Advertisements

Denial’s Grim Fruits — Actual Puerto Rico Death Toll Probably Near 500; May Climb to Over a Thousand

Massive disruption which results in cascading failure of basic services such as food, water transport and power. That’s the primary catastrophic risk coming from human forced climate change. And we are now in the process of multiplying the potential for such extreme events by continuing to burn fossil fuels and to dump carbon into the atmosphere.

Maria’s recent landfall in Puerto Rico and resulting unprecedented disruption can be seen as a microcosm of the kind of damage that might ultimately be inflicted upon a whole region or nation. And the various failed responses by the Trump Administration and related denial-based attitudes within the Republican Party do little to inspire confidence in the ability of at least one major party to effectively respond to a rising danger it pretends does not exist at all.

Excess Death Toll

Weather forecasters are often quick to point out that the most dangerous direct impact from a major hurricane comes from either storm surge or flooding rains. However, for days, weeks, and, in the case of Puerto Rico, months following a disaster, the major cause of loss of life is disruption of food, water, power supplies and a related increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Due to a sluggish and lackadaisical response to the worst storm to strike Puerto Rico in 85 years by the Trump Administration, it appears now that hundreds of lives have been lost. According to reports from the New York Times, 472 more people died during September of 2017 following Maria’s strike than during September of 2016. Such an abnormally high monthly death rate is an outlier in statistics that epidemiologists call an excess death toll. And the primary likely cause was damage to infrastructure, power, food and water by Maria followed by an inadequate emergency response effort.

Many of the 3.4 million people still living in Puerto Rico have been forced to go without reliable access to water, food, and power for 54 days now. Trump Administration failure to mobilize a major effort to respond to the largest power outage and infrastructure disruption in U.S. history has been coupled with the allowance of vulture capitalist firms like Whitefish to prey on Puerto Rico by charging excess fees for power restoration.

Digging into these glaring failures a bit more, it took more than two weeks for Trump to mobilize 5,000 troops to send to Puerto Rico to assist in aid efforts. And Maria was a disaster that required a force ten times this large to be pre-positioned and then sent in immediately following the disaster, according to emergency planners. Vulture firm Whitefish has been reportedly charging 4 to five times what it is paying power installers on an hourly basis. An obvious level of price gouging that has caused the firm’s contract to be canceled. But not before this company of two permanent employees bungled a power line repair that again resulted in much of Puerto Rico falling into darkness.

Incompetent Governance

Whitefish’s most recent failure resulted in total power availability for Puerto Rico again dropping below 20 percent last week. With PREPA stepping in after Whitefish dropped the ball, the line has been repaired. Yet 52 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power.

(Climate Change amplifies hurricane impacts. What this means is that as the world warms, hurricanes produce more damage. If this is the case, then governments are going to have to step up and act responsibly to prevent loss of life. Republicans and the Trump Administration have done exactly the opposite in Puerto Rico. Images source: Climate Signals.)

Lack of power itself can be deadly. Such a loss results in a critical shortage for medical equipment necessary to save people’s lives even as it removes key infrastructures like street lights and communications. Incubators, defibrillators, respirators, pulse monitors and a hundred other life saving devices all go dark when the lights go out. Furthermore, lack of clean water and ready access to food increases instances of infection. And damage to roads prevents access by emergency personnel to people falling into harm’s way.

Vulture Capitalism + Climate Change Denial = Failed Responses and Profiteering in the Face of Rising Disasters

This is why Maria’s blow has now become so hurtful. Why the Trump Administration’s neglect is so glaring. And a thousand or more people may have perished as a result. The role of the U.S. Government as the first responder to major disasters was sidelined. The sacred trust to Citizens of the United States violated. But, outrageously, such a lackadaisical, laissez faire attitude is not simply limited to Trump. It is an unfortunately endemic feature of today’s republican party. A party that is now doing its best to cut taxes for the rich while cutting medical coverage for 13 million Americans.

A party that has also done far, far more than its fair share to deny and prevent responses to the human caused climate change from fossil fuel emissions that made Maria far, far worse. For the storm emerged from warmer than normal oceans that helped to pump up its peak intensity. It was one of many storms made worse by climate change — for studies now indicate that at least 63 percent of all extreme weather events have now been pumped up in a warming atmosphere or over a warming ocean. And with just 1.2 C worth of warming achieved, the worse is still to come.

With the republican party both causing these disasters to worsen and ensuring that their damaging impacts are amplified by delayed responses, irresponsible choices for firms contracted to bring infrastructure back up and running, and overall malfeasance, it’s pretty clear that only a numb-skull would vote for such mouth-breathers. But here we are.

Advertisements

Whitefish Puerto Rico Contract Cancelled, Now How About Letting Renewable Industry Leaders Step in?

At this blog I often cover how climate change is worsening the global weather situation. How fossil fuel burning is the primary cause of climate change. How renewable energy adoption is the primary means for removing global carbon emissions. And how bad, on our present track, climate change outcomes could become.

What I often do not talk about in main posts (though we see quite a bit in the comments section) is how underlying factors such as political corruption and the ideologies supportiing that corruption can harm effective responses to climate change.

Witness Puerto Rico. A U.S. territory that has suffered a very severe blow from one of the worst hurricanes ever to make landfall in the Caribbean. A storm fed by the warming waters of human caused climate change which were, in turn, fed by a rampant and harmful climate change denial afflicting a number of our powerful political leaders.

There, electricity has now been largely knocked out for more than a month. U.S. Citizens have been forced to go without water, power, and basic life-saving medical services. The Trump Administration’s response to the disaster could best be described as incompetent. More incompetent than the Bush Administration during Katrina. And that’s being generous.

Though people died during the storm, a far more substantial death toll is emerging due to the Administration’s lagging response. With 900 people now estimated to have perished as a result of life-threatening conditions due to a loss of infrastructure and due to Trump’s larger failure to rapidly deploy a necessary massive relief and restoration effort.

If this spiraling situation wasn’t bad enough, Trump Administration incompetence has been followed on by allegations of corruption. The most glaring example comes in the form of a recently cancelled 300 million dollar contract with Whitefish to restore power on Puerto Rico — a small contracting firm reported to have only two permanent employees, links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and whose larger investors are known Trump donors.

Due to the fact that this contract appeared to contain a number of conflicts of interest that looked like a ‘pay for play’ arrangement, and due to concerns over a privatized grab for control of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for an investigation into the power repair contract. FEMA had also flagged the contract for potential problems. Meanwhile, review of the contract has found a number of cases that could best be construed as over-charging. According to NPR:

Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows those labor rates are pricey indeed: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors, the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, the prices go even higher. A general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.

The combined allegations of corruption, overcharging, and various links to the Trump Administration are all hallmarks of vulture disaster capitalism — where private firms exploit government contracts following disasters or military conflict to bilk exorbitant sums from the government (and by extension the taxpayer) while providing only standard or substandard service. Such exploitation comes along with a policy push for privatization of previously provided government services. And there was serious concern that the Whitefish contract would result in just such a privatized electrical grid in Puerto Rico following over-charging and possible shoddy work.

Today, amid rising scandal, both Puerto Rico’s governor and the mayor of San Juan called for the cancellation of the Whitefish contract. Work already started by Whitefish will be completed — this includes refurbishing two major power lines. But the contract is expected to be awarded to a less shady agency going forward. San Juan’s mayor, on AM Joy today called for work to be led by companies like Tesla or Southern California Edison — both of which have substantial experience with both grids and renewables.

Tesla, for its own part, restored power for a children’s hospital by providing solar + power packs without any incentive. The renewable energy company has become increasingly involved in building power systems for islands and helping to stabilize grids through its renewables based energy storage. Tesla played a pivotal role in providing solar+battery based power for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It has also worked with Australia to provide batteries to assist in grid stabilization activities.

Given Tesla’s long track record and due to the fact that Tesla workers were already on the ground helping Puerto Ricans, it was a no-brainer add this company to a mixed list of experienced corps in assisting the power restoration effort. In addition, renewable energy systems like those provided by Tesla help to mitigate the root causes of the climate change related extreme weather that has so terribly damaged Puerto Rico — putting of the U.S. citizens there in danger. A fact that was obviously missing in the decision to hire Whitefish — a company with practically zero renewable energy chops.

And it is here that we need to return to the basic problem that arises from having climate change deniers as leaders in government. First, such politicians tend to favor contracts by fossil fuel companies, or worse, by shady firms like Whitefish. They also tend to be ideologically opposed to actual functional government — which leads to harmful privatization, related over-charging, and exploitation following disasters. In other words, such ideologues on the right leave wide open the door to corruption by establishing links with shady corporations. Finally, they tend to block more upstanding corporate players like Southern California Edison and Tesla who have a track record for building public utilities up by establishing solid renewable energy systems rather than by tearing them down by seeking to ram through fossil fuel linked privatization.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: