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Dr. Ralph Ternier Talks From Haiti About Sandy and Cholera

700805main_20121026_Sandy-NPP_fullSandy passing west of Hispaniola. Photo: NASA Goddard

Hurricane Sandy did not hit Haiti directly. It passed to the west, crossing over Cuba. Even so, it dropped roughly 20 inches of rain on the southern part of the island, where decades of deforestation and erosion led to increasingly swollen rivers and flooding that devastated low-lying communities, destroyed crops, and caused more than 50 deaths—the highest number of fatalities in the Caribbean.

The country is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake. More than 350,000 people live in refugee camps that are little more than tents. The leading causes of death are HIV, tuberculosis, and cholera—a disease that came into the country with relief workers and has infected more than 600,000 and killed more than 7,500 people. Even before the quake, the per capita income was less than $2 a day.

Sandy damaged 18,000 homes. The U.N. estimates that the hurricane's effects, combined with a drought that hit the country earlier in the year, could leave more than two million people hungry. As a result, the Haitian government and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. have asked for $74 million in aid. “Whatever was left of a potential harvest is gone,” said Johan Peleman, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs . “Even the banana harvests seem to be gone.”

In addition, people in the flooded refugee camps and southern villages have been left more vulnerable to cholera, a waterborne disease. To find out what is happening on the ground, we called Dr. Ralph Ternier.

Ternier grew up in Haiti, and always wanted to be a doctor. He graduated with a medical degree from the State University Medical School in 2002, became the director of an HIV, tuberculosis, and STD clinic in 2003, and helped hundreds of Haitians return to their homes after the 2010 earthquake. Now he works as the director of community care and support for the health care non-profit, Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health in Haiti, a position he views as destiny. “I always wanted also to work in public health. I never thought I would work in private,” he says. “I would say that I am in the right place and the right time.”

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Video of the Rockaways After the Storm

Yesterday, Vimeo selected a video called Rockaway Needs Us as a staff pick. It's just the latest video that shows the effects of Sandy, from the recreational to devastation. The shorts range from a timelapse of the storm moving into New York City, to a surf compilation shot off Florida, to a bicycle tour of Manhattan's flooding, to a dispatch from the Columbia University scientist who predicted New York City's flooded subways—he talks about the flooding from his damaged home.

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Andrew Revkin on Lessons Learned From Sandy

8139104515_60be5b0033_bHurricane Sandy after landfall. Photo: NASA Goddard

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Revkin celebrated the fifth birthday of his Dot Earth blog by writing a post examining the ways he could improve it. Revkin started Dot Earth to bring others into his effort to learn about the science behind reducing humanity’s impact on the planet. It’s a platform built to engage scientists, experts, and everyday readers in a forum where they can learn more about each other and the environment. “I’m convinced that there is vast untapped potential to use the Web and other means to build global awareness and meaningful relationships,” he said in a 2009 post.

In order to bring people in, he insists on writing and corresponding with a healthy amount of nuance. He’s written more than 2,000 posts and responded to thousands of comments, each time making sure not to oversimplify the science or the takeaway. Doing otherwise, he says, could lead to polarization. He’s seeing that polarization now, as a reaction to Sandy. “Just seeing how this plays out, as the activists on both sides try to amp up the messaging as a way to get traction on climate or to resist it,” he says. “Over and over again you see reality go to the side.”

After Sandy hit, he avoided saying in a flat and simple way that the storm was or wasn’t the result of climate change. Instead he wrote posts that asked scientists to chime in on climate change’s influence, he called for an examination of what can be learned from building near the coast, he assessed the political message of Mayor Bloomberg, and he pointed out energy innovations that worked during the storm. His goal was, and is, to build a level of trust based on reality, so that people will have continued faith in his dispatches. “Lately, I’ve been describing the kind of inquiry I do on Dot Earth as providing a service akin to that of a mountain guide after an avalanche,” he said in a 2009 post. “Follow me and I can guarantee an honest search for a safe path.”

That mantra hasn’t changed, but now he’s even more interested in engaging in discussion to find the correct path, something that has continued to improve in the last half decade on Dot Earth. I called up Revkin, who I took an environmental science journalism class from in 2004, so he could take us inside his process as he writes about the lessons of Sandy.

In 2009, Dot Earth moved to the editorial side of paper. Can you explain why that change happened?
Yeah, it’s actually different than what people think. The Times has no tradition of having a daily news contribution from someone who’s not on staff. In other words, there are stringers in, like, Istanbul and Shanghai or Iraq who will be feeding stuff, but other than that, there are no freelance folks who are a daily presence on the news side of the paper. And the environment desk, which was new in 2009, didn’t have a budget line for blogs. Over at Op-Ed, they have more of a tradition of having contributors. Like Linda Greenhouse, a former Supreme Court reporter writes online commentary there now. Tim Egan, a national correspondent, is there. They are both online. So it was just a better fit, and they had a budget line. So I moved over there for practical reasons. And, of course, I have gotten to a point where I do have ideas about things, and there are constraints that come from a news approach to information.

There are things I think I know enough about to have an opinion on. Now, I’m a bad fit for the editorial side of the paper, because my opinion is often, We don’t know. So I’m not going to give you an easy answer. I’ll never be a Paul Krugman. I’m just not out there to give you a particular worldview. I’m a slave to reality, and that includes uncertainty.

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Hurricane Researcher Brian McNoldy on the Science Behind Sandy

A video showing Sandy’s life from October 23 to October 31.

It was as a nine-year-old kid in Reading, Pennsylvania, that University of Miami scientist Brian McNoldy developed a fascination with hurricanes. “I think most of us have a storm,” he says. “Mine was Hurricane Gloria, in 1985.”

TV newscasters warned about the impending winds and rain. Local officials cancelled school for a few days. When the storm hit, it knocked out power. McNoldy went outside. “I can still remember how strong the winds were,” he says. “We didn’t get hit by the eyewall—just by the rainbands, but even that was pretty impressive.”

After earning undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy at Lycoming College, a graduate degree in atmospheric science at Colorado State University, he landed at the University of Miami in January of 2012. “This is an up-and-coming school in hurricane research, and there’s a lot of momentum going here,” he says. “I'm happy to have the opportunity to be part of it.”

For his job, he works on something called “vortex initialization code” for a joint project with the Navy.  It’s a series of sophisticated computer programs that allow scientists to take a crudely-represented hurricane out of a model analysis, replace it with a more realistic hurricane that has tuneable factors (such as intensity, size of the storm, etc.), and see how changes affect the forecast.

When he’s not working on the vortex code, he writes about hurricanes. “I started what, at the time, wasn’t called a blog, because they weren’t really there yet, in 1996,” he says. “For any storm—not even a storm, for any wave in the Atlantic, I would have my little list of people who were interested in what was going on, and I would send updates to them during hurricane season. I've been doing that for 16 years now.”

His audience has grown. From 2007 to 2010, he was invited to blog about hurricanes for The New York Times. In 2012, he started blogging for the Washington Post and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. On October 22, when Sandy was still Tropical Depression 18, he was one of the first to report on the likelihood of it turning into the Northeast U.S. with possibly devastating consequences. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about the science behind Sandy.

When did you start watching Sandy?
I think some of the models were picking up on something forming in the Western Caribbean probably by about October 12 or 13. Some models picked up, run after run, something that would form in the Western Caribbean, and then would move north toward Cuba. That persisted and they ended up being right. The National Hurricane Center issued the first advisory on Tropical Depression 18 on October 22, then upgraded it to Tropical Storm Sandy later the same day. It eventually headed north over Jamaica and Cuba. I thought, Wow, that’s extremely impressive for those models.

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The Outdoor Philosopher: Kate Rawles on Riding 'The Carbon Cycle'

Kate_Rawles_bioKate Rawles on her Mexico-to-Canada tour. Photo: Chris Loynes

Kate Rawles is an outdoor philosopher. That is a title she coined herself, and it is accurate in more than one way. She spends her professional life thinking about, talking about, and being in the outdoors, activities that culminated in the publication of The Carbon Cycle, her account of the three-month, 4,553-mile bike ride she undertook to better understand concepts and perception about climate change in the American West.

The Banff Center named The Carbon Cycle a finalist in the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition. Philip Connors' Fire Season took the prize, but the nomination helped bring Rawles' book to an audience outside her base in the United Kingdom. Adventure Ethics talked to Rawles, a lecturer in Outdoor Studies at the University of Cumbria, about outdoor philosophy, her ride, and the resulting book.

What is outdoor philosophy?
I spend a lot of time talking about human-nature relationships, but I was doing this inside lecture halls, and there were no other species in the room. The whole thing felt very abstract, so over time I started to take those classes outside more and more.

Outdoor philosophy means getting outside the classroom. I often take my classes sea kayaking and they have a very powerful engagement with a very different landscape. There is a motivation aspect, too. It's not just exploring the topic academically but encouraging students to act on behalf of the environment.

The Carbon Cycle is based on the conversations about climate change that you had with hundreds of people during the course of your Mexico-to-Canada bike ride. How did the book come into being?
I always loved cycling and mountains and I've done a number of trips over the years, but wanted to do a bigger trip. I wanted to use it as a way of communicating about climate change. I wanted to raise awareness rather than money. And I wanted to connect what is known, academically, about climate change with what is happening on the ground.

I wanted it to be adventurous enough to get people's attention. I used the bike ride almost like a Trojan horse, to get to people who would not necessarily pick up a book about climate change, and get them to talk about it with me.

The trip was 4,553 miles and I tried to follow the spine of the Rockies as much as possible, I crossed the Continental Divide about 20 times.

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