Generations of Wyoming residents found a steady paycheck in coal mines and took pride in powering the nation. But now, it’s energy from the region’s other abundant energy resource, wind, that’s creating jobs and much-needed tax revenues in one county.
Wyoming stands to become a leader in renewable energy, but not out of an urgency to mitigate climate change. Instead, pragmatism about a declining demand for coal is driving the change.
The numbers: Two decades ago, coal generated 96 percent of the electricity in Wyoming; by 2019, it had dropped to 84 percent. Over that same time period, wind grew from almost nothing to 10 percent.
Quotable: “You can stand at the tracks when the train is coming at you, or you can stand at the switch,” said Terry Weickum, the mayor of Rawlins, Wyo., explaining his decision to support wind projects. “I chose to stand at the switch.”
Deadly heat and humidity
The tropics are already hot and steamy, and as the world warms they will become even more so. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat and humidity can kill, because the body cannot cool off. So will the tropics, home to about 40 percent of the world’s population, become unlivable?
In a study published this week, researchers at Princeton University took a stab at an answer. They determined that if greenhouse gases are cut sharply enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, the tropics should avoid episodes of extreme heat and humidity that could be fatal.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that even at levels that aren’t fatal, high heat and humidity can damage health, although the authors said more research was needed on the subject.
The big picture: The worse news is that the 1.5 degree warming target, the stricter of two established by the 2015 Paris Agreement, is growing out of reach. Nations have not committed to anywhere near the level of emissions reductions needed to limit warming to that amount. — Henry Fountain
How the coronavirus reshaped commuting
The coronavirus pandemic has shifted the way that people move around New York City. Nearly as many drivers are on the roads as before the pandemic, but fewer people are taking public transit. That drop in ridership has hit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budget, 40 percent of which comes from rider fares.
Why it matters: Public transit will be a key component of New York City’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. The transit system needs to be expanding and gaining riders at the same time it’s facing its worst budget crisis in history. — Veronica Penney
Also important this week:
And finally, the legacy of Fukushima:
A decade later, Japan still struggles with its climate goals
Thursday marks 10 years since the powerful tsunami that ravaged a wide swath of Japan’s northeastern coastline and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that unfolded as a result.
Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so it’s worth revisiting how much those catastrophic events continue to disrupt the country’s energy policy and its climate goals.
The reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant caused Japan to temporarily halt its nuclear power program, which had provided about 30 percent of the country’s electricity. And even now, most of the reactors in Japan remain shuttered because of lingering safety concerns and public opposition.
Japan initially made up for the energy shortfall by shifting toward fossil fuels, even firing up old oil-fueled power generators. And though it has made some progress on building renewable energy capacity since then, it has struggled to meet the goals it set under the Paris climate accord.
The biggest stumbling block for Japan has been coal. Japan is still building new coal-fired power plants, an anomaly among industrialized nations, as I reported last January. But amid mounting international criticism, Japan declared in October that it would fundamentally revise its policy on coal-fired power plants and aim for net-zero emissions by 2050.
To have any hope of meeting the 2050 target, Japan will need to more than double its Paris emissions reduction commitments to 60 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, according to a recent analysis by Climate Action Tracker. Japan is still in the process of updating those Paris goals. But, a decade after Fukushima, it’s a step forward. — Hiroko Tabuchi
This newsletter is free, but you can go deeper into the articles we highlight each week with a subscription to The Times. Please consider becoming a subscriber today.
If you’re not getting Climate Fwd: in your inbox, you can sign up here
We’d love your feedback on the newsletter. We read every message, and reply to many! Please email thoughts and suggestions to email@example.com.