Climate refugees in the Lower 48

Click to enlargeGuardian/Charlie Varley
“Used to be all you could see was trees and woods”

Wenceslaus Billiot, an 88-year-old native of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, remembers growing up on a much different island than the two-mile sliver of his ancestral home that remains today.

“When I was a kid I used to do trapping in the back,” he said, gesturing towards the back of the small, one-story house that stands elevated on stilts to escape the floods that roll in from the bayou after nearly every storm. “You could walk for a long time. Now, nothing but water.”

The back balcony overlooks a vast expanse of water leading to Terrebonne Bay and, further, the Gulf of Mexico – that now lies in his backyard.

Billiot and his equally sprightly 91-year-old wife, Denecia Naquin, are among the last remaining residents of this island, which has lost 98% of its land and most of its population to coastal erosion and rising sea levels since 1955. The population, which peaked at around 400, is now down to around 85…

As in other areas of southern Louisiana, the loss of once-vast tracts of marshland and trees has left the island exposed to hurricanes and frequent flooding has stripped the land, made farming impossible and forced residents into an annual ritual of rebuilding.

The couple, like nearly everyone on the island, belong to the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, and can trace their roots to the early 1800s when Native Americans fleeing forced relocation under the Indian Removal Act first settled the island. The tribe was quickly intertwined with the local French Cajun influence, which can still be heard in the lilting accent of Billiot and Naquin’s generation…

Now, with new federal funding, the Isle de Jean Charles tribe will be part of the first program in the lower 48 states to address an entire community’s resettlement needs due to climate change and increased natural disasters.

In January the tribe was awarded $52m for resettlement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of its $1bn Natural Disaster Resiliency Competition. The money will fund a new sustainably designed development to provide housing to up to 400 tribe members on a new plot inland. Planning is in the early stages, but officials hope to choose a site likely somewhere north of Houma, the closest city, later this year.

The project will be watched closely as a testing ground for the resettlement of whole communities – culturally sensitive ones, in particular – as the effects of climate change begin to be felt more acutely along the coasts of North America and indigenous communities in Alaska face similar prospects of disappearing land…

Louisiana has one of the fastest rates of land loss in the country, due to the twin problems of land loss and sea level rise. Since the 1930s, the state has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land, equivalent to roughly one football field every 45 minutes.

“The land is sinking for a variety of reasons,” said Alex Kolker, a professor of earth sciences at Tulane University. Natural land loss has been compounded by the thousands of canals dredged by oil and gas companies drilling in the area and levees built along the Mississippi River have stopped the natural process of sediment that would otherwise replenish coastal land. “Climate change is becoming a big issue,” he said, and the increasing rate of sea level rise could soon overtake the rate of land loss, which has historically been greater.

In the future, a lot of the rest of the world could look like what Louisiana looks like now, Kolker added.

RTFA. Please. Lots of detail about the lives of ordinary people disrupted by climate change. The wealthy, even the upper middle class already afford the mobility characteristic of much of American population. The keyword being “afford”. They can pick up and move.

For the rest, in a political culture infected with science-deniers for the usual reasons, disaster like this is something that rolls inevitably towards destruction of your community and its culture.

Study confirms fresh fruit associated with lower risk of heart attack and stroke

People who eat fresh fruit on most days are at lower risk of heart attack and stroke than people who rarely eat fresh fruit, according to new research published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings come from a 7-year study of half a million adults in China, where fresh fruit consumption is much lower than in countries like the UK or US.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences conducted a large, nationwide study of 500,000 adults from 10 urban and rural localities across China, tracking health for 7 years through death records and electronic hospital records of illness. The present study was among people who did not have a history of cardiovascular diseases or anti-hypertensive treatments when first joined the study.

Fruit is a rich source of potassium, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and various other potentially active compounds, and contains little sodium or fat and relatively few calories. The study found that fruit consumption (which was mainly apples or oranges) was strongly associated with many other factors, such as education, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and not smoking. But, after allowing for what was known of these and other factors, a 100g portion of fruit per day was associated with about one-third less cardiovascular mortality and the association was similar across different study areas and in both men and women.

The senior author, Professor Zhengming Chen, University of Oxford, UK, said “It’s difficult to know whether the lower risk in people who eat more fresh fruit is because of a real protective effect. If it is, then widespread consumption of fresh fruit in China could prevent about half a million cardiovascular deaths a year, including 200,000 before age 70, and even larger numbers of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks.”

The parallel to Pascal’s wager on theism is sharply relevant. I’d rather bet on healthful eating, better nutrition, resulting in a longer life than worry about superstition and an afterlife. There’s more than enough science supporting the former. Zilch, zero, nuttin’ honey about the latter.

The Air Force won’t even tell John McCain how much its next bomber will really cost

Click to enlarge

The recently announced Long Range Strike Bomber is moving forward with one hidden feature that doesn’t make a lot of sense — its actual price tag.

Despite requests by Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force has decided against releasing the final contract value to taxpayers and it stands by its decision only to release estimates.

Unfortunately, with a cost plus contract, the widely varied estimates that have already been publicly released, and the Department of Defense’s long history of drastically underestimating final program costs, McCain is right to ask the Air Force to release a final cost, not only to come clean with taxpayers but also for oversight purposes…

Air Force Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., said blah, blah, blah, blah…but we’re also trying to protect the critical capabilities of this asset…

The B-21 program is estimated to cost about $42 billion, but estimates have ranged from $33 billion to $58 billion, with the latter being deemed to be a “regrettable mistake.”

McCain is extremely displeased that the Air Force isn’t releasing the final value of the contract. He’s not buying the service’s claim that people could connect the dots to learn something forbidden about the program. I can’t image any enemy of the state learning about the bombers’ qualifications and technologies from the public release of the actual contract price.

Having worked on military cost-plus contracts I have trouble keeping a straight face sitting here in front of my computer.

The oldest trick in the book in cost-plus-contracts is inflating so-called necessary/newly discovered costs. If your new military Bejeebus machine costs $100 million to produce and BITD you could put 6% profit on top – you made $6 million on each one you delivered to Uncle Sugar. So, the first thing you did was spend another million hiring the extra help you needed to follow the best quality control. No one questions better quality. No Congress-critter will want those extra jobs removed. The ancillary costs of the new quality control and expanded plant space needed for the new hires might run another $9 million.

Now the cost basis is $110 million and profit goes up 10% to $6.6 million for each Bejeebus machine…and so on. Stealing an additional 5 or 10% is only a start. There is incentive for cost overruns, folks. Increased profits being number one.