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climate change

Climate Change and Nature

A New Approach to Infrastructure, Climate Change & Nature

Climate Change and NatureThe recent horrors in Texas, as millions went without electricity and water during a historic winter storm and cold snap, remind us of the ticking time bomb that is our nation’s aging infrastructure. In the early 20th century, we made bold investments in our infrastructure that powered our success, and our continued prosperity depends upon our ability to innovate and adapt. Yet we have failed to invest for decades, leading to the American Society of Civil Engineers consistently giving America’s infrastructure C-minus to D-plus marks.

As climate change brings more frequent and intense weather events, our infrastructure will continue to face challenges it was not built to withstand. The most vulnerable among us will suffer disproportionately. If this is to be a time of equitable renewal amid a global pandemic, then we must meet this once-in-a-generation opportunity to address our crumbling infrastructure, climate change and social equity with a natural solution.

A 21st-century infrastructure system should incorporate conventional approaches using rock, concrete and steel that are strategically designed to work with natural infrastructure. Imagine a concrete flood wall with an expansive reef and marsh in front of it. The wall provides flood protection benefits during storms but does little on a sunny day. In contrast, the reef and marsh system not only reduces the power of waves but also self-adjusts to rising seas, captures carbon, improves water quality, and provides places for us to hunt, fish and recreate.

Further inland, river floodplains, parks and greenspaces can serve as pressure relief valves to help protect downstream communities from flooding and pollution. When conventional engineering and Mother Nature join forces, our communities are protected by multiple lines of defense that generate a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits.

You can read more on the Washington Post website here.

Texas Winter Storm Blackout

Climate Chaos in Action: Millions Lose Power in Winter Storm Uri

Texas Winter Storm BlackoutAt least 21 people have died across the southern United States as a result of the devastating Winter Storm Uri, and millions more are without power and heat as the snowfall and freezing rain continue. Many of them are low-income, nonwhite families who continue to bear the brunt of compounding crises.

In Texas, where the power outages have been particularly severe, Black and Hispanic families are more than twice as likely as white households to live under the poverty line, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Many are living without sufficient insulation to protect themselves from the cold, and others are living without shelter entirely. And amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, traditional emergency responses are failing.

“Whether it’s flooding from severe weather events like hurricanes or it’s something like this severe cold, the history of our response to disasters is that these communities are hit first and have to suffer the longest,” Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, told the New York Times.

States like Texas with milder winters were caught off guard by the chill, which led to a massive spike in energy demand and a huge drop in available electricity as the infrastructure around natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy froze up. Tuesday was the coldest day in North Texas in 72 years, with the Dallas-Fort Worth area reaching a record low temperature of minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

The cold weather has triggered a wave of blackouts across Texas, leaving millions of residents shivering in the dark. In some places, Texans have been without power for days.

With average temperatures rising around the world due to greenhouse gas emissions, there is more heat in the global climate system. That’s already having some predictable impacts, like an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves.

But it may be having some counterintuitive effects as well, especially during colder seasons. How climate change will reshape winters is, as scientists like to say, an area of active research.

There are a couple of competing ideas for how more warming will change the likelihood of extreme cold periods, like the frigid weather currently gripping much of the US. One group of researchers says that warming will make such events less likely, while another says that warming in the Arctic will increase the chances of frigid polar air spilling further south, leading to more periods of extreme cold in the near term.

But as Texas shows, failing to prepare for winter weather extremes can be devastating, so it’s critical to find out what scenarios could be in store and how often they’ll occur.

You can read more about Winter Storm Uri’s disproportionate effects on low income communities and people of color on TheHill.com here, and more about the connection between extreme winter weather and climate chaos on Vox.com here.

Climate Change Blog Photo

How Climate Change May Be Affecting Human Health

Climate Change Blog PhotoRelatively few Americans associate climate change with possible harms to their health, and most have given little thought to this possibility. Studies in the United States and Britain have shown that “people have a strong tendency to see climate change as less threatening to their health and to their family’s health than to other people’s health,” according to Julia Hathaway and Edward W. Maibach at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

Two recently published reports tell a different story. One, by two public health experts, called for the creation within the National Institutes of Health of a “National Institute of Climate Change and Health” to better inform the medical community, public officials and ordinary citizens about ways to stanch looming threats to human health from further increases in global warming. The second was a full-page article in The New York Times on Nov. 29 with the headline “Wildfire Smoke in California Is Poisoning Children.” It described lung damage along with lifelong threats to the health of youngsters forced to breathe smoke-laden air from wildfires that began raging in August and fouled the air throughout the fall.

Children are not the only ones endangered. Anyone with asthma can experience life-threatening attacks when pollution levels soar. The risks of heart disease and stroke rise. And a recent study in JAMA Neurology of more than 18,000 Americans with cognitive impairment found a strong link between high levels of air pollution and an increased risk of developing dementia.

“While anyone’s health can be harmed by climate change, some people are at greatly increased risk, including young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, outdoor workers, and people with fewer resources,” Drs. Hathaway and Maibach wrote in Current Environmental Health Reports.

You can read more about this on the NY Times website here.

Flooding Flowers

New Funding Strategy Could Provide Up to $10 Billion to Prevent Climate Disasters

Flooding FlowersIn the past year FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has taken a leading role in fighting Covid-19 — and the agency’s plan is to count that Covid spending toward the formula used to redirect money to climate projects. Doing so would allow the Biden administration to quickly and drastically increase climate-resilience funding without action by Congress, generating a windfall that could increase funding more than sixfold.

Michael M. Grimm, FEMA’s acting deputy associate administrator for disaster mitigation, said the agency’s initial estimates suggested that as much as $3.7 billion could be available for the program, called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC. By comparison, that program so far has just $500 million to award in grants.

More of that $3.7 billion “may be forthcoming,” Mr. Grimm said in a statement.

But the amount of new money could potentially climb to as much as $10 billion, according to some estimates, if FEMA also decided to count Covid dollars toward a similar fund, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, designed to help communities rebuild after a disaster. Mr. Grimm said the decision to provide that funding has not yet been made.

The proposal wouldn’t necessarily reduce the money available to address Covid, according to people familiar with the plan. Rather, it would give FEMA the ability to draw additional resilience money from the government’s dedicated disaster fund, which Congress routinely replenishes once the fund is drawn down.

You can read more about this on the NY Times website here.

Paris Climate Agreement Image

U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement

Paris Climate Agreement ImageThe United States is rejoining the Paris climate agreement, fulfilling one of President Joe Biden’s earliest campaign promises and generating sighs of relief around the world as governments struggle to keep the planet’s temperature from surging to even more dangerous levels.

On Wednesday, just five hours after his inauguration and amid a flurry of other presidential actions, President Joe Biden signed an executive order returning the U.S. to the landmark accord to slash carbon emissions. The move will be official in 30 days.

Rejoining the agreement, however, is just the first step. To fulfill its obligations under the pact, the Biden administration will have to quickly throw together a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions before the next U.N. climate meeting, scheduled for December in Glasgow. Other countries will expect the U.S. to come with a goal to slash CO2 emissions by 45 to 50 percent by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) and get overall emissions to zero by the middle of the century. And it won’t be enough for the United States just to set those targets. Biden will also have to show the country can reach them — and that it can be counted on not to back out for a second time.

You can more about this on Grist.org here.

Arctic Drilling Photo

Sales of Drilling Leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Attract Few Bidders

Arctic Drilling PhotoIn a blow to the outgoing administration’s efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel development, only half of the oil and gas leases offered for sale Wednesday received bids, and all but two of those came from the state of Alaska itself.

Only two companies, neither of them major oil producers, made bids to acquire 10-year rights to explore and drill for oil on two tracts totaling about 75,000 acres. A state-owned economic development corporation, offering the minimum of $25 an acre, was the sole bidder on the other tracts, totaling about half a million acres. The rights to another 400,000 acres remained unsold.

Once billed as a potential windfall that, over time, could bring in close to a billion dollars for the federal Treasury, in all the sale netted less than $15 million, with half of that going to the state.

Both the financial results, and the lack of interest from major companies, are quite likely a disappointment to the administration, and to Alaska officials who have long favored oil development for the jobs and revenue it could bring.

You can read more on the NY Times website here.

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