Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Congratulations to our colleague and co-anchor of The Early 202, Jacqueline Alemany, for joining MSNBC and NBC News as a contributor. 🎉
The findings drive home the devastating toll of disasters — including hurricanes, floods and wildfires — that are becoming more common and costly because of climate change.
“If we want to transition toward solutions to climate change, we have to get better at quantifying its impacts and its costs,” Tom Larsen, CoreLogic’s principal for industry solutions, told The Climate 202.
Using risk modeling technology, CoreLogic looked at more than 120 million residential structures across the country and their vulnerability to 13 major disasters last year, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms.
Its main findings included:
- The deep freeze that swept across the central United States in February 2021 inflicted $15 billion in property damage on 12,764,941 homes — the most of any disaster — including damage caused by water and burst pipes. The cold wave brought record low temperatures and frozen pipelines as far south as Texas, straining the electric grid and causing millions to lose power.
- Hurricanes caused $33 billion in property damage to 1,233,860 homes. In the Houma, La., area, which was hit by Hurricane Ida in August, the mortgage delinquency rate nearly doubled from 7.4 percent to 13.3 percent, suggesting that the category 4 storm directly affected homeowners' ability to afford their monthly payments.
- Wildfires caused $1.46 billion in property damage to 4,101 homes, including damage from fire, smoke and ash. The Dixie Fire became the second-largest wildfire in California's history, scorching nearly 1 million acres and leveling more than 1,300 structures.
- The cost to rebuild after a disaster increased because of supply chain issues during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, reconstruction costs spiked between March and June as the manufacture of building materials was hit hard by supply chain disruptions.
The CoreLogic report builds on a recent analysis by The Washington Post's Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Ba Tran, which found that more than 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by a climate-related disaster in 2021.
(While The Post's analysis may seem to contradict CoreLogic's findings that weather disasters affected 1 in 10 homes, the two are actually compatible. That's because The Post looked at counties, whereas CoreLogic looked at homes.)
The climate connection
There is little doubt that climate change is fueling the occurrence and intensity of disasters. Research shows that rising global temperatures heighten the risk of wildfires and turbocharge heat waves, rain storms, flooding and drought.
- The blistering heat wave that roasted the Pacific Northwest in June would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change, according to a study last year by World Weather Attribution, a research initiative that investigates the influence of global warming on individual weather events.
- Other studies have found that climate change increased drought risk in California and made the extreme rainfall in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey three times more likely.
- Research has also linked extreme events caused by the polar vortex, such as the deep freeze in Texas last winter, to the warming of the Arctic.
Friederike Otto, the co-lead of World Weather Attribution, told The Climate 202 that the term “natural disaster” can obscure the role of global warming.
“What turns a natural hazard into a catastrophe or a disaster is in most cases very far from natural, but driven by vulnerability and exposure which is human-made to a large degree,” Otto said.
Larsen of CoreLogic said the report can inform conversations about managed retreat, the process of relocating communities away from vulnerable areas in response to hazards such as fires or floods.
Critics say the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program, which provides coverage for homes deemed too risky for commercial insurers, has encouraged people to repeatedly rebuild their homes in floodplains — rather than to make the difficult choice to move elsewhere.
“Managed retreat is one of the things we have in our toolkit as we try to navigate the future,” Larsen said. “There will be some areas that are simply not rebuildable.”
Biden to tout $1 billion for Great Lakes clean-up during Ohio trip
President Biden and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan today will travel to Lorain, Ohio, to tout the availability of $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law to clean up and restore the Great Lakes, The Washington Post's John Wagner reports.
The EPA will use the majority of the funds for the most severely degraded sites in the Great Lakes, known as areas of concern, according to a White House fact sheet. The agency estimates that it will complete work at 22 of 25 remaining areas of concern by 2030.
“For the last 12 years, there has been progress, but it's been slow. This $1 billion investment will accelerate the cleanup,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters, according to our colleague Sean Sullivan, who was on the call.
Ryan Zinke broke ethics rules as Trump's Interior Department head, watchdog finds
While serving as secretary of Donald Trump’s Interior Department, Ryan Zinke lied about his involvement in a land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., the department’s internal watchdog said in a report on Wednesday. The inspector general found that Zinke had repeated contact with the then-chairman of energy giant Halliburton and other developers while in office, violating federal ethics rules, The Post’s Anna Phillips and Lisa Rein report.
Zinke resigned under pressure less than two years after joining Trump’s Cabinet after at least 15 investigations into his conduct were lodged in the summer of 2018, including an inquiry into a National Park Service report that removed any reference to climate change.
This year, he is favored to win Montana’s new House seat in a swath of western Montana that Trump carried by seven points in 2020. In a statement, the Zinke campaign said the report “published false information, and was shared with the press as a political hit job.”
The EPA will restore California's authority to limit tailpipe pollution. Here's what to know.
The EPA is expected to soon restore California's authority to set its own limits on planet-warming pollution from cars, pickups and SUVs. The Post's Dino Grandoni explains what to know about the regulatory action, which will reverberate far beyond California to the whole transportation sector, the nation's largest source of greenhouse gases.
On the Hill
Sen. Bill Cassidy places hold on EPA nominees over carbon capture project approval delay
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Wednesday applied a hold on Biden's EPA nominees, citing what he said was the agency's delay in approving a Louisiana petition for carbon capture wells, the Hill’s Zack Budryk reports.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, states can apply to the EPA for underground well permitting, which Louisiana has already done in five separate cases. But Cassidy said the most recent application, for an underground carbon sequestering well, has not advanced since October. He said a quick approval of the application would be vital to not only achieving the emissions reductions in the infrastructure law, but also to reaching the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
An EPA spokesperson told the Hill that the agency “is aware of the Senator’s request and will respond through the proper channels."
Biden has four EPA nominees awaiting confirmation, Timothy Gardner of Reuters reports. They are Amanda Howe in mission support, Chris Fey for research head, Carlton Waterhouse for waste oversight and David Uhlmann for enforcement and compliance.
Sens. Martin Heinrich, Tina Smith press for clean energy provisions in Build Back Better
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said Wednesday that he has spoken with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) about the clean energy provisions in the Build Back Better Act and he remains “optimistic” about their passage.
“I am actually optimistic that we're going to be able to get somewhere on this. I don't know what we're going to call it,” Heinrich said during a virtual call with the Electrification Caucus, which he co-chairs.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the other co-chair of the caucus, echoed that sentiment but cautioned, “I don't think time is our friend here. I think we need to do this sooner rather than later. … Private investment [in clean energy] is sitting on the sidelines right now, waiting for the Senate to take action.”
Student climate activists file complaints against universities, urging divestment
Students fighting climate change have been pressuring universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry for years, telling school administrators that their contributions to global warming are immoral. Now, the young activists are saying it’s illegal, too, The Post's Susan Svrluga reports.
A coalition of student-led campaigns from Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Vanderbilt universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working with the nonprofit Climate Defense Project filed complaints Wednesday with their respective state attorneys general to compel schools to divest. The complaints request an investigation into whether the schools have violated the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, which requires universities to ensure their resources are socially beneficial.
Fires are becoming more extreme at night and lasting longer, study finds
Nighttime fire intensity in Western states has increased by 28 percent over the past two decades as human-caused climate change raises temperatures, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Globally, fires after sundown increased in severity by 7 percent over the same period, The Post’s Kasha Patel reports.
Firefighters typically rely on nighttime cooling to quell the fires and provide relief, but warmer and drier conditions at night make the blazes more difficult to contain. The study says that continued nighttime warming from climate change “will promote more intense, long-lasting and larger fires” in the future.
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