October 15 2019

October 15 2019

impact of climate change on the oceans, powerful hurricanes spinning, electric vehicles a major California export, reconnecting the Sacramento River to its floodplain, U.S. taxpayers buying risky mortgages

The New York Times reports on a recent U.N. study that documents the extraordinary impacts of climate change on the oceans. Altered chemistry, plummeting fish populations and warmer ocean water exacerbate the stress on marine ecosystems already created by over-fishing, plastic waste and other insults. The report describes how changes to the ocean will have significant implications for human civilization, and includes yet another call for an ambitious transition to an economy free of carbon emissions. The Guardian reports on a study conducted in Australia that documents the importance of mangroves, sea grasses and other coastal wetlands for storing carbon.

With all the news about impeachment, Hurricane Lorenzo did not received much attention, but it should have. While it lost much power before striking Ireland and the U.K., Lorenzo was the most powerful storm ever in a part of the Atlantic Ocean that does not normally see such meteorological events, creating dangerous waves at sea and along the coast. The Washington Post reports that this fits the climate change projections for stronger hurricanes, driven by the warming waters of the Atlantic. The New York Times reports on Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest storm to hit Japan in decades, which generated record rainfall and flooding and caused 3.9 million people to evacuate their homes.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on the impacts of a 5-year drought in Honduras, which is pushing over half a million people into extreme food insecurity according to two U.N. agencies. Both organizations note that climate change is altering weather patterns that support agriculture in Honduras, both by drought and by triggering intense downpours.

The scale of action required to address climate change will require an enormous mobilization of resources, and America’s response during WWII is often used as an analogy. In the New York Times, Roy Scranton examines what this might look like. CNBC reports on a recent study that concludes 79 of America’s multi-billionaires have the financial resources to develop the solar-electric capacity to power the United States. The study assumes that 1544 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology would need to be deployed, and that after financing this project the 79 individuals would still each possess a billion dollars of liquid assets.

An important part of building resiliency to our new climate is dealing with larger floods, and an article in Estuary describes the growing effort to reconnect the Sacramento River to its original floodplain. Research has demonstrated that there is likely a way to do this that provides benefits for flood control, fisheries and farms. Such “multi-benefit” approaches are key to building support for resiliency projects.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports on a study that concludes banks are selling mortgages for properties at risk from climate change to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are private companies backed by the federal government, and thus U.S. taxpayers are shouldering the risk of default on these loans. The study suggests “a potential threat to the stability of financial institutions” similar to the problems that triggered the great recession in 2008-09. AP reports on how the need for housing in urban regions, the political power of the building industry and outmoded incentives in the federal flood control insurance program are encouraging communities to authorize construction in fire- or flood-prone regions.

At Yale e360, Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury interviews Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, about vehicle fuel efficiency, electric vehicles and the Trump Administration’s attacks on California’s recent agreement with auto manufacturers. At Project Syndicate, two senior staffers of Governor Newsom describe California’s strategy for addressing climate change (interesting tidbit: electric cars are now the 8th most valuable export of California).

The Guardian reports that three asset managers (Vanguard, Black Rock and State Street) have built a combined $300 billion fossil-fuel investment portfolio. BlackRock and Vanguard have also routinely opposed motions at fossil-fuel companies that would have forced directors to take more action on climate change.

The Climate Deregulation Tracker of Columbia Law School now has 129 instances undertaken by the Trump Administration and Congress to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures. An op-ed in the New York Times by Justin Gillis, who for years was an environmental reporter at the paper, calls for action before it is too late. As he notes, we can expect the impacts we see now to get worse for the rest of our lives. How worse is up to us.