Talking about the Texas disasters — climate and political


“The whole state of Texas is under some kind of weather-related disaster declaration,” we said in a Los Angeles radio interview yesterday. “But part of that disaster declaration ought to include Governor Perry. He’s a disaster.” A year of record-breaking drought, heat wave, and wildfires – manifestations of how climate change is loading the weather dice – while the governor slanders the climate scientists, denies reality, and adds to the great American failure of preparedness.

It’s been raining for two days at Blue Mountain, but that’s OK. I wish we could give some of it to my friends in Austin.

See New York Times, September 7:

EDITORIAL: In the Land of Denial

With Calmer Winds, Texas Firefighters Make Progress Against Vast Blaze

I was interviewed on September 6 by Ian Masters on his program, “Background Briefing,” which airs live on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, and also in Santa Barbara, China Lake, and North San Diego, California; New York City; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Anchorage, Alaska; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Peoria, Illinois; and on Radio Free Moscow, Idaho (!).

The interview, webcast archived here.

My transcript of the interview, slightly edited:

IM: We’ll begin with an analysis of the growing number and frequency of weather anomalies — hurricanes followed by a deadly series of wildfires engulfing Texas. Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch, joins us to assess the causes behind what appears to be a changing climate – a change that the governor of Texas, who interrupted his presidential campaign to deal with the fires, claims is not happening. …Welcome to Background Briefing.

RP: Hi Ian, good talking with you.

IM: It’s clear that there’s been an increasing frequency and intensity of these weather anomalies. I think you’d have to be unconscious not to notice it. Why is it, though, that none of these events are tied together, that they’re just one after another? How many times have you seen the President step up declaring disaster emergencies and opening up the federal coffers? I mean, it seems to me that sooner or later we’re going to run out of money.

RP: Well, that is a problem. But there’s a problem with the political leadership at the highest level. The President seems to be reluctant to talk about human-caused climate change. I think he knows better, but for some reason is not taking that message to the public. And his political opposition seems to regard global warming denialism as a kind of political litmus test.

I mean, you have the extreme case of a tremendous range of climate-related weather disasters going on in Texas this year, while the governor, Rick Perry, attacks the scientists and denies the reality of climate change.

IM: I believe if he becomes President he’ll cut all funding and basically put all climate research out of business, right?

RP: Let’s look at this question of funding. Well, you know, what’s going on down there in his state is really an eye-opener, and it’s quite remarkable that he can turn away from looking at the long-term implications.

I mean, they have the worst drought in the recorded history of Texas – more than half the state is under ‘Exceptional’ drought conditions. ‘Exceptional’ is the category that’s as bad as it can get. They’ve had $5 billion in losses to Texas agriculture alone – it’s an economic disaster. And officially it’s the worst drought [year] Texas has had going back to the 19th century. They might get some rain, but these kinds of conditions will tend to persist and intensify over time with global warming.

And the heat wave – there’s never been a Texas summer hotter than this one. Seventeen major cities have recorded their hottest summer. Down in Austin, where I used to live, they’ve had 67 days of 100 degrees or more. It was 112 degrees one day down there.

And the wildfires, you see in the news now – there have beeen 20,000 wildfires in Texas, this year – 3.5 million acres burned, that’s more than 5,000 square miles – 700 homes have burned in the last two days, not far from where I used to live.

The Texas politicians, they always want to cut the federal budget and trash talk the federal government. Perry says if he becomes president the EPA won’t know what hit them, and they want to cut the science and deny it. But, they are quick to ask for federal disaster assistance. They benefit from the government spending to suppress wildfires and provide relief for their farmers.

So the whole state of Texas is under some kind of weather-related disaster declaration. But part of the disaster declaration ought to include Governor Perry. He’s a disaster.

IM: The area that’s been burned since September is larger than the state of Connecticut. Up to 1,000 homes have been burned in these fires, which aren’t too far from Austin.

RP: The biggest fire right now is around Bastrop. That’s very pretty country out there, just east of Austin.

IM: There have been 57 wildfires in Texas over the past week. And apparently the latest tropical storm out in the Gulf is fanning the flames. You go from one disaster to the next.

RP: Well, all of these things are quite in line with what is projected as consequences of human-caused global climatic disruption. The drought all through that region of the southwestern United States, the increasing likelihood of heat waves, the increasing likelihood of intense wildfires. It doesn’t mean that every year will be worse than the last. Maybe next year will be a little cooler – I mean, let’s hope so. Maybe this drought will ease up.

But over time, what the climate scientists are saying is we are loading the dice to make these kinds of extreme outcomes more likely. So that, whatever is going on at a particular time is a combination of the natural variability in the system, and now added into that the human-caused climate change. And that factor becomes larger, so over time you will tend to get more of what we’re seeing now.

Now there is no way to deal with this if you absolutely refuse to talk to the science community. There’s no way to deal with this if you don’t take what the National Academy of Sciences is trying to tell you and use it with some integrity in preparedness.

These Texas politicians, they’ll take millions of dollars from the oil industry, and it’s their product that’s part of what’s driving – burning the coal and the oil is what’s driving this global warming. They’re in the pockets of these contributors, so it leads them to deny the reality of the science. And where does that leave their people? They’re not taking care of their people because they’re not using the information with integrity in policymaking.

IM: Just in closing, don’t these fires exacerbate global warming, because of the CO2 and pollution they put up? Isn’t it self-reinforcing after a while?

RP: The fires adding to the atmospheric carbon dioxide. The largest example of that in recent decades has been the deforestation in the tropics, the Amazon and over in Southeast Asia. Deforestation, the burning of the vegetation, is one of the factors – not the biggest factor, like coal, or the second biggest factor, like oil, but it’s another big factor in adding to the heat-trapping – you know, the hothouse effect that we’re getting from putting these gases into the atmosphere.

IM: As the Earth heats up, the polar ice caps melt, and as they melt there’s less sun reflected from the white polar ice caps, so it is self-reinforcing, isn’t it?

RP: That’s right, it’s called a positive feedback. And when scientists say positive feedback, it’s not what most people think – like, ‘that must be good’ – it means it’s taking something and exacerbating it. So yes, the warming melts the Arctic icecap, the icecap on Greenland and on the Arctic Ocean – and it exposes dark water, or darker land surface, which absorbs more solar heat, and it feeds back to accelerate the warming. So we have these positive feedbacks in the system that tend to drive it more in that direction.

IM: Rick Piltz, thank you very much for joining us.

RP: Thank you.

The interview, webcast archived here, was part of a program that also included an interview on the tar sands oil pipeline controversy from a Canadian perspective with Cleo Paskal, who is a fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy and NATO, and an interview with my friend the Reverend Billy of the Church of Earthalujah, and his plans for this coming weekend’s tenth anniversary remembrance of 9/11 in New York City.

Earlier posts:

Texas wildfires rage amidst historic drought conditions. Denial of science in Washington, DC, confronted by climate reality.

Extreme Texas drought and wildfires sharpen contrast between Texas Congressional delegation’s climate views and conditions at home

NSF IG report on Michael Mann investigation: “No research misconduct. Case closed.” Don’t bother telling Rick Perry.

Dangerously Unprepared: Congressional Budget Cuts are Leaving Americans Vulnerable to Climate Extremes


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1 Response to Talking about the Texas disasters — climate and political

  1. VPK says:

    Thank you for this informative interview and I hope it wakes some folks up to the reality of our crisis and the lack of political honesty in the field.
    Unfortunately, we do not have much time to continue this “business as usual”. Watch the film, THE LAST MOUNTAIN in the cinema released recently about the power the fossil fuel companies (in this case Massey Coal in West Virginia) over governments. They are using the same method as Tobacco did to continue their sales!

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