EarthTalk / Tracy K. Lorenz


From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine

A Moral Obligation

Dear EarthTalk: What have we learned from storms like Katrina, Sandy and Harvey about protecting our coastal cities better from the warming-intensified major storms hitting them?
-- Mitch Wyndam, Burlington, VT

Major storms like Katrina, Sandy and Harvey were devastating to local populations and reformed the landscapes of the regions where they made landfall. They also changed the way we think about—and design—our coastal cities. Let’s hope we’ve learned about where (and where not) to site habitable buildings as well as the importance of maintaining—even expanding—natural buffers that protect the places where people live from unnecessary property damage and/or loss of life.

New York City has gotten busy bolstering itself against future “super storms” like 2012’s Sandy. Code changes like requiring electrical transformers to be in the upper floors (not basements) of commercial buildings, and developing feasible strategies for shuttering tunnels, airports and subways, are just a few of the changes wrought by Sandy.

Developing resilient infrastructure is another way that city planners are hoping to mitigate future flooding issues, like at the recently opened Hunter’s Point South Park along the East River in Queens. One especially climate-resilient feature of this park is a big playfield made of synthetic turf that can “detain” a half million gallons of water when the East River overflows during a high tide or storm surge. When the tide goes back out—or the storm moves on—the detained water is slowly released back into the river through a network of exfiltration channels hidden beneath landscape features. An outer wall protects natural barrier marshes that filter water and can also absorb and detain more stormwater as needed.

It was surprising just how walloped New Orleans was by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, given that the city’s leaders and residents were used to regular flooding during storm events. But the damage, displacement and loss of life from this “100-year-storm” event spurred long overdue efforts to bolster the city’s defenses against  - including efforts to conserve and expand outer marshlands which serve as  buffers against storm surges and flooding.

 New Orleans also bolstered its infrastructure and capacity to handle flood waters. “Given similar evacuation conditions to those seen in Katrina, the [new] system is expected to reduce potential loss of life by as much as 86 percent without pumping and up to 97 percent with 50 percent pumping for a 100-year flood event,” reports Wolfgang Kron of insurance giant Munich Re. He adds that New Orleans’ post-Katrina flood mitigation system should reduce property damage by 90 percent for a 100-year flood event and 75 percent for a 500-year event, compared to the pre-Katrina situation. While New Orleans hasn’t been tested on such a major scale since Katrina, everyone is hoping the projections bear out when the next major storm hits.

As for lessons learned from 2016’s Hurricane Harvey, it’s too soon to tell, as many Houston-area residents are still in recovery mode. But no doubt some of the lessons from Katrina and Sandy will be applied in Houston and other coastal cities around the world getting ready for rising sea levels and more extreme flooding and storm surges as global warming heats things up.

CONTACTS: Hunter’s Point South Park,; Munich Re,

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Tracy K. Lorenz ...

Global Idiocy

DISCLAIMER: While I, the editor, would love to think that Tracy Lorenz is speaking tongue-in-cheek, as befits a humor columnist, I’m afraid that he is indeed serious about this column. Needless to say, neither this nor any column reflects the point of view of the management, but rather the opinions of the writers.

If you were a little kid and your parents told you that the next door neighbor was going to kill you you’d probably be upset.  If they repeated this story over and over for your whole life after awhile it would start to sink in even if you’d never met your neighbor and he was actually a nice guy.  “He’s going to kill you, he’s going to kill you, he’s going to kill you.” Then one day after hearing this your entire life you finally meet your neighbor you’d probably go off on him, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME!!!” and you’d think you were justified in your anger even though it had no basis in fact.

Which brings me to Greta “The Abominable Snowflake” Thünberg.  She’s the sixteen-year-old girl who stood before the United Nations and unleashed a torrent of hate not seen since the Bret Kavanaugh nomination. “You look to us children for hope and answers...” No we don’t.  I look to you, and others like you, to shut up until you know what you’re talking about.

The problem is she hasn’t been alive long enough to realize her parents are playing her like a wind up monkey. I’m old enough to remember global cooling and how we were all going to be living like Eskimos by 1985. I remember how Korea was going to blow us up, how we’d be plunged into darkness on Y2K,  I remember poison Tylenol, Skylab, killer asteroids, and the big one; “Global Warming.”  Did you ever notice that when global warming didn’t pan out they changed the name to “Climate Change?” That’s because the climate has been changing since, well, forever, so it can’t be proven wrong. South Dakota used to be tropical for gosh sakes.

“Oh, but climate scientists say different!”  Yeah, because if they tell the truth their grant money will get shut off and they’re suddenly unemployed.  Think about it, supposedly there are THOUSANDS of climate scientists out there, have you ever met one? What do these guys do all day?  The earth’s temperature has risen one degree in 140 years and that’s enough to keep all these guys employed? You’re a climate scientist, you walk into your office at 8:00 on a Monday morning, what do you do all day?     

Right now the only “Climate Scientist” anyone can name is Bill Nye the Science Guy, who’s about as much of a scientist as I am. Bill Nye was a stand-up comedian and one of his characters was “The Science Guy,” he somehow parlayed that into being an authority because, let’s face it, those speaking engagements pay pretty well. I guess the number two climate scientist would be an attorney with a carbon footprint the size of Godzilla, Al Gore.

About fifteen years ago “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was all the rage in the building industry and to get LEED Certified was a big deal, so my former company sent me off to get LEED certified. The first day of class the teacher got up there and said “What is the purpose of LEED”? Students raised their hands and gave answers about saving the environment and using proper design techniques and the teacher said “No. The purpose of LEED is to get money out of your pocket.” I’ve never forgotten that.

In the news business there’s a saying, “If it bleeds it leads,” meaning tragedy sells papers and garners viewership, and right now “Climate Change” fits that bill. What could be more “bleeds” that our entire species being wiped out before the Lions win another playoff game? 

So when it comes to things like global warming, why don’t we just tap the brakes before all the little Gretas of the world have a grand mal seizure. Watching teenagers melt down is entertaining but not really productive so let’s just all agree to take a step back and just ... cool it.

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