The Tipping Point

Finally, in the aftermath of Sandy, life seems to be coming back to (some) level of normalcy, although – as with any natural disaster – a substantial amount of time is spent determining the extent of damage, as it is spent on cleaning up the mess.

The damage from Sandy is substantial and indicative of a number of things. As the Foreign Policy magazine pointed out (, we are indeed all Venetians now:

About 44 percent of the world’s population live beside the seaside, and that number is set to rise. …Between 1950 and 2009, global coastlines rose between 0.6 and 1 millimeter annually.

As the FP article continued:

Some of the world’s other great cities regularly threatened by coastal flooding, and long-term candidates for watery extinction, are:

  • Mumbai, India: 2.8 million inhabitants exposed to flooding
  • Shanghai, China: 2.4 million exposed
  • Miami, United States: 2 million exposed
  • Alexandria, Egypt: 1.3 million exposed
  • Tokyo, Japan: 1.1 million exposed
  • Bangkok, Thailand: 900,000 exposed
  • Dhaka, Bangladesh: 850,000 exposed
  • Abidjan, Ivory Coast: 520,000 exposed
  • Jakarta, Indonesia: 500,000 exposed
  • Lagos, Nigeria: 360,000 exposed

And none of this should come as any surprise, for (as it turns out) as a report on climate change conducted by Columbia University noted (

Last fall, as part of a massive report on climate change in New York, a research team led byKlaus Jacob of Columbia University drafted a case study that estimated the effects of a 100-year storm on the city’s transportation infrastructure. Considering MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota’s comments today that Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the subway was “worse than the worst case scenario,” it seems pretty safe to put Sandy in the 100-year category. In that case, assuming the rest of the report holds true, the subway system could be looking at a recovery time of several weeks, with residual effects lasting for months and years.

Personally, I’m still locked with that image of the PATH station flooding in my head, the water pouring through the locked and secured doorways – and yet the water continued to pour in like the opening scene to the movie “The Abyss”, when the submarine at the beginning of the film crashes into a trench wall and literally collapses from the water pouring in. The bleeding edge of when civilization faces its demise just moments before the hammer crashes down: the lights are still on, the kiosks still functioning and the station – for all practical purpose – looking just like any other late night subway station, save for the massive wall of water pouring in through the locked doors of the walkway leading down to the tunnels.

Yep; welcome to the apocalypse.

It’s at this time one has to ask is that it? So we just had our 100 year hurricane; party on until the next 100 year one – right? And sadly, the answer is no, although whether or not such a possibility could happen is open to (rather intense) discussion, but just for purposes of edification, I’ll share it here: hypercanes.

A hypercane is, well, here’s what the Wikipedia entry says:

A hypercane is a hypothetical class of extreme hurricane that could form if ocean temperatures reached around 50 °C (122 °F), which is 15 °C (27.0 °F) warmer than the warmest ocean temperature ever recorded. Such an increase could be caused by a large asteroid or comet impact, a large volcanic, supervolcanic eruption, or extensive global warming. There is some speculation that a series of hypercanes resulting from an impact by a large asteroid or comet contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs. The hypothesis was created by Kerry Emanuel of MIT who also coined the term.

How bad can these guys get?

Hypercanes would have wind speeds of over 800 km/h (500 mph), and would also have a central pressure of less than 70 kilopascals(21 inHg) (700 millibars), giving them an enormous lifespan. For comparison, the largest and most intense storm on record was 1979’sTyphoon Tip, with a wind speed of 305 kilometres per hour (190 mph) and central pressure of 87 kilopascals (26 inHg) (870 millibars). Such a storm would be eight times more powerful than the strongest storms yet recorded.

Hey now, nothing to worry about; the ocean water is not likely to get that warm anytime soon! Save for an asteroid hit (an asteroid hit in the ocean during the height of hurricane season within ‘hurricane alley’ could, conceivably create such a set of circumstances that a hypercane could develop, but so far, so good (play the dramatic music now as somewhere in space, a giant asteroid – perhaps Apophis  – suddenly moves out of orbit and heads directly for our planet BWAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!!,…).

The odds of a hypercane coming to you anytime soon is (knock on wood) rather small for the time being.

But what few can deny is the disturbing trend that’s becoming more evident: the average strength and significance of hurricanes (and typhoons) are gradually growing; this, coupled with the growing population of the earth and the incredibly complex – and yet delicate – web that we call civilization – you have to ask yourself something’s bound to give – and if so, what can we do to keep it from breaking?

Maybe the answer doesn’t lie so much with large computer networks, great big public works projects building up dams and barrier walls or mondo-excessive military projects geared to control the weather and prevent this kind of thing from happening – but rather, the simple kindnesses we receive from each other during the times of extreme stress and uncertainty. Generosity and courtesy during a time of need and in the face of tremendous challenge counts a whole lot: after all, being civil to each other is what makes the word civilization.

So maybe it’s not a bad idea to sell that shore home; after all, the insurance rates are only going to go up. And it’s also probably not a bad idea to set aside an emergency kit with things like a self-charging (crank) radio, bottles of water, first aid kit, extra batteries, etc. (naturally, depending on where you live). Move to Nebraska? Well, that seems a little extreme for the time being, but maybe it’s also time to consider looking at how we live and to live a little more simpler; give fewer reasons for Mother Earth to get angrier at her brood of insolent children.

It’s good to keep in mind and remember that you and I are all part of much greater systems and belong to a rather vibrant, worldwide civilization. Holding that awareness, in the long run, is what could ultimately determine whether or not Mankind continues to live – or wins up the way of the dinosaurs.

Now, about that alien invasion,…


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