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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.


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.



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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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