Extreme Weather--And Some Examples of What's Being Done to Deal With It

You might have noticed of late that the weather has been odd. Perhaps you’ve been a bit hot--especially if your power went out—or perhaps soaking wet. Tragically, some people have even lost their homes to wildfires, tornados and floods.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a “State of the Climate” report this week which noted among other things:

The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during June was 71.2°F, which is 2.0°F above the 20th century average. Scorching temperatures during the second half of the month led to at least 170 all-time high temperature records broken or tied. The June temperatures contributed to a record-warm first half of the year and the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.


The chances of these record temperatures not being the result of man-made climate pollution are slim, real slim, according to the study. As an op-ed in the LA Times noted of the findings:

In other words, June 2011 was in the top third of hottest Junes on record, as was July 2011, and August, and so on. According to NOAA, the odds of this occurring randomly are 1 in 1,594,323. Climate-change deniers such…are betting against very long odds, with the stakes being the quality of life of everyone on Earth.


My colleague Bob Keefe did a nice roundup of coverage of the report and recent extreme weather here.


The good news is that businesses, state, cities and even Administration are taking meaningful action to address global warming impacts and the emissions that cause them. Below is a sampling.


Earlier this week a coalition of companies released a step by step guide on how to prepare businesses and the communities in which they operate for a changing climate. They had good reason. Nine out of ten companies have suffered weather-related impacts in the past three years, and most have seen an intensification of such impacts.


Partners include Starbucks, Levi’s, Entergy (a huge New Orleans-based power generation company), and the world’s second-largest reinsurance firm—SwissRe (reinsurance companies insure insurance companies, so they are the ones left holding the bag).


The coalition is called the Partnership for Resilience and Environmental Preparedness (PREP). It was formed as a joint effort with communities to address the risks and opportunities that climate change impacts pose to businesses and the communities on which they depend. Businesses need workers, they need functioning supply chains, and they need to have their facilities open. That’s why they’re taking action.


The press release on the ground-breaking initiative notes:

Many businesses say they do not feel “sufficiently informed” to take action on climate change. The Business ADAPT tool follows five simple steps to help companies understand the risks they face, identify emerging market opportunities, take into account community needs, and effectively manage threats to their bottom line. The steps are targeted towards company executives and senior managers, and provide detailed guidance in sectors that are considered highly vulnerable including water and energy utilities and companies in the food, beverage, agriculture and general manufacturing industries.


In that release, Entergy CEO Wayne Leonard says:

…our customers and communities are ill prepared to respond to hazards of a magnitude and frequency that we have never seen before.  We have to do a better job of working together to understand, prepare, manage and respond to these risks, and ultimately severe events.


Cities get it—both literally and figuratively—as well. Over 170 all-time warm temperature records were broken or tied during the month of June.


In my recent blog, I note some of the innovative things cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia are doing: comprehensive, multi-agency planning and emergency response systems; cooling center mapping and expansion; using permeable pavement that helps avoid sewage overflows; planting green roofs that cut building temperatures nearly in half. Pittsburgh, for example, is an international leader in the green building movement. It has the world’s largest sustainable convention center, and over 5 million square feet of real estate either certified or registered under the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.


You can find many more examples here, here, here, and here.


Green buildings use less water and power. That means they are the root of less global warming pollution.


Though Congress is deadlocked, the Obama Administration has moved forward several hugely important initiatives to help cut the pollution that causes global warming. First was an historic agreement with automakers to raise vehicle fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025, about double what they average now.


The difference will save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump. It will reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030. It will cut automobile carbon emissions in half. And it will create up to150,000 American jobs, as Detroit shows the world how to build the next generation of energy efficient cars.


Second are the first-ever proposed standards to limit global warming pollution from new power plants, the main source in the country. These standards were issued recently by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can add your voice in support here.  My colleague explains the proposed rules and their impact in greater depth here. Going forward, EPA also has the obligation under the Clean Air Act to start cutting the 2.3 billion tons of dangerous carbon pollution from the existing fleet of power plants. 


In 2005, the government was predicting US global warming pollution levels would rise 25% by 2020. Other factors play into this, but in no small part because of improved vehicle efficiency, tightened and tightening pollution safeguards on power plants and factories, emissions over that period are now expected to have declined 9.4% below 2005 levels.


There is hope. But we need to act now.