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Mississippi burning — and flooding: Haley Barbour to be remembered as man who gave his state 90°F temps 5 months a year plus countless Katrinas?

By Joe Romm on July 6, 2009 at 7:54 pm

"Mississippi burning — and flooding: Haley Barbour to be remembered as man who gave his state 90°F temps 5 months a year plus countless Katrinas?"

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Over the next few months, senators and other major state political figures will be taking sides on the climate and clean energy bill in front of Congress.  Thanks to the new landmark 13-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, we now know how those state “leaders” who oppose action will be remembered if they succeed.

I will start with Mississippi because Governor and former dirty-energy lobbyist Haley Barbour is helping to lead the GOP charge to destroy a livable climate at a hearing Tuesday — and because one of the main reasons I wrote Hell and High Water and started this blog is that my brother lost his Pass Christian, Mississippi home to Hurricane Katrina [see "The Storm of the Century (so far)"].

The grim figure above — along with an extended excerpt on Southeast climate impacts from the NOAA-led report — can be found here.  The map on he right shows that in the IPCC’s A2 scenario, by 2090, most of Mississippi would see some 150 days with peak temperature above 90°F every year — an almost nonstop heat wave that starts in May goes through June, July, and August, not ending until late September! Further, much of the state would see temperatures above 98°F for more than two months a year (see “When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures?“).

Worse, we are on pace to exceed the A2 scenario (which is “only” about 850 ppm in 2100):  See U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm.  So if if we listen to deniers and delayers like Barbour, the impacts will be worse than the report projects.  Barbour will have turned Mississippi into Mexico.

Along with this heat will come much more severe droughts, an impact that has already begun throughout the region:

The area of moderate to severe spring and summer drought has increased by 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively, since the mid-1970s.

And that will get much worse.

Decreased water availability is very -likely to impact the region’s economy as well as its natural systems. Decreased water availability due to increased temperature and longer periods of time between rainfall events, coupled with an increase in societal demand is very likely to affect many sectors of the Southeast’s economy.

The report shows a drop in summer precipitation of 10% to 20% over most of the state — and drops almost that large during winter and spring. That is a Dust-Bowl-level precipitation shorfall.

And when the rain does come down as “relief” from the epic “global-change-type droughts,” it is projected to be much more intense, leading to terrible flooding:

Heavy downpours that are now 1-in-20-year occurrences are projected to occur about every 4 to 15 years by the end of this century, depending on location, and the intensity of heavy downpours is also expected to increase. The 1-in-20-year heavy downpour is expected to be between 10 and 25 percent heavier by the end of the century than it is now.

So the state will see an almost unimaginable whipsawing between brutally hot droughts and devastating deluges.  The worst of the deluges, of course, will come in the form of superstorms like Katrina:

The intensity of Atlantic hurricanes is likely to increase during this century with higher peak wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge height and strength.

For more on this see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer “” and it’s going to get much worse” (which suggests we may see four more potential city-destroying super-hurricanes per year by mid-century) and “Why future Katrinas and Gustavs will be MUCH worse at landfall, Part 2.”

Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast — most especially those areas that were at or below sea level.

http://www.nerdylorrin.net/jerry/Katrina/photos/Katrina-BridgeDestroyed-I90StLouisBay-PassChristianMS.jpg

Intersate 90, St. Louis Bay in Pass Christian, Mississippi.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation expected to spend in excess of $1 billion to replace the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis bridges, repair other portions of roadway, and remove debris. As of June 2007, more than $672 million had been spent.

And, of course, human-caused global warming gives us sea level rise on top of the super-hurricanes — or, rather the hurricanes are on top of the sea level rise.  Even the 3 to 4 feet of SLR the report now anticipates for the nation will wipe out every beach in Mississippi, radically change the coastline, and dramatically increase vulnerability to storm surges:

As sea level rises, coastal shorelines will retreat. Wetlands will be inundated and eroded away, and low-lying areas including some communities will be inundated more frequently — some permanently — by the advancing sea….

Rapid acceleration in the rate of increase in sea-level rise could threaten a large portion of the Southeast coastal zone….

Compared to the present coastal situation, for which vulnerability is quite high, an increase in hurricane intensity will further affect low-lying coastal ecosystems and coastal communities along the Gulf and South Atlantic coastal margin. An increase in intensity is very likely to increase inland and coastal flooding, coastal
erosion rates, wind damage to coastal forests, and wetland loss. Major hurricanes also pose a severe risk to people, personal property, and public infrastructure in the Southeast, and this risk is likely to be exacerbated. Hurricanes have their greatest impact at the coastal margin where they make landfall, causing storm
surge, severe beach erosion, inland flooding, and wind-related casualties for both cultural and natural resources

As sea levels inexorably rise, the entire country will become consumed by urban triage””how to decide which major sea-side cities can be saved and which cannot.  Since it is a poor state, and in the heart of hurricane alley, future Mississippi cities ravaged by super-hurricanes of the future may well never be rebuilt.  “Beach-front” property will likely be a distant memory by century’s end.  Indeed, with sea levels perhaps rising 1 to 2 inches a year by then, it is hard to even imagine what the future of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be.

Two final points.  First, as a major NOAA-led journal article pointed out, if we don’t reverse course shown then climate change is “largely irreversible for 1000 years.” Second, some of the worst impacts of global warming we are starting to experience today — like the bark beetle devastation destroying Western forests and causing record wildfire seasons in recent years — were not even predicted a few years ago.

What can be safely predicted is that if we do not avert catastrophic global warming — if we fail to make the transition to a clean energy economy that starts with passage of the Waxman-Markey bill — future generations of Mississippians will curse the names of politicians like Haley Barbour for their myopic greed, for lining their pockets with money from carbon polluters while devoting their efforts to the state’s self-destruction.

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Senate hearing on climate bill on C-SPAN at 10 today

19 Responses to Mississippi burning — and flooding: Haley Barbour to be remembered as man who gave his state 90°F temps 5 months a year plus countless Katrinas?

  1. Gail says:

    Joe, you are on a roll. Don’t stop! This is the case that must be made and I am doing my meager best to spread the word.

  2. Ben Lieberman says:

    Barbour is incorregible, but how will Reid get others to support a bill or at least not joing in filibustering it? For example, what will it take to get Senator Landrieu to at least not block ACES from getting an up-or-down vote?

    The same points that you make for Mississippi would also apply to Lousiana, yet Senator Landrieu web site does not even appear to incude the environment at all (let alone global warming) as an issue.
    A section on coastal issue seems mainly concerned with securing revenue for oil and gas production. Senator Landrieu does mention erosion, but the causes of such erosion appear unworthy of being even named. What will it take to get the Senator to acknwoledge the extreme threat that global warming poses to her state let alone to actually take action to combat global warming through meaningful legislation that reduces carbon output.

  3. Omega Centauri says:

    These folks are immune to warnings, after all they are just fraudulent politically motivated psuedo science to them. The shame is that nature is not fair, it won’t concentrate the ill effects on those responsible for the problem.

    btw, sea level rise of 1-2 inches per year I think is still a bit of a stretch scientifically. Even one to two cm/year is near the high end of current predictions (last I heard).

    [JR: Our current emissions path takes us to 900+ ppm in 2100, 5°C and some 4 to 6 feet of SLR by 2100. At that time, SLR is likely to be in the 1 to 2 inches a year range. Could it be a bit less? Yes. Could it be more? Of course.]

  4. Craig says:

    Nearly every conservative I talk to readily admits that the primary role of government is to protect Americans from threats both foreign and domestic. In fact many of them contend that is the only role a government should play. But what happens when the greatest threat emanates from national leaders who pay lip service to protecting Americans but in actuality are undermining the state. How do we provide security against that? If radicals such as Haley Barbour succeed in sinking this legislation, then they are, as Paul Krugman writes, “committing treason against the planet”, and by default against the United States as well.

  5. caerbannog says:


    btw, sea level rise of 1-2 inches per year I think is still a bit of a stretch scientifically. Even one to two cm/year is near the high end of current predictions (last I heard).

    I think that Joe is referring to the potential sea-level rise rate at the end of the century, when things have really gotten cranked up.

    Last year, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Jeff Severinghaus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When the topic of sea-level rise came up, Dr Severinghaus (with all the appropriate scientific caveats) said that he saw a 2-6 foot rise in sea levels as the most likely range over the next century.

    To get to the upper end of that range, sea-level rise will really have to accelerate as the century progresses. A 1-2 inch/year rate late in the century is quite possible.

  6. Lisa says:

    All the more reason not to pass a bogus climate change bill that doesn’t reduce emissions enough to matter.

  7. Oliver says:

    “Omega Centauri, this out today:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090622103833.htm

    Interesting article – seems like they have done some good work correlating antarctic temps to sea level.

    Their inference that the current CO2 level will drive a 25m rise in sea level, however, appears to depend on atmospheric CO2 concentration being the primary driver for past temperature increases/decreases. I must be missing something since that seems like a pretty big assumption (I dropped the author an email asking the question)

  8. Omega Centauri says:

    Oliver & Gail, thanks for the link. I usually scan sciencedaily nearly every day, I guess this report must have come out in the past few hours. If I read it correctly, they predicted a rate of rise of 1-2 meters per century, which translates to 1-2cm per year. That is still a lot more than the IPCC concensus. I’d like to avoid charges that we are deliberately over-hyping the dangers. Precision and intellectual integrity are the only way I know to defend against such charges.

  9. paulm says:

    There’s this article also…

    Earth faces ‘Waterworld’ as global warming ‘lasts centuries’
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/globalwarming/5715354/Earth-faces-Waterworld-as-global-warming-lasts-centuries.html

    The growing consensus among climate scientists is the “official” estimate of sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – 20cm to 60cm by 2100 – is misleading.

    It could well be in the region of one to two metres – with a small risk of an even greater rise.

    In a report in New Scientist magazine, climate expert Dr Eric Rignot, of California University, said: “When we talk of sea level rising by one or two metres by 2100 remember that it is still going to be rising after 2100.”

    For many islands and low lying regions including much of the Netherlands, Florida and Bangladesh even small rises will spell catastrophe.

  10. paulm says:


    Dr Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “There is a very close and statistically highly significant correlation between the rate of sea level rise and the temperature increase above the pre-industrial background level.”

    “His calculations suggest sea level will rise between 0.5 and 1.4 metres – and the higher estimate is more likely because emissions have been rising faster than the IPCC’s worst case scenario.

    He said: “I sense than now a majority of sea level experts would agree with me that the IPCC projections are much too low.”

  11. Alex J says:

    Some people still seem to assume that sea level rise will be a steady, gentle process. That’s a big bet to make considering post-AR4 research on ice sheet dynamics. The total increase by 2100 may be one or two meters (assuming little contribution from Antarctica this century), but that won’t necessarily break down to a nice, even X cm per decade. Therefore, the effects on coastal farmland and cities (including sewer system and aquifer infiltration, and high storm surge) won’t be nice & even either.

  12. Gary says:

    What policymakers need to understand is that mitigating emissions with adaptation measures now is much cheaper than adapting to 1-2 inch sea level rises in 2050 or later. Either way, if it’s agreed that climate change is happening and will continue to get worse, then it’s much more politically prudent to adapt now than rather. Unfortunately, the way America’s political system is set up, this kind of problem, with long term consequences and short term costs, means you have a lot of legislative inaction and resistance. for more check out climatesecurity.blogspot.com

  13. SecularAnimist says:

    It’s interesting to me that the discussion seems to focus immediately on sea level rise, rather than on drought.

    Even in the worst case, catastrophic sea level rise (e.g. sufficient to render coastal cities effectively uninhabitable) will likely take decades.

    But catastrophic drought — widespread, intense, prolonged, multi-year drought that effectively wipes out major agricultural regions and leads to food shortages and even famine within just a few years — can start suddenly, at any time. And indeed, it appears that it may have already started.

    That’s why drought scares me much more than sea level rise.

  14. paulm says:

    Secular Animist sealevelrise is sexier, but it is also a more visible representation of the state change that is upon us.

  15. Rick Covert says:

    I saw Barbour today during the congressional hearing complaining, among other things, that the ACES bill is too weak! Here’s the actual translation. The bill is so weak thanks to successful efforts of my corporate benefactors who paid my salary and I actively lobbied for that I cannot support this bill.

    When Senator Inhofe started questioning Barbour it was like a regular Kukla Fran and Olie show complete with staged testimony, cues and the ever popular nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

    There is one thing he mentioned though that I have to question. During Inhofe’s questioning the subject of unemployment benefits came up. Barbour made the statement that there was 3 Billion or 300 million, I don’t remember the correct number, of unemployment benefits in the W-M bill. Barbour stated that he thought this was disconcerting in a bill the he termed, “…was supposed to be a jobs bill.” So what’s the real truth there?

  16. Rick Covert says:

    Sorry that was the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Watching Inahofe and Barbour there was like watching Al Capone and Frank Nittie crime control and prevention.

  17. pete best says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/08/nuclear-power-obama-us

    The USA is going to have massive problems cleaning up its fossil fuel energy act regardless of this climate bill. Its a dead duck in many regards but there is still hope. However for some reason the beligerant right of the USA is not happy with any of it. Obviosuly energy is not energy in their eyes, its only viable if it comes from the hand that feeds them. Lobbying has watered down this bill so much that it look almost pointless.

  18. James says:

    Uh, its already hot between May and September in Mississippi