Climate Now

Climate News Weekly

September 04, 2023 James Lawler
Climate Now
Climate News Weekly
Show Notes Transcript

This past week the climate has been busy inundating every aspect of life: Hurricane Idalia caused damages across Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, fueled by increased ocean temperatures. Meanwhile insurance companies are leaving, yet Florida's governor refuses to take money from the Inflation Reduction Act to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. In Ecuador, the Yasuní Referendum was passed, banning more exploration and drilling of oil in the biodiverse Yasuní National Park.

Get caught up on this news and other climate news from this past week in our latest 'This Week in Climate News' segment.

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James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate Now, I'm James Lawler. We hope our American listeners had a good Labor Day weekend. On today's episode, we're just doing this week in Climate News, covering some of the top headlines from last week. I'm joined today by Dina Cappiello from RMI. Dina, great to see you again! How have you been?

Dina Capiello: I've been great. Sorry I haven't been here in a while. I've missed you guys and missed talking about climate just like a couple of, um, really busy months. So, um, happy to be back. 

James Lawler: Yeah, well, it's great to have you back. We've got quite a few interesting stories. Dina, what do you think if we start with the storm, Idalia?

Dina Capiello: Oh, yes, of course. Yes. 

James Lawler: Okay. You know, by this point, everyone knows the storm has passed through. It is, it is out to sea now. And the pieces here that I thought were particularly interesting, there's sort of this one, one side, which is on the dynamics of hurricanes and kind of how [00:01:00] the temperature and the increasing temperature of the oceans is connected to destructive damage.

And so there was- a couple of articles, pick this apart, and I'll just sort of briefly recap. So research has shown that hurricane wind speeds can increase about 5% for every one-degree celsius increase in ocean temperature. And that's from Jeff Masters, who's a meteorologist at Yale Climate Connection.

 And a 5% increase in wind speed translates to a 50% increase in the storm's destructive potential. So for every one degree increase in ocean temperature, you've got hurricanes that are 50% more powerful in terms of destructive damage than they otherwise would have been. And so in the case of Idalia, that means that it's 50% to 100% more destructive than it would have been in a year with more average sea surface temperatures.

And as we've talked about before on Climate Now, the ocean [00:02:00] temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is extremely high, you know, not just at the surface, but pretty much 100 feet down. You know, it's it's high 80s to 90s at the surface. So, these small changes, when we think about, oh, one degree here, one degree there, like, we're talking about, you know, many, many billions of dollars for a single storm event that that converts to.

Dina Capiello: I covered Katrina as a reporter, actually, and was in New Orleans a couple weeks after the storm hit to cover the oil spills when I was a journalist. And I think there are a couple of climate induced factors that are creating more frequent and more intense storms, right? And I think that in this case, it was that very warm Gulf of Mexico water that really drove the strength of the storm.

But as we know, climate change is playing a role in a bunch of factors related to hurricane strength, and they're complex, right? I think this [00:03:00] one, because of the path of the storm, really isolated that potential variable, which is the surface temp of the water and temp of the water in general. Um, not only are people dying, which is a tragedy, but these storms are expensive and ultimately, you know, when it's declared a disaster area, that's federal funding that goes, we're all paying for that, right. 

And one of the counter arguments always with climate action or climate- or adopting climate solutions is like how much they cost. Right. So I think that like, if the more we kind of talk about that cost comparison, that could convince people to kind of say, we have to do something about climate change because we're paying really for the effects of the burning of fossil fuels, which we are the consumers of that fossil fuels right on the back end.

James Lawler: Yeah. And so in this [00:04:00] case, you know, Moody's has estimated that the total cost for Idalia is something between 12 and 20 billion dollars. And that insurers, you know, property insurance, insurers, et cetera, will pay about 9 billion in claims. And I thought this was kind of interesting because as we've mentioned on this podcast before, a number of the larger insurers, so we're talking about farmers insurance, Bankers insurance, Lexington insurance, which is part of A.I. G, all of those players have pulled out of Florida because of the risks of these heavy losses. And so what that's led to is smaller local, you know, Florida focused insurers have actually taken more market share. So Citizens, which is a Florida nonprofit, it's Florida’s nonprofit state backed insurance provider, and they've been sort of seen as an insurer of last resort.

They've been gaining market share since 2022 because of all these primary insurers, which have been leaving the [00:05:00] state. And you know, they have less resources, right? And so increasingly, the state is sort of relying on these less and less robust insurers to kind of cover what will be increasingly large disasters. And that's surely not headed toward a good place. 

Dina Capiello: Mhmm, 100%. Talking about Florida, you know, and I think this is really connected, is the news that DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, also running for president against Donald Trump, is refusing to take money from the Inflation Reduction Act, which was that historic climate investment passed by Congress.

And so I'm bringing this up and kind of connecting this because obviously The IRA or IRA as people call it too, really could bring- Florida's eligible for some 350 million dollar in funding to be more efficient with their [00:06:00] energy and incentive and that would go a long way right to addressing the issues, right?

Obviously, it's a global issue, climate change, but I think it's really symbolic, like in the wake of this major storm with the major consequences of this storm that the governor in this case, obviously playing politics as we all know, is saying, no, I don't want the 350 million that could help reduce emissions from this state, the very same emissions that on a global level are causing these massive storms. So I think that's kind of an interesting connection that I haven't really seen made and really interesting timing, I think, for the state of Florida who was, you know, in the eye of the storm in this one. 

So another news story this week and I feel like for some reason a lot of them connected or the other explanation for this is that [00:07:00] climate change has become really about everything, right?

And so when it's about everything, it always connects, right? On Monday, um, of, of this week, the Biden administration announced nearly 3 billion in funding for hundreds of communities across the U. S. to reduce their vulnerability to climate change influenced extreme weather events. Obviously just talking about Florida and Idalia.

That is one of the vulnerable communities, a lot of flooding occurred, etc. Even on the eastern seaboard, we have Franklin off the coast, which is not causing damage, but dangerous riptides. So the new money for resilience comes as many regions are still recovering from many recent weather and climate disasters. And FEMA, and this is really, really important, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who is what gives out and doles out the money under the Disaster Relief Fund, is set to run out of money this fall. [00:08:00] So there is this notion that, you know, we are pulling money fast out of this disaster relief fund. Just this month alone, we did it for the wildfires in Hawaii, brutal heat waves and tropical storm Hillary and then Idalia obviously hit Florida this year. And the reason why we needed this extra kind of infusion, and the Biden administration was forced to do that was not only is that fund poised to run out of money, but there is obviously a stalemate in Congress in order to get that replenished because of negotiations. 

So again, it's extremely costly and many parts of the country are extremely vulnerable and unprepared, including power grids, right? Which we saw in the Hawaii case, the wildfire on Maui. So, just a really interesting nexus between how expensive these storms are, who pays, do we have enough money to pay for them over time as they [00:09:00] become more frequent and more, more and stronger. So just a really interesting, I think, nexus of news stories this week. 

James Lawler: With the wildfire thing, why aren't we really treating it as this big national security issue? Because, you know, as we've covered here before, this year Americans inhaled twice the total particulate 2.5 matter as the total accumulated amount between 2006 and 2019. Twice all of that just this year was the average amount that we inhaled. 

That directly translates, we know, to disease, you know, lung cancer, all kinds of other things. That's a direct threat to the health of the population of this country and countries around the world. We should be treating it as a major security threat and deploying, you know, resources against it. And I think increasingly we're going to see that like there's just no way we're not. Projects that create more [00:10:00] resiliency that prevent these events from getting out of control are going to become more and more prevalent, hopefully.

Dina Capiello: Yeah, for sure. 

James Lawler: You know, the story in Ecuador is quite interesting. 

Dina Capiello: Yeah, I think this was huge. Let's talk about Ecuador. 

James Lawler: So this story is reported out in the Guardian on August 31st, the story came out, and the article details how voters have won this major battle with the oil industry in Ecuador. The voters in Ecuador approved a total ban on oil drilling and protected land in the Amazon, this 2.5 million acre tract in the Yasuni National Park, which is a very important biodiversity hotspot. It's a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and home to two non-contacted indigenous groups.

 It is interesting because it shows how, you know, important democracy is for the climate transition, you know, in, [00:11:00] in countries where you have a mechanism for, you know, the population to express their majority view about what activities should be permissible and what activities should not. You have a path to, you know, to accelerating that transition and making sure that companies are not taking actions that would, you know, that would sort of accrue to the continued detriment of the, of the population. 

Dina Capiello: That's it. Yep. So, once again, in the climate changes everything, maybe that should be like the theme for this show, James, there was a story in the New York Times, actually a really amazing story with amazing graphics, so please, if you haven't seen it, check it out, but it's all about groundwater depletion.

America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There's No Tomorrow is the headline. And they have a wonderful whole nationwide graphic where this is happening. And basically the gist of the article is [00:12:00] that we are using water faster than nature is replenishing it. So again, this is about climatic change again, human caused, by the burning of fossil fuels, where there are many parts of the country where, for instance, there are now Phoenix suburbs where they can't build new houses because there's not enough water there to supply those houses. So it's a really deep analysis and cut in terms of how we're doing in terms of aquifer replenishment, which is a huge resource, not only for suburbs, but for farmers, et cetera, across the country. And it connects to the topics we discuss on this show because it is about climate change and kind of like all roads lead back to there.

James Lawler: And the groundwater depletion is already having an economic impact. So the article mentions states like Kansas, where the major aquifer boat beneath 2.6 [00:13:00] million acres of land is no longer able to support industrial scale agriculture.

As a result, corn yields have plummeted in, in that state. And if this decline were to spread, which undoubtedly it will, it will threaten America's status as a food superpower, I quote from the article. 

Dina Capiello: Yep. And they also say, you know, climate change is amplifying the problem. Global warming is shrinking snowpacks that feed rivers, increasing the reliance on groundwater to sustain communities, lawns, and crops.

A warmer world causes more surface water to evaporate, and therefore leaving less to seep through the layers of the ground to replenish aquifers. And then even in places where there are like violent rainstorms because of climate change, that really doesn't help because when the rain comes as fast and furious as that, it actually runs off rather than soaks into the ground to replenish the, the aquifer.

And they, they, they have this [00:14:00] awesome term in here called, it adds up to what might be called a climate trap. As rising temperatures shrink rivers in much of the country, farmers and towns have an incentive to pump more groundwater to make up the difference. Experts call that a self-defeating strategy.

James Lawler: Great. Well, Dina, I think we covered a lot this week. 

Dina Capiello: Lots of news. And obviously I think heading into Climate Week in New York, which is now later this month in September, we're going to see a lot of news leading up to that, and during that, and out of that. So looking forward to talk about that with all of you.

James Lawler: Indeed. That's all for this episode of Climate Now. We are back next week with an interview on the anniversary of the IRA. It has been just over a year since the IRA became law and billions of dollars began flowing into the economy. We'll be having that conversation with Oliver Kerr, who is head of the North America region for Aurora Energy Research.

We hope you'll join us next week. And as always, if you'd like to get in touch with us, shoot us a [00:15:00] note at contact@climatenow.com.

Climate Now is made possible in part by our science partners like the Livermore Lab Foundation. The Livermore Lab Foundation supports climate research and carbon cleanup initiatives at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which is a Department of Energy Applied Science and Research facility. More information on the Foundation's climate work can be found at livermorelabfoundation.org.