Climate 411

How climate change is worsening drought

Spring is in full swing across the U.S. – flowers are blooming, pollen is blowing – and this means that the 2021 heat wave, hurricane, and wildfire seasons are just around the corner.

After the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced a record number of named storms and record-breaking wildfires ravaged the Western U.S., vulnerable communities are bracing for more. However, another extreme weather event linked to climate change has been quietly afflicting the U.S. year-round with no signs of letting up and at risk of becoming permanent – widespread drought.

Drought conditions have been ongoing since early summer 2020 – and have persisted, worsened, and expanded dramatically – across vast portions of the continental U.S. Since October 2020, almost all of the High Plains and Western regions and more than half of the South have been experiencing some level of drought. More than 50% of Western drought conditions are categorized as either extreme or exceptional drought. Even more drastically, extreme and exceptional drought have comprised more than 75% of drought conditions across the Four Corners region (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) since late autumn.

NOAA predicts that these widespread dry conditions are likely to continue and spread throughout the spring, especially in the Southwest. This poses major threats to the region, including increased risks of wildfires, parched rangelands, stressed irrigation systems, and crop failures.

Just as climate change has worsened many extreme weather events, it has also impacted droughts. The excess heat now trapped in the climate system draws out more moisture from soils, thereby worsening drought conditions. Reduced snowpack volumes, earlier snowmelt, and changing precipitation patterns – also linked to climate change – exacerbate the water stress induced by droughts. And for numerous individual events across the world, scientists have attributed the increased likelihood and severity of droughts to human-driven climate change.

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Also posted in Agriculture, California, Cities and states, Economics, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News / Read 2 Responses

A U.S. economy-wide methane target: essential, achievable, affordable

The Biden administration is preparing to announce a new U.S. greenhouse gas emissions target for 2030 under the Paris Agreement — a pledge known as a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC — in advance of this year’s United Nations climate talks. Given the last four years of U.S. climate inaction and denial, it is important that the U.S. put forward an ambitious yet credible target and restore its position as a global leader on climate.

Although many countries pledge a single headline target that includes all greenhouse gas emissions, we believe that a complementary methane target is an essential addition that will considerably benefit the climate. Although it would include methane, a combined target is not sufficient to ensure that immediate and strong actions are taken to reduce methane emissions at the extent warranted.

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Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Paris Agreement / Read 2 Responses

Five things to know about the Texas blackouts

1. Our first priority must be to help Texas families

Millions in Texas were without power and drinkable water for days on end, and families across the state are still working to find food and assess the damage from burst pipes. Helping them must be our first priority.

2. Climate change means all of our infrastructure may be more vulnerable to extreme weather. But Texas’ grid wasn’t ready for extreme cold and winter storms.  

While there will be much finger pointing in the days to come, it’s becoming clear that the biggest problem is that ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, as well as the Texas Public Utility Commission that oversees it, haven’t prepared the state’s electricity grid for more extreme weather, including winter storms which may become more common with climate change.

Leaders at all levels should make sure not only power facilities, but all of our infrastructure, is built with resilience in mind & factor climate change impacts in planning. We need policies from the state to ensure Texas is ready.

As the Texas Tribune said, “Texas officials knew winter storms could leave the state’s power grid vulnerable, but they left the choice to prepare for harsh weather up to the power companies — many of which opted against the costly upgrades.”

3. Fossil fuel lobbyists are trying to spin the truth, but natural gas and coal were the biggest part of the problem.
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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

EDF experts weigh in: President Biden’s executive actions on climate

Professional worker installing solar panels. Shutterstock.

President Joe Biden is taking executive action to combat climate change while creating high quality American jobs, building on the steps he took on his first day in office. EDF is providing this analysis of some of the actions the President took on January 20th and is taking today.

Wednesday, Jan. 27 Climate actions

Omnibus Domestic and International Climate Executive Order

If there was any doubt before today that the Biden administration was making climate change central to policy across the administration, today’s major action erased it. The Omnibus Executive Order clearly implements a “whole of government” approach to climate change:

  • A new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy under the leadership of National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
  • A new post of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, filled by John Kerry, charged with the development of U.S. international climate policy.
  • A National Climate Task Force, led by McCarthy and Kerry, that will coordinate climate policy across the administration and ensure that climate is integrated into every aspect of domestic and international policy.

The administration clearly intends today’s major announcements to be the start of a historic push to reduce climate pollution. That vision should include 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 together with 100% clean cars by 2035 and all new zero emitting trucks and buses no later than 2040. Eliminating the extensive climate and air pollution from these sources together with the administration’s commitment to slash methane from new and existing oil and gas extraction activities are among the single most important steps we can take immediately as a nation to address the climate crisis.

These actions will save tens of thousands of lives each year as smokestacks, tailpipes and oil and gas discharge deadly particle pollution, smog-forming contaminants and air toxics. For far too long, too many communities and neighborhoods have been disproportionately afflicted by the heavy and unjust burden of industrial air pollution.

The race to deploy clean solutions will also create new American jobs, strengthening American manufacturing now and for years to come, and create economic opportunities in urban and rural communities alike to build 21st Century infrastructure. As shown by two new EDF reports, eliminating pollution from new cars by 2035 will bring extensive health, climate, cost saving benefits of eliminating pollution from new cars by 2035.

Climate Leaders’ Summit

The White House also confirmed that it will host the online Climate Leaders’ Summit on April 22, Earth Day. The summit, which fulfills one of President Biden’s campaign pledges, will bring together world leaders to discuss pressing climate issues ahead of COP 26. It will mark the next key step in the U.S. government’s engagement on international climate.

Pausing federal oil and gas leasing

After years of giving away oil and gas leases at fire-sale prices, tapping the brakes is a sensible and necessary step. It will give the administration time to determine whether oil and gas leasing on public lands can be reconciled with the need to rapidly transition to a clean energy economy. It will allow permanent protections to be put in place for the Arctic, parks and monuments, lands that are culturally significant to Native American communities and coastal areas that have long been off-limits. Critically, it will also allow time for EPA and BLM to reinstate and strengthen methane and waste prevention rules rescinded by the previous administration. With industry already sitting on more than 13 million acres of idle oil and gas leases, claims that a pause on leasing will cause economic harm stretch all credulity.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Health, Jobs, Policy / Comments are closed

What you need to know about hurricanes and climate change

Photo: NOAA

This post was co-authored by EDF Postdoctoral Climate Science Fellow Tianyi Sun

Today Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, causing death and destruction. Louisianans and Texans in its path are now mourning and looking ahead to a long and painful recovery.

Laura had winds up to 150 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest hurricanes on record to ever hit the Gulf Coast in the United States. It tied the record for how quickly it intensified, driving questions about the role of climate change in creating and fueling this monster storm.

A look at the latest science

Scientists have been actively studying how climate change affects hurricanes for decades, and the evidence that it can influence several aspects of hurricanes continues to grow.

Overall, climate change is making these already dangerous weather events even more perilous. They are stronger, wetter, slower, and intensify more rapidly. Major storms are occurring more often and piling on heavier rainfall, and scientists anticipate the strongest storms will continue to increase in frequency. Sea level rise, along with stronger winds, are also worsening storm surges, causing more coastal flooding.

All aspects of hurricanes – from formation to track to strength to damages – can be influenced to some degree by climate change, through warmer waters, more moisture in the atmosphere, changing air patterns, and sea level rise.

For some connections, such as how climate change affects hurricane strength and its damages, the science is simple and robust. For other connections, such as how climate change affects hurricane formation and track, the science is more complicated and nuanced.

Here we break down what we know about how climate change affects four key aspects of hurricanes


1. Hurricane formation – competing factors at play
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Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Oceans / Comments are closed

Public records confirm EPA’s “censored science” proposal was an end-run around Congress

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The Trump administration is reportedly expanding its dangerous plan — originally proposed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt — to limit the scientific evidence that the agency can consider when establishing public health protections.

According to a story in the New York Times today, the new proposal will be even more damaging than Pruitt’s version – which was flatly illegal and would have left Americans more exposed to dangerous contaminants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we use.

The original proposal was based on failed congressional legislation whose sponsor “pitch[ed]” the idea to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. But newly released public documents show that the origins of the “censored science” proposal are more cynical than we knew.

EDF sued to obtain the public records after EPA violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not releasing them, with Earthjustice representing us in the litigation.

The new public records reveal just how explicitly Trump’s EPA is attempting to defy Congress by implementing its “censored science” policy through administrative rulemaking. It turns out that – from the beginning – EPA’s overt goal was to implement the same damaging ideas that the Senate refused to pass. Read More »

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy, Pruitt, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed