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Friday, December 16, 2005


We got yet another big snowstorm yesterday, and we've already had many days of the very cold temperatures usually only seen in January or February. And winter starts next week. I've noticed that a couple of the idiot right-wing cartoonists have jumped on this as an argument that global warming isn't happening, ignoring of course all of the predictions and actual evidence that more extreme weather in general, including extreme cold, is/will be one of the symptoms of global warming, and that some areas, Europe in particular, are predicted to get colder because of global warming.

In any case, the extreme weather of the late summer, aka Katrina, appears to be teaming up with the extreme weather of the late fall to lead the northern parts of the US, and the northeast in particular, into very dire circumstances. US News & World Report (or as a high-school classmate called it, "Useless News & World Distort") has a lengthy report on the crisis looming in the northeast caused by shortages of natural gas and heating oil. Natural gas is used not only to heat houses, heat water, and cook, it is also used by numerous electricity generating plants (especially in the northeast) and by many businesses. Many of the businesses may simply shut down for the winter months, or move operations overseas, as Dow Chemical has already done. Their employees will be added to the already huge list of people for whom heating costs may be out of reach this winter. And the deregulated electricity industry may just shut down many power plants rather than pay high gas and oil costs, causing blackouts and brownouts. These will in turn lead to more layoffs, and still more people without heat. Neither state or local governments nor the oil companies wallowing in windfall profits offer much hope for alleviating the crisis--even the generally right-wing US News admits
The only significant outside aid has come from Citgo Petroleum, controlled by the Venezuelan government and its president, fierce Bush administration adversary Hugo Chavez, who has promised $10 million in discounts to low-income northeastern heating oil customers.
US News reports that seniors, with their thermostats already set to a chilly 62F, are now cutting back on their meds to pay the heating bills.

All northern cities and states appear at risk, but according to US News, New York City seems especially vulnerable:
A winter failure could prove catastrophic, because any extended loss of heat could cause water pipes to burst in residential and commercial buildings alike. Also, the thousands of "traps" where steam escapes (and billows from manhole covers) could freeze and fail, causing distribution pipes to crack or lose pressure. Former Central Intelligence Agency chief Jim Woolsey, now active on energy issues, argues that parts of the city "could resemble a frozen New Orleans."
The theme of a preventable disaster in the making runs throughout the article:
Whether because of cost or cold, officials are bracing for human suffering across America this winter. "Forces can come together that turn crisis for some into disaster--that's really what I think we could be looking at this winter," says Iowa energy assistance director McKim. "I hate to sound like the voice of doom, but somebody has to say this stuff. It's just like Hurricane Katrina. They knew it was coming, but little was done to prepare an effective response. And the same thing is happening here."