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Summer 2012: The Season of Record-Breaking Extreme Weather

This post was co-authored by Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

The summer of 2012 is poised to go down as a record-breaker. (And no, we’re not talking about the Olympics).

Extreme weather and climate events continue to make headlines throughout the United States. Last month marked the end of the warmest 12-month period the nation has ever recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently declared July to be the hottest month ever in the United States since the government began recording temperatures in 1895. And already, 2012 has seen more temperature records tied or broken than in all of 2011, a year with an unprecedented 14 extreme weather events in the United States, each causing more than $1 billion in damages.

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The Missing Link: Droughts, the Economy and Climate Change

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

The effects of the vast drought afflicting America’s farm belt are rippling across the economy. Major companies apparently feeling the heat from rising crop prices include McDonald’s, Smithfield Foods, and Archer Daniels Midland, which processes agricultural commodities.

More than half of the nation’s pasture and rangeland is now plagued by drought – the largest natural disaster area in U.S. history. And with corn prices soaring as crops wither, other sectors are nervously watching the weather forecasts and assessing potential impacts on their business. For example:

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The Science Behind the U.S. Drought

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

Heat and drought continue to blanket the United States, leaving 54 percent of the nation’s pasture and rangeland, 38 percent of its corn crop, and 30 percent of soybeans in “poor” or “very poor” condition. As of the end of June, 55 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate or extreme drought – the most extensive drought in more than half a century (see map from last week’s US Drought Monitor).

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WRI’s 30th Anniversary: A Look Back at Three Decades of Big Ideas

This year, the World Resources Institute celebrates its 30th anniversary. Every organization has great backstories, and in my five-plus years here as head of External Relations, I’ve heard many of WRI’s—multiple versions of them!

Many of these tales came from WRI’s own staff and very loyal alumni, some of whom have worked for the organization nearly all three decades of its existence. More emerged from interactions with WRI’s past and present board members and with meeting many of our partners around the world. But it all added up to just a lot of interesting fragments of folklore without any real sense of how it all fit together. No one had put it all down on paper.

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Shedding Light on Fast-Start Finance

How much fast-start climate finance is actually flowing, and where is it being spent?[^1] This question has come up repeatedly alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate talks in Bonn this week.

Today the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) published two working papers examining the fast-start contributions of the UK and US (GBP 1.06 billion and USD 5.1 billion, respectively). These papers seek to shed light on how developed countries are defining, delivering, and reporting fast-start finance. A similar paper on Japan’s contribution is under development, led by the Tokyo-based International Group for Environmental Strategies (IGES). The studies are carried out in collaboration with the Open Climate Network (OCN).

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How the EPA’s New Oil and Gas Standards Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final rules to reduce air pollution at natural gas wells and other sources in the oil and gas industry. The rules—a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and National Emissions Standards for hazardous air pollutants—establish the first federal standards for emissions from production wells (natural gas processing plants were already covered). They are designed to limit the release of VOCs and other air toxics that contribute significantly to smog and are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. (For more on the oil and gas rules, see M.J. Bradley & Associates’ Issue Brief.)

In addition to reducing VOC and air toxics emissions, these rules will help reduce methane emissions from shale gas development. According to the EPA, there are over 11,000 new hydraulically fractured wells each year, and while water-related environmental concerns have received the lion’s share of public attention and are the focus of EPA’s ongoing hydraulic fracturing study, uncontrolled emissions from hydraulic fracturing can negatively impact air quality and the climate.

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Coming Up: Assessments of UK and US Fast-Start Finance

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries have pledged to provide “fast-start” finance approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012. Now, in the final year of the fast-start period, these countries are under pressure to demonstrate that they are meeting this pledge. But divergent viewpoints on what constitutes fast-start finance – coupled with unharmonized approaches to delivering and reporting on it – complicate such an assessment.

Starting in May 2012, the Open Climate Network (OCN) will release a series of reports that aims to shed light on these discussions by clarifying how developed countries are defining, delivering, and reporting their fast-start finance.

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Launch of New Online Power Almanac of the American Midwest

This post was written by Nicholas Bianco, Senior Associate, WRI, and Rolf Nordstrom, Executive Director, Great Plains Institute

We are launching a new online tool, the Power Almanac of the American Midwest, that will assist government officials, industry leaders, energy analysts and others in making informed energy decisions in the region. The Almanac integrates key energy and environmental data from some 50 disparate sources, tailored to the Midwest region, in a graphic and easy-to-use way.

The Almanac is built around a dynamic interface that allows users to explore the power sector through interactive Google maps, graphs, and charts. You can use it to learn more about an individual coal mine or power plant, or to compare wind and solar resources in the Midwest to the rest of the United States. You will also find a range of other useful background, including up-to-date information on relevant state and federal energy policies.

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Bringing Ecosystem Markets to Scale in the Southern United States

For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.

Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.

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