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Climate

The California Storm’s Massive Bill

On 1.5 degrees Celsius, Chilean fires, and nine straight warmest months

The California Storm’s Massive Bill
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More than a foot of snow fell in the Sierra mountains • It’s 47 degrees Fahrenheit on Italy’s Mount Terminillo, where a popular ski resort is closed due to lack of snow • January was the 9th straight warmest month on record.

THE TOP FIVE

1. California storm causes $11 billion in damage

The storm that dropped huge amounts of rain on Southern California Sunday and Monday caused at least $11 billion in damages and economic losses, according to Accuweather. Dangerous winds, flooding, and landslides pummeled the region, hitting Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods particularly hard. The University of California at Los Angeles recorded an incredible 12 inches of rain over 24 hours. Landslides swept through high-income communities including Beverly Hills, burying cars and forcing residents to evacuate. Bloombergnoted that insurance policies rarely cover damages from floods or mudslides. President Biden has promised to provide federal aid.

2. Researchers say world already surpassed 1.5 degrees in warming

A new study suggests the planet has already warmed by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. In fact, the researchers say humans have raised the global temperature by 1.7 degrees Celsius, or about 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Much of the scientific community puts current warming at about 1.2 degrees Celsius, so this new calculation has climate experts in a tizzy.

The research hinges on observations from six sea sponges in the Caribbean Sea. These sponges are very old, and their skeletons contain what The New York Timescalls “chemical fingerprints” of the ocean temperatures going back to 1700, long before we started measuring in the 1850s. The findings suggest global warming began about 40 years earlier than previously thought, which means the preindustrial base line level to which we compare temperatures today is flawed. The authors say current warming is half a degree Celsius higher than the most common estimates.

Not everyone agrees. Some critics say data from a single location should not upend global temperature assessments. Others slam the authors for confusing the public. “It is the date of the reference period that matters rather than whether it is labelled pre-industrial or not,” said Yadvinder Malhi FRS, professor of ecosystem science at the University of Oxford. “The period 1850-1900 is a period of relatively reliable global data when industrial era human-caused climate change was likely negligible.” Climate scientist Michael Mann said the research doesn’t “pass the smell test.”

3. EU reportedly backs down on farming emissions cuts

Farmers across the European Union have been protesting for weeks against a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, and it looks like their efforts paid off: A new plan for cutting the bloc’s emissions by 90% by 2040, set to be unveiled today, nixes the call for a 30% reduction in gases like methane and nitrogen, which are linked to farming, the Financial Times reported. The conflict stems from farmers’ concerns that policymakers are ignoring them, and with European Parliament elections just a few months away, center-right politicians are trying to win over every vote they can. But there will be consequences: The agricultural sector is projected to be “the biggest emitter by 2040 unless the EU takes action,” Bloombergreported. The uproar demonstrates the challenges politicians face in rolling out new green policies without losing support from key demographics.

4. Hundreds missing after Chile fires

Destroyed houses after the forest fires on February 4, 2024 in Vina del Mar, ChileClaudio Santana/Getty Images

At least 123 people are dead and hundreds more missing in Chile after massive fires left several cities in the Valparaiso region charred. Thousands of homes are destroyed. South America has faced immense heat and enduring drought in recent months, and the vegetation is dangerously dry. “Climate change has made droughts more common,” said Edward Mitchard, a forests expert at the University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences in Scotland. “And that’s especially happened in South America this year.”

5. Waffle House is getting EV chargers

A Waffle House restaurant in Lakeland, Tennessee, will become the first restaurant to get EnviroSpark DC fast EV chargers as part of the federal government’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. NEVI provides funding for states to “strategically deploy electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and to establish an interconnected network.” Ideally drivers won’t have to go more than 50 miles without access to a charging point, and while most chargers are located at gas stations or convenience stores, Waffle House restaurants could be a good option in the southeast considering their prevalence:

WaffleHouse.com

They also tick some of the other boxes: They’re open 24/7, have bathrooms, shelter, and food and beverages. Electrekreported that EnviroSpark plans to work with Waffle House again in the future.

THE KICKER

“Grandmothers are now at the vanguard of today’s climate movement.” — Nathaniel Stinnett, founder of the Environmental Voter Project, on the rise of the “climate grannies”

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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.

Podcast

How to Fix Electricity Bills in America

Inside episode 19 of Shift Key.

Solar panel installation.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Have you looked at your power bill — like, really looked at it? If you’re anything like Rob, you pay whatever number appears at the bottom every month and drop it in the recycling. But how everyone’s power bill is calculated — in wonk terms, the “electricity rate design” — turns out to be surprisingly important and could be a big driver of decarbonization.

On this week’s episode of Shift Key, Rob and Jesse talk about why power bills matter, how Jesse would design electricity rates if he was king of the world, and how to fix rooftop solar in America. This is the finale of our recent series of episodes on rooftop solar and rate design. If you’d like to catch up, you can listen to our previous episodes featuring Sunrun CEO Mary Powell, the University of California, Berkeley’s Severin Borenstein, and Heatmap’s own Emily Pontecorvo.

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Climate

Jennifer Wilcox on Building the First U.S. Carbon Removal Office

Now back at the University of Pennsylvania, she talks to Heatmap about community engagement, gaps in the decarbonization market, and goats.

Jen Wilcox.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Climeworks, Tiffy3/Wikimedia Commons

In November of 2020, Jennifer Wilcox had just moved to Philadelphia and was preparing to start a new chapter in her career as a tenured “Presidential Distinguished Professor” at the University of Pennsylvania. Then she got the call: Wilcox was asked to join the incoming Biden administration as the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy, a division of the Department of Energy.

Wilcox had never even heard of the Office of Fossil Energy and was somewhat uneasy about the title. A chemical engineer by training, Wilcox had dedicated her work to climate solutions. She was widely known for having written the first textbook on carbon capture, published in 2012, and for her trailblazing research into removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With Penn’s blessing, she decided to take the job. And in the just over three years she was in office, she may have altered the course of U.S. climate action forever.

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Technology

AM Briefing: TerraPower Breaks Ground

On Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor, solar geoengineering, and FEMA

TerraPower Just Broke Ground on Its Next-Gen Nuclear Project
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rains in China are boosting the country’s hydropower output • Late-season frost advisories are in place for parts of Michigan • It will be 80 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy today near the Port of Baltimore, which has officially reopened after 11 weeks of closure.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Bill Gates’ TerraPower breaks ground on next-gen nuclear project

TerraPower, the energy company founded by Bill Gates, broke ground yesterday on a next-generation nuclear power plant in Wyoming that will use an advanced nuclear reactor. As Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo and Matthew Zeitlin explained, these reactors are smaller and promise to be cheaper to build than America’s existing light-water nuclear reactor fleet. The design “would be a landmark for the American nuclear industry” because it calls for cooling with liquid sodium instead of the standard water-cooling of American nuclear plants. “This technique promises eventual lower construction costs because it requires less pressure than water (meaning less need for expensive safety systems) and can also store heat, turning the reactor into both a generator and an energy storage system.” TerraPower is still waiting for its construction permit to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and TheAssociated Press reported the work that began yesterday is just to get the site ready for speedy construction if the permit goes through.

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