Environment Forum http://blogs.reuters.com/environment Global environmental challenges Mon, 25 Nov 2013 21:03:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 China’s cities see clean air, water as magnet for investment http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/11/25/chinas-cities-see-clean-air-water-as-magnet-for-investment/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/11/25/chinas-cities-see-clean-air-water-as-magnet-for-investment/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 21:03:46 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20628 photo (1) photo4 photo5 photo7 photo8 photo9 photo12 photo13

Nanchang is one of China’s “second-tier” cities. With 5.04 million people, its population is nearly twice the size of Chicago’s. There are few places here where you can get some fresh air, but in the middle of the high-tech national industrial zone on the fringes of this sprawling city, the provincial government has carved out 4.5 square kilometers of wetlands around Aixi Lake for preservation.

The park, which was set up in 2007, features young trees planted in rows, parallel to the new high-rise apartment buildings that sprout up along long blocks in Nanchang. The paved road running though the park is smooth, and divided into one lane for bicyclists and a second for electric golf carts. Wooden signs encourage passersby to “enhance environmental awareness” while construction cranes and new towers rise in the distance. It feels more like a nature theme park than a conservation site.

Like Beijing and some of China’s larger cities, Nanchang suffers from severe air pollution as a consequence of economic development. During a recent visit to Nanchang, the banks of the Don River, which snakes through the city center, were dried up because of a lack of rain and heavy construction activity. The level of particulate matter in the air registered at hazardous levels. The city’s skyline was barely visible amid heavy smog.

Despite this, local and provincial officials want people to know that the city and the province aspire to be known as much for protecting the environment as for achieving strong economic growth. Nanchang set a target to cut its carbon emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 48 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, more than the national target of 40 to 45 percent.

Lan Wensheng, director of the information for the foreign affairs office of Jiangxi province, said a cleaner environment would make the region more attractive to foreign and domestic businesses. On my visit to the city’s 231-square kilometer high-tech industrial zone, officials said the center has air quality monitoring systems and that Aixi Lake will become a sanctuary for migrating birds.

A representative of the zone’s investment promotion bureau hopes that the area will become a new Silicon Valley. He said Nanchang’s environmental focus would be a draw for green energy, software, LED and automobile machinery companies. China’s national aerospace company Comac also has facilities at the park working on narrow-body aircraft meant to rival Boeing and Airbus, as does Microsoft, faucet maker Kohler and China’s Best Solar. Low-carbon industries make up 30 percent of all industrial sectors in Nanchang, officials say.

But provinces like Nanchang and Jiangxi have a long way to go. The energy-intensive region will continue to rely on coal and contentious large hydroelectric projects to ensure stable electricity to power its industries.

The Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric facility, is one of the major electricity sources for the region. The dam has caused Poyang Lake in Jiangxi, which once absorbed the Yangtze river overflow, to shrink dramatically, according to Charlton Lewis, a Chinese history professor at Brooklyn College in New York. The dam has resulted in interruptions to fish migration, raised risks for landslides and displaced thousands of people, according to NGO International Rivers.

Coal accounts for about 70 percent of Jiangxi’s energy mix, according to the province’s five-year plan released in 2012. And with nearly two-thirds of coal consumed by the province coming from other parts of China, energy costs are high.

Most provincial and central party officials say that China is paying the price for ignoring the environmental consequences of many years of double-digit economic growth. With air pollution rising to record levels around many Chinese cities, the issue has become a source of public unrest that Beijing and the provinces can no longer ignore.

In economic and political reforms announced this month, the Communist Party said it would put more emphasis on environmental protection during annual assessments of its officials, and would also hold local authorities directly responsible for pollution.

These changes may include new measures to punish those who violate environmental laws and improve monitoring of air and water quality.

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Disasterology 8: A panda baby boom, five years after Sichuan earthquake http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/22/disasterology-8-a-panda-baby-boom-five-years-after-sichuan-earthquake/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/22/disasterology-8-a-panda-baby-boom-five-years-after-sichuan-earthquake/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 17:42:27 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20587 For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

This has been a bumper year for giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Base: 17 babies born, including a rare set of triplets and a set of twins. Fourteen survived as of October 12 and nine of those shared a playpen in which they mostly napped, the picture of adorable peacefulness.

Panda1 Panda2 Panda3 Panda4 Panda5 Panda6 Redpanda2

In truth, there are pandas almost everywhere you look at the Chengdu research center in the northern suburbs of China’s fourth-largest city. That’s a hopeful sign, five years after a magnitude 8 earthquake devastated the Wolong Nature Reserve, arguably the most important panda preserve on the planet and home to many of the 1,600 or so giant pandas in the wild.

The May 2008 quake that killed nearly 70,000 people and left 4.3 million homeless also wiped out nearly a quarter of giant panda habitat, turning bamboo forest into bare land, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Fragmentation of the remaining habitat was expected to hinder panda reproduction. The article estimated that the earthquake would affect 60 percent of the panda population in some way.

Some of those pandas were brought to the Chengdu research center for physical and in some cases mental treatment. Pandas startle easily and tend to stay put when traumatized, instead of fleeing the area of danger. When brought to the research center, pandas are tended by humans who feed and care for them. At least one such panda w

as assessed for psychological trauma, treated for physical injuries, and returned to the wild.

Even the large number of pandas born at the Chengdu station brought challenges. Of the triplets, only one survived, though both twins born on August 28 have moved on to the cuddly stage. The problem, a reserve official said, is that baby pandas are even more helpless than human ones – they can’t urinate or defecate on their own for their first six months – and panda mothers aren’t able to care for more than one pup at a time. So while the panda mom is tending to one twin, a human caretaker tends to another, and the twins must be periodically swapped so that each one gets maternal attention and nursing.

Returning pandas to the wild is also tricky. There are various groups of pandas in the forests of western Sichuan, and those that have been in research centers may have picked up pathogens that could endanger wild populations. One Chengdu expert said animals that have been in the center may be sent to their native habitat but kept separate at first from wild pandas.

 

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Disasterology 7: Earthquake-scarred Sichuan village reimagined as tourist hub, memorial http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/11/disasterology-7-earthquake-scarred-sichuan-village-reimagined-as-tourist-hub-memorial/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/11/disasterology-7-earthquake-scarred-sichuan-village-reimagined-as-tourist-hub-memorial/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 18:37:01 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20565

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

Come to the village of Yingxiu and see the elaborate carved gateway, the food stalls, souvenir shops and credentialed performers dressed as a cheeky monkey and a cuddly panda. It is the quintessential tourist town, ringed by mountains and at the confluence of two rivers. You also can leave the main street to see this community’s past, when the clocks stopped at 2:28 p.m. on May 12, 2008.

That was when a monster earthquake heaved almost directly beneath Yingxiu, killing about 70,000 people in and around China’s Sichuan province. Of those, 6,566 died in this formerly bustling factory town, more than one-third of its pre-earthquake population. Eighty percent of the buildings were destroyed.

One poignant reminder of the tragedy remains: a memorial to the 54 students, teachers and parents who died when the local school collapsed on itself. Pilgrims bring yellow flowers to place below a giant clock face, with fissures to indicate the time of the quake more than five years ago.

The structures have been left where they fell, with some concrete buttresses in place to keep them from falling further. The boys’ dormitory was five stories tall, but now is only four because the second floor pancaked onto the first. The girls dormitory is barely identifiable as a building, its walls broken and piled in a heap, vegetation growing from the ruins. A formerly five-tiered lecture hall looks like a set of blocks flung by a toddler.

The new buildings in the main part of town have shops on the ground floor and living space on the floors above, and were constructed with new technology to make them more resilient to earthquakes, according to the town chief, Liu Zhihong.

When asked for his thoughts on coping with disaster, he offered these insights, speaking through a translator: “You have to face disasters strongly enough … You should continue your life with smiles … You need to be grateful to those who help you.”

 

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Disasterology 6: Signs of commerce return to “The Town That Disappeared” http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/10/disasterology-6-signs-of-commerce-return-to-the-town-that-disappeared/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/10/disasterology-6-signs-of-commerce-return-to-the-town-that-disappeared/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 19:22:28 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20548

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

As shopping centers go, the Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village is minor: a fish monger, a beauty parlor, a vegetable stand and a florist, along with a few other stores. The people who run the shops live elsewhere since their homes were destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, and the areas that flooded are still not considered safe for residents to return.

Business is not exactly brisk on a lovely October morning, but the fact that there is business at all is significant. Minamisanriku has become known as “The Town That Disappeared” after the March 3 tsunami swallowed the broad valley where schools, homes, offices and the city’s disaster mitigation building were located.

The fishery, basis of one of the town’s main businesses (the other was tourism) was destroyed, said Shinya Chiba, an official with the local fisheries association. The fish were never contaminated, but of the 1,100 fishing boats that went out before the disaster, only 70 came back. Of those, only 20 were suitable for fish farming in Shizagawa Bay.

“I myself was a victim after the disaster,” Chiba told a group of international journalists, speaking through a translator. “There was no place to live, no food to eat. We couldn’t make any plans for our lives, for our future.”

Morale was terrible for fishermen and their families in cramped temporary housing, with no immediate way to work or return home. At first, they helped clean debris, but that was a temporary job. In the first year after the flood, they cultivated seaweed. This is a popular crop in Japan, and useful for fisheries because a seaweed crop planted in November can be harvested in May. Oysters by contrast can take two to three years to reach maturity.

Now, the fishing fleet is about 80 percent of what it was before the tsunami.

While no one lives in the flood-damaged areas of the town, workers and fishermen are there, building a breakwater to protect the harbor and checking on the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of floats that dot the wide bay. Each float is a sign that oysters are growing below.

Manabu Sugawara was out on a recent afternoon checking the oysters’ growth. One float he pulled up was covered by mussels and local small clams, which feed on the same nutrients as oysters. Sugawara knocked off the surface mussels and clams to reveal fist-sized oysters. When he cracked them open, the flesh inside was briny and definitely edible.

The tsunami’s huge power may have cleaned out the bay, making it a better place for oysters to grow, Sugawara said. Fishing was one of the chief industries in Minamisanriku before the flood. Local fisheries officials say it has 80 percent recovered.

 

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Disasterology 5: When the high ground isn’t high enough http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/10/disasterology-5-when-the-high-ground-isnt-high-enough/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/10/disasterology-5-when-the-high-ground-isnt-high-enough/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 18:55:26 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20527

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

The school children in Minamisanriku knew what to do in case of a tsunami: run as fast as they could up the hill to the Togura middle school, perched more than 40 meters, or 131 feet, above Shizagawa Bay. This wasn’t high enough when the waves rolled in on March 3, 2011.

The waves were 10 meters (32 feet) high at sea, but reached more than 50 meters (164 feet) when they slammed into the land in this part of Japan’s beach-and-mountain fringed east coast. The tsunami created a swirling whirlpool in, around and finally, on top of the school, according to Sachie Shijo, a native of Minamisanriku and a volunteer now with the non-profit group Peace Winds, which is helping the town to recover. The water came from the landward side, as well as from the sea, Shijo said through a translator. It was everywhere.

Togura school is now shuttered, with plywood covering broken doors and windows where students used to enter. Two plastic chairs sit in front of the doors. The water twisted the metal roof of a covered walkway, and it remains as it was, rusted in place. The nearby gymnasium is dark and parts of the school grounds are fenced off.

Much of this fishing community of 27,000 was wiped off the map when the tsunami hit; more than 500 people died. Five thousand people had to leave their homes. Even two-and-a-half years later, there are areas where no resettlement is allowed, with the ruins of broken bridges and the foundations of vanished homes everywhere. Shijo pointed out the place where her family’s home once stood. It is now a rubble-strewn, puddle-pocked field.

Many of those who used to live in the inundated areas are in temporary housing, and one such temporary village is set up in the parking lot of the damaged hilltop school. Few families with young children care to risk staying close to where the tsunami came, and most residents of this village are elderly. They tend a community garden and hang out their laundry to dry on the same hillside where the water came.

Shijo’s parents live in one unit, with about one-tenth the space they used to have in their home, about the size of four tatami mats. She said they don’t complain.

 

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Disasterology 4: Disaster Candy in Japan http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/07/disasterology-4-disaster-candy-in-japan/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/07/disasterology-4-disaster-candy-in-japan/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 19:52:41 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20511
For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

A fair featuring cartoon frogs and rhinos, baskets of toys to trade and hands-on crafts might sound like the answer to a parent’s prayer on a rainy weekend. But this was a fair with a difference: the annual Bo-Sai Expo in Tokyo, an event meant to prepare young families for disaster.

Two-and-a-half years after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated parts of Japan, hundreds of kids showed up on Oct. 5 and 6 at the Gas Science Museum and an adjacent upscale shopping mall for the fair. Strangely enough, it wasn’t grim.

To put children in the mood to participate, they were encouraged to bring a toy to trade, and there was a thriving toy bazaar inside the entrance to the museum. The plan, according to Toshinori Tanabe of the non-profit organization Plus Arts, is to get the young ones interested right away and then point them toward various disaster skills workshops – though that’s not what they are called.

There’s a big stack of used newspapers, where they can learn practical origami to make containers to use as plates or bowls. Another station has kids and some adults use 20 plywood rectangles and a collection of bolts to build a dome-shaped shelter. A shopping game lets children grab a basket and fill it with the foods they’d need for the first days after disaster strikes, with the message to eat the perishable stuff first, then go for the shelf-stable items.

Because not everybody knows how to turn the gas back on after a disaster-prompted shut-off, the gas company provides a bottle of candy with instructions printed on the side on how to switch the gas meter back on. Another station offers tips on teeth-cleaning without water: use oral hygiene wet-wipes designed for nursing home patients.

Kids earn points for completing various drills and then gather for a toy auction at the end.

Even the name of the expo is a play on words in Japanese. While Bo-Sai means disaster prevention or reduction, sai alone means rhinoceros, so there’s a stylized drawing of blue rhino in a hard-hat on much of the publicity for the event. The toy exchange is called Kaeru in Japanese, which also means frog, so there’s an icon of a smiling kid in a frog helmet on the flyer too.

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Disasterology 3: Learning to shout after the Fukushima disaster http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/07/disasterology-3-learning-to-shout-after-the-fukushima-disaster/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/07/disasterology-3-learning-to-shout-after-the-fukushima-disaster/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 19:52:03 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20501

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

On the afternoon of March 3, 2011, Japan’s public television network NHK was broadcasting a session of parliament live when warning chimes and a bulletin flashed across screens: “This is an earthquake early warning,” an announcer said. “Beware of a strong earthquake … The Tokyo studio is shaking right now.” When the picture switched to the studio, the announcer continued to speak in a calm voice. This was common practice, meant to avoid causing panic.

That changed after the 3/11 disaster, which included an earthquake, a tsunami and the nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima. Now, news presenters may shout their warnings, said Takehiko Kusaba, director of of media strategy and cooperation in NHK’s news department. Shouting, he said, can save lives if it helps people evacuate quickly. The language can be uncharacteristically harsh for Japanese television, as tough as a simple, “Go away!”

The expected height of the tsunami used to be included in warnings, but that too has changed. Now presenters can use words like “huge.” A more specific forecast might encourage people to calculate how high above sea level they are, and to figure out whether they could survive the waves.

Ayumi Yanagisawa, an NHK correspondent in the earthquake zone, was reporting in a coastal area, talking to a fisherman, when the ground cracked under her feet. She continued reporting, got to higher ground and within half an hour, she said, “The whole town washed away in front of me.” The full effect of the trauma didn’t hit until about a year later, when the same cold, snowy weather as on 3/11 brought back memories of the day. “If I see a tsunami next time, I’m not sure I could continue to cover the story,” she said.

Takeshi Koizumi remembers when the lesson in shouting began. It was the afternoon of March 3 when he and ot

hers at the Japan Meteorological Agency felt the earth shake in Tokyo, more than 200 miles (300 km) away from the rupturing fault off the Japanese coast.

“It shook for a long time. It was very scary, very strong shaking,” Koizumi said. Unlike hurricanes and typh

oons, earthquakes can’t be predicted, but once the earth started to move, Koizumi and his colleagues warned of an impending tsunami with a maximum height of 10 meters. Thanks to Japan’s strong building codes, there were few casualties from the earthquake, but more than 20,000 were killed in the floods that followed. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced more than two years later.

The first tsunami warning for the area around Sendai came out three minutes after the earthquake was detected. That warning was expanded to cover the entire east coast 12 minutes and 34 seconds after the earthquake. The problem, Koizumi said, is that people stop listening after the first warning, and many didn’t hear the expanded warning’s forecast of a huge tsunami.

Koizumi said the Japanese people need to be kept aware of the risks of tsunamis, though for now, he said, “The memory of the tragedy will make them wary … but I don’t know if this will last 10 years.”

 

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Disasterology 2: hard questions for Breezy Point homeowners a year after Sandy http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/03/disasterology-2-hard-questions-for-breezy-point-homeowners-a-year-after-sandy/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/03/disasterology-2-hard-questions-for-breezy-point-homeowners-a-year-after-sandy/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 18:49:04 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20488

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

Breezy Point, Queens, New York:

Of all the New York oceanfront communities that Sandy devastated, Breezy Point on the Rockaway peninsula took some of the hardest blows. Breezy Point, a peninsula on the southern shores of New York City, suffered not just from rain and flooding from the storm surge, but also a fast-moving fire that destroyed 125 homes. The storm knocked down another 230. One year later, the neighborhood is struggling with the aftermath and hard questions about how sustainable it will be after the rebuilding.

On some streets, only the concrete foundations of houses remain. Others are completely gone, leaving nothing but weedy vacant lots in their place. This month, construction crews blanketed the neighborhood as builders put together new structures where the old one-story bungalows used to be.

Mike Schramm, editor of The Rockaway Point newspaper and a volunteer firefighter, recalled for a group of visiting reporters the hellish scene where firefighters were kept from the flames because the burning homes were surrounded by water four feet deep. “It was terrible to just watch it go,” Schramm told the visiting journalists studying New York’s recovery efforts.

The Rockaways have traditionally been home to modest one-story bungalows, and some survived Sandy. But those who rebuild on this vulnerable barrier island are building bigger, and building higher. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency requires new construction in this area to have living space 12 feet (almost 4 meters) above sea level, and the old homes sat on land about four feet above sea level, Schramm said. The new structures sit at the top of a flight of outdoor steps, with storage space and garages where the old front doors used to be.

One resident, Lucy Sanchez, remembers riding out the storm in her home one long block from the beach. Instead of trying to keep the flood out, she and her husband Jose opened the back door and let the water come in the front and out the back. It meant they had about one foot of water in their first floor, but not more. They rebuilt, a bit higher, with a new wooden deck and a flourishing herb garden.

Sandy also wiped out nearly five miles of the Rockaways’ six-mile-long boardwalk, leaving just the concrete supports in place.

Commerce is coming back, slowly. The local Key Food supermarket’s sign still says “Key Fo,” with the errant second “o” and “d” long gone. The former Harbor Light Pub is a vacant lot surrounded by a plywood fence.

There’s a big “Open for Business” sign on the Thai Rock restaurant, which sits on the Jamaica Bay side of the Rockaway peninsula, in the shadow of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. Closed after Sandy and reopened in a limited way in May, the restaurant serves customers on its outdoor deck while workers paint, plaster and install fixtures inside.

While the bar survived Sandy, the kitchen didn’t, according to co-owners Bob and Metta Kaskel. Chef Karog Rangsiratanakul makes do with a gas grill, a pair of giant coolers and a beach umbrella for shade on a summer-like autumn day.

Bob Kaskel said his business sustained $1.5 million in damage, for which he has been compensated $17,000 so far. He clearly loves the setting, and plans to bring Thai Rock back to full operation, but he acknowledges the challenges of doing business on a shifting sand: “Forget about my place, how can any place survive here?”

(Photos of Breezy Point and the Rockaways, and Karog Rangsiratanakul by Deborah Zabarenko/Reuters)

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Disasterology: Storm warnings that work — a lesson from Sandy http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/03/disasterology-storm-warnings-that-work-a-lesson-from-sandy/ http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2013/10/03/disasterology-storm-warnings-that-work-a-lesson-from-sandy/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 17:51:55 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/?p=20471

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

Even big storm warnings must get personal if they’re going to do any good. Few people know that better than Jason Tuell, director of the Eastern Region of the U.S. National Weather Service, which includes nearly all of the swath that last year’s storm Sandy cut when it came ashore last October.

People in the path of a storm don’t want technical data about storm surges and wind fields, Tuell told journalists participating in our fellowship on disaster management. “What people want to know is, right now, where I’m standing, when is the water going to hit my toes, how deep is it going to get and when are my feet going to be dry again?”

Tuell cited two examples of warnings that worked. One was a briefing by Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist from Mount Holly, New Jersey, a day before the storm came ashore: “If you are being asked to evacuate a coastal location by state and local officials, please do so,” Szatkowski pleaded. “Think about your loved ones, think about the emergency responder who will be unable to reach you when you make the panicked phone call to be rescued, think about the rescue/recovery teams who will rescue you if you are injured or recover your remains if you do not survive … If you think the storm is over-hyped and exaggerated, please err on the side of caution. You can call me up on Friday … and yell at me all you want. I will listen to your concerns and comments, but I will tell you in advance, I will be very happy that you are alive & well, no matter how much you yell at me.”

That briefing persuaded people to leave their homes as no amount of technical information did, Tuell said.

The personal approach, using vivid language, also worked during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when one warning said simply:

“Life as we know it will be unimaginable in the weeks after this storm.”

Making the danger feel real can take a more tangible form, Tuell said. Another example: emergency personnel in Texas who distributed toe tags to people in the evacuation zone. “They said, ‘Please put your name on it, because we want to have help identifying your body when you don’t survive.’ And that was somewhat effective.”

Top photo: A worker carries a screw gun as he rebuilds a boardwalk destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, in Bay Head, New Jersey March 21, 2013. (Reuters: Lucas Jackson)

Bottom photo: Jason Tuell. (Reuters: Deborah Zabarenko)

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What’s the climate friendly way to go on holiday? http://blogs.reuters.com/the-human-impact/2013/06/19/whats-the-climate-friendly-way-to-go-on-holiday/ http://blogs.reuters.com/the-human-impact/2013/06/19/whats-the-climate-friendly-way-to-go-on-holiday/#comments Wed, 19 Jun 2013 11:56:03 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/the-human-impact/?p=1636

 

Before you pack the bags for this year's holidays, it's worth considering how you're going to get there - and how much of a problem that might create for the world's climate. Turns out there's some unconventional wisdom from scientists - and if you can stand a little company, a road trip might be greener than you think....

What’s the climate friendly way to go on holiday this year?

Turns out the answer is much the same whether you live in London, Los Angeles or Lagos – and it doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your car at home.

New research by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway and the Austria-basedInternational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis tracked the climate impacts of various ways of taking trips of 500 to 1,000 kilometres (300 to 600 miles).

Turns out that car trips aren’t too bad – as long as you share the car with two or three other people and opt for a small vehicle rather than a big one.

“Traveling alone in a large car can be as bad for the climate as flying, but driving with three in a small car could have an equally low impact as a train ride,” said Jens Borken-Kleefeld, one of the study’s lead researchers from the Austrian institute.

Traveling for 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) alone in a big car, for instance, racks up a hefty 250 kilogrammes of carbon emissions. But downsize the car, add two or three other people and your emissions, per person, plummet to 50 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide, about the same as traveling by train or bus.

Air travel remains the big problem. Per mile travelled, it has the biggest impact on climate change, both because of its big carbon dioxide emissions and because it affects climate as well through things like ozone emissions and changes to clouds as a result of jet trails.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was based on travel in Europe but the general advice applies whether you’re in Lima or Lagos, Borken-Kleefeld said, even though the emissions standards for car, buses and trains are often more lax in those countries.

The advice for both business and holiday travel? Fill up the car with passengers if you’re driving – and choose as small a vehicle as possible. Take the coach or the train if you can. And avoid air travel as much as possible.

PHOTO CREDIT: The driver of a U.S.-made car used as a private collective taxi drops people at a beach on the outskirts of Havana ON May 19, 2013.  REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

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