The ride is finished. The work of curing Alzheimer’s and other dementias continues, as does the perennial and global challenge of containing climate change. There were several climate breadcrumbs that went unwritten—so many issues everywhere, with so much intersection with other issues of social and economic justice.
The most glaring omission as we rode across the southeastern US was the evident impact of hurricanes, tropical storms and intense rainfall. And in that same region, the multiple injustices that remain to be addressed for communities of color.
To close out this series, here is a highly pertinent conclusion about regional climate action from Savannah Now, published in the city where we ended our ride.
“A challenge with regional climate action is that not all people experience climate impacts the same, and not all interventions provide uniform benefits. Rising heat waves exact a much heavier toll on the homeless than on people who never worry about how they’ll pay their electric bill. Sea-level rise presents a much more immediate threat to those living in low-lying coastal areas than to those on higher ground. And historically marginalized communities of color face many more barriers to relocating than those who have benefited from accumulating generational wealth and systemic privilege.”
More broadly, coal provided the majority of Georgia’s power generation through the 2000s but declined as natural gas power increased. In recent years, coal’s share has dropped sharply as several aging coal-fired plants have been retired.
Utilities in the state are in the process of building two new nuclear reactors, the only new nuclear projects under construction in the country. That is a whole other debate.
About a tenth of Georgia’s power generation came from renewable sources last year, mostly biomass and hydroelectricity. But solar power is growing quickly in the state. Georgia doesn’t impose any statewide renewable energy requirements, but the city of Atlanta is developing a plan to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035.
Environmental racism is a big deal. Black communities frequently face environmental issues much more urgent for their own safety than climate change.
We passed quite close to Uniontown AL. Here are some excertps from an article by the Equal Justice Initiative.
“At the end of 2008, after coal ash spilled in a mostly white neighborhood in Tennessee, the Arrowhead Landfill located next to a historic Black cemetery in Uniontown [Alabama] began taking in roughly a hundred railcars a day of coal ash, laden with arsenic, lead, and radioactive elements, for the next two years.
The landfill sits only 100 feet from the front porches of some residents, who have experienced frequent foul odors, upset appetite, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. …………..
Eighty-four percent of Uniontown’s 2300 residents are Black………….
In 2012, residents filed a civil rights complaint against Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) with the Environmental Protection Agency…………
In March 2018, after six years, EPA denied the complaint, citing “insufficient evidence.”
I wonder if this will be appealed and if it would be any different under the Biden administration.
Climate change can be seen as an elitist issue, for those with the luxury of living in unpolluted areas. What would you focus on: rising sea levels in the next few decades, or the pile of toxic waste dumped 100 feet from your front door?
Into Mississippi state and across the Mississippi River. The river was docile the day we crossed. But it is not always so. The river floods. That is nature. But centuries of trying to contain nature, trying to control the flooding, to protect farmlands and homesteads, have resulted in immense levee systems. Yet still the river floods, massively and increasingly and frequently.
This is another result of interaction between climate change and other human-created environmental problems. Now at least some of those most affected, farmers with land in the flood plain, are supportive of a new strategy, along the way showing how solutions can be regional—national.
Upstream in Missouri and Tennessee, farmers are willing to give up their land so that the flood plain can be restored, by re-building breached levees way back from the current lines. More room for the flood waters to expand, less flooding down stream. But it needs money to compensate the farmers. Where will that come from?
If I’d been able to keep up a daily trail of breadcrumbs while riding, they would probably have had a common theme: water.
It it is notable that the issues that face Arkansas, despite its apparent greenness, are similar to those that affect the desert and semi-arid areas of the Western states: cycles of drought and flood; demand from agriculture for a constant supply of water; resulting heavy use of irrigation; inadequate surface water; and use of underground resources.
A decade ago, the authorities were already noting that the alluvial aquifer had fallen by some 40 feet. Recognizing these issues, as long ago as 2008, the state prepared an Arkansas Climate Action Plan: I wonder how much of it has been implemented as politics have swung against a sensible approach to climate policies.
Oklahoma has seen a dramatic increase over the past decade in oil and gas production by fracking (injecting fluids and chemicals into the earth’s crust under pressure). It has also seen an extraordinary increase in earthquakes, to a level far exceeding California’s. It disrupts people’s lives.
As a first generation American, I confess that I had been in the US for decades, before I began to reflect on the enormous injustices done to the original occupants of this continent. Now we are riding through areas, nations, in Oklahoma, that bear the names of indigenous peoples—Chocktaw, Seminole, Chickasaw—I still know little of their detailed history. But I do know that they had a profound respect for their surroundings—the environment, the climate, and respect for elders (think Alzheimer’s, dementia). We could learn a great deal from them.
Texas suffers from most forms of climate change: coastal erosion, flooding (e,g, Houston in 2019), drought for many years in different parts of the state, the famous snow event in 2021.
Most of the agriculture in the Panhandle is irrigated, using groundwater from the High Plains Aquifer System. The countryside looks dry, interspersed with large fields that are clearly irrigated. The water comes from below ground.
The EPA reports that since the 1950s, the water stored in some parts of the state has been depleted by more than 50 percent. This snippet of information came from the project to preserve the information on the EPA’s website that the Trump administration shut down as one of its first acts in 2017.
A brief encounter with TX. One of the chief climate deniers, no doubt influenced by Big Oil. But TX is actually on the forefront of wind and solar.
Bad news for cyclists sometimes, but the wind blows strongly in Texas, especially the Panhandle where we are. Today it was our friend. And it definitely is Texas’ friend. The state is by far the biggest producer of wind power. Enough in 2019 to power 6 million homes.
How ironic that Texas also seems to be home to the largest number of climate change deniers per square mile.
Ruidoso is mountainous and forested… and the location of major forest fires. Solutions are local in part. But New Mexico makes the connection with climate change and has realized that regional and global initiatives are essential.
In 2019, New Mexico issued a state climate action plan. It endorsed the Paris Accord. And it set state targets for the most egregious emissions of greenhouse gasses from its own oil and gas industry.
The Elephant Butte Reservoir was established by a 1938 pact among three states (Colorado, New Mexico and Texas) to allocate water from the Rio Grande among those states. But it has progressively dwindled over the decades, and is now down to just 5.6 percent of its capacity.
“Recent rains have brought some relief to Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still preparing for low levels that have not been seen since the 1950s. Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the BOR, said three decades of drought conditions where dry years have not been offset by multiple years of good precipitation have had a negative impact on reservoirs throughout the state—and Elephant Butte is no exception.“