Hurricane Michael one of strongest hurricanes ever to hit US

Hurricane Michael clobbered and flooded neighborhoods in Florida that were in its path after the Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. According to meteorologists, no Category 4 or 5 hurricane has made landfall in the Florida Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851.

Shortly before slamming Florida’s Panhandle, Hurricane Michael had strengthened to a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph that was expected to flood the coast with deadly storm surge. The National Weather Service said the hurricane made landfall just 2 mph away from being classified as a Category 5 storm.

Emergency officials across the region, in fear of their own safety, temporarily stopped responding to 911 calls from residents who hadn’t evacuated. Some area newsrooms lost power, cutting off the flow of information from local journalists covering the storm.

“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

The storm’s central pressure had plunged the lowest recorded for any hurricane to hit the U.S. except for Hurricane Camille in 1969 and an unnamed hurricane in 1935, which were both storms with Category 5 winds.

Michael is forecast to lash coastal areas of Florida, Alabama and Georgia with as much as 12 inches of rain. Farther inland, damaging winds, torrential rain and life-threatening flash floods are forecast for parts of Georgia and Alabama.

One of the biggest concerns on the coast is storm surge. If the storm moves ashore during high tide, a 130-mile stretch of the coast could see storm surges as high as 14 feet.

Michael could cause as many as 1.8 million customers to lose power in Florida and southern Georgia.

[Los Angeles Times]

12 years to curb climate change

The latest United Nations report warns that we have just 12 years to curb climate change!

The UN report, which is based on more than 6,000 scientific references from 91 authors across 40 countries, outlines the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It warns that the world is rapidly running out of time before catastrophic effects on the planet take place. Drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s climate change body, the report calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Without action, by the year 2040 ours will be a world of increasing wildfires and droughts, inundated coastlines, the mass die-off of coral reefs, and massive food shortages. Put together, this compendium of global cataclysms will put the lives of “several hundred million” people at risk.

What’s next for survivors of Indonesian tsunami?

In the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that flattened entire villages and a tsunami hit this coastal region on the island of Sulawesi, the Indonesian government is shifting its attention to the mammoth task of cleaning up and rebuilding. The twin disasters have caused as estimated $700 million in damage and taken over 2,0000 so far. [Expected to climb to 7000!] Officials say that rebuilding and reconstructing the villages could take months, as engineers and scientists work to guarantee that the new cities will be better able to withstand the frequent quakes. Read about liquefaction

For over 70,000 now homeless survivors, and the many more who have lost loved ones, have a more urgent and daunting task of contemplating what to do next.

Some have crowded the crippled airport looking for coveted spots on flights out of the city. Others have joined caravans of motorbikes and cars streaming south to larger cities.

Most, however, remain scattered at makeshift camps pitched on any patch of open space. Those whose houses have not been destroyed say they are too afraid to return inside, fearful that the weakened structures could collapse, especially if there is a strong aftershock.

Many know, too, that they will be dependent on aids and handouts for weeks to come.

[Washington Post]

A house turned into a pool. A school turned into porridge.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is leading the rescue effort, visited Balaroa, a village which was wiped out by liquefaction. Residents who once lived here, he said, would be relocated to other areas because it would be impossible to rebuild their villages. The government, he added, will spend about two months focused on emergency responses, including building temporary shelters for those who have lost homes.

Some villages were wiped off the map when the ground turned into a rushing slurry of soil, a phenomenon known as liquefaction. Homes in such villages appear to have turned into a “swamp.”

One resident, Veronika is concerned about her two young sons and possible trauma from what they experienced. One barely speaks, the other cries and mumbles in his sleep.

“Just ask him, ‘where’s the house?’ He’ll say, “it’s turned into a pool,’” she said of her older son. “Or ask him, what grade are you in? He’ll say, ‘the school was turned into porridge.’”

[Washington Post]

The tsunami didn’t destroy Indonesian 1747 homes. Liquified land did.

Munif Umayar, a survivor of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the city of Palu, took up a laborious search for his house in the ruins of the Balaroa neighborhood. After a long hunt, and hard digging, he finally found it–at least 150 yards from where he guessed he used to live.

That was the power of the earthquake, turning the ground into jelly in a deadly churn that eradicated landmarks and sent buildings flowing sideways even as they were being sucked down into rubble.

Balaroa sustained almost no damage from the ensuing tsunami.

Instead, the neighborhood was laid waste when the earthquake caused a phenomenon known as liquefaction, undermining and destroying at least 1,747 homes in this part of town alone. Balaroa is now a vast wasteland of debris. Rooftops are all that remain of many houses.

This is not to dismiss that an untold number were swept away by the tsunami, especially by the third and final wave that was more than 20 feet high in some places. And many bodies are thought to still be buried under rubble in places like Balaroa.

[New York Times]

Hurricane Florence’s financial toll on US homes and businesses

Across the three U.S. states hardest hit by Hurricane Florence — North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — the cost to rebuild is staggering. Here’s a look at the devastation’s price tag:

$45 billion property damage – The top-end estimate of property damage reflects the effects of floodwaters and strong winds on thousands of single-family homes across an enormous disaster zone, according to Moody’s Analytics.

$28.5 billion in flood losses – That’s the maximum estimate of all flood losses across the zone, including from storm surge, rain and rising rivers, an analysis by the firm CoreLogic shows. North Carolina is thought to have suffered most, with $22 billion in losses.

$18.5 billion in estimated uninsured flood loss – As in Hurricane Katrina, most homes and businesses devastated by Florence’s floodwaters were not insured for damage from rising water.

[Source: CNN]

A step toward a smaller carbon footprint

Burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas releases carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 while the production of methanol and other valuable fuels and chemicals requires a supply of carbon.

There is currently no economically or energy efficient way to collect CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to produce carbon-based chemicals and fuels, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have just taken an important step in that direction.

Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, led the research group as principal investigator. “Our ultimate goal is to find a low-energy, low-cost metal-organic frameworks (MOF) capable of separating carbon dioxide from a mixture of gases and prepare it to react with hydrogen,” says Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson believes perfecting a single material that can both capture and convert CO2 would be economically viable and would reduce the net amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

“You could capture CO2 from flue gas at power plants or directly from the atmosphere,” he says. “This research narrows our search for a very rare material with the ability to turn a hypothetical technology into a real benefit to the world.”


The Palestinians see a few bright spots

Last week, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour hosted a reception for diplomats from 40 countries the Palestinians are encouraging to get involved in their negotiations with Israel, effectively downgrading Washington’s role as the premier broker.

He accompanied Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to a meeting with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who reiterated his support for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees. Mansour also helped collect $118 million in pledges to partially make up for U.S. funding cuts to UNRWA.

On Thursday, Mansour was elected to the presidency of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing nations. The position, which speaks for countries representing 80 percent of the world’s population, gives the Palestinians a notable voice at a time when their relations with the United States are virtually nonexistent.

“It was only a few years ago that we raised the flag of the state of Palestine before the United Nations. And it was only yesterday that the state of Palestine is chairing the largest negotiating voting bloc in the history of the United Nations. Shouldn’t I be hopeful?” said Mansour.

So far, support for Palestinian causes at the United Nations has done little to improve prospects for peace with Israel or living conditions for most Palestinians, particularly those in the Gaza Strip. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer than ever to the Trump administration, and the administration is a staunch defender of Israel at the United Nations.

In the past year, the United States has dropped out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing its “unrelenting bias” against Israel. It recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the contested city. It closed down the PLO office in Washington, citing its lack of progress in joining negotiations with Israel. And it cut financial aid to Palestinians, including $300 million to UNRWA that helped fund secular schools in Gaza.

Mansour cited a December vote in the General Assembly in which 128 nations condemned the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while only seven countries besides the United States and Israel opposed the measure. He also noted that a U.S. draft resolution in the Security Council in June condemning Hamas for the violence in Gaza was rejected 14 to 1, with only the United States favoring it.

[Washington Post]

UN Court orders US to lift Iran sanctions linked to humanitarian goods

The United Nations’ highest court, located in The Hague, on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from” the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

The court also told both the United States and Iran to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”


Impact Investing

Three years after Amit Bouri’s birth in Northern California, his parents divorced. His mother returned to school to study accounting. She and her son would be on public assistance for the next six years, until she finished her degree and started her career. Bouri’s social conscience, and his awareness of the value of a social safety net, date back to those days. Now, the former strategic consultant runs the Global Impact Investing Network, an organization of investors seeking to achieve social and environmental impact as well as competitive returns. Some excerpts from our conversation with Bouri, 40, about the landscape for impact investing:

Q: What exactly are impact investments?         A: They’re investments made in funds, companies, or projects with the intention of generating a positive social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. The investments can be in any range of sectors and across asset classes, around the world.

Q: What kinds of returns are we talking about?     A: Over 90% of impact investors are either meeting or exceeding their financial-return expectations. It’s not an act of charity or philanthropy, but rather a strategy that belongs in an individual or a firm’s investment portfolio.

Q: So many big firms have created impact funds lately. Why?     A: Large institutional investors, as well as individual clients, are seeking opportunities to put their capital to work to build a more sustainable world. …The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 was very successful in gathering private-sector interest in managing climate risk and opportunities to invest in a sustainable energy economy. The adoption of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals drove a lot of interest among CIOs and CEOs of major institutional investors and asset managers.

In a generation, impact investing will be widespread, and it will be business as usual to think about impact across your investment portfolio, from the largest institutions to everyday individuals who want to ensure they have the money to retire—but also to invest in the world they want to retire in.