July 31 2019

July 31 2019

managed retreat, water scarcity, you think it’s hot now?, renewable natural gas, take action September 20 & 27!

The New York Times reports on how more cities are leveraging local, state and federal funds to buy out flood-prone properties rather than continue to repair or rebuild them after flood events. After a buyout, the house is razed and the land placed into a use (such as a park) that can accommodate flooding. This is making future floods “nonevents” rather than disasters.

One community that is struggling to use buyouts as a strategy to deal with sea level rise and coastal erosion is Pacifica, as noted in the Los Angeles Times. This detailed article examines sea walls, sand replenishment and managed retreat, and demonstrates the political challenges facing local government officials as they attempt to prepare their communities for the inevitable changes. The article also looks at planning and projects across California, including San Francisco, Ventura and part of Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas.

A new report from Moody’s Analytics, summarized by the Washington Post, concludes that climate change will inflict severe economic costs in the future if not controlled. These costs, which will accrue mainly in the second half of this century, will be caused predominantly by impacts to human health, labor productivity, crop yields and tourism. An article in the New Yorker describes the growing movement for governments to declare climate emergencies.

Climate Home News describes the growing crisis in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare as millions of inhabitants have limited access to water. Drought and infrastructure breakdown have led to desperate measures among residents, including digging shallow wells that access polluted groundwater. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on water scarcity in the Indus River region in Pakistan. Water shortages are leading to accusations that upstream districts are stealing water from downstream districts, where sea level rise is swallowing up farm land and further stressing the population. An op-ed in the New York Times describes the water security problems in India, especially in Chennai, and notes the importance of ecosystem restoration to help store the monsoon rains.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a report (and accompanying scientific paper) that projects heat impacts in the U.S. (summarized here in InsideClimate News, with a California-focused summary in the Mercury News). The study concludes that the number of days when the average temperature will feel like 100°F in the lower 48 states will more than double by mid-century, even with some efforts to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that drive global warming. In California, business-as-usual emissions result in an estimated 10.7 million people being exposed to a heat index above 100°F for the equivalent of two months or more per year. By limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C, roughly 10 million of those residents would avoid such extreme conditions.

The recent record heat in Europe, as described by the Washington Post, drives home the point of the UCS study. Hotter summers are increasing rates of evaporation, drying out the soil and vegetation. This has resulted in an 800% increase in the size of forest fires in California according to a recent study summarized in the Atlantic. This year the arctic is seeing extreme heat, with fires burning in Alaska and Greenland. The heat is resulting in high ocean temperatures (parts of the Chukchi Sea are 9°F above normal), and record ice loss is possible.

Anchorage hit 90°F on July 4th, breaking its all-time record by 5 degrees. For the first time in NOAA’s 95 years of keeping records, the average annual temperature in Alaska was above freezing from July 2018-June 2019. The University of Alaska is a global leader in arctic research, and the Governor of Alaska has responded to the documented climate threat in the arctic by cutting the University’s budget by 41%. This has forced the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska to declare a condition of financial exigency, essentially a declaration of bankruptcy, allowing them to fire tenured faculty and take other extreme measures.

Yale e360 reports on the growing renewable natural gas industry, where food scraps, manure and other organic wastes are refined into methane that is pure enough to be sold into the existing natural-gas distribution system. A leader in this field is Denmark, where industry experts project that they will be able to replace fossil gas with renewable gas in 20 years. Anthropocene Magazine summarizes recent research that reports the conversion of waste PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, a common type of disposable bottle, into jet fuel and diesel.

The Guardian has an excellent article about life in rural eastern North Carolina after Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018). One challenge of adapting to extreme weather events is that both their average size and frequency can increase. This region had not recovered from the first bout of intense rainfall before dealing with another, and many residents are now desperate for assistance. FEMA’s response for rebuilding assistance is slow, and small communities that do not have other resources to redirect toward the problem are suffering. This is a story that will be repeated all over the world in coming years.

The Biden campaign has released a policy proposal for rural America to encourage farming practices that store carbon by paying farmers who adopt them. InsideClimate News reports that, as with most major policy initiatives, the devil is in the details. However, our working lands can be an important part of the climate solution, and it is great to see this as part of a “moderate” candidate’s platform. Meanwhile, from the “not everybody gets it department:” InsideClimate News reports that the State of Ohio just passed legislation that provides subsidies to nuclear and coal power plants and reduces requirements to shift to renewables. The bill also eliminates a requirement that utilities operate programs to help consumers use less energy. These programs saved Ohio consumers $5.1 billion from 2009-2017, so I guess they had to go. Bloomberg columnist Liam Denning calls this a trip up Throwback Mountain.

I know this edition of In Brief Climate News is not the most uplifting, as it documents inaction (and bad decisions) by political leaders in Washington, Alaska, Ohio and other places in the face of accelerating climate change. On September 20th and 27th a diverse group of organizations are supporting the global youth call for two days of climate action, and I encourage you to put these dates on your calendar and get out in the streets (maybe this New Yorker profile of Extinction Rebellion will get you motivated). Pledge to join people all over the world, and bring your friends and family. You’ll feel better when you take action!