Union of Concerned ScientistsUnion of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Fri, 18 Aug 2017 18:42:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Union of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org 32 32 Trump’s Executive Order Will Make America Flood Again (and Again and Again) http://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/trumps-executive-order-will-make-america-flood-again-and-again-and-again http://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/trumps-executive-order-will-make-america-flood-again-and-again-and-again#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 13:54:36 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53172
Floods in Missouri, 2015.

On August 15, Trump signed an executive order, repealing an Obama-era executive order that updated the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for the first time in 37 years to require consideration of future flood risk when building or rebuilding with federal funds. With ample evidence that climate change puts federal (and other) infrastructure at risk, it is ultimately American taxpayers who will pay the price for building without regard to sea level rise and the impacts of increasing extreme weather.

What is the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard?

In 1977, the Floodplain Management executive order by President Carter required federal agencies to evaluate whether actions–such as building–would take place within or affect the local floodplain. This order was in place through two Democratic and three Republican administrations.

In 2015, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), aimed at reducing current and future flood risk by incorporating future conditions, climate science, and other factors that affect flood risks into floodplain definitions. The FFRMS gave agencies leeway to define the floodplain in a few different ways.

It is important to note that the FFRMS has no impact on private development. It does not affect insurance rates through the National Flood Insurance Program. And it does not affect local or state standards where those standards are higher than those outlined by the federal standard.

Building for the Future

Taking some time today to plan for future conditions is something we do in many facets of life today. We try to have college savings accounts for our children, for example, because we know the day will come when they are ready for college, and we know that we need to have those savings in place in order to pay for it. Saving for college requires envisioning a future that’s different from the present, one that seems far off when you’re changing diapers.

Envisioning how flood risks will change over time in response to climate change is more challenging–but with over 170 communities facing chronic inundation in just 18 years’ time, it’s no further off than your baby’s high school graduation.

We need to stop building for today and start building for the future that decades of scientific studies have been outlining. And a strong majority of Americans agree: A recent survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 82% of registered voters support flood-ready infrastructure. Repealing a common sense measure that major infrastructure agencies such as USACE and DOT have been working thoughtfully to implement is irresponsible to current and future taxpayers and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of communities that depend on federally funded infrastructure.

Sea level rise allowed high tides to expose electrical equipment on the underside of the piers at Naval Station Norfolk to sea water. Some of the piers are being raised at a cost of $60 million each.

What not to do

Here in the Bay Area, we have a prime example of what not to do. Californians recently spent $6.4 billion on the new Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland. The bridge opened in September of 2013. Fourteen months later, the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission released a report funded, in part, by the US Department of Transportation finding that with 3 ft of sea level rise, the eastern approach to the bridge would be permanently inundated.

UCS’s most recent sea level rise analysis shows that with roughly 2 feet of sea level rise by 2060, parts of the approach would be chronically inundated–flooding, on average, every other week.

The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened in 2013. Just 14 months later, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reported that the eastern approach would be permanently inundated by 3 feet of sea level rise.

So my tax dollars went toward the construction of the bridge. And my childrens’ tax dollars, should they stay in California, will likely go toward altering it as sea level rise makes the eastern approach unreliable. The financial and political burden of making the Bay Bridge flood resilient could hang over Californians’ heads for decades to come.

California has since updated its guidance on incorporating sea level rise into planning decisions. Likewise, measures such as the FFRMS are a way of safeguarding our investments rather than investing in infrastructure that will fail and need to be rebuilt, again with taxpayer money.

What to do

On the other hand, as of 2015, nearly 600 communities–big cities and small towns alike–already had common sense measures in place that are ensuring that structures are built above the 100-year flood level. These “freeboard” requirements range from 1 to 3 feet above the 100-year flood level, and are common sense measures that are aimed to reduce future flood risk.

This executive order will not affect those local requirements, even if projects are receiving federal funding. It may be, as is the case with global warming emissions reductions, that cities and counties will lead the way when it comes to making infrastructure resilient.

At the federal level, major infrastructure-oriented agencies such as DOD, DOT, and USACE have conducted extensive  sea level rise assessments and developed sea level rise planning tools in recent years. And in response to the recently updated federal flood risk management standard, such agencies have been drafting new building guidelines to ensure that their assets are climate-resilient.

In the course of our work on the exposure of US military installations to sea level rise, we spoke with environmental planners at many installations. While our research showed that there is still room for improvement, most of the planners we spoke with were acutely aware of the risk sea level rise posed to their installation. And many had already implemented common sense measures to reduce that risk.

In short, the federal agencies responsible for the reliability and safety of America’s coastal and inland infrastructure know that climate change poses problems for our nation, and they have already begun to take steps to reduce their risk.

The FFRMS is just a drop in the bucket of what our nation needs to do to plan for sea level rise and increasingly extreme events.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s infrastructure a D+ and states that “it is not clear that [Trump’s executive order] will protect the environment and improve public safety.” Now more than ever, our nation needs coordination and leadership on climate change at the federal level. In the absence of that, cities and counties need to continue to evaluate and enforce their flood standards so that residents stay safe in the face of our changing climate.

Wikimedia Commons
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How Quickly Have US Solar and Wind Grown? http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/how-quickly-have-us-solar-and-wind-grown http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/how-quickly-have-us-solar-and-wind-grown#comments Wed, 16 Aug 2017 16:49:03 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53157

Here at the Union of Concerned Scientists, we spend a lot of time focusing on the future—where we need to get to (on climate change, for example), how we do that (clean energy, clean transportation, carbon pricing,…), what happens when we delay (sea-level rise, anyone?). For clean energy in particular, though, it’s great to remember how far we’ve come and how fast we’re moving. A look at how states’ use of wind and solar has grown does that pretty nicely.

My colleague Shannon Wojcik and I have been digging into some of the numbers from the US Energy Information Administration, a great resource for historical data on America’s energy evolution. Specifically, we’ve focused in on two renewable energy technologies that have made particularly impressive progress in recent years: wind turbines and solar panels.

And here’s what the data show: From tough-to-spot levels in 2001 to impossible-to-ignore ones in 2016, those two technologies alone have made quite a splash.

Here are a few notable tick marks on the wind+solar timeline of progress in the states:

2001 – Not a whole lot o’ color. Only 10 states even show up as having non-zero figures for generation from solar plus wind. And only three of those—California, Minnesota, and Iowa—register above 1%.

2008 – The first green shoots are visible. No state has passed the 10% mark, but four have hit at least 5%.

2009 – Here comes the wind boom. Minnesota is just shy of 10%; Iowa soars past that mark.

2012 – The wind+solar 10% Club is nine members strong, and Iowa and South Dakota have become founding members of the 20% Club. Large-scale solar starts making its presence known.

2014 – EIA figures out that small-scale solar, too, is too important a piece to ignore and starts including those data in its reporting.

2016 – The wind and solar numbers—nationally, at 5.5% for wind and 1.4% for solar—add up to some pretty impressive levels in leading states:

  • 16 states are at or above 10% of generation, 6 states are above 20%, and Iowa and South Dakota have passed 30% (with Kansas just inches from that goal line).
  • For Iowa, in fact, wind adds up to 37% of generation. To put that in plainer (maybe) language: More than one out of every three electrons generated in the Hawkeye State is (almost magically) conjured out of thin air (sort of).
  • For California and Hawaii, sunbeams do even more of the work than wind in 2016. The Aloha State gets 6% of its generation from wind and 8% from solar, while the Golden State’s generation is 7% wind- and 13% sun-fueled.
  • Of the 16 members of the 2016 10% Club, half have doubled their solar/wind percentage in just the previous five years.

2017 and beyond

This is the part where it gets even more exciting. Wind finished 2016 with its second strongest quarter ever for new installations, and solar had a big push throughout 2016. Those numbers will show up in the generation percentages for 2017 as a whole.

Installations during 2017 itself are unlikely to be record-setting overall, but they should add solid additional chunks of solar panels and wind turbines that’ll show up in the data next year.

And then? We keep going.

We push to make the dark states darker and to get the pale ones finally in the game. (I’m pretty sure the Sunshine State and its Southeastern brethren could be doing more with solar… or wind.) We make solar, wind, and other renewables count even more by shrinking the denominator with energy efficiency. We make sure we’ve got the right policies for removing barriers to clean energy, letting American businesses create 21st century jobs, and driving energy innovation that’ll take us through the coming decades.

If you need inspiration, just look at the GIF one more time. And imagine what it could look like in 2020 and beyond. Then join us in making your vision a reality.

Big thanks to Shannon Wojcik, a Steven Schneider Sustainable Energy Fellow from Stanford University, for her help in analyzing and presenting this neat data.

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Galveston County, Texas, Faces Sea Level Rise and Storms http://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/galveston-county-texas-faces-sea-level-rise-and-storms http://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/galveston-county-texas-faces-sea-level-rise-and-storms#respond Wed, 16 Aug 2017 12:00:11 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53103
Neighborhood on stilts. Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston, TX. In 2008, Hurricane Ike erased this neighborhood, except for the yellow house. Residents now are raising their houses even higher to cope with future flooding.

A case study part of the report When Rising Seas Hit Home

“Mother Nature has a way of evening things out”

With the measured voice of a scientist, Galveston County engineer Michael Shannon mused about the seemingly eternal struggle between the irresistible draw human beings have to water and the knowledge that the water, especially in these parts, bites hard.

“People can decide to do what they want, and if you have enough money, you can build what you want if it complies with the regulations,” Shannon said in his office, surrounded by maps that remind one precisely how much water from the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay wraps around Galveston Island, the Bolivar Peninsula, and several local cities and towns.

“I will say, I am surprised at the level of investment and the level of risk people choose to take, but they have the right to do so. It’s human nature to do your own thing and improve your property and live the way you want. I don’t have an opinion whether they should or shouldn’t. But Mother Nature has a way of evening things out.”

Analysis points to a rapid escalation from today’s flooding conditions

This region’s traditional worry is hurricanes. The 1900 hurricane that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people is still the United States’ deadliest natural disaster. In 2008, Hurricane Ike literally wiped huge swaths of the Bolivar Peninsula off the map. Only 17 people died in the entire state of Texas, but property damage amounting to $50 billion was likely the largest loss in state history, according to the New York Times.

But now, even as the human march back to the shore has resulted in fresh walls of homes and rental units on stilts nearly 20 feet high fronting the Gulf of Mexico, and even as local and state entities have spent tens of millions of federal and state dollars to “renourish” the beaches with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand, the seas are snaking slowly in the opposite direction: over the sand, underneath the pilings, upward onto the land and, when the tide is running particularly high, over the roads and into neighborhoods.

Roadway on the Bolivar Peninsula

According to a study published this year by Climate Central, a non-partisan organization of scientists and journalists who focus on climate change, nearly half of Galveston’s homes face a yearly risk of flooding by the end of the century if heat-trapping emissions continue to be spewed at the current rate.

On the Bolivar Peninsula, accessible at the western end by ferry from Galveston and connected at the eastern end to the mainland by a lone state highway running just above the water line, nuisance tidal flooding has become more than a nuisance.

“There are a few days when we are actually an island,” said Matt Summers, a firefighter in Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula. “The engineers threw down some concrete barriers alongside the road to keep the water out. The water has knocked them sideways. It’s a false sense of hope.”

UCS analysis points to a rapid escalation from today’s flooding conditions. By 2035, given a moderate scenario for sea level rise, nearly a quarter of the Bolivar Peninsula is expected to flood 26 times or more per year, or every other week, on average.

But not enough has changed to keep up. According to a May article in the Houston Business Journal, one realtor has “rarely seen the Galveston home market so hot in her nearly 40 years in real estate.”

“I’m not an insurance expert, but I just wonder if everything is being done to ensure compliance with insurance requirements in flood hazard zones,” Shannon says.

Last year, the state approved $14 million to repair and raise the highway to an elevation of seven and a half feet. In Galveston, civic and government leaders and environmentalists have spent years debating whether to build a $15 billion storm barrier system featuring dikes and floodgates. This spring, many Texas mayors; port directors; chemical, oil, and gas executives; and recreation and hospitality representatives—as well asTexas Land Commissioner George P. Bush—wrote President Trump to ask the federal government to fund the barrier.

Shannon thinks the general notion of a barrier, or “coastal spine,” as the locals call it, is “a great project,” given the national importance of local industries.

 “You pick your poison”

On Bolivar, there is hardly a discouraging word about living in flood zones. Summers said, “I’m sure flooding and hurricanes are in the back of everyone’s head, but the fishing is great and the weather’s warm. You pick your poison. You can live somewhere cold or you can live here and take your chances.”

Local photographer Joe Winston comes from a family that lost a home to Hurricane Ike. They elected not to rebuild. Now living several miles away, he remarked on the new homes on high stilts, “Whether you’re 12 feet off the ground or 18 feet, I don’t know if that’s going to save your home when water flattens it like a pancake.

“You’d think the water was telling us something when we’ve lost hundreds of feet of shoreline over the years to erosion. I heard it once said that a wise man builds his home on a rock while a foolish man builds one on the sand. That is an unpopular thing to discuss in a place people come for vacation. The land may be sinking, the water may be rising, but for most people, they come here to get away from work and the world’s troubles. It’s about living in the here and now. Sea level rise just doesn’t rise to such a critical level that it catches the attention of people.”

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Three Myths About Solar Energy and the Eclipse http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/solar-energy-eclipse-myths http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/solar-energy-eclipse-myths#respond Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:00:56 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53136
NASA's guide to where the shadow will be from the Aug. 21 eclipse. Source: NASA

Has anyone told you that the solar eclipse is a sign of trouble, or will cause the power to go out? Fear not. Despite what you might see with your own eyes, the experience is never as bad as the scary stories make it seem. This is as true today as it has been for thousands of years.

There is a long tradition of belief that solar eclipses are a disruption in the established order of things, even a theft. But advocates of renewable energy need not be afraid: a momentary break from the sun—and solar power generation—is not a sign that we need to rely on coal plants for a reliable energy supply. In fact, all people who prefer cleaner air and water should greet the solar eclipse without superstition or fear.

In the modern world, we have science to explain what is happening: our use of solar energy is not the downfall of civilization. Both the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) provide calm and rational discussions of what will happen when the shadow of the moon passes across the United States.

While it is true that more of our electricity comes from solar energy now than in the past, NERC has thought this through and has found that there is no need to fear.

Here are three myth-busters to keep in mind.

Truth: Electricity supplies will not be disrupted by the eclipse

In April, the guardians of electric grid reliability, NERC, issued a report with the summary: A total solar eclipse is a predictable event that impacts solar generation over a short time period. The study showed no reliability impacts to bulk power system operations.

Actual disruptions of the electric power system are typically NOT those where the disturbance is predicted to the precise day and hour, and are most often caused by trouble with the wires, not one fraction of the generator supply.

Truth: We have experience with high levels of solar energy and an eclipse

In March 2015, a solar eclipse shadowed Germany and all of Europe, reducing sunlight 65-80%. (The eclipse was total in the North Sea.) With the advanced notice provided by astronomers, the changes needed in the electricity supply were planned and managed by the same grid operators that routinely make daily schedules and minute-by-minute adjustments for the power supply.

German operators took a detailed approach, using a range of flexible resources to respond to the expected fluctuation in sunshine and solar energy produced. Italian operators took a simpler approach, and directed 30% of solar producers to take an extended morning break from producing. In the UK, the weather was grey and cloudy, making for low levels of solar production in the hours around the eclipse.

Truth: Solar eclipses are not as rare as people think

Aztec calendar with sun god Tonatuih at center.
Credit: Anthony Stanley

It may seem this is a rare event when considering only one’s own point of view, or the history of a single place. That is, in my lifetime where I live, Boston, there has never been a total eclipse. (The last one seen in Boston was in 1959.)  The last total eclipse seen in Los Angeles was in 1724. But there is a total solar eclipse on earth roughly every 2 years. Check out this website for the 2015 and 2016 total eclipses you missed, as well as the next ones (July 2, 2019 and December 14, 2020), both of which will reach southern Argentina and Chile.

People pay attention to the sun for good reason. Among the natural systems that provide clean air, fresh water and a livable climate, the sun is critically important. It is no coincidence that religions describe over 100 gods connected with the sun, and that at the dawn of the modern era, astronomers describing the solar system were killed as heretics by defenders of church orthodoxy.

Today, we can resist the fear that “the sun won’t shine” used to attack renewable energy. When the old guard points to the sun overhead and tells you the eclipse means there will punishment for those who dare to think new thoughts, be confident. The comings and goings of the sun are now predictable. The power supply is always prepared for swings of more sudden losses than this—those that come from man-made, not natural, plant failures.

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Massachusetts Leads on Clean Electricity—Let’s Take On Clean Transportation http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/massachusetts-leads-on-clean-electricity-lets-clean-transportation http://blog.ucsusa.org/daniel-gatti/massachusetts-leads-on-clean-electricity-lets-clean-transportation#respond Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:01:09 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53095

Massachusetts today finalized new regulations under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act that will establish limits on pollution from in-state power plants. Now we need to tackle transportation head on.

The Baker administration support for power plant regulations shows that in Massachusetts, climate change and clean energy remain a bipartisan issue, with both parties and all branches of government working together to achieve our climate limits.

In particular, today’s regulations show the state is continuing to lead on the production of clean electricity. Since 1990, Massachusetts has cut pollution from its electricity use almost in half, from 28 MMT in 1990 to 16 MMT in 2013. These additional regulations, together with last year’s clean energy bill and the recent shutdown of the last coal plants in the state will reduce emissions from electricity even farther, to 8.6 MMT by 2020.

Where the state has struggled is in reducing emission from other sectors, especially transportation. Transportation emissions are actually higher today than they were in 1990.

That’s why it was good to hear that Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Matt Beaton promised new action to address emissions from transportation:

The whole world right now is wrestling with the transportation sector and the challenges around dealing with it relative to climate mitigation. We’ve been in a number of conversations about identifying solutions for transportation, whether it’s done on a regional basis. It is a big challenge. We recognize that challenge, we see it as a challenge as well. But we are confident that in the very near future some of the efforts and the conversations we are having with our colleagues in other states and other provinces in Canada that there will be great strides to better understand what our options are for transportation solutions.

We think that a regional approach to addressing transportation pollution is a great idea.

Massachusetts has a long history of working with other states in the Northeast region to craft successful climate policies such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (aka RGGI).  Under RGGI, the Northeast region has established a regional limit on emissions from power plants, required polluters to purchase emission allowances under that cap, and invested funds in efficiency and renewable energy programs that reduce pollution and save consumers money. RGGI has helped the Northeast region cut emissions while creating jobs and reducing electricity expenses.

Two of our neighbors in Canada, Quebec and Ontario, have recently joined California in implementing a “cap and invest” policy similar to RGGI, but also covering transportation emissions.  This policy has allowed Quebec and Ontario to dramatically scale up their investments in clean transportation projects, such as electric cars and buses and public transportation. Analysis shows that a similar policy in the Northeast region, together with additional policies to clean up transportation, could reduce emissions by 40%, save consumers up to $72 billion and create over 90,000 jobs in the region by 2030.

If Massachusetts leads the Northeast region towards a regional “cap and invest” policy, we could create a clean, modern transportation system for our region. Funds from such a program could finance much needed investments in expanded and more reliable mass transit, a regional network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles to ease driver “range anxiety”; van pools for rural employees who need a cost effective way to get to work; incentives to ensure that automated vehicles and ridesharing services go electric; and new programs that will take polluting gas guzzlers off the road and make highly efficient and electric vehicles affordable for all drivers.

Such a program would not only improve our environment and our public health, but it would improve our economy, create jobs, and ensure Charlie Baker a strong legacy on climate change.

We look forward to working with Secretary Beaton, Secretary Pollack, and the rest of the Baker administration as they take on the challenge of transportation pollution.

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¿Listos para el eclipse solar? Nuestro sistema eléctrico sí lo está. http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/como-ver-eclipse-solar-impactos-paneles-solares http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/como-ver-eclipse-solar-impactos-paneles-solares#respond Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:36:22 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53082
Crédito: NASA (https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/sun_earth_eclipse.jpg)

Este 21 de agosto cientos de millones de personas en el continente americano tendrán la oportunidad de ser testigos de un evento de gran escala: un eclipse solar, y un eclipse total para muchos. Es importante alistarnos para poder disfrutar bien del espectáculo. Y también es importante que nuestro sistema eléctrico esté listo para funcionar un tiempo sin sol. El sistema eléctrico, por lo menos, ya está listo para recibir este evento. (¡Y haré lo posible por alistarme con tiempo yo también!)

¿Por qué tanta emoción?

Un eclipse ocurre cuando la luna pasa entre la Tierra y el sol dejando parte de la Tierra en sombra. Un eclipse total quiere decir que, en ciertas partes, el sol desaparece por completo. La “Zona de Totalidad” es el área donde la sombra de la luna cubre todo el sol desde el punto donde se esté mirando.

Crédito: NASA

En el caso del eclipse que tendremos este mes de agosto, por primera vez en 99 años el eclipse será total en una línea de costa a costa en los Estados Unidos, desde Oregón hasta Carolina del Sur.  

Los que estén fuera de la Zona de Totalidad pero todavía en un rango de cercanía podrán ver un eclipse parcial, con el sol parcialmente cubierto por la luna. Para quienes estén en la Zona de Totalidad, el sol desaparecerá por completo por un par de minutos.

Crédito: NASA

La NASA dice que un eclipse solar es “uno de los espectáculos más grandiosos de la naturaleza”. Y este eclipse va a ser especialmente impresionante para el continente ya que será visible desde Brasil y Perú en el sur hasta casi el Polo Norte.

¿Cómo alistarse?

Prepararse para ver el eclipse sí requiere atención. Lo más importante, si uno quiere ver directamente al sobrepaso lunar, es conseguir gafas especiales certificadas. Es muy importante no mirar al sol directamente sin protección durante el eclipse.

La única excepción es para los que se encuentren en la Zona de Totalidad, y aún en ese caso solamente podrán mirarlo sin protección durante los dos minutos de cobertura completa. Aún con el 99 por ciento del sol cubierto por la luna, lo que resta basta para dañar los ojos con facilidad.

Afortunadamente, las gafas especiales se consiguen a bajo costo. No sirven gafas de sol tradicionales debido al brillo que tendrá el sol, pero unas gafas baratas de papel ($2) con filtros especiales para el eclipse sirven. Solo hay que asegurarse que cumplan con las especificaciones para protección adecuada. Según la NASA:

…La única forma segura de mirar al Sol directamente durante un eclipse parcial es usando filtros de propósito especial, como “lentes de eclipse”… o con un visor solar de mano.

Las cámaras sin filtros especiales tampoco deben usarse para ver el eclipse. Dice la NASA que no se debe mirar al sol “aunque esté parcialmente cubierto, a través de una cámara, telescopio, binoculares, u otro dispositivo óptico sin filtro.”

Y si uno realmente quiere gozar del eclipse sin ningún costo, por suerte existe la opción de usar una caja de zapatos.

¿Y cómo se mantendrán las luces prendidas?

Alistándonos… para cuando regrese el sol. (Crédito: John Rogers)

Con las anteriores indicaciones podemos alistarnos para ver el eclipse. Pero, ¿qué pasará con nuestro sistema eléctrico a nivel regional y nacional, es decir, con las redes que cruzan todo el país conectando fuentes de electricidad con nosotros los consumidores (nuestras casas, instituciones y empresas)? ¿Estaremos listos?

El asunto es que ahora, como nunca antes, contamos con energía solar para generar electricidad. La electricidad generada con energía solar viene principalmente de paneles fotovoltaicos instalados en los techos de nuestros hogares y oficinas, o en campos y desiertos.

La última vez que ocurrió un eclipse total en partes del área continental de los EEUU, en 1979, la energía solar había escasamente penetrado. Desde entonces, esa fuente de electricidad ha llegado a ser un componente importante de la mezcla eléctrica en diferentes partes de nuestro país. Los últimos años han sido tremendos para el crecimiento de la energía solar, tanto en los Estados Unidos como en muchas otras partes del continente americano y globalmente.

Ese crecimiento, junto con los avances que hemos logrado en varias formas de energía limpia, ha ayudado a reducir la contaminación proveniente de plantas termoeléctricas a carbón y otros combustibles fósiles. También ha servido la energía limpia para crear empleos en muchas partes del país.

Sin embargo, el avance de la energía solar podría presentar un desafío para los encargados de mantener las luces prendidas a toda hora. Sin sol, no hay energía solar. Y ese hecho podría tener a algunos preocupados.

Pero la realidad es mucho más… pues, luminosa.

El caso de California

California es un buen ejemplo. Como explica mi compañera Laura Wisland, con sede en ese estado, California es líder en el uso de energía solar:

California actualmente recibe más de 8% de su electricidad de plantas fotovoltaicas a gran escala y de plantas térmicas solares. El estado también tiene más de 5 gigavatios en sistemas fotovoltaicos pequeños instalados en techos, suministrando aproximadamente 2% de la demanda eléctrica, y ese número está creciendo rápidamente.

Debido a esos niveles de uso de energía solar, los encargados de la red eléctrica de California, el CAISO, sí han estado prestando atención al eclipse.

¿Se preocupan, entonces? Nop!

Como explica Laura:

Los operadores de redes rutinariamente planifican para eventos en que las fuentes principales de energía o líneas de transmisión se pierden inesperadamente debido a una tormenta o un fallo del equipo. El eclipse es una reducción rara y significativa en la producción de energía solar, pero porque es predecible no es como un fallo o apagón inesperado.

Los operadores de la red tendrán un rango de opciones a la mano mientras que el sol toma unas vacaciones breves…

[Puede ver aquí para más información sobre cómo funciona la red eléctrica.]

En el caso de California, esas opciones incluyen energía hidroeléctrica, gracias a un invierno bastante lluvioso, y gas natural.

Mejor que tener que prender las plantas de gas, sin embargo, es reducir el uso de electricidad. La comisión californiana de electricidad (la CPUC) ha lanzado una campaña pidiendo que los californianos bajen su consumo de energía durante las pocas horas del eclipse:

Mientras nuestras compañías de luz y el operador de la red tienen todas las herramientas necesarias para matener la red funcionando durante el eclipse, ¿qué pasaría si millones de californianos se unieran para permitir que nuestro sol, que trabaja tan arduamente, tome un descanso, en lugar de tener que depender de caras e ineficientes plantas de gas natural de reserva …

La campaña “Aporta tu contribución por el sol” (Do your thing for the sun) es un esfuerzo para involucrar a los californianos y demostrar que cuando nos unimos para hacer algo pequeño para reducir el consumo de energía, podemos tener un gran impacto en nuestro medio ambiente.

Pues los operadores de la red de California están listos, así como operadores en otras regiones del país.

Próximos pasos

Si no se encuentra directamente en el camino de eclipse, en la Zona de Totalidad, o en un buen rango de cercanía a esta, al llegar la hora del eclipse el 21 de agosto, no se preocupe. La NASA estará transmitiendo en vivo los acontecimientos por internet.

Y si sí logra estar en un buen lugar a la hora indicada, tome las debidas precauciones y aproveche de este tremendo evento. Como dice la NASA:

Al seguir estas simples reglas, usted puede disfrutar con seguridad y ser recompensado con memorias que le durarán [toda la] vida.

Por mi parte, voy a ir a comprar las gafas para el eclipse para mí y para mi familia.

Y mientras tanto, no nos preocupemos por las luces: ¡Todo está bajo control!

¿Listos? https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/

Gracias a mi compañera Paula García, con quien compartimos un amor por la energía solar, por su ayuda con este post.


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Floods, Droughts, and Soil: The Movie (or, Why I Destroyed a Small City for Page Views) http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/floods-droughts-and-soil-the-movie-or-why-i-destroyed-a-small-city-for-page-views http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/floods-droughts-and-soil-the-movie-or-why-i-destroyed-a-small-city-for-page-views#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 19:54:47 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53018
Photo credit: Rich Hayes

Our new report, Turning Soils into Sponges: How Farmers Can Fight Floods and Droughts, is a serious scientific analysis that documents how soil-covering farm practices can help farmers and communities better withstand rainfall variability. It took me the better part of two years to complete. But—lucky you!—we also made a quirky little movie about it that you can watch in less than three minutes:

Okay, yes, the video has an element of silliness, but as I said, this is a serious topic with a lot of research behind it. So I thought I’d use the blog as an opportunity to write more about the science and science communication behind our masterpiece.

An aerial view of the research site in Iowa where our soil came from. Agronomy field experiments feature side by side plots with different treatments to test effects on similar soils. Long-term research sites like this one allow for important trends to be studied over time.

The star of the show—the soil—comes from a real live research site

The soil used in the side-by-side demonstration comes from a long-term research site maintained by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in Ames, Iowa, where I collected the primary data for my dissertation research. It’s a site that grows corn one year and soybeans the next, varying practices like tillage (plowing), use of cover crops between crops, and addition of nitrogen fertilizer to measure their impacts on soil and water quality.

In the video, we call them “healthy soil” and “unhealthy soil,” and these descriptors are quite accurate in relative terms: the healthier soil came from some of the first plots established at this site back in 2000, the first year a winter rye cover crop was planted, and there has been no plowing on that plot since 2002. The unhealthy soil in the video comes from a nearby plot that does not include a cover crop (so the soil is bare from roughly October until April or May), and it has been plowed repeatedly within the last six years. Although soil properties can vary from one spot on a field to the next, these two samples were taken from very close to each other (just about 40 feet away); so we can assume that they are not very different, beyond the plowing and cover crop practices.

In the video, you can see how differently the two soil samples respond to a heavy “rain.”

Our film crew: myself, Rich Hayes (UCS Deputy Communications Director), Karen Perry Stillerman (Senior Communication Strategist), Audrey Eyring (the filmmaker extraordinaire and UCS producer) AND Godzilla, who makes a guest appearance in the video. I’m grateful to work alongside communication gurus and those with artistic and film expertise who helped me bring this soil science lesson to a wider audience.

How do soils on real farms measure up?

In the video, I say that “much of the nation’s farmland” is treated like our unhealthy soil sample. That’s because data from the USDA tells us that very little farmland across the country uses practices that protect it with living plants year-round.

Let’s start with the data on cover crops. The 2012 agricultural census estimated that approximately 2% of the major corn-producing states in the country were using a cover crop, although that number could be as high as 3% across the United States (approximately 10 million acres of the 300 million cropped acres).

Cover crops are not the only way to avoid bare soil on farmland. Perennial crops (crops that have deep living roots in the soil all year long), agroforestry (integrating trees into croplands) and even double cropping (growing two crops during one year) are other options. However, these things are also not the norm.

I was sad after flooding our faux farmland and city. This demo was meant to capture imagination and be a bit humorous, but reducing storm water is an idea that many municipalities are taking seriously.

It isn’t easy to get a solid number on the total land planted to perennial crops in the US, but the value for hay grasses is one indicator. These perennial grasses, which include crops such as alfalfa, comprised less than 18% of total harvested cropland in the United States last year.

Estimates from the Economic Research Service from 1999-2012 find that just 2% of farms are double cropping. Limited numbers for agroforestry acres exist, although USDA has estimates for the acres its programs support, and while those numbers are incomplete, they would equal well less than 1% of harvested crop acres. It’s good news that some researchers and non-profits are working to quantify and map agroforestry and other perennial practices.

If we add those numbers up, we’re talking about less than one-quarter of all agricultural land in the United States, so it seems fair to say that much of the nation’s farmland is farmed “naked” for extended periods of time during the year.

Our data show soil can be a solution

If you’re curious about the numbers from the new report that we included in the video, here is the Cliff Notes version.

In 70% of the 150 field experiments we examined, the soil’s “spongy” properties were improved by farming methods such as no-till practices, crop rotations, cover crops, perennial crops, and better grazing management. The properties we analyzed included infiltration rates, pore space and water available to plants. In our examples of how to get healthier soils on farms, we focused on those practices that we found to offer the largest and most consistent improvements: cover crops, perennials and improved grazing management.

This little demo became a regular trick of mine because it works so well – every time! Here I demonstrated infiltration with the same soils for a class of 7th graders that I taught from 2014-2015 in Des Moines public schools. I found that the infiltration rate test serves as a powerful visual and communication piece for how human management affects the soil.

The flood frequency number was calculated from the number of months reaching flood stage with current land use, and how many fewer months amounted when there was a shift to more ground covering crops and healthier soils. The 1/5 value came from our calculation for one specific watershed in Eastern Iowa impacted by flooding during the last several decades.

We also found there to be a 20% reduction in runoff when we evaluated specific areas impacted by historic flood events, and this number comes from a watershed in western Iowa hit by heavy flooding in 2011.

These are not insignificant numbers when you think about how much damage these events can do (on the order of billions of dollars, as we detail in the report), and the human impact they have. In fact, Iowa state senator Rob Hogg, an ardent champion for climate change solutions, whose Cedar Rapids region was devastated by flooding in 2008, reminded us that “Floods not only cause preventable damage—they create long-lasting trauma and heartbreak.”

The science communication behind the scenes

The mini-demo I tried in my office with soils from a USDA research site in Maryland, with a corn-soybean-wheat/soybean crop rotation and you can see that the soil on the left which was conventionally tilled drained less water through it and “ponded” more at the soil surface, relative to the no-till soil.

This infiltration rate demonstration is something I first gathered supplies for and worked up when I was a student just starting my Ph.D. program at Iowa State University. In fact the whole thing started with a test run with soda bottle “beakers” in a friend’s backyard. The idea came from Ray Archuleta of the USDA, who is known for performing this demonstration. At the time, I was curious if the soil from Iowa would produce such a strong contrast. It did then, and it has every time I’ve tried it since.

And in case you think this is only the case with Iowa soil, it’s not. We were also fortunate to have additional soil from a long-term research site maintained by USDA scientists in Maryland that included a comparison of no-till soil to conventional tillage. I did an informal test in my office and found that this soil indeed worked the same way.

In the end, we only needed to use the soil from our Iowa experiment for the demo, but I share this in part because experts who study soil health suggest infiltration tests as an important indicator. So, do try this at home with your own soil, if you are so inclined!

Our two mini demos in the video appear simple, but it took a lot of people power to get all the supplies, which left my office looking like much like a warehouse for the weeks leading up to our shoot. My colleague and accomplice in all of this was Karen Perry Stillerman who also found great enjoyment in searching the wide reaches of the internet for assorted supplies (including mini people—but note that no one was harmed in the making of our video!).

Are you more curious about soil? We hope so!

I’m super proud of the finished product. We aimed to be accurate in our descriptions and there is research and evidence to back up everything. I am thinking all the time about how to make some of these agricultural concepts more broadly applicable, and I hope the video does just that.

AND, because making a video never goes 100% perfectly, we thought you might enjoy two of our favorite outtakes.

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The Solar Eclipse and Our Electricity Supply: Why We’ve Got This Covered http://blog.ucsusa.org/laura-wisland/the-solar-eclipse-electricity-supply http://blog.ucsusa.org/laura-wisland/the-solar-eclipse-electricity-supply#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 13:48:23 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=52839
Photo: Takeshi Kuboki/CC BY (Flickr)

The Great American Eclipse, as many are calling it, is a big deal for both committed and casual star watchers alike. On August 21, starting at approximately 9:15 a.m. Pacific time, the moon will move in front of the sun to completely block its rays, leaving a swath of people across the United States in eerie and fantastic darkness for about two minutes. Totality!

A total solar eclipse happens about every 18 months, but most of the time the moon’s shadow appears in remote places where very few are around to witness the spectacle. The coming August eclipse will be the first in the nation’s history to completely occur over the continental United States.

Source: LA Times

Given that the US, and especially states like California, are using more and more solar power to meet electricity needs, the prospect of a temporary moon shadow has caught the attention of electricity grid operators as well.

California currently receives more than 8% of its annual electricity needs from large-scale photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal plants. The state also has more than 5 GW of small-scale PV (rooftop solar) installed—meeting approximately 2% of annual electricity demand—and that number is growing rapidly. On some days, solar energy generation has supplied as much as 40% daily electricity needs. So, it’s not surprising that the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) is looking into the effects the eclipse will have on generation that day.

CAISO expects generation from large-scale solar plants to start dropping around 9 a.m. and be reduced by about 64% at the height of the eclipse (assuming it’s a clear morning and potential solar generation is not already reduced by cloud cover). Output from rooftop solar systems will also drop appreciably. Once the eclipse is over, it will take about 90 minutes for solar generation to return to its pre-eclipse level.

Source: CAISO

Why the eclipse is not a problem for the grid

So, is losing all that solar energy during the eclipse a big deal for the grid? Turns out, no. Grid operators routinely plan for events where major power sources or transmission lines are lost unexpectedly because of a storm or equipment failure. The eclipse is a rare, significant reduction in solar power, but because it is predictable it is not like an unexpected failure or shut down.

Grid operators will have a range of options at hand while the sun takes a brief vacation. Since California had a wet winter, we can ramp hydropower up and down as needed. CAISO can also use natural gas generation to provide additional grid flexibility, though that fossil power would emit greenhouse gas emissions.

However, many clean energy nerds, including me, are hoping that we can back-fill the lost solar power by harnessing the power of our own energy flexibility and using less power during the 2-hour eclipse window. The California Public Utilities Commission is asking all Californians to pledge to use slightly less electricity during the eclipse to reduce the need to rely more on fossil fuels like natural gas.

From the caleclipse.org website:

While our utilities and grid operator have all the tools necessary to manage the grid during the eclipse, what if millions of Californians stepped in to allow our hard working sun to take a break, rather than relying on expensive and inefficient natural gas peaking power plants.

The ‘Do Your Thing for the Sun’ campaign is an effort to engage Californians and demonstrate that when we come together to do one small thing to reduce energy usage, we can have a major impact on our environment.”

Take the pledge here.

CAISO and other grid operators around the country have been planning for the eclipse for months, so rest easy and enjoy the totality. (That is, of course, unless you happen to be on a solar-powered train with no brakes, in which case you should plan accordingly.)

Photo: Takeshi Kuboki/CC BY (Flickr)
LA Times
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How Healthier Soils Help Farms and Communities Downstream Deal with Floods and Droughts http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/how-healthier-soils-help-farms-and-communities-downstream-deal-with-floods-and-droughts http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/how-healthier-soils-help-farms-and-communities-downstream-deal-with-floods-and-droughts#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 13:56:41 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=53005
Soil scientist Natalie Lounsbury and farmer Jack Gurley inspect a tillage radish cover crop as part of a project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program. This plant’s roots penetrate soil deeply, reducing compaction, and increasing water infiltration, making it an excellent cover crop to improve soil structure. Image: USDA-SARE/Edwin Remsberg.

A scan of recent news reveals the wide-ranging impacts of too much or too little rain: intensifying drought in the Great Plains; the largest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico ever recorded, driven in large part by a wet spring that flooded parts of the Midwestern Corn Belt; and historic summertime rain in the mid-Atlantic. Climate change promises to bring more of this rainfall variability, with devastating effects on farmers and communities. But a new report we released today contains good news: healthier soil on farms can help combat the impact of floods and droughts.

A major take-home from our report is that the soil – yes, the “dirt” under our feet – can help buffer farmers and downstream communities from these events, particularly when farmers use practices that keep their soil covered with living plants year-round. And this is good for rural and urban residents, taxpayers, and farmer’s bottom lines.

Practices that keep farmland covered year-round retain more water in soil and can increase resilience to
floods and drought. Image: USDA-SARE/Edwin Remsberg.

Farmers have the power to make their soils “spongier”

Farmers want water to stay in the soil for their crops to use, rather than running off downstream. To understand how farming practices can help with this, we asked a series of scientific questions. The first was: how does soil’s ability to absorb and hold water change in any given place if land is managed using different practices? And by that, I mean different from the norm in the Corn Belt today, which is dominated by one or two annual crops grown on millions of acres, often with soil left bare for months in between.

Practices we wanted to know more about included no-till cropping (in which soil is not plowed); planting of cover crops between cash crop seasons (when soil would otherwise be bare); use of ecological livestock grazing systems (which intentionally manage animal numbers and rotation through pastures); integration of crops and livestock; and use of perennial crops (crops such as alfalfa that have living roots in the soil year-round).

To answer the question, we performed a rigorous review of prior field studies (150 experiments in total on six continents) that used any of these practices and focused on properties of the soil that make it more sponge-like, including the infiltration rate (the rate that water enters the soil), its pore space (or porosity), and the water in the soil available to plants.

We found that:

  • 70% of all the experiments we analyzed led to increases in these sponge-like soil properties, compared to more conventional practices.
  • The largest and most consistent improvements came from those practices that keep roots in the soil throughout the year. So-called “continuous living cover” practices included cover crops, perennial crops, and improvements to grasslands through grazing management.
  • Heavy rainfall events – more than one inch of rain per hour – could be significantly offset with some of these practices, particularly perennials. In more than half (53%) of the experiments that compared perennial crops to annual crops, water entering the soil not only increased, but did so at a rate higher than a one-inch per hour rain event. This is so critical as downpours grow more frequent across the U.S.
  • Continuous living cover practices change the structure of soil, by a measurable amount. We found an 8-9% improvement in both pore space and plant available water.

The value of continuous roots in the soil is depicted in this diagram: roots can make the soil more porous to store more water, and crop cover helps reduce water losses from runoff and evaporation. When managed properly this can lead to more water available to crops.

Spongy soil can be a solution on farms…and in cities downstream

This was all very encouraging. But we also wanted understand how these farming practices could reduce runoff in flood events and increase water in the soil during drought events if they were adopted on a large scale, and how these benefits might increase or decrease given likely future climate scenarios.

Here, we also found quite encouraging results when we used a model to represent such a shift in a representative farming region, the state of Iowa. Our model predicted that shifting the most erodible or least profitable croplands in Iowa to include more cover crops and perennial crops resulted in:

  • Up to 20% less runoff in historic flood events
  • Flood frequency (the number of months reaching flood stage) reduced by approximately one-fifth in some regions
  • Up to 16% more crop water use during droughts as severe as those experienced in 1988 and 2012
  • In a hotter, wetter climate that is projected for Iowa, we found a similar magnitude of benefits: 7 or 11% more crop water use and runoff reductions of 11 or 15%

Farmers and cities know they need to adapt to a changing climate

Soil quality can affect city dwellers as well as farmers. Excess runoff from farms with bare soil can contribute to flooding in towns and cities downstream, with resulting damage to homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure. Cedar Rapids, IA, was inundated by flooding in June 2008. Image: USGS/Don Becker.

There are many approaches proposed for climate adaptation, from improved seed varieties to more efficient irrigation technologies to insurance for disasters. What our report looks at specifically is the multiple benefits of healthier soil, because we know that the solutions we describe have multiple benefits: for reducing water pollution, for cities downstream, and importantly for improving farmer’s bottom lines.

The importance of managing water in heavy rain events is also something I’ve heard farmers and researchers repeatedly address. Farmer Tom Frantzen describes for Practical Farmers of Iowa in a podcast interview (listen here at ~10 mins) the tremendous benefit of his hybrid rye crop. Because he planted the crop the prior fall and it was fully protecting his soil the following spring, he had no soil erosion at all during a damaging three-inch rain event, when many surrounding fields were bare.

A Nebraska farmer made news by sharing a video of himself wakeboarding on flooded fields this spring. Interestingly, heavy rains in April and May haven’t been enough to keep the Plains out of a lingering dry spell.

The media outlet No-Till Farmer reported in June that a soil scientist stuck in a heavy downpour watched water infiltrate down to eight feet into the soil profile while waiting out the storm, serving as a light-bulb moment for illustrating to him the true water value of soil health. That scientist now reports that on his own ranch, he and his wife are working to restore perennial cover for livestock grazing.

And we know that cities benefit as well.

“Healthy, spongier soils are a win-win for farmers and water utilities and benefit rural and urban communities alike,” said Tariq Baloch, Cedar Rapids water utility plant manager and participant in the Middle Cedar Partnership Project, which receives funding from a USDA grant program called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which brings together landowners, utilities and farmers to reduce nutrient runoff into drinking water sources. “Investing in soil health means investing in soil productivity and reduced soil loss. Doing so will improve source water quality, reduce runoff that contributes to flooding and, ultimately, enhance the sustainability and prosperity of our communities.”

There is growing interest in the contribution of soils, and we hope that our analysis helps to quantify the benefits of this approach. Our report also addresses the ways that policy can help farmers make changes to protect their soil, and further posts will address this.

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US Abandons Global Science Leadership, Zeroes Out IPCC Funding http://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/us-abandons-global-science-leadership-zeroes-out-ipcc-funding http://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/us-abandons-global-science-leadership-zeroes-out-ipcc-funding#comments Tue, 08 Aug 2017 12:58:52 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=52996

In stark contrast to the leadership role the US has historically contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the enacted 2017 U.S. Budget zeroes out funding for the institution. 

U.S. Contribution to the IPCC (2005-2017). Data Source: IPCC http://bit.ly/2uAmEm3; Rachel Licker converted to US dollars based on June 1 exchange rate each year from xe.com.


The IPCC also appears as zero request for the fiscal year 2018 in both the State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification, as well as the House’s State and Foreign Operations Bill (whose summary includes the IPCC on a list that “does not include funding for controversial or unnecessary programs”).

A remarkable departure from the well-regarded IPCC that was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prizefor their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about  man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

The longest serving science advisor to a U.S. President since World War II, John Holdren, recently opined about the critical role of the IPCC:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself, which works under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, can be regarded as a “red team-blue team” operation, in which every conclusion must pass muster with a huge team of expert authors and reviewers from a wide variety of disciplines and nations (including from Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers inclined to be skeptical).”

Military leaders find national security implications in IPCC projections

I remember distinctly Vice Admiral Walter E Carter, Jr., USN, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy testifying before a U.S. Congress field hearing in July 2015.

He told of seawater inlet temperature for the aircraft carrier that approached almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, far above normal temperature for that time of year in the region they were operating (listen 1:19:19 into to this video).  “That is a very difficult place for anybody to operate regardless of what type of equipment you are working with,” declared Vice Admiral Carter.

Confronting these and other climate trends, the Department of Defense (DOD) and security organizations cite the IPCC findings and incorporate these into national security risk assessments. For example, the National Intelligence Council uses IPCC climate projections as the basis for their assessment of the risk of extreme weather events for national security.

IPCC sea level rise projections also formed part of the basis of the Department of Defense’s 2016 assessment of the risk of sea level rise for DOD coastal installations.  Take a look at examples of U.S. military bases confronting rising seas.

IPCC budget is small change compared to combined cost of communities preparing for climate risks

The information generated by the IPCC (e.g. special reports and comprehensive climate assessments) is incorporated into the U.S. National Climate Assessment and similar activities in nations around the world.

The US has historically contributed around $2 million a year to the IPCC Secretariat to facilitate gatherings of hundreds of world experts to assess the latest developments in climate science published in peer-reviewed journals. Through these assessments, IPCC scientists produce highly vetted climate projections for governments, and identify key risks and sources of exposure and vulnerability to climate change.

To put this annual historic contribution of around $2 million to the IPCC in perspective, New York City, in 2013 embarked upon a $20 billion climate resiliency plan.

In one year, the climate resiliency portion of the New York 2017 Executive Budget included $170 million in City funds for storm water management infrastructure to complement the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street and $27.5 million in City funds for the Two Bridges section of Lower Manhattan Protect and Connect flood protection.  The design for these investments must incorporate the latest climate projections.    New York City and other communities around the US benefit from a sustained IPCC that continually draws upon experts worldwide, including many from the U.S.

Without the U.S.’ contribution in FY 2017, the IPCC was short in contributions. As a result, the institution was forced to draw from its financial reserves.

This may not be sustainable in the long run and risks the institution’s ability to provide governments with the best available information on changes ahead. Accordingly, in June 2017, the Netherlands announced it would double its IPCC contribution in light of U.S. actions and is urging other nations to increase their contributions.

There is a large return on investment in the IPCC for the United States.  Annual U.S. contributions to the IPCC trust fund could help ensure the IPCC Secretariat can sustain convening functions that leverages largely voluntary contributions of experts that produce robust IPCC assessments. Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments.

IPCC; USD conversion R. Licker
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