Severe thunderstorms in the eastern United states have caused major power outages and affected a number of popular websites hosted by online seller Amazon. The storms knocked out power for more than 1.5 million homes and businesses across Maryland and Virginia on Friday night. Technology site VentureBeat reported that websites using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service in North Virginia like Netflix, Instagram, Pinterest, Heroku were all down at one point late Friday evening and
early Saturday morning.
That's bad news. Let there be no doubt. But the emphasis of this widespread news item itself is interesting. Today if one goes to Google and types in the search field the words STORMS KNOCK OUT POWER IN EASTERN US, you get all sorts of different takes on the first page of results. Fox, naturally, goes for the screaming sirens and electric lights by hollering "Three states declare emergency after storms leave 10 dead." The Los Angeles bureau of the same propaganda machine reports "Storms knock out power to 2m across eastern US."
ABC's headline resembles the one of Fox's L.A. bureau and that turns out to be fairly typical as of this writing.
What's the point? The point is that the global version of Fox quite properly assessed that the audience they have spent years creating and programming is interested in the number of dead people caused by acts of nature.
Here is the first sentence of the CBS story: "Violent storms swept across the eastern U.S. late Friday and early Saturday, killing at least six people and knocking out power to more than 2 million customers across the eastern United States, on a weekend when temperatures across the area are expected to reach triple-digits."
Again, this is fairly standard fair for most of the reporting sites we reviewed.
And again, you ask, what is the problem?
Maybe there is no problem. But notice how none of these lead sentences tell you the specific areas hit, unless by specific you mean the Eastern United States. What we do know is that either six or ten people died, two million people lost power, and the storms were widespread. Granted, if we read on, we learn that the three states most heavily impacted were Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. We also learn that the respective governors of Ohio and West Virginia declared emergencies.
What we must drill deeply to get is the story of the record temperatures that precipitated these storms. In Washington DC on Friday, a record 104 degrees exploded the thermostats.
Just one of those things? Or is there a deeper, perhaps even more critical meaning here? Let's look at a report from July 22 of last year issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: "Unhealthy levels of heat and humidity are encompassing much of the eastern half of the U.S. as a persistent heat wave continues its grip on the central U.S. while expanding into the East. According to NOAA's National Weather Service, approximately 132 million people in the United States are under a heat alert (Excessive Heat Warning or Watch or Heat Advisory) as of Friday morning."
Here is how the geniuses at CNN reported the current summer 2012 heat story. "Tens of millions in the central and eastern United States are bearing the full brunt of summer, in all its sweltering and stormy fury. Temperatures Friday soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit from Topeka, Kansas, to Washington, and the same scorching conditions are expected to continue through the weekend and beyond. Even as evening set in Friday, the headaches weren't over. A powerful line of severe thunderstorms moved across the Midwest -- fueled by record-high temperatures across the region, according to the National Weather Service -- bringing with them lightning and wind gusts as strong as 80 mph."
According to the NOAA, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.
If the fear-mongers at Fox and CNN really wanted to shake up their viewers, they could take a look at the June issue of last year's Scientific American, wherein we see the following report: "Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is consistent with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere. Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming. The reason: The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the noise—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.
With concentrated masses of people now living in the twenty largest metropolitan centers in the United States, parking lots, roadways, buildings and other things made of cheap steel and concrete absorb reradiate heat, often increasing surface temperatures as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit. A ten degree surface temperature increase in summer will lead to exactly the kinds of storms that bombarded the eastern half of the country last night.
Before some idiot calls me up to make the challenge that global warming isn't necessarily man-made, allow me to respond, "Shut up." The main culprits in global warming are greenhouse gases, in particular Carbon Dioxide. 40% of U.S. CO2 emissions come from electricity production, and burning coal accounts for 93% of emissions from the electric utility industry. Our contemporary car culture and thirst for globally sourced goods is responsible for about 33% of emissions in the U.S. The use of forests for fuel is one cause of deforestation, but in the first world, our appetite for wood and paper products, our consumption of livestock grazed on former forest land, and the use of tropical forest lands for commodities like palm oil plantations contributes to the mass deforestation of the planet. Forests remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this deforestation releases large amounts of carbon, as well as reducing the amount of carbon capture on the planet. n the last half of the 20th century, the use of chemical fertilizers (as opposed to the historical use of animal manure) has risen dramatically. The high rate of application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers has effects on the heat storage of cropland (nitrogen oxides have 300 times more heat-trapping capacity per unit of volume than carbon dioxide) and the run-off of excess fertilizers creates ‘dead-zones’ in our oceans. In addition to these effects, high nitrate levels in groundwater due to over-fertilization are cause for concern for human health.
So, yeah, we caused it. Grow up.
But even if all these things did not contribute mightily to the extreme heat that fuels the severe storms--even if this was not the case--wouldn't it still be a better planet if we saved our forests, stopped polluting of air and water, stopped building houses that admittedly most people can no longer afford and no one who can afford them wants to live in a crowded city anyway?
So enjoy your summer, get a good tan, curse the rain, and all that rot. Me, I'm thinking of moving to the Arctic circle. The way things are going, I should come back with a helluva nice set of tan lines.