Colorado’s Biblical Floods Linked To Climate Change

JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. Last week’s flash floods in Colorado killed at least eight people, with as many as 600 still unaccounted for, according to officials. Highways were washed out and nearly 20,000 homes destroyed or damaged, and more than 10,000 people had to be evacuated, with entire towns being completely cut off. The flood is one of the worst in the state’s history. Now joining us to discuss this and its link to climate change is Shubhankar Banerjee. He was a photographer, a writer, and activist. He has an upcoming book: Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point will be published in October by Seven Stories Press. Thank you so much for joining us. SHUBHANKAR BANERJEE: Thanks for having me, Jaisal. NOOR: So, Shubankar, not only have we seen these devastating and tragic floods in Colorado, but we’ve also seen two hurricanes hit Mexico, a hurricane in Japan. Natural disasters are on the rise across the globe.

Is there a link to climate change? BANERJEE: Oh, absolutely. In fact, there is no scarcity of extreme weather events happening all over the globe. If you just dial the clock back a little bit, this past June in Uttarakhand, India, in the Himalayan state in India, we had a flood that was called the “Himalayan tsunami”. The number of killed or missing varies between 500 and 15,000, depending on whether you talk to the government or the people on the ground. So there may be up to 15,000 people dead there. The issue is that–and what happened in Uttarakhand, a place–I was there last year–is very similar to what happened just now in Boulder, Colorado, which is that the seasons are really shifting both the volume of rain as well as when this rain is falling.

So what just happened in Boulder is really the volume and time. The amount of rain that has fallen is basically close to the entire annual average in just a few days, in five days. And also the timing. September is not a time when rain falls in the Southwest. I lived in New Mexico 11 years. I spent a lot of time in Colorado. And I have actually focused on the issue of climate change in the Southwest. It’s in the midst of a long-term drought. And, again, there we can dial the clock back a little bit, 15 years. The last 15 years, the entire American Southwest–Colorado, neighboring state New Mexico, and other states–is suffering extreme drought conditions that has killed in New Mexico alone 55 million pinyon trees, the state tree of New Mexico, and in Colorado, tens of millions of lodgepole pine, spruce, and other trees have been killed. So when you have so many trees dead followed by constant wildfires, which has been extremely intense all across the American Southwest–New Mexico, Colorado–and this past summer, Colorado had what they call the most devastating wildfire in Colorado history, the Black Forest fire.

And then at the heels of all that come now this devastating flood, which is clearly one of the greatest flood in Colorado history. So all of these events are linked. And what I’ve tried to do, show, is that the Colorado flood should be looked at as a sequence of disaster after disaster after disaster. All are linked to climate change. NOOR: And we wanted to talk about how the media is covering this. Are they making that link? Are they doing their job to inform the public about the reality of not only what’s happening now but what may continue to happen in the future, as far as these unprecedented natural disasters? BANERJEE: Absolutely not. The corporate media is doing a dismal job. After my first piece was published about the Colorado flood, Boulder flooding last Friday, I received numerous comments from readers that the media is showing the tragedy and what is going on, but no one is raising a single question about if this event is related to climate change.

In fact, this is a really fundamental topic that as a society we need to discuss. And it is actually a moral issue, because philosopher Judy Butler, in one of her recent books, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable, said that media is linked to survival. What is going on with media, as we discussed, that with globally warmed earth, [incompr.] there will be no scarcity of extreme weather events all over the planet, how we report on it is very important. And showing tragedy results in–again and again and again, just a tragedy without critical analysis results in what I would call an exercise in perversion. It is actually pervert to do that, because it becomes essentially an entertainment. And Susan Sontag, in her last and one of the most important books she wrote, called Regarding the Pain of Others, precisely addressed this topic in great detail. So just to show the tragedy and not discuss why this tragedy is happening really becomes entertainment. And the only people who benefit from that are essentially the media, the corporate media, and the contractors who will now come after to rebuild the place.

And this has been happening in war situations again and again and again. It’s contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel then get these big contracts to rebuild. So this is actually a very pervert exercise that media, corporate media continues to do. NOOR: Shubhankar Banerjee, thank you so much for joining us. BANERJEE: Thank you, Jaisal. NOOR: We’re going to continue our conversation with Shubhankar Banerjee and post it at TheRealNews.com. Thank you so much for joining us..

Why cities should plant more trees

Search Google Earth for China and you’ll see this. But an unedited satellite photo might look more like this. That gray smudge is air pollution and it’s coming from Chinese cars, factories, and power plants. But it’s not only here. In cities around the world, air pollution is a big problem. A majority of humans now live in cities and that number is only going to rise, which means more cars, more factories, and more power plants. As officials explore options for fighting air pollution, there is one tool that is often overlooked: trees. Cities are centers of industry, but the resulting pollution is filling our lungs and making us sick. One major culprit is particulate matter: airborne particles of dust, soot and smoke that are released when we burn fossil fuels or kicked up during construction and farming.

When we inhale them, they can cause asthma and they can also enter our bloodstream to cause strokes and even death. Experts estimate that outdoor air pollution kills over three million people a year and as cities grow, leaders are funding creative—and often expensive—solutions for the problem. In London, the mayor spent over a million pounds spraying city streets with an adhesive that was supposed to glue pollutants to the road. and in the Netherlands, designers have created a giant air purifier they call “The Smog Free Tower”, which is cool, but there is another, simpler solution… A new report from The Nature Conservancy shows that planting trees can be a cost-effective way to improve public health, which they do in two ways: First, a tree removes particulate matter when polluted air blows through its branches.

The particulate matter settles on the leaves and when it rains the dust is washed down the gutter so we don’t inhale it. Second, trees cool temperatures by providing shade and releasing water through photosynthesis, which cools summer temperatures by about two to four degrees fahrenheit. But there is a catch! Trees can only clean and cool the air within a close radius: about one hundred feet, so city officials need to be careful where they plant. Officials can maximize pollution reduction by planting trees where population density and air pollution overlap. The Nature Conservancy report uses data from Washington D.C. to create a map showing where planting trees will have the highest return on investment. And some trees work better than others: trees with larger, stickier leaves, like maples and elms are more effective, but they also need to be considered within the larger ecosystem.

Compared to DC, many cities around the world have even more to gain from planting trees: this map shows where return on investment is highest for reducing particulate matter. With proper targeting, planting trees can be just as cost-effective as other strategies like converting public transportation to use less diesel fuel. But there is one major limiting factor: water access. What might work in Boston, will be less feasible in a city like Doha, Qatar, where water is a scarce resource. And on top of that, many mayors don’t yet think of trees as a public health resource. Trees might not look like giant air filters, but that’s exactly what they are, and the sooner we start thinking of them that way, the sooner the air we breathe might be cooler and cleaner in cities around the world..