This WAS the safest place in America from climate change; plus, sea dragons stalk UK

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

By David Callaway, Callaway Climate Insights

When I was running USA Today a few years back, I asked our weather team to look at the newspaper’s famous, back-page weather map and pinpoint the safest place in the country from natural disasters. No threats of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, rising seas, etc. They came back with Salt Lake City.

A natural valley between two mountain ranges, the area around Great Salt Lake in Utah presented none of the threats of Tornado Alley or the Gulf Coast, or California’s fault-laden geography. But as The Salt Lake Tribune, one of the West’s oldest newspapers, demonstrated this week, even that area is in danger from climate change.

The megadrought in the West, combined with years of diverting rivers from the lake to provide water for agricultural irrigation, have left the lake at half its average size this year. The Tribune and AccuWeather began publishing the lake at its true size in images and maps, and not its average size, to show the effects of climate change.

We’ll see more of this in coming years as American and global maps are redrawn to account for changing geological patterns and rising seas. As for my old weather team, the search is on for a new safest place. Duluth, Minn. anyone?

Please enjoy today’s issue, including a look at Germany’s new traffic-light coalition government, and its potential impact on the country’s fabled auto industry. Will climate change sensitivity finally force a speed limit on the autobahn? Also, the Intercontinental Exchange is out with a new futures contract tied to its popular global carbon index, the first new product since the carbon trading deal at COP26.

More insights below. . . .

Tuesday’s subscriber insights: Sea dragons plough the Orkney waters

. . . . In the race to develop renewable energy, perhaps no space is as inhabited by wacky technical innovation as tidal energy, that plentiful source that defies weather interruptions but is the most difficult to harvest. Now Sweden’s Minesto (MINEST:SS) a spinoff of airplane manufacturer Saab (AAABF) has come up with winged “sea dragons” to plough the dark waters northwest of the Orkney Islands to capture energy from the churning tides. Read more here. . . .

. . . . As Germany prepares for its biggest change in government in a generation, with Angela Merkel stepping down as chancellor after 16 years in what will be the longest reign since Otto von Bismarck, the question over just how far Olaf Scholz’s new coalition government will go on fighting climate change hangs over Europe. The answer will manifest itself in the country’s famous auto industry, which if coalition plans work out will be entirely electric within a decade. Read more here. . . .

. . . . As COP26’s carbon trading deal starts to take shape, and carbon prices continue to soar, expect a host of derivatives products to be introduced to capture surging investor interest. The Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) today announced a futures contract tied to its ICE Global Carbon Futures Index (ICE:CO2), which has almost doubled since the beginning of the year. . . .

. . . . New technologies allowing offshore wind farms to be floated have caught attention in Europe and the U.S. West Coast, where the idea that they could be floated far enough out to sea to avoid being eyesores. Now a group is planning floating solar panels, saying they could make solar energy even cheaper. Read more here. . . .

. . . . One of the poster children for the need for evolution of our aging electric grids is New York State, which has an abundance of renewable energy upstate but little access downstate in New York City, where the need is greatest. Two new grid projects, one of them led by BlackStone (BX), aim to change that. Read more here. . . .

Editor’s picks: Depleted snow pack in the Western U.S.; the danger of nurdles

The no-snow-capped Sierra Nevada?

The iconic snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada mountain range could change drastically in as little as three decades — or less, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And more important than just the view and ski resorts, “diminished and more ephemeral snowpacks that melt earlier will alter groundwater and streamflow dynamics,” resulting in even more dire water conditions across the drought-stricken U.S. West. That’s just part of the message from research titled A low-to-no snow future and its impacts on water resources in the western United States, published in “Anthropogenic climate change is decreasing seasonal snowpacks globally, with potentially catastrophic consequences on water resources, given the long-held reliance on snowpack in water management,” the authors write.

The trouble with nurdles

Nurdles — the tiny plastic pellets used as the building blocks for plastic products, are floating in the ocean by the billions. They cause as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous, The Guardian reports. Nurdles are a type of microplastic, less than 5mm in size. Due to their size, they are almost impossible to remove from the sea, unlike plastic bottles, nets or larger items. According to the report, “They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in the oceans every year.”

Data (and purpose) driven: Greenpeace’s 50th anniversary

. . . . The Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise, above, sails the Salish Sea off the Washington coast near Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, and the San Juan Islands. The ship is following the route that would experience a seven-fold increase in tar sands tanker oil traffic if pipeline expansion were to be completed. Greenpeace says the report documented the communities threatened by the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which would worsen the effects of global warming, risk poisoning water, jeopardize the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on clean coasts, violate Indigenous sovereignty, and threaten the extinction of the Southern Resident Orca Whale. Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Greenpeace, the international organization dedicated to preserving endangered species of animals, preventing environmental abuses, and heightening environmental awareness through confrontations with polluting corporations and governmental authorities. Greenpeace was founded in 1971 in British Columbia to oppose U.S. nuclear testing at Amchitka Island in Alaska. Seagoing ships have played a vital role in its campaigns, and the group has three ocean-going ships, the Esperanza, Arctic Sunrise and Rainbow Warrior III. Greenpeace does not accept funding from governments, corporations, or political parties, relying on three million individual supporters and foundation grants.

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