3 reasons the Zika outbreak may be linked to climate change

The regions that the Zika virus outbreak has struck hardest, such as Brazil and Colombia, also happen to be areas that are currently plagued by hotter-than-usual temperatures.

So is there a connection?

The ways that virus-carrying mosquitoes change their behavior with warmer temperatures may, in fact, point to a link between the Zika outbreak and climate change like the one that exists with malaria, Lyme Disease and other ills.

While it’s important to remember that it’s probably a combination of reasons for the current Zika virus outbreak – including movement of people and available breeding grounds – there are three ways in particular that warmer weather may be contributing to the crisis:

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1. Hotter temperatures make mosquitoes hungrier

Female mosquitoes require blood meals for reproduction. Along with many cold-blooded animals, mosquitoes feed more frequently with higher temperatures. The more they eat, the likelier they are to get infected and spread the disease.

2. Warm air incubates the virus faster

A virus must incubate inside a mosquito before the mosquito becomes infectious. That takes about 10 days, roughly a mosquito’s lifespan, so the mosquito will often die before it can spread the disease.

But hotter temperatures speed up the incubation process in the cold-blooded mosquito, because the virus can replicate faster. This means that the mosquito will be alive longer while infectious, thus having more time to transmit the disease.

3. Mosquito territory expands as the climate warms

Mosquitoes flourish in warm climates, restricting their range based on temperature. But with climate change, plants and animals are moving northward and upward, and we know mosquitoes do the same as new areas become warmer and a suitable habitat.

As mosquitoes expand their range, they can introduce diseases to populations that otherwise would have been safely out of reach. The distribution of the Zika-carrying mosquito, in particular, has wildly increased over the past few decades, which have also been the hottest decade on Earth in more than 1,000 years.

In fact, the current epidemic took off in 2015, the hottest year in South America and globally since record-keeping began 136 years ago.

The links between mosquitoes and temperature are scientifically clear, and it’s possible that climate change may now be playing a role in the spread of the Zika virus, a disease suspected of causing serious birth defects.

To know for sure, and to help nations deal with the outbreak, more research is needed to tease out the specific causes of this global catastrophe.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.

Posted in Health, News, Plants & Animals, Science| Comments are closed

After the Supreme Court’s Unexplained, Unexpected and Unprecedented Order — America’s Safer, Cleaner Power Supply is Moving Full Steam Ahead

Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court of the United States

Last night’s Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily stay implementation of the Clean Power Plan was unexpected, and the ruling is, as counsel for one of the lead challengers acknowledged, “unprecedented.” Indeed, the Supreme Court itself found in a landmark 2011 case that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The D.C. Circuit is now carefully reviewing the merits of the case on an expedited basis and has not concluded its review – but across America, states and leading companies know that we must reduce climate-destabilizing pollution from the power sector, and the Court’s actions will not slow down America’s race to protect our communities, our children and our economic well-being.

That race is driven by developments far broader and deeper than a temporary setback in litigation. There is every reason for our nation to work together to prepare for, and meet, pollution reduction requirements under America’s Clean Power Plan.

Across the country, low-carbon, low-cost energy resources are already coming online at historic rates. We’re cleaning up the soot and smog emissions from our power system, and providing healthier longer lives and cleaner power for millions of Americans. Numerous states and leading power companies have been pursuing a flexible system-wide approach to cutting carbon emissions for years, harnessing opportunities to save money, reduce air pollution, and build our clean energy economy. America’s race to cleaner power is moving full steam ahead.

As for the Clean Power Plan – safeguards that are supported by millions of Americans – the Supreme Court’s February 9th stay order is far from the final word. As a number of state attorneys general, leading power companies, state air pollution control officials, and legal experts have recognized, the Clean Power Plan rests on a solid legal foundation and is anchored in a rigorous technical record.

We believe that when the court examines the merits in light of the extensive, compelling technical record supporting the Clean Power Plan, with full briefing and oral argument –- a review it did not conduct before issuing the February 9th order – it will uphold these critical protections for climate and public health, and they will go into effect as scheduled in 2022.

In the meantime, America will make sure it is ready by continuing to make progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution — bringing more than 100 GW of new wind, solar, and other renewable generation online in the next six years, and offsetting generation from more than 80 coal-fired power plants — all while forging economic prosperity.

Clean Energy Is Powering America Today

The transition to secure cleaner, low-carbon power is already well underway. In total, natural gas and clean power such as wind and solar have accounted for 94 percent of all new generation since 2000.  In recent years, these trends have been tipping more and more in favor of zero-carbon clean power, offsetting more and more carbon pollution. Indeed, market experts project that zero-carbon generation will account for more than 75 percent of new generation in 2016.

Behind these trends has been a steady decline in the cost of low- and zero-carbon electricity generating resources. Perhaps the most staggering changes are to be found in the solar industry, where prices have been falling for decades as the industry has matured, in part due to sustained investments here in the United States and abroad.

Since 2007 alone, the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules has fallen by more than 80 percent, and many industry analysts are projecting that these declines will continue. Meanwhile, sustained improvements in wind technology continue to reduce costs and increase capacity factors, while expanding opportunities across the nation

The very recent extension of the federal tax credits for renewables will be a further catalyst for zero carbon generation.

This new development will contribute to an expected wave of more than 100 GW of new renewables added to the grid between 2016 and 2021, which would offset generation from more than 80 coal-fired power plants. Power companies and state policymakers are recognizing and seizing the tremendous economic opportunity to secure these clean least-cost investments that will position their grid and their customers well to achieve vital reductions of carbon pollution.

America Has A Strong Time Tested History of Making Continuous Progress to Cut Dangerous Pollution from Power Plants While Growing Our Economy

America has long made continuous progress in reducing emissions from the power sector, while maintaining a low-cost and reliable electricity supply. Mercury levels in fish — the source of serious health risks, particularly for children — have been cut substantially in recent years as toxic emissions from power plants have declined. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent program to address cross-state air pollution will reduce soot- and smog-forming sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent from power plants in the eastern half of the U.S.

A separate standard will dramatically reduce mercury and other hazardous emissions from power plants, while also reducing soot-forming emissions by nearly twenty percent.  At the same time, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to remove market barriers to certain energy efficiency programs unleashes a powerful opportunity to build a power system that avoids emissions in the first place.

These pollution reductions have tremendous benefits for our communities — they are saving lives, protecting children from asthma attacks, improving public health and fostering the transition to fundamentally cleaner, safer power. At the same time, this progress is driving widespread interest in pollution-free electricity generation solutions that avoid pollution and also protect our climate.  America is already moving to cleaner, safer power to safeguard our communities from climate change and the array of harmful pollution discharged from aging, high emitting fossil fuel power plants

The Clean Power Plan Is Firmly Grounded in Law and Science

The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record.

The Supreme Court has affirmed three times that the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to address climate-destabilizing carbon pollution.  In 2011, the Court affirmed that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act –- the provision that underlies the Clean Power Plan — “speaks directly” to emissions of carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Indeed, the Supreme Court unanimously held that states harmed by climate change must look to EPA for protection rather than to common law remedies developed by federal courts. The Clean Power Plan is wholly consistent with the language of the Clean Air Act, and builds upon approaches that have been employed in other judicially-upheld Clean Air Act rules addressing the power sector.

Moreover, the Clean Power Plan rests on a rigorous, extensive technical record informed by nearly two years of public consultation, more than four million public comments, and multiple public hearings touching on nearly every aspect of the standards. Numerous key features were adopted specifically in response to comments by industry and the states on grid reliability, cost, and other issues.

The Clean Power Plan takes a flexible, cost-effective approach to addressing carbon pollution from the electricity sector — well in accord with the Supreme Court’s recognition, just last week in another major case, that the modern power system functions as “an interconnected grid of near-nationwide scope.”

A diverse coalition has joined with EPA to vigorously defend these historic safeguards in court. Eighteen states, the District of Columbia, numerous leading power companies, clean technology companies, and public health and environmental organizations have all partnered to vigorously defend the Clean Power Plan’s solid legal foundation. Twenty major municipalities across the country, from Houston to Grand Rapids and South Miami, are supporting the Clean Power Plan in court.

Moreover, a number of legal experts, law enforcement officials, and former regulators — including two former Republican Administrators of the EPA who are supporting the Clean Power Plan in the D.C. Circuit — have recognized that the Clean Power Plan is fully consistent with the Clean Air Act and represents a common-sense, cost-effective approach to pollution reduction.

Several of our nation’s most important clean air and clean energy safeguards have undergone legal wrangling before taking effect, such as the life-saving limits on smokestack pollution discharged cross-state to downwind communities, and the decision less than two weeks ago in which the Supreme Court fundamentally affirmed important clean energy provisions after damaging legal setbacks.

We are confident that the Clean Power Plan will prevail when considered based on a careful review of the merits, in light of the compelling technical record it is founded on — a review the Supreme Court did not undertake in issuing its February 9th stay order.

In the meantime, the race is on to secure a clean energy future, as many states and power companies have already been doing over the last several years. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision alters the imperative to reduce emissions of climate-altering pollution, and capture the economic benefits of near-term investments in clean power and energy efficiency.

And there is every reason for our nation to work together to prepare for and meet pollution reduction requirements under America’s Clean Power Plan — emissions reductions that take effect by 2022, long after any legal wrangling will be complete.

States Are Investing in Cleaner Power

All of these trends are already driving major reductions in carbon pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions from the US power sector hit a 27-year low last April, the lowest amount for any month since April 1988. Overall, the power sector has already reduced emissions of carbon pollution to 15 percent below 2005 levels, and a number of states have achieved even deeper cuts in recent years. From 2005 to 2012 alone, 16 states reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by at least 25 percent, and nine states actually reduced emissions by more than 40 percent.

These trends are intersecting with a period of dramatic transformation in the electricity grid. Power companies are expected to invest an estimated $2 trillion in new generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure between 2010 and 2030 in order to modernize aging generating facilities and grid systems.

Smart states and power companies will continue to take this opportunity to make forward-looking investments that harness our dynamic clean energy economy, cut carbon pollution, and avoid the risk that comes from doubling-down on outdated, dirty technologies that will become stranded in the near future.

America is securing healthier air, a safer climate, and a more resilient and affordable electricity grid — all while growing our economy. All evidence points to this race only accelerating and states and companies achieving and exceeding our nation’s targets for reducing destabilizing carbon pollution. And that’s great news for our public health, our climate security and our economy.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy| Comments are closed

The Supreme Court Decides in Favor of a Critical Clean Energy Resource: Demand Response

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Supreme Court of the United States of America

Today, the Supreme Court issued an important decision in support of a vital clean energy resource: demand response. The case, FERC v. EPSA, revolves around demand response, a resource that helps keep prices low and the lights on, all while being environmentally friendly.

It’s a significant victory for anyone in favor of a cleaner, cheaper, accessible, and more reliable grid. That describes a diverse group — consumer advocates, environmentalists, economists, states, grid operators, and leading legal scholars all filed in support of a critically important and well-designed policy creating access for demand response in wholesale energy markets.

How Demand Response Works

The incredible support for demand response exists because of how the resource works. Demand response reduces energy demand when power is needed most, rather than increasing supply from costly, carbon–emitting fuels. It relies on people and technology, not power plants, to affordably meet our country’s rising electricity needs. Think of it like crowd-sourced energy reductions, helping to reduce costs for everyone by taking the place of very expensive generation.

The Supreme Court Case

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency responsible for keeping our electricity rates “just and reasonable” (that is, fairly priced). FERC created Order 745 to further that goal, with the Order giving demand response access and equal footing in wholesale energy markets, where electricity is bought and sold. It levels the playing field between demand response and traditional sources of electricity, letting the resource compete alongside others.

And demand response has done more than compete – it’s reduced our use of unneeded, costly electricity – the exact type of electricity that should be limited if one wants “just and reasonable” rates.

In a strong, 6-2 decision written by Justice Kagan and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of FERC, stating that “[w]e will not read [FERC’s authority], against its clear terms, to halt a practice that so evidently enables the Commission to fulfill its statutory duties of holding down prices and enhancing reliability in the wholesale energy market.”

Continuing Demand Response Benefits

The Supreme Court’s decision ensures that demand response will keep providing important benefits — and these benefits are numerous. For example, demand response saved customers $11.8 billion in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States in 2013 alone. It likewise helped avoid blackouts during the polar vortex in 2014. And it gives customers the choice and opportunity to save money – for the grid and themselves – by taking part in demand response programs. All this, while being environmentally friendly and carbon reducing.

Posted in Energy, News| Comments are closed

Climate Change and Millennials – An Entire Lifetime of Warmer Than Average Temperatures

While reading the announcement that 2015 had broken – indeed, shattered – the hottest year on record set by 2014, there was one fact that really made things personal: we have now had 31 straight years since a single month was cooler than the twentieth century global average temperature. That means that I have never lived through a month that wasn’t warmer than average – never once in my lifetime.

My entire career as a climate scientist is focused on reducing the threat of global warming, and yet I have never even been alive at a time when the climate was stable. I technically don’t even know what normal is.

Warmest Years on Record graphic

So on one hand, you could say that I don’t even know what I am fighting for. On the other hand, I’ve been afforded two unique opportunities because I’ve lived in the shadow of global warming my entire life.

First, because I’ve grown up at a time when heat records are broken over and over again, I was aware of this worldwide crisis during those impressionable and important “pick a major” years of college. I was thus able to set myself on a career path shaped by climate change from the get-go, rather than later on in life once I was already an established professional in something else.

Second, because my elder colleagues have already identified – with extreme confidence – that humans are the main cause of climate change, I’ve been able to focus on solutions from the get-go, and not just causes and impacts. I have thus benefitted from previous scientific research because I could explore avenues to address climate change, because if humans are the cause, then we are also the solution.

And it’s not just me; there is now an entire generation of young people motivated and empowered to do something about climate change. We – almost the entire millennial generation – have never lived in a world without global warming.

Perhaps for similar reasons to mine (and/or because we think we’re special), my generation has shown a propensity for not just caring about climate change, but doing something about it. Whether on their campuses of their schools or the communities where they live, my generation is showing that they want solutions. In fact, eighty-percent of millennials support cleaner energy in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation.

For this reason among others, I am more hopeful about our future than ever before. Climate change has been impacting my generation our whole lives, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We didn’t ask for this challenge, but I truly believe we’ll be able to rise up to meet it.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| Read 1 Response

The Broad and Diverse Coalition That Is Supporting the Clean Power Plan in Court

Minneapolis -- one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan.

Minneapolis — one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan. Source Flickr/m01229.

The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the cities of Baltimore (MD), Coral Gables (FL), Grand Rapids (MI), Houston (TX), Jersey City (NJ), Los Angeles (CA), Minneapolis (MN), Portland (OR), Pinecrest (FL), Providence (RI), Salt Lake City (UT), San Francisco (CA), West Palm Beach (FL) and Boulder County (CO) all filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to help defend the Clean Power Plan as amici curiae  — or “friends of the court.” (The news was announced by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School – you can read their press release here.)

According to the motion filed by the cities:

The Local Government Coalition and its member national associations and local governments seek to participate as amici curiae to support their common view that the Clean Power Plan is a valid exercise of EPA’s authority and represents a reasonable interpretation of the ‘best system of emissions reduction’ standard established under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. (Page 8)

That impressive group of cities joins a tremendously broad group of entities that are standing up for the Clean Power Plan. Some of these groups, including EDF, are parties to the case; others have filed as friends of the court or have filed supportive declarations:

  • 18 states and seven other cities – including New YorkChicago, and Philadelphia – already filed with the court in support of these vital clean air safeguards.
  • Power Companies – including Calpine, NextEra, National Grid Generation and many others– are supporting the Clean Power Plan, and the cities of Austin (TX) and Seattle (WA) are joining in that support through their municipal power departments.
  • Public health groups like the American Lung Association, the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University Law School, two former EPA Administrators who served under Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and environmental advocates – including EDF – are showing their support as well.
  • A host of clean energy companies represented by Advanced Energy Economy and the national wind and solar associations weighed in on behalf of America’s $200 billion clean energy industry.
  • Google, a major power consumer, filed a declaration in support for the Clean Power Plan, highlighting that it reinforces the company’s conclusion that purchasing renewable energy makes “good business sense” because of its “low and stable marginal cost.”
  • More than six dozen experts have filed declarations with the court in support of the Clean Power Plan, including: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Larry Soward, who led environmental policy under Texas Governor Rick Perry; Sue Tierney of Analysis Group, a leading energy and environmental expert; former FERC Chairmen from both sides of the aisle, including Joseph Kelliher who served under President George W. Bush; and the Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power & Light, and many others. (The declarations in support of the Clean Power Plan can be found here.)
  • The National Nurses Union, our country’s largest professional association of registered nurses, highlighted the real world impacts of climate change and air pollution on community health, from asthma attacks to natural disasters
  • Ron Busby, head of the U.S. Black Chambers, underscored the economic opportunities and electricity bill savings that American communities can realize under the Clean Power Plan.

It’s no surprise that the Clean Power Plan is winning such support. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort is the single biggest step America has ever taken to address the threat of climate change. It builds on our nation’s tremendous success in addressing soot and smog pollution from existing power plants, as well as our recent breakthrough progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

EPA estimates that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will:

  • Reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels
  • Save 3,600 lives annually
  • Prevent 90,000 childhood asthma attacks annually
  • Save American families almost $85 on their annual energy bill

The Clean Power Plan will accomplish all this while building on the economic growth and job creation we’re already experiencing from the ongoing expansion of cost-effective clean energy nationwide.

The Clean Power Plan also gives states extensive flexibility to forge pollution-reduction strategies tailored to their individual needs and economic opportunities.

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan, including major emitters of harmful carbon pollution, started suing to stop it before EPA even finished writing it. (Various courts threw out those lawsuits). Their litigation — brought before they had even reviewed the final standards on the merits — illuminated objections that are highly reflexive.

The many and diverse supporters of the Clean Power Plan recognize that climate change is a threat to all of us, and that we must take action to address that threat. Allowing power plants to discharge unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air is a clear and present danger to public health, the environment and our economy, and we cannot allow it to continue. EDF is proud to be part of this vibrant group of supporters.

(Read more about the Clean Power Plan, and find all the legal briefs in the case, on our website.)

Posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

rp_US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006-300x226.jpgCongress is on the verge of passing an omnibus spending bill for 2016, and the headlines will be that lawmakers — in a modest victory for common sense – are doing their job and avoiding another disastrous government shutdown.

What’s in the omnibus bill is important, of course. But just as important is what’s not in it.

Left on the cutting room floor were a host of objectionable rollbacks that were jammed into various pieces of appropriations bills. That’s a testament to both the courage of pro-environment negotiators in Congress and the White House, and to the growing political power of environmental issues.

The loudest threat against the environment was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign pledge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Never mind that this would mean unlimited carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, more asthma attacks, more smog, and more climate change.

But McConnell’s threat was far from the only danger. Among the potential “riders” – rules in the bill meant to change or block policies – were ones designed to:

  • Block efforts to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined
  • Stop EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution (better known as “smog”)
  • Block efforts to ensure that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently, and are appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions
  • Require EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision
  • Block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands
  • Bar the Administration from helping poor countries deal with drought, rising sea levels and other threats exacerbated by climate change
  • Stop EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer

This is a sampling of the proposals that would have represented serious setbacks for the work being done to responsibly clean our air and water and protect our environment for future generations.

The fact that these proposals didn’t make it into the final omnibus bill is a testament to everyone across America who has spoken up against these attacks. It’s also the latest piece of a remarkable recent winning streak for the environment, from the Clean Power Plan to the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline to the breakthrough climate pact in Paris.

There is additional good news in that important tax incentives for wind and solar energy are extended in the omnibus bill into 2016 and beyond, as are vital funds for land and water conservation.

There’s no question that Congress is failing its larger responsibility to protect public health and the environment. But for now, we need to celebrate these victories that stop efforts to take us in the wrong direction. They are important wins for a cleaner future for our kids and grandkids.

 

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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