For the third straight week, an extreme hurricane is dominating the news and causing irreparable damage to families and infrastructure. Newscasters and meteorologists have been calling these hurricanes, “100 year storms.” Four extreme storms, namely hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, in such quick succession have people scrambling for answers. Some think it is just a coincidence, and others think it’s some sort of karma, but we can look at America’s past time for one very possible answer.[Read more…]
Is there more we can do to ease the human suffering and environmental degradation? Can we make a change in our own lives to reduce the instances of extreme weather events, such as modern-day hurricanes, with greater intensities and frequencies than ever before?
How Hurricanes Form
The warming of the earth is creating hurricanes that are more powerful and last longer. Warmer air allows storms to hold more moisture, which, in turn, leads to greater rainfall and flooding. Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research claimed, “Unfortunately, the physicality is very clear: Hurricanes get their destructive energy from the warmth of the ocean, and the region’s water temperatures are super elevated.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) confirms that a weather disturbance, like a thunderstorm, paired with ocean waters of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit draws warm surface air to create a hurricane, while the Earth’s rotation enables them to spin. The perfect conditions exist in the Atlantic between 5 and 20 degrees latitude, right below Florida and Texas, and above South America. These circumstances provided the key ingredients that allowed Hurricane Harvey to quickly transition from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 4. Hurricane status is achieved when wind speeds reach 74 mph; Hurricane Irma topped that when it reached speeds of 185 mph. In the coming years, this could become the new normal. It’s no surprise that change is needed for preventative measures to mitigate against global climate change.
Hurricane Sandy as seen from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite on October 28, 2012. Image courtesy of NOAA/NASA.
The Need for Mitigation
There are a lot of ways to reduce our carbon footprints and lessen our negative impacts on the planet. Recycling, carpooling, driving an electric or hybrid vehicle, or using renewable energies are some ways to do this. Going solar can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and slow climate change. Reducing greenhouse gases is a proven way to prevent increased ocean and air temperatures that lead to increased hurricane frequency and intensity. Also, solar energy is distributed across a larger geographic area, so the energy itself is not as vulnerable to issues from climate change, leading to fewer outages than from conventional energy sources. Transitioning to clean and renewable energies can make our coastal communities safer and give us a secure source of energy despite weather events/ phenomenons.
Public Health Concerns
Most importantly, it is clean energy, for it does not introduce the harmful substances into the environment that oil refineries would. Beyond an environmental sustainability perspective, this is a public health concern. Hurricane Harvey brought increased flooding causing eleven oil refineries along the Texas coast and the greater Houston to shut down. Oil refineries are 24-hour-a-day operations that are not built to withstand “forced shutdowns.” As a result, large volumes of toxic air have been released into Houston neighborhoods. More than 2 million pounds of hazardous substances have poured into the air for Houston residents to inhale. Interstates are underwater and rivers and streams are flooding leading to sewage overflow. Chemicals from propane containers, fertilizers, and local chemical plants have seeped into the floodwater. A spokesman for the Houston Health Department declared, “ It [the floodwater] is contaminated. There are millions of contaminants.”
Adults returning to pick up memorabilia and children playing in the floodwaters have been rushed to hospitals after developing infections from contaminated waters. Houston has undergone serious trauma with the initial wind impacts, causing homes to be inhabitable. Now residents of Houston are finding that even if they decide to rebuild their homes, hazardous toxins have spread all over the city and may require serious decontamination efforts. Continuing to invest in fossil fuels will have dangerous consequences and can even place communities at risk. In a previous blog post, we outlined the extensivity of environmental externalities, from economic, environmental, and public health standpoints. Still not convinced? Leonardo DiCaprio is on board (and he has also even donated $1 million to hurricane relief efforts).
Massachusetts is one of the best states to go solar in, and it’s not just us saying it. It’s a fact. Massachusetts is ranked sixth in the country for solar energy. This ranking is because of the state incentives, innovation, and enthusiasm of Massachusetts residents for renewable energy.
High electric rates in the State are another reason that solar can be so profitable in Massachusetts. In 2015, Massachusetts had the 5th highest electric rates in the country. People often think of sunny states like California being better for solar than Massachusetts. However, the annual average price per kilowatt in 2015 was 15.50 cents in California and 16.86 cents in Massachusetts. This just over 10 cent difference is enough to make up for the less sunny climate in Massachusetts. The State is helping to drive the country in solar jobs, installations, and growth projections, playing an instrumental role in building a more sustainable future.
When we pay utility bills or buy gas, we’re paying for the direct cost of the fuel, such as how much it cost to extract and refine it. We know that fossil fuels are also responsible for creating pollution that damages the environment and poses a threat to human health. Those costs are not reflected in the bills you pay. To accurately compare fossil fuels to solar energy, you have to include those hidden costs of each.
SREC-II will soon be coming to an end and will be replaced by the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program. For those solar customers who already purchased their system under the SREC-I or SREC-II programs there won’t be any changes, but those who miss the SREC-II deadline will receive dramatically different and less lucrative incentives for their home solar installations.[Read more…]