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Climate

How Solar Is Helping Keep the Lights On This Summer

On the fastest-growing power source, Hawaii’s climate settlement, and friendly monkeys

How Solar Is Helping Keep the Lights On This Summer
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: China issued a rainstorm warning for its already-sodden southern provinces • Two people were killed in severe storms in Moscow • America’s brutal heat wave will shift into the Mid-Atlantic this weekend.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Solar to provide one-fifth of global electricity during peak summer hours

During the sunniest hours of the longest days of the year, solar power can now provide about 20% of the world’s electricity, according to new estimates from energy think tank Ember. That’s up from 16% last year. Throughout the entire month of June, solar will account for roughly 8.2% of global electricity, up from 6.7% in the same month last year, and higher than the 5.5% annual average across the whole of 2023. The report underscores the rapid expansion of solar, which is now the fastest-growing source of electricity. “As solar continues to expand, it is poised to further transform the power sector and accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy,” the authors said.

EMBER

2. Hawaii agrees to ‘groundbreaking’ settlement with youth climate activists

The state of Hawaii has committed to decarbonizing its transportation system by 2045 as part of a settlement in a lawsuit brought by a group of young climate activists. The “groundbreaking” agreement, which can be enforced in court, also calls for a youth council to be created to advise the transportation department. The 13 plaintiffs – most of whom are Indigenous – filed their lawsuit in 2022, accusing Hawaii’s department of transportation of harming their health and infringing on their right to a clean environment, thus violating the state constitution. “You have a constitutional right to fight for life-sustaining climate policy and you have mobilized our people in this case,” said the state’s governor, Josh Green. Denise Antolini, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Hawaii Law School, told The Guardian the settlement is important because of its focus on transportation specifically, which is a huge source of emissions but “tends to get ignored.”

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  • 3. Report connects climate change to recent Mexico heat wave

    A report from World Weather Attribution concluded that the oppressive heat wave that baked Central America, Mexico, and some Southwestern states in recent weeks was made 35 times more likely due to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. The analysis was packed with other statistics that tell an unsettling story:

    • 125 – degrees Fahrenheit reached in the Sonoran Desert last week, the hottest day in Mexican history.
    • 2.5 – degrees Fahrenheit by which climate change made the heat dome hotter.
    • 3 – degrees Fahrenheit by which climate change increased nighttime temperatures during the heat wave.
    • Every 15 years – the frequency with which this kind of extreme heat is now expected to occur.
    • Every 60 years – the frequency with which this kind of extreme heat was expected to occur in the year 2000, when global temperatures were lower.
    • 125 – number of people who are known to have died in the heat wave.

    World Weather Attribution

    4. Startup plans to use methane to make graphite

    A California-based startup called Molten Industries is trying to transform natural gas into a key component for making lithium-ion batteries. The company has “developed a specialized technique to break methane into graphite and hydrogen, the latter of which can be used as a source of clean energy,” Bloombergreported. Graphite is used to make batteries, but most of it comes from China, so Molten wants to onshore production at a competitive cost. The company says its graphite production was a sort of happy accident. “Our original focus was just to make the lowest-cost hydrogen with the most energy-efficient reactor possible,” said co-founder and CEO Kevin Bush. Molten announced this week a $25 million series A round of funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures. It plans to use the money to build its first modular commercial reactor.

    5. Amazon to replace plastic ‘air pillows’ in packages with recycled paper filler

    Amazon announced this week it will stop using plastic “air pillows” to protect the packages it ships in North America and instead switch to recycled paper. The shift will be completed by the end of 2024, and will mean 15 billion plastic air pillows are removed from use each year. The move is driven in part by support among investors for cutting waste, but it’s helped by the fact that Amazon discovered recycled paper protects packages better than the plastic pillows anyway.

    THE KICKER

    A new study found that monkeys living on an island off Puerto Rico responded to the destruction from 2017’s Hurricane Maria by becoming less aggressive and more cooperative with one another in order to share scarce resources, and that this shift in social behavior helped boost their survival.

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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.

    Technology

    Florida’s Climate Tech Hub Has a Florida Problem

    One of the most vulnerable states in the U.S. wants nothing to do with “climate change.”

    A Florida postcard.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The Biden administration loves a hub. There are the hydrogen hubs, the direct air capture hubs, and now there are the tech hubs. Established as a part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the $10 billion program has so far seeded 12 such hubs across the country. Four of these are focused on clean energy and sustainability, and one is located in the great state of Florida, which recently passed legislation essentially deleting the words “climate change” from state law.

    The South Florida ClimateReady Tech Hub did not, in the end, eliminate climate from its name. But while Governor Ron DeSantis might not approve, the federal government didn’t seem to mind, as the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded the hub $19.5 million to “advance its global leadership in sustainable and resilient infrastructure.”

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    Climate

    America Wasn’t Built for This

    Why extreme heat messes with infrastructure.

    Teton Pass.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    America is melting. Roads are buckling everywhere from Houston to Aurora, Colorado, and in June caused traffic jams in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Last week, a New York City bridge that had opened to let a ship pass got stuck after expanding in the heat, forcing thousands of commuters to detour. The mid-June heat wave led to thousands of flight delays; more recently, even Toronto’s Pearson International Airport warned travelers to brace for heat-related complications. Commuters along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor have been harried by heat-induced delays for weeks.

    The train delays have affected an especially large population. The Northeast Corridor is the most trafficked commuter rail system in the country, with over 750,000 daily commuters. In late June, Amtrak notified customers that trains in the corridor could face delays of up to an hour in the coming weeks as heat interfered with tracks and overhead power lines. Since it issued that warning, tens of thousands of people have experienced heat-related delays.

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    Climate

    AM Briefing: Turbine Troubles

    On broken blades, COP29, and the falling price of used electric vehicles

    Vineyard Wind Is Having Turbine Troubles
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Torrential rain brought flash flooding to Toronto • A wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been contained • Parts of southern Spain could hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Intense heat waves and thunderstorms torment millions of Americans

    The extreme heat wave over the East Coast may very well break a record in Washington, D.C., today that was set during the 1930s Dust Bowl: the longest stretch of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The mercury yesterday hit 104 degrees, after similarly scorching numbers on Monday and Sunday, tying the existing record of three days. The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 98 degrees for Wednesday but The Washington Post said there’s “an outside chance that it hits 100 (or higher).” Either way, with humidity at 55%, it will feel torturously hot, with a potential heat index of 110 degrees. An “Extended Heat Emergency” is in effect in the city through today. Nearly 75 major cities across the Northeast, South, and Southwest are currently facing dangerous heat levels, according to The New York Times.

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