The United States is not ready for the climate reality

Climate disasters have been relentless this summer. Hurricane Ida destroyed the power grid in New Orleans, where more than 300,000 home...


Climate disasters have been relentless this summer. Hurricane Ida destroyed the power grid in New Orleans, where more than 300,000 homes remained without power on Wednesday. A few days later Ida poured 7 inches of rain over New York, drown people in their basements and crippling the subways. Deadly heat waves scorched the Pacific Northwest, a huge fires prompted residents to evacuate South Lake Tahoe and flash floods devastated Tennessee.

There are two big lessons to be learned from this uninterrupted parade of extreme weather conditions, as Christopher Flavelle, Anne Barnard, Michael Kimmelman and I wrote last week. First, the United States is not prepared for the climate shocks we are already experiencing today. Adapting to extreme weather conditions will be a difficult and costly task: electricity networks must be strengthened, sewage systems renovated, forests cleared of inflammable undergrowth.

But secondly: there are limits to the adaptive capacity of the country. If nations don’t do more to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – the engine of climate change – they could soon run up against the outer limits of resilience as heat waves, floods, droughts and fires of forests are becoming more and more extreme.

It remains to be seen how the United States responds. Like Coral Davenport and me wrote recently, there are currently two huge bills in Congress aimed at addressing the risks of climate change.

One would provide the largest injection of federal funds ever for climate change adaptation programs. The other would contain the most ambitious policies to date to reduce global warming emissions, including a program that would push utilities to switch to cleaner energy sources.

Some Democrats are betting this summer of disasters could spur the passage of both bills. But political obstacles remain.

Quote: “These events tell us that we are not prepared,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw climate risk planning at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “We built our cities, our communities, in a climate that no longer exists.”


Last Friday, my colleague Blacki Migliozzi and I were reviewing images of overflight of the waters off Louisiana with John Scott-Railton, a researcher at Citizen Lab, who had followed the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida.

We had noticed very small slicks on the water. Then Mr. Scott-Railton screamed in my ear.

He had spotted a leak that experts would later qualify as “substantial” from a point off Port Fourchon, the main hub of Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry.

From there, we looked at satellite imagery, vessel tracking data, and interviewed scientists, local officials and others involved in the cleanup to announce a spill and cleanup that had yet to be communicated. to the public. The spill, believed to have come from a damaged underwater pipe, is one of many now spotted in the Gulf. Read what we reported this week.

Numbers: A report published earlier this year by the US Government Accountability Office found that since the 1960s, federal regulators have allowed Gulf oil and gas producers to leave some 18,000 miles of pipelines on the seabed, which are often abandoned without cleaning or burial.


Bitcoin. Litecoin. Golden Bitcoin. Ethereum. Dogecoin.

Cryptocurrencies have become one of the most captivating and impressive investments in the world. They go up in value. They crash. They will change the world, say their fans, by replacing traditional currencies like the dollar, the rupee or the ruble.

And in the simple fact of existing, some of the most popular cryptocurrencies use astonishing amounts of electricity. This week we covered how they work, why they are so energy intensive, and if they could be more environmentally friendly. Here is the whole project by Jon Huang, Claire O’Neill and Hiroko Tabuchi.

The big picture: Managing a valuable digital currency without a central authority requires a lot of computing power.

Numbers: Bitcoin’s energy consumption accounts for almost half a percent of all electricity consumed in the world.

Why is this important: Bitcoin mining is digital, but it’s still connected to the physical world of fossil fuels, power grids, and the climate crisis. What was originally a forward-thinking currency has growing ramifications in the real world.

Quote: Bitcoin mining means more than just issuance. Miners wanting the newest, fastest machines cause high turnover, creating a new e-waste problem as unused material gets thrown away and accumulates. “Bitcoin miners ignore this problem completely because they don’t have a solution,” said Alex de Vries, who runs Digiconomist, a site that tracks the sustainability of cryptocurrencies. “These machines are just dumped.”


A series of severe storms across the country have demonstrated the physical balance sheet of climate change. But more frequent and severe disasters pose a different kind of threat, especially for small towns: the risk of long-term financial collapse.

This danger is particularly clear in North Carolina, where small towns near the coast are still reeling from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Floyd in 2018. These storms haven’t just caused flooding; they have also pushed back residents and businesses, reducing the tax base in cities already in economic difficulty. Now they are struggling to pay for basic services.

The plight of these cities is a warning about what climate change means for much of America’s small towns. And they show the contradictions inherent in the federal government’s response to repetitive disasters – rebuilding some people’s homes, while paying others to move, often to the same city, which makes things difficult for these cities again. more difficult.

You can read more about what I found in North Carolina, and what that says about the long-term impacts of climate change for small towns, here.


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