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Climate

AM Briefing: Why Insurers Are 'Quiet Quitting'

On insurance woes, green shipping, and an Arctic Hail Mary

AM Briefing: Why Insurers Are 'Quiet Quitting'
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Parts of Arizona received more than a foot of snow over the weekend • Heavy rainfall caused flash floods in Argentina • A coastal flood watch is in effect for Washington, D.C., where Congress is back in session.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Insurance companies are ‘quiet quitting’ in extreme weather regions

Insurance companies are “quiet quitting” in certain high-risk areas of the United States, as extreme weather disasters become more frequent and more costly, reportsThe Wall Street Journal. Insurance agents and analysts tell the paper that, rather than face public backlash from officially abandoning states like Florida or California, carriers are resorting to more subtle – but equally effective – tactics to “choke off” new business. These include closing local offices or making it difficult for homeowners to even get a quote unless they fight through layers of red tape. “Most of the carriers have just flat out said, we are not accepting new business right now [in California]. But that statement is made to insurance agencies, not the public,” says Timothy Gaspar, head of a Los Angeles-based insurance agency. “Or they’re making it next to impossible to get a new policy.”

2. Winter storm leaves nearly 2,000 homes flooded in England

The devastating firsthand effects of the climate crisis are playing out in real time in England, where flooding from storm Henk left several villages under water and nearly 2,000 homes damaged. While the storm has passed, more than 160 flood warnings remained in effect through the weekend and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces mounting pressure to do more to protect vulnerable areas. The government announced on Saturday that households and businesses affected by flooding can now apply for grants to fund repairs and improve resilience. Farmers, too, may be eligible for funding.

Extreme flooding in England from storm Henk. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The country’s Environment Agency (EA) didn’t mince words, blaming the deluge squarely on climate change. Climate scientists have warned for years that rising global temperatures will translate into wetter winters for the U.K. “We will unfortunately experience more winters like this one in the future,” says Dr. Linda Speight, a hydrometeorologist at the University of Oxford. Henk was the U.K.’s third major storm this winter.

3. COP29 host Azerbaijan to boost fossil fuel production

Azerbaijan, the host country for COP29, plans to increase its production of fossil fuels – and specifically natural gas – by a third over the next 10 years, The Guardianreports. The country, which owns the Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea, gets two-thirds of its revenue from oil and gas and plans to double its gas exports to Europe by 2027. It will be the third consecutive petrostate to host the annual United Nations climate summit. “It is also even more repressive and authoritarian than the United Arab Emirates,” reportsHeatmap’s Jeva Lange. Last week the country appointed Mukhtar Babayev, a veteran of the oil industry, as the summit’s president.

4. Shipowners reluctant to upgrade to greener vessels

The global shipping fleet is getting old. A report from the Financial Times finds shipowners are resisting growing pressure to order newer, greener vessels and decarbonize the sector, opting instead to hold on to older ships. The average age of the global container shipping fleet is now 14.3 years, and the average age of tankers is 12.9 years. Why are owners keeping their aging vessels? One reason is they’re not confident in the availability of new energy sources like green fuel. Another is the soaring resale value of second-hand ships, which are being bought up by a “shadow fleet” transporting Russian oil. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently set a 2050 net zero target for global shipping, but no legally binding measures have been set to facilitate the goal. International shipping produced about 2% of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions in 2022.

5. Researchers want to use seawater to ‘refreeze’ Arctic ice

This week a team of British researchers will embark on a mission to learn if pumping seawater on top of sea ice can “refreeze” the Arctic, reports the Times of London. As global temperatures rise, sea ice is rapidly shrinking, decimating habitats for wildlife and exacerbating a global warming feedback loop: Less ice means more water to absorb the sun’s energy. The scientists plan to cut a hole in the ice and pump seawater on top of it, which they hope will freeze, “speeding up the natural freezing process underneath the ice,” the Times explains.

Pumping sea water on top of Arctic sea iceReal Ice

There are some big unknowns, one being whether using salty seawater could actually make the melting worse. Another is whether powering the project could even be feasible. This particular trial is being powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, but reversing ice loss trends would require about 10 million pumps. As one researcher put it: “That’s a lot of pumps.” This is one of several engineering methods being floated as potential solutions to the rapidly worsening sea ice problem, the Times reports. Another wild idea is to sprinkle glass powder on the ice to reflect the sun’s rays.

THE KICKER

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 50% last year, but the Cerrado savanna, a national biodiversity hotspot, lost more than 2 million acres of native vegetation.

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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Politics

AM Briefing: SCOTUS Weighs Smog Rules

On being a good neighbor, Rivian’s results, and China’s emissions

Will SCOTUS Block a Major Air Pollution Rule?
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rain caused extreme flooding outside Rio de Janeiro • Japan is enduring record-breaking warm winter weather • It’ll be 72 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny at Peoria Stadium in Arizona for the MLB’s first spring training game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Supreme Court weighs challenge to EPA pollution rule

The Supreme Court this week has been hearing arguments in what CNN called “the most significant environmental dispute at the high court this year,” and things aren’t looking good for the Environmental Protection Agency. Several states and energy companies want to block the EPA’s “good neighbor” plan, which seeks to impose strict emissions limits on industrial activities in 23 states in an effort to prevent pollution from drifting across state lines and forming dangerous smog. Challengers say the regulation is overreaching and want its implementation delayed. Yesterday the court’s conservative majority appeared skeptical of the EPA’s authority, citing the fact that lower court decisions have paused the regulation in 12 states.

Environmental groups worry a ruling against the EPA here could set a dangerous precedent. “The Supreme Court — if it were to block this rule — would effectively be saying to industry, ‘Look, any time you face costs from a regulation, come on up and take a shot. We might block that rule for you,’” Sam Sankar, senior vice president for programs at Earthjustice, told E&E News.

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Climate

Why Clean Energy Projects Are Stalling Out on Native Lands

The urgency of the green transition hasn’t made tribal concerns any less important.

The Colorado River.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Library of Congress

It’s windy in the Great Plains and it’s sunny in the Southwest. These two basic geographic facts underscore much of the green energy transition in the United States — and put many Native American tribes squarely in the middle of that process.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that “American Indian land comprises approximately 2% of U.S. land but contains an estimated 5% of all renewable energy resources,” with an especially large amount of potential solar power. Over the past few months, a spate of renewable energy projects across the country have found themselves entangled with courts, regulators, and tribal governments over how and under what circumstances they are permitted on — or even near — tribal lands.

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Economy

Is This the End of American Polyester?

New federal safety regulations could push PET plastic-makers out of the country for good.

An x-ray and a clothing tag.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

There are an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 chemicals used commercially today worldwide, and the vast majority of them haven’t been tested for human safety. Many that have been tested are linked to serious human health risks like cancer and reproductive harm. And yet, they continue to pollute our air, water, food, and consumer products.

Among these is 1,4-dioxane, a chemical solvent that’s been linked to liver cancer in lab rodents and classified as a probable human carcinogen. It’s a multipurpose petrochemical, issuing from the brownfields of defunct industrial sites, chemical plants, and factories that use it in solvents, paint strippers, and degreasers. It shows up as an unintentional contaminant in consumer personal care products, detergents, and cleaning products and then goes down the drain into sewer systems.

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