Sunday, November 20, 2011

USA public transport systems under threat from too low a tax support and increasing climate change pressure

In the United States public authorities are having to face the reality of climate change, even if politicians and those who associate freedom with escape from social responsibilities are happy to ignore it or dispute the cause.

Heavy carbon generated mostly by oil fired power stations and secondly by auto exhausts is credited with raising the over-all temperature of the planet. It can not be confused with carbon generated from other sources.

This is also highly unlikely to be part of a natural cycle (which typically occurs over centuries) for many reasons. One of the most spectacular - according to studies of tell-tale carbon dioxide levels found in ice core samples over a decade ago this is by far the fastest rise in global temperatures in 456,000 years!

The temperature is rising far faster than most natural and man-made systems are able to handle, with massive species death or forced invasion of new areas, upsetting natural eco-systems.  It will also see huge cost burdens forced upon the human species who mostly inhabit coastal and fertile low land arable areas likely to be inundated beneath rising seas. In other areas predictions of massive droughts and forest fires are already coming true (530 killed in Australia's heatwave in Victoria 2009) whilst more recently predicted flooding in Pakistan has left almost 5 million homeless and many facing potential starvation.

In many cases it is the less developed world that is paying the highest price to support the western world's culture of mindless consumption and resource use, but even the USA is not invulnerable to increased numbers of hurricanes and violent weather events as seemingly minimal ocean temperature rises, increases the hotter areas of ocean that fuel hurricanes (or typhoons as known in the north Pacific). Whilst the planet is warming in most areas, temperatures are expected to drop in other areas. This includes the heavily populated north eastern triangle of USA and the Atlantic side of Canada.

Most recently the quality US publication "Transportation Nation" featured a very interesting article revealing that tropical storm Irene, which thrashed the north-eastern USA, came within 30 cms of flooding New York subways with sea-water, a potentially devastating event that could cripple one of the world's most powerful cities for months and months.

The Federal Transit Administration is now advising transit agencies to start adapting to climate change, which could cost many billions in a country already lagging well behind many other developed countries in maintaining its social and economic basic infrastructure
Reports the Transportation Nation article

"Climate change impacts are occurring now and will increase in the future,” reads the first line of an FTA report, Flooded Lines and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation, released in August. “Aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lower the severity of climate change impacts. Yet the amount of long-lived emissions already in the atmosphere means that a significant level of climate change is inevitable.”


“We have seen significant extreme weather conditions,” says Deputy FTA Administrator Therese MacMillan in an interview in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Washington, DC headquarters. “The patterns are pretty indisputable. The hundred-year floods are occurring every 20 to ten years. The hurricane intensities are repeating themselves and being very common. The extreme winter effects that we’re seeing in the Northeast are clearly in evidence. We need to deal with the fact that these extreme weather conditions are impacting our already stressed transit infrastructure.”

The ominous message from the FTA comes on top of studies by US engineers and public transport operator bodies which show years of low fuel taxes, amongst the lowest in the world, have provided insufficient income to keep roading and bridges and public transport infrastructure at functional, safe and effective levels.

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