James West

James West

Climate Desk Producer

James West is senior producer for the Climate Desk and a contributing producer for Mother Jones. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Flooded Calgary Warned the Worst Is Yet to Come

| Fri Jun. 21, 2013 12:47 PM PDT
Twitter user @ShaneKeller posts a photo of the Calgary Zoo almost completely underwater. @ShaneKeller/Twitter

Flood waters from two rivers that converge on the Canadian city of Calgary have paralyzed mass transit, shuttered downtown, and closed schools, as thousands received emergency evacuation notices yesterday and this morning. And locals are being told the worst floods in decades are not over yet. "We are still expecting that the worst has not yet come in terms of the flow," Mayor Naheed Nenshi told CBC News on Friday.

You can find a helpful map of the most affected areas here. There have been no reports of fatalities.

In the last 48 hours, more than six inches of rain have fallen in the Calgary area alone, and CBC is reporting that more is on its way, with the highest amounts expected west of Calgary.  The city reports that the Elbow River crested this morning and water levels in Bow River are expected to remain extremely high for several days. That has prompted nearly a dozen emergency warnings of flash flooding, burst banks, and overflowed dams in the province. All Calgarians have been asked by local authorities to refrain from non-essential travel. Locals are also being encouraged to boil their water in seven Calgary communities to stop the spread of infection. According to the officials, 1500 people have sought out emergency shelters across the city.

Fast-moving debris from the flood also ruptured a pipeline carrying "sour gas"—a stinky, toxic gas comprised of one percent hydrogen sulfide that can be deadly if inhaled—in Alberta's Turner Valley, prompting further evacuations. Crews have reportedly contained the leak.

Calgary flooding
Flooded Calgary streets after torrential rainfall caused two rivers to overrun their banks, forcing the evacuation of thousands. Bandit Queen/Flickr

Flooding has also forced the closure of the last two days of the Sled Island music festival, which featured more than 250 bands plus comedy, film and art events at 30 local venues, and stranded its organizers in a generator-powered Calgary hotel. "It is a huge disappointment for all of us for sure, because we've been working so hard to put this together," said Maud Salvi, the event director, by phone. "I think we're just all trying to accept the fact that there's nothing we can do." Logistics are being complicated by wide-spread power outages at venues across the city,

Twitter user Connor Deering seemed to sum up some of the Canadian spirit in the face of adversity: "Since the city is shut down, may as well just start drinking". You can see the power of the flood waters from Thursday in this supercut: 

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Samantha Power's Climate Silence

| Fri Jun. 7, 2013 3:56 AM PDT
Samantha Power (left), a former national security staffer and the next UN ambassador, leaves the Rose Garden. Fang Zhe/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

Samantha Power, Obama's UN ambassador-in-waiting, frowned modestly as the president heaped lofty praise on her this week when he announced a major national security reshuffle.

"One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity," he said. "I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16," he joked. (Power won in 2003, in her early 30s, for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a rationale for American intervention in international atrocities.)

In accepting the president's nomination—the Senate still needs to approve—Power argued for a strong American role in the UN: "As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership."

But will Samantha Power's brand of leadership extend to advocating climate action from her powerful position at the UN? After all, climate change is a top priority in the UN: While development has been grinding, members at the Doha climate conference last December reaffirmed a previous decision to reach a global pact to replace Kyoto by 2015; secretary general Ban Ki-moon himself has listed climate change at the very top of his 2013 "to do" list (up there with stopping the bloodshed in Syria). By contrast, there's very little evidence that climate change has motivated Samantha Power's career or featured in her public comments, leaving foreign policy experts confused as to how she might rise to the challenge. The people in the know…don't know.

"I don't think she has ever illustrated particular views one way or another on the environment," said a former colleague of Power's.

"I don't think she has ever illustrated particular views one way or another on the environment," said former colleague Robert Stavins, an expert on environmental economics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"I don't think we have any information," said Joshua W. Busby, at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. On climate change, "I didn't find anything she's ever said."

What clues we do have lie in her critique of the United Nations. She told a 2004 audience at Harvard—where she was also a professor—that the UN was as marred by international distrust and suspicion as the US was, making international relief and intervention in humanitarian disasters tricky. "The guardian of international law legitimacy is itself seen to be something of a relic," she said. What is needed, she argued, was a reinvestment in the UN. This would make the UN, once again, a body through which the US expressed foreign policy, in order to start "restoring the legitimacy of US power."

In a 2008 interview with Harry Kreisler of the University of California-Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, Power appeared to group climate change with other insanely difficult global problems like nuclear proliferation and terrorism. All, she said, require negotiations between many nations, rich and poor, that all want totally different things. The US can't simply snap its fingers and get what it wants, she argued. Collaboration is key: "What's important is to embrace the recognition that you need others by your side in order to get anything done."

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