Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
What's it like to stand by as your house is ripped from its foundations and hoisted six feet in the air? "It's a dream come true," says Sue Graf, who owns a getaway cottage in Gloucester County, Virginia. "It's surreal. It's exciting," she says. "This is the eighth summer of worrying about flooding with all the storms. We finally don't have to worry about that any more." So we rigged the house with cameras for the event. Watch above as Expert House Movers—a company that has been raising houses with the help of FEMA grants for about four years—excavate Sue's house, and elevate it onto a new foundation.
In Part Two, below, watch Mother Jones reporter Kate Sheppard explain why this historic stretch of the Virginia coastline, some of the first areas in America to be settled by Europeans, is so susceptible to sea level rise. "It's becoming very real here," says Skip Stiles, the executive director of Wetlands Watch. "If you want to see what's going to happen to your East coast city, come here, because we're getting it now. This is America's coastal future here."
Noah Oppenheim's plan was simple: Rig a young lobster underneath a waterproof, infrared camera; drop the contraption overboard off the coast of Maine; and see who comes along for a bite to eat. The takers, he expected, would be fish: cod, herring, and other "groundfish" found in these waters that are known to love a good lobster dinner. Similar experiments conducted in the 1990s showed that apart from being snatched up in one of the thousands of traps that sprinkle the sea floor here—tools of this region's signature trade—fish predation was the principle cause of lobster death. Instead, Oppenheim, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine, captured footage that looks like it comes straight from the reel of a 1950s B-grade horror movie: rampant lobster cannibalism.
Warming waters can cause lobsters to grow larger and produce more offspring, and the last decade has been the warmest on record in the Gulf of Maine. That, combined with overfishing of lobster predators and an excess of bait left in lobster traps (see info box below), has driven the Maine lobster harvest to thoroughly smash records that stretch back to 1880. One of the side effects of this boom, Oppenheim says, is cannibalism: There are countless lobsters down there with nothing much to eat them and not much for them to eat, besides each other.
Lobsters are known to chomp each other in captivity (those rubber bands you see on their pincers are more for their own protection that the lobstermen's), but Oppenheim says this is the first time this degree of cannibalism has been documented in the wild (oh, yes, we've got the footage; check out the video above). From his remote research station on rocky Hurricane Island, floating in the lobster-grabbing chaos off nearby fog-shrouded Vinalhaven Island (one of Maine's top lobstering locales), Oppenheim has seen that young lobsters left overnight under his camera are over 90 percent more likely to be eaten by another lobster than by anything else.
While the lobster boom is clearly a terror for the lobsters themselves, it's no picnic for the people here whose families have made their livings off lobster since before the Revolutionary War. Lobster prices are down to lows not seen since the Great Depression, taking a serious pinch out of profit margins already made slim by high labor and fuel costs. Even more unsettling is the prospect that the boom could go bust: Southern New England saw a similar peak in the late 1990s, followed by a crash that left local lobstermen reeling for years. Maine's lobster experts worry that their state is next.
Even more unsettling is the prospect that the boom could go bust.
A crash here could have devastating results. Starting in the late 1980s, lobsters began to dominate Maine's seafood catch: In 1987, they made up 8.6 percent of the total haul; by last year, that number had climbed to more than 40 percent. In part, the industry's dependence is due to the fact that, increasingly, there's an abundance of lobsters and a deficit of anything else. But at the same time, the state's fishing permit system favors single-species licenses, so many lobstermen are locked into that product, a change from earlier decades where fishermen changed their prey from season to season.
In order to survive, experts say, Mainers will need to get creative with their tastes. For that, maybe they can take a cue from the lobsters themselves.
"Whenever we sit down to write our stuff, we always say, 'Man, this is the stupidest shit'—but then when it all comes together, it works!" On that note, Michael Thurber ends his break and heads back into Terminus Recording Studios, which is something of a landmark in the Manhattan Theater District. Paul McCartney and Liza Minnelli have recorded here. It's in the same building where Tupac Shakur was shot five times.
It's also where Thurber's crew, CDZA (Collective Cadenza), creates musical videos with a meta twist. "The Beatles Argument," for instance, features a lovers' quarrel sung almost entirely in Beatles lyrics.
"Hip Hop Shopping Spree," a three-minute rap medley, is accompanied by a calculation of the cumulative retail value of the songs' product placements—almost $57 million. One video samples the history of misheard lyrics, from Carl Orff to Pink. Another chronicles the history of wooing and seducing men in song, ranging from Aretha Franklin ("A Natural Woman," 1967) to Riskay ("Smell Yo Dick," 2008).
And another takes the theme song from the '90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and translates it into foreign languages and then back to English using Google Translate; the broken lyrics are performed to violins and a rhythm section.
Natural reefs like this one in Florida protect billions of dollars in real estate, the study shows.
Among the hundreds of recommendations listed in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $20 billion plan to protect New York from climate change is a call to stock up on oysters. Not the kind you'd want to knock back with a nice pilsner on a Friday afternoon: The idea is to build large underwater oyster reefs around the harbor that could prevent coastal erosion and absorb storm surges. "Soft" infrastructure like this—reefs, wetlands, dunes, and other "natural" systems—is gaining in popularity over "hard" levees and sea walls as an effective way to insulate cities from sea level rise.
Turns out, some of the best of these defenses might already be in place: Yesterday the journal Nature published the first-ever nationwide maps that reveal just how much existing coastal habitats are going to save our butts from rising seas and wild storms. Remove reefs, coastal forests, marshes, kelp beds, and other coastal habitats, the study finds, and twice as much coastline and 1.4 million more people will be highly exposed to climate risks.
Stanford marine ecologist Katie Arkema and her colleagues pulled a vast trove of data—Census Bureau population stats; property values from real estate site Zillow; wave and wind exposure data from NOAA; published climate models; and maps of coastal ecosystems from the scientific literature—and mixed them together to visualize where these natural systems offer the most, or least, protection.
The map below shows where the greatest risk from sea level rise and storm surge will be in 2100, based on models from the 2013 National Climate Assessment. Red areas represent not just places where sea levels are projected to rise the most, but also factor in the presence of protective offshore habitats; the type of shoreline (beach, cliff, etc.); and the spot's exposure to wind, waves, and other weather. Coastal southern Florida, for example, which is generally expected to get inundated by sea level rise, actually appears yellow, because of its abundant ocean-absorbing wetlands. Except Miami, that is: That city, the little red dot at the bottom right corner of the state, is still screwed. But things could be worse. The inset bar graph shows how many more people would be in high-risk red areas if those natural barriers were removed; in Florida, roughly an additional 300,000 people would be exposed, in New York another 300,000.
UPDATE, Monday, July 1, 5:00 p.m. EDT: The emergency shelters used by wildland firefighters have a good track record for preventing deaths, but are rendered useless if put in direct contact with fire, a firefighting equipment specialist for the US Forest Service said.
Tony Petrilli said the most up-to-date version of the shelter, in use since 2003, has been deployed 116 times with only two fatalities. Essentially an aluminum sleeping bag coated with silica, the shelter is designed to capture breathable air and keep out heat. But if a fire burns directly over the bag, it can fall apart, Petrilli said; firefighters are trained to look for a spot to roll the bag out that will be away from direct flames, but in the type of drastic situation where the bag is needed there is no guarantee such a spot will be available, and emergency shelter sites are not predetermined, he said.
The standard-issue emergency fire shelter, from a Forest Service handbook on their use. Courtesy US Forest Service
"The best instructions we can give is that it's up to you to find the best deployment site," he said.
Petrilli declined to comment on the effectiveness of these shelters in yesterday's deaths, citing the ongoing investigation. It's unclear at this stage whether all the firefighters who lost their lives were able to make it into their shelters in time, or whether the shelters could have failed.
Heat will eventually seep into the bag if left near a fire for more than a few minutes, Petrilli said. The human body can withstand temperatures of up to 300 degrees F for a short period of time, but temperatures within wildfires can easily exceed 1,000 degrees.
"Anything wrapped in foil that gets exposed to heat, is going to heat up," he said. "It's only a matter of time."
19 wildland firefighters were killed in Arizona yesterday fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott, a forested town in the mountains north of Phoenix.
The group, part of the City of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshot crew, was trying to escape from the worsening blaze to a predesignated safety zone when the fire, driven by high winds, suddenly changed direction and overwhelmed the team, a spokesman for the Prescott Fire Department, Wade Ward, told Mother Jones.
"It happened too fast," Ward said. "It's nothing you can outrun."
Ward said at the time of the deaths, the massive fire was speeding through the forest at up to a mile a minute, with flames up to 100 feet high. One member of the crew survived, who had gone to relocate the group's vehicle when the flames swept in.
The incident took the lives of the most firefighters since 9/11, when 341 firefighters were killed, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and the most wildfire fighter deaths since the 1933 Griffith Park fire in California, which killed 86. Until Sunday, Arizona had lost only 22 firefighters to wildfires since 1955, far fewer than Colorado or California, according to federal data. Arizona, like much of the Southwest, is in the midst of an ongoing drought, one of the affects of climate change scientists believe is likely to worsen wildfires into the future.