Climate change is here.
September 11, 2019 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Vox today completed a series of stories on worst case scenarios that could be happening now due to climate change: a heat wave in Arizona, wildfires in California and a hurricane in Florida.
posted by Bee'sWing (21 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
After reading about the terrible Franzen piece in the New Yorker, I was bracing myself for more Climate Doom, but these pieces are really well done-- it's not about how The End is Nigh And There's Nothing We Can Do About It, but a realistic examination of some bad stuff coming down the pike. The way we must respond to climate change is and has always been a combination of mitigation and adaptation. We need to draw down to zero carbon AND start fortifying/retreating in certain areas, etc.
posted by gwint at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Two things sounded lacking in the Florida piece. One was the change in the amount of rainfall. Houston is increasing what they consider to be the 100-year rain by 5 in. That's a lot more than a 7% increase. it's more like a 30% increase.

The other is the role of commodity slab on grade housing. People traditionally live on piers on the Gulf Coast, but it's cheaper to manufacture slab on grade, as if we lived on a Texas ranch, or California Ranch. Because of the f i r e economy of the United States, and horrible flood insurance rules, the United States is continually planning the construction of poorly engineered housing and companies like Dr Horton walk away with profits by building slab on grade housing in wetlands , while the Gulf Coast faces certain misery. Meanwhile the Clean Water Act has been gutted and hundreds of Acres of what ones are filled with hundreds of these units, these houses aren't just being built in floodplains they're being built in wetlands.

FEMA has found that mitigating flooding by elevating homes generally has a two-to-one cost-benefit, and saves the United States government billions of dollars every year but why wait for the inevitable disaster? Why don't the building codes require Pier Construction in the 500-year floodplain? Florida is full of empty development from the last burst of the housing bubble, if we're going to see another burst of that bubble, we should at least be mandating by federal law the building building houses on Piers instead of housing that's engineered to be flooded.

We've got to stop planning housing this way, and return so the ways that our grandfathers thought about housing, as places to sleep and shelter from storms, not as some kind of methamphetamine for consumer capitalism
posted by eustatic at 9:40 AM on September 11, 2019 [15 favorites]

Re: flood planning- Houston now requires all new housing to raise the building pad 2 feet above the 500 year flood plain or 1 foot above the 100 year. Easier to require this than mandate piles bc of construction norms. It’s in the local building code bc there is no zoning code in Houston.
posted by q*ben at 9:50 AM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Jonathan Franzen’s Climate Pessimism Is Justified. His Fatalism Is Not. (Eric Levitz, New York)
As David Wallace-Wells writes (in a book that Franzen cites in his essay, but perhaps did not read very closely):
[G]lobal warming is not binary. It is not a matter of “yes” or “no,” not a question of “fucked” or “not.” Instead, it is a problem that gets worse over time the longer we produce greenhouse gas, and can be made better if we choose to stop. Which means that no matter how hot it gets, no matter how fully climate change transforms the planet and the way we live on it, it will always be the case that the next decade could contain more warming, and more suffering, or less warming and less suffering. Just how much is up to us, and always will be.
posted by katra at 10:01 AM on September 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

Phoenix has had nearly double the average number of days over 110° this summer, according to this tweet from the National Weather Service. Looking at their data, there have been two more days over 110 since then, bringing the total to 29 days this summer. Anecdotally, it's also been a summer with hardly any monsoons/rain.

I question whether I want to keep living here in the long-term. Or even the short-term, but it's... non-trivial to simply relocate everything. Not even counting the amount of calculus required to figure out where to move to.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:17 AM on September 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

No net fill policies are not enough if you've eliminated Wetlands regulation. Wetland soils are a sponge. Replacing the volume of a sponge with slab and sand displaces probably two feet of water per acre. Because Wetlands aren't regulated well in Texas, you can replace water-absorbing soils with water displacing soils. Under this new policy. When instead we should be building on Piers not on new fill, and avoiding Wetlands as required under the Clean Water Act.

This policy will ensure that the new build is safe, but it also ensures that the old build is endangered. Once you dig the mine and bring in the new fill, all the engineering assumptions that made the old Housing Development safe are now violated.

Look at all of the commodity housing being built in the Katy Prairie in Elyson. They're Excavating Wetlands to get the sand to build small hills to place the new houses on, the new houses which are also being built in wetlands. But they've just displaced the problem further Downstream, the houses Downstream are now five feet lower than the Elyson development, and they've lost an entire floodplain which used to protect them from flooding, now that floodplain has been filled with sand 5 ft High. The project either complies with no net fill because they extracted the fill and created a pit somewhere, or they've got an exemption from this policy as well as an LOMR exemption from FEMA.

Bear Creek is now full of sand, which overtime will poor out of the Ellison development and into the drainage of the city of Houston, increasing the drainage maintenance cost.

All because community housing for fracking workers cannot be denied. We need to avoid building housing and wetlands and build on Piers like we used to build we want to avoid this crap
posted by eustatic at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

As David Wallace-Wells writes (in a book that Franzen cites in his essay, but perhaps did not read very closely)

You cannot imagine how much it pains me to defend Franzen, however incidentally, but that book was close to unreadable. The writing is...not good. Wells has never met a sentence he couldn’t overcomplicate and drag on into the next page.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:24 AM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Commodity housing sorry, autocorrect keeps changing what I type. In Florida, some of these sand mines for commodity housing are being dug in some of the last breeding habitat for the Florida panther in Lee County.

If the United States didn't subsidize housing so much, and plan its economy on commodity housing, these companies wouldn't have so much cash to buy up all of the local governments. Building codes and environmental laws could be enforced. We have a lot of good laws that exist, and these laws return trillions of dollars in value to our economies, but they don't provide campaign cash.
posted by eustatic at 10:26 AM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

All because commodity housing for fracking workers cannot be denied. We need to avoid building housing and wetlands and build on Piers like we used to build we want to avoid this crap

Houston, LA, and Phoenix all need to build within their current built environment confines and stop displacing wetlands, forests, and (specifically in Phoenix's case, but LA and Houston can be 120F in direct sun too which creates the heat island effect). They even already have plenty of space to build commodity housing, it will just cost slightly more. But even better would be smaller lot housing or multi-family.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Back in the 1980s, the Katy Prairie was all rice fields that, in the winter, were a wonderland of tens of thousands of geese and waders. What did they think would happen building there? Also the inner subdivisions built there had an unnaturally short lifespan, going from upper middle class to mostly poor people in 20 years.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:35 AM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's pretty fanciful to think that Phoenix is going to exist anywhere near its current size in 2100.
posted by Automocar at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2019

It's pretty fanciful to think that Phoenix is going to exist anywhere near its current size in 2100.

Well, people seem to really like the Middle East and Dubai, which is equally hot and more humid. So I'm not sure I'd take that bet. People seem to like battling the heat more than battling the snow. And Flagstaff is much more temperate and only like 100 miles away. Maybe it'll become the Arizona metro as people are displaced from Phoenix.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:10 AM on September 11, 2019

One thing I've been thinking about, first as a joke and now more seriously, is ways to internalize the externality, and ways to bring the future costs forward in very real ways. And one thought is long-term property ownership -- suppose one were to convert all shares of ExxonMobil, currently ~$300B, into 50-year real estate options on coastal commercial and residential property at 3 meters or less above sea level. If the land was underwater, the options would be worth nothing. And so its current price should reflect the likelihood of this happening. Creating a powerful incentive to leave oil in the ground, to solve the "stranded assets" problem Bill McKibben described

It's just a little thought experiment. And it came from just a toss off comment -- "if you don't believe in climate catastrophe, why don't you put your money in coastal Carolina real estate, exercisable in 2050?" It would require a long-term real estate option fund market (pretty easy) and force of law to make current carbon emitters convert a painfully large amount of their asset wealth into this option fund (hard).
posted by PandaMomentum at 11:11 AM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Phoenix is so nice in the winter that I think it can hold on for a while longer, I don't know what they are going to do for water though and they may need to dig underground like Coober Pedy in Australia to survive the summers. As for Dubai, there is a reason they're buying real estate up north.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:28 AM on September 11, 2019

Not even counting the amount of calculus required to figure out where to move to.

This is a conversation my partner and I are having a lot and I don’t really have an answer. We live in anew Orleans now and we know it’s doomed. But we do like it here for a variety of reasons. But obviously it’s just a question of when the dice come up snake eyes. Do we stay here and just be ready to bail? Do we move somewhere further inland that won’t get flooded in a hurricane but will still have to deal with them? If we move too far inland, we miss the hurricanes but then don’t have the nice big body of water moderating the temperature increase.

So maybe we move somewhere else? For health reasons (mental and physical), neither of us do well in the snow, which cuts down a lot. We’d also like somewhere reasonably progressive where we don’t have to worry about our neighbors turning us over to the Trumpstaffel when it comes down to that. And then the usual cost of living considerations, local culture, etc.

Just rattling through the usual options: Washington has lots of Nazis and hate groups and Seattle is expensive and Eastern washington is basically western Idaho. Oregon has Portland which is expensive, a former sundown state, and not all that progressive even in Portland and outside of it is a little terrifying. California is expensive and will be on fire. On the east coast, Florida is doomed, South Carolina is blood red except for Charleston which is doomed. Georgia is showing signs of progress but I am dubious. North Carolina is the Republican laboratory for fuckery. Virginia is expensive. Maryland is mostly expensive with the exception of Baltimore which...I mean we may as well stay in the crime ridden city we live in. Moving much more more it snows regularly and the center of the country is either red states or states with a real winter.

Everywhere sucks, you just have to find a place that sucks in a way you can deal with.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Why TF is anyone listening to Jonathan Franzen about climate change?
posted by aspersioncast at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

There's also a good article in the WaPo showing that much of Europe and Canada is already over the 2C average temperature rise.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:30 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Eastern WA is definitely NOT western ID. I've lived in the Spokane area for over 15 years at this point and it's a fun, vibrant city with a lot of cultural offerings and a vast constellation of city parks and a lot of walkable neighborhoods and a variety of different feeling neighborhoods. Over a million people live in the greater metro area, and I think it's a great city. I recommend the area. There are small towns just a stone's throw away from the main city but completely separate if you want to have the experience of a smaller community but want the access to all the other stuff.

I'd skip central WA. It's low-lying scrub- and farmland, MUCH hotter than the Spokane area, and is much more sparsely populated with a lot of granges and small farm towns very far from anywhere. Perhaps Yakima, which is known for its beer and its food (believe it or not), but mostly I'd stick with Spokane or somewhere within 15-20 miles of that if I were going to look at living in WA east of the Cascades.

Plus, our winters have gotten milder, our summers not terribly much hotter, and we have multiple sources of water and food sources nearby so it seems like it will be pretty resilient over the next 20-30 years, even given our commitment to warming over that time.
posted by hippybear at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really liked how the Phoenix articulated both the dangers and ways to mitigate them, on a city level. It helps leaven the doom of the rest of it. And it seems useful for a lot of cities to start thinking about how to reduce their heat islands and lessen energy use.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:31 PM on September 11, 2019

I agree with the comments about flood protection but don’t think the issue per se is with subsidizing housing. I think the issue is rather with subsidizing suburban development where the true costs at externalized and don’t currently come back to the developer. Subsidy is an effective way for the state to promote more effective development, and if the focus was on densifying existing developed land rather than the destruction of wetland areas for greenfield subdivisions these communities would be much better off.
I’m a bit skeptical of the claim that we should mandate pier and grade beam construction as it would effectively be the same as saying “no new housing” for most of these areas as they use pro formas based on bottom-dollar construction. Not building any housing at all gets us to the status quo in Southern California, where we have a rising homeless population due to a (correct) focus on sustainable development combined with political inaction on building low-cost high-density development in areas already impacted by humans.
posted by q*ben at 9:30 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think the issue is rather with subsidizing suburban development where the true costs at externalized and don’t currently come back to the developer.

Amen to this. Build the division, get your payday, and anything that happens after that is the burden of those who bought houses, not those who developed the houses that were bought. The due burden should be placed on those who created the property which was offered for sale.
posted by hippybear at 9:52 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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