Category Archives: Climate

How Much Do Renewables Actually Depend on Tax Breaks?

A wind farm in Texas, which leads the U.S. in wind energy production. The U.S. produces more megawatt hours of wind energy than any other nation. Photo: U.S. Department of Commerce

(First published on March 16, 2018, on State of the Planet.)

Wind and solar energy production are growing faster in the United States than any other source of electricity, and falling prices are making them more competitive with fossil fuel-driven electricity. Meanwhile, natural gas has surpassed coal as the prime fuel for power plants. Those trends helped drive down U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 to their lowest level since 1991, according to a report for the Business Council on Sustainable Energy.

That’s good news for anyone concerned about climate change. The shift to renewable energy is a key part of the global effort to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other earth-warming gases and slow down climate change by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But critics argue that this growth wouldn’t be possible without financial support from the government. How much do renewables actually need tax breaks and other subsides?

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Puerto Rico Faces a Long Road to a Sustainable Future

Rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars or more. Source: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

(First published on Nov. 30, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

In Utuado, a town in the hills of central Puerto Rico, “very little works.” That’s what Delsie Gandia, a resident, told me several days ago via email during a rare opening when she could connect to the internet.

Since Hurricane Maria’s 150-plus mph winds scoured the island into a mass of rubble and smashed infrastructure on Sept. 20, residents have been showering in the rain and washing clothes by hand with spring water, she said. Electricity had been restored to Utuado proper, but, said Gandia, “As I write, we have been plunged in darkness once again.” Roads are washed out or blocked by debris; damage to the local communications tower and unreliable power hampers phone and internet services. Many people were cut off from relief, emergency health care and other services. Utuado’s mayor, whose rural home was destroyed in the storm, hacked his way into town with a machete, she was told.

“My impression was that all systems collapsed,” she wrote. “The government simply couldn’t cope.” (Gandia, an economist and a relative of mine, has studied the economic and environmental impacts of global warming since the 1970s.)

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Women Leaders Tackle the Urban Climate Challenge

(First published on March 8, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

The world’s fast-growing major cities are where most people feel the impacts of climate change, as New York found out in Superstorm Sandy. Mayors from cities around the world are confronting the need to adapt and plan for resilience and sustainability. The role of women in all this will be highlighted at an upcoming conference at Columbia University.

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In High Sierras, Remnants of Ice Age Tell a Tale of Future Climate

(First published on Feb. 14, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

Aaron Putnam sits atop a boulder high in the Sierras of central California, banging away with hammer and chisel to chip out a sample of ice age history. Each hunk of rock is a piece of a vast puzzle: How did our climate system behave the last time it warmed up like it’s doing today?

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Shifting Monsoon Altered Early Cultures in China, Study Says

Horses near Lake Dali, in Inner Mongolia. Scientists studying the lake have concluded that the size of the lake has changed dramatically over the distant past, due to changes in the climate and resulting shifts in the annual monsoon. Photo: Yonaton Goldsmith

(First published on Feb. 6, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

The annual summer monsoon that drops rain onto East Asia, an area with about a billion people, has shifted dramatically in the distant past, at times moving northward by as much as 400 kilometers and doubling rainfall in that northern reach. The monsoon’s changes over the past 10,000 years likely altered the course of early human cultures in China, say the authors of a new study.

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2016 Sets Another Record for Warmth

(First published on Jan. 18, 2017, on State of the Planet.)

The news doesn’t come as a surprise to scientists and others who’ve been watching, but marks a milestone nonetheless: 2016 was the warmest year on record, dating back to the start of modern record keeping in 1880. And it’s the third record year in a row, keeping up a long-term trend of warming.

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Looking at Climate from All the Angles

Earth’s cloud cover. Photo: NASA

(First published on Dec. 16, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

After record-setting warmth this year, winter is upon us. That means it’s summer in Antarctica, and the Earth Institute has scientists camped there working on two projects that will help us understand what’s going on in this climate-changing world.

Margie Turrin of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is filing dispatches and stunning photos from the IceBridge project. Researchers are studying polar ice (a similar program operates in northern summers in Greenland). Flying back and forth across the Antarctic Peninsula, they’re using sensitive instruments to measure the stability of the ice sheets and the tongues of ice shelves that stretch out over the ocean. A second team working on the ROSETTA project is looking at sea temperature and its effects on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average, with impacts that will reach far beyond the far north. The melting season in some areas of Greenland is 30 to 40 days longer than in recent decades, said Lamont scientist Marco Tedesco, who helped write the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2016 Arctic Report Card. The report was presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. (For more on that key meeting of scientists and the Earth Institute’s role, look here.)

“In other places, going from 75 F to 80 F might not make such a great difference,” Tedesco told NPR. “But if you cross the melting point, you are basically stepping into a completely new world.”

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