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Technology

America Has a Growing Power Outage Problem

On blackouts, Big Oil, and crowdsourcing for weather disasters

America Has a Growing Power Outage Problem
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rain in southern Brazil killed at least 10 people • Flood watches are in effect across North Texas • It will be 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny today in California’s Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, which has just been expanded by 13,700 acres.

THE TOP FIVE

1. One key moment from the Big Oil hearing

Democratic lawmakers testified at a congressional hearing yesterday that Big Oil companies were guilty of decades of “denial, disinformation, and doublespeak” on climate change. The hearing followed the release of damning internal documents suggesting executives from major fossil fuel producers sought to “deceive the public about the enormous climate crisis we are in and the role that Big Oil has played in bringing it about,” said Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight committee.

Heatmap’s Jillian Goodman was watching the hearing and found the most interesting part to be when Sharon Eubanks, who led the Department of Justice case against Big Tobacco, called for an end to the hand-wringing about what should be done, and suggested the DOJ swiftly launch an investigation into the petroleum industry, the outcome of which could force it to change the way it does business. And that, Eubanks said, is the point of all this — not extracting money, although that’s nice too, but rather to force companies to operate in a more open and honest fashion. “I myself am not a lawyer, of course, but it might be time to listen to Eubanks,” Goodman wrote. “She seems to know what she’s talking about.”

2. Study: Climate change is causing more blackouts in New York

A new study published in PLOS Climate shows how climate change is driving power outages in New York. Between 2017 and 2020, about 40% of the power outages that plagued the state were the result of extreme weather events – mainly flooding and intense precipitation. Many of the areas most exposed to outages have overlapping vulnerabilities, like low-quality housing or lack of green space. “Eastern Queens, upper Manhattan and the Bronx of NYC, the Hudson Valley, and Adirondack regions were more burdened with severe weather-driven outages,” the study found. In Queens, neighborhoods such as Jamaica, Flushing, and Richmond Hills experienced more than 100 outages over three years. “We’re focusing on New York state, but power outages are a growing problem nationally,” Columbia University’s Nina Flores, lead author on the study, toldBloomberg. A recent report from the nonprofit research group Climate Central found that the number of weather-related power outages in the U.S. have doubled in the last 10 years or so compared to the decade prior.

Climate Central

3. Youth-led climate lawsuit against U.S. government ordered dismissed

A federal appeals court yesterday dealt what could be a fatal blow to a long-standing climate lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government. Juliana v. United States was originally filed in 2015 by plaintiffs aged between 8 and 18 who said the government’s support for fossil fuels had contributed to the climate crisis and violated their constitutional rights. The case was ordered dismissed in 2020 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals basically said Congress, not judges, should decide the nation’s climate policies. A federal judge in Oregon allowed the plaintiffs to adjust their suit and said it could go to trial. But the Biden administration petitioned the court to dismiss the case, and so it has.

“The case had long been a potential bright spot for such youth-led climate litigation that has usually failed to take off,” Politicosaid. “This is a tragic and unjust ruling, but it is not over,” said Julia Olson, lead attorney at legal nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. “President Biden can still make this right by coming to the settlement table.”

This is one of many youth-led climate lawsuits filed by Our Children’s Trust. Last year a similar suit was successful in Montana. In June, a lawsuit brought by a group of Hawaiian young people against the state’s Department of Transportation will go to trial.

4. Experts worry ‘enclosed flaring’ prevents satellites from seeing greenhouse gases

The growing effort to monitor and crack down on greenhouse gas emissions could be hindered by a new kind of flaring, The Guardianreported. Venting natural gas into the atmosphere produces a flame that can be detected by current satellite imaging technology. Some oil and gas facilities have started using “enclosed” flaring devices, which they claim can reduce noise and light disturbances for surrounding communities. But “it also means [flaring is] not visible from space by most of the methods used to track flare volumes,” said Eric Kort, a climate and space sciences professor at the University of Michigan.

5. Crowdsourcing campaigns for natural disaster recovery are on the rise

GoFundMe’s “Weather Resilience Fund” launches this week, Axiosreported. The fund will raise money to help communities that are vulnerable to extreme weather build resilience and adapt, starting with California's Central Valley and Imperial Valley. The crowdsourcing site is seeding the fund with $1.5 million, and all donations are tax-deductible. The platform told Axios that natural disaster crowdfunding campaigns are becoming more common as climate change leads to more frequent extreme weather events. The site has seen a 90% increase in natural disaster fundraisers over the last five years.

THE KICKER

More than 40 million students across Asia and North Africa have missed out on school in recent weeks due to extreme heat waves.

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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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