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Climate

Counting the Americans Displaced By Disaster

On new Census Bureau data, Vineyard Wind, and kayaking in Death Valley

Counting the Americans Displaced By Disaster
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Warm weather is causing cherry blossoms to bloom early in parts of Japan • Massive thunderstorms threatened to delay a Taylor Swift concert in Sydney • It’s going to be in the 50s and cloudy this weekend in Kherson, the first major city Russia captured after it launched its war on Ukraine two years ago.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Natural disasters displaced 2.5 million Americans last year

Roughly 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes due to natural disasters in 2023, according to new Census Bureau data. That number is an imprecise estimate, but it represents “some of the best available numbers on displacement,” reportedThe New York Times. Tracking this kind of displacement in America can be hard, but it’s gotten slightly easier over the last two years after the Census Bureau added questions about disasters to its Household Pulse Survey in 2022. This year’s results show that Louisiana saw the highest share of disaster-related displacements, followed by Hawaii and Florida. Maine was also high on the list, likely due to extreme flooding. The data also suggested fraud runs rampant in the wake of natural disasters, with more than half of those displaced saying they had encountered a potential scam offer afterward. Last year America saw 28 weather and climate disasters, each costing at least $1 billion

Census Bureau

2. Vineyard Wind has 5 turbines up and running

Vineyard Wind 1, the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S., came online at the beginning of January with one turbine sending about five megawatts of electricity to the New England grid. Now its owners say four more turbines are up and running off the Massachusetts coast, sending 68 megawatts of electricity to the grid, enough to power 30,000 homes. Nine turbines in total have been installed so far, and the 10th is in progress. Once completed, the project will consist of 62 turbines and be capable of powering 400,000 homes and businesses.

3. Researchers: Planting trees won’t solve the climate crisis

New research published in the journal Science finds that we’re overestimating the cooling effect of forests by only focusing on carbon dioxide. While trees do absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, they also do other things, like absorb warmth and light that would have otherwise been reflected back into space. They can also emit compounds that, rather counterintuitively, can actually increase levels of some greenhouse gases. Taking all this into consideration, the researchers think the cooling effect of tree planting could be upto 30% lower than previous estimates. The findings are important as the world looks for ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to limit the worst effects of global warming. “Planting trees has an intuitive appeal,” the authors said, noting that many businesses tout their tree-planting efforts as a carbon offsetting gesture. “Trees can help fight climate change, but relying on them alone won’t be enough.”

4. Coal’s slowdown is slowing down

The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down, reportedHeatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years.

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  • 5. Atmospheric rivers transform Death Valley into lake

    The back-to-back atmospheric rivers that have slammed the West Coast recently have helped transform the driest place in America into a temporary lake known as Lake Manly. Death Valley usually gets about 2 inches of rain over the course of an entire year, but has seen 5 inches just over the last six months, starting with Hurricane Hilary last August and exacerbated by recent torrents of rain. The six-mile-long, three-mile-wide Lake Manly has been attracting throngs of tourists, and even kayakers.

    NASA

    THE KICKER

    “The Cybertruck’s sensibility belongs to the consequence-free world of gaming and graphical interfaces, its ballistic resistance a God Mode brought to life. It’s not militarism; it’s infantilism.”The Wall Street Journal’s auto columnist Dan Neil reviews Tesla’s Cybertruck



    Yellow

    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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    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Torrential rains forced Mauritius to shut down its stock exchange • “Once in a century” flooding hit southern China • In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight.

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    1. Biden kicks off Earth Day with $7 billion for expanding solar access

    Today is Earth Day, but President Biden and his cabinet are celebrating all week long. Senior members of the administration have scheduled a national tour of events and announcements related to the president’s climate and environmental record. It starts with Biden’s visit to Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, today, where he will announce $7 billion is being awarded to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All initiative, which aims to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. The average grant size will be more than $80 million, and the funding will be used to design new programs and bolster existing ones that subsidize the cost of rooftop solar installations, community solar projects, and battery storage.

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    Biden’s $7 Billion Solar Bonanza

    The Solar For All program is the final piece of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

    Solar panel installation.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The great promise of solar panels — in addition to their being carbon-free — is the democratization of energy. Anyone can produce their own power, typically for less than the going utility rate. The problem is that those who stand to benefit the most from this opportunity haven’t been able to access it.

    That pattern could change, however, with Solar for All, a $7 billion program under the Environmental Protection Agency to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was awarding the funds to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits, at an average grant size of more than $80 million.

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    Texas and California offered intriguing, opposing examples of what batteries can do for the grid.

    A battery.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    While cold winters in the south and hot summers across the country are the most dramatic times for electricity usage — with air conditioners blasting as weary workers return home or inefficient electric heaters strain to keep toes warm from Chattanooga to El Paso before the sun is up — it may be early spring that gives us the most insight into the lower-emitting grid of the future.

    In California, America’s longtime leader in clean energy deployment, the combination of mild temperatures and longer days means that solar power can do most of the heavy lifting. And in Texas — whose uniquely isolated, market-based and permissive grid is fast becoming the source of much of the country’s clean power growth — regulators allow the state’s vast fleet of natural gas power (and some coal) power plants to shut down for maintenance during the mild weather, giving renewables time to shine.

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