TIME climate change

Climate Change Is a Game of Risk

Hurricane Sandy flooding effects
Climate change could increase the risk of catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Climate change is uncertain, which is why the best way to understand how warming will change the world is through the language of risk

Every new chapter of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment is boiled down into what is known as a policymaker’s summary—a 40-page or so document that is meant to contain the essential conclusions of the panel’s work and be used to guide politicians and the business community as they respond to global warming. Or at least that’s the idea.

Though chapter 2 of the fifth assessment—which was released on Mar. 31 in Yokohama—had no shortage of dire warnings about global warming, including projections that food could become scarcer as temperatures increased, it doesn’t seem as if many policymakers read the policymaker’s summary—let alone the full report, which runs over 1,000 pages. Kate Gordon, the director of the think tank Next Generation’s energy and climate program, noted that no speaker at the Wall Street Journal‘s ECO:nomics conference—a conference devoted to the intersection between the environment and business—actually brought up the issue of global warming until well into the afternoon of the summit’s second day. “Energy prices, energy volatility, future of utilities? Yes,” she wrote. “Climate change? No.”

If climate change is going to matter as a political and economic issue, it needs to be translated into political and economic terms. Out in San Francisco the hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer is trying to make climate matter for politics, promising to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2014 on attack ads targeting politicians who oppose action on global warming. And Steyer is also involved in an effort to make climate change matter for the business community, teaming up with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on the Risky Business initiative, a wide-ranging project that will eventually produce a major report about the likely economic impact of climate change on U.S. business. “We came to this thinking how do we get to a place and a way of talking about climate change that is comfortable for the business community,” says Gordon, who also serves as the executive director of Risky Business. “And that’s the language of risk.”

Risk—you’ll be hearing that word a lot in the context of climate change. That’s because the best way of thinking about the impact of global warming—and especially the economic impact—is as a risk factor. As the climate warms, sea level will rise, which puts coastal communities—from tens of millions of poor people in Bangladesh to ultra-wealthy Manhattanites—at greater risk of flooding. Warming may also intensify tropical weather, potentially increasing the risk of catastrophic storms like Katrina. If climate change cuts into the yield of crops like wheat or corn—as the latest IPCC report predicts—that could raise the risk of violent conflict in already impoverished countries. Climate change is a risk multiplier.

Putting climate change in the context of risk also gets around the uncertainty inherent in trying to predict the effects of something as fiendishly complex as global warming. Read the IPCC report closely, and you’ll see that there’s a lot of hedging, especially when it comes to the impact that warming temperatures will have on extreme weather. That’s not evidence that global warming doesn’t exists; rather, it’s evidence that climate scientists are honest about what they know and what they don’t know. And it doesn’t give us a free pass—it’s possible that hurricanes might not be responsive to warming, and it’s also possible that warming could supercharge storms. “The very fact of uncertainty—that’s what we mean by risk,” says Hemant Shah, the CEO of Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a catastrophe risk modeling firm that is taking part in the Risky Business initiative.

And this is what’s really important: businesses already know how to deal with risk. They’re accustomed to operating in an uncertain world, and hedging that risk appropriately, whether it’s the threat of natural disaster, war or regulation. By making CEOs see that climate change is just another form of risk—albeit one that’s potentially on a scale larger than any we’ve faced before—the Risky Business initiative will hopefully nudge them towards taking some steps to mitigate that risk. “The question is, what decisions can we make to manage that risk appropriately,” says Shah. “We think this is incredibly important work.”

RMS, which uses complex analytics to model natural catastrophe risk in real time, will provide much of the science behind Risky Business. The company’s analysts will use climate data and models to map out how rising seas, warming temperatures and changing atmospheric patterns could alter the natural disasters that already cost the global economy tens of billions of dollars each year. The result won’t be a single figure—a dollar cost that we can hang on climate change—but it will help us understand the danger we face. The question then is whether we’ll finally listen.

TIME Washington

County Considered Buying Out Homes Destroyed by Mudslide

A piece of heavy equipment moves past an American flag as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington
The search for the missing people after the deadly mudslide continues in Oso © Jason Redmond—Reuters

Snohomish County once considered buying out the properties in the Washington state neighborhood that was devastated by a massive mudslide last month that killed at least 30 people and led to a nearly two-week search for more than a dozen others

In 2004, Snohomish County was so worried about the mudslide threat near the slope that collapsed last month that the county considered purchasing the properties to protect its citizens’ safety, The Seattle Times reports.

According to documents reviewed by the paper, the costs of buying out the neighborhood “would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures.”

The county instead opted for trying to stabilize the base of the slope and, after a mudslide in 2006, a wall was built to prevent a river from cutting into the base side of the hill, in an attempt to minimize the mudslide threat.

Since the horrific mudslide near the small town of Oso in Snohomish County last month, questions have been raised about the county’s awareness of the threat. Thirty people were killed by the mudslide, and 15 are still missing.

[The Seattle Times]

TIME weather

Severe Weather Unleashes Tornadoes and Hail Across the Midwest

Early-morning storms roll through St. Louis
Jason Reidl, left, and Chris Thomas with Laclede Gas, look at a fallen tree that ruptured a gas main on Thursday April 3, 2014 in University City, Mo. Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

Springtime sees the seasonal return of severe weather to the Midwest, with tornadoes, heavy rain and baseball-size hailstones hitting the heartland as other parts of the country prepare to warm up after months of snow

Updated 12:49 a.m. E.T. on April 4, 2014

Spring is here, and towns across Tornado Alley experienced their first taste of severe seasonal weather Thursday as tornadoes, hail and thunderstorms hit large swaths of the southern Plains and the Midwest.

As of Thursday night, myriad tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service remained in effect in counties across North Texas, up through central Missouri and into western Kentucky. But the tornadoes were relatively small, and there were no deaths reported as of late Thursday night.

“That’s where we think (potential of) tornadoes — some potentially strong — will be the greatest,” Bill Bunting, forecast operations chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., told the Associated Press.

“This will continue to evolve with time.”

Earlier on Thursday morning, a small EF1 tornado briefly touched down in St. Louis, damaging approximately 100 homes. Severe-weather bands plagued also the Dallas–Forth Worth area, with reports of power outages and baseball-size hail wreaking havoc on automobiles and homes in north-central Texas.

TIME South America

Powerful Aftershock Rocks Chile a Day After Massive Earthquake

A resident walks along a damaged road after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique
A resident walks along a damaged road to Alto Hospicio commune after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique April 2, 2014. Ivan Alvarado - Reuters

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile late on Wednesday night, shaking the same area where a more powerful earthquake hit just a day before and caused some damage and six deaths

A massive aftershock struck northern Chile on Wednesday night, just a day after an earthquake prompted evacuations of cities along the coast, generated a 7-ft tsunami that crashed into the country’s northern coast, and set off tsunami warnings across the Pacific.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center posted a regional tsunami warning after Wednesday’s aftershock, but said there were no indications of a substantial threat to communities elsewhere in the Pacific.

Wednesday night’s 7.8 magnitude quake was the largest of myriad aftershocks in the past 24 hours and struck about 14 miles south of Iquique, setting off evacuations in northern Chile, where six people were killed by the quake on Tuesday.

 

TIME natural disaster

Washington Mudslide Death Toll Hits 29

Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso
Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso, Wash., April 2, 2014. Max Whittaker—Reuters

Authorities say at least 29 people died in the Snohomish County, Wash. mudslide nearly a week and a half ago, as rescue workers continue picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing

Updated April 2 at 11:20am ET

The number of confirmed deaths in the Washington state mudslide has increased to 29, officials said Wednesday.

Twenty-two of the bodies were identified as of Tuesday, up from 19 the day before. As the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office worked to identify the six other victims, rescue workers continued picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing.

The search has been made slightly easier as receding floodwaters have exposed more ground that can now be examined by the search crews, the Associated Press reports. Treacherous conditions and bad weather have complicated the search for human remains buried in the debris, which is contaminated by chemicals, fuel and human waste.

Both rescue workers and search dogs are being hosed down at decontamination stations after completing their tasks.

“We’ve already had a little bit of dysentery out here,” Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department told CBS News. “People are working in a septic tank of materials. We want them washed and decontaminated.”

The mudslide flattened more than two dozens homes when it hit the outskirts of the small town of Oso on March 22.

TIME natural disaster

5 Dead After Huge Quake Hits off Coast of Chile

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake off the Chilean coast sparked tsunami warnings along Peru and Ecuador and throughout the Pacific as far as Hawaii. President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones

Updated 5:25 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday

At least five people died and three were injured after a massive earthquake struck off of Chile late Tuesday, officials said, sending waves crashing into coastal towns in the country, prompting evacuations across Latin America’s Pacific coast and tsunami warnings as far away as Hawaii.

During a news conference late on Tuesday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones, but reported that the evacuation of communities along the country’s Pacific coast was proceeding in an orderly fashion.

Officials rescinded their initial blanket warnings late on Tuesday after fears of a potential tsunami had sparked alerts throughout countries across the Pacific coastline and put officials thousands of miles away in Hawaii on standby. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had initially extended tsunami warnings to five countries following the quake, but as of late Tuesday night, only Chile and Peru remained on the list.

Warnings of a tsunami began circulating after the 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck 61 miles off the port city of Iquique in Chile’s northern mining region. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the earthquake at 8:46 p.m. local time some 12 miles below the seabed. Waves as high as 7 ft. reportedly hit Iquique in the quake’s wake.

Chile’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said a tsunami warning would remain in place in the country for the next six hours. Peñailillo said 300 inmates had escaped from a women’s prison in Iquique after the facility was damaged. Security officials were later deployed to the city and at least 26 of the inmates had been recaptured.

As areas in coastal Chile were evacuated and residents relocated to higher ground, there were early reports that landslides were blocking roads and making it harder for residents to evacuate. However, there were no reports of major damage or serious injuries caused by the quake.

The Iquique area of Chile experienced numerous tremors last month following a relatively powerful 6.7-magnitude quake that hit on March 16, heightening fears that a larger earthquake might strike, Reuters reports.

Chile was devastated by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2010.

Magnitude eight earthquake off the coast of Chile
USGS/EPA
NOAA
NOAA
TIME natural disaster

Washington Gov Wants Obama to Help After Mudslide

Governor Jay Inslee addresses the media outside the Arlington Police Department in Arlington, Washington
Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote President Barack Obama on Tuesday to ask for more federal assistance for his disaster struck state. JASON REDMOND - Reuters

Gov. Jay Inslee pleaded with President Barack Obama to provide a formal disaster declaration for Washington state so that victims of the deadly mudslide, which has killed at least 24 people, can access federal relief programs

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee urged President Barack Obama on Monday to provide more federal assistance to his state as financial losses and confirmed deaths continue to mount after a mudslide killed at least 24 people late last month.

Inslee asked Obama in a letter for a “major disaster declaration” in Snohomish County that would allow individuals and businesses to access federal relief programs, including disaster-related unemployment insurance and housing.

“I am hopeful that the President can act favorably and quickly on this request to provide assistance to help the survivors begin to recover from this terrible disaster,” Inslee said in a statement. “Words cannot describe the devastation done to the community of Oso and the impact the landslide continues to have in Darrington, Arlington and neighboring communities.”

Losses in mudslide-hit area have reached $10 million, the Associated Press reports. Officials on Monday increased the official death total to 24; 22 people are still officially missing.

TIME natural disaster

Death Toll Rises in Washington Mudslide as Search Drags On

Washington Mudslide
Searchers pause for a moment of silence at the scene of a deadly mudslide Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Oso, Wa. Elaine Thompson—AP

The number of dead in the Washington State mudslide of March 22 has climbed to 24, as the search continues for 22 people still missing

Updated 11:46 p.m. EST

Rescue workers combing through the wreckage of the deadly mudslide in Washington State have raised the official death toll to 24, officials said on Monday, as the search hit its ninth day and even rescue dogs grew fatigued by the effort.

Authorities have identified 17 of the victims, officials said, but the identities of seven bodies remain unconfirmed. Twenty-two people are still missing after about 90 were unaccounted for in recent days. The death toll has risen slowly following the massive mudslide on March 22, which leveled the local community of Oso, Wash., after unusually heavy rains inundated the Pacific Northwest this month.

Search-and-rescue officials said on Sunday that dogs being used in the extensive operation would now need to rest for at least two days, the Associated Press reports. “The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs,” Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for one of the leading rescue teams, told the AP.

If overworked, the animals could lose their keen sensing abilities that are pivotal to finding the missing who are buried under mud that ranges in height from 15 ft. to 75 ft. (4.6 m to 23 m). Dogs that were sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reportedly continue to aid the rescue operations on Monday.

Rescue crews have cleared approximately 450 ft. (137 m) of the total 6,000 ft. (1,830 m) of earth and wreckage that buried the town in the mudslide, Snohomish County officials said. The latest weather forecasts predict dry conditions through at least Wednesday for northwest Washington.

While search teams continued to pick through the debris field, residents looked for solace amid the tragedy on Sunday as they squeezed into a number of churches in the area to reflect on the devastation.

“People say in times of disaster, it brings out the best and the worst in people. But I’m just seeing the best,” Pastor Gary Ray of Oso Community Chapel told CNN. “I’m seeing patience and sacrifice. Character is being developed. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do hope for some unexpected blessings.”

TIME Natural Disasters

NYC Mayor Spending $100M to Rebuild Every Home Sandy Destroyed

New York City Mayor De Blasio Gives His State Of The City Address
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gives the State of the City address at La Guardia Community College on Feb. 10, 2014 in the Long Island City section of the Queens borough of New York City. John Moore—Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to reallocate funds to rebuild every home destroyed by Superstorm Sandy as part of the city's "Build It Back" program -- amid widespread complaints along the East Coast over slow relief

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to rebuild every home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy 17 months after the mega-storm caused billions of dollars property damage and left an estimated 117 dead in the U.S. alone.

De Blasio said Saturday that he’s reallocating $100 million to fund the rebuilding of every home Sandy destroyed as part of the city’s “Build It Back” program. De Blasio announced his plan in a speech alongside Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

“Construction has started, the first checks are on the way and we are making immediate policy and staff changes to further expedite and streamline the process so that New Yorkers get the help they need now,” said de Blasio.

Many New Yorkers and residents along the East Coast have expressed frustration with the pace of recovery as rebuilding has lagged behind schedule in many areas.

[CBS]

TIME Natural Disasters

Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake Strikes Los Angeles

California Earthquake
A car sits overturned on a highway in the Carbon Canyon area of Brea, Calif., March 28, 2014, after hitting a rock slide caused by an earthquake. Kevin Warn—AP

The magnitude-5.1 quake, which occurred Friday at around 9:09 p.m. Pacific Time, burst water mains and caused Disneyland to halt rides as a precaution. It was followed by a 4.1-magnitude aftershock on Saturday afternoon

Updated 6:08 PM ET

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck Los Angeles Friday evening, breaking water mains in a local community and rattling neighborhoods in Southern California.

The earthquake struck at 9:09 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, centering about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles near La Habra, Reuters reports. No injuries or substantial structural damage were reported.

A 4.1-magnitude aftershock was reported Saturday afternoon, according to the AP.

The quake was felt between Palm Springs in the east and Ventura County to the north, prompting Disneyland to halt park rides as a precaution. Several water mains in Fullerton ruptured, spilling water into the streets.

Friday night’s earthquake is the second major tremor to hit the area in two weeks, after a recent magnitude 4.4 quake hit north of Los Angeles.

[Reuters]

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