The US’s energy system — oil wells, hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants — is becoming more and more defenseless to the effects of climate change; a prime example were the blackouts experienced during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The condition of our energy system will only worsen, as the world endures harsher storms, climbing temperatures and drier seasons.
At the beginning of this year, the NOAA reported that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states. The effects are seen from power plants, which are either shutting down or downsizing, to barges transporting oil and coal, which can’t make it through waterways due to low water levels.
Last year’s record-high temperatures led way to a record-setting drought, affecting large portions of the Southwest and Midwest, and leaving litter water available to cool fossil fuel plants and generate hydroelectric power. Almost 60% of the nation’s coal plants can be found in parts of the US with possible water deficiencies spurred by climate change.
The US Department of Energy predicts that air conditioning demand on the west coast will necessitate an additional 34 gigawatts of electricity production by 2050 — equal to building 100 new power plants — and will come with a hefty price tag of over $40 billion.
Steps towards reducing the emissions that have greatly reshaped our climate are much needed, but won’t be felt for a long time. The increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have shifted our climate into total disarray, the last 150 years of rising emissions built into our energy system.
In the meantime, states and the federal government should begin efforts to reinforce their cities against the increasingly relentless weather.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
July 18, 2013
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