AC Alert for August 31, 2011 Another One For the Record Books

Sep 1, 2011 1:00 PM ET

It was shortly before 2:00 pm Tuesday August 23rd: One of the editorial assistants in our Southeast command center was busy working on her computer while speaking with a companion in our Northeast Office. Suddenly, the pictures on her desk began to shake, as did the plants across the room. "That's strange" she said. "Things are shaking all over the place in this room." Maybe there's a large truck outside, she thought. Within a few seconds, similar shaking emerged in the Northeast office. Desks shook, buildings vibrated and swayed.

As the two compared notes, as well as some “colorful” comments, it became apparent very quickly that they were experiencing a very unusual event for the East Coast: A sizable earthquake (measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale). (Usually expected in California, in the minds of most Americans.) After all the wild and crazy weather events we've witnessed this year, why should we be surprised? (Actually, no one that we know of has tried to suggest that global warming and climate change caused the East Coast quake. But we may see that comment in the blogosphere.)

The official explanation: "The Virginia earthquake of August 23rd occurred as reverse faulting on a north or northeast-striking plane within a previously recognized seismic zone, the Central Virginia Seismic Zone. The Central Virginia Seismic Zone has produced small and moderate earthquakes since at least the 18th century. The previous largest historical shock from the Central Virginia Seismic Zone occurred in 1875. The 1875 shock occurred before the invention of effective seismographs, but the felt area of the shock suggests that it had a magnitude of about 4.8.

The 1875 earthquake shook bricks from chimneys, broke plaster and windows, and overturned furniture at several locations. A magnitude 4.5 earthquake on 2003, December 9th also produced minor damage." (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior /U.S. Geological Survey)

Our colleagues in Northern Virginia and Washington DC described bookshelves falling and other results of the quake and the aftershock. In the nation’s capital, offices were evacuated.  Same in Manhattan and some suburbs.

The year 2011 is slated to be one for the record books. Think about it: The year began with the East Coast buried under a paralyzing blizzard; summer has brought a devastating drought and incredible heat to portions of the South, particularly Texas. And as we put the finishing touches on this alert, millions of people in the Northeast are wondering when their power will be restored from the ravages of Hurricane Irene.

Call it coincidence or call it global warming or climate change: whatever the cause the effects are dramatic and breathtaking. What does this all mean for Mother Earth? That's the question we explore on AC every day in our special Hot Topic Section: Global Warming and Climate Change. Our editors canvas thousands of sources from all over the world to report news, commentary and research concerning the global climate situation. Here's a sample of some recent excerpts:

Nation's weather extremes may be the new normal
(Source: Los Angeles Times)  A record-setting winter in much of the country has been followed by more records: tornadoes, flooding, drought and heat. Climate change is largely to blame, according to some scientists.

More Bad News on Climate Change
(Source: UN Dispatch)  In Antarctica, the so-called ozone hole is an annually recurring winter/spring phenomenon due to the existence of extremely low temperatures in the stratosphere and the presence of ozone-depleting substances. Despite international progress in cutting production and consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals, they have a long atmospheric lifetime and it will take several decades before their concentrations are back to pre-1980 levels, according to the WMO’s first Antarctic Ozone Bulletin for this year.

U.S. Carbon Emissions Exploded in 2010, Largest Single Year Rise in 22 Years
(Source: Forbes) In 2010, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the US saw their largest absolute and percentage increase – 213 million metric tons or 3.9% – since 1988 according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Is climate change to blame for famine in the Horn of Africa? 
(Source: is famine in the Horn of Africa linked to climate change or not? The question arises whenever "extreme weather events" – hurricanes, floods, droughts – hit our TV screens. It's impossible to answer with a simple yes or no – but here's what we think we know so far.
Climate change debate grows more heated
(Source: Sydney Morning Herald) Activist groups GetUp! and Say Yes Australia has taken an interest in The Sunday Age's Climate Agenda poll, boosting the votes for questions which regard climate change as a real threat.

It’s not just your carbon footprint, now it’s your water footprint
(Source: The Independent) In the wake of growing consumer interest in carbon footprints, a new awareness of our water consumption has led to the notion of a ‘water footprint’. This article explores some of the reputational challenges for business.

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.