Sunday, August 28, 2022

Failed states: Coming to a country near you

As I was reading a story about a Mexican drug cartel enforcing price controls on tortilla vendors—something that if done is normally done by governments—I was reminded of a scene from the film "Casablanca."

It's 1940 and Nazi officers are visiting Casablanca which at this stage of World War II is controlled by the German puppet regime in France called Vichy France. In their attempts to apprehend "an enemy of the Reich," the German officers meet with and question Richard Blain, the American owner of the eponymous Rick's Cafe, a nightclub and illicit casino.

As they discuss German aspirations in the war, one of the German officers asks Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) what he thinks of the Germans occupying his "beloved Paris." He answers, "It's not particularly my beloved Paris."

Another German officer then asks if Rick can imagine Germans occupying London. Rick again deflects saying, "When you get there, ask me." But when a German major asks Rick about invading New York City, Rick fires back: "There are certain sections of New York, major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Europe's disappearing rivers illustrate multiple converging catastrophes

When I was teenager, I took a week-long cruise with my family up the Rhine River. The voyage started in Amsterdam. With stops at various cities, the ship sailed all the way to Basel, Switzerland, hundreds of miles inland and about 800 feet higher in elevation than Amsterdam.

That trip would be more perilous today as the levels of Europe's major rivers decline in the face of an extreme drought that has resulted in almost no rain for the last two months across much of Europe. The Rhine, the Loire, the Danube and the Po have all been hard hit. The fate of these rivers is intimately linked to Europe's energy, food, and transportation security. And the fate of both the rivers and the daily needs of Europeans are intimately bound up with the trajectory of climate change and resource depletion, especially of water and energy.

For the Rhine, freight transportation has been curtailed as barges are unable to carry their maximum weight without scraping the bottom of the river in some places. The Rhine is a central artery for the transportation of food and fuel. Just as Europe needs more coal in the right places to generate electricity as Russian natural gas supplies have been curtailed, the cheapest way of moving coal has now become impaired. Trucks and trains are now being forced to carry more freight than normal, straining an already strained supply chain.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Rain, rain go away? Climate change and Death Valley's deluge

I visited Death Valley in August 2008 shortly after rare, plentiful rains (at least by Death Valley standards) had turned one of the Earth's hottest and driest places into a riot of yellow, blue, red and pink color as wildflowers bloomed across the valley. The day I visited was a clear one and not at all unusual for Death Valley at that time of year. When at midday we tourists climbed off the air-conditioned bus, it felt as if I had just stepped into a pre-heated oven. It was 112 degrees F.

I had no thoughts of climate change that day. This was just the way Death Valley was and had been for a very long time. However, reading about recent heavy rains in Death Valley twice in the last weekrains so heavy that they trapped automobiles and closed roads due to mud and debris—I took note that in a place where dryness and heat are normal, water suddenly became a dangerous hazard, one that resulted in the closing of all roads in and out of the national park that comprises Death Valley. (Something similar happened in nearby Las Vegas, Nevada the week before as water flooded streets and gushed through roofs flooding casinos and frightening visitors. This in a city that gets less than 5 inches of rain a year.)

Drought has been getting almost all the media coverage in the American Southwest. That's in part because the drought story persists over long periods and becomes a story whenever fear of water restrictions or actual restrictions surface or when it looks like rain might bring relief.