egoístas do romance de Saramago.

Que a tragédia do coronavírus consiga nos transformar no futuro em guias e ajuda amorosa dos novos cegos de uma sociedade que muitas vezes parece não saber onde caminhar e que, quando goza de liberdade, anseia pela escravidão.

Que a dor de hoje se transforme em tomada de consciência de que vale mais a liberdade das aves do céu que a escravidão que nos impomos quando somos livres. Que o mundo não caia na tentação dos escravos que Moisés havia tirado da escravidão do Egito, que, enquanto eram conduzidos pelo deserto rumo à liberdade, continuavam preferindo as cebolas e os alhos do tempo da escravidão ao maná que Deus lhes enviava do céu. Não existe maior bem neste planeta do que a liberdade que nos permite amar e sofrer sem sucumbir.

E ante a catástrofe do coronavírus, que poderia nos alcançar a todos, que se rompam neste país as trincheiras entre bolsonaristas e lulistas para nos sentirmos solidários numa mesma preocupação.

Na dor e na calamidade coletiva, sentimos que somos menos desiguais do que pensamos. E que, no fim das contas, as lágrimas não têm ideologia.

Mais informações

Pandemic Hardship/Pandemic Change (Psychology Today)

How the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic can change how we live

Paul Stoller

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Most of us face multiple hardships in life—financial stress, job loss, divorce, the premature death of a spouse or parent.  Painful and unsettling life events divert our lives into unimaginable paths filled with stress and pain. Like most people, I have experienced a number of painful events: religious discrimination, the suicide of a loved one, divorce, and the death of parents.  I have also been diagnosed with and treated for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a series of blood cancers most of which are classified as incurable. These life-altering experiences have shaped the course of my personal and professional life—in unexpected ways. 

My life as an anthropologist has afforded me a particular perspective on existentially troubling life events.  During early fieldwork in the Republic of Niger, one of the poorest nations in the world, I had to confront the psychological and existential ramifications of yearly meningitis outbreaks.  These always occurred during the hot dry season—from March until the first rains of June.  In hot and dry conditions that were perfect for transmission, a few of my students, some of my friends and many children got sick. 

Many of the children died. 

One year during a particularly bad outbreak I witnessed daily processions of men and women carrying the newly dead to their final resting place. Men walked silently their gazes downcast.  Women wailed as they accompanied their loved ones to the cemetery.  During that outbreak, a pall settled over the rural village where I lived. Conversations lapsed into stressful silences.  We all wondered if we would be next.  Was the tightness in my neck muscular, or was it the onset of meningitis? Invisible and silent, the scourge of meningitis put my life at risk, a visceral threat that forced me to consider what was important in my life.

 Paul Stoller
In Niger, hot and dry conditions create a perfect storm for meningitis outbreaks. Source: Paul Stoller

During another year of fieldwork in Niger, I lived through a cholera epidemic. While the transmission of meningitis bacteria and/or virus comes from close contact with infected others—cholera makes its way to human beings through contaminated water or food. 

That year, many people in the region of Tillaberi became cholera victims.  In response to a flood of new cholera patients, the local government, which had no funds to meet the challenges of the outbreak, set up a makeshift lean-to village—a horrible place to put the sick and dying.  The lean-to village had been built close to the dunetop compound where I was living.  From our compound we observed the arrival of hundreds of emaciated victims, wrapped in soiled rags, being transported on donkey-pulled carts to the cholera village.  The stench of that lean-to village saturated my senses and haunts me to this day. During that time of contagion, conversations focused on the onset of cholera, treatment regimens, and death rates, which soared in an exceedingly poor region of rural Niger.  The long shadow of cholera cast its shade on us all. Despite my relative privilege among the poor and destitute, I nonetheless wondered about the safety of my water and food.  Would I succumb to cholera?  Again, the threat of an epidemic compelled me to think about what mattered in my life:  love, family and my contributions, however small they might be, to my community and my profession.

We are now living through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  The deadly virus is spreading exponentially, and there is no apparent end is in sight.  An unsettling eeriness extends itself over our lives and our communities.  Are we unwitting carriers of the virus who have exposed our loved ones and our friends to the COVID-19 coronavirus?  It is a hard reality to bear.  Even so, we don’t know if we’ll be infected or not.  And if we are infected, we don’t know if our illness will be serious—or even deadly. We are, in fact, living in a moment of a devastating uncertainty in which we have been told to practice social distancing—a good way to slow the rate of contagion. Concerts have been cancelled. Sporting events have been postponed. Theaters have gone dark. In grocery stores, it is difficult to find bread, water, eggs, milk and TP.

Paul Stoller
Coronavirus shopping on March 14, 2020 Source: Paul Stoller

Travel has been curtailed.  Gyms and restaurants are closed. Universities have emptied their dormitories and have transitioned to remote education. K-12 public and private schools have shut their doors. The entire populations of Italy, Spain, France have been placed on lockdown.  Where I live, people have been told to stay at home—all to contain the silent and invisible virus.  If this surreal scenario is not the end of the world, it may well be the end of social life as we have known it.

The great French surrealist thinker Antonin Artaud thought that most of us make our way through life in a half-conscious state.  “You look but you don’t see,” as a wise elder among the Songhay people of Niger and Mali once told me. “You listen but you don’t hear. You touch but you don’t feel.”  Indeed, the routine of everyday life can numb our sensibilities. Each day, most of us wake up, go to school, or to work. At midday we eat lunch. At day’s end we return home, enjoy some sort of dinner, enjoy a night watching television, or steaming a film.  Sometimes we break the routine.  We hang out with our friends. We go out for dinner, have a drink at our favorite bar, or attend a sporting event or a concert.

This routine is, for all intents and purposes, social life as we expect it to unfold.  When those expectations are subverted—by an outbreak of meningitis, a cholera epidemic or the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic—we are forced to change our routines and reconfigure our personal and social expectations.  Facing potential illness or possible death, many of us are provoked to think about what is important, about what we might do for our family, our neighbors, our communities.

We are about to experience the full turbulence of a pandemic.  There will be isolation, confusion, pain, suffering and loss, but such a state can also provoke penetratingly honest self-reflection, deep listening, existential change, and social transformation. Pandemic hardship can bring on pandemic change.  Trapped in this unsettled moment between our past and future, perhaps we can take time to reconnect and, to paraphrase T.S. Elliot, know ourselves for the first time.  

Paul Stoller, Ph.D., is a professor at the Department of Anthropology-Sociology, West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

Here’s Why Coronavirus And Climate Change Are Different Sorts Of Policy Problems (Forbes)

Editors’ Pick | Mar 15, 2020, 07:05pm EST

Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash

Contributor Green Tech

NETHERLANDS-HEALTH-VIRUS-TRANSPORT-AVIATION
Passengers wearing protective face masks stand at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, on March 13, 2020, amid an outbreak of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. Photo by OLAF KRAAK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images.

Climate protection and public health have striking similarities. The benefits of both can be enjoyed by everyone, even by individuals who do not contribute to the collective efforts to address these problems. If climate change slows down, both drivers of gas-guzzlers and electric cars will benefit – although the former did not help in climate efforts. Similarly, if the spread of Coronavirus is halted (the so-called flattening the curve), individuals who refused to wash their hands, as well as the ones who washed them assiduously, will enjoy the restored normal life.

Most countries have gotten their acts together, although belatedly, on Coronavirus. Citizens also seem to be following the advice of public health officials. Could then the Coronavirus policy model be applied to climate change? We urge caution because these crises are different, which means that policies that worked well for Coronavirus might not be effective for climate change.

Different Penalties for Policy and Behavioral Procrastination

Climate change is the defining crisis of our times. Floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe over the years. Although climate change generates passionate discussions in big cities and university campuses, there is inadequate public clamor for immediate action. Some types of decarbonization policies are certainly in place. However, carbon-intensive lifestyles continue (with “flying shame” in Scandinavia being an exception). Today In: Green Tech

This policy lethargy and behavioral inertia are due to many reasons, including concerted opposition by the fossil fuel industry to deep decarbonization. But there are other reasons as well. Climate change is cumulative and does not have a quick onset. Its effects are not always immediate and visible. Many individuals probably do not see a clear link  between their actions and the eventual outcome. This reduces the willingness to alter lifestyles and tolerate personal sacrifices for the collective good.

In contrast, Coronavirus is forcing an immediate policy response and behavioral changes. Its causality is clear and its onset quick. Lives are at stake, especially in western countries. The stock markets are tanking, and the economy is heading towards a recession. Politicians recognize that waffling can lead to massive consequences, even in the short-term. Corona-skeptic President Trump has reversed course and declared a national emergency.

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In the US, there is federal inaction on climate change. But Coronavirus seems different. 2020 is a Presidential election year, and perhaps this motivates the federal government to (finally) act decisively so that Coronavirus does not become Hurricane Katrina type of political liability.

Spatial Optimism

Climate policies are hobbled by “spatial optimism,” whereby individuals believe that their risk of getting affected by climate change is less than for others. This reduces the willingness to tolerate personal sacrifices for deep decarbonization.

Coronavirus episode began with some level of spatial optimism in the Western world. After all, it was happening in China. But this confidence has quickly disappeared. Globalization means a lot of international travel and trade. China is the main global supplier of many products. Prominent companies such as Apple (AAPL) and Tesla (TSLA) depend on China for manufacturing and sales of their products. Spatial optimism has been overwhelmed by international travel as well as globalized supply chains and financial markets.

Belief in the Efficacy of Adaptation

Some might believe that climate change can be “managed.” Innovators will probably develop commercial-scale negative carbon technologies and societies will adapt to sea-level rise by building seawalls, or maybe relocating some communities to safer areas.

Coronavirus offers no such comfort. Unlike the seasonal flu, there is no vaccine (yet). It is difficult to adapt to the Coronavirus threat when you don’t know what to touch, where to go, and if your family members and neighbors are infected. Not to mention, how many rolls of tissue paper you need to stock before the supplies run out at the local grocery store.

Different Incentives to Attack Scientific Knowledge

On Coronavirus, citizens seem to be willing to follow the advice of public health professionals (at least when it comes to social distancing as reflected in empty roads and shopping centers). Every word of Dr. Anthony Fauci counts.

Why has this advice not drawn scorn from politicians who are suspicious of the “deep state”? After all, the same politicians attack scientific consensus on climate change.

Climate skeptics probably see substantial political and economic payoffs by delaying climate action. Stock markets have not penalized climate skepticism in the US: markets hit record high levels in the first three years of the Trump presidency. And, climate opposition is not leading to electoral losses. On the contrary, the climate agendas in liberal states, such as Oregon and Washington, have stalled.  

Nobody seems to gain by attacking scientific consensus to delay policy action on Coronavirus. Airlines, hospitality, and tourism industries, who have taken a direct hit from social-distancing policies, probably want the problem to be quickly addressed so that people can get back to their “normal” lives.

US politicians who talk about the “deep state,” may want Coronavirus issue resolved before the November 2020 election. Attacking science does not further their political objectives. After all, the looming recession and the stock market decline could influence the election outcomes.

Depth, Scale, and Duration of Changes

Climate policy will cause economic and social dislocation. Decarbonization means that some industries will shut down. Jobs will be lost, and communities will suffer unless “just transition” policies are in place.

Coronavirus policies will probably not cause long-term structural changes in the economy. People will resume flying, tourists will flock to Venice, Rome, and Paris, and the basketball arenas will again overflow with spectators.

However, some short-term measures could lead to long-term changes. For example, individuals may realize that telecommuting is easy and efficient. As a result, they may permanently reduce their work-related travel. Coronavirus may provide the sort of a “nudge” that shifts long-term behavioral preferences.

In sum, the contrast between the rapid response to Coronavirus and policy waffling on climate change reveals how citizens think of risk and how this shapes their willingness to incur costs for the collective good. Further, it suggests that politicians respect science when its recommendations serve their political ends.

Nives Dolsak is Stan and Alta Barer Professor in Sustainability Science and Director of the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs. Aseem Prakash is the Walker Family Professor and the Director of the Center for Environmental Politics. Both are at the University of Washington, Seattle.  

Chuvas e secas em São Paulo estão mais intensas com aquecimento, mostram dados (Folha de S.Paulo)

Por Fábio Takahashi, Guilherme Garcia, Guilherme Seto, Thiago Amâncio e Diana Yukari

4.mar.2020 à 1h00

https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2020/03/chuvas-e-secas-em-sao-paulo-estao-mais-intensas-com-aquecimento-mostram-dados.shtml

Análise da Folha indica mudança no clima paulistano, que esquentou quase 3ºC desde 1960


O clima em São Paulo sofreu profundas mudanças nos últimos 60 anos: chuvas intensas estão mais comuns, mas longos períodos secos também aparecem mais, e a temperatura está quase 3ºC mais alta hoje (dependendo da forma de medição).

Os dados, coletados pela Folha no Inmet (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), e pesquisadores indicam que a cidade enfrentará cada vez mais desafios na saúde pública, com mais mortes relacionadas a doenças cardíacas, por exemplo, que são mais comuns nas ondas de calor. E sofrerá cada vez mais problemas de infraestrutura, com mais alagamentos em alguns períodos e falta d’água em outros.

A chuva é um dos grandes exemplos da mudança no clima em São Paulo no período. Até 1980, a cidade havia enfrentado apenas um evento com mais de 100 mm em um dia. Na década de 2010, foram seis.

Patamar próximo a esse foi o que a capital paulista enfrentou no começo de fevereiro, quando os 114 mm foram suficientes para alagar trechos das marginais, ilhar moradores e suspender aulas e o serviço público.

Por outro lado, os períodos sem chuva estão cada vez maiores. A década de 1960 começou com período de até 15 dias sem precipitação em alguns anos. Nesta década mais recente, já se chegou a 51 dias secos, em 2012. 

Após sequência de estiagens, a cidade sofreu com a crise hídrica de 2014, quando reservatórios chegaram a operar com 10% da capacidade, levando a racionamentos.

Os dados do Inmet, que vão de 1961 a 2019 e são coletadas na zona norte, mostram também mudança no padrão de temperatura. 

Há diferentes formas de se avaliar essa variação. Considerando a diferença ano a ano, o acumulado desses 58 anos aponta para uma temperatura média 2ºC superior agora em relação ao período inicial (subindo da casa dos 20ºC para 22ºC).

Se analisada a variação das temperaturas mínimas, o aquecimento é ainda maior (quase 3ºC a mais, saindo da casa dos 8ºC para 11ºC).

Visto de outra forma, as temperaturas mínimas da década de 2010 estão 2,3ºC maiores do que de 1960, considerando as medianas (medida que identifica qual a temperatura é a que divide em dois o grupo analisado).

Como as mudanças no regime de chuvas e nas temperaturas têm sido constantes ao longo das décadas, climatologistas dizem que a situação atual deverá ser o novo padrão da cidade para os próximos anos. E as projeções apontam para presença ainda maior de eventos extremos nas próximas décadas.

“A situação exige melhoria significativa em ações para redução de desastres na região metropolitana”, escreveram o climatologista José Marengo e outros pesquisadores brasileiros em trabalho acadêmico publicado na revista da Academia de Ciências de Nova York, no começo deste ano.

A pesquisa enfocou o padrão de chuvas na região —a reportagem se inspirou nessa metodologia para a análise, acrescentando dados mais recentes.

Os cientistas destacam que as mudanças podem estar relacionadas à variação natural do clima, mas também podem ser fruto do aquecimento global e da urbanização da região.

“O aumento das temperaturas é um processo natural, que pode ser acelerado pela ação humana, com urbanização, queima de combustível fóssil e desmatamento”, disse à reportagem o cientista Marengo, do Cemaden (centro nacional de monitoramento de desastres naturais). “O que não foi estabelecido é saber qual porcentagem é natural e qual é humana.”

Mesmo que a causa das mudanças no clima da cidade ainda não esteja totalmente definida, já há pesquisas sobre o impacto na saúde da população decorrente das temperaturas mais altas e pelo novo padrão de chuvas.

A população idosa parece ser mais sensível ao aumento do calor. Uma das razões é que o corpo nessa idade tem mais dificuldade para se adaptar à mudança de temperatura. E também tarda mais para perceber o aumento do calor, demorando também para se hidratar. 

As pesquisas mostram que aumento da temperatura está relacionado a mais casos de mortes decorrentes de doenças cardiovasculares e respiratórias.

Em pesquisa feita no IAG-USP (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), o meteorologista Rafael Batista avaliou o impacto de altas temperaturas nos óbitos de idosos. 

O trabalho verificou que houve mais mortes do que o esperado em fevereiro de 2014 na região metropolitana de São Paulo, quando ocorreu forte onda de calor (26 dias consecutivos com máximas acima dos 30ºC).

Outro impacto do aumento do calor é a elevação do consumo de água, aponta o professor da Faculdade de Saúde Pública da USP Leandro Giatti. 

E a situação pode se agravar porque o novo padrão de chuvas, com pancadas cada vez mais fortes, alternadas com períodos secos mais longos, não é o ideal para se acumular águas nos reservatórios. 

Nas chuvas intensas, a água passa muito rapidamente pelo solo, não sendo absorvida para os aquíferos, além de levar sujeira e sedimentos para os reservatórios.

O aumento das chuvas intensas, e consequentes alagamentos, pode contribuir ainda para aumento de doenças como leptospirose e dengue ou diarreia, especialmente em crianças. Essa relação foi apontada em pesquisas de Juliana Duarte, da Faculdade de Saúde Pública da USP.

Ela verificou que houve aumento de internações devido a essas doenças nos períodos mais chuvosos em Rio Branco (AC), entre os anos de 2008 e 2013.

Todos esses problemas devem se intensificar, de acordo com os cientistas.

A pesquisa do meteorologista Rafael Batista, do IAG-USP, estimou como deverá ser a temperatura na região metropolitana até 2099, considerando a evolução nas últimas décadas. 

Segundo esse cálculo, o número de dias de risco por altas temperaturas (médias acima de 25ºC) passará a ocupar 40% do ano, dentro das próximas seis décadas; hoje, são apenas 8% do ano.

“O inverno pode passar a ficar parecido com o que conhecemos do verão”, disse o climatologista Fábio Gonçalves, do IAG (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), da USP. A unidade também faz monitoramento do clima, a partir de ponto na zona sul na cidade, e possui observações semelhantes ao verificado pela Folha.

Governos ainda tropeçam para frear problema

As temperaturas mais altas e a frequência maior de eventos extremos ganham contornos mais graves quando se pensa que a cidade não para —nem em população (cresceu uma média de 100,8 mil habitantes por ano na última década) nem em mancha urbana (que hoje ocupa 878,6 km², o equivalente a 57% do território da cidade).

A Prefeitura de São Paulo lista intervenções como a construção de piscinões, a melhoria da drenagem e a implantação de parques como respostas. Por outro lado, reportagem da Folha no começo do mês mostrou que a cidade tem ao menos 17 grandes obras de drenagem atrasadas.

A cidade instituiu em 2009, na gestão Gilberto Kassab, sua Política Municipal de Mudança do Clima, que estabelece ações para mitigar os efeitos das mudanças ambientais.

São Paulo também tem como meta reduzir em 45% as emissões de gás carbônico nos próximos dez anos em relação ao nível de 2010, e promete neutralizar as emissões de gases que provocam efeito estufa até 2050. 

“Os preâmbulos de todos os planos diretores, desde o Plano Urbanístico Básico, de 1968, até o Plano Diretor Estratégico de 2014, têm capítulos dedicados a chuvas, ao meio ambiente”, diz o professor Valter Caldana, da Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade Mackenzie, que afirma que o respeito a variáveis ambientais é um dos fundamentos da boa arquitetura, mesmo antes de se falar em mudanças climáticas.

“Mas nós adotamos um modelo de desenvolvimento urbano no século 20 que passou por cima dos elementos naturais da nossa topografia, geomorfologia e hidrografia”, diz ele, ao citar o encanamento e enterramento indiscriminado de rios e córregos e a impermeabilização de áreas verdes da cidade. 

É preciso mudar o modo como se produzem cidades, diz o urbanista. E cita coisas práticas: cuidar do mobiliário urbano, aumentar a capacidade de drenagem, acabar com a exigência de recuos de edifícios (o que faz com que se desperdice espaços), fazer com que empresas abram espaços verdes para uso público.

“Antigamente São Paulo tinha bolsões de calor. Hoje a cidade inteira virou um bolsão de calor. Tem que parar de agir só na emergência e agir cotidianamente”, diz.

 Secretário de Infraestrutura e Obras da cidade, o engenheiro Vitor Aly afirma que a atual administração tem olhado os problemas derivados das mudanças climáticas de forma propositiva, e não mais reativa como no passado, quando, segundo ele, apenas atacavam os efeitos das enchentes.

“Os alagamentos acontecem no mundo todo agora. Veja Austrália, Inglaterra, Japão. É um problema da sociedade moderna. Fomos ocupando o território e agora precisamos nos ocupar do problema”, diz Aly.

Ele lista soluções estruturais que têm sido elaboradas pela prefeitura: a construção de piscinões (já foram entregues oito e planejam mais cinco para 2020); um estudo para alteamento de pontes e pontilhões, que funcionam como represas quando enchem os rios; um mapeamento das 104 bacias hidrográficas e das manchas de inundação da cidade, com o propósito de alertar moradores e construtoras com precisão dos riscos de cada região.

Um dos compromissos previstos no plano de metas da atual gestão é o de reduzir em 12,6% (2,77 km²) as áreas inundáveis da cidade.

Nas ações de manutenção, o secretário de Subprefeituras, Alexandre Modonezi, diz que a drenagem tem funcionado bem diante desse desafio pluvial que se avoluma.

Ele avalia que a limpeza de ramais e de bocas de lobo e a retirada de resíduos de córregos fizeram com que a água da chuva tivesse fluidez no último episódio de chuvas, por exemplo. Segundo ele, a drenagem da cidade levou toda a água para os rios Pinheiros e Tietê —”foram essas artérias que não suportaram todo o volume”, afirma Modonezi. A manutenção dos dois rios é incumbência do governo do estado.

“Nas outras regiões da cidade tivemos alagamentos pontuais, pequenos, lâminas de água que acabaram sendo drenadas depois de passada a chuva”, completa.

O plano de metas dedica diversas rubricas à problemática: recuperar 240 mil metros lineares de guias e sarjetas; limpar 2,8 milhões de metros quadrados de margens de córregos; retirar 176.406 toneladas de detritos de piscinões, entre outros.

Em 2019, o prefeito Bruno Covas (PSDB) anunciou compromisso de elaborar um plano de ação climática para zerar a emissão de gases que provocam efeito estufa nos próximos 30 anos. A proposta do tucano está alinhada às metas do Acordo de Paris, repetidamente atacado pelo presidente Jair Bolsonaro (sem partido) nos últimos anos.

Ricardo Viegas, secretário adjunto de Verde e Meio Ambiente, diz que o plano será apresentado em junho, mas diversas ações para controle do aumento de temperatura e do efeito estufa já têm sido feitas.
Ele diz que um grande esforço tem sido feito em relação ao transporte na cidade.

A chamada “lei do clima”, sancionada pelo então prefeito João Doria (PSDB) em 2018, estabeleceu que as emissões de dióxido de carbono e de material particulado terão que ser zeradas até 2038 pela frota de ônibus municipal, por exemplo.

A resposta às ilhas de calor e ao aumento de temperatura vem por meio da ampliação das áreas verdes. Nesse sentido, Viegas afirma que a prefeitura implantará dez parques até o final do ano e revitalizará outros 58. A cidade hoje conta com 107 parques.

Outras propostas da gestão Covas que apontam para o longo prazo são a proibição do fornecimento de utensílios plásticos por estabelecimentos comerciais, a implantação de reuso de água em 100% dos novos equipamentos entregues e ampliação do atendimento da coleta seletiva para todos os endereços da capital.

Ciência climática é ferramenta no combate à seca no Nordeste, afirma Carlos Nobre (ABIPTI)

JC 5593, 7 de fevereiro de 2017

“O entendimento das causas subjacentes às secas do Nordeste tem permitido se prever com antecedência de alguns meses a probabilidade de uma particular estação de chuvas no semiárido do Nordeste”, afirmou

O relatório oriundo da última reunião do Grupo de Trabalho de Previsão Climática Sazonal (GTPCS) do Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC) aponta para um cenário preocupante: até o início de 2018, é esperado que os grandes e médios reservatórios nordestinos sequem. Por isso, é preciso criar novas oportunidades para a população.

Reconhecido como um dos principais pesquisadores mundiais sobre clima, Carlos Nobre destacou o papel das ciências climáticas para mitigar os impactos econômicos e sociais da seca na Região Nordeste. O pesquisador do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais e professor de pós-graduação do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) ressaltou que o conhecimento do clima cria alternativas econômicas e sociais para os moradores da região.

Na avaliação do pesquisador, a ciência climática evoluiu rapidamente nas últimas décadas, sendo uma ferramenta eficaz no combate à seca. “O entendimento das causas subjacentes às secas do Nordeste tem permitido se prever com antecedência de alguns meses a probabilidade de uma particular estação de chuvas no semiárido do Nordeste de fevereiro a maio ser deficiente, normal ou abundante. Estas previsões climáticas vêm sendo aperfeiçoadas ao longo do tempo e utilizadas para apoio ao planejamento agrícola, à gestão hídrica e à mitigação de desastres naturais”, afirmou Nobre.

Entre as ações propostas pelo cientista, está o investimento na criação de uma economia regional baseada em recursos naturais renováveis. Uma das alternativas sugeridas é a criação de parques de geração de energia eólica e solar fotovoltaica.

“O Nordeste tem um enorme potencial de energia eólica e solar, capaz de atender a todas suas necessidades e ainda exportar grandes volumes para o restante do Brasil. Estas formas de energia renovável distribuídas geram empregos permanentes localmente, mais numerosos do que aqueles gerados por hidrelétricas ou termelétricas e que poderiam beneficiar populações urbanas e rurais da região”, informou.

Carlos Nobre tem extensa atuação na área climática. Além de ocupar vários cargos no governo referentes ao setor climático, foi vencedor do Volvo Environment Prize – um dos principais prêmios internacionais sobre clima – e membro do Conselho Científico sobre Sustentabilidade Global da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU).

Agência ABIPTI, com informações do MCTI e Valor Econômico

Corrente do Golfo pode parar, diz estudo (Observatório do Clima)

JC, 5571, 5 de janeiro de 2017

Novo modelo mostra que esteira oceânica que transporta calor à Europa é mais vulnerável ao aquecimento global do que se imaginava, mas só pararia em séculos não de anos; Brasil seria afetado

Cientistas chineses trabalhando nos EUA trouxeram nesta quarta-feira uma notícia agridoce sobre um dos efeitos mais temidos do aquecimento global. Um modelo climático feito por eles mostra que a corrente oceânica que leva calor dos trópicos à Europa é mais vulnerável do que se imaginava às mudanças do clima, e desligará completamente caso a quantidade de gás carbônico na atmosfera siga aumentando. Por outro lado, esse desligamento ocorreria em séculos, não em anos ou décadas.

Conhecida como circulação termoalina do Atlântico, essa imensa esteira oceânica é um dos principais sistemas de regulação do clima da Terra. Sua face mais conhecida é a Corrente do Golfo, uma corrente quente que migra pela superfície do Atlântico tropical até as imediações do Ártico. No Atlântico Norte, ela fica mais fria e mais salgada (devido à evaporação da água no caminho), afundando e retornando aos trópicos na forma de uma corrente fria submarina. A dissipação de calor dessa corrente é o que mantém a Inglaterra e o norte da Europa com um clima relativamente tépido, mesmo estando em uma latitude elevada.

Desde os anos 1980 os cientistas têm postulado que o aquecimento global, ao derreter o gelo e a neve do Ártico, lançaria grande quantidade de água doce no oceano, diluindo o sal da corrente e impedindo que ela afundasse. O efeito imediato seria a suspensão do transporte da calor para a Europa, que mergulharia numa espécie de era do gelo. Isso já aconteceu há 8.200 anos e resfriou o Velho Continente por dois séculos. Poderia acontecer de novo de forma rápida e causar problemas sérios à civilização, caricaturados no filme-catástrofe O Dia Depois de Amanhã, de 2004.

Observações feitas até aqui, que são esparsas, têm mostrado que justamente desde 2004 esteira oceânica está em sua menor potência nos últimos mil anos, provavelmente por causa do aquecimento global. Alguns cientistas temem que o colapso já tenha começado.

Ocorre que os modelos computacionais que simulam o clima da Terra no futuro, usados pelo IPCC (o painel do clima da ONU), têm falhado sistematicamente em apontar instabilidade no sistema. Por consequência, o desligamento repentino da corrente é considerado pouco provável pelo painel.

Entram em cena Wei Liu, da Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego (hoje na outra costa do país, na Universidade Yale), e colegas. Em estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira no site da revista Science Advances, o grupo aponta que os modelos padecem de um viés: uma distorção faz a corrente parecer artificialmente mais estável do que é de fato.

A origem do problema está longe da Europa, no Atlântico Sul. Essa região do oceano tropical, perto do equador, recebe chuvas constantes na chamada Zona de Convergência Intertropical, o cinturão de tempestades onde massas de ar aquecido dos dois hemisférios se encontram.

Liu e colegas dizem que os modelos do IPCC assumem que há mais água doce oriunda dessas chuvas na corrente do que há de fato. Isso causaria nos modelos uma ilusão de estabilidade – quanto mais água doce no trópico, menor a diferença de salinidade perto do Ártico, portanto, menos suscetível a perturbações a corrente seria. Esse viés, afirma Liu, já havia sido sugerido por outros estudos no passado.

O que o chinês e seu grupo fizeram foi ajustar um dos modelos de acordo com parâmetros de salinidade que eles consideravam mais realistas. Mas não apenas isso: a correção do viés tornou a corrente mais instável e vulnerável ao próprio aquecimento da água do mar – algo que casa melhor com as observações. “O aquecimento reduz a densidade da água e impede a convecção”, disse Liu ao OC.  “O método não é perfeito, mas é o melhor que podemos fazer agora para corrigir o viés e fazer uma projeção mais confiável.”

Os pesquisadores usaram o modelo ajustado para estimar o que acontece com a esteira oceânica caso o nível de CO2 na atmosfera duplique – algo que acontecerá por volta de meados do século se medidas radicais de controle de emissões não forem tomadas.

Aqui vem a nota de alívio do estudo: o colapso da corrente ocorre nas simulações apenas 300 anos após a quantidade de CO2 dobrar na atmosfera. Questionado sobre se isso era uma boa notícia, Liu foi cauteloso: “Sim, 300 anos são muita coisa comparado a uma vida humana, mas mudanças notáveis podem ocorrer antes de a circulação colapsar”, disse. “Além disso, nosso resultado é baseado em um modelo e em um cenário simples de aquecimento.” Liu e seus colegas não consideraram, por exemplo, o fator que até agora tem sido invocado para explicar a redução da corrente: o efeito do degelo da Groenlândia. Ao lançar excesso de água doce sobre o oceano no Ártico, o derretimento poderia agravar a situação de uma corrente que já seria impactada pelo aquecimento da superfície.

Um efeito esperado dessa redução na corrente, por exemplo, é uma mudança nos padrões de chuva em várias regiões do planeta. Um dos lugares que seriam afetados é o Brasil. Estudos do grupo do geólogo de Francisco Cruz, da USP, já mostraram que fases de redução da circulação termoalina no passado corresponderam a chuvas torrenciais no Brasil, devido ao deslocamento da Zona de Convergência Intertropical para o sul.

“Precisamos aplicar essa metodologia a mais modelos climáticos e a cenários de aquecimento global mais realistas”, afirmou Liu.

Observatório do Clima

Com 516 milímetros de chuva em 5 anos, Ceará tem pior seca desde 1910 (G1)

09/09/2016 09h20 – Atualizado em 09/09/2016 11h57

Previsão para 2017 ainda é indefinida devido ao “Oceano Pacífico Neutro”.
Águas do Açude Orós estão sendo transferidas para o Castanhão.

Do G1 CE com informações da TV Verdes Mares

VER VIDEO

Levantamento feito pela Fundação Cearense de Meteorologia e Recursos Hídricos (Funceme) nesta quinta-feira (8) mostra que nos últimos cinco anos, de 2012 a 2016, foram apenas 516 milímetros de chuva, em média, no Ceará. O índice é o menor desde 1910.

De acordo com o meteorologista Davi Ferran, vai ser preciso conviver com a incerteza pelos próximos meses, já que ainda é cedo pra afirmar se 2017 vai trazer chuva ou não.

Ano Chuva (mm)
2012 388
2013 552
2014 565
2015 524
2016 550
Média 516
Fonte: Funceme

“No período chuvoso do ano que vem, ou seja, março, abril e maio, que é o período chuvoso principal, a maior probabilidade é que o Oceano Pacífico não tenha El Niño nem La Niña. Vamos ter o Oceano Pacífico neutro. Em anos de Oceano Pacífico neutro, a probabilidade de chuvas no Ceará depende mais fortemente do Atlântico. Então a previsão vai ser divulgada somente em janeiro”, explica.

Enquanto isso, segundo a Companhia de Gestão de Recursos Hídricos (Cogerh), os reservatórios secam cada vez mais. No momento, o nível médio dos 153 açudes monitorados pela Cogerh é de apenas 9,4% do volume total.O “Gigante” Castanhão, responsável por abastecer toda a Região Metropolitana de Fortaleza, está praticamente sem água. Há apenas sete anos, ele chegou a inundar a cidade de Jaguaribara com a enorme vazão das comportas.

Hoje, a Cogerh diz que o maior açude do Ceará está com apenas 6% da capacidade. Bem perto dele, o Açude Orós, também na Região Jaguaribana, sangrou em 2004 e 2008. Na época, virou até atração turística no Centro Sul do Estado.

Agora em 2016, o Orós aparece nesse cenário de seca em forma de ajuda. Desde julho, as águas do açude estão sendo transferidas para o Castanhão. Segundo a Cogerh, essa água deve chegar às residências da Região Metropolitana de Fortaleza em setembro, e garantir o abastecimento pelo menos durante esse período  de crise hídrica.

“Nossa programação é até o final de janeiro. Ou seja, até janeiro vamos estar operando de forma integrada os dois reservatórios. O caso da Região Metropolitana, ela está totalmente integrada à Região do Jaguaribe por dois grandes canais: o do Trabalhador e Eixão das Águas. Então é o caso de uma bacia hoje tem uma maior dependência de outra região, de outra bacia hidrográfica, mas elas estão integradas. Esse é o caso que eu diria mais emblemática no Estado”, explica o presidente da Cogerh, João Lúcio Farias.

saiba mais

Ceará passa pela pior seca dos últimos 90 anos, com 38 açudes completamente secos e 42 no volume morto (Ceará News 7)

27/10/2016 11:45Hs

EFEITOS DA ESTIAGEM

O relatório da Cogerh também informa que, somente no mês de outubro o volume nos açudes caiu para 10% de sua capacidade.

Ceará passa pela pior seca dos últimos 90 anos, com 38 açudes completamente secos e 42 no volume morto

Os reservatórios do Ceará estão exauridos por conta da seca prolongada 

A Companhia de Gestão de Recursos Hídricos (Cogerh) relatou a situação preocupante que vive o Ceará por conta da falta de chuvas, que faz o Estado enfrentar a pior seca dos últimos 90 anos.

Segundo a Cogerh, somente no mês de outubro o volume de água nos açudes cearenses caiu para 10 por cento. Dos 153 açudes monitorados pela companhia 131 têm menos de 30% da capacidade máxima e apenas um está com mais de 90%. Outros 42 estão com o volume morto e 38 completamente secos.

No mês de março, considerado o mais chuvoso da temporada de inverno, quando em média são esperados mais de 200 milímetros, o índice registrado foi de apenas 129 milímetros. Os dados confirmam o quinto ano seguido de chuvas abaixo da média no Ceará, ocasionando uma das maiores secas já registradas na história.

Lista dos açudes com volume morto:

Batente, Broco, Capitão Mor, Castro, Catucinzenta, Cipoada, Ema, Farias de Sousa, Flor do Campo, Fogareiro, Forquilha, Frios, Gerardo Atimbone, Jaburu II, Jatobá, Jatobá II, Jenipapeiro, Jenipapeiro II, João Luís, Macacos, Martinópole, Monsenhor, Tabosa, Parambu, Penedo, Pentecoste, Pesqueiro, Poço ds Pedra, Poço do Barro, Pompeu Sobrinho, Riacho da Serra, Riacho do Sangue, Rivaldo de Carvalho, Santo Antônio, Santo Antônio de Aracatiaçu, São Domingos II, São José II, São José III, Sítios Novos, Sucesso, Tejuçuoca, Várzea da Volta e Várzea do Boi.

Lista dos ançudes secos

Adauto Bezerra, Amanari, Barra Velha, Barragem do Batalhão, Bonito, Canafístula, Carão, Carmina, Carnaubal, Cedro, Cumpim, Desterro, Escuridão, Faé, Favelas, Forquilha II, Jerimum, Madeiro, Monte Belo, Nova Floresta, Pau Preto, Pirabibu, Potiretama, Premuoca, Quixabinha, Quixeramobim, Salão, Santa Maria de Aracatiaçu, Santo Antônio de Russas, São Domingos, São José I, São Mateus, Serafim Dias, Sousa, Trapiá II, Trici, Umari, Vieirão.

Fonte: Cogerh

‘Relatório sobre 1,5ºC trará dilema moral’ (Observatório do Clima)

Vice-presidente do IPCC afirma que próximo documento do grupo, em 2018, pode apresentar a escolha entre salvar países-ilhas e usar tecnologias incipientes de modificação climática

O próximo relatório do IPCC, o Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas, encomendado para 2018, pode apresentar à humanidade um dilema moral: devemos lançar mão em larga escala de tecnologias ainda não testadas e potencialmente perigosas de modificação do clima para evitar que o aquecimento global ultrapasse 1,5oC? Ou devemos ser prudentes e evitar essas tecnologias, colocando em risco a existência de pequenas nações insulares ameaçadas pelo aumento do nível do mar?

Quem expõe a dúvida é Thelma Krug, 65, diretora de Políticas de Combate ao Desmatamento do Ministério do Meio Ambiente e vice-presidente do painel do clima da ONU. Ela coordenou o comitê científico que definiu o escopo do relatório e produziu, no último dia 20, a estrutura de seus capítulos. A brasileira deverá ter papel-chave também na redação do relatório, cujos autores serão escolhidos a partir de novembro.

O documento em preparação é um dos relatórios mais aguardados da história do IPCC. É também único pelo fato de ser feito sob encomenda: a Convenção do Clima, na decisão do Acordo de Paris, em 2015, convidou o painel a produzir um relatório sobre impactos e trajetórias de emissão para limitar o aquecimento a 1,5oC, como forma de embasar cientificamente o objetivo mais ambicioso do acordo. A data de entrega do produto, 2018, coincidirá com a primeira reunião global para avaliar a ambição coletiva das medidas tomadas contra o aquecimento global após a assinatura do tratado.

Segundo Krug, uma das principais mensagens do relatório deverá ser a necessidade da adoção das chamadas emissões negativas, tecnologias que retirem gases-estufa da atmosfera, como o sequestro de carbono em usinas de bioenergia. O problema é que a maior parte dessas tecnologias ou não existe ainda ou nunca foi testada em grande escala. Algumas delas podem envolver modificação climática, a chamada geoengenharia, cujos efeitos colaterais – ainda especulativos, como as próprias tecnologias – podem ser quase tão ruins quanto o mal que elas se propõem a curar.

Outro risco, apontado pelo climatólogo britânico Kevin Anderson em comentário recente na revista Science, é essas tecnologias virarem uma espécie de desculpa para a humanidade não fazer o que realmente precisa para mitigar a mudança climática: parar de usar combustíveis fósseis e desmatar florestas.

“Ficamos numa situação muito desconfortável com várias tecnologias e metodologias que estão sendo propostas para emissões negativas”, disse Krug. “Agora, numa situação em que você não tem uma solução a não ser esta, aí vai ser uma decisão moral. Porque aí você vai ter dilema com as pequenas ilhas, você vai ter um problema de sobrevivência de alguns países.”

Ela disse esperar, por outro lado, que o relatório mostre que existem tecnologias maduras o suficiente para serem adotadas sem a necessidade de recorrer a esquemas mirabolantes.

“Acho que há espaço para começarmos a pensar em alternativas”, afirmou, lembrando que, quanto mais carbono cortarmos rápido, menos teremos necessidade dessas novas tecnologias.

Em entrevista ao OC, concedida dois dias depois de voltar do encontro do IPCC na Tailândia e minutos antes de embarcar para outra reunião, na Noruega, Thelma Krug falou sobre suas expectativas para o relatório e sobre os bastidores da negociação para fechar seu escopo – que opôs, para surpresa de ninguém, as nações insulares e a petroleira Arábia Saudita.

A sra. coordenou o comitê científico que definiu o índice temas que serão tratados no relatório do IPCC sobre os impactos de um aquecimento de 1,5oC. A entrega dessa coordenação a uma cientista de um País em desenvolvimento foi deliberada?

O IPCC decidiu fazer três relatórios especiais neste ciclo: um sobre 1,5oC, um sobre oceanos e um sobre terra. O presidente do IPCC [o coreano Hoesung Lee] achou por bem que se formasse um comitê científico e cada um dos vice-presidentes seria responsável por um relatório especial. Então ele me designou para o de 1,5oC, designou a Ko Barrett [EUA] para o de oceanos e o Youba [Sokona, Mali] para o de terra. O comitê foi formado para planejar o escopo: número de páginas, título, sugestões para cada capítulo. E morreu ali. Por causa da natureza do relatório, que será feito no contexto do desenvolvimento sustentável e da erradicação da pobreza, houve também a participação de duas pessoas da área de ciências sociais, de fora do IPCC. Agora, no começo de novembro, sai uma chamada para nomeações. Serão escolhidos autores principais, coordenadores de capítulos e revisores.

Quantas pessoas deverão produzir o relatório?

No máximo cem. Considerando que vai ter gente do birô também. Todo o birô do IPCC acaba envolvido, são 30 e poucas pessoas, que acabam aumentando o rol de participantes.

A sra. vai participar?

Participarei, e participarei bastante. Os EUA fizeram um pedido para que o presidente do comitê científico tivesse um papel de liderança no relatório. Isso porque, para esse relatório, eu sinto algo que eu não sentia tanto para os outros: se não fosse eu acho que seria difícil. Porque teve muita conversa política.

Quando um país levanta uma preocupação, eu tenho de entender mais a fundo onde a gente vai ter que ter flexibilidade para construir uma solução. Eu acho que foi muito positivo o fato de o pessoal me conhecer há muitos anos e de eu ter a liberdade de conversar com uma Arábia Saudita com muita tranquilidade, de chegar para as pequenas ilhas e conversar com muita tranquilidade e tentar resolver as preocupações.

Por exemplo, quando as pequenas ilhas entraram com a palavra loss and damage [perdas e danos], para os EUA isso tem uma conotação muito política, e inaceitável para eles no contexto científico. No fórum científico, tivemos de encontrar uma forma que deixasse as pequenas ilhas confortáveis sem mencionar a expressão loss and damage, mas captando com bastante propriedade aquilo que eles queriam dizer com isso. Acabou sendo uma negociação com os autores, com os cientistas e com o pessoal do birô do painel para chegar numa acomodação que deixasse a todos satisfeitos.

E qual era a preocupação dos sauditas?

Na reunião anterior, que definiu o escopo do trabalho, a gente saiu com seis capítulos bem equilibrados entre a parte de ciências naturais e a parte de ciência social. Por exemplo, essa parte de desenvolvimento sustentável, de erradicação da pobreza, o fortalecimento do esforço global para tratar mudança do clima. E os árabes não queriam perder esse equilíbrio. E as pequenas ilhas diziam que o convite da Convenção foi para fazer um relatório sobre impactos e trajetórias de emissões.

Mas as ilhas estavam certas, né?

De certa maneira, sim. O que não foi certo foi as ilhas terem aceitado na reunião de escopo que o convite fosse aceito pelo IPCC “no contexto de fortalecer o esforço global contra a ameaça da mudança climática, do desenvolvimento sustentável e da erradicação da pobreza”.

Eles abriram o escopo.

A culpa não foi de ninguém, eles abriram. A partir do instante em que eles abriram você não segura mais. Mas isso requereu também um jogo de cintura para tirar um pouco do peso do desenvolvimento sustentável e fortalecer o peso relativo dos capítulos de impactos e trajetórias de emissões.

Essa abertura do escopo enfraquece o relatório?

Não. Porque esse relatório vai ter 200 e poucas páginas, e cem delas são de impactos e trajetórias. Alguns países achavam que já havia muito desenvolvimento sustentável permeando os capítulos anteriores, então por que você ia ter um capítulo só para falar de desenvolvimento sustentável? Esse capítulo saiu de 40 páginas para 20 para justamente fortalecer a contribuição relativa de impactos e trajetórias do relatório. E foi uma briga, porque as pequenas ilhas queriam mais um capítulo de impactos e trajetórias. Esse relatório é mais para eles. Acima de qualquer coisa, os mais interessados nesse relatório são as pequenas ilhas.

Um dos desafios do IPCC com esse relatório é justamente encontrar literatura sobre 1,5oC, porque ela é pouca. Em parte porque 1,5oC era algo que as pessoas não imaginavam que seria possível atingir, certo?

Exato.

Porque o sistema climático tem uma inércia grande e as emissões do passado praticamente nos condenam a 1,5oC. Então qual é o ponto de um relatório sobre 1,5oC?

O ponto são as emissões negativas. O capítulo 4 do relatório dirá o que e como fazer. Faremos um levantamento das tecnologias existentes e emergentes e a agilidade com que essas tecnologias são desenvolvidas para estarem compatíveis em segurar o aumento da temperatura em 1.5oC. Vamos fazer uma revisão na literatura, mas eu não consigo te antecipar qualquer coisa com relação à forma como vamos conseguir ou não chegar a essas emissões negativas. Mas é necessário: sem elas eu acho que não dá mesmo.

A sra. acha, então, que as emissões negativas podem ser uma das grandes mensagens desse novo relatório…

Isso já ocorreu no AR5 [Quinto Relatório de Avaliação do IPCC, publicado em 2013 e 2014]. Porque não tinha jeito, porque você vai ter uma emissão residual. Só que no AR5 não tínhamos muita literatura disponível.

Quando se vai falar também da velocidade com a qual você consegue implementar essas coisas… o relatório também toca isso aí no contexto atual. Mas, no sufoco, essas coisas passam a ter outra velocidade, concorda? Se você demonstrar que a coisa está ficando feia, e está, eu acho que isso sinaliza para o mundo a necessidade de ter uma agilização maior no desenvolvimento e na implementação em larga escala de tecnologias que vão realmente levar a emissões negativas no final deste século.

Nós temos esse tempo todo?

Para 1,5oC é bem complicado. Em curto prazo, curtíssimo prazo, você precisa segurar as emissões, e aí internalizar o que você vai ter de emissões comprometidas. De tal forma que essas emissões comprometidas estariam sendo compensadas pelas tecnologias de emissões negativas. Esse é muito o meu pensamento. Vamos ver como isso acabará sendo refletido no relatório em si.

Haverá cenários específicos para 1,5oC rodados pelos modelos climáticos?

Tem alguma coisa nova, mas não tem muita coisa. Eles devem usar muita coisa que foi da base do AR5, até porque tem de ter comparação com 2oC. A não ser que rodem de novo para o 2oC. Precisamos entender o que existe de modelagem nova e, se existe, se ela está num nível de amadurecimento que permita que a gente singularize esses modelos para tratar essa questão nesse novo relatório.

Há cerca de 500 cenários para 2oC no AR5, e desses 450 envolvem emissões negativas em larga escala.

Para 1,5oC isso vai aumentar. Para 1,5oC vai ter de acelerar a redução de emissões e ao mesmo tempo aumentar a introdução de emissões negativas nesses modelos.

Há alguns dias o climatologista Kevin Anderson, diretor-adjunto do Tyndall Centre, no Reino Unido, publicou um comentário na revista Science dizendo que as emissões negativas eram um “risco moral por excelência”, por envolver competição por uso da terra, tecnologias não testadas e que vão ter de ser escaladas muito rápido. A sra. concorda?

Eu acho que essa questão de geoengenharia é uma das coisas que vão compor essa parte das emissões negativas. E aí talvez ele tenha razão: o mundo fica assustado com as coisas que vêm sendo propostas. Porque são coisas loucas, sem o amadurecimento necessário e sem a maneira adequada de se comunicar com o público. Mas vejo também que haverá tempo para um maior amadurecimento disso.

Mas concordo plenamente que ficamos numa situação muito desconfortável com várias tecnologias e metodologias que estão sendo propostas para emissões negativas. Mas esse é meu ponto de vista. Agora, numa situação em que você não tem uma solução a não ser esta, aí vai ser uma decisão moral. Porque aí você vai ter dilema com as pequenas ilhas, você vai ter um problema de sobrevivência de alguns países.

Deixe-me ver se entendi o seu ponto: a sra. acha que há um risco de essas tecnologias precisarem ser adotadas e escaladas sem todos os testes que demandariam num cenário ideal?

Fica difícil eu dizer a escala disso. Sem a gente saber o esforço que vai ser possível fazer para cortar emissões em vez de ficar pensando em compensar muito fortemente o residual, fica difícil dizer. Pode ser que já haja alguma tecnologia amadurecida antes de começar a pensar no que não está amadurecido. Acho que há espaço para começarmos a pensar em alternativas.

Agora, entre você falar: “Não vou chegar a 1,5oC porque isso vai exigir implementar tecnologias complicadas e que não estão amadurecidas” e isso ter uma implicação na vida das pequenas ilhas… isso também é uma preocupação moral. É um dilema. Eu tenho muita sensibilidade com a questão de geoengenharia hoje. E não sou só eu. O IPCC tem preocupação até em tratar esse tema. Mas é a questão do dilema. O que eu espero que o relatório faça é indicar o que precisa ser feito. Na medida em que você vai fazendo maiores reduções, você vai diminuindo a necessidade de emissões negativas. É essa análise de sensibilidade que os modelos vão fazer.

Observatório do Clima

Rio Acre diminui 18 cm e compromete o abastecimento de água no Estado (MCTIC)

Segundo Cemaden, água captada do rio chega às estações de tratamento com barro, o que prejudica o abastecimento. Relatório cita previsão de chuva a partir de 17 de agosto, mas em volume insuficiente

Em 12 dias, o rio Acre diminuiu 18 centímetros, atingindo 1,35 metro em Rio Branco, o menor nível já registrado. Os dados foram divulgados pelo Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden), vinculado ao Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações, no relatório sobre a seca no estado. Se a estiagem persistir, o rio pode atingir 1,06 metro em 10 de setembro.

“Há uma série de impactos decorrentes dessa situação. A agricultura é totalmente prejudicada. A navegação também é influenciada, pois os barcos não conseguem navegar, e o abastecimento de cidades do interior do estado fica comprometido”, observou o coordenador-geral de Operações do Cemaden, Marcelo Seluchi.

Outro ponto destacado pelo climatologista é o abastecimento de água para a população. Segundo ele, a água que chega às estações de tratamento tem maior quantidade de barro, e essas unidades precisam trabalhar mais para entregar um produto de qualidade para a população. Para isso, foi preciso ajustar as bombas de captação para o volume menor, processo semelhante ao adotado no Sistema Cantareira, em São Paulo (SP).

“Há dificuldade no abastecimento e perda de qualidade da água. O processo de tratamento é mais demorado e acaba encarecido”, afirmou Marcelo Seluchi.

De acordo com o relatório do Cemaden, as chuvas têm sido deficientes desde março, e o período entre junho e agosto é o mais seco do ano no Acre. O documento cita previsão de chuva a partir de 17 de agosto, mas em volume “pouco expressivo”. “Não há expectativa de recuperação do quadro hídrico até o mês de setembro, embora possam ocorrer chuvas ocasionais”, alerta o Cemaden no documento.

“Tivemos alguns quadros de chuvas nos últimos dias, mas não há indícios concretos de que o período chuvoso vá começar na época considerada normal. Precisamos coletar mais dados para poder fazer uma previsão mais acurada”, reforçou Seluchi.

Queimadas

No documento, os pesquisadores também alertam para o risco de incêndios florestais no estado, que registrou, até 26 de julho, três vezes mais ocorrências de focos de calor que o máximo já detectado desde 1998.

De acordo com o Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), entre janeiro e agosto de 2016, o Acre teve 1.120 focos de incêndio, um aumento de 222% em relação ao mesmo período do ano passado.

MCTIC

Open Science: o futuro da ciência e o desastre de Mariana (Pesquisa Fapesp)

12.08.2016

O Grupo Independente para Análise do Impacto Ambiental (Giaia) realiza expedições com o objetivo de coletar e analisar amostras da lama com rejeitos de mineração que atingiu o rio Doce após o rompimento da barragem da Samarco, em novembro de 2015, e estimula não cientistas a contribuírem com amostras. Apostando no conceito de ciência aberta, os resultados das viagens são divulgados em tempo real nas redes sociais e no site da organização, permitindo que a população acompanhe o avanço das análises. No vídeo, pesquisadores comentam como o grupo surgiu e algumas consequências do desastre.

Seca pode levar o rio Acre ao seu nível histórico mais baixo (Pesquisa Fapesp)

15 de agosto de 2016

Seca pode levar o rio Acre ao seu nível histórico mais baixoSegundo o Grupo de Trabalho em Previsão Climática do MCTIC, estiagem deve afetar navegação e abastecimento dos ribeirinhos, além do risco de queimadas e incêndios florestais na Amazônia e área central do país (Foto: Rio Acre/Agência Acre)

Agência FAPESP – A seca que atinge o sudoeste da Amazônia, especialmente o Acre, deve se agravar ainda mais nos próximos meses, alertou o Grupo de Trabalho em Previsão Climática Sazonal (GTPCS) do Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC), de acordo com a Assessoria de Comunicação Social do Ministério.

Segundo a previsão, o rio Acre deve atingir o seu mais baixo nível histórico (entre 1,20m e 1,30m) e impactar a navegação e o abastecimento de comunidades ribeirinhas da região. O levantamento é válido para os meses de agosto, setembro e outubro deste ano.

O Acre é o estado mais afetado pela estiagem que se estende também para o norte da Amazônia. Desde março, o volume de chuvas é deficitário na região, em parte por conta do El Niño, que começou no outono do ano passado. O fenômeno está associado ao aquecimento das águas do Oceano Pacífico equatorial, alterando os ventos em boa parte do planeta e o regime de chuvas. Na região Norte, leva à seca. A partir de junho, o La Niña, fenômeno oposto, começou a se desenvolver de forma fraca.

“Esta estiagem é fruto de uma interação de vários fenômenos, notadamente o El Niño e a La Niña. Ela já se estende há quase seis meses, e não temos uma noção exata de quando vai normalizar. Estamos acompanhando a situação mensalmente para avaliar como ela se comporta”, afirmou o chefe da Divisão de Pesquisas do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden), José Marengo, à Assessoria de Comunicação Social do MCTIC.

O documento alerta ainda para o alto risco de queimadas e incêndios florestais, especialmente na área central do Brasil e no sul e no leste da Amazônia. O número de focos de incêndio pode atingir máximas históricas. Contudo, a adoção de medidas de controle pode mitigar o problema no trimestre.

Poucas chuvas no Nordeste

A região Nordeste também deve sofrer mais com a estiagem no período analisado. De acordo com o grupo de previsão climática do MCTIC, tradicionalmente, agosto é o último mês da estação chuvosa na parte leste da região, mas tem chovido pouco desde abril, início do período de precipitações na região. Com a baixa incidência de chuvas nos últimos anos, a tendência é que a situação se repita na zona da mata, que já apresenta valores abaixo da média para a época do ano.

“O panorama de poucas chuvas nessa área vem se arrastando desde 2012, e os níveis dos reservatórios e dos rios estão muito baixos, mesmo na zona da mata. E isso gera problemas para a população, porque pode haver desabastecimento”, destacou José Marengo.

Participam do GTPCS o Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), o Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden) e o Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Inpa). A íntegra do documento pode ser acessada aqui no endereço http://www.cemaden.gov.br/previsao-climatica-para-o-trimestre-aso2016/.