News Article | May 8, 2017
The EPA’s climate change webpage was taken down for revisions last month to “reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.” It’s apparently still being updated. (We checked, so you don’t have to.) The page — which explained the basics of climate science and how it affects us — now has a new home: The City of Chicago’s website. “Here in Chicago, we know climate change is real, and we will continue to take action to fight it,” reads a statement city officials added to what is essentially a direct facsimile of what was once on the EPA’s site. An archived “Jan. 19 snapshot” of the climate science page is still linked on the EPA site, but there’s one tiny problem: As Climate Central reported, the archive is missing information. “The Trump administration can attempt to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees on the reality of climate change,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a press release, “but burying your head in the sand doesn’t erase the problem.” In April, Chicago pledged to power its municipal buildings with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. It’s one of many cities committing to clean energy while the federal government backslides.
News Article | May 11, 2017
"New Jersey's working class are forgotten as federal government funds fixes for wealthier neighbors". "Coastal communities are enduring growing flood risks from rising seas, with places like Atlantic City, sandwiched between a bay and the ocean, facing some of the greatest threats. Guided by new research by Climate Central’s Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss, reporter John Upton and photographer Ted Blanco chronicled the plight of this city’s residents as they struggle to deal with the impacts. Upton spent months investigating how the city is adapting, revealing vast inequity between the rich and the poor."
News Article | May 13, 2017
Coastal communities are enduring growing flood risks from rising seas, with places like Atlantic City, sandwiched between a bay and the ocean, facing some of the greatest threats. Guided by new research by Climate Central’s Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss, reporter John Upton and photographer Ted Blanco chronicled the plight of this city’s residents as they struggle to deal with the impacts. Upton spent months investigating how the city is adapting, revealing vast inequity between the rich and the poor. A driver plowed a sedan forcefully up Arizona Avenue, which had flooded to knee height during a winter storm as high tide approached. The wake from the passing Honda buffeted low brick fences lining the tidy homes of working-class residents of this failing casino city, pushing floodwaters into Eileen DeDomenicis’s living room. “It wasn’t bad when we first moved in here — the flooding wasn’t bad,” DeDomenicis said on a stormy morning in March, after helping her husband put furniture on blocks. She counted down until the tide would start to ebb, using a yardstick to measure the height of floodwaters climbing her patio stairs. She was tracking how many more inches it would take to inundate the ground floor. “When somebody comes by in a car, it splashes up. It hits the door.” DeDomenicis has lived in this house since 1982, a few hundred feet from a bay. She used to work as a restaurant server; now she’s a school crossing guard. Her husband walked a mile to his job at Bally’s Casino until he retired in January. They’ve seen floods worsen as the seas have risen, as the land beneath them has sunk, and as local infrastructure has rotted away. “It comes in the front door, the back door, and then from the bottom of the house, in through the sides,” DeDomenicis said. “You watch it come in and it meets in the middle of the house — and there’s nothing you can do.” Two miles east of Arizona Avenue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending tens of millions of dollars building a seawall to reduce storm surge and flooding risks for Atlantic City’s downtown and its towering casinos, five of which have closed in the past four years. A few miles in the other direction, it’s preparing to spend tens of millions more on sand dunes to protect million-dollar oceanfront homes. But the federal government has done little to protect the residents of Arizona Avenue, or the millions of other working class and poor Americans who live near bays up and down the East Coast, from a worsening flooding crisis. Seas are rising as pollution from fossil fuel burning, forest losses, and farming fuels global warming, melting ice, and expanding ocean water. With municipal budgets stretched thin, lower-income neighborhoods built on low-lying land are enduring some of the worst impacts. Climate Central scientists analyzed hundreds of coastal American cities and, in 90 of them, projected rapid escalation in the number of roads and homes facing routine inundation. The flooding can destroy vehicles, damage homes, block roads and freeways, hamper emergency operations, foster disease spread by mosquitoes, and cause profound inconveniences for coastal communities. Atlantic City is among those facing the greatest risks, yet much of the high-value property that the Army Corps is working to protect was built on a higher elevation and faces less frequent flooding than neighborhoods occupied by working class and unemployed residents — an increasing number of whom are living in poverty. Earthen mounds called bulkheads built along Atlantic City’s shores to block floods have washed away, or were never built in the first place. Flap valves in aging storm drains have stopped working, allowing water to flow backward from the bay into the street when tides are high. At high tide, stormwater pools in Arizona Avenue, unable to drain to the bay. The flooding is getting worse because seas have been rising along the mid-Atlantic coast faster than in most other regions, and the land here is sinking because of groundwater pumping and natural processes. High tides in Atlantic City reach more than a foot higher than they did a century ago, and sea-level rise is accelerating. New Jersey has done little to address the problem, aside from administering federal grants that have helped a limited number of residents abandon or elevate vulnerable houses. “We expect each town to focus on planning and budgeting for mitigating flooding,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Bob Considine. Atlantic City can nary afford the kinds of capital improvements needed to provide meaningful relief. The Army Corps last year began a study of bay flooding in a sweeping stretch of New Jersey covering Atlantic City and 88 other municipalities, home to an estimated 700,000. The study was authorized by Congress in 1987, but it wasn’t kickstarted until federal research identified widespread risks following Superstorm Sandy. The bay flooding study is “fairly early in the process,” said Joseph Forcina, a senior Army Corps official who is overseeing more than $4 billion worth of post-Sandy recovery work by the agency, including construction of a $34 million seawall in downtown Atlantic City and tens of millions of dollars worth of sand dune construction and replenishment nearby. The study is expected to take more than two years. “We really are in the data-gathering mode.” The study will help the agency propose a plan, which Congress could consider funding, to ease flood risks when high tides and storms push seawater from bays into streets and homes. It will consider the effects of sea-level rise, but it won’t directly address flooding from poor drainage of rainwater, meaning any fixes spurred by the study are likely to be partial at best. “The Corps is not the agency that deals with interior drainage,” Forcina said. “That’s a local responsibility.” Floods are driving up insurance rates, while routinely causing property damage and inconveniences. Federal flood insurance promotes coastal living in high-risk areas, and the program is more than $20 billion in arrears following Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. Arizona Avenue residents received Federal Emergency Management Agency letters in March warning of insurance rate increases ahead of 5 to 18 percent a year, which “makes us want to leave even more,” said Tom Gitto. Raising three children on Arizona Avenue, Gitto and his wife have been unemployed since the closure last year of Trump Taj Mahal, where they worked. He said the flooding has become unbearable but property prices are so low that they feel trapped. Two houses on Arizona Avenue recently sold for less than $35,000. Gitto paid a similar price for his fixer-upper in the 1990s, then spent more than the purchase price on renovations. Flood insurance provided $36,000 for another refurbishment after Sandy ravaged their home. Flooding strikes the Jersey Shore so often now that the National Weather Service’s office in Mount Holly, New Jersey, raised the threshold at which it issues flood advisories by more than three inches in 2012 “to avoid creating warning fatigue,” flooding program manager Dean Iovino said. Such advisories were being issued nearly every month in Atlantic City before the policy change, up from an average of four months a year in the 1980s. One out of 10 of the 20,000 homes in Atlantic City are at elevations that put them at risk of flooding each year on average, Climate Central found, though some are protected by bulkheads and other infrastructure that help keep floods at bay. The research was published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change. The proportion of the city’s streets and homes affected by flooding is projected to quickly rise. Within about 30 years — the typical life of a mortgage — one out of three homes in Atlantic City could be inundated in a typical year. That would be the case even if aggressive efforts to slow climate change are put in place, such as a rapid global switch from fossil fuels to clean energy. The worsening woes aren’t confined to Atlantic City, though risks here are among the greatest in America. Neighborhoods near bays can experience rapid increases in the number of streets and homes exposed to regular floods, with small additional sea level capable of reaching far into flat cityscapes and suburbs. Elsewhere at the Jersey Shore, in Ocean City, New Jersey, the analysis showed one out of five homes are built on land expected to flood in typical years, a figure that could rise to nearly half by 2050. Other cities facing rapid increases in risks include San Mateo along San Francisco Bay in Silicon Valley, the lumber town of Aberdeen at Grays Harbor in Washington state, and Poquoson, Virginia, which has a population of 12,000 and juts into the Chesapeake Bay. The greenhouse gas pollution that’s already been pumped into the atmosphere makes it too late to prevent coastal flooding from getting worse. It’s simply a matter of how much worse. The benefits of acting now to slow the effects of warming later would become clearest in the second half of this century. In Atlantic City, if global pollution trends continue and defenses are not improved, 80 percent of current homes risk being inundated in typical years by the end of the century, the analysis showed. By contrast, if greenhouse gas pollution is aggressively reduced almost immediately, the number of homes expected to be exposed to that risk in 2100 would fall to 60 percent. As efforts to protect the climate flounder in the U.S. and elsewhere, unleashing higher temperatures and seas, communities like the DeDomenicises’ have three basic options for adapting. They can defend against floods with infrastructure that keeps tidal waters at bay, such as bulkheads, pumps, and marsh and dune restorations. They can accommodate the water using measures such as elevating existing houses and building new ones on stilts. And they can relocate altogether, an option that’s expected to lead to mass migrations inland during the decades ahead. Modeling by University of Georgia demographer Mathew Hauer projects 250,000 being forced by rising seas from New Jersey by century’s end if pollution levels remain high, with nearly 1.5 million refugees fleeing to Texas from U.S. coasts elsewhere. And from Florida — the poster child for sea-level dangers in the U.S. — 2.5 million may be driven to other states. All three strategies are being pursued to some extent in Atlantic City. All of them are expensive, limiting the options available for a city in decline. “Cities boom and bust,” said Benjamin Strauss, coauthor of the new study and vice president for sea level and climate impacts at Climate Central, which researches and reports on climate change. “Neighborhoods can thrive, and fall into decay. Those are, to some extent, natural cycles of economic life. But now, superimposed onto that for Atlantic City at just the wrong time is this awful existential sea-level threat.” Barrier islands like Absecon Island, upon which Atlantic City grew as a gaming and vacation mecca, line the East Coast, from New York to Florida, natural features associated with the coastline’s wide continental shelf and shallow waters. Until barrier islands were developed and armored with seawalls, roads, and building foundations, low-lying shores facing the mainland could keep up with rising seas. Wind and waves washed sand and mud over growing marshes, helping to build up the land. Now, a century of development has locked down the shape and position of the islands, blocking natural processes. “It’s a huge problem for the U.S.,” said Benjamin Horton, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, which is a global leader in researching sea rise. “These barrier islands are important for so many things — important for housing, important for the economy. They’re important for a variety of industries. They’re especially important for ecosystems. And the barriers protect the mainland from hurricanes; they’re a first line of defense. You lose the barrier islands and where do you think the big waves are going to hit?” As barrier islands and mainland coastlines were developed, wealthy neighborhoods clustered near ocean shores, where the elevations tend to be higher — which reduces flood risks — and where views are considered the best. Lower-income neighborhoods and industrial zones grew over former marshlands near bays and rivers, where swampy smells are strongest and where flooding occurs most frequently. That divide between rich and poor is clearly on display on Absecon Island, where stately houses built on higher land facing the ocean are often occupied only during summer — when risks of storms are lowest. The vacation homes and downtown Atlantic City casinos will be protected from storm surges by a new seawall and sand dunes built by the Army Corps, despite lawsuits filed by homeowners angry that dunes will block ocean views. Poorer neighborhoods are exemplified by Arizona Avenue, a block-long street between a bay and a minor thoroughfare. Bricks in fences and walls are stained by floodwaters and decaying beneath the effects of wakes from passing cars. The century-old, two-story houses have concrete patios and little landscaping — plants are hard to grow in the flood-prone conditions. During high tides that accompany new and full moons, the street can flood on sunny days. Rubber trash cans can be buoyant in floodwaters, tip over and foul the street with spoiled food and bathroom waste, which residents sweep away after floods recede. Cars are frequently destroyed. Many of the houses along Arizona Avenue had to be stripped and renovated after Sandy filled them with floodwaters and coated walls and ceilings with mold. The winter storm that inundated Arizona Avenue in March was a typical one for the region. The nor’easter struck during a full moon, meaning it coincided with some of the highest tides of the month. Floodwaters stopped rising a few inches beneath the DeDomenicises’ front door. Emergency crews patrolled in vehicles built to withstand high water. These kinds of floods are called “nuisance floods” by experts. Nuisance floods are becoming routine features of coastal living around America, and their impacts are difficult to assess. Washington and other major cities could experience an average of one flood caused by tides and storm surges every three days within 30 years, according to a study published by researchers with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists in the journal PLOS One in February. Rain and snow that fall during storms increase flood risks. Residents of Arizona Avenue describe anxiety when tides and storms bring floods, especially if they aren’t home to help protect their possessions. The rising floodwaters can be emotional triggers — reminders of the upheaving effects of floods wrought by major storms like Sandy in late 2012 and Winter Storm Jonas in early 2016. Some of the residents have spent months living in hotels while their homes were repaired following storms. One of Tom Gitto’s children was born while the family was living in a hotel room paid for by the federal government after Sandy. Susan Clayton, a psychology and environmental studies professor who researches psychological responses to climate change at the College of Wooster, a liberal arts college in Ohio, said such triggers can lead to sleeping difficulties, “profound anxiety” and other symptoms. The frequent risk of flooding may also make people constantly fear for their homes and for the security their homes provide. “It tends to be very important to everybody that they have some place that they feel they can relax, where they can be in control,” Clayton said. “Your home is your castle. When your home is threatened, that can really undermine a sense of stability and security. It’s not just the flooding, it’s the idea that it’s your home itself that’s being threatened.” The economic impacts of nuisance floods can also be far-reaching — researchers say they’re more impactful than most government officials assume. “Since they don’t get a lot of attention, we don’t have a data record of nuisance flooding costs,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a University of California, Irvine, scientist who studies hydrology and climatology. AghaKouchak led a study published in the journal Earth’s Future in February that attempted to quantify the economic impacts in large coastal cities. The researchers were hamstrung by the dearth of data. Their preliminary findings, however, suggested that the cumulative economic impacts of nuisance floods might already exceed those of occasional disaster floods in some areas. “There’s a lot of cost associated with this minor event,” AghaKouchak said. “Cities and counties have to send out people with trucks, pumps and so forth, they have to close down streets, build temporary berms.” On Arizona Avenue, residents say they feel abandoned by all levels of government. Like an Appalachian coal town, many here depend upon a single industry — an entertainment sector that’s in decline, anchored by casinos that draw visitors to hotels, arcades, restaurants, gas stations and strip clubs. “They forget about us,” said Christopher Macaluso, a 30-year-old poker dealer who owns a house on Arizona Avenue and grew up nearby. “We’re the city. If they didn’t have the dealers, the dishwashers, the valet guys, the cooks and the housemaids, what have you got? We definitely feel left out.” With casinos operating in nearby Pennsylvania and elsewhere following the lifting of gambling bans, the flow of visitors to Atlantic City has slowed over a decade from a gush to a trickle. Some towering casino buildings stand abandoned, like empty storefronts in a dying downtown. Others are filled well below capacity with gamers and vacationers; their gaudy interiors faded and gloomy. One out of every six jobs in Atlantic City was lost between 2010 and 2016 as nearly 5 percent of the population left, according to the latest regional economic report by New Jersey’s Stockton University, which is building a campus in the city. The number of Atlantic City residents using food stamps rose to 15 percent in 2015, and more than one out of every five children here is now officially living in poverty. President Trump’s construction of two ill-fated casinos in a saturated industry intensified the Atlantic City gaming bubble that began its spectacular burst a decade ago. (As president, Trump is dismantling regulations designed to slow sea rise and other effects of warming.) The city is so broke that its government operations are being overseen by New Jersey. “From the moment they started pulling handles in Pennsylvania, the cash that was pouring into slot machines in Atlantic City started to fall,” said Stockton University’s Oliver Cooke, who compares the city’s economic plight to that of Detroit. “As the economy melted down and the land valuations in the city headed south, the tax base just completely melted away.” Unable to pay for far-reaching measures taken by wealthier waterfront regions, like road-raising in Miami Beach and sweeping marsh restorations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Atlantic City has taken only modest steps to ease flooding. Using funds from a bond sale and state and federal grants, the city has been refurbishing sluice gates in a canal that were built to control floodwaters but haven’t worked in more than half a century. It plans to replace flap valves in two stormwater drains near Arizona Avenue for $16,000 apiece. “We’re treating that money like gold,” said Elizabeth Terenik, who was Atlantic City’s planning director until last month, when she left its shrinking workforce for a job with a flood-prone township nearby. That’s far shy of the tens of millions of dollars being spent just blocks away. The Army Corps is using Sandy recovery money to alleviate hazards in wealthier parts of the city and elsewhere on Absecon Island and in New York and other nearby states, while flooding affecting low-income residents of Arizona Avenue and similar neighborhoods is overlooked. “The Corps does not say, ‘Here’s a problem, and we’re going to fix it’ — somebody has to ask them to help,” said Gerald Galloway, a University of Maryland engineering professor and former Army Corps official. “It depends on a very solid citizen push to get it done. The Corps of Engineers has a backlog of construction awaiting money. You need very strong organizations competing for it.” Coastal New Jersey’s working class have little power in Washington and their cities manage modest budgets. The divide in Atlantic City reflects a grand injustice of global warming — one that’s familiar to Pacific nations facing obliteration from rising seas, and to Alaskan tribes settled by the government on shrinking coasts. While the wealthy may be able to adapt to the effects of climate change, the poor oftentimes cannot. “In some cases, the most vulnerable populations will not be able to move,” said Miyuki Hino, a Stanford PhD candidate who has studied coastal resettlements around the world. “In other cases, they’ll be forced to.”
News Article | May 22, 2017
Global production of the 4 most important staple crops in the world — maize/corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans — will be reduced by around 23% by the 2050s as a result of worsening anthropogenic climate change, according to new research published in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change. Notably, even by the 2030s — not that long from now — production of the staple crops mentioned above are expected to fall by ~9%, owing to rising temperatures (both rising minimums and maximums), increasingly extreme weather, and drought. It should be noted that the findings don’t take into account rising soil depletion/erosion problems, the possibility of synthetic fertilizer shortages, or the possibility of large-scale wars or social breakdown. In other words, things could get notably worse than the figures above, which are already quite extreme. Climate Central provides more: “The negative impacts of climate change to farming were pretty much across the board in the new analysis. There were small production gains projected for Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine in the 2030s, but by the 2050s, the models ‘are negative and more pronounced for all countries,’ the researchers wrote in the study.” That matches the findings of many earlier studies. The lead author of the new study, Mekbib Haile of the University of Bonn, noted that increases to average temperatures during the growing season don’t impact the staple crops mentioned above much until a “tipping point” is reached — which is apparently around 89° Fahrenheit for the crops in question. Haile stated: “Rising temperature at the two extremes — minimum temperature in the case of rice and maximum temperature in the case of corn — are detrimental to production of these crops.” This work follows other recent work published in the journal Environmental Research Letters that predicted that by the end of the century France’s production of winter wheat was likely to fall by around at least 21% — with winter barley production there falling by ~17% and spring barley production there falling by ~33% by the end of the century as well. It should be realized that, as with the ICCT’s climate change predictions, these estimates may well be underestimates, depending on how fast anthropogenic warming and associated changes occur over the coming decades. It should also be realized here that there are already some ~2 billion people around the world who subsist on diets that result in a nutrient-deficient state of health — as this problem worsens in the coming years owing to dropping crop yields, nutrient deficiencies will become even more common, and so will a wide variety of diseases and infections as a result. Check out our new 93-page EV report. Join us for an upcoming Cleantech Revolution Tour conference! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | May 27, 2017
The amount of heat-trapping pollution that’s released every time Bill Williams drives his electric sedan a mile down a road here has fallen by about a quarter in the three years since he bought it. Williams’ car hasn’t changed, but the electricity that powers it has. In Tennessee, power once generated overwhelmingly by coal has given way to more nuclear and natural gas power. With the rising number of plug-in models available in the U.S., many at increasingly affordable prices, and with electricity getting greener, the climate benefits of electric cars are growing. Polls show that Tennesseans are among the least worried nationwide about global warming, yet they support one of America’s healthiest electric car markets. One out of every 400 new cars sold in the state in 2016 could be plugged in, Auto Alliance figures show, ranking Tennessee 11th nationwide. Electric car owners here tend to give other reasons for their purchases and view climate benefits as nice extras. “The car of the future,” said Williams, a retired federal nuclear worker, beaming as he drove his Tesla Model S after punching the gas to show off its acceleration. “When I went and test drove it and saw it personally, I mean, I just liked everything about it.” Analysis by Climate Central shows that at least one variety of 2017 all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric car will have a smaller impact on the climate after 100,000 miles of driving than any of its gas-fueled competitors in 37 states, including Tennessee. That’s up from 16 states in 2013, as power grids have become greener. In California, the nation’s leading market for electric cars, where aggressive renewables policies have boosted the environmental benefits of the vehicles, one out of every 50 cars sold last year was a plug-in. In Alabama, which shares its northern border with Tennessee, it was one out of every 1,000. Electric cars are only as clean as the electricity they’re charged with. Solar, wind, and nuclear power are the most climate-friendly sources of electricity, while coal is the worst. Gasoline-fueled cars are powered by oil, which is a major source of heat-trapping pollution. Climate Central’s analysis also considered the pollution released when cars are manufactured. Because producing the battery and the rest of Williams’ Tesla released such an intense burst of greenhouse gas pollution, and because the retiree only drives 10,000 to 20,000 miles a year, it may be better for the climate if he’d held onto his 2007 Toyota Avalon, which is a relatively efficient gas-fueled sedan. In terms of climate impacts, sometimes “it’s best to just keep driving whatever car you’re driving” — even if it burns gas, so long as it’s an efficient model, said Greta Shum, a Climate Central researcher who led the analysis. “Electric vehicles have this really high emissions rate just before they get on the road.” Lowering greenhouse gas pollution from electricity generation can offset those heavy manufacturing impacts. About a quarter of the electricity being sold by the Tennessee Valley Authority this year is coming from coal, down from nearly 60 percent in 2007. The authority in the fall began operating the first new nuclear power station in America in two decades, and it has been building natural gas power plants and building and buying power from solar and wind farms. Its staff have been investigating the potential impacts of electric vehicle charging on the grid as the sector grows. “What impacts there are can be managed,” said Drew Frye, a power utility engineer. The Tennessee Valley Authority may be reducing its use of coal, but all of its power isn’t environmentally friendly. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that releases heat-trapping pollution, while nuclear power creates generations-long radioactive waste problems, and hydroelectricity also releases greenhouse gases. Just 3 percent of the authority’s power this year is coming from wind and solar power. Still, the energy mix is environmentally friendly enough to mean that the three most climate-friendly cars to operate over 100,000 miles in Tennessee are all-electric vehicles — models made by BMW, Mitsubishi, and Fiat. In 13 other states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, and North Dakota, heavy coal use means it’s still better for the climate to operate an efficient gas-powered model. As their climate impacts have gone down, ownership of electric cars in Tennessee has gone up, bolstered by operations at a Nissan factory in Smyrna, a state subsidy program (which has run out of money), and efforts by local and state governments to roll out networks and corridors of public charging stations. Charging stations dot major cities and line freeways between here and Nashville, helping motorists venture further from home without fear of being stranded. Some chargers were installed by local governments. Others are in the parking lots of fast food restaurants near off-ramps trying to woo customers. “I think our role here is helping to make it possible for that whole industry to grow, and to encourage people to be those early adopters,” said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, whose staff oversees 25 public charging stations in nine locations, often at parking garages. Some 400 customers use the stations, charging their cars for an average of 90 minutes at a time. “We wanted to set an example and make them available.” In a conservative city in a conservative state (60 percent of voters here in Knox County voted for President Trump, similar to Tennessee voters overall), Rogero was elected to her first term in 2011 after running a campaign that emphasized environmental policies. Opposition to environmental values in Knoxville has eased since 10 to 15 years ago, Rogero said, when opponents of urban planning turned out to rail at public meetings against what they saw as a United Nations conspiracy involving a sustainable development action plan called Agenda 21. Electric car owners in Knoxville tend to point to concerns about issues other than the climate in explaining why they have embraced the technology — typically local air pollution and the effects of crude oil imports from the Middle East. The role of pollution in raising temperatures and worsening droughts, storms, and floods is a scientific fact, but discussing “climate change” is considered political and divisive in many places. Electric cars, which help protect the climate, carry little such political baggage in Tennessee. “I think it’s just common sense to a lot of people here that gas prices won’t always be low; that driving vehicles that run on American fuels is important to our security, to our safety, to our air quality,” said Melissa Goldberg, project manager at the nonprofit East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition. “Alternative fuels and clean transportation are a transcendent bipartisan issue.” Leslie Grossman converted a jeep to run on electricity in 2009 and has become a prominent advocate for electric vehicles in Knoxville. While the stockbroker acknowledges that climate change is a problem, she identifies strongly as conservative and bristles at the notion that climate concerns might motivate her. “The reason I did it was to eliminate the imbalance in our trade and get us off fossil fuels, because they’re nasty,” Grossman said. “I chose a jeep for my conversion, because I was so tired of hearing narrow-minded people saying, ‘Electric is for wusses,’ or ‘Electric is for sissies.’” Nissan is producing Leafs at a factory three hours west of Knoxville, helping to establish electric cars as a driving force in the state’s economy. Leafs comprise slightly more than half of the roughly 200 registered electric vehicles in Knox County — far greater than the car’s market share nationally, the Auto Alliance’s data shows. Automotive students at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology learn to repair and maintain electric, hybrid, and internal combustion vehicles. When the students take lessons in electric vehicles, they’re learning about products that are getting cheaper as battery and other manufacturing technology improves. Although they’re still more expensive than traditional alternatives — putting them out of reach of many car buyers on smaller budgets — they can be charged for a fraction of the cost of a tank of gas. “It depends on what you’re comparing them with,” said Williams, the owner of the Tesla Model S, which starts at $68,000 for a 2017 model. “If you’re going to get an expensive car anyway, then why not?” While electric cars might become financially competitive over a vehicle’s lifetime with gas-fueled alternatives by next year in Europe, where gasoline is more expensive than in the U.S., UBS Financial Services projected it could take eight more years to reach similar price parity in America. Federal and some state subsidies are helping the electric vehicles compete in the meantime. “The incentive is designed to help consumers and companies in this new marketplace, and the idea, of course, is that over time, that subsidy, which would run out, would not be necessary,” said Alan Baum, an automotive market analyst. “We’re not there yet.” The future of incentive programs may be in peril, however. Subsidies for electric vehicles purchases have been running out of cash in some states, including Tennessee, and targeted for repeal in others. California drafted clean car standards that are more stringent than federal rules, mandating plug-in vehicle sales, which it and some other states enforce with the help of a federal waiver — a waiver that may be jeopardized under the Trump administration. Federal subsidies could run out for some manufacturers next year, though Congress is considering extending them. Oscar Smith, an Audi seller in Knoxville whose some 300 sales last year included three e-tron plug-ins, said subsidies are key for making electric cars more appealing. He also said they come with a “cool factor” that can help with sales. “I see it as the next evolution in automobiles,” said Richard Thigpen, a doctor in Knoxville who has leased a BMW i3 since 2014. Caring for the environment “wasn’t my primary motivation” in going electric, he said, but he wanted a car that could be fueled with American energy. Most of the coal and gas burned in the U.S. is mined or drilled domestically. “I really like the cool factor,” Thigpen said. “I’m an early adopter — I like what’s new, and it’s just fun to drive.”
News Article | May 24, 2017
Electric vehicles have been billed as the sustainable alternative to gas-guzzling cars. But that hasn't always been the case, particularly when coal-fired electricity is used to recharge the battery. Yet with solar and wind power booming in the U.S., and natural gas supplanting coal, the low-carbon EV dream is finally becoming a reality, a new analysis says. Automakers are also unveiling new and better electric car models, making it easier to ditch gasoline-fueled cars. Electric vehicles are now "unequivocally" the cleanest cars in the country, based on a national average, the research and journalism group Climate Central reported on Wednesday. SEE ALSO: Tesla plans to double its charging network by the end of the year That's an improvement over the group's previous analysis, which found that a fully gas-powered hybrid car was better for the environment than an electric car, based on the national average, over 100,000 miles of driving. "In more and more of the country, new electric cars are becoming the greenest option on the market, even when you consider the source of the electricity they use," Eric Larson, an energy systems analyst at Climate Central and the report's lead author, said in a press release. "More electric car choices are coming online, and the country has been gradually reducing the carbon intensity of electrical grids in recent years," he said. "That means Americans now have many more options if they want to drive cleaner cars." The analysis updates previous reports and is posted on a new interactive website, Climate-Friendly Cars. Visitors can search by U.S. state to see how all-electric, plug-in hybrids, and conventional battery hybrids compare from an environmental standpoint. The climate-friendliness of a particular model varies from state to state, since the best types of car are still determined by the local electric grid. In 37 states, an all-electric car emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car, over the first 100,000 miles driven. But in 13 fossil fuel-dependent states, a gas-powered car is still the cleanest choice for car owners, the Climate Central analysis found. EV drivers aren't limited to the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model X, two early popular models of all-electric cars. For instance, in a state like New York, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, BMW i3 BEV 60 ah, Fiat 500e and VW e-Golf also rank among the climate-friendliest options. Thanks to the growing variety, at least five all-electric car models are more climate friendly in 28 states compared to the "greenest" gas-powered car in that state, the report found. Within 24 states, plug-in hybrids, which can run on either gasoline or an electric charge, are also among the top environmentally friendly options. States where electric cars are by far the best option for the climate include California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington. Among the states where gas-powered cars are still the lowest-emissions options, thanks to their big base of coal-fired power plants, are Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. WATCH: Watch a Tesla Model X drive itself to the office
News Article | April 15, 2017
National parks are at the front lines of climate change. The creep of change is playing out in places that Americans have set aside to be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. A new poster series takes the landscapes that have inspired countless road trips and daydreams of summer vacation and imagines what they’ll look like in 2050 if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked. Hannah Rothstein, a Berkeley-based artist who created the series, said she was interested in doing a climate project that reinvented art people were familiar with. And national parks are some of the most iconic, visited places in the U.S. Last year, a record 325 million visited parks around the country. But with countless images of parks, Rothstein wanted to cut through the noise. She settled on recreating a series of classic Works Progress Administration posters printed between 1938 and 1941. The originals were created to signal to a Depression-weary public that the parks were open and full of spectacular sites to see. Their legacy lives on in park gift shops and visitor centers around the country in part because the scenes they depict are instantly recognizable. Old Faithful, towering redwoods, and the cavernous Grand Canyon depicted on the posters all speak to why these landscapes were set aside from commercial use. “I think a lot of people recognize the posters and that was key to the success (of this project), to have something familiar to people,” Rothstein said. “They could be familiar, but then have to look twice to figure out what was different.” What’s different in Rothstein’s posters is the impact climate change is likely to have on iconic landscapes. She researched the threats to parks and species that call them home, and her posters reveal a future where climate change is allowed to trample scenic vistas. The posters show the impacts far more powerfully than a scientific paper. Rising temperatures are increasing the risk of wildfire, melting glaciers, and killing fish in streams across the national park system. Sea-level rise threatens to flood coastal parks from the Statue of Liberty to the Everglades. Ocean acidification poses a threat to the underwater ecosystems in places like Dry Tortugas. The National Park Service has been a climate leader in the federal government, preparing parks for changes. But it’s a vast system, with 417 sites under its purview. It also faces a $12 billion maintenance backlog. “Now we’re faced with managing parks under a much more difficult, complicated system,” former National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis told Climate Central last year. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who oversees the national parks, did acknowledge climate change in his hearing, citing the disappearance of Glacier National Park’s ice as a clear indicator. He also questioned how big humans’ contribution was, a view outside established climate science. That makes it an open question as to whether the agency will continue to be a leader in climate change over the next four years. Harkening back to the WPA posters is also a sly nudge that the U.S. is capable of responding to grave threats with great action. The posters were created as part of a Depression-era program designed to put Americans back to work. The WPA and other New Deal programs were key to helping the U.S. climb out of the biggest financial crisis it had ever faced. The original WPA posters provide a positive message about the multitudes of American landscapes. Rothstein’s versions provide a warning about how those inspirational landscapes could be transformed for the worse unless the U.S. — and the world — undertakes significant action to reduce carbon pollution. “I don’t want this series to be something so overwhelming [that people] feel they can’t act,” Rothstein said. “I’m hoping it’s a call to action and call to dialogue. We can cut down on the effects.”
News Article | April 27, 2017
"A report by a leading research body monitoring the Arctic has found that previous projections of global sea level rise for the end of the century could be too low, thanks in part to the pace of ice loss of Arctic glaciers and the vast ice sheet of Greenland. It’s just the latest in a string of cases in which scientists have published numbers that suggest a grimmer picture than the one presented in 2013 by an influential United Nations body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The new Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic report presents minimum estimates for global sea level rise by the end of the century, but not a maximum. This reflects the fact that scientists keep uncovering new insights that force them to increase their sea level estimates further, said William Colgan, a glaciologist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who contributed to the sea level rise section." "Huge Storms In Northern Africa Have Tripled Since The 1980S. Scientists Blame Climate Change." (Washington Post) "Record-Breaking Climate Events All Over The World Are Being Shaped By Global Warming, Scientists Find" (Washington Post) "U.S. Vulnerable to Worst of Extreme Sea Rise" (Climate Central) "Trump's Climate Cuts Could Result in Half-Billion Extra Tons of CO2 in the Air" (InsideClimate News)
News Article | April 28, 2017
"Nearly three years ago, hundreds of thousands of people assembled in the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March. The event came as world leaders were gathering for a United Nations summit focused on climate action and as countries around the world were moving toward what would become a landmark accord the following year in Paris to collectively combat global warming. When demonstrators flock to Washington on Saturday for the next iteration of the People’s Climate March — a date that coincides with the 100th day of the Trump administration, which during its short tenure has begun to roll back Obama-era environmental protections, ease regulations on the fossil fuel industry and ponder pulling out of the Paris climate agreement — the tone is likely to be more confrontational." "Thousands of Protesters Will Swarm D.C. Again Saturday. This Time It’s For The People’s Climate March." (Washington Post) "The Next March Is All About Climate Change" (Climate Central)
News Article | April 26, 2017
Until recently, it seemed that we would be able to manage global warming-induced sea level rise through the end of the century. It would be problematic, of course, but manageable, particularly in industrialized nations like the U.S. However, troubling indications from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets show that melting is taking place faster than previously thought and that entire glaciers — if not portions of the ice sheets themselves — are destabilizing. This has scientists increasingly worried that the consensus sea level rise estimates are too conservative. With sea level rise, as with other climate impacts, the uncertainties tend to skew toward the more severe end of the scale. So, it's time to consider some worst-case scenarios. SEE ALSO: Trump White House reveals it's 'not familiar' with well-studied costs of global warming Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published an extreme high-end sea level rise scenario, showing 10 to 12 feet of sea level rise by 2100 around the U.S., compared to the previously published global average — which is closer to 8 feet — in that time period. The research and journalism group Climate Central took this projection and plotted out the stark ramifications in painstaking, and terrifying, detail. "By the end of the century, oceans could submerge land [that's] home to more than 12 million Americans and $2 trillion in property," according to Ben Strauss, who leads the sea level rise program at Climate Central. Here's what major cities would look like with so much sea level rise: In an online report, Climate Central states that the impacts of such a high amount of sea level rise "would be devastating." For example, Cape Canaveral, which is a crown jewel for NASA and now the private sector space industry, would be swallowed up by the Atlantic. Major universities, including MIT, would be underwater, as would President Trump's "southern White House" of Mar-a-Lago. In the West, San Francisco would be hard-hit, with San Francisco International Airport completely submerged. "More than 99 percent of today’s population in 252 coastal towns and cities would have their homes submerged, and property of more than half the population in 479 additional communities would also be underwater," the analysis, which has not been peer-reviewed, found. In New York City, the average high tide would be a staggering 2 feet higher than the flood level experienced during Hurricane Sandy. More than 800,000 people would be flooded out of New York City alone. Although the findings pertain to sea level rise through the end of the century, in reality sea levels would keep rising long after that, with a total increase of about 30 feet by 2200 for all coastal states, Climate Central found. As for how likely this extreme scenario really is, here's what the report says: "The extreme scenario is considered unlikely, but it is plausible. NOAA’s report and Antarctic research suggest that deep and rapid cuts to heat-trapping pollution would greatly reduce its chances." More specifically, the NOAA projection says this high-end outlook has just a 0.1 percent chance of occurring under a scenario in which we keep emitting greenhouse gases at about the current rate. While a 1-in-1,000 chance outcome might seem nearly impossible to occur, recent events suggest otherwise. For example, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Mid-Atlantic in 2012 while following a track that was virtually unprecedented in storm history. In addition, California is estimated to have had just a 1 percent chance of climbing out of its deep drought in a one to two-year period, and it did just that this winter. Robert Kopp, a sea level rise researcher at Rutgers University, whose projections formed the basis of the NOAA scenarios, said it's difficult to put exact odds on the extreme scenario. "I would say that our knowledge about marine ice-sheet instability is too deeply uncertain for us to answer that question right now," Kopp said in an email. "We can come up with a physically plausible pathway that gets us to 2.5 meters [or 8.2 feet], we know it is more likely under higher emissions, but we don't have a good way of putting a probability on it." A paper published in the journal Nature in March found that if emissions of global warming pollutants peak in the next few years and are then reduced quickly thereafter, then there is a good chance that the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet would be drastically curtailed. However, with the U.S., which is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, backing away from making significant cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement, adhering to such an ambitious timetable is looking less realistic. In order for NOAA's extreme scenario, and therefore Climate Central's maps, to turn into reality, there would need to be decades more of sustained high emissions of greenhouse gases plus more melting from Antarctica than is currently anticipated. However, recent studies have raised questions about Antarctica's stability, as mild ocean waters eat away at floating ice shelves from below, freeing up glaciers well inland to flow faster into the sea. "What's new is that we used to think 6- to 7 feet was the max *plausible* or *possible* sea level rise this century, and now we've roughly doubled that," Strauss said in an email. "The new Antarctic science says it's plausible." "If you were to survey ice sheet experts today, instead of something like 5 to 10 years ago, I suspect you'd get a significantly higher probability than 0.1 percent," he said. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change last week found that sea level rise could prompt a wave of internal migration within the U.S., especially as people move from the hardest-hit states such as Florida, Louisiana and New York. It's long been known that Florida is ground zero for sea level rise impacts, but the Climate Central projections are even more pessimistic. The report shows that a whopping 5.6 million Floridians would be at risk before the end of the century under an extreme sea level rise scenario, about double the amount simulated in the study last week.