Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that you question whether climate change is real, or whether it will really affect you. You’re not alone. More than a third of Americans say they don’t worry much or at all about global warming and a third say it’s exaggerated in the news. More than half say it won’t pose a serious threat in their lifetimes, and 12 percent say it will never be a threat.
Still, amid the devastation left by Florence and past hurricanes, the extreme weather is a little tougher to question or ignore. Extreme weather has its origins, of course, in extreme temperatures. The four hottest years globally on record? That would be thelast four, in this order: 2016, 2015,2017, and 2014.
Water levels have also been rising along our coasts, and we can expect a four-foot increase by the end of the century if we don’t phase out excessive use of fossil fuels by 2050.That means at high tide, with a stiff wind blowing into shore, you’d be able to swim to your home. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be alone. Not with 30% of the U.S. population living and working in communities within 50 miles of the coast.
Climate change will affect Americans personally
Why do so many Americans believe climate change won’t affect them personally? It is conceivable they didn’t know any of the millions of Americans touched by the record number of hurricanes — and record intensities — in recent years: Katrina, Sandy, Irma, Harvey, Jose, and Maria, to name but a few. Or the four back-to-back nor’easters that hit New England in spring 2018. Or the destructive heat waves, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires that have run roughshod across North America in the first part of this century.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a 70% chance that we’ll see 10 to 16 named storms in the 2018 hurricane season, five to nine of them could grow into hurricanes. As many as four of those could become killer Category 3 to 5 hurricanes.
Whether we believe extreme weather events are the result of climate change or not, we have opportunities to improve how we cope with them.
We need to better prepare for the predictably “unexpected,” adapting and creating more resilient communities in the face of catastrophic weather. We also need to recognize that energy infrastructure is fundamental to disaster preparedness and enduring economic health and safety. (See the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico in 2017.) Finally, we need to continue the transition to clean energy infrastructure that’s already under way.
It makes a lot of sense to manage these three challenges holistically. To do that, here are four policy recommendations that should help position us for success.
One, let’s create tax incentives and other enhancements for all parties touching the energy supply chain to encourage higher risk and capital-intensive public-private partnerships. We’d all benefit from this change, allowing us to abandon the old utility paradigm of only supporting predictable, risk-free cost recovery.
A clean, stable energy infrastructure is key
Two, the same goes for innovation. Customers and businesses need incentives to encourage the quick discovery and adoption of solutions that include heating oil conversions, neighborhood rooftop solar programs, small- and large-scale energy storage, heat pumps, EV infrastructure, and renewable natural gas. This is especially true for smart green transmission, to get the large-scale clean energy (hydro, wind, solar) from where the energy is cheaply produced to population centers where it’s consumed at scale.
Three, more seed funding is needed for energy infrastructure planning with a range of community stakeholders. Sounds logical (it is), but few cash-strapped cities and lean utilities set aside funding for work that seems like a luxury until the generous economic development returns are understood and realized.
And four, of super importance, everything should now be designed for a very different landscape, where extreme weather is the new normal. That means more investments — both public and private — to build greater resilience into network designs, where automation and digitization are the new standards, where substations are flood-proof, and where microgrids are the norm and not the exception.
Large companies like mine need to put their balance sheets to work on these challenges, and regulators and policy makers need to offer shrewder risk-reward formulas to benefit both our investors and customers.
Only with this clear-eyed approach will we see real progress on the ground when, not if, the next extreme weather event hits. Need more evidence to support this call to action? Turn on the Weather Channel. The evidence is there, almost every day.