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Sparks

Does Climate Change Cause Earthquakes?

You can cross this one off your list of things to worry about.

A seismograph.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake in New Jersey shook the ground and blew up my group chats this morning. It’s somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, to experience earthquakes in this part of the country, and some may be wondering, is this yet another extreme event that will become more likely under a changing climate?

The answer is maybe, but no one really knows yet.

In case you don’t remember 4th grade science, what we experience as an earthquake is typically the result of sections of the earth’s crust colliding, separating, or sliding past each other. This movement is driven by changes occurring deep underground, far from the influence of surface temperatures or CO2 concentrations.

The only potential connection between climate change and earthquakes is related to water. Changes in surface water, whether because of heavy rain, snow, or drought, could either increase or relieve stress on geologic faults, causing them to shift.

But scientists are still untangling whether there is a relationship between climate-driven changes in surface water and earthquakes. Some studies have found a correlation between shifting seasonal water loads, like from the build up of snow or a rapid melt, and micro earthquakes — quakes so small they can’t be felt by humans. Scientists have also found an uptick in glacial earthquakes — rumblings related to glacial ice lurching forward, cracking, or falling — which may be related to the warming climate.

It’s an active area of investigation, but for now, a surge in earthquakes should be the absolute least of your worries when it comes to the warming planet.

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Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

Sparks

A Swiss Army Knife for Clean Energy

These can really do it all — almost.

A dam.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Before and for the first year or so after the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy in the United States was largely developed under the aegis of two tax credits: the Production Tax Credit, which primarily useful for wind power, and the Investment Tax Credit, which is primarily used for solar power. (The actual eligibility for each tax credit for each technology has changed various times over the years, but that’s the gist.)

Starting in 2025, however, and lasting (absent any change in the law) through at least 2032, that tax credit regime will be made “technology neutral.” Goodbye, existing credits with their limited applicability. Hello, new tax credits that apply to “any clean energy facility that achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a release issued Wednesday by the Treasury Department.

“For too long, the U.S. solar and wind markets have been hampered by uncertainty due to the on-again-off-again nature of key tax credits,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a call with reporters. “Periods of indecision and the credits being repeatedly allowed to elect to lapse made it too difficult for companies to plan and invest in clean energy projects.”

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Sparks

We’re Worrying About Hurricanes Wrong

Don’t look at the number of forecasted storms and panic. But don’t get complacent, either.

Hurricane aftermath.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

When is an announcement less an announcement than a confirmation?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2024 hurricane season outlook, issued Thursday morning, might be one such case. For the past several weeks, hurricane agencies around the country have been warning of an extremely active, potentially historic season due to a confluence of factors including the record-warm water in the Atlantic Main Development Region and the likely start of a La Niña, which will make the wind conditions more favorable to Atlantic storm formation. With the Atlantic Hurricane Season set to start a week from Saturday, on June 1, NOAA has at last issued its own warning: There is an 85% chance of an above-average season, with eight to 13 hurricanes and four to seven of those expected to be “major” Category 3 or greater storms.

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A Carbon Border Adjustment Is Gaining Bipartisan Ground

If you haven’t already, get to know the “border adjustment.”

The Capitol.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While climate policy has become increasingly partisan, there also exists a strange, improbably robust bipartisan coalition raising support for something like a carbon tax.

There are lots of different bills and approaches floating out there, but the most popular is the “border adjustment” tax, basically an emissions-based tariff, which, as a concept, is uniquely suited to resolve two brewing trade issues. One is the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will force essentially everybody else to play by its carbon pricing system. Then there’s the fact that China powers its world-beating export machine with coal, plugged into an electrical grid that is far dirtier than America’s.

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