Commentary

Another state blasts NC’s leaders — this time for denying sea-level rise

Another day — no, make that another hour — another embarrassment for North Carolina beyond its borders. This is the lead editorial in yesterday’s Virginian-Pilot:

N.C.’s blindfold on coastal planning

WALK FAR ENOUGH south in Virginia Beach, and a nice Carolinian will hand you a pair of blinders. They’re to keep you from daring to look more than 30 years in the future, where today’s bad planning decisions are likely to have devastating effects on coastal communities.

North of the border, Virginians have no such hobble. The result is a community — Hampton Roads — that has begun to recognize the devastation coming, thanks to rising seas, and started to build the public capacity vital to dealing with it.

The trend has been obvious in Norfolk for decades. The best science today estimates that seas will rise by at least four feet in the next century, though the further into the future scientists forecast, the less precise the estimates become.

In large part, today, that’s because sea level rise is accelerating, and because the impact of melting glaciers and tundra can only be estimated. A study this month on the Antarctic ice sheet indicated the potential sea rise here is likely to be closer to seven feet by 2100.

In Virginia, policymakers and scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Old Dominion University are using the best information they can to make the best decisions for the next century.

They’re figuring out how fast seas are rising, how quickly the rate of change is accelerating, and what that may mean for the future.

They are advising local policymakers faced with immediate decisions about planning and infrastructure, as well as sometimes skeptical state politicians who will set policies more widely.

Those same seas are also rising in North Carolina, and probably by similar amounts. But state officials there are specifically barred from making similar calculations. Or from fully understanding the science of the dangers.

That’s what happens when developers and demagogues decide climate policy. Read more

Commentary

Report: Solar power from big box store roofs could power seven million homes

Sometimes the answers to big problems are staring you right in the face. A powerful new report from the good folks at Environment North Carolina provides a classic example. This news release explains:

Solar power potential

Potential Solar PV Capacity on Big Box Stores and Shopping Centers, by State (Megawatts) – Image: Environment NC

Report: Big-box stores could save big, reduce pollution by going solar

Raleigh, NC- Big-box stores, grocery chains, and shopping centers in North Carolina could cut pollution and save $246 million dollars with rooftop solar, a new report said today.

The Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center analysis, Solar on Superstores, found that Target, Home Depot, and other large retailers could avert 2.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually if they used all their available roof space for solar panels.

“Our report shows that rooftop solar on big box stores like Target is good for the environment, good for electricity consumers, and good for business,” said Dave Rogers, Environment North Carolina Director.

The report came as North Carolina continues to see the benefits of solar, including ranking 9th for solar jobs nationally last year.

“Solar offers any business owner the ability to lower their energy bills and hedge against unpredictable rising energy prices. The falling cost of the technology and renewable energy incentives have increased the attractiveness of these investments dramatically,” added Henry Dziuba, Senior VP Commercial and Industrial at Strata Solar. “In addition, the energy savings help to increase the businesses’ profitability as well as add value to our customer’s building at the same time, the system helps to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions both locally and globally.” Read more

Commentary

The McCrory administration’s LOL “concerns” about solar panels and the environment

Solar power

Solar panels

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Sometimes the transparency of fossil fuel industry apologists and their hired helpers who masquerade as government regulators is just so outrageous as to be Saturday Night Live skit-worthy. Such is the case with the latest claims by a McCrory administration official in the eviscerated Department of Environmental Quality that he’s deeply concerned about the potential environmental impact of decommissioned solar panels.

As WRAL.com reported this morning, DEQ Deputy Secretary Tom Reeder — who spends most of his time fighting efforts to control carbon pollution and promoting offshore oil and gas drilling — is now in a tizzy about solar:

‘There are 250 million pounds of these photovoltaic cells in North Carolina,’ Reeder told the [Environmental Review] commission, urging lawmakers to consider adding a bond requirement to solar farms for eventual decommissioning, as he says California and the federal Bureau of Land Management do.

‘They do contain toxic materials,’ he warned. ‘There’s no market for recycling these things.'”

Uh, excuse us Tom, but while the issue of properly decommissioning 250 million pounds of solar panels two decades from now certainly is an issue worth discussing and planning for, the matter of what to do with 264 billion pounds of coal ash right now (not to mention the horrific impacts of climate change that continue to mount as the result our unfettered use of fossil fuels) would seem just a trifle more important. How about you get to work on those matters?

The bottom line: Reeder’s supposed concerns about the fate of solar panels register about as high on the common sense and sincerity meters as a 1980’s tobacco boss railing about the dangers of too much bubble gum chewing by ex-smokers. Fortunately, as a bevy of Facebook commenters recently made plain in response to DEQ’s latest propagandizing against the Clean Power Plan, a growing number of North Carolinians are seeing through the department’s disingenuous smokescreens.

Commentary

Climate change news: Baby, it’s not cold outside

The shorts and tee shirt weather that’s been gripping the eastern U.S. during recent weeks is not, of course, “proof” of global warming any more than the “polar vortex” of a couple years back disproved it. Weather is weather and climate is climate.

That said, there’s little doubt that global climate change is closely linked to the intensity of the current outbreak and the El Nino that’s helped spawn it (and, sadly, the frequency with which we will experience such events in the future).

This is from a recent story on Bloomberg Business that explored the recent tropical outbreak in New York City:

“A strong El Nino is under way across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and that upsets things in a way ‘that is much less favorable for outbreaks of cold Canadian or Arctic air,’ said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, a pattern called the Arctic Oscillation is favoring warmth in the northern U.S….

That said, climate change also plays a role in setting the larger stage, Trenberth said.

There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared with what existed in preindustrial times has elevated the chances of a mild December in Central Park, said Henson. And that demonstrates why carbon and emissions play such a big role in discussions like the one that just ended in Paris.

‘So, in a nutshell, this month’s eastern warmth strikes me as the kind of dramatic event that one might expect in a strong El Nino, with record-warm temperatures at least a small bit higher as a result of the overall warming of our climate,’ Henson said.”

The story goes on to reiterate what we all already knew — namely, that all of this is devilishly complex and very hard to predict in the short term. But it also highlights the fact that the average high temperature in Central Park in mid-December has gone up a degree in just 10 years. Here in North Carolina in recent days, heat records have been shattered by several degrees. In other words, just as with so many other areas in life, few things are certain, but it’s absurd to ignore data and probabilities — especially when the very health of the planet and viability of the human species are at stake.

Right now, the data and statistics culled and compiled by thousands of our best scientists indicate strongly that events like the current record-breaking warm weather (and all the problems that tend to come with it) will become more and more likely in the years ahead. That any person who gives a hoot about his or her children and grandchildren could be aware of this truth and not believe that urgent societal action is essential to tackle the problem ASAP (are you listening, Governor McCrory?) is something that remains remarkably difficult to fathom.

Commentary

Another damning (and thereby encouraging) report about fracking

FrackingDon’t ya’ just love it when even the market forces so cherished by the ideologues on the right tell them that their head-in-the-sand environmental denials are all wet? As we reported last week, ExxonMobil is now calling for strong government action to address the climate change crisis even as members of the Flat Earth Society in places like the Art Pope Empire deny that global warming is occurring or, if they concede it is, that it has anything to do with carbon emissions.

Now, comes word of a similar story with respect to the hyper-controversial oil and gas retrieval technique known as fracking. This is from a recent story in the Triangle Business Journal:

“Fracking can significantly decrease home values, especially in areas that use well water, according to a new study from Duke University.

The study, which was done in Pennsylvania, found that home values decreased by an average of more than $30,000 for homes on well water within about a mile of shale drilling.’

…Our results show clearly that housing markets are responding to homeowners’ concerns about groundwater contamination from shale gas development,’ said Christopher Timmins, a Duke economics professor who specializes in environmental economics, and lead author in the study. ‘We may not know for many years whether these concerns are valid or not. However, they are creating a real cost to property owners today.’”

Ya’ got that fracking fans? Not only are the experts who devote their lives to preserving the planet anti-fracking, so is the genius of the free market. Who would have guessed that people don’t want live where their drinking water will be poisoned with toxic chemicals?

The bottom (and hopeful) line: As with so many disastrous environmental practices, polluter-funded denials can only work so long. It’s too bad that it comes to this, but at some point, the facts on (and, in this case, under) the ground become so obvious that even capital starts to say “no way.” Americans are starting to vote with their feet when it comes to fracking. Let’s hope this powerful trend helps keep this destructive phenomenon out of North Carolina permanently.

[This post has been updated.]