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Technology

From Texas to Brazil, a Look at Extreme Weather Events Unfolding Right Now

On ominous forecasts, new research on gas stoves, and snakes

From Texas to Brazil, a Look at Extreme Weather Events Unfolding Right Now
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: The Sierra Nevada received more than two feet of snow, marking the region’s snowiest day of the season • Tropical Cyclone Hidaya lost strength over the weekend • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit and clear in Cape Canaveral for the launch of Boeing’s Starliner space capsule.

THE TOP FIVE

1. A severe weather roundup

It feels appropriate today to begin by acknowledging the extreme weather events happening around the world right now. There are so many that spotlighting only one risks ignoring the underlying reality that climate-driven natural disasters of all kinds are becoming more frequent and severe.

Houston’s floods – More than 400 people in and around Houston, Texas, evacuated their homes over the weekend due to flooding. At least one person, a child, was killed. In one nearby county, more than 21 inches of rain fell over five days last week. The rain has tapered off but the cleanup has just begun.

Brazil’s rain – In Brazil’s southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, days of intense rain caused the Guaiba River to overflow and flood more than 340 cities, including the region’s capital of Porto Alegre. At least 78 people are dead and more than 115,000 have been forced to evacuate. One climatologist called the catastrophe “a disastrous cocktail” of climate change and the El Niño effect. “It looks like a scene out of a war,” said Rio Grande do Sul governor Eduardo Leite.

An aerial view of Porto AlegreRamiro Sanchez/Getty Images

Chile’s fires – Fires in Chile’s Valparaiso region, fueled by an intense heat wave and enduring drought, have killed at least 51 people and burned more than 64,000 acres.

Kenya’s deluge – Flooding and landslides in Kenya from unrelenting rainfall have killed more than 200 people. It is still raining and the weather is forecast to worsen throughout the month of May.

Southeast Asia’s heat wave – A lengthy heat wave has shattered temperature records across Southeast Asia, forcing many schools to close. One weather historian called the heat wave “the most extreme event in world climatic history.”

2. Central states brace for week of intense storms

Meanwhile, forecasters are getting nervous about a large weather system making its way across Central states that could bring severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and giant hail starting today and lasting through Wednesday. “After enduring severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes last week, this forecast is not a welcome sight for residents of Kansas and Oklahoma especially,” wrote Andrew Freedman at Axios.

X/NWSSPC

X/NbergWX

3. Study links gas stove fumes to 50,000 childhood asthma cases

New research published in Science Advances finds that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution from gas and propane stoves could be responsible for 50,000 U.S. cases of childhood asthma and up to 19,000 adult deaths each year. For the study, scientists from Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Central California Asthma Collaborative measured NO2 levels in more than 100 homes and created an air quality index that pulled in other data sets including cooking habits, ventilation, and home size. Their results show that NO2 pollution spreads throughout the home, and people living in spaces that are less than 800 square feet in size have four times more long-term NO2 exposure than people in homes that are larger than 3,000 square feet. Indigenous, Alaska Native, Hispanic and Black households have the highest exposure to NO2.

4. Republicans move to repeal EV tax credits

In case you missed it last week, Senate Republicans put forward a bill called the “ELITE” Vehicles Act that would repeal the electric vehicle tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act. Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso, who introduced the bill, claims the EV tax credit “benefits the wealthiest of Americans.” Jameson Dow at Electreknoted that Barrasso has received $526,425 from the oil and gas industry in this election cycle. The bill stands little chance in the Senate but “puts the Biden administration on notice that the credit is at risk if the GOP wins control of Congress and the White House in November,” wrote James Bikales at E&E News.

5. Philanthropic heavyweights to fund research into climate change and diseases

Three of the world’s biggest charitable groups – the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – have teamed up to fund research into the overlapping crises of climate change, infectious disease, malnutrition, and antimicrobial resistance. The $300 million, three-year initiative aims to “break down barriers between often isolated areas of research,” said Novo Nordisk Foundation CEO Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen. It looks like the climate research will focus on finding “novel” solutions through better climate data, sustainable agriculture, and more resilient food systems. The partnership is specifically focused on improving outcomes for low- and middle-income countries, which are disproportionately affected by climate change. The organizations will be looking for public and private partners to expand the research project.

THE KICKER

New research suggests climate change will force some venomous snakes to migrate into new, unprepared territories.

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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.

Bitcoin becoming the sun.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Categorizing Crusoe Energy is not easy. The startup is a Bitcoin miner and data center operator. It’s a “high-performance” and “carbon-negative” cloud platform provider. It’s a darling of the clean tech world that’s raised nearly $750 million in funding. The company has historically powered its operations with natural gas, but its overall business model actually reduces emissions. Confused yet?

Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

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Wednesday sunrise.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

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The Department of Energy is advancing 24 companies in its purchase prize contest. What these companies are getting is more important than $50,000.

Heirloom DAC.
Heatmap Illustration/Heirloom Carbon

The Department of Energy is advancing its first-of-a-kind program to stimulate demand for carbon removal by becoming a major buyer. On Tuesday, the agency awarded $50,000 to each of 24 semifinalist companies competing to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on behalf of the U.S. government. It will eventually spend $30 million to buy carbon removal credits from up to 10 winners.

The nascent carbon removal industry is desperate for customers. At a conference held in New York City last week called Carbon Unbound, startup CEOs brainstormed how to convince more companies to buy carbon removal as part of their sustainability strategies. On the sidelines, attendees lamented to me that there were hardly even any potential buyers at the conference — what a missed opportunity.

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