Briefly

Stuff that matters


read between the pipelines

The Trump administration just hinted at approving controversial pipelines.

On Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke in vague terms at a press conference about the administration’s intentions for “areas like Dakota, areas like the Keystone pipeline, areas that we can increase jobs, increase economic growth” — referring, of course, to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

The former was shuttered in December, after months of activism and pressure from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and allies, when the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that permits for the 1,172-mile pipeline would not be approved. The latter was opposed by grassroots activists and green groups and rejected by President Obama in 2015.

Spicer only hinted at Trump’s future plans for U.S. oil and gas projects: “The energy sector and our natural resources are an area where I think the President is very, very keen on making sure that we maximize our use of natural resources to America’s benefit.”

It is unclear which Americans would benefit from these potentially dangerous pipelines.


climate changed

2 independent studies say climate change worsened Hurricane Harvey’s rains.

A new report by the World Weather Attribution consortium finds that warming boosted downpours associated with the storm by 15 percent. Separate research out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, thanks to climate change, the amount of precipitation caused by the hurricane could have been nearly 40 percent higher than expected.

Both studies were announced at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans. Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in less than a week — roughly the amount of precipitation Houston gets in an entire year.

Scientists have already linked global warming to an increase in extreme weather events, meaning systems like this hurricane season’s superstorms — Harvey, Maria, and Irma  — are going to get more severe and more frequent. Both studies released this week estimate that the likelihood of another devastating storm happening has at least tripled.

“Communities all along the Gulf Coast need to adapt to a world where the heaviest rains are more than we have ever seen,” David W. Titley, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University who was not connected to either report, told the New York Times.


There will be flood

Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

As I wrote in a cover story last month, massive sheets of ice in Antarctica essentially hold humanity hostage, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of inundation from rising seas.

A new study, which factors in the global implications of Antarctic tipping-point mechanisms for the first time, confirms the importance of these glaciers in predicting the odds of rapid sea-level rise.

The results, published in the journal Earth’s Future, point to two possible pathways: 1) a relatively steady but substantial rise in sea levels even if we sharply reduce global emissions, flooding 100 million people’s homes worldwide by the end of the century, and 2) a wild-card world that could jeopardize civilization itself if fossil fuels continue to dominate.

The study’s mid-range estimate under this second scenario predicts almost 5 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. That was essentially the worst-case scenario in a similar study by the same authors just three years ago. At the high end, the new study estimates there’s a 10 percent chance that seas will rise more than 8 feet this century — enough to flood nearly every coastal city on Earth.

That stunning revision upwards highlights the urgency of reducing emissions. “We can basically rule out 6 feet of rise if we get securely on a trajectory toward net zero emissions,” the study’s lead author, Bob Kopp, told Grist.


Shocking!

Here’s a $17 billion blueprint for how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.


the kids v. Trump

Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

On Monday, a group of young people suing the U.S. government for willfully infringing on their constitutional right to a stable climate had their (initial) day in court. The oral arguments lasted about an hour at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Trump administration lawyers are trying to get the case thrown out on a technicality, alleging that the act of sifting through decades of documents in preparation for trial would cause the government “irreparable harm.”

In a nutshell, the youth are suing to establish new environmental protections on the basis of intergenerational equity. Their lead lawyer, Julia Olsen, called the lawsuit “this generation’s Brown v. Board of Education.”

Experts on climate law say there’s good reason to think the kids’ case will be allowed to proceed. Moments after Monday’s hearing, Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, tweeted that two of the three judges on the panel appeared worried that throwing this case out now would have wide-ranging repercussions.

Should the lawsuit move on, the next step will be the trial itself in February. The Trump administration’s lead lawyer, Eric Grant, has already called it the “trial of the century.”


nail in the tire

The warming Arctic could put a serious dent in wind energy production.

There’s a pretty steep temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator. But that difference — which fuels atmospheric energy, powering storm systems and the breeze — is shrinking, and it’s altering the distribution of wind energy resources around the globe.

This could put significant strain on wind power production in the United States, Europe, and Asia, a study published Monday in the journal Nature suggests.

The study shows that warming temperatures could result in a 17 percent drop in wind power in the U.S. and a 10 percent decline in the U.K. by 2100. On the upside, wind power in Australia, Brazil, and West Africa could actually increase.

China, for one, has already seen dips in wind power in some areas due to climate change.

In response to the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, many countries have adopted emissions reduction targets that incorporate wind power. But as the study’s authors point out, those assessments are based off of today’s climate, not the global atmospheric conditions of the future.


chicken out

Meat taxes are totally going to be a thing — someday.

To the delight of vegans everywhere, the Guardian reported on Monday that a tax on meat products is “inevitable.”

That claim comes from new analysis from Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return, a group that keeps investors up-to-date on trends in factory farming. It found that countries will likely start to place levies on meat — similar to ones that already exist on tobacco — to cut down on carbon emissions and health problems.

Raising livestock produces about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and demand is expected to drive meat consumption even higher. Governments in Germany and Denmark are already exploring the possibilities of a meat tax. In 2016, researchers found that a 40 percent tax on beef (plus 20 percent on dairy) would save 500,000 lives a year, and drastically reduce carbon emissions.

For the 39 percent of Americans who say they’re trying to eat more plant-based foods, a meat tax could be a helpful nudge in the reducetarian direction. For the rest of Americans … well, we don’t expect them to be thrilled about steak being 40 percent more expensive.

“It’s hard to imagine concerted action to tax meat today,” Rob Bailey, research director at London think tank Chatham House, told the Guardian, “but over the course of the next 10 to 20 years, I expect to see meat taxes accumulate.”