California shows there’s another way on climate and fossil fuels


Last week I noted that Hurricane Joaquin seemed a potential threat to the East Coast and that climate change was causing storms to become more dangerous, either because they intensify over extremely warm Atlantic waters, or because of excessive moisture in the atmosphere due to the higher temperatures. That storm turned out to be a mixed bag for the Eastern Seaboard; Joaquin itself got pushed out to sea and never made landfall in the United States, sparing us from a direct hit. However,  the tropical weather system kept a separate, and remarkably powerful, storm trapped over South Carolina and its neighboring states for several days. The result was what some described as once-in-a-thousand-year flooding — an event that experts said was worsened by climate change:

“This is yet another example, like Sandy or Irene, of weather on ‘steroids’, another case where climate change worsened the effects of an already extreme meteorological event,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann said Hurricane Joaquin intensified in the tropical Atlantic, which is experiencing record sea-surface temperatures. These temperatures helped the hurricane strengthen quickly and unusually warm, wet air fed it even more. That moisture turned into the record rainfall which fell on the Carolinas.

“In this case, we’re seeing once-in-a-thousand year flooding along the South Carolina coastline as a consequence of the extreme supply of moisture streaming in from hurricane Joaquin,” Mann said.

This is what needs to be understood in the debate about climate change, and it simply cannot be stressed enough. For those who fret about the impact that global warming might have at some future date, the reality is that it’s already here. Just look at the record number of once-in-a-thousand-year storms that we’ve already experienced in this decade, described as events of “biblical proportions.” Or look at the record-setting droughts in California and elsewhere.

But California is also reminding us that we don’t have to accept climate change as a fait accompli, either. The Golden State has a very progressive political leadership, including its governor Jerry Brown, and this week California announced that it’s taking major action on reducing greenhouse gas pollution:

While a whole bunch of states are suing the EPA for regulating carbon spewing from the electricity sector, other states, such as California, are moving full-steam ahead towards renewables and carbon-cutting.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday that requires state-regulated utilities to get a whopping 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro, by 2030. The law also requires a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by that year. The goals were previously laid out during Brown’s inaugural address.

“This is really a very significant occasion,” Brown said at the signing event Wednesday in Los Angeles. “California is taking the lead, there is no question about it.” The state had previously set a mandate of procuring 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. The original bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, is part of a larger suite of climate-related legislation introduced this year.

“California is laying the groundwork for a healthier and sustainable future for all of our families,” de León said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “We are showing the world through innovation how we can transition and increase access to renewable energy while cleaning up the air we breathe, especially in our most polluted communities.”

These are ambitious goals — but they are very achievable, especially in light of the progress that a number of European nations have accomplished in switching their power grids from fossil-fuel sources to cleaner energy such as wind and solar. This bold approach is the only real alternative for humankind. And here in this country, waiting for a gridlocked Washington to act is increasingly hopeless. But at least one large state is showing the right path. Let’s hope that other states will follow.

Check out the coverage of flooding in South Carolina and global warming from ClimateCentral:

Read ThinkProgress on California’s bold move toward renewable energy:

Learn more about the case for ending our addiction to fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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