Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Returning Florida evacuees stunned by Irma's wreckage as death toll climbs
- Exxon Must Disclose Accounting Details in N.Y. Climate Probe
- France's Macron to pitch global environmental rights charter to UN
- NOAA gets judge to agree that its scientists’ e-mails are protected
- Top White House Official to Discuss Climate Change at UN
- The only people who think it's 'insensitive' to talk about global warming after Irma are powerful climate change deniers
- What Could We Lose if a NASA Climate Mission Goes Dark?
- Trump administration will waste billions by disregarding science in hurricane recovery
- Taking the Long View: The 'Forever Legacy' of Climate Change
- Adapting to hurricanes. A historical perspective on New Orleans from its foundation to Hurricane Katrina, 1718–2005
- Recent changes in extreme floods across multiple continents
- Public willingness to pay for a US carbon tax and preferences for spending the revenue
Evacuees began returning to the storm-ravaged Florida Keys on Tuesday, where an estimated 25% of all dwellings were destroyed by Hurricane Irma. They witnessed homes ripped apart and businesses coated in seaweed. The death toll from Irma, the second major hurricane to strike the US mainland this season, has now risen to more than five dozen across the Caribbean and Southeastern US. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, warned on Tuesday the damage could cost the island nation $300m, reports Time, while the costs to repair St Martin could top $1bn. Browne urged the international community to come to the aid of islands severely hit by the Category 5 storm. Browne added that he has “no doubt” over the role of climate change and sea level rise in the two storms which have hit the area in recent weeks. “I don’t think there is any time in living history where one would have seen a Category 5 (Hurricane Irma) and a Category 4 (Hurricane Jose) in such close succession,” he said. Another article in Time documents the struggles of St Martin residents as they try to rebuild their lives in the wake of the hurricane.The DailyMail publishes a series of satellite images showing the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, including of Branson’s luxury holiday home on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, an archipelago where at least five people died as a result of Hurricane Irma. Meanwhile the Washington Post carries a story asking if the ongoing loss of coral on Florida’s increasingly threatened barrier reef may have made the storm’s impact worse. Research demonstrates that “if you reduce coral reef health — if you go from that really rough coral reef with lots of live coral to a degraded coral reef with a relatively smooth surface — you have increased run-up in flooding,” Curt Storlazzi, a research geologist with the US Geological Survey, told the paper. Carbon Brief yesterday published a detailed summary of the impact of Hurricane Irma, how climate change is so far through to have affected it, and the media and political reaction to the hurricane.
Exxon must comply with a subpoena by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to hand over audit documents in a climate-change probe, a finding by New York’s top court affirmed on Tuesday. Schneiderman is investigating whether investors were misled about the possible impact of climate change on the energy company’s business. In a one-sentence rebuff, the court refused to hear arguments by Exxon that the advice of the firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was protected by an auditor-client privilege, reports Inside Climate News. “The documents could provide a candid, and potentially damaging, glimpse into Exxon’s private calculations of the business risks posed by climate change and whether its auditors had any concerns about how it disclosed those risks to investors,” Inside Climate News adds.
French president Emmanuel Macron is planning to call for a global pact affirming universal principles for environmental protection at the UN general assembly next week, reports Climate Home. Yann Aguila, leader of the 30-strong team who produced a draft pact in June, said France was seeking UN support to set up a working group. “Now more than ever, we can hope for the Global Pact for the Environment to become a reality,” he told Climate Home. However critics warn the legalities are more complicated than the pact’s backers make out, cautioning whether a global pact is the right vehicle to enhance environmental protection.
Three weeks ago, the Washington, DC, District Court finally ruled against Judicial Watch, a conservative group that regularly files Freedom of Information Act requests for government documents, over its request for “deliberative” and “predecisional” materials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ars Technica summarises the ongoing fights in the courts over NOAA’s communications. Judicial Watch still has the opportunity to appeal this decision, but did not respond to a request by Ars Technica for comment.
The White House has confirmed that Gary D. Cohn, its chief economic adviser, is convening senior climate and energy ministers from about a dozen nations in advance of next week’s UN General Assembly meeting, reports the New York Times. Invitations sent to officials from the world’s largest economies said the event is as “an opportunity for key ministers with responsibility for these issues to engage in an informal exchange of views and discuss how we can move forward most productively.” It is not yet clear who will attend, reports CNN, and a person familiar with the meeting said the intention is to keep the conversation informal among the group. Reuters also has the story.
“Apparently it’s ‘insensitive’ to talk about climate change when hurricanes have devastated large areas of the southern states of the US,” writes Ben Chu in the Independent. “…[But] in fact the people who really don’t want to talk about climate change at this moment are those who claim it’s not actually happening.” Therefore, he argues, let’s not worry about “the sensibilities of the science deniers, the ideologues, the vested interests, the charlatans and the cynical wreckers. Let’s worry about capitalising on this teachable moment to drive down carbon emissions and forestall the destruction that a considerably hotter world threatens for all of us.”
Researchers are racing to replace the pioneering Grace satellites, writes Jon Gertner in a long read for the New York Times. “[I]f Grace goes dark or perishes before [the batteries on one of the satellites are replaced], there will be a break in NASA’s continuous observation of Earth’s gravity field and water dynamics,” he writes. “Climate researchers will be confronted with what’s known as a ‘data gap,’ which can leave them at a loss for drawing scientific conclusions about environmental trends.”
The Trump administration’s reconstruction of Houston and Florida will squander billions of taxpayer dollars in its plan to rebuild from superstorms Harvey and Irma due to their rejection of climate science, writes Joe Romm. Romm quotes Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, who told reporters on Monday the administration does not take seriously the “cause” of climate change. “I will tell you that we continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things that we observe,” Bossert said. “But the problem is that if you don’t take seriously the cause — human activity and carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels — then your rebuilding plan will be blind to the reality that the change is only going to accelerate,” writes Romm. In the Washington Post meanwhile, two researchers look at whether living through a hurricane will change people’s minds about global warming. “The assumption that extreme weather events will change people’s minds en masse doesn’t have much backing,” they write. “Our research shows that people who experience severe weather are only modestly more likely to support the types of efforts we need to build resilience to climate change.” In the Intercept Naomi Klein argues Hurricane Irma will not “wake up” climate sceptic Republicans since it puts their whole ideology is on the line “[C]limate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests,’ she writes. “To admit that the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of their political and economic project.” In the Guardian, writer Philip Hoare asks why we see hurricanes like Harvey and Irma as “otherworldly omens”. Another Washington Post article details four under appreciated ways climate change could make hurricanes` worse. Meanwhile Scientific American runs a Q&A on why Florida and many other places now face a graver risk from natural disasters, and what can be done to address this, while New Scientist‘s Matt Reynolds looks at the aftermath of the storms in the Caribbean and US.
An article by two scientists argues that we should be paying more attention to impacts of climate change centuries from. While climate change projections often focus on 2100, they argue that the geological record shows that greenhouse gas emissions will lock in drastic increases in temperatures and sea levels that will alter the earth for millennia. “A century or two from now, people may look back at our current era — with its record-breaking high temperatures year after year, rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice, and gradually rising sea levels — as part of a much cooler and far more desirable past… ‘Urgent’ may seem like a wildly inappropriate word when applied to such a long span of time, but the truth is that humanity’s continuing failure to bring our enormous carbon emissions under control will have planet-altering impacts that could continue not just for hundreds, but thousands, of years.”
Hurricane Katrina, which flooded New Orleans on August 29, 2005, raised the question of how such a disaster could have happened in one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. A new paper seeks to answer this by looking back at how New Orleans has adapted to hurricanes since the foundation of the city in 1718. “Political factors emerge as crucial characteristics in the historical evolution of adaptive practices throughout the almost 300-year period of study,” the study reveals.
A new study of 1744 river catchments in Australia, Brazil, Europe and the US suggest there have been increases in both the frequency and magnitude of extreme floods between 1980 and 2009. These increases are strongest in Europe and the US, and weakest in Brazil and Australia, the researchers say. The physical causes of short-term variability and longer-term changes in extreme floods “currently remain elusive”, the researchers say, “because the key drivers vary between catchments”.
A new US survey suggests the public’s “willingness to pay” for a carbon tax on fossil fuels is equivalent to adding $177 per year to energy bills. This translates into 14% more on the average bill for households across the US, the study says, although energy costs differ significantly across states. Americans are most in support of using the money raised to invest in clean energy and infrastructure and assist displaced workers in the coal industry, the study suggests, while there is less support for reducing taxes or returning dividends to households.
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