Solar energy largely unscathed by Hurricane Florence’s wind and rain

Inside Climate News reports:

Faced with Hurricane Florence’s powerful winds and record rainfall, North Carolina’s solar farms held up with only minimal damage while other parts of the electricity system failed, an outcome that solar advocates hope will help to steer the broader energy debate.

North Carolina has more solar power than any state other than California, much of it built in the two years since Hurricane Matthew hit the region. Before last week, the state hadn’t seen how its growing solar developments—providing about 4.6 percent of the state’s electricity—would fare in the face of a hurricane.

Florence provided a test of how the systems stand up to severe weather as renewable energy use increases, particularly solar, which is growing faster in the Southeast than any other other region. [Continue reading…]

Utility companies are at odds with public demand for 100% renewable energy

Vox reports:

Renewable energy is hot. It has incredible momentum, not only in terms of deployment and costs but in terms of public opinion and cultural cachet. To put it simply: Everyone loves renewable energy. It’s cleaner, it’s high-tech, it’s new jobs, it’s the future.

And so more and more big energy customers are demanding the full meal deal: 100 percent renewable energy.

The Sierra Club notes that so far in the US, more than 80 cities, five counties, and two states have committed to 100 percent renewables. Six cities have already hit the target.

The group RE100 tracks 144 private companies across the globe that have committed to 100 percent renewables, including Google, Ikea, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike, GM, and, uh, Lego.

The timing of all these targets (and thus their stringency) varies, everywhere from 2020 to 2050, but cumulatively, they are beginning to add up. Even if policymakers never force power utilities to produce renewable energy through mandates, if all the biggest customers demand it, utilities will be mandated to produce it in all but name.

The rapid spread and evident popularity of the 100 percent target has created an alarming situation for power utilities. Suffice to say, while there are some visionary utilities in the country, as an industry, they tend to be extremely small-c conservative.

They do not like the idea of being forced to transition entirely to renewable energy, certainly not in the next 10 to 15 years. For one thing, most of them don’t believe the technology exists to make 100 percent work reliably; they believe that even with lots of storage, variable renewables will need to be balanced out by “dispatchable” power plants like natural gas. For another thing, getting to 100 percent quickly would mean lots of “stranded assets,” i.e., shutting down profitable fossil fuel power plants.

In short, their customers are stampeding in a direction that terrifies them. [Continue reading…]

Hurricane Florence is a climate change triple threat

Michael Mann writes:

Just a year ago we were dealing with an historically devastating Atlantic hurricane season. It was marked by the strongest hurricane – Irma – ever observed in the open Atlantic, the near total devastation of Puerto Rico by a similarly powerful category 5 monster Maria, and Hurricane Harvey – the worst flooding event in US history. At the time, I commented here and elsewhere about the role climate change had played in amplifying the destructive characteristics of these storms.

Not to be outdone, the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, initially predicted to be quiet – quelled by an incipient El Niño event and cool, early summer ocean waters – has suddenly erupted. If the current disturbance in the western Gulf of Mexico known as “95L” earns the status of tropical storm, the 2018 season will be the second time in recorded history that we’ve seen five tropical storms simultaneously present in the Atlantic basin (the last time was in 1971).

What happened to cause all of this? An early autumn ocean “heat wave” has brought sea surface temperatures in the western Atlantic to bathtub-level warmth. Just as summer heat waves on land are greatly increased in frequency and intensity by even modest overall warming, so too are these ocean heat waves becoming more frequent and more extreme as the oceans continue warm. All else being equal, warmer oceans mean more energy to intensify tropical storms and hurricanes.

But when it comes to coastal threat, it hardly matters how many tropical storms there are over the course of the season. A single landfalling hurricane can wreak havoc and destruction. Think Katrina in 2005, Irene in 2011, Sandy in 2012, either Harvey or Maria in 2017 and now Florence in 2018.

In this sense, the sometimes fractious debate about whether we’ll see more or fewer storms in a warmer world is somewhat misplaced. What matters is that there is a consensus we’ll see stronger and worse flood-producing storms – and, in fact, we’re seeing them already. That brings us to Hurricane Florence: a climatologically-amplified triple threat. [Continue reading…]

Republican lawmakers ignored scientists’ warnings on rising sea levels in North Carolina

The Washington Post reports:

The coastal and marine geologist once felt his state valued his work.

North Carolina was a leader in coastal management, said Stanley Riggs, a distinguished professor of geology at East Carolina University. It heeded the advice of a “tremendous team of scientists” studying the origins and evolution of the Eastern Seaboard, of which the Tar Heel State has a particularly broad swath. As a result, lawmakers adopted policies in the 1970s and 1980s to safeguard the natural environment and protect human lives, he said. No hardening of the shoreline. Setbacks from the coast. Guidelines about inlets. It seemed, he said, that the state had been able to marry science and economics.

But now, his pride in his state has been replaced by fear and dismay, as Hurricane Florence, recently downgraded to a Category 1 storm, bears down on the southeastern United States, bringing warnings of “life-threatening” storm surge and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The state’s coastal plain, Riggs said, would not be in such grave danger if lawmakers had not rejected a study prepared by a panel on which he served that predicted the sea level would rise 39 inches by 2100 because of climate change. The projection should guide “policy development and planning purposes,” advised the 2010 report, whose authors were mainly scientists and engineers at the state’s leading research universities, as well as state and federal regulators. [Continue reading…]

Hurricane Florence reminds us that ignoring the science of climate change is dangerous

Kristina Dahl writes:

After enduring three major hurricanes — Harvey, Maria, and Irma — in a few short weeks last fall, our nation is once again watching a monster storm churn its way toward our coastline. This time, the Carolina coast (which has not had a strike from a Category 4 storm since 1989) is in the bull’s-eye of Florence, which is predicted to bring life-threatening surge and damaging winds to the coast before stalling and dumping feet of rain on inland areas throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

With each new storm, we are forced to question whether this is our new, climate change-fueled reality, and to ask ourselves what we can do to minimize the toll from supercharged storms.

Climate change absolutely creates the potential for stronger, more destructive hurricanes in three ways. First — as we saw with Hurricanes like Maria and may see again with Florence — when hurricanes pass over abnormally warm ocean waters, they gain power and energy. Driven in large part by human activity, the surface temperature of the ocean has warmed by roughly two degrees Fahrenheit since the turn of the 20th century. As a result, storms that form off the west coast of Africa during hurricane season and pass over unusually warm North Atlantic waters therefore have access to a vast fuel source — warm water — as they move westward and can grow monstrously destructive.

Second, when our atmosphere is warmed by climate change, it can hold more moisture, increasing the potential for extreme rainfall during storms. This phenomenon was displayed during Hurricane Harvey as it dropped 60 inches of rain over parts of Texas in a matter of just days. There, of course, terrible consequences ensued as rainfall led to catastrophic inland flooding. [Continue reading…]

They defied Trump on climate change. Now, it’s their moment of truth

The New York Times reports:

Hours after President Trump announced last year that the United States would exit the Paris climate deal, a broad group of governors, mayors and business executives declared that they would uphold the agreement anyway and continue tackling global warming on their own.

It was a striking move for a coalition of local leaders: Making a case to the rest of the world that they, and not the president, spoke for the nation on climate policy.

To date, however, that groundswell hasn’t been nearly enough to counteract the effects of the Trump administration’s retreat on climate policy. Now, as many of those same local leaders and executives gather for a high-level conference in San Francisco this week, the group they created finds itself at a critical juncture, the moment when it shows whether or not it can rise to the task.

“Yeah, there’s pressure” said Gov. Jerry Brown of California, one of the most visible faces of the movement, known as “We Are Still In.” State and local leaders “are carrying the flag while the big powers, the national guys, are rather somnolent.”

The gathering in San Francisco, which is spearheaded by Governor Brown, will bring leaders and civil society groups from around the world to discuss ways that states, cities and businesses can work together to reduce their emissions.

The stakes are high. So far, 2018 is on track to be the fourth-hottest year on record worldwide. Deadly heat waves scorched all corners of the globe this summer and huge wildfires set California ablaze. Scientists are warning that countries have delayed so long in cutting emissions that many long-predicted disruptions from global warming are now unavoidable.

Against that backdrop, the Trump administration has been pushing to roll back many of the most prominent federal climate policies. Overseas, most national governments are falling far short of their promises to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re seeing signs of increasing apathy worldwide,” said Paul Bledsoe, a White House climate adviser under former President Bill Clinton. “And a lot of people are hoping that what’s happening in places like California could be the antidote.”

A big test of that antidote will be whether America’s states, cities and companies put forward meaningful new steps to cut emissions — and whether that, in turn, helps to persuade local leaders in other countries to ratchet up their own efforts on climate change. [Continue reading…]

Zinke attends Pacific Islands Forum, ignores their biggest concern

Joel Clement writes:

This week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke heads the United States delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum Leader’s Session on the Island of Nauru on September 4, 2018, an annual gathering of dozens of Pacific Island leaders and partners. In the Interior Department press release, Zinke noted that the Pacific Islands are strategically important and he wants to discuss trade and the rule of law. He did not indicate any interest in discussing the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Islands region – dramatic impacts that his own agency described in a publication earlier this year.

The US Geological Survey (USGS), the lead science agency within the US Department of the Interior, published a report in April with an ominous headline: “Many Low-Lying Atoll Islands Will Be Uninhabitable by Mid-21st Century.” The study concluded that due to rising sea levels, flooding, and salt-water intrusion into aquifers there will be no potable water on thousands of islands in the Pacific “no later than the middle of the 21st century,” rendering those islands uninhabitable. Thirty to forty years from today, entire island cultures may have to leave their homelands for good because we have burned too much fossil fuel.

In the meantime, they urgently need assistance to adapt to rising seas, build resilience, and develop the infrastructure that could save lives and livelihoods before and during relocation. Ironically, the Interior Department, the agency that released this study, stands in the way of the assistance these islands so desperately need. [Continue reading…]

As temperatures rise, so do insects’ appetites for corn, rice and wheat

Science News reports:

With temperatures creeping up as the climate warms, those very hungry caterpillars could get even hungrier, and more abundant. Crop losses to pests may grow.

Insects will be “eating more of our lunch,” says Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle. Based on how heat revs up insect metabolism and reproduction, he and his colleagues estimate that each degree Celsius of warming temperatures means an extra 10 to 25 percent of damage to wheat, maize and rice. Their prediction appears in the Aug. 31 Science.

Insects already munch their way through 8 percent of the world’s maize and wheat each year, and damage 14 percent of rice, Deutsch says. If Earth’s average global temperature rises just 2 degrees above preindustrial levels, annual crop losses could reach about 10 percent for maize, 12 percent for wheat and 17 percent for rice. That’s a total loss of about 213 million tons for the three grains combined. [Continue reading…]

The Gulf Coast is most at risk and least prepared for climate change

Eric Holthaus writes:

There’s been a recent lull of high-profile hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, but the Gulf Coast’s vulnerabilities go far beyond the attention-getting late summer storms. By many metrics, it’s the region most at riskand least prepared — for climate change.

A study published last year in Science magazine showed that for the country’s poorest counties, largely located in the Southeast, climate change could exacerbate already-pervasive economic inequality. If the region continues along a business-as-usual trajectory, warming could knock 20 percent off average incomes as a result of declining crop yields, rising electricity costs, and worsening public health. Mississippi doesn’t even have a plan, and for the most part, the epicenter of America’s offshore oil industry isn’t concerned with the looming disaster on its doorstep.

“Our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history,” Solomon Hsiang, the Science study’s lead author, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Thirteen years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi coast, some communities have been largely abandoned as rising insurance costs have made rebuilding housing prohibitively expensive. In New Orleans, the unequal recovery has looked different for white and black residents.

But it doesn’t take a hurricane to cause a catastrophe anymore. Even more worrying than storms like Gordon is the increasing damage from non-tropical rainstorms. In 2016, an unnamed week-long deluge in Louisiana became one of the country’s worst flooding disasters in history. [Continue reading…]

How can China satisfy surging demand for meat without undermining the country’s commitment to combating climate change?

Marcello Rossi reports:

Fueled by rising incomes rather than urbanization, meat consumption in China grew sevenfold over the last three decades and a half. In the early 1980s, when the population was still under one billion, the average Chinese person ate around 30 pounds of meat per year. Today, with an additional 380 million people, it’s nearly 140 pounds. On the whole, the country consumes 28 percent of the world’s meat — twice as much as the United States. And the figure is only set to increase.

But as the Chinese appetite for meat expands, the booming nation is faced with a quandary: How to satisfy the surging demand for meat without undermining the country’s commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and combating global warming — goals that have been expressly incorporated into national economic, social development, and long-term planning under the Xi Jinping administration. [Continue reading…]