Sep 3, 2021

Axios Generate

☀️ Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,363 words, 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: Roughly 26,000 — the number of workers helping the big utility Entergy assess damage and restore power after Hurricane Ida.

🧹 Housekeeping note: We'll be off Monday and back in your inboxes Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend!

🎶 Beyoncé celebrates her 40th birthday tomorrow, and Axios data journalism wiz @Sara_Wise picked out today's intro tune...

1 big thing: How to reduce the toll of the next big storm
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Data: National Weather Service; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Weather and climate science experts are struggling to determine how their accurate warnings of potentially disastrous urban flooding, instigated by Hurricane Ida’s remnants and supercharged by climate change, still resulted in so many deaths, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: As climate change exacerbates extreme precipitation events such as this one, disconnects between forecasters and the public will need to be fixed in order to limit future deaths.

The big picture: A day before the first raindrops started to fall, the NOAA Weather Prediction Center forecast a rare “high” risk of flash flooding in the area that was ultimately affected.

  • Two days before, they issued a "medium" risk outlook.
  • Forecasters made explicit mentions of the potential for extreme rainfall rates, and flood watches were issued two days in advance.
  • They called the potential flash flooding "life-threatening."

Yes, but: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul made it clear Thursday that she was unaware of key forecast details.

  • “We did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m. last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level water to the streets of New York,” she said Thursday.

What to watch: There have long been tensions between meteorologists and politicians, but as climate change-related extreme events worsen, there’s more urgency behind efforts to lower the temperature in these relationships.

How it works: Flash flooding is one threat that is growing in front of our eyes, as temperatures increase and the air holds more moisture, adding energy to storms.

Context: Gary Szatkowski, who was a top federal forecaster in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, told Axios he was surprised governors and mayors did not take more proactive steps.

  • He said based on this case, the onus is on the politicians to improve. "It was a great forecast," he said.
  • “Political leaders — governors, mayors, need to talk less, listen more and make better decisions, that's the solution right now. I’d like to see them do that and do that routinely,” Szatkowski, now retired from government, said.

What they’re saying: Samantha Montano, who teaches emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, said the onslaught of disasters is taking a mental toll on meteorologists, many of whom live in affected communities.

  • Claims that they failed to provide adequate warning “feel very much like a personal attack,” Montano said.

The bottom line: Studies show climate change is having an increasingly noticeable and dangerous influence on our weather, leading to unprecedented events.

  • Devising effective ways to warn of historic occurrences, especially as the word "unprecedented" loses some of its meaning, is an increasingly urgent task.
2. It's time for Democrats to sweat the climate clock

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats' Beltway drama over their $3.5 trillion spending package could influence the outcomes at a critical United Nations climate summit this fall, Ben writes.

Driving the news: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is calling for a "pause" in senior Democrats' plan to move a $3.5 trillion package that would include major clean energy and climate measures.

His move jeopardizes leadership hopes of passing the bill in October — and could spell trouble for its survival — because Senate Democrats need all their members to back the package or it dies.

Why it matters: The reconciliation plan is slated to contain measures vital to meeting President Biden's pledge under the Paris Agreement to slash U.S. greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

The intrigue: Watch the clock.

  • The U.N. conference opens Oct. 31. If the U.S. walks in with big new policies in hand, that could help spur new steps by other nations.
  • If the bill is floundering, gutted, or dead, the credibility of President Biden's team will be wounded.

The big picture: The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels — and hopefully 1.5°C — to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change.

What they're saying: Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are pointing to Hurricane Ida as they push the bipartisan infrastructure package — which has new resilience and grid overhaul measures — and the Democrats-only plan.

Bonus: Why the U.S.-China climate talks matter so much
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Data: bp’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2021; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The chart above helps explain the stakes of both John Kerry's talks with Chinese officials this week and the Capitol Hill talks, Ben writes.

The big picture: China is by far the world's largest carbon emitter and the U.S. is the second largest. Together the two nations account for roughly half the global total.

3. Catch up fast on Ida's energy toll

Workers repair power lines damaged by Hurricane Ida on Aug. 31 in Houma, Louisiana. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Crude oil: "U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Thursday authorized the country's emergency oil reserve to loan 1.5 million barrels of crude to an Exxon Mobil refinery in Louisiana to relieve fuel disruptions in Hurricane Ida's wake." (Reuters)

  • Also via Reuters: "Port Fourchon and the Port of Houma in southern Louisiana reopened on Thursday night with some restrictions, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, following lengthy closures from Hurricane Ida."
  • The AP reports that Port Fourchon, a critical hub for offshore oil-and-gas operations, "industry sustained less damage from Hurricane Ida’s direct hit than initially feared."

Industrial hazards: Bloomberg explores the storm's effect on Louisiana's petrochemical corridor.

"Nearly 100 spills and other episodes have been reported to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as of Thursday afternoon, raising concerns among environmentalists and public health officials about toxic discharges," they report.

Power: Electricity is being restored in some areas but roughly 848,000 homes and businesses remain without power in Louisiana, per PowerOutage.us.

Nola.com reports on what the loss of power means for gas stations and refineries that are still offline.

"A maddening dynamic is at play at gas stations across south Louisiana: The underground storage tanks are full of gasoline, but no one can get to it," they report.

4. White House adds to its climate science ranks

The White House is boosting its cadre of climate science experts, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: Philip Duffy, a physical scientist, has joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as a climate science adviser in the new climate and environment division.

  • Duffy, who will report to Jane Lubchenco, the deputy director of OSTP for climate and the environment, specializes in understanding the consequences of climate change.

Why it matters: In his new role, Duffy will help ensure the White House roots its climate policies in scientific findings.

Context: Duffy is temporarily vacating a position as the head of the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod.

  • In 2019, Duffy was among many climate scientists who signed a statement declaring the world “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.”

Between the lines: Duffy’s hiring signals the growth of the new climate and environment office within OSTP and centralization of climate expertise outside of cabinet agencies and within the White House.

What they’re saying: Duffy told Axios that the administration is likely to make a push to enact natural climate solutions, which would boost nature’s ability to absorb carbon emissions. “It's really important that we have the science to know that those investments are producing the results that we want them to,” he said.

5. The unequal burdens of global warming

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Axios' Noah Garfinkel reports: The effects of climate change disproportionately fall on "underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts," per a new EPA report.

Why it matters: “The impacts of climate change that we are feeling today, from extreme heat to flooding to severe storms, are expected to get worse, and people least able to prepare and cope are disproportionately exposed," EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

What they found: The report looked at six types of climate impacts among four socially vulnerable groups based on income, educational attainment, race and ethnicity and age.

  • The impacts included air quality and health, extreme temperature and health, extreme temperature and labor, coastal flooding and traffic, coastal flooding and property, and inland flooding and property.
  • The report found that Black and African American individuals are projected to face higher effects of climate change for the six impacts analyzed, compared to the other demographic groups.
  • With 2°C (3.6°F) of global warming, Black and African American individuals are 40% more likely to "currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature related deaths," the report said.
  • The report also looks at effects on Latinos, Asian Americans and other populations

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