Chertoff Says Disciplinary Action Will Be Taken Over FEMA California Wildfires Press Conference

Officials involved in the phony press conference staged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week are now facing disciplinary action, says Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.“I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since I’ve been in government,” said Mr Chertoff.

“I have made unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinarily poor judgment.”

Louisiana Senator Landrieu Angry About Bogus FEMA Press Conference

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) is demanding answers from the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after it was revealed that a bogus news conference was staged by FEMA earlier this week.

“I am disappointed to learn that (FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson) misled the press and the public by taking questions from his own staff pretending to be reporters and that the agency did not disclose this misrepresentation,” said Senator Landrieu. She also said she hoped the fake press conference was “not a substitute for the necessary reforms” needed to improve FEMA’s delivery of emergency services.

California Wildfire Response Took Lessons From Katrina

Wildfires burning out of control for the fourth day have forced nearly a million southern California residents from their homes in the largest mass evacuation in the US since hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005.With the eyes of the world on California, the federal government is anxious to ensure there is no repeat of its lackluster response in the aftermath of Katrina.

California Wildfires Burn as Schwarzenegger Declares Emergency

Nearly a thousand homes have been reduced to ashes and 300,000 residents evacuated as wildfires continue to rage unchecked across southern California.

One person has been confirmed dead and 41 injured, including 25 firefighters.

Homes and businesses have been consumed by sweeping walls of flame that leapt highways and joined forces to torch hundreds of thousands of acres across the state’s southern regions.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in seven counties so far. “It is a tragic time for California,” he said.

IPCC: Mitigation of Climate Change Summary

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Working Group III report on Friday in Bangkok titled “Mitigation of Climate Change”, which focuses on scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of mitigating climate change.

The report builds on the two previous IPCC reports released this year which confirmed that climate change is “very likely” the result of human activity, and that global warming is already adversely affecting human, animal and plant life.

The Working Group III study identifies the most effective technologies and policies to combat climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the cost of implementing the recommended changes.

Here are the report’s key points, at a glance:

1.         GHG Emission Trends

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased 70% between 1970 and 2004 (24% between 1990 and 2004). Carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 77% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2004, mostly from the energy supply sector. Emissions will continue to increase by 25-90% to the year 2030, with approximately 75% of the projected increase from developing nations.

2.        Mitigation in the short and medium term

Mitigation of global GHG emissions is necessary to offset the growth of emissions or reduce emissions below current levels. A number of currently available mitigation technologies have been identified by sector:

Energy Supply – improved supply and distribution efficiency; fuel switching from coal to gas; nuclear power; renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy); combined heat and power; early applications of Carbon Capture and Storage

Transport – more fuel efficient vehicles; hybrid vehicles; cleaner diesel vehicles; biofuels; modal shifts from road transport to rail and public transport systems; non-motorized transport (cycling, walking); land-use and transport planning

Buildings – efficient lighting and daylighting; more efficient electrical appliances and heating and cooling devices; improved cook stoves, improved insulation ; passive and active solar design for heating and cooling; alternative refrigeration fluids, recovery and recycle of fluorinated gases

Industry – more efficient end-use electrical equipment; heat and power recovery; material recycling and substitution; control of non-carbon dioxide gas emissions; also a wide array of process-specific technologies

Agriculture – improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage; restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands; improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce methane emissions; improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce nitrous oxide emissions; dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use; improved energy efficiency

Forestry/forests – afforestation; reforestation; forest management; reduced deforestation; harvested wood product management; use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use

Waste – landfill methane recovery; waste incineration with energy recovery; composting of organic waste; controlled waste water treatment; recycling and waste minimization

Estimated global costs in the year 2030 have been calculated for least-cost trajectories for a range of stabilization levels from 445-710 CO2 parts per million.

Benefits that may offset mitigation costs include increased energy security, increased agricultural production and reduced pressure on natural ecosystems.

3.        Mitigation in the long term (after 2030)

Mitigation efforts over the next 20-30 years will determine humanity’s ability to achieve lower stabilization levels and avoid the worst affects of climate change.

Lower stabilization levels are best achieved through a system of appropriate and effective incentives for the development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies and for addressing related barriers.

Economic costs of more rapid emission reductions now need to be balanced against the corresponding medium-term and long-term climate risks of delay.

4.        Policies, measures and instruments to mitigate climate change

National strategies can create incentives for action, and can be evaluated using four main criteria: environmental effectiveness, cost effectiveness, distributional effects (including equity) and institutional feasibility.

The following strategies have been demonstrated as environmentally effective:

Energy Supply

  • reduction of fossil fuel subsidies
  • taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels
  • feed-in tariffs for renewable energy technologies
  • renewable energy obligations
  • producer subsidies

Transport

  • mandatory fuel economy, biofuel blending and CO2 standards for road transport
  • taxes on vehicle purchase, registration, use and motor fuels, road and parking pricing
  • influence mobility needs through land use regulations and infrastructure planning
  • investment in attractive public transport facilities and non-motorized forms of transport

Buildings

  • appliance standards and labeling
  • building codes and certification
  • demand-side management programs
  • public sector leadership programs, including procurement
  • incentives for energy service companies

Industry

  • provision of benchmark information
  • performance standards
  • subsidies, tax credits
  •  tradable permits
  •  voluntary agreements

Agriculture

  •  improved land management
  •  maintenance of soil carbon content
  •  efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation

Forestry/forests

  •  increase forest area (at the national and international levels)
  •  reduce deforestation
  •  maintain and manage forests
  •  land use regulation and enforcement

Waste Management

  •  improved waste and wastewater management
  •  renewable energy incentives or obligations
  •  waste management regulations

Government support through financial contributions, tax credits, standard setting and market creation is important for effective technology development, innovation and deployment. Transfer of technology to developing countries depends on enabling conditions and financing.

5.        Sustainable development and climate change mitigation

Implementation of sustainable development policies can make a major contribution to climate change mitigation. However, there will be multiple barriers and resources will need to be allocated to assist adaptation.

Decisions concerning macroeconomic policy, agricultural policy, multilateral development bank lending, insurance practices, electricity market reform, energy security and forest conservation can potentially significantly reduce emissions.

Making development more sustainable can enhance both mitigative and adaptive capacity to substantially reduce emissions and vulnerability to climate change.

IPCC AR4 Working Group 3:  http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/contents.html

Recovery Czar Ed Blakely Outlines New Orleans Reconstruction

“When you turn on the radio, you hear New Orleans. No matter where you are in the world. If you’re in Leningrad, the taxi driver puts on New Orleans music. It’s a city we all know about and should care about.”

With these words Dr Ed Blakely began his public lecture, at the University of Sydney on 5 April, on the rebuilding of the world’s jazz capital.

A professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney, Dr Blakely was recently appointed to head the reconstruction of New Orleans, which was virtually destroyed on 29 August 2005 when the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina burst through levees meant to protect the low-lying city from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Eighty per cent of the city was inundated.

In the aftermath the world watched as the Bush administration’s failure to respond left tens of thousands of people stranded for days without food or water. This failure was later widely linked to the fact that most of the city’s residents were poor and black.

Dr Blakely believes such incompetence and indifference would not be tolerated under Australia’s parliamentary form of government. “The Prime Minister would be gone because you couldn’t have a leader who had disappointed the electorate that badly,” he said.

Nineteen months later, about half the pre-Katrina population has returned to New Orleans only to find their neighbourhoods are still a disaster zone.

Traffic lights remain broken and many roads are impassable. Schools are badly damaged and some are rodent-infested. In March, 18 months after the flood, the city’s first hospital and emergency room re-opened. Some neighbourhoods in the city still have no electricity or drinkable water.

The US government has refused to release $1.1 billion in disaster aid under a reimbursement process which requires that the city first fund its own repairs, despite being bankrupted the day Katrina hit. Federal emergency loans to New Orleans also have not been forgiven, even though such debts were forgiven within the first month for every other major disaster to hit the US.

In its April Katrina Index, independent research organisation The Brookings Institution says New Orleans may have turned a corner with the January appointment of Dr Blakely, dubbed the city’s ‘Recovery Czar’. He has brought to the role extensive experience helping cities recover from disasters.

In New Orleans, his first task was to secure private funding to kick-start infrastructure projects by selling bonds and borrowing against the redevelopment of abandoned properties seized by the city.

His recovery strategy involves developing cluster housing on higher ground in 17 districts across New Orleans and reviving these areas’ commercial centres. Residents of the lowest-lying neighbourhoods will be encouraged to swap their land for a nearby property on higher ground. This strategy was unveiled on 30 March to wide acclaim.

Five principles drive the strategy:

  • Continue the healing and consultation;
  • Insure safety and security in all neighbourhoods;
  • Build 21st and 22nd century infrastructure;
  • Diversify the economy; and
  • Design a sustainable settlement pattern.

Conscious of the ongoing distress felt by local residents, Dr Blakely gives daily media interviews to reassure people that New Orleans will recover and that local government remains deeply committed to rebuilding the city.

The major objectives of the 15-year recovery plan are to enable the city to survive and grow sustainably, while preserving the culture that has made New Orleans such a unique historical treasure.

“New Orleans already has a very well-defined and excellent urban fabric, with unique architecture,” said Dr Blakely. “We have to build onto this fabric.”

Hurricane Forecaster Rejects Human-Induced Global Warming as ‘Foolishness’

The 2007 National Hurricane Conference ended in New Orleans on April 6 with its principal speaker unleashing a fiery indictment of climate change science, the mainstream media and former Vice-President and environmental activist Al Gore.

On the same day that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, professor of atmospheric science William Gray, a hurricane forecaster at Colorado State University, dismissed the scientific consensus that global warming is a real problem, that it is caused by human activity and that it will lead to more intense storms like Hurricane Katrina.

His speech made headlines around the world and overshadowed a week of courses and workshops on advances in disaster management, public preparedness education and emergency communication systems.

“You’ve heard a lot of foolishness over the last couple years,” said Dr Gray. “I think the whole human-induced greenhouse gas thing is a red herring … I see climate change as due to the ocean circulation pattern.” He believes the earth has been in a natural warming cycle for 30 years owing to fluctuations in ocean currents and that temperatures will cool down in another five to ten years as the currents shift again.

He singled out Mr Gore as a “gross alarmist” and said: “He’s one of these guys that preaches the end of the world type of things. I think he’s doing a great disservice and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Yet the latter charge is one that Dr Gray has had to increasingly defend because his theories on climate change have isolated him in the scientific community. He no longer receives government grants to conduct his research, and his views are rejected by the overwhelming majority of his peers. His conference speeches are notable for their quotes from Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and science fiction author Michael Crichton, while lacking in references to scientific research.

Critics have said that Dr Gray has not allowed his claims about global warming to be evaluated by the scientific community.  Dr Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Palm Beach Post that the merits of scientific theories must be tested by being published in leading journals such as Science and Nature, yet “I have not seen any refereed publications written by Bill Gray on this topic during the last few years. Research scientists conduct their exchange of ideas in the peer-reviewed literature and at professional conferences, not through the media.”

Dr Gray also took aim at the news media for reporting the IPCC’s findings, and suggested that the scientific consensus only gets coverage because it “makes a hell of a good story”. On the other hand, media ethics experts insist that it is incumbent on journalists to report evidence-based scientific findings while treating untested fringe theories with caution, which is especially important when science meets politics.

Journalist and author Chris Mooney, who has written extensively on science in politics, has argued in the Columbia Journalism Review that “… scientific consensus can be expected to hold up under scrutiny precisely because it was reached through a lengthy and rigorous process of professional skepticism and criticism. At the very least, journalists covering science-based policy debates should familiarize themselves with this professional proving ground, learn what it says about the relative merits of competing claims, and balance their reports accordingly.”

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