May 31 2024

May 31 2024

the grief of climate scientists, accelerating sea level rise along southern U.S. coast, extreme storm strikes Houston, the grim truth of Republican plans for another Presidential administration, septic tanks begin to fail in Florida

The scale of climate-driven change appearing on the planet, combined with inadequate efforts to transform our energy system, is leaving many climate scientists in a place of grief. The Guardian reports on its survey of climate scientists, in which almost 20% of the female scientists indicate that they did not (or are not going to) have children because, as one scientist put it, “the world is going to hell in a handbasket.”

80% of the respondents to the survey expect that global average temperature will be at least 2.5°C above preindustrial levels by 2100, while only 6% thought the ambitious international goal of 1.5°C will be met. “Many of the scientists envisage a ‘semi-dystopian’ future, with famines, conflicts and mass migration, driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms of an intensity and frequency far beyond those that have already struck.” (A separate article in The Guardian describes this unpleasant likelihood.) Jesse Keenan of Tulane University said, “this is just the beginning: buckle up,” while a South African scientist who chose anonymity stated: “The world’s response to date is reprehensible — we live in an age of fools.”

But before you throw up your hands, many scientists point out that we can still influence the outcome. Peter Cox of the University of Exeter said: “Climate change will not suddenly become dangerous at 1.5°C — it already is. And it will not be ‘game over’ if we pass 2°C, which we might well do.” As I’ve noted previously, the world we get will be the world we choose. We just can’t choose the world we’ve had.

As Christiana Figueres states in The Guardian, “now it’s up to the rest of us to decide what this moment requires of us and to radically change the direction of travel.” She warns against a sense of despair, as it saps our agency and “prevents the radical collaboration we need.” She encourages us to recognize how much has been accomplished, triple down on our efforts and “deploy the perspective of possibility.” She also notes the remarkable rise of renewable energy (as I described in Viva la Revolution) and sees that, despite a future that will require great adjustment and engagement, enormous positive change is underway and accelerating. She encourages us all to remain stubborn optimists, a perspective I cultivate and practice.

Canary Media reviews the promise of geothermal energy, which has the potential to be the perfect complement to solar and wind to achieve a clean electrical grid. At the moment, the U.S. has just 3,700 megawatts of geothermal electrical generating capacity (0.4% of our total capacity), mainly where geothermal resources are readily available at the Earth’s surface like hot springs or geysers. New drilling technologies provide the promise of tapping deeper hot-rock resources that are available virtually everywhere, and recent results demonstrate costs for accessing these resources are coming down quickly. Attracting sufficient capital investment is a key goal for the companies that are developing these new technologies.

The Washington Post reports that “at more than a dozen tide gauges spanning from Texas to North Carolina, sea levels are at least 6 inches higher than they were in 2010 — a change similar to what occurred over the previous five decades.” This is bringing impacts expected in the future into the present: “Choked septic systems are failing and threatening to contaminate waterways. Insurance companies are raising rates, limiting policies or even bailing in some places, casting uncertainty over future home values in flood-prone areas. Roads increasingly are falling below the highest tides, leaving drivers stuck in repeated delays, or forcing them to slog through salt water to reach homes, schools, work and places of worship. In some communities, researchers and public officials fear, rising waters could periodically cut off some people from essential services such as medical aid.” Experts think that these “thousand cuts” from rising seas are a more important impact of climate change than the occasional stronger hurricane. “Projections suggest that the flooding of today will look modest compared with what lies ahead. High-tide floods in the region are expected to strike 15 times more frequently in 2050 than they did in 2020.” The article visits Mobile, AL, St. Tamanny, LA and Pensacola, FL to examine the impacts on the ground, which are extensive and expensive to defend against.

A powerful storm struck Houston and the surrounding area, bringing devastating hurricane-force winds.The New York Times reports that at least seven people died and a million lost power. The Washington Post notes that forecasters had warned for days that a dangerous storm would affect the area, but it was not a hurricane and so did not receive the same level of attention (the Houston Astros played a baseball game during the storm, even as rain was being blown into the covered stadium). The New York Times reviews the relationship between powerful thunderstorms and climate change, noting that, while the ingredients for powerful storms are more readily available in our new climate, it doesn’t mean they always happen.

In addition to picking up the pieces from the storm, Houston is also trying to deal with more frequent flooding. The region has one of the first local programs in the country that uses FEMA money to buy out flood-prone homes. This effort at managed retreat included using “federal funds to purchase and demolish an entire subdivision called Forest Cove, converting the open space into a “greenway” park with walking and bike trails.” Grist reports that, despite the purchase of over 600 properties in the last 30 years, the recent storms in Houston still caused great damage.

This summer could test Houston’s efforts, as Inside Climate News notes that NOAA is predicting more tropical storms this year than it has ever predicted before. This is mainly due to the record warmth measured in the Atlantic Ocean, and the quick transition from El Niño to La Niña conditions in the Pacific basin, which reduces high-altitude winds that can suppress hurricane formation. Other organizations have also predicted a “hyper-active” hurricane season for 2024.

Reuters reports on the massive flooding that has struck southern Brazil. Given the amount of rain that has fallen, and the forecast for more, it could take months before floodwaters recede. Almost 150 people are dead (with 100 still missing), 250,000 are without power and over 130,000 are without water. The Guardian notes that over 540,000 people are homeless and costs to repair and rebuild will be in the billions of dollars. Inside Climate News has some details about the devastation and the rescue effort. “Families without anywhere else to go have been forced into pop-up safety shelters, including a university sports hall that is currently home to about 6,000 people who sleep on mattresses scattered across the floor.” Around 31,000 soldiers, police and emergency service workers have been deployed across the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, with more than 69,000 people and 10,000 animals recently rescued.

Inside Climate News interviews Al Gore about the state of climate politics and the global move toward sustainability. Gore notes that the availability of capital, and the resistance of the fossil-fuel industry, are the two biggest challenges for clean-energy development. He states that gerrymandering and the nationalizing of political fundraising have given the industry the opportunity to threaten members of Congress, to take away their funding and instead finance a challenger in the primary. “This has been one of the reasons why one of our two major political parties is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry. I mean, it’s pathetic, really, and dangerous.”

An op-ed in The New York Times describes the horrific implications for addressing climate change if the Republicans are victorious in the November election. Among other things, it notes that Project 2025 of the Heritage Foundation, which is considered the Republican blueprint if they win, states “the Biden administration’s climate fanaticism will need a whole-of-government unwinding.” Not only does this blueprint call for repeal of “the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act, which would shred the tax credits that have led to hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in clean energy,” but it also proposes dismantling and privatizing parts of NOAA and using an executive order to “reshape the Global Change Research Program, apparently to muddy its assessments of the pace of climate change and the potential impact.” The New York Times notes that Mr. Trump “has promised to eliminate Mr. Biden’s new climate rules intended to accelerate the nation’s transition to electric vehicles, and to push a ‘drill, baby, drill’ agenda aimed at opening up more public lands to oil and gas exploration.” Trump asked oil executives to make major donations to his campaign, which he claimed they would make back in avoided taxes and legal fees after he’s elected. An op-ed in The New York Times observes that, while there are horrifying implications of this quid pro quo, what is truly amazing is that as a nation “we seem to be completely unfazed by the fact that the former president has apparently offered to sell his prospective administration to fossil fuel interests.”

A sad report from The Washington Post notes that Florida Governor Ron de Santis signed into law a bill that “removes most references to climate change in state law, bans offshore wind turbines in state waters and weakens regulations on natural gas pipelines.” The Governor said that the bill will “keep windmills off our beaches,” although there are no commercial wind resources offshore his state. This essentially means that Florida will no longer consider climate change as a priority in making energy policy decisions, “despite the threats it faces from powerful hurricanes, extreme heat and worsening toxic algae blooms.” Indeed, “90 percent of Floridians accept that climate change is happening and 69 percent support state action to address it.”

The public education that has occurred in Florida, despite the pathetic actions of its Republican leaders, is due to the leadership of others. Axios describes a video of NBC meteorologist Steve MacLaughlin from Channel 6 in Miami who called out the state’s lack of leadership on air, encouraging voters to understand that some candidates will take climate change seriously and others will not. This remarkable act is the product of years of work with TV meteorologists by Climate Matters. Anthropocene reports that, despite growing evidence that climate denial is fading as young voters replace older ones, there is still a recalcitrant minority committed to denying climate change, including representatives in Congress who are supported by the fossil-fuel industry.

Meanwhile, while de Santis conducts his culture-war preening for the media, climate change is threatening the public health of his constituents. Sea level rise is driving groundwater closer to the surface, and this is interfering with the function of septic tanks (used by 1.6 million Florida households). The Washington Post describes the fetid and dangerous conditions in low-lying areas that result, and points out that other coastal states are experiencing this as well. It has been clear for decades that sea level rise would cause this problem (as I noted in 2018 after my visit to Miami Beach). In recent years, municipalities have been trying to connect more homes to sewer systems, but the scale and cost of this effort is overwhelming municipal budgets. Florida previously took action to eliminate septic systems in the Florida Keys (Monroe County), and it cost more than $1 billion. The Guardian reports that rising sea level in Bangladesh is driving an increase in chronic kidney disease as people are forced to use saline water for domestic purposes.

Inside Climate News visits central Ohio, where a major solar array with battery storage was recently approved. This bucks the trend of rejecting such projects in the state, and the article focuses on a local Republican commissioner who lost his re-election bid due to his support for the project. Opponents are very concerned about the conversion of prime farm land to solar power. The new project is collaborating with Ohio State University to demonstrate “agrivoltaics,” where agricultural production is combined with the solar array. Peter Sinclair notes on his blog how renewable-energy development benefits farmers, contributes to agricultural conservation and supports the transition from fossil fuels. He notes that real-estate developers are often opponents of agrivoltaics, the revenue from which is keeping farms in business and preventing farmland from having to be sold.