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Climate

We Need to Talk About Nitrous Oxide

On a very potent greenhouse gas, Florida’s flooding, and hydropower

We Need to Talk About Nitrous Oxide
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Temperatures in northern China will top 107 degrees Fahrenheit today • Months-long water shortages have sparked riots in Algeria • Unseasonably cold and wet weather is being blamed for stunted economic growth in the U.K.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Torrential rains flood southern Florida

More than 7 million people are under flood advisories in Florida, with a tropical storm stalled over the state at least through Friday. Flooding was reported across the southern part of Florida including Fort Myers, Miami, and even farther north. In Sarasota, just south of Tampa, nearly four inches of rain fell in an hour, a new record for the area, with total rainfall reaching about 10 inches on Tuesday. The downpour was a one-in-1,000-year event. “The steadiest and heaviest rain will fall on South and central Florida through Thursday, but more spotty downpours and thunderstorms will continue to pester the region into Saturday,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Reneé Duff said.

X/WeatherProf

2. Report: New hydropower installations see ‘downward trend’

There has been a “downward trend” in global hydropower output over the last five years, according to the International Hydropower Association’s new 2024 World Hydropower Outlook. Hydropower is the largest renewable source of electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. It generates more electricity than all other renewable technologies combined, and plays a key role in the energy transition. But hydropower installations must double to meet net zero goals by 2050. The IEA has also projected that “without major policy changes, global hydropower expansion is expected to slow down this decade.” That may already be happening:

International Hydropower Association

The report estimates that investment needs to double – to $130 billion per year – in order to double installed hydropower capacity by 2050.

3. N20 emissions rise, but HCFC levels fall

Nitrous oxide doesn’t get as much attention as carbon dioxide or methane, but it should: This greenhouse gas is more potent than both, depletes the ozone, and is the third largest contributor to climate change, according toCarbon Brief. A new study published in the journal Earth System Science Data finds that human-caused N20 emissions rose by 40% over the past 40 years, and that most of this increase was driven by the use of nitrogen fertilizer and manure in agriculture to meet growing demand for meat and dairy. Agriculture emissions of N20 were 67% higher in 2020 than they were in 1980. The concentration of N20 in the atmosphere is now 25% higher than in pre-industrial years. “The unfettered increase in a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential approximately 300 times larger than carbon dioxide, presents dire consequences for the planet,” the researchers said in a press release.

But it’s not all bad news. A separate study out this week finds that atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) peaked in 2021 – five years ahead of schedule – and are declining faster than expected.

4. Latest talks on climate finance goals end in stalemate

UN climate finance talks in Bonn, Germany, ended on a sour note yesterday, “with negotiators from developing and developed countries blaming each other in fiery exchanges,” according toClimate Home News. The discussions were a lead-up to November’s COP29 in Azerbaijan, where countries are expected to put forward a new annual finance goal for helping vulnerable countries protect themselves from climate change and shift to clean energy. The current target, set in 2009, sits at $100 billion annually. Boosting this fund is seen as “the most important decision” expected to come out of this year’s climate summit. But so far, there has been little progress. Rich countries only managed to meet the existing $100 billion annual pledge in 2022, two years late.

5. Rising sea levels threaten Greek island known as mythological birthplace of Apollo

One of the most important sites in Greek and Roman mythology is sinking into the sea as climate change causes water levels to rise. The tiny abandoned Greek island of Delos, in the Aegean Sea, was first settled in the third millennium BC and was once a busy port city with 30,000 occupants. In Greek mythology, it was the birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artemis. Today it is dotted with 2,000-year-old archaeological ruins and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990. But sea levels around the island have risen 66 feet in just 10 years, and archaeologists toldAFP the ruins will disappear entirely in about 50 years, eaten away by encroaching sea water and rising temperatures.

Ruins on DelosChloé Chavanon via Unsplash

THE KICKER

Joey Chestnut, the 16-time winner of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, has been banned from the competition this year because he struck a deal with plant-based food company Impossible Foods.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this articles mistakenly referred to nitrous oxide as N02 instead of N20. It has been corrected. We regret the error.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

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.

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Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: The Acropolis in Greece was closed yesterday due to excessive heat • The Persian Gulf International Airport recorded a heat index of 149 degrees Fahrenheit • Recent flooding in Brazil exposed a 233-million-year-old dinosaur fossil.

THE TOP FIVE

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A Florida postcard.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

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Why extreme heat messes with infrastructure.

Teton Pass.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

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