Floods, Fires Oh My…Climate Change

August 17, 2016 (San Diego) You surely have heard by now of the Bluecut fire. This fire has so far burned over 30,000 acres, and displaced 82,000 people. Then there is Louisiana and the many parishes under water. Many of these flood zones are in areas where people did not have flood insurance, because they have never flooded. Or at least not in historic memory. Others are in areas that have in the past, but this flood is worst than anything people have seen in the past.

So far those floods have claimed the lives of at least 11 people, led to multiple rescues, in the thousands, and one curious piece of data we saw, over 1000 pets have been rescued. Oh and here are some other numbers for you.

  • 40,000 homes have had at least some damage
  • 30,000 residents rescued
  • 20 Parishes (counties for us in California), are under Emergency Declartion
  • 1000 Red Cross Volunteers from around the country are on the way, some from SanDiego
  • 500,000 liters of water distributed by FEMA. That is 132086.026 gallons.

So after we take a look at the numbers, realize some of these places have not fully recovered from Katrina That happened in 2005, and at the time was considered the worst flooding incident in US History. To be fair, it was at that point. An old adage of rescue and recovery is that a full recovery after a major disaster takes at least 10 years. We are on year 11 since Katrina. Some recoveries can take longer.


Why is this happening? It is climate change. 100 year floods are happening with far more frequency, and so are 1000 year floods, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted. They are conservative in their estimates by their very nature and these disasters seem to be accelerating beyond what they have predicted.

Also, one of the fears by some of the Parish Presidents is that residents who have lost all, will decide to leave permanently. While none will call it this way, technically they will be, like those who never returned after Katrina. These are climate change refugees. And here is the bigger picture regarding climate change.

This July was the hottest on record…


We have evidence that July was the hottest July on record. I know I am getting tired of saying this but the curves are not good and the trends continue to point to a world wide disaster for the species. Nor it is now a surprise, since anthropogenic climate change was known, by the companies that get that oil out of the ground.

For example, Exxon did know of the science before most of us were aware of Anthropogenic Climate Change. I heard the first of this at San Diego State during an undergraduate course, in 1984-5, and that course was still concerned mostly with nuclear war. But Exxon did know before my professors started to pay attention to it fully.

Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.

However, Exxon’s public position was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers, its founding family, and its continued financial support for climate denial. Over the years, Exxon spent more than $30m on thinktanks and researchers that promoted climate denial, according to Greenpeace.


Mind you, it was not just Exxon. According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):

began with three simple, related questions,” says Carroll Muffett, President of CIEL. “What did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? What we found is that they knew a great deal, and they knew it much earlier and with greater certainty than anyone has recognized or that the industry has admitted.”

In 1968, a report commissioned by the oil industry detailed rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and warned of potentially catastrophic climate risks. It warned of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, impacts to fisheries and agriculture, and potentially serious degradation of the environment on a worldwide scale.

According to Muffett, ”CIEL’s findings add to the growing body of evidence that the oil industry worked to actively undermine public confidence in climate science and in the need for climate action even as its own knowledge of climate risks was growing.”

Now CIEL’s data shows that knowledge to be even earlier than the email from an Exxon scientist, which makes this even more damming. I am not sure what legally can be done, but I suspect something might.

We have increasing evidence that the industry knew that their own product would cause a mass disaster for the species. They knew, but it was not in their economic interest to do something substantial about this. What would have been substantial would have hurt their short to medium term profits. There is another industry that knew of the damage of their product and also hid it from the public, That is big tobacco. So this is hardly unprecedented.

Let’s be crystal clear about this. It is not because these corporations are evil. This is well known human behavior, In the short term they saw profits going though the roof. It made sense to fight all and any regulation, or the science to support those regulations. It was a short term economic gain, and humans are not very good at planning for the long term.

Then there is the capture of regulatory agencies and even parties. In California we know the issues with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), they are textbook of a regulatory capture. The CPUC will rule in favor of the energy companies most of the time, even when they are in the wrong. See for example the saga over the San Onofre nuclear plant closure and the help the CPUC gave to the two companies Involved, especially Southern California Edison. We see this behavior at the federal level as well. But this year, we have especially seen it with both dominant political parties.

Donald J Trump denies climate change. We get it, his friends and party donors in the oil industry like that. It means 4 more years of inaction, and many in the GOP are committed to


getting rid of any and all regulations. Action on climate change will require the type of regulatory action that quite frankly we have yet to see. It is the kind of regulation that will be costly and at the very least cut into profits significantly.

What about the Democrats? Well, while they tell us that it is real, the discussions during the set up of the platform tell us that they are all for cosmetic solutions, not anything that will affect the industry In a significant way. I mean, they are ok with setting bike paths. That is great. It will reduce miles travelled, but hardly will it be enough. When it came to fracking, no, they are not going to do a thing about it. Why you might ask? IF you had your television tuned to CNN, you would quickly notice that one of the sponsors was the American Petroleum Institute. None in their right mind is going to annoy such a rich purse, at least not in the short term. Again, it is the same economic behavior at play with why the industry has been fighting the science for decades.

Oh and if you had any doubts, the Hillary Clinton team has selected former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to head her transition team. Salazar currently works at WilmerHale, one of the most influential lobbying firms in Washington. If you are wondering about his bona fides, Salazar has no issues whatsoever with fracking, So the fact that the platform only went so far as bike lanes is now crystal clear.

So we all are going HURRAY FOR THE PARIS AGREEMENT… yet the planet continues to heat up, and we continue to have more and more of these crisis. Myself, I do not remember these many heat waves with this frequency in San Diego, and as we pointed out earlier in the year, fires are starting earlier in the year, and are more severe.


What is the real fear of the Petroleum Institute? Why are they so concerned about donations to both parties? There is a movement afoot, to leave those oil reserves exactly where they currently are, that is in the ground. If these efforts succeed, suddenly their assets suffer what could be a killing blow. Their oil and gas suddenly go down in value to a big fat zero. So when you look at their motivation, remember this, humans behave in very specific ways, and behavioral economics is real.

It is not like most of the executives will be around in 2100. Most of us will not be around in 2100. Ok, those born today might. So when you talk climate change with your friends, try to remember this. The evidence is in. It is very real. But short term what will be required of all of us might very well lead to a short term drop in your and my quality of life. Mass extinction is not something most can envision But the longer we take to act, the harder it will become to actually save nothing short than our grand children and our great grand children. Those are the real stakes.

If you think it will be hard. Well ask yourself one question. Are you ready for retirement? What you see at the individual level, with immediate satisfaction, instead of long term savings, is exactly the same behavior we see with Petroleum executives, or political leaders. This mess can be left for others to clean up as we continue to kick the proverbial can down the road.

What we need is a mobilization that is nothing short of a war time footing, but am afraid we are going to lose this war. Partly because this threat is not as clear as fighting fascists. Really, carbon cannot be personalized.



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