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The Worst Hurricanes on Record

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On September 7, Hurricane Ian entered the southeastern Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3 hurricane. Reports from the National Hurricane Center showed the storm strengthening, and at last record had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. The hurricane is expected to make landfall Wednesday afternoon somewhere between Fort Myers and Tampa. Ian represents the first major storm of the 2022 hurricane season, which has been relatively quiet so far. But when it comes to hurricanes, as history has shown, it only takes one disastrous storm to make it a year to remember.

To determine the most powerful hurricanes of all time, 24/7 Wall St. used data from NOAA dating back to 1851 to rank tropical cyclones based on estimated central pressure at time of landfall for all hurricanes. Hurricanes were ranked according to their minimum pressure in millibars, where one millibar is the equivalent of 100 pascals in pressure. The lower a storm’s minimum pressure, the stronger the storm is. For context, air pressure is 1,013 millibars at sea level. The storms on this list had minimum pressure of 950 millibars or lower.

The frequency of tropical cyclones in a given year is rarely an indication of how intense the hurricanes may be when they make landfall — that is, how destructive they can be. Some of the most powerful storms, like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, for example, hit during one of the slower hurricane seasons of the past several decades. The strength of a hurricane is difficult to accurately predict, and the most intense storms on record vary heavily by decade, deadliness, and destructiveness.

In addition to high winds, hurricanes can batter areas with heavy rainfall, storm surges, and inland flooding. Many of the storms on this list have been the catalyst for some of the worst floods in American history.

Click here to see the most powerful hurricanes of all time
Click here for our detailed findings and methodology

An ESG survivor’s guide to false climate claims this election season

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In today’s issue:

— ESG fund managers expect a wave of false climate claims from red state politicians this election season
— A top global editor and the managing director of the World Economic Forum explain on World News Day how to stop climate and other disinformation
— Solar power has long lagged wind power in the U.S., but renewables trends in China and other countries point to a coming reversal
— Today in wildfires: As 13 more blazes break out in the past two days in California, PG&E facing more scrutiny

The backlash by red state politicians against environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing in the U.S. is only just beginning and fund managers expect it will pick up dramatically in the next six weeks as the midterm elections approach.

For developers of ESG products, whipsawed between anti-green rhetoric and concerns by supporters in blue states that the abuse will erode their climate ambitions, we offer a helpful survival guide to the coming misinformation maelstrom, courtesy of two of the leaders of World News Day on Wednesday.

False claims and disinformation are nothing new to the media. They whip up mistrust and prevent leaders from taking important steps to address major problems such as climate change, social inequality and foreign policy. As part of a global effort by dozens of news organizations led by the World Editors Forum, which I used to be on, two of my colleagues write below how journalists can help spread truth in times of great disruption, such as we are seeing with ESG right now.

Please read these important postings.

. . . . Disinformation is a scourge on public discourse, writes Adrian Monck, managing director of the World Economic Forum. But fact-based journalism can help stop it. Read the full article here. . . .

. . . . In times of crisis and change, journalists play a critical role in society, says Warren Fernandez, president of the World Editors Forum, a network of editors under the World Association of News Publishers, and also editor-in-chief of The Straits Times in Singapore. Read more here. . . .

More insights below . . . .

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How Much of Every State Has Burned in Wildfires

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The National Interagency Fire Center reported that as of Sept. 21, 51,606 fires have burned  6,815,741 acres in the United States, above the 10-year average. Wildfires have become a cause of concern, particularly in the West, as climate change wreaks havoc on the environment.

To determine the states where wildfires caused the most damage, 24/7 Wall St. aggregated wildfire data from the most recent 10 years, 2012 to 2021, as compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center. States are ranked in order of total acreage burned by wildfires — forest fires that are not legal, controlled burns — over that period. Data on the percentage of acres burned by wildfires caused by humans or lightning also came from the NIFC. Data on total forest land came from the USDA’s 2020 Forest Inventory and Analysis, Fiscal Year 2020 Business Report, and reflects the most recent available state survey data.

It should come as little surprise that Western states are experiencing the worst impacts of wildfires. On Sept. 23, the NIFC reported that of the current 96 active fires, 40 are in Idaho, 27 in Montana, and 16 in Washington. Fires in Oregon, California, Oklahoma, and Wyoming consist of the rest. All these states are among the top 10 states on the list, where the most acres burned in the past 10 years, except for Wyoming, which ranks 14th. (These are the places most likely to have wildfires.)

In nine states, all in the West, lightning was responsible for more than 50% of the acres burned from 2012 to 2021. In Alaska, which has 15% of the total U.S. forest land, fires ignited by lighting were responsible for more than 96% of the acres burned. Humans are still the main culprits behind forest fires. In 20 states, they are the only cause of wildfires and of acres burned as a result. 

Wildfires started by people typically occur where humans live, and these can be suppressed quickly. Lightning-caused fires, on the other hand, can strike remote wilderness areas and spread fast before firefighters can respond. Western states are among the geographically largest and  least populated. 

Climate change plays a role in this because these areas of the West have experienced extended periods of drought, making wildfires more dangerous than blazes ignited 10 years ago. (Also see, states with the deadliest fires.)

Lightning frequency also may be affected by climate change. David Romps, who studied atmospheric dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley, published a study in 2014 that used atmospheric factors to forecast changes in lightning frequency. The findings indicate lighting rates will rise 12% for every degree Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperatures.

Click here to see how much of every state has burned in wildfires.

Handicapping the midterm election scenarios for Biden’s climate policy

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(Bill Sternberg is a veteran Washington journalist and former editorial page editor of USA Today.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Callaway Climate Insights) — Two events here in the nation’s capital this month underscored how important congressional elections are to U.S. climate policy.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, hundreds of environmental activists gathered at the White House to celebrate enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains the nation’s biggest-ever investment to combat climate change. The IRA passed the Democratic-controlled House and Senate by slender, party-line margins; had there been just one more Republican senator, the $370 billion in green investments and tax credits would have never become law. “Thank goodness the Inflation Reduction Act passed before the midterms,” Kristin Eberhard, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center think tank, told me. “It’s a big step under our belts.”…

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The Largest Lakes in America

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The size of lakes is measured by square miles of surface area. Based on this, the largest lake in the world by far is the Caspian Sea at 143,000 square miles. Its shores are in several countries, including Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. 

The second largest lake in the world has a portion of its shoreline in the United States and some in Canada. Despite the Canadian shore, Lake Superior is considered the largest lake in America. This is the best place to enjoy the water in each state.

Lake Superior covers 31,700 square miles. Its shore touches Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Canadian province of Ontario. It is the largest lake in the chain that makes up the Great Lakes, as well as the one furthest north. According to Lake Superior.com, it holds 10% of the world’s surface fresh water and its “3 quadrillion gallons are enough to cover both North and South America under a foot of water.” Its deepest level is 1,276 feet below the surface.

Superior is famous for a number of things, not the least of which is its shipwrecks. The most famous of these is the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in a storm on Nov. 10, 1975. All hands went down with it, a total of 29 men. The incident was popularized by a popular song by Canadian performer Gordon Lightfoot, called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which was released in 1976. A total of about 350 wrecks are on record.

The lake was used to move iron ore south for decades. According to the journal Nature: “Undoubtedly the greatest advantage possessed by the United States is that in the Lake Superior region they have the most extensive supplies of cheap and rich iron ores known to exist.”

Lake Superior is the westernmost part of the Great Lakes basin, which includes Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie, some of which empty into the St. Lawrence River.

Although the algae bloom problem in Superior is nowhere near what it is in Lake Erie, where these can cover the western third of the lake at times, the fact that Superior has this issue at all is a sign that pollution has started to affect the lake. These are America’s 50 dirtiest cities.

Click here to see the largest lake in America

States That Have Endured the Most Costly Natural Disasters Since 1980

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From withering droughts in the West to high winds and pounding hail storms in central states, to tornado outbreaks and other severe weather in the southeast, 2022 has been another year of costly weather disasters. So far this year, 38 states have been struck with regional weather events that inflicted at least a billion dollars’ worth of damage to public infrastructure and private property.

The consensus among climate scientists is that destructive weather events are likely to increase in frequency and strength as the planet grows warmer. They further agree that human activity, including industrial, agricultural, commercial, and personal activities, have generated greenhouse gas emissions that are the main driver of climate change. (Earth’s CO2 level rose every year since climate change became a national issue.)

Since U.S. weather officials began tracking weather events that have inflicted at least a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 1980, adjusted for inflation, they have tallied $2.28 trillion in total damages from such storms nationwide, including U.S. territories. But not all states carry the same burden, and the disasters are different from area to area.

To rank the 50 states based on the total damage from weather disasters, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the (inflation-adjusted) billion-dollar disaster events that affected the United States between 1980 and 2022 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Disaster categories include drought, flooding, freeze, severe storm, tropical cyclone, wildfire, and winter storm. We included each state’s total population from the U.S. Census Bureau.

By far the costliest natural disasters nationwide have been tropical cyclones. Out of the $2.14 trillion in damages from weather disasters, almost half has been caused by major hurricanes, mostly from damages inflicted to coastal regions of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, which are home to 17% of the country’s population. (Some of these were also among the deadliest billion dollar natural disasters in U.S. history.)

But the carnage of tropical cyclones does not end at these coastlines. Since 1980, hurricanes or their weakened, but still-potent, weather systems have inflicted at least a billion dollars’ worth of damage in states as far north as Vermont and New Hampshire. Eighteen U.S. states, most of them eastern states, have been struck by these major tropical cyclones, with damages running into the tens of billions in New York, New Jersey, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Hurricanes have also been major threats to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, most recently from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Out of these 18 states, only Hawaii has been relatively unscathed. The only weather event that cost the state more than a billion dollars was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

After tropical cyclones, the second-most costly type of weather events are severe storms, which have inflicted $178.3 billion in damages in 13 states, mostly in the middle of the country, including Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma. Wildfires in five states, led by California, have cost $103 billion, while droughts have cost central, north-central, and northwestern states nearly $85 billion, largely from agricultural losses. Winter storms and flooding have inflicted $33.5 billion in damages in six states over this period of time, led by $22.6 billion from floods in Iowa.  

Here are the states that have endured the most costly natural disasters since 1980.

The Worst States Driving the Climate Crisis

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The summer of 2022 was one marked by destructive climate anomalies. Record-breaking heat waves in China, Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. jeopardized power grids, shut down transportation infrastructure, and fueled wildfires. Severe flooding led to thousands of deaths in Pakistan and mass evacuations in parts of the United States. Droughts in East Africa, Europe, and the Western U.S. depleted reservoirs and rendered key shipping routes impassable. 

Weather events such as these are becoming increasingly common, and many have been linked to human-caused climate change, adding urgency to the global effort to reduce our environmental impact. (Here is a look at the worst climate-related disasters since 2010.

In the U.S., reducing carbon emissions, preserving natural resources, and developing a clean and sustainable energy grid are key policy goals. And some states are doing more to meet these challenges than others. 

24/7 Wall St. created an index of five measures: per capita carbon emissions, five-year change in total carbon emissions, energy consumption, renewable energy production, and recycling rates – or the share of recycled goods that end up in new products – to identify the states doing the most to fight climate change. 

The states that rank most favorably on this list are concentrated in the Northeast and along the West Coast. Many of these states have implemented regulations that either incentivize or mandate more environmentally friendly behavior, both from industry and individuals. 

In Massachusetts, for example, utility companies are required to derive a certain percentage of their electricity sales from clean energy sources – a percentage that increases by 2% annually and will hit 80% by 2050. Similarly, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced an executive order mandating that all new passenger vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emission by 2035. (Here is a look at the states producing the most electricity from renewable sources.)

Meanwhile, many of the states that rank among the worst on this list are economically dependent on fossil fuel extraction and production. These states are located across the Midwest, South, and West, and include Wyoming, which accounts for about 40% of U.S. coal production, and Texas, a state that produces over 40% of all domestic petroleum.

Click here to see the worst states driving the climate crisis.

Click here to read our detailed methodology. 

What a Nuclear Winter Would Do to the Earth

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It has been 21 years since the events of September 11, 2001, the last time there was an attack on American soil. The possibility of another such attack on a target in the United States is unthinkable, but such an attack is not the only way war could wreak destruction on American cities, even if this country is not among the combatants. While the cold war is over, a widespread nuclear war, and a resulting nuclear winter, remains a possibility as long as world powers retain nuclear arsenals.

A nuclear winter is a time period in which the Earth’s atmosphere is so full of smoke and soot from the firestorms caused by nuclear bombs that sunlight is reduced or does not reach the surface of our planet. (These are countries that control the world’s nuclear weapons.)

To determine what would happen in a nuclear winter, 24/7 Wall St. referenced a research article published by Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Nuclear Winter Responses to Nuclear War Between the United States and Russia in the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model Version 4 and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE, and an article in the Smithsonian magazine. 

The effects of the nuclear war on climate may vary, depending on the severity of the war. At this point, too, a nuclear winter is a theory, and as a theory it has its proponents and detractors. (These are 18 of the deadliest weapons of all time.)

The idea first gained attention in the 1970s, when a group of scientists, including celebrated astronomer Carl Sagan, considered the environmental consequences of a nuclear exchange. In 1983, Sagan penned an article in Parade magazine that said a major nuclear conflict would kill 1 billion people instantly, and that the longer-term results could be much worse.

Drawing on work Sagan did with former students and computer models created by meteorologists, scientists in 1980 determined it would not take a total nuclear exchange to plunge the world into a nuclear winter. They found that average global temperatures could drop up to 25 degrees Celsius after a nuclear war. That would usher in a prolonged period of darkness, famine, and toxic gasses around the world.

Sagan’s position in the nuclear-winter debate was opposed by physicist Edward Teller, one of the fathers of the hydrogen bomb. Teller was a vigorous proponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative, a proposed satellite system that would defend against nuclear missiles. Teller and other defense hawks believed nuclear winter advocates would undermine support for SDI. 

Even though a nuclear winter is a chilling concept, there is a possible precedent. Paleontologist Luis Alvarez and his father Walter, a physicist, presented evidence in 1980 that an asteroid had slammed into Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago. They hypothesized that the impact of the asteroid had sent so much dust and debris into the air that Earth was darkened for an extended period, during which time the last of the non-bird dinosaurs were wiped out. This hypothesis suggests the possibility that a catastrophe at one location on Earth could have profound long-term effects on the entire planet.

Click here to see what would happen in a nuclear winter

Greenwashing 2.0, a new way to earn green stripes

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(Mark Hulbert, an author and longtime investment columnist, is the founder of the Hulbert Financial Digest; his Hulbert Ratings audits investment newsletter returns.)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Callaway Climate Insights) — Michelin, the world’s largest tire manufacturer, appears to have taken greenwashing with carbon offsets to a whole new level.

The normal greenwashing pattern, of course, is for a company to purchase carbon offsets, claim they’re making progress towards carbon neutrality, and then ignore what may happen to those offsets in subsequent years.

Since greenhouse gasses can remain in the atmosphere for 100 years or more, genuine offsets must sequester an equal amount of carbon for at least that long. If that offset reflects a new forest that in 10 years goes up in smoke, as has happened all too often in California and Oregon in recent years, then the offsets shouldn’t count.

In Michelin’s case, according to an investigative report from the climate campaign group Mighty Earth, the company reversed the order of these two events…

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Special report: Top five risks faced by the U.S. and India ahead of COP27 in Egypt

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(David Callaway is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Callaway Climate Insights. He is the former president of the World Editors Forum, Editor-in-Chief of USA Today and MarketWatch, and CEO of TheStreet Inc.)

MAUI, Hawaii (Callaway Climate Insights) — The U.S. midterm elections fall on the first few days of the upcoming COP27 United Nations climate summit in November, and nothing could better underscore the challenge of a nation ripping itself apart just as the world needs its climate leadership most.

Eight weeks before the Nov. 8 midterms, climate activists are still celebrating passage of President Joe Biden’s climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, but are girding for an assault on all things environmental, social and governance (ESG) related as Republicans latch on to climate regulation and finance as an election issue.

While the latest polls show Biden’s Democrats making up ground against Republicans in their bid to keep control of the Senate and maybe the House of Representatives, a bad loss in the midterms could severely hobble the president’s climate agenda.

But in many ways, domestic politics are the least of the president’s climate worries. The U.S., which is the second largest polluter after China and above the third largest polluter, India, has deteriorating relationships with both countries that could impact how the big three coordinate the battle against global warming.

China, coming off the most destructive heatwave in modern history this past summer, has effectively cut ties with the U.S. in terms of climate coordination as part of a broad retaliation over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last month.

India, meanwhile, is responding to its own climate dilemmas and energy needs by purchasing more oil from Russia, which has irked the U.S. and others in support of Ukraine. Steep discounts by Russia have made the oil more attractive to India, which is suffering from inflation rates close to 7%.

The distrust and conflicting initiatives among the world’s top three polluters bodes poorly for the prospects of a coordinated finance deal in Egypt at COP27, which starts on Sunday, Nov. 6. India and China together famously undercut the final communique from COP26 in Glasgow last year amid concerns about wording tied to promises to reduce oil emissions globally.

A fourth major challenge for the U.S., and climate envoy John Kerry, in Egypt will be salvaging any sort of climate deal for large western countries to provide funding to poorer nations to fight climate change, in the form of mitigation loans and grants. While the world’s nations agreed to $100 billion in annual financing at a previous summit in 2009, none of the nations have yet met that commitment.

This year’s COP will likely focus on that funding, but a pre-meeting summit in Bali a few weeks ago produced no agreement, or any hope for a change in Egypt. Kerry will be under pressure to cobble something together, while knowing that any U.S. spending commitments will be fought at home.

Finally, the U.S. faces pressure from its own fossil fuel industry, which has enjoyed bumper profits tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent surge in oil prices it produced worldwide. As Europe and Asia deal with their own energy crises, and heatwaves, fires and floods continue to pound the U.S. on a regular basis, the challenge of a global climate agreement akin to the Paris Accords of 2015 seems as far away as ever.

Top five challenges for India ahead of COP27

(Lou Del Bello is a climate and energy correspondent in Delhi. Lou’s newsletter, Lights On, tracks the climate, energy and business debate in India and beyond. Subscribe here.)

DELHI — Much has changed since last year’s UN climate talks. A war that triggered a global energy crisis, record high temperatures straining power networks around the world and — most recently — devastating floods that killed more than 1,400 people in Pakistan. The world as we knew it when countries gathered in Glasgow for COP26 is no longer the same as the UN prepares for a new round of negotiations in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh.

Disasters and loss and damage will be at the top of the agenda for India, which faced a record heatwave this spring and is now dealing with extreme rains and floods that experts say carry the fingerprints of climate change. The government is prepared to join forces with other developing nations to once again demand compensation for climate disasters: Last year’s negotiations stalled just as countries were close to agreeing to a global loss and damage facility.

Beyond the need for finance, this year’s disasters across South Asia have brought one of the region’s core political vulnerabilities to the fore. While countries sharing the Himalayan waters face the same environmental challenges, they are politically at odds more often than not. Whether India manages to decouple defense and climate response — and cooperate with rival nations such as Pakistan or even China — will determine its ability to bag climate finance and boost its global standing at COP27.

The climate talks in Egypt will also be an opportunity for India to reassess its relations with powers such as the U.S. and the European Union, which have been strained by the Modi administration’s response to the Ukraine war. After Russia invaded Ukraine the two Western powers severed energy ties with the country as a sure way of crushing its economy, but India took advantage of the hefty discounts Russia offered on oil and coal, while also refusing to openly condemn the invasion. At COP27, India could make the case for more financial and technical support from the US and EU as it distances itself from fossil fuels, and in turn from Russia.

The reality is that while India likes to promote its impressive clean energy progress, it’s still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, particularly on coal, which covers 55% of the country’s energy needs. Bold plans for renewable energy development that matches new demand, therefore reducing the economy’s carbon intensity, are more dependent on foreign investment and knowledge transfer than the government is willing to admit. Topics such as green hydrogen trade or a carbon border adjustment mechanism, whereby a tax is levied on goods imported by the EU based on their carbon footprint, will weigh heavily on India’s green economy prospects. International investors are also hesitant to invest in India’s renewable space: the country attracts the equivalent of $9.4 billion (INR 750 billion) in foreign spending, only a third of what it would need to meet its clean energy ambitions. The climate talks will be an opportunity to showcase India’s decarbonization strategies and send the right signal to the business community watching from the sidelines.

The last — but by no means the least — hot potato that India will have to handle at the global climate forum is its relationship with its most powerful neighbor, China, which still produces and sells the bulk of solar components India needs to meet its renewable goals. From batteries to PV modules, every attempt to cut ties with China through import duties ended up harming India’s industry, thus making it less attractive to foreign investors. While no one is likely to bring up the trade war, this conflict will loom large on India’s energy transition future and its ability to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

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