The summer solstice hadn’t even arrived this June before historic heat waves brought triple digit temperatures to hundreds of millions of people around the globe – quite literally pushing the limits of human survivability in several regions. Previous records were surpassed from America’s northern Midwest and South to swaths of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve read this all before. You did, last month in this newsletter, underscoring the point that these crushing heatwaves are happening earlier, more often, and in more places.
And the heat waves, along with all the other extreme weather events brought on by climate change, are getting more expensive, too. How much? According to a recent accounting by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), climate change could slash the nation’s GDP by 10% by the end of the century while pushing the taxpayers’ bill for disaster relief efforts up to $128 billion a year.
It’s all part of the accelerating drumbeat of evidence that climate change is indiscriminate, spanning divides of politics, geography, and economics. The drumbeat has become so relentless that even groups that have long avoided a proactive stance on the issue are forced to do just that. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the insurance sector – cautious bureaucrats and actuaries – are this month’s unexpected leaders in a trend you might call ‘climate sobriety,’ a clear-eyed approach to addressing the reality of climate change with all the cool-headed realism it demands. Even the Republican Party, with its history of climate skepticism, issued its long-awaited GOP climate agenda in June.
We are heartened by this new “sobriety,” including the Republicans’ efforts to get on the bandwagon. Having both parties engaged is critically important. It also makes political sense: younger voters (18-39 years old) now make up a bigger voting block than older voters, and they are much more inclined to care about this issue, and want government action to address it.
So we will close with something that gives us hope, and something else you’ve heard from us before, “Times, they are a-changin’.”
The C-Change Conversations Team
“People do not understand the magnitude of what is going on. This will be greater than anything we have ever seen in the past. This will be unprecedented. Every living thing will be affected.” – Katharine Hayhoe
Chief Scientist for the Nature Conservancy,
Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas Tech University,
News of Hope
Let’s start with the bureaucrats. June 17 was the deadline for submitting comments to the SEC about its proposed new rules that would require public companies to disclose standardized information on climate-related risks to their businesses. As we’ve told you previously, the proposal is intended to ensure adequate transparency for investors and a level playing field for companies. The SEC received more than 10,000 comments and preliminary reviews showed over 75% were supportive – despite concerns raised by some small business groups that reporting demands could become onerous.
While the White House’s climate agenda remains largely stalled on Capitol Hill, the federal government is creating momentum through other means. In addition to the SEC initiative, this month the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $500 million loan guarantee for a green hydrogen storage project. There is a worldwide race to lead in this new, clean energy form, and we are pleased the administration is committed to putting the U.S. at the head of the pack.
Also this month, the Department of Interior said it would drop rents and fees up to 50% on federal land for new wind and solar projects to spur renewable energy growth there. Shortly afterward, the White House unveiled a formal partnership with eleven governors to boost offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast.
Offshore wind is a big deal. It is a keystone technology for meeting the nation’s climate goals. But onshore wind energy also proved its worth in June – in the unexpected location of Texas. As the state powered through this year’s early heat wave – and the kind of stress on the grid that led to deadly blackouts in 2021 – renewable energy reportedly ‘bailed out’ Texas by generating nearly 40% of energy used. It kept air conditioning and lights on and kept costs significantly lower. After Texas leaders falsely blamed renewables for the electricity breakdown during the winter of 2021 (fossil fuels, which during that time of year carry most of the main load, failed on a much bigger scale), they should be giving renewables a tip of their cowboy hats and big thank you for keeping its businesses and homes humming.
In other carbon-free energy developments, we note with approval that nuclear energy is back on the table – although not necessarily in the form of the big, expensive, and slow-to-build plants of the past. New designs for small, modular reactors are expected imminently. These new plants could be brought on-line in just a few years, be much cheaper to construct, and require less regulatory oversight. The DOE is also working on developing even smaller ‘microreactors’ that could be rolled out in assembly-line fashion while being tiny enough to drop into remote locations or dedicated to small communities.
Other good news came from the world’s largest emitter – China – which is responsible for 30% of global emissions. This month China unveiled three major proposals in as many days, adding details to its renewable energy and green financing plans designed to create a net zero Chinese economy by 2060. They say they will speed up construction of renewable projects and improve their grid to enable more renewables to be integrated, something our country’s antiquated grid greatly needs as well. The world is watching carefully as it is critical China does its part to decarbonize. These new plans seem to indicate that, for now, the Chinese remain committed to do so.
And in a silver lining to the soaring cost of gas, electric vehicle sales are soaring too. They are one of the best ways we can lessen our own carbon footprints. Haven’t bought one yet? You should. They are cheaper to fuel and maintain, last longer, and are so much more fun to drive! Take a look at the sexy new line-up that Forbes is heralding. These 20 new electric cars may just rev your engines.
News of Concern
Let us be blunt. Every step toward carbon neutrality is a step in the right direction but we need giant strides right now to cross the finish line. Despite all the international pledges for greenhouse gas reductions, federal scientists told us this month that planet-warming carbon dioxide levels reached the highest level in human history. They’re now more than 50% higher than pre-industrial times. And the war in Ukraine is also having an impact. With oil and gas markets in disarray, the use of coal is making a resurgence across Europe, India, and elsewhere to avoid an energy supply crisis. Although leaders say the shift back to this dirtiest of fossil fuels is only temporary, it certainly highlights the vulnerabilities inherent in a global energy system dependent on oil and gas industries that are centralized in a few nations and trade routes.
If any emphasis was needed for that point during this global crisis, it came from an explosion and fire along America’s Gulf Coast. A liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal blew up in Texas, taking 1 million tons of liquified natural gas off the market and pushing Europe even closer to an energy emergency. Apparently this event was a tragic accident. But oil and gas facilities along the Gulf are perennially vulnerable to hurricanes, sea-level rise, and other climate-related disasters caused by the very products they market.
The growing frequency and severity of such disasters, of course, imperils far more than oil and gas installations. People and businesses in Gulf states from Texas and Louisiana to Florida and up the Atlantic seaboard face life-threatening weather disasters and devastating financial exposure. The risk is so high that one insurance carrier canceled 68,000 Florida homeowners’ policies this month. It’s just the latest wave of ‘stunning’ coverage drops as four insurance companies have gone into receivership since February.
It’s a swelling problem. And as private insurers go bankrupt, homeowners may no longer be able to rely on taxpayer dollars to provide insurance of last resort. FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – sent a proposal to Congress last month that would overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program. The plan involves dropping coverage for frequently flooded properties and denying coverage to the most flood-prone areas. We’ve commented on the growing insurance crisis in prior newsletters – and pointed out the problem is hitting states prone to wildfires, too.
Finally, for this month, we flag a pending Supreme Court decision that could hobble the sorts of federal initiatives we started today’s newsletter with. The case is testing the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the regulatory power of government, in general.
That’s all for our news roundup. But as usual we’ll close out with a few gems for your eyes.
Image from Pixabay
This new product caught our attention: footwear that both cuts down on an invasive species and provides a substitute for the large carbon footprint of traditional leather.
Thank you for reading and we look forward to bringing you more updates next month.