The 10 Most Important U.S. Climate Stories in 2017
Following a year of weather extremes, disasters and policy clashes, we asked our readers to help us pick out the most important climate stories from the U.S. in 2017. Here's what you said.
This was a brutal year for hurricanes in the U.S. A trifecta of storms (Harvey, Irma and Maria) battered Florida, the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico, causing deaths and widespread destruction, driving many from their homes. Climate change is fueling hurricanes by increasing their rainfall, wind speeds, and storm surges. Our World Weather Attribution team was among the groups of scientists that found climate change increased the amount of flooding rainfall from Harvey.
SEA-LEVEL RISE SCIENCE
Sea-level rise projections got worse for U.S. coastal communities. New research factoring in the projected effects of warming on Antarctic ice outlined new scenarios for Gulf Coast and East Coast cities, where more than 10 feet of sea-level rise is possible in places this century. Sea-level rise could be kept to less than two feet if we aggressively curb our greenhouse gas emissions, reducing risks and impacts.
The Trump administration worked to reverse climate protections this year, seeking to replace the Clean Power Plan and eventually withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The administration has been removing the phrase “climate change” from government websites and it greenlighted construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. All the while, hundreds of thousands of people marched for science and the climate, and states and cities and nations abroad vowed to fight harder to slow global warming.
2017 was the year of Tesla co-founder Elon Musk. From a battery factory in Nevada, to South Australia where his batteries are helping a wind farm provide reliable power, to a new energy grid in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Tesla has taken the lead in producing batteries for energy storage and to power electric cars. And it has developed new all-electric semi trucks and solar shingles!
California is battling its largest wildfire on record right now, but this wildfire season wasn’t just bad for the Golden State. Wildfires burned more than 9.5 million acres across the U.S., destroying neighborhoods and releasing dangerous smoke pollution. The Western wildfire season is 105 days longer than it was 45 years ago as climate change fuels more and bigger blazes.
THIRD HOTTEST YEAR ON RECORD
2017 is likely to be the third-hottest year on record for the U.S., behind 2016 and 2012. This record heat is particularly astounding considering the absence of an El Niño, which usually boosts global temperatures. If the final data matches expectations, five of the 10 hottest years on record will have come since 2006.
SOCIAL INJUSTICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The homes of Americans were destroyed or threatened by extreme weather and rising seas, with the poor hit the hardest. Hundreds of thousands of people had to flee Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, relocating to Florida and other areas. Thousands more in New Jersey and Louisiana are hoping for federal help as they grapple with the ongoing effects of flooding linked to rising seas and climate change-fueled storms.
SOLAR ENERGY SHINES
Production of clean energy climbed as prices continued to come down. In March, 10 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. came from wind and solar, with help from Texas (America’s number 1 wind provider) and California (the largest solar producer). Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded in the summer that solar energy can now be as cheap as power from new coal plants in the U.S.
Your car is contributing to the biggest source of U.S. emissions. Transportation recently overtook electricity generation as the biggest source of greenhouse gases from the U.S., as coal power plants were retired and replaced with renewables and natural gas facilities.
It may be winter right now, but don’t forget about extreme heat, which is the number one weather-related killer. Climate change made a February heat wave across much of the eastern U.S. three times more likely. In June, another heat wave in the Southwest prevented planes in Arizona from taking off. Danger days are surging from Power, Montana to New York City, and a dramatic rise in dangerous heat and humidity will continue in the summertime.