Oldspeak: “I think of this is as sort of perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged. When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage.” –Jim Pullen
“Less than a year after Hurricane Sandy; a 700 year storm hundreds of miles across, destroyed large parts of the eastern seaboard of the U.S., historic droughts & massive wildfires in the American west have severely degraded the ecosystem of the American west. Last week a massive rainstorm, hundreds of miles across, parked over the state of Colorado and dumped enough rain to generate a 1000 year flood. Time will tell what kind of contaminants. Recent news of multiple devastating storms hitting Mexico on both coasts, it’s getting harder and harder to explain the stunning inaction in the face of imminent Global Ecological Collapse. Hundreds of years storms are happening every year. Multiple irreversible feedbacks are in early stages or on the near horizon. Things are getting worse really fast. And very few people in power are talking about it. ” –OSJ
By Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This skies have finally cleared over Colorado after over a week of rain that led to what experts are calling a 1000 year flood. At least 21 inches of rain fell on parts of Boulder in the last week, nearly double the area’s average annual rainfall. At least six people have died in the flooding. More than 1600 homes were destroyed in the region and another 20,000 damaged, along with dozens of bridges, roads, and major sections of highway. Many residents found themselves stranded by the high water. The overall flood zone encompassed 17 Colorado counties in an area nearly the size of Delaware. After a week of devastating floods, Colorado residents now face the threat of contaminated waters. The northeastern part of the state is home to thousands of gas and oil wells that were inundated with rushing water. The Denver business Journal reported at least two storage tanks were found floating in floodwaters, and it says the industry has shut down more than 1000 oil and gas well since the flooding began.
AMY GOODMAN: Colorado is also home to some of the world’s top, researchers, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth System Research Laboratory, which were forced to close due to flooding. We go now to Boulder, Colorado, where we’re joined by Jim Pullen a reporter and producer with the community radio station KGNU-FM. He is a geoscientist and physicist and also with us here in New York, Bill McKibben, Co-founder and Director of 350.org, just published his new book this week, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Jim, let’s start with you in Boulder. Can you lay out the extent of the devastation in Colorado?
JIM PULLEN: The flood of 1976 and — the big Thompson flood in 1976 and also we’ve had very severe fires over the past several years. But the extent of the storm is unprecedented. And it wasn’t — couldn’t be planned for in Boulder. And in adjacent areas. Now, I’ve lost you folks.
AMY GOODMAN: We can hear you fine, Jim. Talk about the response of the state right now in Colorado.
JIM PULLEN: There’s been a large federal and state response here in Colorado. FEMA is here, of course. Incident management teams are here — two incident management teams are here from the federal government. And Colorado, I think it is particularly well prepared to deal with the emergencies. Here in Boulder County, we have an effective intergovernmental organization that protects both the city and the county. They are well trained because of all of the fires, unfortunately, all of the fires that we have had. And so, there has been a — I would say there’s been a very effective response, and certainly has saved life.
One of the most critical aspects of this entire ordeal has been the air support. Because of our isolated mountain towns and people who are living singly in the mountains in isolated houses, the air support was critical to get people out in a timely fashion. We had some 80 children who were rescued who are participating in an outdoor camp. They were rescued by air. The entire town of Jamestown, about 175 folks and about as many animals, rescued by air. The town of Lyons completely evacuated, except for a few folks who voluntarily chose to stay. They were rescued primarily by ground vehicles. So, the National Guard response here was critical.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jim Pullen, can you tell us if Colorado is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events like the one we just witnessed?
JIM PULLEN: We have been having some extreme droughts for quite a few years now. I think some parts of the state are still in drought. We are accustomed to intense thunderstorms, of course, that might rain on a single valley, that might rain on a single mountain, and cause flash flooding that can be devastating and deadly. So, we have been experiencing some extreme weather.
AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of climate change, can you talk about, for example, also the pine beetle, how it has devastated millions of acres, making them weaker? Then you have the forest fires, then less ability to maintain water in the soil with the trees not there and then you have flooding like this that intensifies the devastation.
JIM PULLEN: I think of this is as sort of a perfect storm in the sense that the underlying ecosystem has been damaged by fires. Now, fires are localized compared to this storm, on the order of 20 or 30 or 40 square miles may be affected by a fire. This storm has spread over hundreds of square miles. But, locally, and in the watersheds where the terrain is steep, the ecosystem has been severely damaged.
When you drive in the mountains of our state, there are vast patches of dead trees. Scientists still debate whether or not these dead trees might lead to more or fewer fires, but the common wisdom is that they would certainly lead to more fires because they are dead trees. So I feel like those have played a part. Now this storm was so intense and so massive and persisted for so long that we would have still seen incredible destruction even without the fire damage, even without the pine beetle damage.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And when do you expect to learn, Jim Pullen, of the extent of the environmental contamination as a result of these floods?
JIM PULLEN: That, I think that is going to take some weeks, very unfortunately. There are two things going on — well there are several things that are going on that are of incredible concern. Of course, in any flood event, there are going to be a lot of contaminants in the water. There are going to be dead animals, there are going to be — there are oil stations — gasoline stations that have been inundated. People’s homes have been inundated, and people keep a lot of chemicals in their homes that are under relatively low protection.
We have some very serious issues here in the state of Colorado in addition to those normal flooding issues. We have the Rocky Flats plant, or what was once upon a time the Rocky Flats Plant where plutonium is underground. And there has been extensive flooding in that area. And we also have tens of thousands of active oil and gas wells in the state, 20,000 alone in Weld County. The industry — a lobbying group is reporting 1900 of those oil and gas wells have been shut down, and including the two largest suppliers, Noble Energy and Anadarko are reporting about five to ten percent of their wells have been shut down.
For example, Noble Energy owns 7600 wells in Weld County itself, which is right to the northeast of us. So, there are a lot of contaminants potentially floating around. And in the case of Rocky Flats, I spoke with a Christine Everson last night and she said it is going to take weeks for laboratory results of plutonium and other contaminants to become available to the public.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the governor of Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper. When we were covering the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Summit, he was one of the few governors who attended that summit in Copenhagen. He was there to participate in a discussion on the role of public transportation in reducing carbon emissions. That year he had won a 2009 mayors climate protection award for a large city. This is what he had to say about global warming.
JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I think what the real key is, we know that climate change is occurring. Everyone knows that. We know it’s dramatic, we know that man kind is the likely — the vast majority of is a result of our actions. So, we need to address it and move quickly. I think when you start trying to break down which part of the climate disruption is the consequence in which pollution images or who is responsible, that is when we get into trouble. I was certainly — dramatically, that we need billion of dollars.
AMY GOODMAN: That was, well, now Governor Hickenlooper, at the time he was the Mayor of Denver. So, he is rare in continually bringing up the issue of climate change. But, Jim Pullen, if you can talk about how that relates to fracking and the issues that you are raising right now?
JIM PULLEN: Well, you know, famously, the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, engaged in sort of a stunt with the oil industry where he drank some fracking fluid to sort of demonstrate that it is safe. Many feel that the governor is not acting in the best interest of the people of this state to protect their health and safety. The state itself — the state attorney general’s office has joined in lawsuits against the city of Longmont, our neighbor to the north, which has suffered tremendous devastation in this flood, he has enjoined in a lawsuit against the city of Longmont further voter approved ban against oil and gas fracking in the city itself. And so many people are very, very disappointed in the Governor and his approach to the oil and gas industry.
AMY GOODMAN: But how has it played out now with these massive floods?
JIM PULLEN: Well, I was at a press conference with the Governor. He came with our two state senators and three of our representatives just a couple of days ago. He flew into the municipal airport here, and he spoke about rebuilding Colorado better than ever. He spoke about Coloradans being strong. It was sort of a political speech. He actually had been on a rescue mission that morning, as they were flying to the airport, they saw people down below waving flags and they stopped to rescue those folks. That’s just how — there were a lot of people stranded here.
So, he certainly — I think Colorado in general is drawing together. And I think that is a strength of our state. We had people in Jamestown who have lost their town, essentially, have completely lost it. I know there’s a tremendous concern on their part that they get their town back as soon as possible. And I believe and hope that Coloradans, including our politicians, are going to pull together to make that happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, we wanted to bring Bill McKibben in on this subject of what is happening in Colorado. Bill, you’re from Vermont. I know Vermont officials have gone to Colorado to consult with the state government because you all in Vermont had the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Can you talk about these hurricanes and climate change?
BILL MCKIBBEN: What is going on in Colorado is so ironic. Boulder, where Jim is talking from, is the headquarters of climate research, really for the whole world, The National Center for Atmospheric Research. A year ago it was evacuated because of fast-moving forest fires in the middle of this intense drought. This year it is evacuated because of the worst flooding. You can’t believe how off the charts that rainfall is. We’re in mid-September, Boulder has already passed its all-time annual rainfall record with months and months to go in the year.
The volume of water is only possible because we’ve changed the atmosphere. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. There are these tails of moisture coming up from the South in places where they have never been before. It is eerie he to watch, and the recovery. You know, everybody’s got a shot of adrenaline for a few days while people are being rescued and things. If the Vermont example is any indication, then you have to dig in for long, hard work for years to come in order to get back just to where you were before. We just can’t keep doing this. We have actually got to get a handle on global warming before this gets any further out of hand.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet with all of the limitless coverage — as it should be — of what is going on in Colorado, I haven’t seen it all, so I can’t say has not been a mentioned, but in all of the networks, I have not seen one mention of climate change.
BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, that’s, you know, because at the moment, there is this immediate, tense problem right in front of you. But, the underlying one is the one we tend to ignore. I don’t think we are ignoring it completely anymore. We are on the mainstream media, but that just goes to show. What is happening is the volume of these events has gotten so great — I mean, think about what is happening one mountain range further west. California is in the middle of its driest year ever, and we’ve just had the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra, burning straight across the land were John Muir invented the modern environmental movement in the high Sierra. I mean, it is just one irony piled on top of another.
And the polling data indicates that Americans are getting it, that two thirds, three quarters of Americans are now concerned about global warming. Their leaders aren’t concerned because, well, to give governor Hickenlooper’s example, they’re awfully deep in bed with the oil and gas industry. Now all Coloradans, or many of them, are going to get to drink fracking fluids, too, you know. It is not quite as funny as when he was doing it as a stunt.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. Jim, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Jim Pullen, reporter at KGNU-FM, which broadcasts on AM and FM, community radio in Boulder and greater Denver. Bill McKibben will stay with us as we talk to him about the latest climate change struggles around the Keystone XL and his new book that is out this week, called “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.” Stay with us.